November 27, 2008

All Your Works Shall Give Praise To You, O LORD!

Psalm 145

Great Is the LORD
A Song of Praise. Of David.
1I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name forever and ever.
2Every day I will bless you
and praise your name forever and ever.
3Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable.

4One generation shall commend your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.
5On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
6They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,
and I will declare your greatness.
7They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness
and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.

8The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9The LORD is good to all,
and his mercy is over all that he has made.

10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD,
and all your saints shall bless you!
11They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom
and tell of your power,
12to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds,
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures throughout all generations.

[The LORD is faithful in all his words
and kind in all his works.]
14The LORD upholds all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down.
15The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
16You open your hand;
you satisfy the desire of every living thing.
17The LORD is righteous in all his ways
and kind in all his works.
18The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
he also hears their cry and saves them.
20The LORD preserves all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.

21My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD,
and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.

November 24, 2008

Monday Morning Message - Needing Jeremiah

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." So goes one of the best known opening lines from any novel ever written. Dickens captured the spirit of the age in those now immortal words. Jeremiah would have nodded his head in knowing sympathy with such a sentiment. He was one who had known the best of times under the leadership of a young king named Josiah. He also understood the worst of times as he endured the undoing of his nation. His broken spirit is poured out in ink through the pages of Lamentations.

Jeremiah stood at the gate of the temple as people were coming and going to worship and declared a singularly disturbing word from God. Many passed by with disdain, others simply ignored, but surely some paused to hear what this man had to say. The words he spoke were not, and are not, easy to hear.

People were coming to worship but with wrong headed and wrong hearted intentions. Hear Jeremiah's words...

"Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God Israel: Amend your wyas and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: 'This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.'"
(Jeremiah 7:3-4)
It seems that in generations past Jerusalem had been miraculously spared and the people began to believe it was because Jehovah dwelt in Jerusalem. The people got caught up in the trappings of worship and missed the whole point of worship. They lost sight of the fact that deliverance does not come through a place or a pattern of worship but through an individual's relationship with the LORD.

In addition to this mistaken notion the people were pairing unacceptable conduct with their religious experience. Hear again these woeful words from Jeremiah...

"Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swwear falsely, make offerings to Baal and go after other gods that you have not known and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, 'We are delivered!' only to go on doing all these abominations?...Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the LORD." (Jeremiah 7:8-11)
Sadly this is not a condition limited to Jeremiah's day. The church today is, without question, guilty of the same conduct. David Kinnaman, in his book UN-Christian, states, "among young outsiders, 84 percent say they personally know at least one committed Christian. Yet just 15 percent thought the lifestyles of those Christ followers wer significantly different from the norm." There are other, equally disturbing, statistics but suffice it to say that Jeremiah's words apply here and now. We are guilty of saying one thing and living another.

These misguided choices in worship have dire consequences. The lack of an inner moral qulaity flowing from a relationship the LORD destroyed the nation of Judah in Jeremiah's day and it threatens to destroy our nation today. As Alexis de Tocqueville observed, "America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great." God, through Jeremiah, declares the timeless truth, "Were they ashamed when they commited abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush." (Jeremiah 8:12) Blazon that across the news feeds of the day and see if it doesn't have the ring of truth about it.

In seeking to salve the many ailments of our nation we have a tendency to look to the human achievements of wisdom, might, and wealth for answers only to find that all of them, in and of themselves, are wholly inadequate to meet the need of the day. Only as these remarkable human potentialities are brought under the sovreign leadership of God can they be rightly applied to the needs of the day.

"Let not the wise man boast in his widsom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righeousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD." (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
The one, over-ridding, need of our lives is to know God.

You may be thinking, "I need someone to fix my financial woes." May I suggest that they are temporary in light of eternity? More than a financial fix, you and I need a correction of the heart.

You may groan due to a devestating physical ailment. Again, I would point you to the singular need of your life; to know God.

You may be struggling under a burden of guilt or grief and desperately need relief. The one thing you need is not an immediate lifting of the burden but the assurance that there is one who is with you in the midst of it.

I do not say these things to minimize or make light of the situation in which you find yourlself. I simply point out the painfully obvious fact that in most practical matters we have forsaken God for lesser things.

We need a renewal. Not one led by a dynamic celebrity like Josiah resulting is a showy but shallow turning. We need a renewal of the heart. We need Jeremiah.

November 20, 2008

Of Prayer and Coffee

I have shared my journey of glorious ruination concerning coffee. I am no longer content to partake of the long ground and short flavored stuff found in cans and bags of various description. Sure, it's still coffee but it's missing so much. Why settle for a stale scoop when a fresh, fine grind is available?

