Don’t Be Afraid

As 2019 came to a close, I saw many people encouraging us to identify a “Word for 2020.” If you are not familiar, the idea is essentially the same as New Year Resolutions. Instead of a resolution, the “word of the year” could be a guiding word, maybe even a prayer for the year.

I closed 2019 by reading through the Gospel of Luke. Not intentionally looking for a word, I began to see the recurring phrase, “Do not be afraid” or some synonymous phrase.

According to my reading, we read in Luke . . .

  • To Zechariah, “Do not be afraid, because your prayer has been heard.” (1:13)
  • To Mary, “Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God.” (1:30)
  • To the Shepherds, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is Messiah, the Lord.” (2:10-11)
  • To Simon, Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid, from now on you will be catching people.” (5:10)
  • To a Synagogue leader with a sick daughter, Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid. Only believe, and she will be saved.” (8:50)
  • To the disciples, Jesus said, “Don’t fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will show you the one to fear: Fear him who has authority to throw people into hell after death. Yes, I say to you, this is the one to fear!” (12:4-5)
  • To the disciples, Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (12:7)
  • To the disciples, Jesus said, “Don’t worry about how you should defend yourselves or what you should say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you at the very hour what must be said.” (12:11-12)
  • To the disciples, Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom.” (12:32)

I have thought in recent days how tumultuous 2020 will potentially be. Our nation shows no promise of being able to handle a presidential election with any kind of courtesy or civility toward those who disagree. Christians who ought to set the example of how to hold such discussions are no better at this than unbelievers. (I regret to have to write that sentence.) Now, as 2020 dawns, tensions have boiled over in the Middle East leading some to already predict World War. These national and global crises mean nothing to the personal crises of addiction, divorce, terminal illness, and the like that have greeted some as this New Year dawns.

So, these are the words that I am entering 2020 with in my heart: “Don’t be afraid!” I am not going to be afraid because . . .

The One True God, the God of this universe, hears my prayer.

I, too, have found favor with God. I don’t deserve his favor, but I am doomed without His favor.

The greatest news of all-time has been revealed. We have a Savior, and His name is Jesus!

Jesus has brought not only salvation to me, but now has given me purpose in life by making that salvation known to others. And, along with that purpose in life, He gives me power to “catch people” or to be His witness.

He has the power to heal the sick even those sick unto death.

Even those who seek to kill do not have power over God.

We matter to Him.

He gives us words to say even in the most difficult experiences of life.

He is working to bring about His Kingdom which will have no end and is making us a part of that Kingdom.

I may need to be reminded somewhere along the way in 2020 to not be afraid, but I don’t think there is a better word or few words for us than these: Don’t be afraid!

Don’t Lose the Wonder

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. – Luke 2:19 (NIV)

Christmas is filled with wonder. I love seeing the wonder of Christmas in a child’s eyes. Wonder at Christmas is as old as the night of Jesus’ birth. The shepherds wondered at the announcement of the angels. Mary wondered at the report of the shepherds. Here’s my Christmas prayer: Lord, never let us lose the wonder of Christmas.

We cannot lose the wonder of the past event. We ought to wonder at the fact that God planned before the foundations of the world every detail of Jesus’ coming. Men of God prophesied these details centuries before His coming. We must not lose the wonder that God filled this past event with purpose.  With Jesus’ coming, God purposed that Jesus would be our Savior.

We cannot lose the wonder of the present possibility. Because of Jesus’ coming, we all have the present possibility for salvation. Without Jesus, there is no possibility for salvation. We all have the possibility of real joy and peace. Though these words fill greeting cards, they are meaningless without His coming.

We cannot lose the wonder of the potential for the future. Christmas reveals miracles. If God can be incarnate in our world, what else can He do? Christmas is a time for wondering, treasuring, and pondering.

Don’t ever lose the wonder of Christmas!

His Kingdom Will Never End!

… and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:33 NIV)

What if God sent Christmas cards? He did send Christmas messages. By that I mean the messages of the angels are God’s messages. For example, in Luke 1:33 we read, “His Kingdom will never end!” What a message! What a message for our time!

It is easy to forget how revolutionary these words were when the angel spoke them. Remember these words, in addition to being spoken by an angel, were spoken to an unwed teenage girl, completely without warning, in an obscure village in a remote part of the world about an unborn baby.

God’s message to Mary through the angels is a reminder to me of at least two truths.

First, God keeps His promises. From Malachi to Jesus, four hundred years had passed. Many a generation had come and gone without seeing the prophecy realized. Maybe some had come to believe that Messiah would not come.

But He did. As Paul said in Galatians 4:4, “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman.” At the right time, Jesus came.

Sometimes it might not look like God is a keeper of His Word, but when I look at the manger, I am reminded that God always keeps His promises.

