Monday, October 15, 2012

Sermonizing in St. Louis

I'm in St. Louis, MO for a couple of days. Third annual meeting with a couple of preacher friends. We meet for fellowship, and study, and encouragement. We challenge one another and brainstorm ideas for possible sermon series -- we usually end up preaching a couple of these together during the year (it's great writing together, even though we are in different states). Looking forward to getting a lot of prep/planning done for 2013.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Reality of Hell

Hell. It’s not a comfortable subject. It’s a topic that we don’t mention in polite company. It’s something that many folks like to pretend isn’t in the Bible. But Jesus talked about hell. A lot. He mentioned hell, judgment, and punishment numerous times in his teaching, especially in his parables. He talked about hell more than anyone else in all of Scripture.

Hell has fallen out of fashion in our culture. I fear that many Christians have not come to grips with the reality of this place. They are afraid to talk about it, or they dismiss it as a relic of the Puritan age. In 25 years of ministry, even with long-time Christians, my experience has been that while they give lip service to the biblical doctrine of hell, the predominant view of salvation is, “If you are a good person you will go to heaven.” They are, in effect, pratical universalists. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). At the final judgment, all will stand before Jesus. Jesus’ followers whose names are written in the Book of Life will be with him forever. The Bible could not be clearer: “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).

Hell is a real place. The Bible affirms the existence of hell over 100 times. Even the demons do not deny its reality. Victor Knowles wrote, “Demons do not brush off the Bible's teaching on hell by saying, ‘Oh, that’s just your interpretation’ or ‘God is too good to let anyone go to hell.’ Because they swore allegiance to Satan long ago, they have bought their one-way ticket to hell. They realize, with horror, that there will literally be ‘hell to pay’ someday.” It is more than a condition or a swear word. It is not merely a figment of some theologian’s imagination. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

Hell is a prepared place. It is a place that God made for the Devil and his angels. Satan will not reign there. It was never intended for man. The Lord told us this. “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’” (Matthew 25:41). Jesus’ words about hell come in the context of the rest of Scripture, which says that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

Hell is a terrible place. The Bible does not give us a detailed exposition of hell, but there are many descriptions of the fate of its inhabitants in that place of eternal punishment. There is no possibility of amnesty or reprieve. Dante said a sign should be erected over the door of hell, ”Thou who enter this door, leave all hope behind.”  

Hell is an avoidable place. Death is not normal or natural, but an enemy, the consequence of sin.  The body goes to the grave and the spirit goes into an afterlife to face judgment. The Bible is clear that there will one day be a bodily resurrection for everyone to either eternal life with God or eternal condemnation apart from him in hell. Christianity differs from all religions in that the Bible teaches that our eternal status depends on our relationship with Jesus. I like the way Aaron Brockett puts it: “God, through His Word, is not threatening us with hell, but warning us. And when we communicate the reality of hell and judgment with others, we do so honestly but with a broken heart.”  We really believe that “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).

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Celebrating 25 Years of Ministry

Today is a milestone day for me. 25 years ago I was ordained into the Christian ministry by the elders of my home church. I am grateful to the Lord that He has allowed me to serve Him and His people all these years. I am humbled by the opportunities He has given me to preach and teach and tell people about Jesus. I still sense a very strong calling to this work. I am thankful for the people who have influenced and mentored and encouraged me.

Through the years people have asked me what I would be doing if I were not in full-time ministry. I honestly don’t know. It’s not that I can’t do anything else, but I cannot imagine doing anything else. I love it! Like Paul… “I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16). Like Jeremiah…”his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9).

I feel like it’s halftime now. If the Lord tarries, I would love to serve at least another 25 years. I can’t wait to see what the future holds. To God be the glory!

Monday, May 21, 2012

I Love My Church!

Yesterday, the elders and church family surprised me with a special recognition of the 25th anniversary of my ordination (May 24, 1987). They surprised me with a gift of an iPad. They also presented Tracy with some beautiful roses. And there was a reception with cake and coffee after the worship services. I was humbled and honored by their kindness. I am blessed.