For those of you enjoying a cup from the house of Max or some ostensibly hand picked by Juan Valdez I can only shake my head in sorrow at all you are missing. For those of you who, like me, are relishing the marvelous complexities of a freshly ground brew (This morning Marquesas de Caseras from Brazil, medium roast) I lift my cup in congratulations. To be sure, in a pinch, I will drink a lesser cup of coffee but it is ALWAYS done in silent protest. You see, I know there is better coffee to be had and though I can endure a lesser version I long for that which I have tasted.

Which brings me to prayer. Through the years I have prayed many prayers both private and public. From time to time I have encountered the great prayers prayed by saints who have gone before and I have wondered at the difference that was, and is, evident in their prayers. I knew I was missing something and, truth be told, I know I am still missing it. I know there are better prayers to be had and though I have endured my lesser versions I long for that which I have tasted. As an example I offer this prayer from the opening of The Whole Armor of God, by John Henry Jowett.

Eternal God, may no distraction draw us away from our communion with Thee. May we come to Thee like children going home, jubilant and glad. We have been in the far country and our garments are stained. May we hasten to the ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation. If we have been on fields of heavy battle, where the fire of the enemy has been awful and unceasing, may we hasten to Thee for the overhauling of our armor, and for the renewal of our strength. If we have been called upon to walk weary roads of unfamiliar sorrow, may we turn to Thee as to refreshing springs. If we have lapsed from our high calling, may we renew our covenant. If we have missed a gracious opportunity, may we seek another chance. If we have been counted faithful in any service, and have fulfilled our commission by the help of Thy grace, may we hasten to give the glory to Thee. Unite us, we humbly pray Thee, in the holy bonds of Christian sympathy. Deepen our pity so that we may share the sorrows of people far away. May we feel the burden of the burdened and weep with them that weep. May we not add to our sin by ceasing to remember those who are in need. Grant peace in our time, O Lord, the peace which is the fruit of righteousness. Let Thy will be done among all the peoples, so that in common obedience to Thee all the nations may find abiding union. Amen.

Mmmm. That's good prayer. I think I'll have another cup and I'm pretty sure I'll not be satisfied with lesser prayer in my own life.

November 19, 2008

Let's Say Thanks

Here's just one more way to let our guys and gals know they are not forgotten. Take a moment to make a difference in the lives of our soldiers.

November 16, 2008

Away for a Couple of Days

For those of you stopping by to pick up the Monday Morning Message you will find it below. I will be away for a couple of days at the Alabama Baptist State Convention. We will celebrate the good things God is doing through Alabama Baptists as well as our role in the larger life of the Southern Baptist Convention.

I am truly glad to say I am an Alabama Baptist! We recently passed a remarkable milestone as a state convention as we have now given over 1 billion dollars through the Cooperative Program. Currently we are engaged in international partnership agreements with Guatemala and Ukraine as well as a stateside agreement with Michigan Baptists. We have one of the most active and respected disaster relief organizations that has responded to floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other disasters this year. As a convention we support three institutions of higher education, Samford University, The University of Mobile, and Judson College. We also have a marvelous children's home system reaching troubled and abused children. And I've not even mentioned the retirement center, leadership training, associational missions support, or our state paper. It is truly remarkable all that we do together as a family of faith.

I'll be checking back in when I return.

Monday Morning Message - Looking for Josiah

Here's the short version of much more involved set of thoughts surrounding this remarkable King of Judah. You can read his story in 2 Kings 21-23 and 2 Chronicles 34-34.

Josiah is commended in 2 Kings 23:25 with these words, "Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his hear and with all his soul and with all his might, according to al the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him."

This young king led a reformation of his nation that was, and is, unparalleled. It was a time of national renewal that, though remarkable, was insufficient. While Josiah was apparently pursuing the reformation with a pure heart it is evident that the people were simply "along for the ride." Josiah made it "hip to be holy" and people joined in with zeal. It is saddening to realize that the people of Judah were "doing all the right things" but their hearts remained far from God.

Sounds painfully familiar. We live in culture that is obsessed with looking good. I assure you that if it became the fashionable thing to be "holy" people would be lining up to be among those counted as "holy." We would love to have a Josiah arise in our day; someone with rock star appeal who genuinely pursued God. We would love to have someone like this champion our pet causes and who would lead our nation to return to its spiritual roots. As much as we would love to have that happen it is not what we need.

