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Take Me Out to the BALL GAME!

September 22, 2017

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I must admit, I turn into a kid when I walk up to a major league baseball stadium. I love everything about it—the smells, the sights, the announcer, the crowds, the lights. All of it gives me goosebumps, because all of it points to the baseball game.

This past week my family and I were able to watch two games. We attended Nationals’ Park in D.C. and watched the Nationals play the Dodgers. We also scurried over to Philly to see the Phillies play the Oakland Athletics. After watching both of those games, I am concerned. Very concerned.

My concern is not with the game or the players. My concern is with the fans. While sitting there engrossed in each game, at each park I was surrounded by people who were concerned about other things. At the Nationals’ game two guys behind me talked incessantly–about their hardships at work, with their family or girlfriend. Not all of it was negative. They talked about positive things going on in their lives as well. But they rarely paid attention to what was going on in front of them on the field—the very reason they supposedly paid big bucks to sit in a stadium with lights pointing down on the green grass.

In front of us at the Nationals’ game were people who spent more time going back and forth to the concession stand to spend boo coos of money on drinks, nachos, and hot dogs. Now I love a good concession stand, and there is nothing quite as delicious as nacho cheese at the ballpark. But once again, why spend all the money and miss the main attraction of the game?

In Philadelphia we attended a day game. The sun was out in full force. A mom and dad were behind me with their two young children in tow. “Alright! They are going to teach them early about the game!” Yeah right. Those kids sat on the ground play on their tablets the whole time.

About five rows in front of us, which was down the first base line, a fan got smacked in the cranium with a line drive foul ball because he wasn’t paying attention to the game!

WHAT ARE YOU PEOPLE DOING?! The baseball game is out there! Everything around you points to the game—the organ, the scoreboard, the lights! Why are you here if you won’t watch the game?!

Every time I hollered at the umps or cheered for the home team, people around me looked up from their phones as if I was the odd one.

It kinda reminded of how some approach the corporate worship service. Why do you go to the corporate worship service? To network? Socialize? Talk about everything going on in your life? The coffee bar?

Please don’t miss the main attraction. The main attraction is God, revealed to us in Jesus. If you go for any other reason, you are missing it. God has made himself known to us. God, in all of His glory and grace, has come down to us to accomplish and secure redemption on behalf of the believer. He is the show. His glory is the spotlight and it falls upon Himself. He takes center stage!

So this weekend, go to a bible-preaching, Jesus-exalting church service. Focus your mind and heart upon Him. Be ready to hear from His word and be stirred by His Spirit. But don’t look away. You may end up like the guy five rows in front of me the other day.

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Two Steps Forward, and Now My Door Won’t Open.

September 7, 2017

On the way home from church last Sunday, my oldest son made it known to me that the driver’s side rear window would not roll up. In fact, with each little bump, the window fell further and further down into the door. By the time we pulled into our driveway, the window had completely disappeared into the door panel.

No problem. Maybe a fuse was blown? I checked. Fuses were functioning just fine. So my next Google search suggested that maybe the “regulator” was worn out and needed replacing. First, all you have to do is remove the doormaxresdefault panel. Then you take out the old regulator and slide in the new one, bolt it down, and your finished. The guy on YouTube took all of ten minutes to do the job (granted, they did speed him up while he was unscrewing and screwing bolts in). Shouldn’t be too terribly difficult.

So after going to the auto parts store and purchasing a new regulator assembly kit, gathering up all the needed tools, I began my handyman project. It took me a little longer than ten minutes (more like forty-five), but I completed the task! For those that know me, they know that this is quite a feat.

So the rest of that day, when I was in the truck, I drove around town sliding that window up and down like a boss.

That night I needed to run my sons to the sports store to pick up a mouthpiece since they are playing football this fall. I pulled into the parking lot, put the truck into park and proceeded to exit the truck, waiting on my sons to get out as well. Problem was, the door that I worked on that morning wouldn’t open from the inside.

Isn’t that just the way things go, sometimes? You think you are making progress, and then your door won’t open. Apparently, in the reassembling process, I did something, or didn’t do something, correctly.

I find the sanctification process very similar. The Lord pinpoints an area that He wants to refine, and we make progress in that area with His strength and help. And just when we think we have arrived spiritually, the door won’t open.

