God Knows

Jesus told us that we would have trouble in this world. “You will have suffering in this world!” (John 16:33 HCSB) Not maybe, but you will. Why?

In part, we have trouble in this world because of the presence of evil. Again, Jesus said, “I have told you these things to keep you from stumbling. They will ban you from the synagogues. In fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering service to God. They will do these things because they haven’t known the Father or Me.  But I have told you these things so that when their time comes you may remember I told them to you. I didn’t tell you these things from the beginning, because I was with you. (John 16:1-4)

I find comfort and confidence in knowing that He knows. In the Old Testament, the people of God were crying and groaning about their treatment in Egypt. The Bible says, “God saw the Israelites, and He took notice.” (Exodus 2:25) When God met Moses at the burning bush, He said, “I have observed the misery of My people in Egypt, and have heard them crying out because of their oppressors, and I know about their suffering.” (Exodus 3:7) If God knew then don’t you think that He knows today? He knows about your bank account, and your family, and your chart at your Doctor’s office. He knows. And, He is not in a panic. There is no panic button in Heaven.

The 2 Hardest Things A Dad Will Ever Do

This weekend we will celebrate Father’s Day. I love being a husband and a dad more than anything else I do, but sometimes the challenges are great. In fact, the Apostle Paul pointed to two hard things a father is assigned to do.

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”  (Ephesians 5:25 NIV) And  “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4 NIV)

John Wooden, legendary basketball coach of UCLA, is arguably the greatest coach that sports has ever seen. His ten National Championships at UCLA statistically prove this. The sound bites of his former players give evidence of his legendary status in ways that go far beyond basketball.

John Wooden once said, “The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.”

And love her he did! Though his beloved Nellie died in 1985, he continued to write her a love note every month until his death in 2010.

Russ Blowers, longtime minister at East 91st Christian Church in Indianapolis, was asked, “What was your greatest accomplishment in 44 years of ministry?” This successful pastor who had led his church to be one of the largest in Indiana, led the Billy Graham Crusade to Indianapolis, served as president of his denomination’s convention said, “My greatest accomplishment is that I never had to go into my kids’ room and try to find some way to apologize to them for being unfaithful to their mother.”  (Bob Russell, When God Builds a Church, p. 101).

Paul’s admonition to love as Christ loved the Church is at the heart of a sacrificing love. Very few of us, if any of us, will be called on to give ourselves up for our wives in the same manner as Christ gave Himself up for the church. However, this is the description of the way in which we ought to love. Isn’t it interesting how sacrifice in the marriage is one of those issues that seem to diminish with each passing year? Sacrificial love is not reserved for Valentine’s Day or Anniversaries; sacrificial love is the way that we should strive to love every day of the year.

Pray with me today that every Christian husband and father will live by the advice of Coach John Wooden and strive for the Biblical perfection admonished by the Apostle Paul.

Now, here’s the second thing. As Dads, we must discipline our children without driving them away.

The Dad who disciplines without driving away will be defined by at least these three characteristics.

  1.  You must win the right to be obeyed–Dad, you win the right to be obeyed by time, your own obedience, unconditional love, and consistent discipline. I am reminded that earlier in this passage we are to redeem the time. Now, when we encounter this idea in 6:4, I think back to redeeming the time with our children. We don’t have long.
  2. Teach Godly, Biblical principles. Don’t leave it to someone else to teach your children. Don’t leave it to the school. Don’t even leave it to the church. Dad, you take the leadership in teaching your children.
  3. Pray.  Having done all you can do, Dad, the very best thing that you can do is pray for your children.  Pray with your children and for your children.

Rick Husband is an American hero. He was the commander of the ill-fated Columbia shuttle mission that exploded upon re-entry scattering parts over Texas and Louisiana. His wife put his story to words in the book High Calling. In the book, we learn that Rick was not only a great American, but also a great husband, father, and Christian. Though his commitment to NASA was obviously great, Rick never seemed to lose sight of the right priorities. The most inspiring part of Rick’s story is that he taped different devotions for each of the seventeen days of his mission for both of his children so that he would not miss a day sharing with them spiritual food.

Rick understood that his highest calling was the one given to him by his Heavenly Father. What about it, Dads? On this Father’s Day weekend, isn’t it time that all of us who wear the title Father spend some time re-evaluating how we are doing with the high calling God has entrusted to us?

Embrace the Summer

As a pastor, I seemed to always face the temptation to dread the summer because of the “summer slump.” The truth is too many times as churches and as leaders we “throw away the summer.” We decide that there are too many distractions, too many vacations, so we must wait for the fall. The problem is that we lose great momentum.

So, even though some summer slump in churches is inevitable, I encourage all of us to “Embrace the Summer.” How do we do that in the church?

Resist the notion that you cannot grow this summer.

People move in the summer. We have our largest evangelistic outreach of the year in Vacation Bible School. These are opportunities to grow.

Raise the Expectations for the summer.

Often times, we set up our own failure by low expectations. I encourage us, since we know that there are challenges to the summer, to …

  • Work Harder.
  • Set the tone by your own preparation.
  • Seek other ways to stay connected.