Second, God’s message is a reminder to me that I must keep my perspective. “His kingdom will never end.” In the kingdom of this world, nothing is forever. There is a legend that suggests that kings of the Roman Empire era returning from victory on the battle field employed a slave to whisper in their ear as they were paraded through the streets in celebration. The slave would whisper in Latin, “Sic transit Gloria mundi.” That is, “The glory of the world is fleeting.”

Here is the glorious contrast: In God’s Kingdom, everything is forever. And with that is God’s sovereign hand of control over all of the affairs of this world. Not only does His sovereign hand control, but His kingdom cannot be defeated.

Which kingdom are you going to serve? Are you going to serve the kingdom of this world which is passing? Or, are we going to serve Christ and His kingdom which will have no end?

Thank You for Giving to the Lottie Moon Offering

Christmas season is a season of giving. For Southern Baptists, this season of giving is important for giving to our International Mission Board through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. I hope that you have given your offering already. If not, I hope that you will give soon through your local church.

On behalf of the approximately 3,656 missionaries and their children, let me thank you for that gift. Let me thank you for your investment in the progress of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Specifically, let me thank you on behalf of several individual families that I have met with in recent weeks.

First, thank you on behalf of parents of missionary families who are facing their first Christmas with their children in another country. The sacrifice of the missionaries who go is often talked about by us. This is certainly appropriate. What sometimes is overlooked is the sacrifice of their parents who stay behind while their kids go to distant, often dangerous places.

Second, let me thank you on behalf of a missionary couple whom I know well. In a recent visit with them, they spoke of their car. Knowing that they had not always had a car in their country, I asked specifically about their access to a car. “Oh,” they said, “the car was provided by Lottie Moon.” I smiled. I knew exactly what that meant. They are thankful.

Finally, let me thank you on behalf of a new missionary family I was introduced to by one of our Louisiana pastors. The couple has served in an undisclosed country for 27 years. They shared with incredible joy about their work for several hours. Upon my departure, the missionary said, “Can I ask a favor?”

I said, “Tell me what it is.”

He said, “Promise me that to the next 5 groups you speak to, you will say ‘thank you’ for us.”

I promised them I would. I have. And now, I want to go beyond those five groups and say to all who read and have given, “Thank you.”

But beyond this, thank you on behalf of those who have heard the Gospel in their heart language and responded to the offer of God’s Amazing Grace!

As the old hymn says, “When we all get to Heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be!”

As we read in Revelation, “After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. . . . And they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

Re-Thinking Our Lottie Moon Giving

Some years ago, our church hosted an International Mission Board speaker to speak to us about his work and the importance of giving to that year’s offering. As I introduced him, I challenged our church to erase whatever we thought we were going to give and be receptive to hearing from God.

At the very end of his talk, our missionary speaker made a startling statement that should cause all of us to rethink our giving. The missionary told about being in a meeting with about 220 other missionary families. In this gathering, the missionaries themselves were asked to make a sacrificial gift to the Lottie Moon offering. These 220 missionary families gave in excess of $300,000.

I did the math so you don’t have to yourself. That’s an average of $1,363.64 per missionary family.

Southern Baptists, how can we ask our missionaries who are already sacrificing so much to “out-sacrifice” the rest of us in this season of giving? Be as generous and sacrificial as you can be this year.

Again, let the words of Lottie Moon, herself, guide you.

Is not the festive season when families and friends exchange gifts in memory of The Gift laid on the altar of the world for the redemption of the human race, the most appropriate time to consecrate a portion from abounding riches and scant poverty to send forth the good tidings of great joy into all the earth?

Southern Baptists, Lottie Moon, and Christmas

For Southern Baptists, Christmas season and missions are inextricably linked by the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. In short, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is the major funding source for our overseas missions effort as Southern Baptists.

Lottie Moon, the missionary to China of the 1880s summed up best our reason for giving to missions at Christmas:

“Is not the festive season when families and friends exchange gifts in memory of The Gift laid on the altar of the world for the redemption of the human race, the most appropriate time to consecrate a portion from abounding riches and scant poverty to send forth the good tidings of great joy into all the earth?”

As we enter the month of December, we will join with other Southern Baptists in a season of giving specific for international missions. A few years ago, I heard a missionary say:

“I do not expect you to go with me, but God expects me to go and I will be disobedient if I do not go.”

But, if God expects him to go and not us, should not we assume that God expects us to help him go? Please join me in giving to this year’s offering.

As you think about giving, let me suggest to you some specific ideas about giving this year.

  • $25-If you are a new Christian or a new Southern Baptist who has never heard of Lottie Moon, this may be a place to start. I always say “start where you are.” Start with this initial gift representing Christmas as the 25thday of December.
  • $365-Some may consider this gift representing $1 a day for the entire year.
  • Empty out that change jar and give it to the Lottie Moon offering.
  • Give an amount equal to the average amount that you will spend on a Christmas gift.
  • Give an amount that is greater than any amount you have previously given to the Lottie Moon Offering.