So we have at least two options. We can get mad at ourselves, or we can look to Jesus. The first option is pretty silly for the Christian. Why would we get mad at ourselves, as if we could ever “arrive” spiritually while still in this body? I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be sorry and repentant of our sin. I am saying that we should never trust in ourselves to succeed.

I find encouragement from Paul, who, after years of ministry, said, “I want to know Him.”

“Wait a minute, Paul! What do you mean ‘You want to know Him?’ Out of all people, you should know Him!”

 

Nope! Even Paul’s sanctification process wasn’t complete until he drew his last breath, and neither will yours be complete. There will always be a door that won’t open, or a crack in the windshield, or a squeaky door. We will always have rough spots in our lives that need to re-created or sanded down.

 

The second option is the best option. We look to Jesus. He is the great physician—or to keep the metaphor going—the great mechanic.

 

So the next time you replace a leaky faucet only to realize later that you mixed up the temperature control nozzles, let it be a reminder that we are a work in progress, and that the Spirit within us never tires of doing His work for us.

 

Your Preacher Wants to Improve.

August 28, 2017

20622178_10154959174173022_4014520920840357150_nRaise your hand if you know a preacher. Most of us know a preacher to some degree, as an acquaintance, a public figure in the community, or even as your own pastor. Here are two things, however, you may not realize about most preachers.

 

  • They get nervous before preaching every sermon.

Those who understand the purpose of preaching God’s word, along with the grave responsibility of it, can, in no way, take lightly what they do. Because of this, the preacher’s heartbeat speeds up as he approaches the pulpit. It has been said that Charles Spurgeon would whisper, “I believe in the Holy Spirit,” with every step as he walked up to the pulpit. He knew that he must be dependent on God’s Spirit because in his own strength and wisdom, he himself would make a poor preacher.

 

  • They want to improve as preachers.

Whether a preacher spent time in school to learn how to preach, or if he did not have the opportunity to go through formal training, every preacher I know of wants to get better at the craft of preaching. They want to know their weaknesses in order to improve. They want to know how to handle a passage of scripture correctly. They desire to be clearer, along with more powerful in their delivery. They long to present the word of God in compelling and relevant ways.

This second reason troubled me in the past. I have been out of formal education for the last two years. I have no desire to get any more formal training, but I do not want to stop trying to improve as a preacher. Yet, I found no place or mechanism to help me improve. Books, of course, were available, but books are pretty silent when you ask them to critique you after a sermon. Thus, I started The Preaching Lab.

Right now, The Preaching Lab is a collection of guys on a Facebook group that share insights, tips, weaknesses, questions, etc. about preaching. However, on October 28, 2017 we will be having our first ever Preaching Lab Conference in Hope, Arkansas, at Garrett Memorial Baptist Church.

This is not your normal preaching conference where people flock in to hear the big names preach. I love those types of settings, but this is not that. Instead, at Preaching Lab conferences, we will focus on a particular aspect of preaching, hearing from regular, non-famous, preachers, and offering needed encouragement and critique. For this upcoming conference in October, we are focusing on preaching gospel-centered messages from Old Testament narratives. After each sermon that is preached, the conference attendees will give encouragement, insight, and critique, and then they will gather in small groups to look at another OT narrative together. They will be led by a table leader who will help them walk through the passage, employing the principles of interpreting Old Testament narratives in a gospel-centered way.

This is not a “come and sit” conference. This is a “ come and learn and do” conference. This is for the preachers who still get nervous, which is a good thing. This is for preachers who love God’s word and God’s church and desire to serve them both.

Below you will see some of our table leaders’ meeting that was held last Friday. These guys are ready to serve pastors–full-time pastors, bi-vocational pastors, itinerant pastors, evangelists, youth pastors–if you preach, this conference is for you.

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Here is the schedule for October 28.

 

Intro—9:00am

Sermon 1, Genesis 37 by pastor Keith Brown—9:15am
Interview/encouragement—10:00am
Table time, Genesis 38—10:15am

Break—11:15am

Sermon 2, Genesis 39 by Bivocational Pastor Petie Ward—11:30am
Interview/encouragement—12:15pm

Lunch—12:30pm

Table Time, Genesis 40-41—1:00pm

Sermon 3, Genesis 42 by Youth Pastor Dustin Wisely—2:10pm
Interview/encouragement—2:55pm
Table time, Genesis 43-45—3:10pm

Conclusion—4:00

Our table leaders for this conference include: Brent Summerhill, pastor FBC Magnolia, AR.; Dr. Charlie Holmes, BMAA Seminary President; Mike Goodwin, evangelist and President of Evangelistic International Ministries; Daniel Bramlett, pastor FBC Hope, AR.; Dr. Scott Attebery, Executive Director of DisciplGuide Church Resources; Anthony Crocker, pastor, Immanuel in Greenbrier, AR.; and Brian Rickett, BMAA Seminary professor.

