Saturday, May 30, 2015

Living in Babylon - Part Two


This article is the second part of a series.  Read Living in Babylon Part One here.

Exiled from home and living in unfamiliar territory, the Jews experience awful changes and must adapt to living in a foreign land.  While some voices quickly tell them that God will soon deliver them, the prophet Jeremiah sends a true message from God . . . 

Trust God where you are, seek God where we are, and bless the place where we are.
He challenges them to plan to stay a long time in their place of exile, outlining how to succeed as a faithful person in difficult circumstances.  In short, Jeremiah tells the people how to live as godly people in Babylon.  In doing so, he gives believers today lessons about how to live through our own experiences of exile.

Your exile maybe a child leaving home or the death of a parent.  It could be the loss of a job or a move into a new state.  It could involve the loss of income and the loss of a friend.  Or, it could involve asking, "How does a Christian stay faithful in the midst of a society that resembles Babylon more than Zion?  How do I trust God in an American society that systematically rejects God?"

7 Lessons for Godly People in Babylon

1.  God has you where you are, so trust God’s sovereignty (1-4).
Life may take you where you do not like.  If so, Jeremiah challenges the people t see the change as coming from God.  Choose to see God in this difficult situation.  Choose to trust, even when life stinks.

Jesus said that He knows His sheep by name.  That means He knows you.  He knows your name.  You are still on His radar screen.

Cecil Murphey shares, Why did Jeremiah stress that God had taken them into exile?  The Jews needed to know that even in the terrible ordeals they had undergone, and the traumas that still lay ahead, God has brought it all about.  And God has plans beyond the immediate defeat.  They didn’t end up in a foreign land by accident or because God blinked.  – Cec  Murphey

2.  Seek God where you are (12-14).

We have to seek God before the circumstances changes.  Choose to find God in spite of your disappointment and confusion.  Again, Cec Murphey shares that we have to find God in Babylon: " I had to discover God in the place where I was right then – deep inside the darkness.  I had to come to terms with my situation.  I felt God was mandating to me to make the most of it. I had to accept my circumstances as they were."

In the midst of change and turmoil, orient yourself to God.

When I moved from Greenville to Clinton in 1991 as a freshman in college, it almost amazed to me to discover that God was just as much in Clinton as He had been in Greenville.  The one constant was that I could seek God every day in my Bible reading, prayer, and personal worship.  He was the same.


 
3.  Build a life in the present (5-7).
 
Choose to bless the place and the people where you live.  Be a proactive agent of blessing.  Jeremiah tells the people to build houses, plant gardens, and stay there until they have grandchildren. 

Choose to build a life where you are.  Invest in  your children and the next generation.  Seek peace for the place where you live.  Pray for others. 

Get involved with blessing other people - not just being consumed in self-pity.

Don't sit at home, watch TV Land, and feel sorry for yourself, isolating yourself from the world.  Connect with people.  Mentor a teenager.  Have the children of your church over for a party at your house.  Teach - or at the least get involved with - a Sunday School class.  Volunteer. 

Today in America, it is easy for Christians to want to hide.  You may want to just retreat to church-world and wait for the rapture.  Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcy challenged Christians to get involved in their world in their book How Now Shall We Live? 

The only task of the church, many fundamentalists and evangelicals have believed, is to save as many lost souls as possible from a world literally going to hell.   But this implicit denial of a Christian worldview is unbiblical and is the reason we have lost so much of our influence in the world.  Salvation does not consist of simply freedom from sin; salvation means being restored to the task we were given in the beginning – the job of creating culture. 

We are meant to proceed to the restoration of all God’s creation, which includes private and public virtue; individual and family life; education and community; work; politics, and law; science and medicine; literature, art, and music.  This redemptive goal permeates everything we do, for there is no invisible dividing line between sacred and secular.

