19 June, 2016

Saving Their Lives

This week while in Florida I have observed something that is pretty cool. This is the season where the sea turtles come out of the sea and bury their eggs in the sand. It takes almost 2 months for these eggs to hatch and with all the people on the beach, these eggs would be at great risk. In order to protect them, laws have been created which make it criminal to disturb the eggs. They have passed laws and/or ordinances which makes prohibit fires on the beach during this season and require all lights along the beachfront to be turned off at night and for curtains to be drawn so that the light from homes and hotels do not shine on the beach. The lights confuse the turtles and scares them and can lead to their death. There are crews that go out every morning and mark and tape off places where new eggs have been laid. The use a tape similar to a crime scene. They also measure how far the eggs are from the nearest dune and they record this information so that the eggs could be found if someone removed the tape. There is also a satellite reading of each location which is monitored. At each site, it is recorded on a posted sign the date the eggs were laid so that they can estimate the hatching time.  Every morning, 7 days a week, these crews are up and down the beach protecting the eggs and looking for new ones that were laid the night before. It's quite a process and it's cool to see the length and expense they go to in order to protect the eggs of these giant sea turtles. But a thought hit me this morning as I watched the crew in action marking the newest nesting area and taking their readings. My thought was... "What if we as a society valued human life as important as the life of these sea turtles? What if we went to such lengths and expense to assure that human babies were protected and preserved?
Just thinking out loud. 

18 June, 2016

Called to Be Faithful, Not a Superstar

I was texting with a friend who is also in the ministry who was beating himself black and blue because, as he put it, he "can't keep up with the big dogs." My friend pastors a small church, just as I do. He has been struggling to find a way to grow to the size of another church who he has been trying to emulate and is frustrated because this church has several hundred people attending while his church seems to fluctuate between 30-50 no matter what he does. As we were discussing this I asked him if he'd seen souls saved. He indicated that they have, but that every time they get people saved and on the right path, they leave for the bigger churches in town. I told him that I could relate to this more than he would ever understand if I tried to explain. As I shared with him, not long ago I went online and looked at my monthly reports and discovered that over the 12 years  I've been pastor where I am that there have been more than 260 people saved through my ministry.  That may not be a huge number by another person's standards, but when I began to think on this, I pastor a church in a town with a population of around 800 people on the outskirts of a town of 33,000. The economy in our area has been devasted over the past 15 years with more than 9,000 good paying industrial jobs lost as factories moved and/or closed. Due to that factor alone, we've seen literally dozens of people who were a part of our church forced to relocate to find jobs. Others, just as my friend was saying have left us for the "greener pastures" of churches with big children's church and youth ministries. Yes, that is painful and it will do serious damage to the ego if you allow it to. (Been there, done that and have the T-shirt.)

The point that I made to my friend and that I am making here is that I had to come to terms with just what God has called me to do and be. God called me to preach the gospel, not to grow a large church. That may sound like a cop-out to some; so be it. I don't worry about that any longer. One day not all that long ago I was reading the Bible and I read a passage that I've read hundreds of times and preached messages from many, many times. But on this particular day, it spoke to me on a personal level. The passage is found in Matthew 25... the parable of the talents. For those not familiar, Jesus is telling a parable and says that the kingdom of heaven is like a wealthy man who is traveling to far country and he calls in three servants and distributes "talents" or money to each of them. To one he gave 5 talents, another 2 and another 1talent. When he returned he called them before him to tell what they had done with what they had been given. The man with 5 talents doubled his talents and presented ten talents to his Lord. The man with 2 talents had doubled his and presented 4 talents to his Lord. But the man with 1 talent had lived in fear and buried his talent so as not to lose it. He came and presented the original talent to his Lord and was rebuked soundly. His Lord told him he should have at least deposited it in the bank and earned interest on it, but he had done nothing.  The thing that stood out to me was that the Lord did not praise the guy with 10 talents more than he did the man with 4. From the sound of things, he would have been happy with the last guy if he had just done something with his talent, rather than live in fear.  As I told my friend, God is not going to compare you and I to Billy Graham or Benny Hinn... nor with the church down the road. What he will do is ask us to give an account for what we were given. My friend also pastors in Illinois, a state that is in desperate financial trouble and his town is similar to mine. I reminded him of the things that I knew of his church had done to impact his community. I reminded him of the family they had literally rescued from drug addiction, walked with them through a horriffic two year period and saw them come to know the Lord, become solid believers and an active part of the church, only to see them move out of state for jobs. I told him, you are multiplying your talents! That is ALL God has asked of you. Nowhere did God say that we were to grow mega churches (nothing wrong with those who do!) but he called us to rescue the lost and make disciples.  That's what God expects of us and we should not expect more than the Lord does. 

