Avoiding the Awkward and Encountering the Amazing Ideas and Suggestions to Help Us Remember

Growing up in the church, the Lord’s Supper often seemed mechanical, cold and unfamiliar to me. Why? Because it was done in a mechanical, cold, and unfamiliar way. The subtext of many of these celebrations seemed to be, “We only do this once every three months and so we barely know how this will go. Let’s not mess it up by forgetting something. So it’s ironic that the theme of the Lord’s Supper is actually remembering!

The Lord’s Supper should be the most powerful, transforming, intimate act of worship we do together as the church. There have been times recently when these moments have been so powerful that I’ve saved my cup and keep it in my office days after the event. I just didn’t want to forget that moment.

So how can we exile the awkwardness and set the mysterious table for worship?

First, suggestions:

  • Plan. Get together to plan the Lord’s Supper so that everyone knows how it will go. Don’t meet days in advance. The best planning happens a few hours before worship.
  • Prepare. However you plan to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, don’t rush in the preparation. Fill the cups, get the table set? Yes. But also prepare by praying during this time. Think about the people in your church who will be there. Pray for those that come to mind. Ask God to inhabit the experience.
  • Focus. During the celebration, make sure you fulfill your duties but have an attitude of blessing those you serve! How do you do this? Simply focus on each person you serve with a heart of love and compassion. Trust me. You’ll have moments of improvisation where you’ll see someone who doesn’t get served and you’ll have to backtrack or give direction to your fellow deacons, but don’t allow these moments to steal the moment. I’ll never forget Julian, a 72 year old deacon who was a soft-spoken man, well respected and loved by our church but certainly a man of few words. I was sitting near the back of the church since I wasn’t needed for serving that Sunday night. When he brought the plate to my aisle, he looked me in the eye and whispered, “Love you, Matt.” That simple blessing over me transformed that night. He understood that it wasn’t about the details. The Lord’s Supper is always about love.

Now let’s consider a few ideas for celebrating the Lord’s Supper. While the fundamental elements of the Lord’s Supper remain constant we can make this time elemental and unique. None of the following ideas or should be done every time the Lord’s Supper is taken but, trust me, these experiential ideas had a deep impact on me as a believer and a deacon.

Exchanging of the cup

After the bread has been served and you move toward the taking of the cup, the pastor would ask the Church to stand with cup in hand and explain that the Lord’s Supper is a symbol of love, reconciliation and unity. The pastor explains this to the church and then invites them to exchange their cup with another member (or more) of the church as a silent expression of their love for that person. This requires them to move around the auditorium and so you’ll want to give them some time to do this. The pastor should direct them that they should do this in silence. Once as pastor, several years ago, I watched in amazement as two men, without words, reconciled simply through exchanging cups. I’ve often wondered if this would have happened in any other moment. The Lord’s Supper broke down the wall of disagreement they had been harboring. They reconciled without saying another word and in the following weeks I was stunned to see a friendship developing between them.

Communion at Midnight

Another experience to consider calendaring is a prayer event. Members would gather that evening around 8 PM. We would do this on a selected Friday night. We would pray at the church alone, in groups and all together for four hours. I know it sounds lengthy, but with a well-conceived schedule you’ll be amazed at how the time flies! Because fewer people come to events like these, you’ll experience an intimacy with the people that you don’t get in a one-hour worship service. At the end of the night, we’d prepare a table with candles and the elements of the Lord’s Supper. A couple of deacons did this while other activities were going on. At midnight I invited the group to follow me to the room. We walked into a room with a large table and the elements. It was the closest I’ve ever felt to being a part of an early Church experience. We sang familiar choruses and we shared what the Lord’s Supper meant to each of us and then at the end we took communion. This became one of the most anticipated events on the church calendar.

Other ideas:

  • The Nails: Before passing the elements, pass nails to each row and invite the worshipers to press the nail against their palm to remember the suffering of Christ and then pass it to the next person of the row.
  • Planned Spontaneity: Before passing the bread have someone stand in the congregation and sing, “Sweet Little Jesus Boy.” Then before passing the cups, have another singer sing “Were You There When the Crucified my Lord” As the benediction the congregation is led to sing the last verse of “Were You There” (Where you there when He rose up from the grave.)
  • Family Communion: Invite people to come to the front as families or as groups to share the elements together. As Deacons make sure to include singles and people away from their family to join your family so no one takes the Lord’s Supper Alone.
  • Deyanu: Use the following responsive reading adapted from an ancient Hebrew litany called “Deyanu.” The congregation only has to repeat after each phrase. “It would have been enough.”

