A Serious Season of Sabbatical. (Back on August 23rd)

A Serious Season of Sabbatical. (Back on August 23rd)

It’s hard to believe, but this week marks the 30th anniversary of my graduating from Ozark Christian College and entering full-time ministry. For that reason, I’ve decided to begin an official sabbatical. Even the educational and business worlds are catching on to the value of sabbaticals, but the origin of this sacred practice is God’s design. A sabbatical is a strategic and sustained rest, reflection, renewal, and refocus season. There is a purpose to it. So, with the elders of my church giving overwhelming support, I’m launching into this vital season beginning May 20th through August 19th.

The aim of this season, which differentiates it from an extended vacation or academic project, is to deliberately step away from regular ministry for a prolonged quiet to hear afresh from the Holy Spirit. If I were to attach a single scripture to this season, I suppose it would be Jeremiah 29:13, where God spoke through the prophet and assured his children, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” That is my hope as I enter this sabbatical. But what does this look like, and what are the plans? In addition, maybe you can consider what God might be calling you to do in the area of being still and hearing more of Jesus’s voice above the world’s noise this summer. (more…)

An Exhortation from a Present Persecution.

An Exhortation from a Present Persecution.

Well, you know, I didn’t intend for my blog post from a few weeks ago to be a two-part series, but here we are. It started with an email from Adam, one of my brothers-in-law, on Wednesday asking about a PBS story reporting on Russian troops persecuting Evangelical Christians in occupied Ukraine. In short, it was pretty much what I had imagined; it was the same story that has gone on for over a hundred years, dating from before the Soviet Union.

Connection? You can do so here if you did not get a chance to take in my post from earlier on April 11th. In the brief article, I spoke of the importance of committing to a local church family and illustrated the weight of this commitment by sharing what some Christians were required to in the process of forming a local church after the fall of the USSR. They had to present their documents to the local authorities, which perhaps would put their lives on the line if the tides of politics changed and the Soviets retook control. There was a real possibility that these Christians would be the first in line to hear from the KGB. That real fear these faithful Christians had to walk through was realized by these Ukrainian Christians recently when the Russian Army took control of their region. Part of the agenda of Putin is to force everyone in Ukraine to not only be reunited by force with Russia but to submit to the Russian Orthodox Church, and thus, the persecution of those who will not submit has begun.

Not all Russians support this action. There are indeed authentic Christians in Russia, and I still have such friends there. There are so many ways we should be praying about this situation. However, as was the point of the previous blog post, so we have it here: This should be an exhortation for us in America, the West, and really any part of the globe where we are tempted to take our freedom to assemble with the saints for granted.

Do you have reasons for wanting to ignore the community of saints? Have you been wronged, or have temptations toward something else rearranged your priorities? I don’t know. But I’ve struggled, too, at times. I’ve been burnt and broken and frankly have had times when I’ve just wanted to stay in bed on Sunday – and I’m the preacher. I get it. But this is critical. It’s not about me. It’s about God and others.

What we know is that the Bible exhorts us not to give up on the Body of Christ, which means the local church as well. So often, the issue is that we are looking at the church to get what we want instead of the Bride of Christ, warts and all, and asking what we can do for others instead of expecting others to serve us. Here is the reality. Over the past 2000 years, people have been persecuted, even unto death at times, for Jesus and the Church. These people laid it on the line for Christ, which should say something to our hearts. That ought to encourage us to stand up and put Christ and others first.

So, we must pray for the saints on the other side of the globe. And, yes, we are to get out of bed, actively love others, and commit to the church around us where we live. It’s one thing to talk about religion and politics in other places. It’s another thing to commit to the need here and now. That’s what the call is, though. But being connected to and committed to a local church family is also a blessing found in nothing else the world has to offer. What would those persecuted tell us now on the subject if they could?

I’m not always going to get things right and neither will you. But the amazing thing is that God takes us as we are and changes us, and one of the main ways He does that is through our active involvement in His Church. So, what are you waiting for? Find a local church that loves Jesus and teaches the Bible and find a way to dive in to help.

You can watch the short video report here:

 

 The Local Church, Membership, and Being All In!

 The Local Church, Membership, and Being All In!

It was truly one of our most enjoyable C4101 classes to date. This past Sunday, we held another information and membership class at my home church, with about ten people in attendance. They came from different theological backgrounds but found unity in Jesus and other essential Christian doctrines. That’s the beauty of the original church and our growing local church family on the N.W. side of Houston. Seeing the central focus on Christ and freedom in non-essential doctrines was beautiful. Witnessing people leaving selfishness behind and stepping up to the plate to serve in a local body of Christ was encouraging. It was heartwarming to experience a true community forming in Christ. It was a good afternoon.

However, this is not the norm for others in early 21st-century America and the West. While many like visiting churches at their convenience, committing is another story. Some will claim that church membership is not a Biblical principle, and if you look for the phrase “Church Membership” in the Bible, you won’t find it. What you will find, though, is commitment. (more…)

A Committed Celt and a Changed World.

A Committed Celt and a Changed World.

Moving into March always reminds me of St. Patrick’s Day, which I’m quite a fan of. You could say it’s because I like old Celtic music. March 17th is my birthday, which I always assumed excludes me from having to wear green. But the greater weight here is my love for the man the day is named after, the historical St. Patrick himself.