As you can see, once the day is finished, you will have head start on a great sermon series covering Genesis 37-45. In addition, you will receive lunch, sponsored by DiscipleGuide, and a free book provided by the BMA Seminary. So if you know a preacher, tell him about this conference. If you are a preacher, join us!

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The Strategist of Creation

April 24, 2017

The apostle Paul wrote that all things were created by/in Jesus.

Do you daily ponder the power of prepositions? I didn’t think you did. But I would like for you to consider how much glory is in the phrase, “all things were created IN HIM.” Two words. Five letters. So. Much. Glory.

In this prepositional phrase we learn that creation was accomplished by means of Jesus. It was within his realm of influence and responsibility to create. Even more, the details and intricacies of creation were Jesus’ idea because creation was “in him.”

Just this last week, a friend brought the kids several caterpillars. We watched those caterpillars eat some leaves, and then later, climb to the top of that little cage, and just hang there perfectly still. It fullsizeoutput_e9aseemed like they hung there forever. We thought they had died! And then, without even noticing, a green shell had formed around them. They had shed their skin and formed what is called a chrysalis. Inside that chrysalis, an amazing feat takes place. The caterpillar recycles its body. The best way I can describe it is to say that the caterpillar melts its body down into some kind of soupy goop and reforms itself into a butterfly. You know who thought it would be cool to have a worm shed its skin, create an outward shell of protection while it ate its own body and then come back as a flying creature filled with a beautiful design? Jesus did. Jesus brought these plans to God and said, what do you think of this, and God said, “Let’s do it!” and in combination with the Holy Spirit, they created the world.

According to Paul, I am the creation of the most powerful, most incredible Being on all the galaxies. My design and form, my height, my color of skin, the color of my eyes, the complexity of my DNA, everything about me that makes me me was part of the blueprint strategy of Jesus Christ. Whether my body functions perfectly and completely, or whether I have been laden with a difficulty, it does not take away my inherent value or the fact that I have been created by the design of God, in the image of God, for the glory of God.

You are not a mistake. You are not an accident. You are not a byproduct of random chance. This is who you are. You have value. You have inherent worth and dignity. You were designed in the mind of Jesus Christ, created in the image of God, to bring attention to the glory of your creator.

But Paul goes on to talk about the flaw that we bring into creation. We alienated ourselves from God by attempting to demote God from being God. We wanted his crown and did what we could to cause a coup. But a peace treaty was struck. This treaty was not between God and ourselves. We didn’t go crawling to Him to come up with a plan. He came up with the plan before the world began. And this plan brought peace through violence. God sent His own son to receive the punishment for our sinfulness. But God did that so we could be forgiven when we turn from trying to be our own kings, and recognize and trust that Jesus’ work on the cross was for sufficient for us.

We can stand back and admire the process a butterfly goes through to become a butterfly, but there is something even more amazing about all things being created “in him.”

When Jesus created the world along with all of its processes and complexities, he knew that his most prized creation would rebel. He knew that the lungs he created to expel air  would one day pass over vibrating vocal chords that modulated sounds meant to curse and ridicule him. He knew that the brilliance of the brain would one day design a torture experiment called crucifixion. He knew that the creation of four fingers and a thumb would eventually grip a hammer and nail spikes in his hand. He knew that his creation of the focusing eye would zero in on him with shame and contempt.

And yet, He still created. He still created you. This is glory. This is love.

Stop Being Interested in the Church

April 3, 2017

…and start being committed.

Interests are things that you dabble with or make a hobby. But interests take a backseat to commitments. You see, believer, there are few things in life to which you should be committed. Really committkarl-fredrickson-27504.jpged.One is your family. No questions there. One other major commitment in your life should be your church. I know what you may be thinking–“What about Jesus? What about a commitment to Jesus?” That is a great insight. Here is my answer. Your commitment to Christ is demonstrated in your commitment to your church. Those who are devoted to Christ are devoted to the things to which Christ is devoted. Christ loved the church sacrificially, unconditionally, and when she was unlovely. So should you.