If we knew Jesus as Savior but we were never promised me eternal life.
It would have been enough us.

If we knew Jesus as Savior, were promised eternal life and never knew that He experienced our pain
It would have been enough for us

If we knew Jesus as Savior, were promised eternal life, knew that he experienced our pain but were not given His words and strength.
It would have been enough for us.

If we knew Jesus as Savior, were promised eternal life, knew that he experienced our pain, were given His words and strength and never knew Him as friend.
It would have been enough for us.

If we knew Jesus as Savior, were promised eternal life, knew that He experienced our pain, were given His words and strength, knew Him as friend but never had a chance to have a spiritual family.
It would have been enough for us.

But we do and He did.

Jesus wanted us to remember. My prayer is that we will remember and experience the power of His sacrifice and every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we get a little closer to the glory of Christ.

A New Year’s Prayer: Help Us Not to Crumble

At prayer time one evening, a young mother discovered her admonition regarding thankfulness had not been completely understood by her children. She had been encouraging them to always have a grateful spirit and not to complain or grumble. However, when her small child prayed, it came out this way: “Oh Lord, help us not to crumble!”

That’s not a bad prayer either!

In Luke 22:31, we read of Jesus saying to Simon Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.” Satan was intent on “threshing” Peter so that he could destroy his faith. It is a needed warning. How many have been sifted just in this last year alone. Powerful people who thought they could live as they pleased – politicians, entertainers, media stars, athletes – have reaped the consequences of their behavior and have been sidelined.

Before we spend too much time pointing an indignant finger at the world, however, we have to admit the sad story of sifting that has occurred in the church. All too frequently last year my office got reports of fellow ministers of the gospel who had fallen into sin and were experiencing the heartbreak of being sifted.

The lesson? It can happen to you! It is interesting that Peter’s first response is to deny that he will fail. He insists that he will even die for the cause. Sadly, he did fail and denied Christ. Don’t think that you are invincible to Satan’s attacks.

I am encouraged by the Savior’s promise: “But I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not.” May the Lord’s intercession on my behalf keep me true to him and my calling. In the beginning of this year, with all of its possibilities before us, let us submit ourselves under the Lord’s diligent protection and resolve that we will not let Satan sideline us. Oh Lord, help us not to crumble!

A Year to Go Back to the Future

Imagine what this coming year might be for your church!

Wow! What an amazing year 2018 has been! We’re not a super-large church but as we enter 2019, we’ve had amazing growth and results.

It all started with ECON on January 22-23, 2018. I decided to invite our key leaders to join me for the conference at First Baptist Pineville. They came away inspired and motivated to reach their neighbors, recruit new leaders, and most of all share the Good News of Christ. And as always, ECON program fees were all waived thanks to CP.

We even took 20 students to Student Night and three accepted Christ. Brent Crowe knocked it out of the park, but more than anything, God showed up. I’m so glad our volunteers took the initiative to make it happen.

Five of our students went to Voyage to learn about missions. All of them returned committed to make their life count for the Gospel. I think one student might feel called to become a vocational missionary. She went to Uganda in July with a few other students from our association.

In February, I went to the Prayer Bootcamp with Claude King. Wow! I came away committed to pray more for our church. After that day I invested more time than I ever have in prayer and I see God doing so many incredible things!

We hired a part-time youth minister and one of the first things I encouraged him to do was to go to The Forum. He made some great connections with other veteran youth leaders and got to hear Brent Crowe again from the perspective of youth ministry leadership.

A number of our women went to the WMU Missions Celebration 2018 back in April. After returning they started working on an “English as a Second Language” ministry and a Tuesday night Bible study. Our church is now multicultural! They also began a food closet!

Summer was amazing with a record-breaking VBS thanks to the training our team received then incredible trips to Kids Camp and Clear Camp. By the end of the summer our attendance on Sundays averaged way above our 2017 numbers.

Ten of our Sunday School teachers and leaders went to ReGroup in August and by October we saw a marked improvement in our Sunday School outreach, attendance and leader recruitment. We’ve started 3 new classes!

For the first time in years I went to the Louisiana Baptist Annual Meeting. There was such a feeling of purpose and unity in our state. I got to see lots of old friends, but more than anything I started getting really excited about 2019! I was reminded time and time again that this is important, eternal work that we do.

