Code Red For Believers

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From the Genesis account of mankind’s fall (Genesis 3) to the moment your eyes scan across these words. The reliability of God’s word has been and continues to be the focal point of the enemy’s attacks against the Christian faith. If God’s word can be disproved or discredited at any point, the whole of scripture implodes, the cross symbolizes nothing more than a historical period of barbaric savagery, and we must bow in submission to the dark side of the philosophical argument; Nietzsche is right, “God is dead” and we are but cosmic accidents, grown-up germs having no purpose or objective meaning.

Jude wrote:

“Dear friends, I’ve dropped everything to write you about this life of salvation that we have in common. I have to write insisting-begging! – that you fight with everything you have in you for this faith entrusted to us as a gift to guard and cherish. What has happened is that some people have infiltrated our ranks (our Scriptures warned us this would happen), who beneath their pious skin are shameless scoundrels. Their design is to replace the sheer grace of our God with sheer license-which means doing away with Jesus Christ, our one and only Master” (Jude 3-4 – The Message).

No picture can be drawn to more vividly depict the age in which we live, nor could there be voiced a greater sense of urgency to contend for the faith than these: “I’ve dropped everything to write you about this.” Jude’s “compelling sense of obligation to the people of God prompted him to change his focus for their spiritual good,” one commentator writes. The text suggests His original intent was to write a letter of encouragement to the church concerning their common salvation but was overcome by an imminent danger infiltrating their ranks.

Believer’s, the Christian community is under siege. Much in the same way as when Jude penned the above words, a serious effort to undermine and destroy the undergirding truth claims of scripture is in full swing and picking up speed. Humanism, secularism, relativism, pluralism, and a countless host of other such isms are being served the gullible society we have become from every conceivable platform and media outlet including the pulpits of many mainstream churches and their respective denominational hierarchies. We must come down from the bleachers, get off the sidelines and get out on the field with more than a pea shooter.

Attending church on Sundays, returning thanks over meals, and saying bedtime prayers is good and encouraged but insufficient in and of themselves to defend the faith from those who would misrepresent and malign it. As the serpent reasoned with Eve in the garden challenging the truth of what God had said, and Satan with Jesus in the Judean wilderness; the war being waged is one of words, of ideas, of opposing worldviews and systems of belief.

Paul instructed Timothy to be a good soldier of Jesus Christ; should we be anything less? In 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 he wrote:

“The world is unprincipled. It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way-never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity” (The Message).

This is a Code Red call for followers of Christ to take a stand, “. . . all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” – Romans 13:11 NLT.

Don’t Get Shackled By the Shack

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Dear Christian Shack Fans,

It was a good read; I enjoyed the novel, loved it in fact. But as scores of Christians head to theaters to watch the cinematic version of the Shack I feel compelled to ask that you remember it is a novel work of fiction; not unlike The Chronicles Of Narnia, or for that matter, Star Wars. Yes, there will be lots of spiritual overtones, and I feel sure its moral value will be worth the admission price. However, Christian moviegoers should keep in mind that it is not an adaptation to the big screen of an actual biblical event. Yes, I intend to be in the audience over the weekend watching the movie. I have always went to see how good or bad Hollywood represents a book I have read. But as I sit with my wife and friends, eyes peeled to the screen, it will be for the movies entertainment value and not a lesson in theology; that it is not.

May the force be with you,
Pat

The Stars (and other things) Come Out At Night

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“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:”

— Ephesians 2:1-3

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Of course they are there, always. The stars don’t go into hiding when the sun comes up, they don’t burn out overnight, nor do they run off to some far away galaxy returning to ours when the sun sinks below the horizon. Just like the sin that separates us from God, they are there; you just don’t see them clearly until darkness falls; the deeper the darkness, the more luminous they become, the more unambiguous our sin.