Reset the Mission of your class, small group, or church.

The summer may be just the time to shake things up, try new things, and then be ready for the fall.

Rally around something.

Have a “Summer Project.” Just do something. Rally around a cause. People will stay connected better this way.

Get Ready for the Fall.

There is no time like the fall, so use the summer to be ready when fall arrives.

Vacation Bible School

Manuel Noriega, former dictator of Panama who became a Christian in prison, once said as he pointed to the Bible, “There’s the book that tells me what his will is for my life. It has changed me.” Dr. Rick Byargeon, Old Testament scholar, teacher, preacher, and my friend, asked his wife for his Bible hours before he died, held it up, and said, “I gave my life to the study of this book.” The Apostle Paul in writing to Timothy said, “When you come . . . bring the scrolls, especially the parchments.” (2 Timothy 4:13)

Many of our churches are having Vacation Bible School in the next weeks. I am praying for lives to be changed, children to fall in love with Jesus, and begin a life-long study of the Bible.

Joshua 1 is a great text to help us see the importance of VBS. I love this text. In verses 7-8, we read these instructions and a promise about the Word of God.

Above all, be strong and very courageous to carefully observe the whole instruction My servant Moses commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right or the left, so that you will have success wherever you go. This book of instruction must not depart from your mouth; you are to recite it day and night so that you may carefully observe everything written in it. For then you will prosper and succeed in whatever you do.

Notice four principles here.

  1. We must talk about the Word continually.
  2. We must think about the Word contemplatively.
  3. We must take the Word seriously.
  4. We must trust the Word completely.

We didn’t have all of these fancy, smancy songs when I was a kid in Bible School, but we did have this one.

The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book for me.
I stand alone on the Word of God.
The B-I-B-L-E.

Why VBS?

Summer means several things—no school, family trips, baseball, heat, and here in Louisiana, hurricanes. But, summer for churches means Vacation Bible School. Would you stop right now and pray for churches investing in children this summer through Vacation Bible School?

Some estimate that 2/3 of Americans plan to send their children to a VBS this summer. This is an astounding number. What an opportunity!

Why then is VBS so important?

Their Futures are at stake! 

The future of every child begins with a strong foundation.

  • Their salvation is dependent upon hearing and responding to the Word of God. Paul declared, “So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ.” (Romans 10:17)
  • Their strength is developed by hearing and responding to the Word of God. The Psalmist summed up the power of the Word of God. How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping Your word. (Psalm 119:9)
  • Their success in the God endeavors of life is dependent upon obeying the Word of God.

Read Joshua 1:8. “This book of instruction must not depart from your mouth; you are to meditate on it day and night so that you may carefully observe everything written in it. For then you will prosper and succeed in whatever you do.”

Our Futures are at stake!

But, not only their futures, but our futures are tied to the keeping of the Word of God. By that, I mean both our keeping the Word of God and others keeping the Word of God. This is a plan for the nation. This is a plan for conquest and occupation of the Promised Land. This was not just a word for Joshua; this was a word for the entire nation.

How can America become a more righteous nation? Our future as a nation may well be tied to thousands of Vacation Bible Schools happening around our nation this summer.

It’s Just Lunch!

The miracle of the feeding of the 5,000! It’s impressive. From nothing, Jesus fed the multitudes. Again, we see Jesus do that which otherwise seems impossible. Like the other miracles, this miracle confirms who Jesus is, confirms what others are saying about Him, and what He has said about Himself. As you might have heard, this is the one miracle that appears in all four Gospels. It seems that this fact gives some evidence to the importance of this miracle.

If the other miracles say “nothing is too big for God” (and this miracle stands in agreement with that) this miracle reveals that “nothing is too small for God.” And that’s what we need to hear sometimes.

You know the thing I like about this miracle. It’s just lunch. It’s not the royal official’s son who is about to die. They are not going to die if they don’t eat. It’s not the man by the pool for 38 years. The crowd gathered with Jesus and His disciples have only been there a day. They are not going to starve to death if they do not have something to eat. Uncomfortable? Yes!  Sick? Possibly! At the point of death? No! But, this miracle shows us that you don’t have to be dying or chronically ill for God to care.

Does it make a difference for you to know that if it is important to you, it is important to Him?

You are not dying, but you do need your house to sale. You are not dying, but you need $1,000 to fix your car so you can drive to your job. You are not dying, but you need a job. You are not dying, but you sure long for God to provide you a soul mate—someone to marry that will love you  and that you will spend the rest of your life with. You are not dying, but you sure need to understand Algebra. The list goes on and on. And in this miracle, I hear God say, “If it is important to you, and it does not involve sin, guess what, it’s important to Me.”

Some of you might well be saying, “Well, his need is greater—her need is greater. When I compare my prayer need with another’s prayer need, I’m ashamed.” Don’t get into comparison of needs. Your need is great because it is yours.  And because it is your need, your Heavenly Father cares.