We doubled the number of students going to YEC. We had 15 decisions from our church and I believe we now have the funds to start talking to our youth minister about going full-time. I’m so thankful for him!

All-in-all we’ve had an amazing 2018 and I can’t wait for 2019! Ministry is such an adventure and I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to serve as a pastor. God is at work and we are thankful that so many of these events we supported and funded through the Cooperative Program.

We Learn to Love at Christmas

“I will tend My flock and let them lie down.” This is the declaration of the Lord GOD. “I will seek the lost, bring back the strays, bandage the injured, and strengthen the weak, but I will destroy the fat and the strong. I will shepherd them with justice.” – Ezekiel 34:15-16 (HCSB)           

“For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.” – Lamentations 3:31-33 (NIV)

“For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 (HCSB)

He couldn’t do anything for himself. Born with cerebral palsy, he sat in the wheel chair loving every second of the Christmas musical. He faces challenges that I can’t even imagine. His body wrecked by a disease that caused him to be constantly moving. They sat in the back of the auditorium, perhaps wanting not to distract. And sitting next to him was a proud mother, I couldn’t help stealing a glance throughout that evening, to see hear stroking his hair, wiping his mouth, and smiling all the while. She adored him. I whispered under my breath from behind the stage, “That’s it. That’s love.”

I had to meet this amazing mother after the musical. She was a single mom who just moved to Louisiana from Kansas. “How do you do this all by yourself?” I had to ask. “He’s my life. He’s the greatest blessing that ever happened to me.”

This two-person family had an eternal impact on me. I received a glimpse of God’s love for me. Despite my constant battles with the curse of sin and personal rebellion, God loved me like that. Amazingly, you are God’s treasure and if you follow Him, He will be yours.

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” – 1 John 4:10

“But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us!” – Romans 5:8

No doubt you’ve already heard the familiar words of “O Holy Night.” Don’t miss the truth of the final verse:

Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is love and His gospel is peace.

If you want to know how to love one another, look at the love that sent Jesus to the earth to live a life of love and pay the price for all our sins. It’s all about love. This isn’t a love of fancy words and impossible tasks. This is a love that says, “I am willing to love you no matter what.”

We can love because He first loved us.

Share: Share a time in your life when you felt most loved by God.

Encourage: Invite a friend to your church’s Christmas presentation or an upcoming event. Most people become a part of a church when they are invited by a member.

Evaluate: Are you striving to love people the same way Christ loved you?

Pray: Lord, teach us what it means to love each other as you first loved us. Remind us our lives are infinitely connect through the love of Christ. Teach us the language of sacrificial love.

Family Activity: As a family, watch a movie that depicts the life of Christ such as “Jesus of Nazareth,” “The Nativity,” or “The Jesus Movie.” Explain the difference in the fictional tales of Christmas and the true story of Jesus’s birth. If you have teens in the home, you might want to view “The Star of Bethlehem” documentary or “A Case for Christ.” Both present powerful apologetics for the historical Christ.

We Wait Expectantly at Christmas

Wait for the LORD; be courageous and let your heart be strong. Wait for the LORD. Psalm 27:14 (HCSB)

Now without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him. Hebrews 11:6 (HCSB)

What’s the longest you’ve had to wait for something?

I’d imagine almost everyone has a memory of Christmas Eve as a child; squeezing your eyes shut, trying with all your might to go to sleep on Christmas Eve. For those of us with orthodox parents, we knew that even opening one present before Christmas morning was akin to high heresy, so we counted sheep and waited.

Waiting is still difficult for us these days. Everything is expected to be at our fingertips the moment we have the desire for it. It’s a world we are growing into and it’s addicting. We abide in a world of downloads, email, on demand, and Hot Pockets™. Yet God finds ways of making us wait. Waiting and faith go hand-in-hand.

  • We wait for the baby we’ve dreamed we’d hold in our arms.
  • Some wait for a prodigal to come to the end of himself and return home.
  • Many of us in tough economic times are waiting for the phone to ring so we can return to a job with a normal salary and benefits.
  • Others are waiting for a spiritual breakthrough that will open our eyes.

Waiting is the embodiment of faith.

In Hebrews 11:13 we are reminded that faith involves trust in God’s promise even if the promises of God are fulfilled long after we are gone. The writer says, “These all died in faith without having received the promises, but they saw them from a distance.” (emphasis added).

Advent is about faith and waiting. What are you waiting on God for this year? Remember the years of silence as God’s people waited for the Messiah. Take time today, right now, to reflect on the fact that God’s timing is quite different from ours.