Have you ever asked why jewelers use a dark background like black velvet to display their choice diamonds? It allows you to see the exquisite beauty of the stones in more vivid detail. Every facet shimmers in a dazzling display. In the same way, Paul sets God’s grace against the darkness of death that we might clearly see the sin that separates us from him, and the beauty and immeasurable value of the grace and mercy he offers in Christ. As J. C. Ryle has said, “Christ is never fully valued until sin is clearly seen.”

Like the rising sun that overpowers the stars, the blood of Jesus overpowers sin. Not just to cover sin, as the morning sun is to the stars, and was so under the old covenant, but to remove sin once and for all. To this scripture declares,

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” — 1John 1:7

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”  — John 1:29

“You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.” — 1 John 3:5

He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” — Psalm 103:12 NLT

Let’s sing together. . .

“The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.

My chains are gone
I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, amazing grace.”

—Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) by Chris Tomlin

The Circuit Riders Ride Again

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1In the early years of church history here in the U.S., a community might see a different preacher each week; one Sunday a Baptist, the next a Methodist, Presbyterian, or just a man on horseback with a bible in his saddlebags and a sermon on his lips. Old-timers in the rural Kaufman County church I once pastored shared their parent’s, and grandparent’s passed along memories of those circuit riders (as they came to be known) galloping up to the one room building that served as a schoolhouse, community gathering spot, and the Sunday go to meeting place. I so enjoyed walking alongside those old farmers down garden rows picking a mess of peas and listening to those stories. Their days on earth are over, but their memories live on in mine.

When Gaby and I began attending the Community Life Church in Forney, Texas it wasn’t anything at all like that old framed church house I pastored about 20 miles east or any other church I had set foot in. There were no hymnals to sing from, no pulpit for the preacher to preach from; they didn’t pass an offering plate, and the pastor didn’t look at all like a pastor, he wore jeans and a pullover. Our daughter told us the environment was relaxed, but a coffee bar with donuts – what had I gotten myself into? And with no altar call at the end of the service, what in the world was the world coming too?

If only out of curiosity or perhaps to be sure I hadn’t just dreamed it, we found ourselves westbound on US-80 headed back for round two the next Sunday.

Grabbing a cup of Joe and a donut (yes, I did), we found a seat and buckled up. Having been a longtime fan of progressive Christian music (even when it was a bit taboo) the worship team doing Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman music was good by me. Had they busted out with a little Petra or Stryper, I would have sung along. The music was great, and I was looking forward to hearing that baldheaded pastor continue the sermon series he had started the week prior. It was well presented, informative and inspiring, enough so that I was able to do a mental write-off of his unpastoral-like attire and just listen to what he had to say, but who is this dragging a small table and stool to center stage?

He introduced himself as Randy something. “Randy who? I don’t care; I want to hear the bald guy. I came specifically to hear part two in the series from the bald guy, not a visiting preacher.” It turns out he wasn’t a visiting preacher, but when he referred to himself as a co-pastor of the church, I thought to myself, “nice title for the assistant, maybe he won’t mess the series up too badly.” How quickly though I found myself hanging onto his every word. Like the week before, I was captivated, a sponge soaking up the warmth of the Son. He was funny too, using a lot of humor to convey the points he wanted to make.

The sermon series continued our third week in attendance but with yet another man, co-pastor Paul McDill. Coming on the heels of the previous two weeks I thought this three-pastor model is weird but after being spellbound by Paul’s exhilarating message, and noting the seamless flow of a sermon series split between three pastors I thought, “they’re certainly in sync, they just might have something here. After all, having two campuses (Forney and Mesquite), you would need more than one pastor to keep the bases covered.”

Three years later the church would plant two additional campuses within the area, and the three co-pastors would rotate between them, much like the circuit riders of old. Although it didn’t make a lot of sense to me early on (a more logical approach being one man overseeing and serving each campus, I thought), the second Sunday at the new Kaufman campus, co-pastor David Griffin (the bald guy) had the Conn. Having invited friends living in the area to give c|Life Kaufman a try, Gaby and I were there to greet them. Randy Wade was the teaching pastor in week one, so when David stood to introduce himself, his was a face new to many. I wondered, were the people thinking somewhat as I had thought three years earlier? “What’s going on? Who is this? Where’s the funny guy, the guy with hair? I came back to hear him.”