As I told my friend, YES, I'd like to be the pastor of a large, thriving church... but God has called me to be the pastor of a soul-saving station. I told him about a local pastor in my area who told me about 2 years ago that he was envious of my ministry. I was stunned. His church is FAR larger than mine with great facilities and money to operate is never an issue in his church, so I did not understand his "envy". Then he told me that he has more than 50 people sitting in his church who have told them that they were saved through the efforts of my little church and that the only reason they had left was because they felt they needed to attend a church where there were more opportunities for their children to be involved in programs. He told me that he had not seen more than two dozen people saved in his church during the time he had been pastor there. He admitted to me that he often wondered what Harvest Church would be like if the people stayed there and built a church rather than changing pastures, but that I needed to know that I was doing exactly what God had called me to do. 

To my friend and anyone else who is going through similar a similar struggle, remember this... "God called you to be faithful with what YOU have been given, not with what someone else has."

16 June, 2016

Majesty

Last night I sat here on the balcony watching as a storm grew way out over the ocean. There was flashes of lightning that illuminated the ocean waves below like the flash on a camera. Yet here were I am, I could see the stars dotting the sky. This morning I sat and watched the sunrise as God seemingly painted a masterpiece of brilliant oranges, reds and yellows. Pelicans flew in formation, barely above the surface of the waves. I listened to the beautiful rhythm of the waves crashing in on the shore, and as I took it all in, I heard in my mind these words:

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, my Savior, God, to Thee
How great Thou art,
How great Thou art.

There may be some who are foolish enough to say "there is no God" but as I survey the majesty of creation, I see the work of a Master... my God..

08 June, 2016

Worship Questions

A couple of days ago I started the morning off with a thought that began to just consume me. I posted the following on Facebook:
"Sometimes I find myself wondering how our approach to worship would change if we really comprehended that we are there to worship GOD, rather than for ourselves." After posting that, I just could not shake that train of thought and I continued with another post, "My mind has been racing on this all morning, and I find myself wondering how many things in our "worship" service would change, what we do and say. How would even our approach toward preparing at home before we left for church. I don't think people would be so flippant about the church attendance. If we really "got it" that we were going to bow down before the God of all creation, I think we'd be there every time the doors are open. I think we'd prepare ourselves physically and spiritually before we ever left home. I think we'd be there early knowing that the place would be packed and we might not find our favorite seat because if people really understood that "church" was not about us, but about worshipping God Almighty, NO ONE would dare say, "I don't need to go to church today". Our self-centered approach to worship, the "I need a touch from God" approach is so backward and it has created the mindset where people don't "need" church. That's because it's not supposed to be about what WE need, it's supposed to be about stopping what we are doing, humbling ourselves before God Almighty and saying "How great Thou art!" 


A couple of other people commented and my mind kept racing, until I followed up with this last thought: "My mind just won't stop on this thought. It hit me a moment ago that when people "skip church" or when people say "I don't need to go to church" they are actually saying, "I have no need to worship God" which literally means, "God, you are not worth my time today."

