Thursday, March 10, 2016


     Prayer seems to be the easiest topic ever.  The Scriptures are filled with examples of prayers, parables about prayer, and direct commands concerning prayers.  Yet, if you ask people if they pray enough, the answer is oftentimes, "No."  If prayer is so important, why do we have so much trouble finding time to pray?
     Then there's the "God answered my prayers!"  Which means things turned out the way I wanted.  have you ever heard someone say, "God answered my prayers!" when they didn't get the prayed-for outcome?  It's the "God is good!" syndrome when something good happens.
     Also, why pray?  If God is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient and all those other omnis, why pray?  If God knows everything I need before I pray, what's the purpose?
     The answer to the question concerning why don't we pray more is simple.  His name is Satan.  He convinces us that we don't have time.  We have places to go, things to do, and people to see.  And to pray would just take up time.  I remember hearing my Dad say. "If you're too busy to pray, you're too busy."  Satan knows that communication with God (prayer) is dangers (to him.)  Who says you have to "stop and pray?"  Nehemiah prayed in the middle of a conversation with the king (See Nehemiah 2).  Did you drive in your car today?  Why not turn the radio off and pray.  Paul told us to pray continually.  Including God in all your thoughts during the day is praying.
     God does answer all of our prayers.  Parents understand that you don't give your children everything they ask for.  What parent does that?  You son wakes up in the morning and says, "Dad, I think I want some candy to begin the day.  Yes, that's it!  Candy for breakfast."  As a parent, you understand that eating sugar is bad for the teeth and could ultimately cause all kinds of health problems including diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and a host of other problems.  Do you go into a great explanation of why your son can't have candy for breakfast or do you just say, "No"?  God doesn't have to explain everything.  But He knows what is best for us and He tells us "No."
     Finally, if God knows everything, why pray?  Jim Cymbala in Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire said, I have discovered an astonishing truth.  God is attracted to weakness.  He can't resist those who humbly and honestly admit how desperately they need him."
     I could go on an on.  What about the model prayer in Matthew 6?  How about Jesus' prayer in John 17?  What about the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector?  I think you get the picture.  Let's just remember Paul's directive...."Pray continually."

Thursday, February 11, 2016


     There's an old joke going around.  How many elders does it take to change a light bulb?  CHANGE????!!!!  Honestly, my shepherds aren't like that, but many are.  A lot of people, not just elders, are.  What is it about change that so frightens us?  We like to be comfortable.  We want things where they are so there are no surprises.
     Let's face it, change is inevitable.  We are surrounded by change.  Weather, traffic, people we see, food we eat, everything changes constantly.  There's an old truism that says, "The only thing constant is change."  Learning is change.
     Now, before anyone panics, the gospel never changes.  Paul told the Galatians that if he or an angel from heaven preached another gospel than the one already given, let him be accursed...literally, anathema.  Paul said, preach another gospel and you can (his words, not mine) go to hell.
     Here's how The Message paraphrases Romans 12:1, 2:

So here's what I want you to do.  God helping you.  Take your everyday, ordinary life--your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life--and place it  before God as an offering.  Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.  Don't become so well-adjusts to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.  Instead, fix your attention on God.  You'll be changed from the inside out.

     The NIV calls us to be transformed.  The Greek word is where we get our word metamorphosis.  The question becomes, "Changed to what?".  In II Corinthians 3, Paul is talking about the New Covenant and he uses the illustration of Moses coming down from the mountain after seeing God.  He said they had to cover his face with a veil because he glowed, literally, so much.  But the new covenant takes the veil away.  At the end of the passage, he says, "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, all are being transformed (here it comes!) into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit."  We are being transformed into being like Christ Himself!

