For as long as I can remember I have tried to imitate people I admire. When I was a young boy playing baseball, it was Pete Rose. Slid head first even when coaches told me not to do that. Hustled on every play. In my backyard I imagined I was JC Watts playing quarterback for the Sooners. I even would pretend to be my dad, who I saw as the ultimate soldier.
Since becoming a Christian in high school, I have tried to imitate Jesus and other godly influences. I have failed miserably. As I read of the heart and the hope of Christ, I desire to make what He did a little bit of what I do. When your nature is changed – transformed – its just what you do. I have had several godly examples come alongside me. I often catch myself doing or saying something those great men have modeled for me. And yet I still fail miserably.
I dont imitate Pete Rose anymore – probably a good thing, right? JC Watts most recent ventures create no interest in me. I have done my time as a Soldier. No pretending there.
But I cant stop imitating Jesus and those few godly men. I fail miserably. Frequently I miss the mark. But I will never stop watching and emulating. I cant. The Gospel has changed me. My nature is different.
1 Thessalonians 1 tells us that we are changed by the power of the Gospel, the Word and the Holy Spirit. They are always linked together. They do the work of changing us into the image of Christ. I am glad I will never be the same. Changed by the good news of Jesus Christ. Watching to imitate what He and His servants do.
Laurie and I recently had the privilege of attending the Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville, Kentucky. This conference is an encouragement, primarily to preachers, but to the Church as a whole. Laurie and I had not been to a conference together in a long time. We heard great preaching, informative panel discussions on particularly relevant topics, and incredible worship. So, I want to give you my First Five on the conference. A few will have web links to some of the BEST sermons we heard (they were all great). I encourage you to listen if you can.
5. We looked for many friends from Oklahoma, but continuously found ourselves running into the “main speakers” of the conference. I stood next to David Platt in the airport in Detroit, had John Piper wave at me coming out of a restaurant, talked with Mark Dever at the hotel, Russell Moore walking to get coffee, Tom Pennington while we were walking to the bookstore (he smarted off about my OU shirt – he is an Alabama fan), and Phil Johnson while in the Zero Dollar bookstore. If you don’t know who all these people are, think of running into your favorite players from your favorite football team that you thought you would never meet – in two days.
4. But it got better than that. Laurie and I had lunch with two of our favorite people – Ted and Jerri Kersh. Ted is the pastor of South Tulsa Baptist Church and has been a mentor for me for many years (even when he didn’t know it). You know that saying “they don’t come any better than this”? Yep. That is Ted and Jerri Kersh.
3. David Platt’s sermon on prayer. Wow!
2. Ligon Duncan’s sermon on The Gospel by Numbers. Wow! You have to stick with it through the first 20 minutes, then…hold on to your seat.
1. Kevin DeYoung’s sermon on God’s Unbreakable Bible. Wow! Wow! Maybe the best sermon I have heard in the last year.
OK, so this does not include my favorite preacher John MacArthur or my favorite cultural commentator Al Mohler. Both gave incredible sermons. So did John Piper. And Mark Dever. They were all good. And…they gave us each 15 free books. But I only had room for my…First Five.
5. Hearing team leaders say “I have the BEST team. I can’t wait to do this again.” People bond over serving together. The leaders led their teams to serve…and they did it so well.
4. One young father excitedly reported of sharing the gospel with a resident who later came to the church for the rally. The Great Day of Service is about works AND words – the Word of Life.
3. Observing senior adults directing traffic, handing out hot dogs, holding trash bags and raking up leaves. Their example has impacted many lives. They remind us that as long as there is breath in the lungs God can use any willing vessel.
2. Seeing children and teenagers joyfully serving alongside parents and other adults. The predominantly self-absorbed attitude of the age took a right hook on the chin concerning the upcoming generations!
1. Churches working together. God must be pleased.
That’s my Great Day of Service 2014 First Five.
So I have decided to go a particular direction with my blog. Actually, I have had NO direction for the blog because I have not been writing. Well, it’s time to get after it. Cutting to the chase, my blog will be a weekly submission encouraging Christians toward holy living. Each week I will choose a topic and give you the First Five principles of living it out. It might be the first five that come to my mind…or what I see as the five most important things to say about the issue. Either way, I hope this will be helpful. As usual, I probably will be the one who gets the most out of it. Since all of us daily deal with sin I have determined to give you the First Five on determining right and wrong.