There are plenty of myths and folklore surrounding Patrick. However, we do know that around 400 AD, he was taken prisoner from Great Britton by Irish raiders and enslaved. Eventually, Patrick returned to Britton after experiencing a Christian awakening and later sensed a call to return to Ireland to share Christ with his captors in the 420s. History tells us that God powerfully used Patrick to lead countless Celts to the love of Christ. The picture we have of Patrick is a man who was profoundly committed to Christ and the people of Ireland. He loved God, and he loved the people.

The fruit of Patrick’s labor has more far-reaching ramifications than most people realize. (more…)

Learning from Others’ Love of Lent!

Learning from Others’ Love of Lent!

I’ve never been much of a high church guy. By High Church, I refer to Christian traditions which rely heavily on form, procedure, and religious rote for their corporate gathering and private lives of worship. We see this most clearly in the Catholic and Orthodox faiths and some protestant traditions such as the Episcopalians. There is indeed an air of religious feel to the form, but in my arrogance, I have always assumed a void of life. The writing out of prayers and reading them to God felt like a suitor giving a formal and legal document to his sweetheart as a marriage proposal. No personal words or heart on fire. Just data. “Here is my proposition in detail; please sign on the bottom line if you agree to these terms.”

No, such a traditional experience was not for me, and I didn’t give the subject much thought. And then. Then? Then my wife, who is working through a hospital chaplain residency, told me that she was planning to observe the tradition of Lent with others at her hospital. (more…)

My Hope After Lockdown!

My Hope After Lockdown!

Dread is probably too tough of a word.  But I am a little concerned about my first day back at the gym when everything opens up again from the COVID19 lockdown.  I’m trying to do some exercise now, but it’s not the same and when I finally make it back to the weights and inclined treadmill – I think it’s going to kill me.

Anticipation is the right word though when I think about the first Sunday morning back with my church family.  Like many churches, we are doing what we can with technology to share my sermons and stay connected, but it’s not the same. Yes, life has been different the past six weeks and thus people have been forced to take stock of what’s important and remember deeper truths.   I hope that when we move out of this dark valley we will see central truths about the church as well.  Though there are more, here are five of those truths about the authentic church I hope people will see.

1. The True Church is the People.  

Are we closed or open for business?  If church is merely a Sunday morning gathering club, then yes, we’re quite closed right now.  Yet when we unpack the word, church, it identifies the people of God who are called out of the world to himself. The church is the people and not the building or program.  I hope we will see that while we may not be able to meet together in large numbers, we are still called to live out our mission for Christ and those around us.

2. The True Church is a Team

Christian work is not reserved for the professional leaders while everyone else does their worldly job and merely shows up on Sunday morning to be taught spiritual mysteries.  Rather, Paul notes in Ephesians 4:11 that the role of leadership is to equip the saints for the work of ministry.  Coach and player might be the right feel here.  Every Christian is filled with gifts and talents needed to advance the ball down the field as we work together.  I hope that when this is done every follower of Jesus will see their unique and essential role in the Kingdom.

3. The True Church is a Family

“God’s Family” is the actual phrase Paul uses in 1 Thessalonians 4:10 and I have loved seeing some of that play out in my local church.   I have seen our church family checking on and supporting each other, continuing to support the mission financially, and the numerous little acts of love like when a team of volunteers went out to sing from the sidewalk to seniors who cannot get out at all.  We are loving each other the way God intended for us to do and I hope that this will continue with an even greater fervency in the future.  People need a family and that is what the church is.

4. The True Church is a Life-Saving Station.

After the resurrection of Jesus, he gave the first believers what we now refer to as the great commission in Matthew 28:18-20.  Here he called them to make disciples the world over.  Some will suggest that this commission was meant for the first disciples or professionals in ministry.  But the context of the New Testament does not lend itself to such an interpretation.  On the contrary, the apostle Paul referred to everyone in the church as “Ambassadors of Christ” in 2 Corinthians 5:20.  As an ambassador, our mission is the mission of our king.  Jesus declared his mission in Luke 19:10 as one of seeking and saving those who are lost. I hope that we will see that when Christians leave the church assembly on Sunday morning they are truly leaving the lifesaving station to go out into the world to reach the lost just like the Coast Guard leaves their shelter in a perilous storm to save drowning sailors.                                

5. The True Church is not to be Taken for Granted.

Historic closed door leading to Church of the Holy Apostles, Athens, Greece

The first gatherings will be exciting when the lockdown is lifted. The question though will be the following months as life yawns into routine.  It’s sad, but how often do we decide to attend, or not attend, the local assembly based on how we feel that day or what we may or may not get out of it for ourselves?  When we do this we forget the purposes of the true church.  When we do this it becomes less important and is eventually dropped to the bottom of our priority list. This has been the case many times in history dating back to the first century where the author of Hebrews exhorted the first Christians to “not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but to encourage one another.” In thinking about our time apart, maybe we can remember that in some countries, today and throughout history, Christians have been forbidden by atheistic or Muslim governments from gathering together. When this season passes, I hope we can see how much of a blessing the weekly gathering of the saints is and work to never take it for granted again.

At this writing, I don’t know when the restrictions will be lifted.  The opening may be gradual and I’m sure new safety efforts will be put into place.  But it is my hope that whenever and however we return, it will be with a renewed passion and energy for the body of Christ.  Jesus built the church and the church is his bride.  God’s heart is for the church and I hope that when this season begins to draw to a conclusion, your heart will be drawn closer to the church as well.