Monday, April 23, 2012

What a Day!

Yesterday was a banner day in the life of Cedar Creek. I am still excited and thrilled about how the Lord moved among us. At the conclusion of the second service, 23 people “crossed the line”, declaring their desire to be completely committed followers of Jesus (rededications, transfers, and a couple of soon-to-take-place baptisms). Praise the Lord! There were many tears, cheers, hugs, and prayers. What a day! I learned later that many others stepped over that sideline (after both services), doing business in their hearts with the Lord: some as couples, others as individuals. I believe the Lord is calling all of us to examine our hearts. Are we fans or followers?
This next Sunday, we will dig into God’s Word once again. The message is Choosing Intimacy. The focus is on knowing God, not simply knowing about God, with an emphasis on the heart of the Father towards His children. If you want to read ahead, we will be using the parable of the Prodigal Son, found in Luke 15:11-32.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

T4G Recap

This week I had the privilege of attending the Together for the Gospel Conference for the second time. It did not disappoint, and what made it extra special was that my son Luke accompanied me. We had a good time and some spiritually rich father/son discussions.  When I’m at T4G and The Gospel Coalition (a similar conference) I have mixed feelings. I’m thrilled and challenged by the Bible exposition and the seriousness with which attendees approach Scripture and worship and study. Interestingly, in the informal assessment of attendees (done by Mark Dever at the opening session) it would appear that 80% of those gathered were in the 20s-30s age bracket – aka, the Young, Restless, and Reformed. I find myself asking, “Where is this group among my tribe?” (Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ). Where are the young people (or older folks, for that matter) who really want to get closer to the Lord, study/know His word, and learn from those in church history who have walked the path before us? I wrote about this after returning from the last T4G. I still feel the same way.

The book giveaways were great (listed here), and the offerings in the bookstore were tremendous. Noticeably absent were the latest pragmatic church growth books and lightweight Christian self-help titles. 
The messages were good, but I think David Platt’s message was one of the best messages on missions I have ever heard.  

Monday, April 09, 2012

Together for the Gospel

I will be attending the Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville this week with my son Luke. The speakers and the breakout sessions look to be outstanding. These are not the guys I usually hang out with (most are from a Reformed/Calvinist tradition), but I have learned a lot through the years from them, and my previous experiences at t4g (and The Gospel Coalition) have been wonderful.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Richmond Marathon 2012

It's official! I just registered for the Richmond Marathon. This year will mark the 10th Anniversary of my first (and only) marathon. I will be running with my buddy Joe Thompson. I'm hoping my friend John Mitchell will join us too (John was my running partner for many years when we both lived in VA). We'll see if Richmond is better at age 47 than it was at 37 (this is a photo of John and me finishing in 2002).

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Observations from Tulsa

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Tulsa Workshop. It is a gathering of believers primarily from the acapella or noninstrumental churches of Christ. For perspective, it’s kind of like their version of the North American Christian Convention. I had never been to something from that particular group of the Restoration Movement before (I hate to even use that kind of partisan language, but it’s needed to set this up correctly). Over the years I have had much contact with these brothers, primarily through blogs, facebook and other online venues. I was finally able to accept their invitation to attend Tulsa.

Some observations:

1.       Acapella singing, when done right, is wonderful. Over 1000 people lifting their voices to the Lord sounded terrific. And these folks really know how to sing the different parts. It was a new experience for me.

2.       The Lord has some gifted preachers in every part of his Kingdom. I was blessed by the powerful teaching from God’s Word.

3.       They know how to fellowship and make a newbie feel welcome. I never felt like an outsider, and I made many new friends.

My time at the Tulsa Workshop was well spent. I hope to return.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Tulsa Worship

I'm looking forward to attending the Tulsa Workshop this week. I first heard about it several years ago when Marvin Phillips spoke at Hillsboro Family Camp. I understand that it is like the North American Christian Convention for those in the acapella churches of Christ. Over the years I have made a number of friends among those brethren. I'm looking forward to spending time with them; and especially getting to hear some of them preach/teach.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

NIV 1984, NIV 2011, ESV, or NASB?