I am glad that Paul tells us “All have sinned…” (Romans 3:23) because, frankly, many Christians fall into the trap of thinking they are the only ones struggling with something. It’s not just that we cannot control ourselves (obviously we DO NOT many times), but that we honestly deliberate the moral classification of an action or thought before us: “Is THIS a sin?” Now, I believe we all should DEEPLY delve into the Scriptures on every issue of life. But there are those moments when you better make a decision pretty quickly before you make a really bad decision. “If only there were some kind of grid to run through with these kind of issues…maybe, five steps or so. ” OK, I have enough melodrama in my house right now with the rise of “Frozen” – let’s just get right to the First Five of determining right and wrong.
1. Start with the obvious. Question 1 – Do I KNOW what is right? “Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” James 4:17
2. Question 2 – Is it helpful? Will this benefit me spiritually, socially, mentally, physically? “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful.” 1 Corinthians 6:12
3. This one demands honesty – Question 3 – Am I a “slave” to this? Does this action or attitude have control over me instead of me controlling it? “All things are lawful, but I will not be enslaved by anything.” 1 Corinthians 6:12
4. Question 4 – Does this offend other people? Are people turned away from Christ if I do this? “If food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” 1 Corinthians 8:13. Obviously, food is the example. But any issue could be used here.
5. Finally, Question 5 – Does this bring glory to Jesus? Immediate glory. Don’t try to stretch this. “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31
5 questions. These may save your life. There you go – the first First Five.
I love and hate this week. It is the week of the Super Bowl. I love it because I like football. I hate the week because there will be no more football for six months after this week. Before you go to worked up, I don’t LOVE football. I like it. I don’t have TV in my house, so I don’t watch much of it.
One of the reasons why this week can be unpleasant is all the talk. Just mention the name “Richard Sherman” this week and you will get a load of divergent responses. Then there is the clever weaving of faith into just about every biographical story. I am thrilled to know that Peyton Manning claims to be a believer in Christ. Many other will as well. I like that. I like that these very well paid professional athletes are willing to speak of their trust in Jesus. Some don’t talk about it a lot (Manning), while others are much more open about it. Who can forget Tim Tebow? I can’t. In fact, I will be wearing my Broncos Tim Tebow jersey on Sunday. Or the gregarious Bible boastings of Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis? As an OU fan I think back to this year’s Sugar Bowl and Trevor Knight’s mention of his faith in Christ. I love it.
I also know that to some, this kind of “Jesus talk” is meaningless. These are people on a screen. Over-paid people. Who live lives of luxury and fame. Sometimes it feels like “a little Jesus slapped on for good measure”. I hate that. I think these athletes are, for the most part, genuine. The testimony of Seahawks QB Russell Wilson and some of his teammates with Pastor Mark Driscoll is awesome (see here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8U_ewtHZdw).
One of the reasons why I like this week is an event we do at FBC Ponca City. I admit it – We do a Super Bowl party! I know many churches don’t participate in such tawdry shenanigans. Here are a few reasons why we do a Super Bowl party (and why I love this week).
1. It is fun. I know – it seems so unChristlike to do something because it is fun. Jesus never laughed! Unless he was holding a small lamb while posing for a picture! OK. We do a party because it is fun. Because our church family has the opportunity to get together, sit in their lawn chairs in the assembly center, and have a good time together. How scandalous for Jesus to do his first miracle at a party!
2. It is family time. There will be kids running all over the place. During the game! In front and behind of those vigorously cheering their side to victory! Playing tag and catch and hide and go seek. AND…we will turn the screens off during the raunchy Super Bowl commercials. It is a family atmosphere. As a pastor, I love seeing families together…with other families…with MY family.
3. It is about faith. Not a guy on a screen. Oh, we will probably show the testimony of the Seahawks. But that is not it. Nope. We will have a real, live human being in the building who will give testimony. TESTIFY BROTHER! Last year we had Oklahoma Baptist University Head Football Coach Chris Jensen. Wow, did he bring it! That man can preach! We also heard from Jay Wilkinson, the son of legendary football coach Bud Wilkinson. What an inspirational story! This year we are in for a treat. Josh Norman, a wide receiver for the 2000 National Champion OU Sooner football team and former NFL player will be sharing his faith with us. Josh used to work for Fellowship of Christian Athletes with one of our own, Mr. Chuck Bowman. Josh is the real deal. Chuck told me “tell your people that they DO NOT want to miss hearing Josh.” I cant wait.