It's been two days, and my mind still keeps going back to this train of thought. I had someone accuse me of making those posts because I was trying to guilt others into going to church.  If people would just get over themselves and pay attention! They just are not listening or thinking this through. Going to "church" (as we call it) is not about us. It's not about impressing someone with our presence or how much we give or what we do. It is about acknowledging who God is. It is about truly recognizing that the is the God of all creation; the first and the last, the Almighty... and that we gather to worship Him. It should be that we go to give him honor, glory and praise, not to see what we can get. As I said, when we say we are "too busy" to attend church, what we are actually saying is that we are too busy to acknowledge God and obey His commands. If we are totally honest, we will be forced to admit that MOST of what we do in "church" is more for us than it is for God. Jesus said in His Word that if He is lifted up He will draw all men unto Him. But we spend more time singing songs to make us feel better, demanding sermons that make us feel good about ourselves and so on. I wonder... how would things change if we reversed this and truly worshipped God?

27 May, 2016

Who Do You Represent?

One thing that has become a source of frustration and concern to me is how that so many who are members of the Body of Christ seem to be no different from those in the world, other than they happen to go to church. People say what they want no matter how crude or even vulgar the language may be. Some continue to hang out in the same places, doing the same things as they did before they were born again. (Which honestly, causes me to wonder if they are indeed, born again.) With the advent of My Space and then Facebook, things that were once "hidden" from view are now published openly and quite frankly, as a  Pastor, I find myself wondering if I am absolutely failing, because I see things that just blow my mind as people post pictures of their drinking binges, videos that show themselves living lives that in no way reflect Jesus Christ. Recently, a member told me that I needed to "lighten up", that I was old fashioned and worried too much because people were jsut having fun.  Well, I can't "lighten up." I have read that part in the Bible that says that we have become dead to sin. I read where the old has passed away and all things have become new. I read where John writes, that if we love the world (or the things of the world) "then the love for the Father is not in them."  Seems to me the Bible is pretty clear that our lives are to mirror the life of Christ... that's why they called the early church "Christians"... because they were Christ-like. And I recall a verse that says  “And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:17) We are not called to "have fun" as it was put. We are called to represent the one who gave his life for us.

I leave you with on question this morning: Who are you representing?

25 May, 2016

What Happened to America?

I was talking with someone on the phone just a few days ago and the conversation turned to the moral decadence of America as a whole. My friend asked me, "What happened to the nation we grew up in?" I told him about a conversation that I remember having at a cookout with several of the people from my church in the fall of 1992. One of the men from my church asked me why I would not vote for Bill Clinton (mind you, that up to this point in my life I had almost always voted as a Democrat). I told him that I had been looking into this man and everything I saw about him was corrupt, immoral and that his character was at best "shady". I told him then, in September of 1992 that if Clinton was elected it would begin a downward spiral of the moral fabric of this nation and that he would bring about such a shift in our nation's moral fiber that it would bring disgrace to the White House. I will NEVER forget that man's response to me. He said, and I quote, "If a man puts a dollar in my wallet and food on my table, I don't care what he does with his personal life." 

I would love to look that man in the eye today and ask him what he thinks about his statement today. I'm not trying to blame it all on Bill Clinton... far from it. I'm laying the fault at the feet of people who put selfish gain above moral fiber.

That my friends is what happened to this once great Nation. The self-indulgent, self-absorbed people of this Nation sold out and forfeited God's blessing for a buck. 
Unless America as a Nation heeds the words of 2 Chronicles 7:14, "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land" then America is doomed. This Nation cannot stand much longer headed in the direction it is going.