David began with an intro that (in brief) went something like this. “You heard from Randy last week; you get me today. If you don’t like my preaching, none to worry, there’ll be someone else here next week.” Then (in my words) he offered this explanation.

Why do we do it this way? We want you to come to c|Life not because of a man, other than the man Jesus. That your faith does not rest in or rely on a preacher, but in Christ; that’s what is important, that’s our objective, the reason why.

As strange to me as the co-pastor model was at first (three men sharing coequally), I had come to terms with it years earlier, we loved our church. But it wasn’t until that Sunday morning that I fully understood the reasoning, and it made perfect sense.

“One man plants, another man waters, but it is God who gives the increase.”  ~ 1 Corinthians 3:6

Keep riding the circuit guys; I will pray you never develop saddle sores.

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” ~ Acts 4:12

 

Do You Remember When?

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1This past weekend hundreds of students packed into the c|Life Sunnyvale campus participating in the WKND event. Pictures posted to Facebook were thrilling, causing me to wish the church I attended growing up would have offered a not to be forgotten experience as I am certain this was. Things were different then, though. Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s was a challenge; some would say the most rebellious decades ever among the youth population of America.

Having recovered from World War II, unlike their parents (many who had to work to help support their families in the decade before), teens in the 50’s were staying in school, getting jobs at the neighborhood supermarkets and soda shops. Making their own money to spend on themselves, going to the movies and listening to Rock ‘n’ Roll – life was grand, a life entirely different from mom and dad’s. Charting new courses, they carved out roads different from the ones traveled by their parent’s; roads distancing their generation from the hardships that characterized the life of their fathers.

With the dawning of the 1960’s, Civil Rights was a major issue prompting violent riots, protests, marches, sit-ins and other acts of civil disobedience troubling young souls. Involvement in the Vietnam conflict sent even more spine-tingling chills throughout the country, more protests, more marches, more sit-ins. The louder the sound of gunfire pouring through the television set became – the louder the voices of protest would become. Perhaps it was fear of reliving the horror stories so often heard concerning WWII that fanned the flames of the anti-war rebellion blanketing the American landscape then.

Remembering the days I grew up in is a reason why my heart leaps with joy at the sight of any number of young people reaching out to touch Jesus. This past Sunday we heard of how a woman whose ruinous life was completely restored when she did the same (see Luke 8:43-44).

The exciting thought for me is this: Our students will carry the WKND event with them inciting, igniting and fanning the flame of God’s love in their homes and schools that others may come to discover the change reaching out to touch Jesus brings.

Do you remember the change he brought in your life when you reached out to touch him? Did you make the connection? Have you?

Every church should have such an event.

 

Where Are You Going?

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Billy Graham once shared the following story with a crowd of Christian leaders and businessmen who had gathered to honor him in Charlotte, North Carolina. Standing at the lectern, he begins,

“I’m reminded today of Albert Einstein, the great physicist who was honored by Time magazine as the Man of the Century.

“Einstein was once traveling from Princeton on a train, when the conductor came down the aisle, punching the tickets of every passenger. When he came to Einstein, Einstein reached in his vest pocket. He couldn’t find his ticket, so he reached into his trouser pockets.

“It wasn’t there. He looked in his briefcase but couldn’t find it. Then he looked in the seat beside him. He still couldn’t find it.

“The conductor said, ‘Dr. Einstein, I know who you are. We all know who you are. I’m sure you bought a ticket. Don’t worry about it.’

“Einstein nodded appreciatively. The conductor continued down the aisle punching tickets. As he was ready to move to the next car, he turned around and saw the great physicist down on his hands and knees looking under his seat for his ticket.

“The conductor rushed back and said, ‘Dr. Einstein, Dr. Einstein, don’t worry, I know who you are; no problem. You don’t need a ticket. I’m sure you bought one.’