Jeremiah exhorted the Jews in exile in a similar fashion.  Babylon may be bad, but they need to bless the place.  The customs may be different, but they can learn to live abundant lives in that place.  The place may feel unfamiliar and the king pagan, but they are to be agents of blessing.

Franklin Graham recently challenged Christians in our nation: Can you imagine what a difference it would make if Christians ran for every office at all levels across our country – city council, school board, Mayor? We need to get involved and take a stand for biblical values and morals before it's too late. 

You may wish you were somewhere else doing something else with someone else at some other season in your life.  But you are not.  You are here in Babylon.  Choose to bless others.
 
Your family needs you.  Your church needs you.  Your community needs you.

end of part two

Go to Living in Babylon part three here


- quotes from Cecil Murphey come from his book When God Turned Off the Lights

 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Blue Ridge Conference Writing Award May 2015




 Happy to receive the second place award in unpublished Children's Literature
for my children's picture book idea "Praying with Daddy" 

Pictured in the first shot with Edie Melson and Alton Gansky,
directors of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference

Pictured in the second one with Eva Marie Everson,
author and director of the contests at BRMCWC

This award was my fourth one to receive at a Blue Ridge conference.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Living in Babylon, Part One


How can a godly person survive when life feels unfamiliar?
When life is difficult, we can trust God where we are, seek God where we are, and bless the place where we are.  The prophet Jeremiah exhorts the exiles in Babylon with this message in chapter 29 of his book.
I am a Greenville, South Carolina, boy at heart.  No place feels like home quite like Greenville.  I grew up in her suburbs and lived and played on her streets.  Today, when I drive around the east side of Greenville and Taylors, memories flood my mind.  I see restaurants where my parents and I ate, stores where we shopped, and schools where I attended.  I can drive through those suburbs and tell me children, “So and so lived down that street.  I used to go this that house for thus and so.  I remember when we did such and such down that road.”
When I graduated from college, I moved to Louisville, Kentucky.  Suddenly, I left the familiar of upstate South Carolina and relocated.  The first morning there, I remember thinking, “I do not know one single person in this entire state.”  I had to learn new places to shop, eat, bank, play, and do business.  I was like an exile to a new land.
Life contains many exiles, small and large.  Change occurs in many forms.  Birth.  Growing up.  Leaving home.  Marriage.  Having children.  New jobs.  Relocating.  The empty nest.  Aging parents.  Deaths of loved ones.  Eugene Peterson writes, “We barely get used to one set of circumstances and faces when we are forced to deal with another.” 
Nebuchadnezzar brought many Jews into exile in Babylon in 587 B.C.  They traveled 700 miles across the desert and entered an unfamiliar land full of odd customs, language, and heritage.  Again, Peterson says, “All the familiar landmarks were gone.”
The Jews longed to go home and cried out to God for deliverance.  Three false prophets arose in their midst, promising them to not unpack their bags, because God was about to answer their prayers. 
One day a letter arrives from home.  Jeremiah, the same prophet who warned them for decades that their sin would result in their deportation, writes a letter to encourage and exhort the exiles.  The twenty-ninth chapter of Jeremiah’s book in the Bible contains that letter.
This letter can be applied in two ways.  First, he shares exhortations to anyone enduring change.  He tells us how to survive the exiles of life.  Second, he shares how godly people can live in an ungodly society.  Today the United States of America resembles Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon more than it does David’s Israel.
In 1977, church historian Rufus Spain wrote a book describing the role that Southern Baptists played in post-Civil War American culture from 1865-1900.  The book, At Ease in Zion, depicts how the value-system of America and that of Southern Baptists fit hand-in-hand.  The SBC was na├»ve to the movements that would, in the 20th-21st centuries, move the culture and country far from her Christian roots .  As a result, they were “at ease” in a time when they fit easily into American culture.
Years later Barry Hankins followed Spain’s work with a book describing the relationship of Southern Baptists and American culture during the last quarter of the 20th century.  Uneasy in Babylon describes a denomination learning, perhaps too late, that they must involve themselves in the cultural-political movements.  The SBC woke up to the fact that American culture reflected Babylon more than Zion.
Today the church in America continues to find herself living in a culture that embraces ungodly, pagan values.  We find ourselves like exiles living in Babylon.  More and more things feel unfamiliar.  The President of the United States goes around the world telling crowds that America has as much to thank Islam for as they do Christianity.  The Supreme Court debates the very definition of marriage.  The entertainment industry often resembles a cesspool.  It often seems that gone are the days when “One nation under God, God bless America, a Christian nation, and honoring the Bible” were our norm.
Jeremiah speaks to a people in exile in an ungodly culture.  His words can be summed up in the following:
Trust God where you are, seek God where we are, and bless the place where we are.
In short, Jeremiah tells the people how to live as a godly person in Babylon.