Josiah brought about public renewal that did not result in personal renewal. We need personal renewal that will result in public renewal. We are looking for Josiah but we need Jeremiah.

I will explain further next week.

November 12, 2008

Why believe in a god?

The American Humanist Association has launched an ad campaign for the Christmas season.
Here's a quote from their press release concerning the ad campaign,

"Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake," proclaims a new holiday ad from the American Humanist Association. Already appearing today in the New York Times and Washington Post, the message will soon be blazoned on the sides, taillights, and interiors of over 200 Washington DC Metro buses.

It's the first ad campaign of its kind in the United States, and the American Humanist Association predicts it will raise public awareness of humanism as well as controversy over humanist ideas.

"Humanists have always understood that you don't need a god to be good," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. "So that's the point we're making with this advertising campaign. Morality doesn't come from religion. It's a set of values embraced by individuals and society based on empathy, fairness, and experience."

Now I know many of my brethren will respond in angry tones about the sorry state of our nation that such a question would even be asked, and, in all fairness, they have a point. However, I think this to be a singular opportunity for the church to speak up in a 1 Peter 3:15-16 kind of way. "Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect..."

Unless I'm missing something here, they are, in fact, asking. I propose we offer an answer. Looking for an open door to discuss matters of faith? The American Humanist Association just gave you one. Mention the ad and get a response. I encourage any of you who blog, as well as others who may drop by from time to time, to make it a point to engage others on this topic.

Might I suggest a Christmas series of blog posts? If you are among the willing just leave a note and I will get back with you. If you happen to be in a city where this ad campaign in actually running I'd love to hear about reactions to it!

Watch this space for more...

November 11, 2008

Judgement House

This video was used in our celebration service following Judgement House. It was too good to simply let it be seen once. Thanks Barry!

For those of you who may not make it to the end of the video, the results of the week were as follows...

827 people went through JHouse in 4 nights.
30 individuals were counseled for assurance of salvation.
82 believers made decisions to rededicate their lives.
22 people prayed to receive Christ!

To God alone be the glory!

November 7, 2008

For The Want of Seventy Dollars

I could tell he was desperate. Maybe it was just a vibe. Maybe it was the cadence of his speech. Maybe it was the heaviness of his gait. I could tell he was desperate. He needed something and we were his last stop.

I've dealt with these kinds of people before. I know how to handle them. Give them some gas at the corner station and maybe a meal at Mr. Gene's and they'll go away. After all, they are just looking for a handout. It's tough not being callous. Compassion seems remote when so many have abused the kindnesses offered. Either my vision is getting worse or it's just getting harder to see Jesus in them waiting to be served. It's sure not something to get excited about as it usually means another 30 minutes, or more, of my day hearing a tightly crafted and well rehearsed sob-story. But, like I said, I could tell he was desperate.

He had just been released from prison (I'm already reaching for my make believe tissue to wipe my make believe tears) and didn't have any clothes other than the ones on his back. He had court costs due real soon; if they didn't get paid he was headed back to jail. He was looking for a job but there just aren't many around for anybody, much less somebody like him. He just needed $70. He was desperate.

Maybe that was what caught my attention. So often people come through with needs but they are not really desperate, they just want some help. There was something different about this one. He didn't just need help, he was desperate for it. He was willing to do anything for it.

I don't know why I asked it but the question came tumbling out like a baby elephant being born; messy and unavoidable. I asked him, "Are you getting ready to make another bad decision?" The conversation came to an unexpected pause. Usually by now they are out the door on the way to the gas station. He just looked at me. Finally he spoke and said, "You just read my mind. Did God tell you I was about to do something?"

Moments later he was returning from his car with a bandanna and gloves. Laying them on the table in front of me he said, "I had already decided which store I was going to rob. I don't think I need to do that now. I need to take a different road."

With undeniable agreement and unfeigned relief I shared God's plan. We talked about the path he was on and how he could begin making decisions that would lead him down a good road. I heard him talk about injustices suffered as well as punishment earned and paid. I cautioned him about questionable relationships and he readily agreed that things had to change. We looked to scripture for guidance and found truth that made a difference. He prayed and I wept as I listened to this desperate man find grace.

We found him some work. Some honorable work. Hard work. He earned that $70 and came back the next day and earned some more. He walked away in peace. He walked away knowing, that at least this one time, he chose to do the right thing. He walked away a little less desperate and a little more hopeful. He walked away surprised by God's provision. He walked away a little bit different. I am praying he continues to walk with God.

It was all for want of $70 dollars.