7 Easy Steps to Become A Normal American

What is normal? It’s pretty easy to answer that question. Our nation’s debt is over 21 trillion. Average credit card debt is well over six thousand. So, if you want to be normal, just follow these seven easy steps and you’ll be totally normal!

  1. When you reach your credit card limit move all the debt to a new credit card with lower interest rates. Set it and forget it. This works perfectly! You’ll be just like every other American. Before you know it you’ll have seven credit cards, with 15K on three, but you’ll have enough points you can stay at a two-star hotel at half price!
  2. Get the biggest house you can qualify for and then make minimum payments. Being house-poor is a great way to feel like everybody else. If you want to kick it up a notch, take out a home equity loan so that you can update your home with 200-year-old shiplap and granite in the third bathroom. Your friends will be super impressed and you get to make another monthly payment. Your home will be worth more and you’ll feel like you’re on HGTV! Your home is your biggest investment. Why not make it your biggest liability? Like we always say, “Home is where the heart-ache is.” Right?
  3. Give to the church according to how well the pastor preaches and the ministers meet your needs. Make church about your needs. Think of it as a payment for services rendered. If you don’t like how things are going up there, vote with your wallet. Remember, it’s not spiritual. It’s personal. They’ll think twice about cutting your favorite program that makes you feel good about yourself. Keep telling yourself that the tithe is so Old Testament that giving 10% is irrelevant. Plus, your house costs a whole lot more than the average listing on the Ur real estate market when Abraham was around.
  4. Buy only the food and merchandise that are advertised. Watch a lot of TV, spend a lot of time on social media, and believe all the ads. The food commercials make you ravenously hungry for all the unique ways they’ve invented to stuff the maximum amount of cheese in pizza. Another way to be normal is to join as many discount clubs as possible. Think of all the money you’ll be saving by spending all that money! Also, the more you eat, the more you’ll be able to take advantage of all the health insurance you have for your poor health! Don’t change your lifestyle. That’s too hard. Just take the pills.
  5. When you get feeling really bad about your debt, soothe your anxieties with ice cream. This is such a no-brainer. If you ever get to feeling down about how much you owe, try two scoops of Rocky Road with sprinkles. If ice cream’s not your thing, order a venti vanilla latte with an extra shot of expresso just for good measure. That should keep you satisfied for at least 15 minutes.
  6. Think of your car as an investment that appreciates over time. The fancier car you drive, the more your friends will believe you are doing great! Plus if you’re upside down on your car you can always trade up and tack the loan on the next vehicle. Fool yourself in believing that your car will be a classic in 20 years. That’ll take the pinch out of that 84-month loan.
  7. Buy your kids whatever they ask for so they’ll love you more. By now you are working extra to make monthly payments so don’t forget to buy your kids extra stuff to replace lost quality time with you. They’ll appreciate it. Whatever “it” is. Nothing says, “I love you!” more than buying junk for the kiddos.

These are seven easy steps. They are easy as falling off a log (and into a bayou of hungry alligators)!

If you want to be not the norm instead, then be sure to check out our website: NotTheNorm.LA! It’s filled with resources, stories, and videos to help you be not the norm.

Georgia Barnette Provides Fuel for Missions Across Louisiana

Our Louisiana Baptists State Missions Offering, the Georgia Barnette Offering, is a great source of energy for missions all over Louisiana. In 2017, we received $1.58 million for the offering and this money is already at work across our state. Here are some of the expenditures so far this year:

  • $157k in church planting and compassion ministry funding for over 100 projects currently in years 1-5.
  • $37k in funding for the Mission Builder program providing construction resources for churches across Louisiana.
  • $18k for church planting networking and training for non-English language groups in Louisiana.
  • $29k for men’s, women’s, and kids’ missions training and networking.
  • $20k for special evangelism projects including prison outreach and evangelistic event support
  • $85k for collegiate ministry, including the brand new Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) at Southern University in Baton Rouge.
  • $30k for the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Extension at Angola State Penitentiary.
  • $9k for ESL (English as a Second Language), multi-housing, and chaplaincy training projects across Louisiana.
  • $3k for Crisis Pregnancy Resource Centers across Louisiana.
  • $12k for Disaster Relief training and mobilization.

And we’re just getting started!

There is absolutely nothing else like the GBO for fueling missions across Louisiana!

Still around $1.1 million remains to be distributed over the next seven months, including money for scholarships. It’s always fun to watch the Georgia Barnette Offering providing fuel for missions across our state!