How to Handle Criticism

“How do you handle criticism?” Somebody asked me that one time. I think I failed the test. I said that “Criticism doesn’t really bother me if I know I’m doing the right thing.” I don’t think I knew what I was talking about. At that time I had been criticized, but I hadn’t been criticized enough. I should have said, “I’m still learning how to deal with criticism.” The truth is, though criticism can sometimes help, it usually hurts.

Recognizing that I still have lots to learn about handling criticism, (and realizing that there are those out there ready to help me learn) here’s what I have learned so far.

  1. Consider the criticism—Of course, the first step to take when criticized is to consider the criticism. The criticism could be right and justified. As such, we should pay attention to the criticism. Reportedly, Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War in Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, once called Lincoln a fool. Lincoln inquired of the informer, “Did Stanton really call me a fool?”

“He did, sir,” was the response.

Lincoln replied, “Stanton is a wise man. If he said that I was a fool, I had better look into the matter.”

  1. Consider the source—Some people are just critical. One time I got a pretty scathing letter of criticism. In addition to just plain meanness, the letter was filled with inaccuracies. Worst of all, the person assumed wrong intentions on my part. Instead of the usual discouragement that criticism brings, this particular letter just made me plain mad. Then, I remembered, this particular person had a history of being critical about everything and everyone.
  2. Some people will criticize you for the very same thing that others offer you praise. I suspect that the lesson here is to not pay too close attention to either the praise or the criticism. One makes you susceptible to discouragement; the other makes you susceptible to pride.
  3. You will deal with criticism unless you decide to do nothing. My favorite quote on criticism, first shared with me by my football coach in college, comes from Teddy Roosevelt.

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.

  1. Remember that all of the great heroes of the faith were criticized. Moses quickly comes to mind.  No sooner than he, by God’s power, led the people out of slavery in Egypt, they were complaining about their lack of food, water, and the wilderness.

So, unless you plan to do nothing, you will deal with criticism. I pray we learn to handle it by grace and remember that we are in pretty good company with others who have been criticized.

How Much Is Your Bible Worth?

The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.  (Psalm 19:9-10 NIV)

Several years ago (2012) Elvis Presley’s Bible sold at an auction for $94,600? Among other markings, Luke 9:25 was underlined. According to the King James Version, the verse says, “For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?” In another spot, Elvis wrote in the margin, “To judge a man by his weakest link or deed is like judging the power of the ocean by one wave.”

I cannot fathom paying $94,600 for a Bible, but I do have in my possession a couple of Bibles that are rather special to me. One is a Bible that my youth pastor gave to me when I graduated high school. The Bible had been given to him by his youth pastor. In the front cover, my youth pastor wrote these words:

This New Testament helped me through my first two years of College. I hope this is an encouragement to you, with special verses marked and underlined that helped me. You have four years to be a witness on your campus. Don’t wait until your senior year. Start today.

I also have a Bible that belonged to Dr. Perry Sanders, my predecessor at First Baptist Church, Lafayette. The Bible was a gift to him by his parents upon the occasion of his high school graduation in 1943. The Bible is marked up and has several notations. In the front cover, Bro. Perry had simply written, “What the world needs is Jesus.”

What are you underlining and writing in your Bible? Better yet, are you living up to those notations?

Placing a Priority on Christian Fellowship

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

According to the one who called the gathering at a Baton Rouge Hotel a few years ago, “There was singing, clapping, preaching, and even an ‘Amen’ or two, but no offering, no prayers, and most importantly, no supernatural presence.” The meeting was called by a former Christian pastor who now says he is an atheist. He asked, “Can we duplicate the benefits that people are used to seeing in a church service, but without the supernatural?”

Now, as sad as we might say that story is because of the lack of faith and authentic commitment to Christ, this man and his congregation of followers provides believers with an important lesson on the importance of gathering with other believers. Even in denouncing faith, they were missing something, and they longed to get that something back. One word describes what they have missed—fellowship!

As believers in Jesus Christ, we must make much of the New Testament instruction to assemble ourselves together for purposes of corporate worship, teaching, prayer, and encouragement. In order for this to be a regular habit in our lives, we must prioritize the regular, public gathering. I never cease to be amazed at the list of things that take priority over the regular assembly. The list is long, and each activity can be easily rationalized. However, as in all things, I have learned that I can always make time for anything that I set as a priority. As a Christian and as a church member, make a fresh commitment to the corporate gathering of your church.

Memorial Day and Prayer

In initiating the idea of an annual remembrance, John A. Logan, Commander in Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, referred to those who had died in battles as those “who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes.” What a vivid way of portraying their sacrifice!

In reading some of the history of Memorial Day, I also found it fascinating that when the day became an official holiday, the intent was to tie the day to prayer. The Presidential Proclamation read, “The President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the people of the United States to observe each Memorial Day, by praying, each in accordance with his religious faith, for permanent peace; designating a period during such day in which all the people of the United States may unite in prayer for a permanent peace; calling upon all the people of the United States to unite in prayer at such time; and calling upon the newspapers, radio stations, and all other mediums of information to join in observing such day and period of prayer.”

Though we have a National Day of Prayer emphasis now, we would do well to make Memorial Day a special day of prayer for our country. Let us begin by remembering in prayer the families of those who have lost loved ones.