(end of part one)

Go to Living in Babylon part two here

Quotations of Eugene Peterson come from his book Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at its Best

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

BRMCWC 2015


Enjoying the instruction, encouragement, and friendships at
the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference
in beautiful Ridgecrest, North Carolina

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The church's dirty little secret


I have sung and spoken at many funerals through the years. 
This week I prepare to do so again on Thursday at the service of Bob Shaver.  However, Bob was not just a church member.  Bob was a friend.  And this week our church grieves the loss of a wonderful man.

Bob was (and is) and example of so many good things.  He was unselfish in his living, put others first, shared the gospel with others, and worked for love and unity with his church and family. 
I thought of Bob when I read Pastor Joe McKeever's blog entry entitled The church’s dirty little secret.    The reason I thought of Bob is that he displayed such maturity in Christ.  In a conversation a few months ago, Bob told me something like this:
Pastor, I don't need much from you.  I don't expect you or the church to make me feel good or feel better about myself.  What I need from you is to help me walk with Jesus and grow spiritually.  I want you to preach the Word to me and help me grow in the Lord.  And I don't have time to get into whose feelings got hurt or who didn't get their way over something.  I don't get too close to people because I don't want to get into all of that.  I don't have all kinds of expectations about people and what they, the pastor, or the church owes me.  I just want to love people, serve them, and let the church help me grow spiritually, because that is what the church is supposed to be about.
I thought, "Wow, how the church in the United States needs a lot more people like Bob Shaver."
Pastor Joe writes that the biggest danger to the church in America is . . . immaturity among church members.  Pastor Joe lists 7 wrong ideas that people have about the Lord and the Lord's work . . .
“ 'Church is the only place on earth where people can throw hissy fits and get away with it.'  –a friend serving his first church after seminary.

I told my minister friend I was sorry he had to learn this dirty little secret about church life.

I asked for his story.  He had two."

Read the entire article by Pastor Joe McKeever here.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Great Announcement Speech by Mike Huckabee - I LIKE MIKE!


Same-Sex Marriage Is Not a Fundamental Constitutional Right


"The U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide whether the people of our republic will be permitted to continue to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Up until the dawn of the 21st century, marriage had always been defined that way by diverse cultures and faiths, regardless of time or place. The collective wisdom and experience of the human race teaches us that marriage between one man and one woman is the foundation of a vibrant, self-sustaining society.

That is why the state, although it did not create marriage, has consistently supported and encouraged its flourishing. The Supreme Court has itself repeatedly noted that marriage and the family are indispensable to maintaining a free and properly functioning democratic republic."

Read the entire article by Ken Connelly, legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom here.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Does CBS Foster an Anti-Christian Bias?


Todd Starnes reports from Fox News on an ugly interview conducted by Host Bob Schieffer on CBS . . .

"Last week, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins was invited to be on CBS News' 'Face the Nation.' What was supposed to be a cordial conversation about the Supreme Court and same-sex marriage turned out to be a professional ambush.

Host Bob Schieffer pounced on the Family Research Council, calling them an anti-gay hate group. He was using discredited intelligence from the Southern Poverty Law Center to bolster his arguments.