Find out more about the Georgia Barnette State Missions Offering at GeorgiaBarnette.org.

Promotional material for the 2018 Offering will be available in July. Watch for opportunities to give through your church this Fall.

*expenditures calculated in May 2018

The Sum of the Some

Sticker shock … I’m sure you’ve experienced it on many occasions:

  • You need just a few things from the store. You grab a cart and mysteriously you find yourself with lots of stuff that you didn’t have on the list and your bill equals a car payment!
  • You buy that new truck and the reality of the payment sets in. You’ve got another mortgage for the next 5-8 years!
  • You lower your thermostat in July, then the bill arrives in the early part of August. Ouch!

There is a thread of truth in the old adage, “It all adds up!”

This is true in all other areas of life.

You make a routine of enjoying the free donuts in the break room every morning and snack through the evening news. You didn’t mean to gain weight; it happened by snaccident!

Little things add up in bad ways and good ways!

On one occasion as Jesus was addressing those who gathered around him, He said, “A farmer went out to plant his seed. While he was planting, some seed fell by the road, and the birds came and ate it all up. Some seed fell on rocky ground, where there wasn’t much dirt. That seed grew very fast, because the ground was not deep. But when the sun rose, the plants dried up, because they did not have deep roots. Some other seed fell among thorny weeds, which grew and choked the good plants. Some other seed fell on good ground where it grew and produced a crop. Some plants made a hundred times more, some made sixty times more, and some made thirty times more.” Mt 13:3-9, NCV.

The truth of this parable remains. Little things, over time, produce big results. I call this the “sum” of the “some.”

Wherever your feet take you today, you have the opportunity to scatter seeds. Some will make no difference. They simply bounce off the soil and lie there unnoticed. Some appear to take root only to quickly die. Some start showing potential only to be choked by the distractions of life. But some, just some, land in good soil that has been waiting for the right seed to be scattered at just the right time. Theses seeds spout roots, break through the soil and become visible for all to see.

The “sum” of the “some” has great potential – even up to a hundred times more than what was scattered.

Louisiana Baptists are scattering seeds through our multi-media evangelism strategy, Here for You. These are not church seeds (“Come to our building”). They are not spiritual seeds (“You need to be a better person.”). These are seeds of God’s truth that have the potential to changes lives here and hereafter. They are seeds that lead to true freedom (John 8:32).

You can scatter this life-changing seed.

You don’t need a seminary degree. You don’t have to be a public speaker or an extrovert. Simply go to HereForYou.org and share the Here for You spots using your preferred social media platform.

  • Add comments.
  • Click share.
  • Tweet and retweet them.
  • Message the spots to friends.
  • Post them from YouTube onto your page.
  • Pin them.
  • Make these seeds a part of your prayer list.

Every time you do, you are scattering “some” seeds of God’s truth with those who view your posts. Some will scroll past your post. Some will stop for a second, but move on. Some will watch the spot and possibly click “like.” But some will watch the spot then go to HereForYou.org and watch similar spots. Some will click on the gospel presentation and decide to follow Jesus.

It all begins when “some” people take a moment to scatter “some” seeds of truth.

Will you scatter some seeds with us? The sum of these efforts could change thousands of lives for eternity.

Elevators, Coffee and Freedom – 2 Ways to Promote a Grace-Filled Church

The elevator seemed to take ages to reach the floor I was on. When I stepped on board, I was forced to wait for several minutes as it stopped on every floor, opened whether there was someone waiting or not, and moved one floor down. After several minutes, the elevator reached the hotel lobby. I briskly approached the hotel bartender, handed him $5, and asked for a cup of coffee. In return, I received a cup of watered down instant coffee, much to my disappointment. If there was an eleventh commandment, I believe it would say, “Thou shalt not drink instant coffee.”

When I asked him why I got instant coffee instead of regular, he responded by saying, “I can’t grind coffee. It’s the Shabbat.”

Indeed, it was Friday evening, and I received a crash course in the Jewish version of the Sabbath. The hotel contained one the stranger sights in Israel: a Shabbat elevator. From sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, the elevator runs on automatic in order that observant Jews do not have to perform work by pushing an elevator button.

In a well-intentioned attempt to follow the biblical command to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy by ceasing from their work (Ex 20:8-11), the Jewish religious leaders have added several new instructions to prevent transgression of the Law.