     How do you measure progress in such a venture?  We tend to quantify such things.  What's our attendance been?  How many baptisms have we had?  What's our contribution?  Up or down is the difference between success or failure.  But Peter comes along and says, "For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love."  (II Peter 1:5-7)  Now listen to what he says about these qualities.  "For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."  (I Peter 1:8)  Let me ask you a question.  How do you quantify faith?  How about goodness?  Or knowledge or self-control or perseverance or godliness or brotherly kindness or love?  Do you say, "Well, I'm up to 56% on faith today, but down a little in the godliness.  I'm only at 47%"?  Peter says to have them in increasing measure.

     These process of change, of transformation is a life-long process.  We'll never achieve it.  To become like Christ is a phenomenal goal and what a trip it is a we morph into being like Him.  Lord come quickly.  

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

My Friend

     I don't normally do this, but I want to talk of a friend of mine who died recently.  My first encounter with Donald "Buddy" Wray was in Northwest Arkansas when I moved to Springdale to begin my graduate work.  He was President and CEO of Tyson Foods, the well-known chicken company based in Springdale, Arkansas.  He was a man with a quick smile and warm personality.
     Not long after we had moved, one rainy evening I received a call from Buddy.  The Razorbacks were playing basketball that night and Buddy called to ask what I was doing.  I told him if I had a friend with tickets to the game, I would go with him.  He said I'll be right over.  The location of Buddy's seats were incredible.  He was on the third row with one seat on one side of mid-court, and the other on the other side of mid-court.  To this young fan, what an evening.
     Buddy was a giver.  If he saw a need, he helped.  I've known of several who needed money for mission work or a wedding or just anything, Buddy was willing to give.  In fact, a lady told me at his funeral that her husband was extremely sick and needed some medicine.  The insurance company would not pay for it because they deemed it too expensive.  Buddy asked this lady what was going on and she informed Buddy of the insurance company's decision.  Buddy told her, "Tell 'em it's covered."  She said, "Buddy, it's in the six figures."  He said, "Tell 'em it's covered."
     No one hears these stories.  But I respect a man who quietly, without fanfare, goes about and uses his gifts and his means to help others.  The present CEO of Tyson foods spoke at his funeral.  He mentioned the type of servant-leader Buddy was.  You don't often hear those two used used together, let alone in the same sentence.   That was Buddy.
     One more story.  Tyson employees are known to wear khaki pants and khaki shirts.  The shirt has the Tyson logo and the name of the employee embroidered on the shirt.  Most all wear this "uniform" to work.  I was in Buddy's office one day (it was oval an egg, he explained.)  and I asked him, "Buddy, why do Tyson employees wear khaki's to work?"  He responded to my question with a question.  (Hmmm, sounds similar to the Lord he served).  He said, "Jim, let me ask you a question.  Would you be more likely to walk into a chicken house wearing khakis or wearing a suit?" Good answer.
     I'll see Buddy again.  He was a godly man, a good man, a family man, a follower of Jesus.  It was a honor to know him.  Rest in peace, Buddy.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Relevant Experience

     I'm no Greek scholar, but the word presbuteros, translated "elder" means one who is older in years, older in experience.  It has been my experience that in our country, experience and older means more bumbling and irrelevant.  Check out the latest television shows and watch the adults.  They are usually buffoons who are fortunate to be able to find their way home.  That may be an over generalization, but I think it's pretty close.
     The Native American culture has much respect for their elders.  Not only are they respected for their knowledge, it's expected that they pass on their knowledge to the next generation.  In the summer of 2014 my wife and I were driving back from Glacier National Park in Montana when we came to the town of Lame Deer, Montana.  I stopped for gas and noticed a large contingent of Native American youth.  There were two, maybe three of these who had a tattoo on their arm of a chief.  I can only assume it was a famous chief of their tribe or maybe even the current chief.  I offered our church's youth a picture of myself so they could do the same on their arms.  I didn't get any takers.
     Asian culture places a high value on age and consider respect for the elderly as the highest virtue.   The aged are well respected and cared for.
     When it comes to leadership in the church, we should want those who are older.  In fact, Timothy mentions that an elder should not be a novice (KJV) or a recent convert (NIV).  They are to have children and a wife.  Both indications of some age to them.  In fact, children seem to be good training for shepherds because the scripture says, "If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?".  (I Timothy 3:5).  Inferred in this passage is age and experience.
     I can't begin to tell you how old an elder should be, but he needs to be old enough to see the fruits of his labor.  The consistency of teaching in his family.  The dedication he has shown to his wife.  One who has walked with Jesus and fought with Satan.  One who has been around God's Word long enough to know it and to be able to teach others.
     To be a relevant leader in the church, one must have fought the battles.  He must have taken the stands.  Yes, its' all right if he has failed some.  In fact, I would prefer someone like that.  An elder should be one who has fought the battles and has come out on the other side, still standing for the Lord.