11 May, 2016

Just a Few Minutes Can Make a Real Difference

Yesterday I needed to drive over to Bloomington to meet with someone, so I decided to just leave early and take my wife to work, then drive her car over to Bloomington and then come back and wait for her to get off. I figured it would save on gas, even if I had to find a way to kill a couple of hours. I took my iPad with me so that I could work on my Wednesday night study for church. After I dropped off Libby, I drove over to McDonalds and have breakfast and work on my study before heading on to Bloomington. I ordered a breakfast burrito meal and sat down to eat and had just opened up my notes when I saw an elderly gentleman sitting by himself drinking a cup of coffee. I said good morning to him and we exchanged a few comments and I turned my focus back to my notes. But something about this guy was pulling on me. I asked him if by any chance he'd like my hashbrowns. He said no, and I told him that I really did not want them and I hated throwing food away. I started to look for someone else to give them too and he stopped me and said, "if you are going to toss them, I'll eat them."  He told me that he was not homeless or poor, and explained that he'd run a construction business for years and he lived a comfortable life now that he'd retired and he had given the business to his son. I asked him what type of construction business and his face lit up. He asked me to join him so I moved my things over to his table and we sat and he told me about his life and business. 

His name was Antwain, and he was from Louisiana but had moved here back in the 1960's for work and had stayed. I asked and he told me he was now 88 years old. He told me how his wife had died and he'd met a woman from Kenya 10 years ago and remarried. She came in a little while later, but we were so engrossed in conversation that she got up and went to another table to talk with someone she knew. Antwain was so excited as he was telling me about his life and business and his eyes just twinkled as he told his story. After almost an hour I told him that I was going to need to run in just a moment and explained I had an appointment in Bloomington as I was packing up my iPad.  Then he said to me, "You've just made my day today. No, you've made my week. It felt so good having someone to talk to."  Then he commented how that when he was a young man a white man and a black man could not have sat in a public place and enjoyed such conversation. He commented how that it did not seem to matter to me what color his skin was and I said, "you mean to tell me you're black!"  He just cracked up laughing. Before I left, I told him how much I'd enjoyed his company and conversation and I said to him, "Antwain, I've heard you talk about your life and you've had a good and happy life... but I was wondering, do you know Jesus?"  He said, "I used to, but I have not been to church since I was a young man."  I said to him that all of those things he'd shared would not matter one bit once he died, and that what mattered was not his business or homes or trips, but if he knew Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Tears welled up in his eyes and he said, "You know, you are right."  He did not accept Christ with me right there, but he did allow me to pray with him and before I left he called his wife over to the table and told her what we'd just spoken about and he told her that he was going to church with her this Sunday. I pray he keeps that promise.

I've been thinking a lot about this since yesterday morning and I thought about how if I'd been so fixed on the need to study for my Wednesday night lesson (ironically, on personal evangelism) that I'd have missed a golden opportunity. So I share this today to encourage anyone who reads this to release your schedule and open up the possibility of what just might happen if you give someone a few minutes of your time. It just might make a difference in eternity. 

07 May, 2016

Perspective Changes With Time

When I was a young man, I would read Matthew 7 and I thought that verses 21-23 were talking about false prophets/teachers. Now that I'm older, and have been a pastor for more than 30 years, I have to say that I interpret or understand these verses differently. To remind you, that passage says, "Not everyone who calls me their Lord will get into the kingdom of heaven. Only the ones who obey my Father in heaven will get in. On the day of judgment many will call me their Lord. They will say, “We preached in your name, and in your name we forced out demons and worked many miracles.” But I will tell them, “I will have nothing to do with you! Get out of my sight, you evil people!”

Yes, it could definitely be false teachers or prophets, but I now see this as the lukewarm, pleasure seeking person who calls themselves a Christian yet knows little to nothing of what it means to serve God. So many "church goers" attend so infrequently that if you added all their time in corporate worship up over a years time, they  actually spend less than the equivalent to one or two days out of 365 in worship. (2 hours, 1 time per month for a year is 24 hours. Double that for a person who comes twice per month.) Outside of those hours attending worship, they do not spend time in the Word, they do not witness, nor worship. In fact, little, if anything about their life has changed since they supposedly got saved, other than they now spend a few hours per year in church.  I think this is exactly who Jesus is talking about in that passage.