This is true in almost every facet of Jewish life. Special containers with passages from Deuteronomy should be placed on the right doorpost (Deut 6:4-11), no more than three inches from the outside, although there is debate about whether they should be vertical or horizontal. Men are not to cut their sideburns. Many grow out long curls to ensure they do not break this law.

Boundaries upon boundaries upon boundaries. Rules on top of rules on top of rules.

In his day, Jesus faced similar circumstances. Religious leaders had set up an exorbitant amount of rules outside of the commands of Scripture. At one point, the conflict between Jesus and the leaders came to a head when some disciples picked grain to eat on the Sabbath. We should keep Jesus’ critique at the forefront of our minds: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mk 2:27-28).

What Jesus is saying here as well as in other conversations with the Pharisees throughout the Gospels is that the rules of man cannot supersede the commands of Scripture. In truth, there is tremendous freedom in Scripture for those who live under grace (Gal 5:1). Only our freedom should not be used as an opportunity to sin.

As it pertains to our lives, we are not compelled to submit to rules and regulations that do not already exist in Scripture.

If you have died with Christ to the spiritual forces of the world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its regulations: “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!”? These will all perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings.” (Col 2:20-22).

Do not call something sinful what God does not. We have extraordinary freedom in the Gospel. God is the one who determines what is sinful and what is permissible.

Those who would come to you and say that God explicitly forbids a certain activity, food, or drink when He in fact does not are seeking to limit your freedoms in Christ in the same way the Judaizers did with the Galatians. Such persons do not seek to boast in the cross, but in your flesh (Gal 6:13-14).

How then should we handle our freedoms? Here are two concepts to keep in mind as we minister to members in our churches as well as the community as a whole.

  1. Our freedoms are for building up the church, not ourselves.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:12 and again in 10:23, “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.” Brothers and sisters, the Lord has entrusted us with the freedom found in His Son. We should use it not for the building up of ourselves, but of the church.

If this entails limiting our freedoms for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ, then not only should we be willing to do so, but we should do so gladly. Paul says in Philippian 2:4-5 that we should look to the interests of others and model the attitude of Christ.

Our freedoms in Christ are not superseded by the desires of men. But rather than holding our freedoms over the heads of others, we respond in love and humility. We are not compelled to follow rules and regulations under fear of transgression as the Jews do. Nor should we expect others to follow commandments that are not biblical and condemn them when they do not (Gal 5:15). Our submission is to Christ and the law of love (Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:13-14).

  1. The Law gives us guidance, but only Christ can give us life.

We should strive to fill our churches with people who have been made alive in Christ, not with excellent rule followers. Just because someone has never cut corners financially, never committed adultery, volunteers at the local soup kitchen, and is the biggest tither in the church does not mean he is truly alive in Christ. He may be nothing more than a tomb with dead man’s bones in it. These are good things to do, but we are saved for good works, not by them.

Once again, this is not an excuse to be lenient on sin (Romans 6:21). However, the power in Christianity is not found in rule following, but in the transformed life. When people come to our churches, they are in search of something. If they become good rule followers, but have not encountered the one who gives life, then we may be deluding them into thinking they are saved when they in fact are not.

We must allow room for members to express their freedoms in Christ while simultaneously resisting sin in ourselves and in our church. The challenge for us is to accurately differentiate between God’s Law and manmade regulations. When men and women come into our churches and encounter Christ, they are set free – both from enslavement to sin and the need to follow arbitrary regulations – and given the light yoke of Christ instead (Matthew 11:28-30).

7 Pastor Traps on Mother’s Day

Beware of the trap game. In sports, the trap game is a game played against an opponent generally deemed to be easy to defeat. As a result, a person or team may not prepare as they are looking ahead to next Sunday.

For pastors, Mother’s Days are often trap Sundays. But there are a few traps we can avoid on this very important and highly attended Sunday.

Trap #1: Publicly honoring the youngest mother. What is the distinctive achievement here?

I’m young. I had a baby.

After 52 years on this earth, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is not a goal implied in Scripture. Go figure. It says be fruitful and multiply but it doesn’t tell you to begin before you’re 17. All mothers should be honored and singling out the youngest mother feels bad in so many ways. And it could be mortifying for some in your church, including the youngest mother.

Trap #2: Forgetting that there are women in your church that wish they were mothers. Imagine going through the hardest struggle you’ve ever experienced in your life and watching all your dreams vanish. Then imagine that someone creates a Sunday where they place of your greatest pain is the theme of a worship service. Of course you’ll want to honor mothers. Just honor them with a keen sensitivity toward infertility and the wounds of others.