WANTED:  Experienced men.  Men who will lead the flock.  Men of God who are men of the Word, men of courage, men of faith.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

What Makes an Elder Relevant?

     Lynn Anderson has written a wonderful book on elderships entitled They Smell Like Sheep.    I wish I could claim credit for all the information in this blog, but I have to give him all the credit.  As best I can, I'll put his material into my own words.
     When you are struggling with a sin of some kind, one that you really need to talk to someone and confess and repent, to whom do you turn?  Sometime after my father died, my mother told me a story of a preacher and his wife who came to my parents to talk of some indiscretions the man in the marriage had done.  He had cheated on his wife and they knew that the information would destroy his career.  They came to my parents and told them they were confessing their sins, but if it ever got out, they would know where the information had come.  Of course, they had repented and confessed to God.  But I thought it was interesting.  I asked my Mom who it was.  She declined to tell me.  The fact that they would come to my parents to talk about such a sensitive issue says a lot about my mother and father.  Now, if you had such a sin, where would you go.
     What about a major decision in your life?  Perhaps a job opportunity that would affect your entire family.  What if it involved a move or even a challenge to your spiritual life.  Who would be your sounding board?
     We all need someone like that.  Someone with whom we have a relationship, a history.  Someone who could give wise counsel.  Someone who was approachable, available, and scriptural in their thinking.  Someone who had proven through the years their reliability.  This is the kind of person that you look to to be an elder, a mentor, a guide in the church.
     Lynn Anderson said, "The process of appointing elders is simply the process of acknowledging those who have been shepherding for a long time."
     An elder is a shepherd.  He has a flock.  There are people who look to him for their spiritual guidance.  Whether or not he has the title is immaterial.  He is leading 24/7.  He smells like sheep.  When I was in college, I worked at a Mexican restaurant called the Taco House.  After work, I would go visit my friends who were in college and who lived in the residence halls.  I would walk into the room and they would say, "Did you just come from work, Whitey?"  I reeked of tacos.  Such is an elder.   He smells like sheep.  
     An elder is a mentor.  They have walked down the path before and they show us how to live.  They spend more of their time showing us how to live than telling us how to live.
     An elder is an equipper.  He knows the strengths and weaknesses of the flock.  He knows where someone can best use their talents, skills, and abilities.  He plugs them into where they can be most effective in the kingdom.
     Generally three words are used in the discussion of elders:  Elders, Overseers, and Shepherds.  Read I Peter 5:1-4, Peter uses each of those words.  Basically, one who is older, one who pastors or shepherds, and one who leads, or guides, or watch on behalf of.  I won't go into the Greek right now, but these are the three terms used.
     "Why haven't you used the passages from I Timothy or Titus?" you might ask.  These are good traits, but my fear is we use them as a checklist.  Aren't these qualities that all Christians should have?  So really, what we're looking for is the person who best exemplifies Christlikeness.
     A relevant leader is one who makes a difference.  One we are willing to follow.  Paul said, "Follow me, as I follow Christ." Such is the same for a shepherd.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016