The story of Christ’s birth gives us assurance and joy because even though the waiting lingered for decades, God broke through at just the right time.

Are you struggling with a lack of faith? That’s okay. It doesn’t take much faith to get God’s attention. Jesus encouraged his frustrated followers this way: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Most of us try to grow a forest in one day. Jesus, however, invites you to begin with a tiny seed. Watch it grow and wait for it to become all that you dreamed it would be.

  • Mary wasn’t given a full-grown son.
  • The Wise Men from the east didn’t get the Messiah to appear at their front door.
  • An entire nation waited centuries before their eternal King appeared.

Are you willing to plant faith and wait upon God?

Nothing seems to be appearing on the horizon today, but just wait! God always keeps his promises, even to those who have little faith. Just wait.

Share: Share with a friend or family member something you are waiting for.

Encourage: Encourage someone you know who is weary of waiting. Remind them of God’s promises.

Evaluate: Take inventory of your relationship with God. Are you struggling with His silence?

Pray: Lord, I remember the years of waiting for a Messiah. I’m often impatient with my life. Please teach me to enjoy You and not just the blessings I see in Your hands. Fill my days with laughter and joy through hardship and uncertainty. Remind me that when I think I’m waiting for an eternity, it really isn’t. Life on this earth is infinitesimally smaller than a second in the light of true eternity.

Family Activity: Create a decorative graffiti poster of things you have faith God will do for your family and your church this upcoming year. If you have kids invite them be a part of the project. This is a great time to teach them about the concept of faith. Display it in a prominent place in your home.

To Celebrate Christmas is to Remember

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

Christmas is expectation and remembrance. We enter the story of a world in need of a new start. It’s as much about the journey as it is the destination. And as we travel on this Christmas journey we remember. We remember Christmases of joy and hardship. We remember the people we love who aren’t around our table anymore. Some memories are sweet. Others are difficult.

The Italian poet, Cesare Pavese, wrote, “We do not remember days; we remember moments.” One man at the end of his life was heard saying, “I’ve had my moments, but if I had my life to do over again, I would have more of them.”

Can you imagine all the moments Mary would have treasured that first Christmas? Luke tells us that Mary kept all these memories and treasured them in her heart.

She’d seen and experienced things no one has ever or will ever see. She wasn’t selected because of her wealth, her education, her royal lineage, or her great deeds. In fact, the Bible is silent about the spec sheet on being the mother of the Messiah. We only know that God favored her highly among women. God’s glory consumed her life from the moment Gabriel visited her. God’s glory and His radiant love transformed her. She held the Son of God that night of which we sing. It was a holy night. God’s glory came to earth and wrote a love letter to the world in the shape of a newborn Baby.

What happens when you catch a glimpse of God? You treasure it. Mary could have had bitter memories about the travel arrangements, the lack of planning, the constant need to improvise. But Mary, in a barn full of visiting animals, horses, mules, stray dogs, camels, splinters, hay and horse manure, kept all these things treasured in her heart.

That night she had to contend with Joseph’s snoring and those shepherds, loudly recounting the amazing appearance of angels. They probably woke the Baby several times that night. But, just before dawn, with all asleep, except Mary and a mule, she gathered from the hope chest of the near past a tapestry of memories —

  • The beautiful colors of Gabriel’s clothes,
  • The look on the face of Elizabeth when she turned and saw Mary,
  • The busyness of packing for the dreaded tax appointment,
  • “No Vacancy” signs,
  • The nervous, frustrated father,
  • The tiny hands of the newborn King.

I would imagine she wept and smiled. She experienced an orchestra of emotions in concert with the breeze that swept through the hills of Bethlehem like a spirit newly released.

We each have opportunities to capture memories of Christ when we follow Him. Knowing that He became our savior gives us a reason for joy. It’s Good News worth celebrating and joy worth finding.

Share: Journal a favorite Christmas Eve memory as a child and share it with a family member(s).

Encourage: Challenge your family and friends to create memories of joy and love this Christmas.

Evaluate: What memories do you wish to make next year? Ask yourself this question: If I were to live just one more year what would that year be all about? Plan to live that kind of year in 2018!

Pray: Lord, remind me of all the ways you have blessed me. Teach me to number my days and leave a mark of love in the lives of people around me and around the world.

Family Activity:

Ask each family member to give one gift that isn’t bought but is created. Place that gift under the Christmas tree. It might be a craft, a recording, a letter of love, or something handmade.