Trap #3: Stretching, squeezing, twisting and prodding a scripture or a sermon series to make it fit Mother’s Day.

Especially if you are going through a series on the 7 deadly sins, the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse, or The Bad Girls of the Bible.

Your people don’t need you to gracefully pirouette across the hermeneutical landscape and seamlessly land on the perfectly deft Mother’s Day sermon text at the just the right time. You’ll be more impressed than they will, Rev. Fancypants.

Trap #4: Honoring Mothers in contrast with those Nutty Dads.Notice the two most used, most implied topics of these 2 traditional days.

  • Mother’s Day Sermon Thesis Statement: Mothers, you are honored and cherished.
  • Father’s Day Sermon Thesis Statement: Fathers, get with the program.

Trap #5: The “Mother Worship” Trap. When planning your worship service, make sure the songs are about the Trinity not the quatrinity. (I know… Not a word.) The point is this: Our mothers, no matter how awesome they are, (and they are awesome) didn’t die for our sins. Worship every Sunday must be about God.

Trap #6: Not mentioning that it’s Mother’s Day. There are some that are so “non-seasonal” they decide to not even mention it. By doing that you are only magnifying the oversight in people’s minds. You have to do or say something whether you are making it the primary context of your message or you’re simply wishing mothers a Happy Mother’s Day. Not mentioning it is like asking people to not think of pink elephants. And now, please understand. Pink Elephants have nothing whatsoever to do with mothers. It is merely a common analogy that people use. Mothers and pink elephants have NOTHING to do with anything about each other. Am I clear on this point? Thank you.

Trap #7: This final trap is the most important one for pastors. Don’t forget to call your mother.

Birds of a Feather

The bird feeder went up last weekend. And we watched for a few days and we were disappointed that there was no activity.  Apparently, birds don’t use Instagram. But then one day, I was watching the feeder, and the squirrels showed up. We did not put out a bird feeder to feed squirrels, but we patiently watched to see what happen. I took great pleasure in watching the squirrels try to outwit the squirrel proof bird feeder. They would climb up the pole, swing over to the bird feeder, and sit on the perch, where the food is distributed, only to find that the perch is a trap door, and the weight of the squirrels was too much to keep the little trap door open. Victory is mine.

So the squirrels tried and tried and maybe got a seed or two. After a day or two, the big birds showed up. The doves, the cardinals and the squawking blue jays seemed to say, “I’ll get that seed.” But they had a tough time, because even though they were not heavy enough to close the little trap door, they had to almost hang upside down to get a seed or two, because the opening was too low. They tried and tried, and maybe got a few more seeds.

After another day or two, the sparrows showed up. I am not sure how you feel about sparrows, but they are not much to look at.  After all, they are brown, and small, and many in number. They are just “common” sparrows.

But, sparrows are the perfect size to eat all they want in the bird feeder. In fact, the manufacturer should rename the feeder a sparrow feeder. These sparrows sat on that perch, the trap door didn’t close, the food kept flowing, their little beaks were in just the right position to eat as much seed as they wanted. I also observed that the sparrows were not extremely neat in their eating habits. In fact, they were having such a good time, that the seeds were spilling on the ground. There are seeds everywhere under the feeder. Well this morning, the big birds and the squirrels showed up. But, they did not get on the feeder. They went straight to the ground. There is so much seed on the ground, there is no reason to try getting seed from the feeder. The sparrows saved the day!!

I can’t help but think that there is a lesson there: The little guys are important. You might be related to those sparrows. You might feel insignificant and small. You might feel like you can’t make much of a contribution in the world that God made. You might come from a small town or a small church but the truth is this: His eye really is on the sparrow. He watches you do your work. Sometimes we make a mess, but there is provision, even in the mess. Others are counting on you to be the sparrow, to provide. As churches we fly in formation because we have a similar purpose. It’s what gives meaningto the mission and if we fly in faith we’ll find the feeder. When we work together, He will supply everything we need so that we can accomplish the His purpose as individuals, churches, and associations.

And when we as churches flock together through the Cooperative Program, Here for You, the Georgia Barnette Missions Offering, Lottie Moon, and other missions projects, the impact is seismic!

We all matter to God, and together we can impact the Kingdom in ways that no one church can.