The Conservative Action Project fired off a letter to CBS demanding an apology, calling the interview an assault against Judeo-Christian people of faith."

Read the entire article by Todd Starnes here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Mayday! Mayday!




On Sunday I preached from Jeremiah 29, when the prophet Jeremiah sends a letter to the Jewish exiles in Babylon.  In the letter, he warns them about listening to the wrong voices.  Some so-called prophets were claiming to have words from the Lord.  But they were false.

Today many voices abound in our culture.  To make it more confusing, numerous Christians claim to have revelations, visions, and advice.  Just because someone says they hear from the Lord or speak for him does not mean that I take them seriously.  Anne Graham Lotz, however, is one lady that I respect.  She is a faithful student of God's Word, an accurate Bible teacher, and an intercessor with integrity.

Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of infamous evangelist Billy Graham, recently issued a "distress call for prayer."

Anne writes, "In these days of desperation and confusion, hopelessness and helplessness, when mountains are collapsing, nations are warring, people are rioting, the earth is quaking, and the enemy is threatening, it’s time to cry out to the Lord! Now!

The nine days between the day of the Ascension of Jesus and the Day of Pentecost have Biblically and traditionally been days of prayer and fasting for an outpouring of God’s Spirit. This year those days fall on May 15-23. On each of those 9 days, join Anne Graham Lotz and thousands of other followers of Jesus Christ, as together we implore God to save us from our distress. Before Jesus comes and judgment falls."

You can read more and sign up to receive Anne's Mayday!  Mayday! emails here.

 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

A Lesson from My Grandfather's Chair


Life contains a variety of stress-inducing situations.  As we advance in age we encounter more layers of problems: friends battling serious illnesses, school choices for children, financial pressures, work duties, unmet expectations, time demands, problems in society, aging parents - and the list goes on.

Sometimes it makes us look back longingly at the days when the great stress moments were over matters such as what toy we would spend our money on at Toys R Us.

Lately it seems I have had a lot of situations swirling around me with the potential of creating a fretful, worrisome spirit.  Yesterday in my Bible reading I meditated on a verse from 2 Chronicles 14.  King Asa of Judah faced on attack from the king of Ethiopia.  As any godly leader should in troubled times, the Bible says that Asa cried out to the Lord his God, and said, “Lord, it is nothing for You to help, whether with many or with those who have no power; help us, O Lord our God, for we rest on You, and in Your name we go against this multitude. O Lord, You are our God; do not let man prevail against You!” (11) 

The phrase that spoke to my spirit was "we rest on You."

The very next verse says, So the LORD struck the Ethiopians before Asa and Judah, and the Ethiopians fled (12).

In this Old Testament battle, there was a direct correlation between Asa's crying out to the Lord and resting on Him and the Lord intervening in the troublesome situation.

At home in my office I have a comfortable easy chair that belonged to my grandfather.  Many times when I use it I can see him sitting in it at his spot in the den.  This year it has become my "prayer chair," and at times during the day when I stop to pray and meditate on Scripture, I often move to that chair.

Sitting in a recliner feels very different than sitting in our hard wooden dining room chairs.  My prayer chair is soft, cozy, and comfortable.  In the dining room I sit up to eat and talk.  In the prayer chair, I rest. I cease.  I relax.  And as I begin to do so physically, I also begin to assume that posture spiritually.

To rest on the Lord means that I stop trusting myself, I let go of my agenda, I cease from attempting to be my own Savior and Strength.  Instead I stop, surrender, stand on His promises, and rest on Him.

Here are 7 ways to rest on the Lord . . .

1.  Choose to praise Him.  Read one of the praise psalms (144-150 for example) and use that as a praise-instigator.

2.  Take time to thank Him for specific blessings.

3.  Sing (yes, out-loud) a praise song or hymn to Him.  I keep a hymnal handy.

4.  Read a portion of a biography of a great Christian.  Think about just one or two aspects of how that person trusted God.