On behalf of missionaries I know and am privileged to get to represent at some level, I say thank you for your generosity.

A Lesson on Thanksgiving When the Happy Ending Has Not Come Yet!

Habakkuk ended his prophecy like this:

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there is no fruit on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
18yet I will triumph in Yahweh;
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation!
19Yahweh my Lord is my strength;
He makes my feet like those of a deer
and enables me to walk on mountain heights! (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

Now, Habakkuk was not always in this praise place. In fact, if you read the whole book of Habakkuk, he was very far away from this place.

Habakkuk most likely prophesied just before the beginning of the exile when the sin of Judah is at the peak. Habakkuk questioned God as to how long He would allow sin to reign in Judah (1:1-4). God answered back that He was preparing the Babylonians to deal with Judah’s sin (1:5-11). Habakkuk’s second question concerns how God could use the Babylonians, who were more wicked, to be the instrument of judgment against Judah (1:12-2:1).

When God answers Habakkuk’s questions we learn several important truths.

  1. God is always at work even if we do not see how He is at work.
  2. God will speak at the right time.

And so, we must learn to walk by faith.

Habakkuk’s name in Hebrew means something like “one who embraces” or “one who clings.”  That’s what we must do sometimes—cling to or embrace our faith in God.  Sometimes all we have is to cling to our faith.

Maybe today your prayer sounds a lot like Habakkuk’s opening words of his praise. Maybe your prayer goes like this:

Though the cane, corn, and cotton crops fail
And the oil wells all dry up
Even though there may be no money in the bank
Yet, I will rejoice in the Lord!

Though I share Christ with all my neighbors and family
But there are no decisions
And, even though, the Doctor called last week
And the news is not good
Yet, I will rejoice in the Lord!
He is my salvation and hope!

You only get to those last words by faith!

Four Steps to Solving Most Any Relationship Issue

Many New Testament scholars give the educated guess that the book of James is among the earliest, if not the earliest, written New Testament books. If this widely-held thesis is correct, then with James, we have a good look into the issues that the earliest believers in Jesus struggled with in their discipleship. We then observe that we struggle with the same issues. Indeed the sin and struggles of the human heart stretch across generations.

At the risk of oversimplifying the issue, but relying on the word of God, can we solve most every relationship struggle with four steps? Let me be the messenger of some “one another” statements from Brother James.

  1. Don’t criticize one another, brothers and sisters. James 4:11
  2. Brothers and sisters, do not complain about one another. James 5:9
  3. Confess your sins to one another. James 5:16
  4. Pray for one another. James 5:16

Think about a church or a convention of churches where we did not criticize one another or complain about one another, but instead confessed our own sin to one another, and prayed for one another.

A Quick Look Back at Our Annual Meeting

To those of you who came to the annual meeting of Louisiana Baptists, thank you. We had about forty more registered messengers than last year. An increase is better than a decrease. We will need to work hard to have an even better participation next year in New Orleans.

Overall, I think we had a great meeting. I thought the preaching was excellent. Jake Roudkovski, Paul Chitwood, Jamie Dew, Eddie Wren, Jeffery Friend, and Clint Pressley all challenged me. I am hearing good reports about the times of fellowship.

We welcomed 17 new churches into our convention. Please pray for these new brothers and sisters.

For those not able to attend, I raised two fundamental questions in my address that I hope every Louisiana Baptists will pray over and ponder.

  • Will we allow our diversity to divide us and distract us from our primary mission?
  • Will we require uniformity in order to cooperate for our primary mission?

The way that we answer these two questions over the next decade will either strengthen or weaken our cooperative ministries.

Are You Registered for the Louisiana Baptist Convention Annual Meeting?

We are days out from the two day annual meeting of Louisiana Baptists. This year we are meeting in Alexandria at the Riverfront Center on November 11 and 12. The staff of Louisiana Baptists are hard at work putting the final touches on the details of the meeting.

Our theme is RENEW. We have some new churches to celebrate, and we want to renew our commitment to our common work. We have new leaders who are planning to be with us. The International Mission Board has a new president in Dr. Paul Chitwood. We will be blessed to hear him on Monday night. We have a new president at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in Dr. Jamie Dew. Dr. Dew will be with us on Tuesday morning. For these two reasons alone, I want you to come to this year’s convention. We want to connect with these new leaders. We want to form strong relationships with them.

Of course, this year will be my first convention as your new executive director. I will be offering a report and challenge Monday night.

Isaiah 40:31 reminds us that “those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength.” Join me in praying that this year’s Convention will prove to be an occasion of genuine renewal—personal renewal and corporate renewal for our common work.