6 Challenges in the Midst of Worship Transition

It was 9:30 on a Wednesday night and I happened to be making a late-night milk run as I passed by a church where several of my friends worship. I was amazed that the parking lot was full. Wow! Something amazing must be going on. Revival? Extended prayer? Spiritual awakening? I rolled into the parking lot. My curiosity overwhelmed me.

As I got out of my car, I saw a high school student exiting alone. I had to inquire. “What’s a Baptist church doing at this time of night?” The answer was disappointing: a business meeting. The church was struggling through the crucible of worship change and things had come to a head.

They weren’t the first church to struggle with change in their Sunday morning worship and they certainly won’t be the last. Remember, the first murder in the history of man occurred over worship. Cain’s rage is still present today. If you’re a church leader, I know you’ve already heard many complaints about worship. It comes with the territory. How do you react to change and engage with fellow members about worship change? Consider these six challenges all healthy leaders must embrace in the midst of worship transition.

  1. Remember that change equals life.

My dad loved to spin a yarn about a time in the 1950s when he led music in a large Baptist church. The deacons were all on the front row and one of them suddenly died. With a twinkle in his eye he said, “But they had to shake five or six of them before they figured out which one!” This funny anecdote does have a subtle truth: if everything is frozen, something is dead. Change is inevitable. The Dakota Indian proverb works here: “When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.

In the 1600s the radical controversy of worship was the use of an instrument used in pubs. It was the organ. In the 1900s, it was the use of quartets and harmony that was considered anathema. In fact, every century has had its worship conundrum. Change happens. My 26-year-old son invited me to join him for worship when I visited him in Chattanooga. I thought I might need to wear earplugs because I’d heard lots of subterranean bass beats shaking the windowpanes in his room as a teenager. I was surprised to see that the ministers wore robes and the only instrumentation was a piano and a guitar. I didn’t see that one coming! Is your church changing? That’s a good thing. Change is a practical indication of life.

  1. Acknowledge the balancing act.

Realize that one of the key tensions in every church is finding the right balance so that all generations can worship. This is the greatest challenge any worship leader will face. Frank Lewis, a pastor friend of mine, said something I’ll never forget – so funny, but so true. I asked him about the term “blended worship” and he said, “Blended worship is where everybody gets some music in the service they don’t like.” Seriously though, every worship service needs to have handles for every worshiper. There will be some types of music you don’t like in worship, which brings us to Challenge #3.

  1. Remember the focus.

The focus of worship is not musical style, volume, lighting or time limit. It’s not about making you feel good. It’s not to have a cathartic experience simply for the sake of catharsis. The primary focus in corporate worship is to give God glory and express our love for Him. It’s so easy for me to forget that. And after 33 years in the ministry, I know it’s hard for most believers. If we come to every worship experience ready to hear from God and refusing to get in connoisseur mode, we win. When we analyze our leaders and platform people, we all lose. We’re contributing to a revival of American Idol.

  • Remembering the focus means realizing that worship is serious stuff.
  • Remembering the focus means arriving with a sense of expectation rather than a paralysis of analysis.
  • Remembering the focus means that you are so focused on your performance in the congregation that you won’t waste a second in the critic’s box.

This is difficult for me. I have to consciously shift my neck out of swivel mode and have a laser focus on God with my mouth, mind, heart and hands.

  1. Avoid the sidebars.

One of the worst things you can do to your pastor and worship leaders is to leave church on Sunday to rehearse a personal critique of the experience with leaders or members. If we’re concerned about the direction of worship and if we have ideas on how we can make our services glorify God more, we have a responsibility to share our thoughts with the correct people. So many floundering churches and struggling ministers have been hurt by subversive factions of opposition that only come to light in embarrassing public forums or through the stealth triangulation. Having a caustic attitude about church worship could contaminate the growth of the next generation in your church.

Social media has evolved into another dangerous sidebar. Many Christians in the church use Facebook and Twitter to post lateral critiques about worship. These binary jabs can do tremendous damage to your church. Think about every post and ask these three questions:

  • Is it helpful?
  • Is it true?
  • Is it God-honoring?

A “no” answer on any of these questions delegitimizes your contribution to the conversation.

  1. Surprise yourself.

If worship changes, and I hope it does (remember Challenge #1), embrace the change even if it is uncomfortable at first. You might surprise yourself and, even more, you might surprise your pastor! Being engaged in Sunday worship from the opening song to the benediction is perhaps the greatest gift you can give God, yourself and your pastor. Even greater, worship may take on a life of its own in your soul.