     My sermon series for the new year is "Relevance."  It's funny, our worship leader asked if I had misspelled it.  He asked if I meant "Reverence."  I asked several colleagues of mine if they had any material on relevance.  One responded by saying the church doesn't have to be relevant.  She is counter-culture and will never be in the position of being relevant to the world.  I feel as if she MUST be relevant.  True, there will be those who will deny (and we're seeing that right now) the purpose of the church and its existence.  But if it doesn't maintain some kind of relevance, why bother?
     Several years ago I heard David Barton, a well-known historian, speak on the affect of the church on our government in our early years as a country.  He explained that when a legislative matter came up, the state and federal legislature would ask the pastors of the nation what the Bible said on the matter.  Pastors would research the issue, preach a sermon on the topic, then the body would debate and vote on the matter.  We've come a long way since those days.  Rarely, if ever, are the Scriptures searched to see if something should be enacted into law.
     As I see it, the church has two problems.  One is arrogance.  I feel as if we have taken the same position as the Israelites.  We are God's people.  He loves us and us only.  Leave us alone.  We're drawing the circle smaller and smaller so no one else can get in.  So, STAY OUT!!
     The second problem I see is there is increasingly no difference between the world and the church. Although Scripture is very clear concerning our relationship with the world, we just can't seem to let go.  We worship together on Sunday and act one way, then go to work on Monday and act another way.  Some will lie and cheat and say, "It's just business."  Others will forget their marriage vows and say "Oh, it's just a little teasing."  Still others will drink until drunk and call it networking.  And others will back-stab and step on their colleagues as they climb the corporate ladder.
     By being relevant, we aren't changing the message of the gospel.  We are just trying to make the gospel what it was intended to be in the first place....practical in everyday life.  Instead of going to church, we need to BE the church.  We need to not be afraid because God has promised us He would be with us.  A good definition of godliness  is always knowing the presence of God.  His presence should make us bold.
     I recently read about a lady who hosted Elizabeth Elliot.  If you remember, Elizabeth Elliot is the lady whose husband was murdered by natives in South America.  He and his team were trying to spread the gospel to those who had never heard it before.  Instead, they met their demise.  Later, Mrs. Elliot went back to those same people who had killed her husband and lived among them and taught them the gospel.  This lady asked her what she could do to be a better wife, mother, and servant of Jesus.  Mrs. Elliot thought for a moment and then replied, "Do the next thing."
     We have no idea what the "next thing" is.  But we can commit to trusting God knowing that He knows what the next thing is.  In order to be relevant in this world, we must commit to doing what Jesus called us to be...salt and light.  Light to disperse the darkness in this evil world.  And salt to preserve the goodness of what we find around us.

"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."  Galatians 6:9    

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

God Won't Give Us More Than We Can Handle

     I've been teaching a class on Sunday mornings on things the Bible doesn't say.  I admit, I stole the material from Rick Atchley.  But it is good stuff.   Last Sunday I talked of the common phrase that we use that says, "God will never give me more than I can handle."  Where does it say that?  A quick look at the verse we use is I Corinthians 10:13:

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.   

     There it is.  Does that sound remotely like God won't give us more than we can handle?  He said He would provide a way out of sin, but not of burdens.  In fact, a quick survey of Scripture tells us there will be suffering.  Ask Job about this.  Ask Paul.

     Paul says there were times in his life when he just couldn't handle what life handed out to him.  In II Corinthians 1:8 listen to what he says:

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia.  We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.  

     See that?  He said they suffered far beyond their ability to endure.  They had more than they could handle.  I received a call this week from a deal soul who believed the original premise (God won't give you more than you can handle) was gospel.  The problems she had in life were handled just by repeating that mantra.  I feel like I destroyed her faith.  I read her the passage from II Corinthians, but I added verse 9 and 10 which says:

Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.  But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us.  On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.  

     She seemed a little disappointed.  But she was relying on herself and not God.  God says, when all else has failed, when there is nowhere else to turn, it's God who will save us.  And Paul calls it "gracious favor" here.  When talking about his thorn in the flesh, he says, "God's grace is sufficient."

     God didn't say he wouldn't give us more than we could handle.  He did say, I will handle it for you if you just let go.  It reminds me of an song we sing...."He is able, more than able......."