Einstein looked at him and said, “Young man, I too, know who I am. What I don’t know is where I’m going.”

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Who you are is who you are, the hand genetics has dealt you. Your physical features and cognitive capacity all determined by your ancestry. How then can it be said, “all men are created equal”? I would love to play basketball like Michael Jordan, write like Max Lucado, sing like Elvis and have the intelligence of Einstein – but the story DNA told never said a word about my being anyone other than who I am, who God made me be.

The biblical idea of equality is not that I can be or do anything anyone else can, that is, of course, not true. Scripturally expressed, the equal ground we share is two-fold; our treatment of one another (to be impartial and fair towards all), and our opportunity to know and have a relationship with God.

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
– Matthew 7:12

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
– John 3:16

I’m 5’5” not 6’6”, Michael Jordan I could never be, but both he and I can treat others as we would want to be treated. I will never be an Einstein; I’m good with that. But unlike the good doctor that day, I do know where I am going, do you?

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

– John 14:1-6

Table Talk

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I am not sure who writes the discussion guides we use to review and talk about the Sunday sermon in our community groups each week, but this week’s sure got my attention. Right out of the batter’s box, they stepped up to the plate swinging their pen with this question: “Do you struggle to be consistent in a particular spiritual discipline or habit?” Gulp!

Since I would probably need more space than I’m allowed to answer that question, I will limit my response to where I stink worst: my prayer life. How about you? Actually, before you go there, let’s start here. The word discipline is a derivative of the Latin disciplus, meaning pupil, which (per Merriam-Webster’s website) also provided the source of the word disciple, in later Latin being associated with a follower of Jesus Christ in his lifetime (that’s us). So then, when asked to identify “a particular spiritual discipline” you struggle with, the real question is this: where do you keep missing the mark following Jesus’ example? Gulp! Gulp!

Made abundantly clear in Sunday’s message, despite their best efforts, Israel habitually blew it; like a senseless dog, always returning to his vomit to be made sick again, and again, and again — and we are no different.

For those of us who are members of the older-than-dirt generation, you may recall The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, a show that starred the real-life Nelson family and aired on television from 1952 to 1966. Each episode would begin with a pleasant family time at the table. Ozzie, Harriet, David and Ricky were all happy, and everything was good. But no sooner than they got away from the table, dishes barely dried and put away, something had gone wrong. Someone had messed up. The remainder of the episode was about how they get back to the table. Sound familiar? In a nutshell, that’s the story the Bible tells.

Should you read the book of Judges, it looks and sounds like ancient episodes of Ozzie and Harriet. By way of comparison, this is how it always went:

  1. The story begins. Israel is seated at the table, serving God. All is well.
  2. Israel leaves the table, tumbling into sin.
  3. They fall into the hands of their enemies and are overcome by them.
  4. They cry out to God in repentance, wanting to get back to the table.
  5. God hears and raises up a leader — a judge — who defeats the enemy, restoring Israel to the table.

You’d think that by the time we got to Nehemiah they would have learned. They didn’t. 2,500 years later, the story remains the same, both for Israel and for me. I still blow it. I still miss the mark. I still commit sin. I spend more time away from the table than I do sitting at it. But there is good news:

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
— Romans 5:8

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
— 1 John 1:9

In Christ, God has raised up a leader who has made a way back to the table. One day, all those who believe will take a permanent seat and enjoy, never again to leave. Then, as Jackie Gleason might say looking forward, “How sweet it is.”

 

I Almost Drowned

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Several years ago, I was fishing along the banks of the Sabine River behind the Lake Tawakoni dam in waders. Stupid? Yes. Every few yards I would step out in the water a foot or two casting my bait in the direction of what looked to me a honey spot, the home of that long overdue trophy catch. Now, if you’re an angler, then you will already know I am not. I knew it too the moment I slipped.