  1. Worship elsewhere.

This final two-word challenge may sound surprising to you, but keep reading. I’m not suggesting you join the steeplechase and find another church that caters to your taste and needs. Challenge yourself to worship God outside the worship center. Worship Him every morning. Worship Him in your car on the way to work. Worship Him every time He reveals Himself to you. Worship everywhere and worship elsewhere. See what happens when you do. It turns the Sunday experience into a climatic celebration of what you’ve been doing all week long.

An Unexpected Ministry

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. Genesis 50:20

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. James 1:2-3

If there is one thing I’ve learned from my travels and foreign ministry work, it is that an immigration office is one of the most unpleasant places on earth. One country in which I was on an extended stay required all visas to be renewed every 30th day. It soon became apparent to me that “on the 30th day” meant on the 30th day – not the 29th or the 28th. I was roundly chastised for having the audacity to believe I could renew a day early.

This became a major point of frustration one month as I was leaving for the villages on the 29th day for several weeks, and the only place to renew in the entire province was at immigration headquarters in the capital city. Reaching the villages required a 30-minute drive out of the city, another hour on dirt roads, and lastly, off-roading through the 6-foot high savannah grass for another 30 minutes. All this was done on a “blue-bus” – a human cargo vehicle with 3 or 4 to a seat, plenty of farm animals, and reckless drivers (not all, certainly, I became close friends with some who are fantastic drivers). Needless to say, it’s a great way to meet people while becoming a little too well acquainted at the same time.

This development with my visa stirred up bitterness and irritation in me. We had to call for a blue bus to drive out to our location on my first full day in the bush – a day meant for outreach. However, that morning, I was greeted with a surprise.

As I stepped outside from the small, mud house in which I was sleeping, my eyes perceived a strange sight: a crowd of people surrounding an ox-drawn cart were caravanning up the path toward us. As the distant cluster gradually came into full view, I looked on in bewilderment at this mysterious crowd. When they were about a football field’s length away the local pastor I was staying with, another team member, and I went out to meet them.

When we arrived, the crowd was eager to show us their precious cargo hidden under blankets in the cart. One woman pulled them back, revealing a man with a horrendous and grotesque wound running from his calf to his lower back. The skin had been eaten away, revealing bare, infected flesh. The stench of death hung over him.

This poor, unfortunate man had fallen onto a fire. For weeks, his family had tried to clean his wound with used rags and dirty water – the only resources available to them. To their horror, his wounds grew worse. Soon, he began to fade in and out of consciousness. His family knew we would be in the villages that day and were compelled to come for aid.

We were ill-equipped for an injury of this severity, however, all we had were alcohol swabs. For hours we scrubbed. Each of us took turns stretching out across his body to hold him down while the others worked. His agonizing cries of pain have remained with me for all the years since.

After several hours, we gave up – defeated, deflated, and weary. As we considered our options, but with little hope, a second surprising sight appeared. The blue-bus we called to carry me back into the city drove up. Suddenly, the realization of the events God had orchestrated dawned on me. The hospital was right down the road from the immigration office. This ordeal with my visa was not meant to cause grief or unnecessary frustration. It was ordained to save a man’s life.

So often, we trudge through our difficulties and tribulations and never stop to consider the bigger picture. What may be a trial, struggle, or suffering for us may be salvation for someone else. If we are to be imitators of Christ, then there is no better tool for God to use than suffering. And we can rejoice in this, because it means we are being conformed to the image of Christ.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Romans 8:29

We should take heart in knowing that none of the trials that come our way are experienced in vain. Rather, they are instruments for God’s use to further His redemptive work on the earth (Colossians 1:24). Rather than looking at our circumstances and difficulties, we should look up. They may be the means by which God brings others to salvation. Through his suffering, Christ overcame suffering and is able to bring it about for good. What a relief it is to know that we will face no tribulations which have not already been defeated by Christ.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16:33

Truth Decay

“Have you brushed your teeth?”

You’ve heard that question since you were young.

Sometimes the answer was, “Yes,” other times, “No.” But the truth would be somewhere in the middle. As kids we’d have lots more important things to do. Ten strokes back and forth on the front teeth and most kids think they’re good to go. Others figure that brushing every other day works fine for them. And still others believe the weekdays are enough. Weekends were made for halitosis.