Fun, family, faith. 5:30 this Sunday is kickoff. Bring your lawn chair. And your face paint. I dare you! It will be better than the Super Bowl.
Folks at First Baptist Church Ponca City have experienced “a new way of doing church” lately. For the past two Sundays we have flipped our schedule – Worship service first (at 9:30) and Sunday School second (at 11 AM). The reason for the flip of the schedule? It is all about the theme of the day.
There is an old axiom in church that applies to Bible study – “We are educated beyond our capacity to obey.” If you have been one of those people who basically lived at the church by attending Sunday morning for Sunday School, then worship, then Discipleship Training (or Training Union or any other name for the 5 PM hour), then Sunday evening church, then Wednesday night prayer meeting/bible study, then you know what I mean by the statement “educated beyond our capacity to obey”. In one week of church you may have received 5 or more different lessons. I don’t know about you, but I can barely REMEMBER one of those, much less apply them all.
So we decided to try something different. We want Sunday School and worship service to carry the same theme. To hear God’s Word explained, then talk about it within the context of a small group of friends. The traditional schedule of Sunday School first, worship second just would not give us the vehicle to deliver our intended goal. So we flipped it. For the last two weeks at First Baptist Church we held “Church First”, then Sunday School – and we talked about the same theme. For instance, two weeks ago I preached from John 18 on Jesus encounter with Pilate when the governor asks the Savior “What is truth?” Truth was our theme. I preached on it in worship and the Sunday School classes talked about how to apply it. This past Sunday I preached from Matthew 22:34-40 on the subject of “The Great Love Project”. The task for our Sunday School leaders was to lead a discussion on various related Bible texts and think of tangible projects by which their class or individuals could demonstrate love in a selfless act of service.
We are two weeks in. The reports back have been great – actually, more than great. More like “glowing” reports. Discussion has increased, attendance has increased, and outreach has increased. Parents are talking about the weekly theme with their kids. Classes are posting challenges and applications on Facebook. Many who were skeptical are beginning to see value. Some who are still skeptical are willing to give it a chance. Traditions are to let go of when we try to make a change. But what if God used something as simple as a flip of the schedule to help more people become “doers of the Word” instead of hearers only?
We didn’t do this JUST for the sake of change. I don’t like change THAT much! We are exploring the opportunity with a purpose. I guess we will see if it works. Give it a try. Church First. 9:30. Oh, I almost forgot. There will be coffee in the foyer before church!
Some people have motors that burn at a million degrees! John Wycliffe was such a man. You may have never heard of him before, but I bet you have heard of Wycliffe Bible Translators, so named because of John Wycliffe’s incredible work of putting the Bible in the people’s vernacular.
Up to the mid 1300’s the Scriptures were only ALLOWED in Latin. This did not set well with Wycliffe, as he rightly ascertained that the official Holy Catholic Church was on numerous doctrines spreading a false gospel based on the well-being of the Church instead of the foundation of God’s Word.
For Wycliffe’s expressed views he was persecuted, threatened, put on house arrest and continuously summonsed to give account for his incendiary remarks toward the Catholic Church. He was told to stand down from his translation work, to which he, along with his friend John Purvey, only ramped up efforts to put a copy of God’s Word into the hands of the common family. For this high and heinous crime, Wycliffe was handed a tongue-lashing from the Holy See: “By this translation, the Scriptures have become vulgar, and they are more available to lay, and even to women who can read, than they were to learned scholars, who have a high intelligence. So the pearl of the gospel is scattered and trodden underfoot by swine.”
Wycliffe was well on his way to martyrdom for his courageous endeavor of translating the Scriptures into English. The Catholic Church had sought ways to silence him, and was prepared to do it permanently. Dying for the faith would have been the appropriate way for such a hero of faith to enter into the glory of heaven…but it didn’t happen. Before the Church could execute vengeance upon Wycliffe, he died of a stroke at the age of 54 in 1384.