Read together the story of Christmas before bed on Christmas Eve.

2017 Annual Meeting Videos

The 2017 Louisiana Baptist Convention was held November 13-14 at Istrouma Baptist Church in Baton Rouge.

Watch below to get caught up on the great things God is doing in our state.

Monday Evening

Tuesday Morning

Tuesday Evening

Christmas is a Great Time to Share

The holidays are upon us and soon, many people will be taking a little time off to be with family and friends – or simply to use their remaining vacation days before they lose them!

My guess is during this “down-time,” if you will, a good number of folks will spend more time than usual scrolling through their smart phones. As this thought passed through my mind, it was joined by another one – this would be a great time to share the Here for You spots and seed God’s word into people’s hearts and homes as they scroll through their social media platforms looking for something that catches their attention!

So, here is a Christmas invitation – as we get closer to Christmas, and especially during the week between Christmas and New Years, I invite you to join me in sharing the Here for You spots several times via your social media platforms. You don’t want to “over-post” if you will, but if during the course of a week you share 3-4 of your favorite Here for You spots and provide your own intro/comments, you never know how God will use this simple act.

We all know people who need to make peace with a family member, friend, or even God. Why not share Peacemakers or Let’s Talk?

Others know something is missing in their lives, but they’re not sure what. You can share Miss the Bus or Mama was Right and share the truth that “God blesses those who … realize their need for Him.” Matthew 5:3.

And who doesn’t enjoy a laugh or a smile during the holidays? If you’ll share Merciful or Pure in Heart, it may provide a light hearted moment which can help generate that smile and, at the same time, seed God’s truth in their hearts.

Go to www.HereforYou.org and pick out the spots you want to share. Ask God’s Spirit to catch people’s attention as they’re scrolling and share away.

I don’t know how God will use this effort, but I do know this, some of the seed will find good soil and God’s word will not return to Him without accomplishing that which He desires.

Thank you for your willingness to pray for Here for You. I’m praying you’ll accept this Christmas invitation and that God will use it to begin, or continue, to draw people to Himself.

The Best Team Ever

I am a proud member of God’s team. That puts me on the winning team. He has called me and equipped me for one purpose—to serve Him. If you are a follower of Christ, God has extended the call to you as well. He has uniquely equipped you for service and ministry. We serve His church and His kingdom. Are you serving? What are your unique “gifts”? How are you using those gifts to accomplish God’s purpose?

If you are a big fan of football, and I am, you understand that it is the team that wins games; not the player. Sometimes I wonder if we forget this principle when it comes to ministry in the church. Service and ministry in and through the local church is not for the few and the proud. God calls and equips ALL of his people to service and ministry in HIS church and in HIS kingdom. We need to work together to accomplish God’s plan. We are better together. We can accomplish more, together.

It is the coach that calls the plays, not the players – We are SO busy! Our calendars are full. Our church calendars are full. It seems there is no margin in our lives for the most important things. We are busy doing lots of good things that we miss opportunities to accomplish great things for God, together. What is God calling you and your church to accomplish together in your community? Let Him call the play and you do your part to the best of your ability.

Just some thoughts…

  1. Listen to God. Obey Him. Do what He wants you to do.
  2. Work with others. Don’t try to do it all by yourself. Ask them, let’s do it together.
  3. Mentor others. People need help in knowing what their next step is in becoming a servant for God. Give them a job. Encourage them and brag on them. Help them succeed.

It is not about us. It is all about God. Let’s take the field (football lingo) and accomplish great things for God—together.

Six Questions for people who are growing spiritually

Do you remember the envelope system? Of course you would place your tithe or offering in the envelope but you also had to check the boxes. Did you bring your Bible? Did you read your lesson? And so on. There were at least six questions you were asked to check every week. Maybe, that’s something we need to bring back. If so, here would be my suggestion.

Did you read your Bible regularly this week?

Did you tithe this week?

Did you pray regularly this week?

Did you have a gospel conversation with someone this week?

Did you perform a random act of kindness towards someone this week?

Did you attend Worship AND Sunday School this week?

What is a spiritually growing person supposed to be involved in every week? What habits or regular activities are they supposed to be engaged in? Asking these questions is not designed to judge people but simply to remind people what is involved in growing spiritually.

I suppose the reason the envelope is not still around is because someone “felt” judged by others and thought these questions were too intrusive. I don’t know. But this I do know, if we don’t start teaching, equipping and encouraging people to do these things, how are we supposed to expect them to grow?

I’m just saying!