Our parents, and TV commercials, drilled into our minds that we didn’t want the dreaded tooth decay! Instead, our parents longed to hear, “Look, Mom, no cavities!” (And then they rewarded us with candy!)

Tooth decay is painful. When the dentist says, “You’ll only feel a slight pinch” – they lie! They also know it’s expensive.

I read about a guy who received a bill three times the amount he typically paid for visit to his dentist. When he inquired about the charges, the dentist replied, “You yelled so loud you scared away two other patients!”

Today our society suffers from “truth decay.” Our courts require us to place our hands on a Bible and “Promise to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God,” and yet the truth eludes us.

“You can’t handle the truth!” is an often-quoted line in a popular movie from the 1990’s but today, the truth is we don’t want to hear the truth. Educators and scholars lecture that there’s no such thing as “absolute truth.” “You can’t handle the truth” has been replaced with “I don’t want to hear the truth” as we place our hands over our ears (and our hearts) and in effect saying, “I’m not listening!”

During his mock trial, Pilot asked Jesus, “What is truth?”

According to an ad I saw in a major national newspaper/trade publication, the writer/designer said in part:

The truth can’t be glossed over.

The truth has no agenda.

The truth can’t be manufactured.

The truth doesn’t take sides.

But there’s another even more astounding truth about truth: It will set you free! (John 8:32)

Paul warned Timothy, “… there is going to come a time when people won’t listen to the truth but will go around looking for teachers who will tell them just what they want to hear.2 Timothy 4:3 (TLB)

That time has arrived.

Truth decay wreaks havoc in our culture, in our relationships and even in our churches. It’s piped into our homes and devices through the internet, through television and through social media.

How do we combat “truth decay”?

The only remedy for “truth decay” is to return to the One who said I am the way, the truth and the life. The implication of Jesus’ declaration confounds the culture. It remains the only hope for the world. This is the unaltered, unfiltered, unapologetic truth. Jesus declared God’s words are truth (John 17:17). It needs to be applied generously and frequently. Truth should be presented creatively and consistently using current communication platforms. Most importantly, the truth must be delivered with love (Eph 4:15). That’s the sole purpose of Here For You.

Here for You is a multi-media evangelism effort designed to scatter the truth of God’s word inside every heart and every home almost every day. Since it’s launch in 2014, more than 325,000 people have seen these “truth spots,” if you will, in three test markets. During the most recent Super Bowl, an estimated 849,000 people across Louisiana saw the Here for You spot two or more times and an additional 300,000 people were engaged via social media.

Pray for these seeds of truth to find good soil in the hearts of those who’ve seen the spots. Ask God to protect and nourish those seeds and continue the process of drawing people to Himself.

The people in Louisiana, and our entire country, desperately need a “truth infusion.” No legislation coming out of Baton Rouge or any parish office can stop the cultural decay. Only God’s truth can change a heart and correct the course of a culture.

You can be a part of this “truth infusion.” Go to HereForYou.org and share these spots on social media platforms for yourself and your church. Every time you share, you’re helping seed God’s truth in the hearts of those who view your posts.

Let’s pray together, let’s work together and let’s give together to take God’s truth into the highways and hedges of people’s hearts and homes.

God Doesn’t Need You, but He Wants You

Several years back, I was living in a small village in the Zambian bush called Chongwe. In this remote village dwelled a man of great importance to the community named Makukula. This Mr. Makukula was – and currently still is – the headman of the village. A strong man among strong men, Makukula was judge, jury, executioner, police commissioner, public works director, and property owner. Upon my initial arrival into the village, I met with Mr. Makukula to request his permission for my planned activity in the village. He gleefully smiled back with the two teeth he had left in his mouth and extended a gracious welcome into his village.

As I was walking to what would become my home in the village for the foreseeable future, I made note of Mr. Makukula’s gracious hospitality to my pastor friend who was with me. To my surprise, a rumor was spreading through the village. According to the local scuttlebutt, Makukula was linked to the death of an entire family the week prior to my arrival. Two indisputable facts formed the foundation for the gossip while wild imagination and spiritual fear provided the framework, roofing, sheetrock, wallpaper and furnishings. Fact number one: someone cut the fencing around Makukula’s property and stole some of his cattle. Fact number two: a week later (and only a week before I spoke with Makukula), a family of five was found dead in their home. As news spread of their deaths, the connection was drawn almost instantaneously. These were the cattle thieves, and Makukula killed them with a death prayer.