5.  Be quiet and still.  Make your mind "be still and know that He is God."  Don't let the problems crowd out your concentration on Him.

6.  Take a walk around the block or track with your ipod.  Listen to praise music or a sermon by a faithful preacher or teacher.

7.  Remind yourself of one or two ways that God has come through for you in the past.  Reviewing the past helps us have confidence to trust Him today.

Lord, just as I rest my body into that warm, soft recliner, help me to rest on You today, trusting You for today and for my tomorrows.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

"A Misguided Attempt to Avoid Politics" - Disappointed over Removal of Ben Carson


My wife and I were disappointed to hear that Ben Carson's invitation to speak at the Pastors' Conference of the Southern Baptist Convention became a controversy.

Trouble arose after a group of young pastors complained "that his appearance could be construed as an endorsement of the Republican Party and that it would be inappropriate for a member of a Seventh-day Adventist Church -- the religious group with which Carson identifies -- to address the Pastors' Conference."

There are many godly believers with whom I disagree over some points of doctrine but from whom I can learn valuable spiritual lessons. If a man belongs to Jesus Christ, has walked with Him, and looks to the Word of God as authoritative, there is something I can learn from him.  A godly man like Carson whom God has used in many ways can certainly offer me spiritual guidance.  Charles Swindoll has a great word on that in his sermon "The Church as God Planned It."  Speaking of Jesus' prayer for unity in John 17, he says,
"That they may be one," perfected into a unit - not polarized into 70 different slices of Protestant Christianity – but that there may be one great Christ over one great body.  That the world may know its truth.  Unfortunately there is a greater loyalty to a certain denomination than there is to the body of Christ to one another. 
Frankly, I don’t know of  a thing that breaks my heart in the church more today than that.  I used to be really narrow, really rigid.  I used to listen closely to labels, I used to want to find that out before I gave myself to an individual.  Before I loved that person.  I wanted to screen them.  I wanted to find out where they really were, and then I could say, “Well, we’re one.”  But my friend, if a person is in Christ, if he is truly born again, than you are one with that person – regardless of the label or no label.  Now believe it or not, that’s biblical truth. 
We shoot ourselves in the foot (very literally according to Paul's illustration of The Body in 1 Corinthians) when we say that someone like Ben Carson cannot offer Southern Baptist pastors spiritual guidance.  That is ridiculous. 
I also believe it is a mistake to distance ourselves from politics for the sake of promoting evangelism. God has called to many tasks, influencing the culture and being salt and light being some of them. For too many decades, too much of the church in America has stayed out of the culture tasks, keeping her head in the sand and  thinking that the only thing that matters is evangelism.   While we met and sang in our churches waiting for heaven, very intentional political activists that hate traditional Christian values were actively taking over our country and influencing her entertainment, schools, and policies.
Charles Colson used to address this problem well, challenging us to look at the wider lens to which God called the church.
In his book with Nancy Pearcy How Now Shall We Live?, they wrote the following:
The only task of the church, many fundamentalists and evangelicals have believed, is to save as many lost souls as possible from a world literally going to hell.   But this implicit denial of a Christian worldview is unbiblical and is the reason we have lost so much of our influence in the world.  Salvation does not consist of simply freedom from sin; salvation means being restored to the task we were given in the beginning – the job of creating culture.