24 April, 2016

A Week Later and I'm Still Just Messed Up

Last week a friend of mine shared a video with me of the underground churches in China. As I watched that video that day something happened inside of me. I began to tear up... and then sob and then I was bawling my eyes out and literally shaking as I was so broken before the Lord. As I viewed the absolute passion and hunger of the people in China as they pursued the Lord I became convicted over my own walk with Christ. I saw people who even though they know they could be imprisoned or even put to death for worshipping Jesus, got up and gathered at 4:30 in the morning to worship before going to work. And they do this every day, seven days a week. There are days where they gather (again, in hiding) and will stand and listen to preaching and teaching for 6-10 hours at a time. In the video, there were thousands who met in these gatherings. And I sat here an thought how 1/3 to 1/2 of my church is absent every Sunday. Some of my people who consider themselves to be "regular" attending members average 1 to 2 Sundays per month that they attend. At 2 hours per week, that means they were in worship for 48 hours last year. So, living in a land where we have the absolute freedom to worship as we choose they attend less per year than these people in China attend in ONE WEEK. And we wonder why they have thousands attendance and regularly report miracles in their midst... and we are struggling to keep the doors open due to low finances in our church. I've found myself praying passionately and asking God to do whatever it takes to awaken the American church. If it takes persecution, then send us persecution. If it takes a loss of freedom, then take our freedoms. I just want to see this kind of passion and joy awakened in the American church which is by and large, soundly asleep. 

17 April, 2016

How Much Do You Love Him?

This morning I posted the following scripture to my Facebook status... "And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." Matthew 22:37
Just as I posted it, a thought hit me... "If a person really loved the Lord with all their heart, soul and mind... then would anything possibly get in the way of that person getting to the House of God once time per week to worship him with other believers?  
I don't think so.

In the natural, when we fall in love with someone, we will do anything to see and spend time with the person we have fallen in love with. When I met my wife, I often got off work at 7:00 AM and rather than go home and go to bed, I'd drive an hour and a half to go see her, depriving myself of sleep. If I couldn't drive, I'd be on the phone with her. We spoke so often that my phone bill was nearly $400 that month. (Remember, this was more than 30 years ago!) My point is, I wanted to be with her and speaking with her as much as possible.  How much more should we desire to speak to God and to be in His presence?  

I already know that there will be those who will respond with, "I can do that at home." My question is, "WHY?"  
Let's be brutally honest, not all, but by far, MOST people who "worship at home" are doing so because they can't find a church that suits them and does things as they think they should. That's pretty selfish. God's Word is clear about not forsaking the assembly (corporate worship) but these folks reject that because it's not done their way where they are comfortable. All I'll say about that is that somewhere "self" has come inbetween the heart, soul and mind that is to be given to the Lord.

OK... Let the attacks begin. 

13 April, 2016

We Are Needing Help!

Sometimes I wonder if it will ever end.
Most of my friends and readers know that the church where I pastor was heavily damaged in a wind storm back in November when the roof was ripped off and then suffered tremendous water damage when we had a freak snowstorm that dumped 8" of snow inside the building and then we had torrential rains for a month. Repairs have been slow and ongoing as the insurance has fought us every step of the way.

Now... it gets worse.
The insurance company has now told us that unless we do some repairs to the outside of our building and have it repainted by the renewal date in July, they will not renew our policy. After all the added expenses of being out of our building for 5 months, paying double utilities and the additional insurance policy to cover us in the temporary location, we simply don't have the funds to do these repairs. We are trying to do much of the inside repairs on the building to save money and use some of that to make outside repairs, but we are not going to reach the time frame they are giving us this way. As much as I HATE doing things like this, I am reaching out to others and asking for your help.
Anything that anyone can do to help us will be appreciated. No gift is too small. When it is all added up together, I believe God's people can help us get this done.

You can donate here

Thank you in advance for anything you can do to help. If you cannot give, please pray for us and pass this on to others.