My initial reaction was skepticism. “Did they miss the bullet holes in their heads?” I asked, incredulous of the theories swirling around the mysterious figure known as Makukula. With every person I talked to, the story got more convoluted with additional imagination supplied to the narrative. According to their animistic beliefs, everything that happens in the physical realm has a spiritual cause. In the absence of a physical connection between Makukula and the deceased family, a spiritual connection was drawn. Even so, Makukula did little to quell the rumors, as it helped establish his reputation and governance. The beautiful, lush, Zambian countryside had a gloomy shadow darkening everything.

After the initial meeting, I did not see Makukula for quite some time. Days, weeks, months passed. The sun rose and set again. Bonds were formed, relationships grew, and love, joy, peace, and the Gospel were shared; however, I could not help but desire to see Mr. Makukula again. I knew I needed to get a Nyanja language Bible into his hands.
On my last day in Chongwe, I made the long walk up the hill to Mr. Makukula’s house. With the help of a local pastor acting as translator, I thanked Makukula for his hospitality and presented the Bible to him as a gift. Before I could begin to explain the Gospel, Makukula spoke up. I still remember his response vividly.

“For years I have prayed to God, asking Him what I must do, but I have never heard anything from Him. Now He is coming to me through you, and I am ready to receive Him.”

His response left me speechless. God had been at work in his life for years, and I was merely the tool through which He would speak the Gospel to Makukula. After receiving the Bible, Makukula swore to read it at least three times a day and share the good news with everyone he met. The time of fellowship together was sweet, but had to come to an end. I would not see him for another two years when I made a return visit. After being greeted by his warm, friendly smile – although now missing one of his two teeth – I learned that not only was he faithful in the Word and his relationship with the Lord, he was actively teaching it to others in his village. The man who at one time allowed rumors of murder to circulate is now actively teaching the way to eternal life. Through Makukula’s story God revealed two great truths to me.

  1. On my own, I am not necessary.

This is perhaps one of the toughest pills to swallow, not just for a young minister in his formative years, but for most people in general. We begin with wild-eyed aspirations of changing the world. Our youthful ambitions often spill over into our ministries. When I first answered the call into full-time international ministry, I knew that I was going to be the voice that would speak to entire nations. I was going to be the agent of change. It would take some time before I would realize that all I had done was take my personal ambitions and merely slap a Christian name on them. However, over a series of events and a number of years, the Lord began to show me just how small a part I play in the grand scheme of His redemptive plan. He has been at work for countless eons, millennia after millennia, calling people to Himself. Only a lucky few live to see a century. I am but a minute cog in the vastly larger machine.

Throughout Scripture, we see that the true agent of change, the true voice speaking to the nations is Christ Jesus and His Spirit working in the lives of men and women around the world. Paul says in his speech to the Athenians, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” (Acts 17:24-25). Sure we all know this to be true, but do we believe it as true? Far too often we can find ourselves striving in ministry as though God’s plans depend solely on us. We live as if the future of the Gospel rests on our shoulders and find ourselves burdened by the weight we were never meant to carry.

The story of Makukula illustrates this point. I spent very little time with Makukula – only a couple hours over the span of a few years. I only requested that the local pastor answer any questions Makukula might have and help direct his steps – the very thing he was eager to do. Lives and communities, however, are being changed, not because of what we might bring, but because the Lord works in the hearts of men and women.

  1. Even though I offer nothing of value to God, I am wanted.

Peter says in his first letter, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9). Peter makes it clear here, as well as in other parts of his letter, that we are chosen by God as His own so that we might proclaim the Gospel of salvation and the goodness of Christ. Likewise, Paul also states in Ephesians that we are God’s workmanship, created for good works. All we can do is walk in them.

This is both a source of confidence and reason to remain humble. God desires to use us for His purposes and plan. Even though we have nothing to offer Him but a willing spirit, He can move powerfully in our lives and use us to do the same in others. Even the most influential of public ministries can only be carried out and sustained by the Holy Spirit. Let us rejoice then that God uses the weak and foolish to shame the strong! Those who bring nothing to the table are the very ones God desires to use. Just as the Lord was able to work through a twenty-one-year-old fresh out of college with no idea of what he was getting himself into and a village elder who had spent decades practicing witchcraft to advance the Gospel into a remote corner of the earth, so too is He able to use all who approach Him humbly.

This article was initially published on the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary blog, Geaux Therefore.