Attempting to climb back up was hopeless. Getting traction on the muddy slope proved impossible, and my waders were filling fast. Unable to climb or swim, I knew I was in trouble, I would have drowned that day were it not for a man on the bank above me with his fishing rod pulling me safely from the river. I didn’t have to cry out; he knew my situation without me having to say a word. Little doubt he had a fish story to tell his buddies about the day he caught a 150 pounder on a Zebco 33 with 10-pound test line.

Okay, so you’re not into fishing, “Zebco” is Greek to you and “test line is what the IT department does when your work computer goes down – I understand. The point I would like to make, however, is this:

We all do the wrong thing sometimes, even when knowing better. What was I thinking to step out from a river bank in waders? Surely somebody switched out my vitamins with dum-dum pills that morning. But like the man who was there to rescue me, not just from my drowning, but from my stupidity. Our heavenly Father understands our ignorance and tendency to make bad choices in life, stupid choices, even rebellious ones; “he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust (Psalm 103:14 NLT). Even so, he is always standing on the bank with an outstretched hand ready to pull us to safety; we don’t even have to say a word.

How many times have you looked up to find him reaching out to you? Me, I lost count a long-long time ago. Today I just sing along with the Psalmist and remember the words of Paul, “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings; for he who promised is faithful” (Psalm 36:7; Hebrews 10:23b). Then comes to mind these words from Luke 10:37: “You go, and do likewise.” Yes, I am my brother’s keeper.

Be Careful

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Strategically set throughout the stadium by skilled experts, a series of powerful explosives waited for detonation. It wasn’t an overnight take down Texas Stadium game plan. The implosion of large structures never is. Months of planning and weeks of setting charges in precise locations preceded the plumes of smoke, dust, and debris that rose from the collapsing building. If your heart can take it, Cowboys fans, you can relive the moment on YouTube. Just click this link.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14OQByZRxWc

As I sat thinking about it, I fired up ye old laptop and done a little research and here’s what I found on Wikipedia about implosions.

“Implosion is a process in which objects are destroyed by collapsing (or being squeezed in) on themselves. The goal is to induce a progressive collapse by weakening or removing critical supports. Therefore the building can no longer withstand gravity loads and will fail under its own weight. These explosives are progressively detonated on supports throughout the structure. Then, explosives on the lower floors initiate the controlled collapse.”

Wow! How much does that sound like the way stories in life often go? You know, those last few sentences before you read the words, “the end”.  All along the devil has been planning your destruction placing a charge here, a charge there. Each one, one at a time, set at those strategic points where you are most vulnerable; the load bearing walls, the piers, and beams that undergird and support the superstructure of your life and relationships with God, family, friends and others you know and interact with each day.

Followers of Jesus beware. That innocent cup of coffee in the breakroom you begin looking forward to with someone, not your spouse. Those posts you Like and Share on social media. Those harmless, meaningless things we say and do that skirt along the razor’s edge of appropriate, ethical behavior. A break from church a few Sundays, missing a night or two of prayer time, or bible reading; I know, you’ll double up tomorrow night – of course you will.

What these tiny little insignificant, don’t mount up to much things most always turn out to be are small blocks of C3, sticks of spiritual dynamite awaiting the enemy to detonate. Plumes of smoke, dust, and debris will follow.

Some of the best advice we can offer ourselves and others to keep those protective walls up and our spiritual houses intact comes in the words of a song I learned as a child in church:

Be careful little eyes what you see

Be careful little eye what you see

For the Father up above Is looking down in love

So be careful little eyes what you see.

Be careful little ears what you hear

Be careful little ears what you hear

For the Father up above Is looking down in love

So be careful little ears what you hear.

Be careful little tongue what you say

Be careful little tongue what you say

For the Father up above Is looking down in love

So be careful little tongue what you say.

Be careful little hands what you do

Be careful little hands what you do

For the Father up above Is looking down in love

So be careful little hands what you do

Be careful little feet where you go

Be careful little feet where you go

For the Father up above Is looking down in love

So be careful little feet where you go