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.

Do You Know Someone Graduating this Year?

Probably all of us know at least one young person graduating from high school this year. A Barna survey from 2011 put into statistical form what all of us in the church have realized in our own ministries. Here are the findings:

  • 1/10 students who grow up in the Church leave after High School never to return.
  • 4/10 students who grow up in the Church leave after High School for a season and later return most often as young adults after marriage and having children.
  • 2/10 students who grow up in the Church leave after High School but not necessarily their relationship with Jesus. They leave over frustrations with the Church. (This is dangerous I might add. It will be very difficult, if not impossible to have a vibrant faith outside the context of a local church).
  • That leaves just 3/10 who remain connected to the Church after High School with no “wilderness-like” experience.

These numbers scare us as parents, pastors, and church leaders.

But, it’s not just high school graduates. It can be anybody. I have known scores of people in different settings of life who just abandoned the things of God.

We are familiar with 1 Peter 5:8, which says, “Be sober-minded! Be alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.” (CSB)

One of my life verses serves as a counterbalance to Peter’s warning. It’s found in 2 Chronicles 16:9, which says, “For the eyes of the Lord roam throughout the earth to show Himself strong for those who are wholeheartedly devoted to Him.”  (CSB)

Join me in praying for this year’s group of graduates that they will have hearts surrendered to Him who is ready to show Himself strong.

An Untangled Life

When Nick Saban was the coach of the Miami Dolphins, President George W. Bush was in Miami and wanted to meet Saban. Saban said that he did not have time. To most people Saban’s attitude might sound arrogant, but not to me. In essence, Saban said, “It’s not political for me; it’s football for me. It’s my job. My job is to prepare my team to play, and I don’t have time to meet the President.” Say what you will, but I will say there is a man who had identified his priorities and was sticking to them.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we must be able to establish and follow priorities. Paul instructed Timothy, as is recorded in 2 Timothy 2:4, “To please the recruiter, no one serving as a soldier gets entangled in the concerns of everyday life.”

I have learned that no one is going to help me keep my priorities. In fact, most people are going to tempt me with helping them deal with their priorities.

Our constant prayer should be that we not get entangled with the things that will keep us from fulfilling God-given priorities.

Swimming with Alligators

Graduation season is once again upon us. Almost all of us know someone who will be graduating in the next weeks.

Do you remember graduating from high school? When I think about graduation I think about a story I heard about a wealthy man who invited a large number of people to his home. At one point in the evening, he brought them outside to a pool and said, “I want to give a brand new BMW to the first person who can swim across this pool. There was only one problem—the pool was filled with very large alligators. For a while, no one moved. Suddenly, there was a splash and everyone watched this frantic young man swim as fast as he could from one side of the pool to the other. Coming to the other side of the pool, he jumped out unharmed by the gators. The host of the party was there to greet him with the keys to his brand new car. The host said, “I can’t wait to see you in your brand new BMW.” The man who had just come from the pool said, “I can’t wait to get my hands on the person who pushed me in the pool!”

The truth is, in a manner of speaking, graduating from high school or college (for that matter) is like being pushed into the deep end of the pool, and the pool is filled with very large gators.

So, how do we survive? The writer of Ecclesiastes gave us these words:

But beyond these, my son, be warned: there is no end to the making of many books, and much study wearies the body. 13 When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is: fear God and keep His commands, because this is for all humanity. 14 For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:12-14)

In order to survive the pool of gators, we need to …

Have a Big Perspective about Life. Often times our perspective is too shallow. We think if we can accumulate more, we will be happy. The writer of Ecclesiastes challenged that perspective when he said, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!” Without God, all things will be empty. With God, all things can be enjoyed. Have a Big, God-sized perspective regarding life.

Have Few Priorities. Discovering God’s plan for life means discovering that life will have relatively few priorities. In fact, the writer of Ecclesiastes is able to condense those priorities down to two. Fear God. Keep His commandments.

Have one Purpose. Our purpose must be to glorify God with our lives. If you really want your life to have ultimate meaning, know that in the end, our lives will not be measured by how much we have in this life, but how much we have stored up for eternal life.

Everything I Needed to Know about Leadership I Learned Umpiring Youth Baseball

I’ve got a little one playing 7-8-year-old baseball. They hit off of a pitching machine. They are improving. That is fun to see. The umpiring is not improving. There’s no use in getting upset about it. If well paid professional referees can miss a call that alters the chance for the Super Bowl, then teenagers making minimum wage are going to miss some calls. I would be willing to take up for them a little more if they would at least take their hands out of their pockets and appear to want to be making their $10 or whatever it is.

Watching these umpires takes me back to my high school and college days when I spent my summers umpiring youth baseball. I hope I was better than these guys I am seeing today. I have often said that umpiring helped me become a pastor and a leader.

With apologies to the great little book, All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, by Robert Fulghum, I offer “Everything I Needed to Know about Leadership I Learned Umpiring Youth Baseball.” Well, maybe not everything, but a lot.

As a Leader . . .