I have been giving some consideration to changing to version of the Bible from which I preach on Sundays. When I entered the ministry in 1987, I preached exclusively from the NASB. My Bible College professors had drilled into my head that it was the most literal and accurate English translation. I suppose I will always be partial to the NASB, but when I moved to a different congregation in 1991, I switched to the NIV because nearly everyone in the church used it, and the Pew Bibles were NIV. I have preached from it ever since. (Once, in a campmeeting I reverted to the NASB and I stumbled over my words – they do not exactly roll off one’s tongue – the NASB is syntactically clunky).

Last year, Zondervan introduced an updated NIV (NIV 2011). It is quite a bit different from the previous version, primarily due to the “chickification” of the text (okay, the politically correct term is “gender neutral”).  For example, I’m preaching from James 1 this week – the old NIV renders verse James 1:2, “Consider it pure joy my brothers…”; the update says, “Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters…”. There are many such changes in James 1 alone. (I will save the debate on gender neutrality for another time, but I have to wonder if at its core, the driving force is about gaining greater market share). Since there is such a difference between NIV 1984 and NIV 2011, is now the time to change my primary preaching version? Some church members have the old version and some have the new one. I have been enjoying the English Standard Version (ESV). It lands halfway between the NIV and NASB; better accuracy without the awkward syntax.
I was just about ready to take the plunge and go with the ESV, but I think for now I will stick with NIV 1984. However, I think this provides me with a good opportunity to explain to the church about the different translations. I’m not as concerned about the particular version that they are reading as I am about the fact that they are reading.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Ferris Bueller Returns

Warning: If you are not a child of the 80′s, the video above is likely to make
no sense to you at all. If you are a child of the 80′s, this is going to be the
best thing that happens to you today.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Annual Men's Retreat

Tonight begins Cedar Creek's annual Men's Retreat at Lake James Christian Assembly. It is always a great time of fellowshp and learning. I’m excited about the guest speaker we will have with us. Dr. Mark Scott served for many years as a professor at Ozark Christian College. Recently he moved to Denver Colorado to serve with a church there. He is a terrific communicator of God’s Word. I have been blessed by his preaching several times over the years. He will also be preaching at Cedar Creek on Sunday.

Over the past few years, we have been blessed by a number of great preachers at the retreat and during Sunday morning worship -- men like Matt Proctor, Mark Moore, Mark Christian, Bob Russell and David Willis. Each has their own style and unique way of delivering the Word. Phillips Brooks defined preaching as "truth through personality" -- I like that. Regardless of who it is delivering the Word, God can use that man to speak to his people. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Rev. 2:7).

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Though Your Sins Be as Scarlet, They Shall Be White As Snow

This was the view from my back porch this morning. It's mid-January and this is the first measurable snow of the season. I actually enjoyed shoveling my driveway (as well as the neighbor's). It's beautiful today as the sun shines down on the fresh blanket of the white stuff.

Tomorrow I'm preaching about forgiveness, so I couldn't help but think of the scripture that says: “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool". Isaiah 1:18

Isn't that a great promise?

Thursday, January 05, 2012

New Series Begins Sunday

Reset: Ctrl-Alt-Delete

If you have a computer, you know that sometimes things get messed up and you just need to start over and reboot. When that happens, the most important three keys on the keyboard are Ctrl-Alt-Delete. Punch them all at the same time and help is on the way. You can reset and begin again.

 We have all wished we could do that in life, haven’t we? Reset is about learning three crucial keys which God will use to change the way you live: surrender control of your life now, find an alternate way to life in the future, and ask God to delete some things from your past.

Jan. 8 Ctrl – Who is in control of my life?
Jan. 15 Alt – What changes must be made in my life?
Jan. 22 Delete – How can I get rid of past mistakes in my life?