We are meant to proceed to the restoration of all God’s creation, which includes private and public virtue; individual and family life; education and community; work; politics, and law; science and medicine; literature, art, and music.  This redemptive goal permeates everything we do, for there is no invisible dividing line between sacred and secular.  
I would be thrilled if several political candidates who stood for faith and family values received invitations to the Pastors' Conference of the SBC. Invite Mike Huckabee, Carson, and one of our South Carolina state representatives, Jeff Duncan. Let them challenge us from their non-pastoral perspectives about how the church can be salt and light and influence the culture.   Inviting them to speak does not endorse their party; instead, it affirms their values.
If you find a Democratic candidate who is strongly pro-family, pro-traditional marriage, pro-God, and pro-life, then invite them to speak as well.
Todd Starnes of Fox News commented on Carsons' removal: "This is just so, so disappointing. . . .   Very sad." Starnes says, "Well - the reason I vote Republican is because they are pro-life, pro-traditional marriage and they did not try to vote God out of their party platform -- unlike the Democrats."
What if English pastors in the early 1800's had an opportunity to listen to William Wilberforce speak at their denominational meeting? Would they not invite him because it would be too political?  Because they might be seen as endorsing his party?  Too political to hear a man greatly used by God for a godly cause? 
Franklin Graham recently shared publicly, Can you imagine what a difference it would make if Christians ran for every office at all levels across our country – city council, school board, Mayor? We need to get involved and take a stand for biblical values and morals before it's too late.
He plans on holding rallies in every state, challenging Christians to run for public office.  Good for Franklin.  He understands what Colson and Pearcy did, that we need not distance ourselves from politics for the sake of evangelism.  Such a dichotomy is false.
I believe that Southern Baptists have not been taught a good theology of culture.  As a lifelong Southern Baptist, I don't know that I have heard one sermon by a SB pastor on the subject of our calling to build, create, and redeem culture.  As a result, we have often and historically perpetuated thoughts such as The church and the pastor should not get political.  We are called mainly to soul winning and that's what the church should be about.  We should stay out of politics and the cultural battles and stick to soul winning.
I think William Rice, the President of the Pastors' Conference, was right-on.  He said we must be engaged in the public arena, and he disagrees with those who think we should avoid political involvements:

Rice went on to say the following on his blog:

To my friends who believe that we should avoid all political involvements, I must respectfully disagree. While I know of no Southern Baptist leader who believes our answer is found in a political party or political solution, there are times when we must be engaged in the public arena. John the Baptist was not jailed for preaching the gospel. He was jailed for speaking truth to power. Southern Baptists cannot and should not back away from appropriate engagement in political life.

If Southern Baptists will not speak, then who will? In these current days where Christian brothers are being butchered overseas and religious liberties are under assault at home, will we stay silent out of some misguided attempt to avoid politics altogether? I pray not. Political leaders who stand for religious liberty, speak out for the oppressed and have the strength of moral convictions should know they have a friend in Southern Baptists.

I am sad that Dr. Carson will not speak at our conference, but I am willing to sacrifice what some may want for the greater unity of our Southern Baptist family.
Yes, how very sad.  Sometimes we cannot see the forest for the trees.

I heard Tony Evans preach twenty years ago at a Promise Keepers rally in Atlanta.  He shared that when you find yourself in a war in a foxhole, you don't ask if the guy next to you in the hole is a Presbyterian, Baptist, or Charismatic before you decide to work together for the common goal.
Christians are called to build societies and create - and sometimes redeem and fight for - culture.   And we must stick together to do it well. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Do We Screen Our Brothers - or Accept Them?


Charles Swindoll comments on Jesus' prayer for unity in John 17:21.

" 'That they may be one,' perfected into a unit - not polarized into 70 different slices of Protestant Christianity – but that there may be one great Christ over one great body.  That the world may know its truth.  Unfortunately there is a greater loyalty to a certain denomination than there is to the body of Christ to one another. 
Frankly, I don’t know of  a thing that breaks my heart in the church more today than that.  I used to be really narrow, really rigid.  I used to listen closely to labels, I used to want to find that out before I gave myself to an individual.  Before I loved that person.  I wanted to screen them.  I wanted to find out where they really were, and then I could say, “Well, we’re one.”  But my friend, if a person is in Christ, if he is truly born again, than you are one with that person – regardless of the label or no label.  Now believe it or not, that’s biblical truth." 
– Charles Swindoll, The Church as God Planned It