  1. You cannot play favorites. Teams demand fairness. Those you lead will expect fairness.
  2. You are not going to be liked by everyone. Close calls upset people. Difficult decisions upset people. Close calls are viewed through the lens of your team’s perspective. Difficult decisions as a leader are seen through personal bias.
  3. You quickly realize that some calls are really close. In umpiring, these close calls are called “bang/bang.” As a leader, you get some “bang/bang” decisions.
  4. You are going to make some mistakes. Enough said.
  5. You have to make a call. Umpires don’t get the option to delay a call or not make a call. The same is often true for leaders.
  6. You must get help when you need help but from the right people. Umpires call this “getting together.” Perhaps one umpire had a better angle than another. Leaders are not afraid to get help when they need it, but then have to own the decision as their own.
  7. You must keep things moving. The role of the umpire is sometimes to just keep the game moving. They want players hustling in and out of the dugouts. They keep coaches from spending too much time giving instructions so as to delay the game. Leaders learn how to keep things moving.
  8. You must learn that some people are going to argue with you about everything. Know this, as a leader, but never start the argument. Umpires get themselves in real trouble when they invoke the argument. Leaders should learn from them.
  9. You must always consult The Book. Umpires have a rule book. As Christian leaders, we have a rule book—the Bible. The Book has the final say!
  10. You must resist the temptation to be persuaded by the voices from the other side of the fence. As a young umpire, this was the toughest part of the job. The voices on the other side of the fence argued. They called me names. They accused. They were sure of things that I was equally sure of the opposite. In that moment, I had to learn which voice to listen to. Really, I was learning who I was going to please and what I was willing to do to please them. Really what was happening was that God was teaching me to be a leader.

My Seven Hopes

Dear Louisiana Baptists,

I am humbled and honored to be elected as your Executive Director. I am excited about God’s call and the call of the Executive Board. I cannot wait to get started.

Though I have much to learn and analyze before major decisions are made, I want to share with you my hopes for the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

As I have prayed about my role, I want to share seven hopes for us as a Convention.

Jesus will be exalted.
If we can agree on anything, we should be able to agree that Jesus should be exalted. Jesus is the Head of the Church. If He is the Head of the Church, then He is the Head of the LBC. I look forward to times of gathering when we will together exalt Jesus. Let me offer the challenge now that we strive toward the largest attendance in years to our Annual Meeting. Make attending this year in Alexandria, November 11-12, a real priority. Yes, we will conduct business and hear reports, but let’s gather to exalt Jesus.

Since churches are essential to our work, churches will be equipped.
Baptists are different. As a cooperative body, no church has to participate. I envision that churches will want to be a part because they will recognize the value of the excellence in equipping that they will receive through the efforts of our Convention.

Pastors will be encouraged.
Churches are essential to our work, and spiritually healthy pastors are essential to healthy churches. I have been a pastor of four churches. Each church was a different size and had different strengths and weaknesses, but all required hard work. I want to encourage pastors through public ministry to them and private friendship with them to be all that God has called them to be. This will be my daily prayer, daily goal, and daily evaluation.

Louisiana will be evangelized.
I love Louisiana! I was born in North Louisiana and grew up visiting relatives in Olla, Jonesboro, and Monroe. I was raised in South Louisiana. I went to Seminary in New Orleans. My first two pastorates were in Southeast Louisiana. My last two pastorates were in Acadiana. My Louisiana roots are deep, and my love is strong. I resonate with the Apostle Paul when writing to the Romans about his people, “My heart’s desire and prayer to God concerning them is for their salvation.” (Romans 10:1) We will build on the work already established and work tirelessly to call our state to call on the name of Jesus Christ alone for salvation.

The Cooperative Program will be emphasized.
I make no apologies here. This is why we are Southern Baptists and Louisiana Baptists. My last two churches gave over 10% through the Cooperative Program. I know that this level of giving is possible without sacrificing effective local church ministry.

I like to tell the story of Mrs. Barbara Moncrief. Until her death, she asked the same question every year during our annual meeting to present the budget. When we would come to the area of our budget addressing our church’s investment in the Cooperative Program, Mrs. Barbara would raise her hand. After being recognized, she asked, “Is this the best that we can do?”

I came to love that question. It’s a great question for all areas of life. We should always be willing to ask the question, “Is this the best that we can do?”

This is the question that we must continue to ask at every level of Louisiana Baptist and Southern Baptist life. Every Christian must ask this question about his or her personal giving. Every church must ask this question about their giving level to the CP in relationship to their other ministries. Every entity must ask this question as they develop a budget. The Louisiana Baptist Convention must ask this question continuously in our operations.

I will be a champion of the Cooperative Program, challenge our entities to be together in our appeals, and oversee the LBC staff to be the best stewards of the Cooperative Program receipts that the LBC keeps.

The Louisiana Baptist Convention will be efficient and effective.
This is the expectation. This is the area that I have most to learn, so be patient with me, but I pledge my best efforts at leading us to be effective and efficient. I will soon be visiting every corner of our state listening to Louisiana Baptists. I will meet with all of our other Louisiana Baptist Convention partners. I will seek to understand our work better. I know we will be at our best when we are confident that our Cooperative Program money is being used with great effectiveness and efficiency.

I will seek to serve as an example.
I will never ask you to do something that I am not willing to do. I will seek to serve as an example in these other six areas. For example, I will not only be engaged in evangelism through preaching, but in personal witnessing encounters. In fact, the Southern Baptist Convention has a challenge of “Who’s Your One?”. I have used this same strategy on multiple occasions as a pastor. This is a simple but effective strategy. I will need to find quickly a “one” in my new city of residence.

So, come on Louisiana Baptists. Make plans now to join us in Alexandria in November for the Annual Meeting. Let’s work together to make a difference in the great state of Louisiana.

To view the Baptist Message’s article regarding Dr. Horn’s election, click here.