Apparently, death could not hold back the work of Wycliffe. His friend John Purvey continued his work, along with others such as William Tyndale nearly 200 years later. The English Bible was published and set off a Gospel spark that has since burned like a wildfire. And in an interesting turn of events, Wycliffe received his “martyrs death”. The Catholic Church was so frustrated with the translation work he “sparked”, and his denial of the doctrine of transubstantiation (that the elements of the Lord Supper literally, physically become the body and blood of Christ), that they exhumed his body some 40 years after death, attached what was left of his body to a stake, and burned him to death…again.
The church today throws around the term “committed” in a very loose fashion. Oh for the day that we would see people so committed to the cause of Christ instead of Jesus being a convenient addition to their already busy schedule. I doubt if any of us will be asked to sacrifice to the degree of Wycliffe. But when it is all done, and your body lies in the grave, will the life that you live right now be capable of speaking the truth? I only hope to live today and tomorrow a life that is…on fire!
FBC Ponca Cit is winding down this year’s version of VBS. The Colossal Coaster World has been a thrilling ride. As the pastor of the church, I enjoy daily watching the little ones coming in the doors and the sound of running feet down the halls. It makes my heart glad to know that they are having the gospel presented to them daily.
This weekend is Father’s Day. Appropriate to follow on the heels of VBS, don’t you think? Of course it is! The primary responsibility of spiritual development of children does not reside with the children’s ministry…or even with the church for that matter! It belongs to the home. And spiritual leadership begins with dads.
So, this week, as we continue to study through the gospel of Mark we will land on Mark 10:13-16. Perfect. The Gospel has requirements. And what does it require? That we receive it as a child. Ahhh…back to VBS…and to Father’s Day! What does it mean to receive the kingdom of God like a child? Please! I am not telling you NOW. You either have to be here or watch live at www.fbcponca.org. But I promise you this…I will say something to challenge you, something to comfort you, and something to make you think. And hopefully we will hear from God, learn from His Word, and be changed.
I just returned from my first trip to Israel. From Galilee to Jerusalem to Masada, this trip was absolutely stunning and filled with those “Oh, wow!” moments. I would love to tell you everything I learned, but plenty of books have been written describing the exact things I saw.
My expectation in going was that this would be an emotional trip. Sitting in the Garden of Gethsemane. Walking the Via Dolorosa. Staring at Golgotha. Peering into the empty tomb. Many of these sites were breathtaking and generated contemplative thinking. I knew it would be amazing to walk where Jesus walked.
But I found something more amazing than trekking in His probable pathway. I found myself recognizing that the “magic” is not putting my foot in the same place He put His. The greatest value of the trip to Israel became for me the desire to walk LIKE Jesus walked, not WHERE He walked. Imitating Him. Abiding in personal holiness.
Honestly, there were a few things which disappointed me. The Orthodox church has turned several of “the locations” of Jesus into shrines. The Church of the Nativity. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The place is worshiped. Their is expected “magic”.
I guess this is why my favorite places where different. Galilee. Tough. Blue collar. You can imagine carpenter’s hands at work here, along with fishermen at their trade. Gethsemane. Plain. Rugged. Lonely. Jesus struggled in this wooded garden. Golgotha. Rocky. Ugly. A bus barn that transports would-be travelers nestles at the foot of the mount. Just like the people who would have walked by the three men hanging on the crosses would have been displayed to demonstrate the might of Rome. The Garden Tomb. Cool. Damp. Average. Also empty. “Nothing-in-it Tomb” as my son Seth calls it. That’s right buddy. Nothing in it. It’s still empty.
The trip exceeded my expectations. Not because I felt closer to God. But because, now that I am home, I want to live more like Christ than ever. Walking in Israel was great. But I have to walk in Ponca City, Oklahoma. In His footsteps right here. I can’t wait to go back. Between now and then, I have some walking to do.
One week into February. Usually by now resolutions have been forgotten or even discarded. Many Christians make a new resolution each year to be more consistent in reading the Bible. One week into February finds many well-intentioned believers right back in the doldrums of being behind in their Bible reading. Check out this recent Gospel Coalition post that may help you re-energize your Bible reading. Don’t give up!
Day 33 of the 21 Days of Surrender. Stick with it. You can do it.