A lot of people are interested in church, but committed to other things. Other things like sports, weekends at the lake, relaxation, and whatever else keeps us from being committed to our local church. Church is not a good hobby. It was not designed by God as something for you to take an interest in. You don’t treat church like she is your girlfriend. You are part of the bride of Christ, and when you treat church as an interest, it’s akin to slipping the ring off your finger when you see someone else who might be interested in you.

Actually, being a member of a local church goes beyond commitment, it is a covenant. A covenant to a church is a solemn, holy agreement you enter into. A covenant is stronger than a commitment. A covenant assumes a steadfast, iron-like bond to something. When you become a member of a church, you are making a covenant with that church that she can depend upon you, and you can depend upon her.

Some say that they can be just as good a Christian without the church as they can with the church. Charles Spurgeon spoke to this when he said,

“I know there are some who say, “Well, I’ve given myself to the Lord, but I don’t    intend to give myself to any church.” I say, “Now why not?” And they answer, “Because I can be just as good a Christian without it.” I say, “Are you quite clear about that? You can be as good a Christian by disobedience to your Lord’s commands as by being obedient? There’s a brick. What is the brick made for? It’s made to build a house. It is of no use for the brick to tell you that it’s just as good a brick while it’s kicking about on the ground by itself, as it would be as part of a house. Actually, it’s a good-for-nothing brick. So, you rolling stone Christians, I don’t believe that you’re answering the purpose for which Christ saved you. You’re living contrary to the life which Christ would have you live and you are much to blame for the injury you do.”

Maybe today you need to spend some time assessing your life and the things to which you are committed versus the things to which you are interested. To what are you teaching your family to be committed, and in what are you teaching them to be interested?”

I promise you, as a pastor, my concern is not for big numbers at church. My concern is for the well-being of your soul.

Dr. Daryl Cornett, my Church History professor at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, Tennessee, recently tackled this very thing in a blog post that captures his heart as a pastor, and perfectly represents my heart for some of my church members. I wish you would mosey on over to this link and check it out.

 

How to Leverage Your Life for God’s Glory and Other’s Joy

March 27, 2017

1Over the last month our church has been going through a series entitled “Growing Generous.” One of the passages we studied was 2 Corinthians 9 where Paul tells the church at Corinth that he wants them to be ready and willing to give an offering for the churches in Macedonia. We also studied the passage of the shrewd manager in Luke 16, where Jesus tells his disciples that we should be people who mastermind a life generosity plan for His glory and others eternal joy. As we studied these passages, I made mention that one way you can be ready and willing to give and mastermind a generosity lifestyle is by taking inventory of your life. If we are going to be a people who leverage all we have been entrusted with for the glory of God, then we need to know what we have and how we are currently using it so that we can make the needed adjustments. Thus, taking an inventory of our lives becomes a very helpful thing to do.

Below is a sample template that can be used to do just that. I have filled in some of the areas to give you an idea of how it works. For example, you ask the questions, “What do I spend my time doing? With whom do I spend that time? Why do I use my time in that way? How much time weekly do I spend doing that?”

The key is to be as thorough as possible. Once you have used this template to take inventory, then you can assess what changes need to be made in your life in order to better leverage all you have for the kingdom of God.

Being ready and willing to give of your life means that you know exactly what you are giving up, and are willing to do that very thing. Jesus tells us to consider the cost of following Him. Taking inventory of your life is one way you do that very thing.

Life Inventory Template

What                       Who                           Why                         How Much wkly

Time: work Co-workers Earn a living 40-50 hours
crossfit Kris, others I like it/stay in shape 8 hours

 

Coaching Jack, Sam, others My kids enjoy it 7-8 hours
Discipleship Mike/Tyler/Kolby Great Commission 3 hours
       
Finances: Offering
  Gas
  Bills
  Groceries
Other Resources: Home Kris, Jack, Sam, Soph, Zheng, LG Brings peace/missional 12 hours
  Car
  Boat
  Mower
  Kitchen

This is just an example, a sampling. Yours will look a little different. Feel free to tweak this template to fit your life. The main thing is to be honest and thorough. After you fill in the inventory, lay it before the Lord in prayer and ask Him what you need to stop doing, and where He wants you to be more generous with your time, finances, and resources.

Once you take inventory of your life, and determine the areas the Lord wants you to adjust so that you can leverage your life for eternity’s sake, you will have to say “no” to some other things. If the Lord wants you to give more, that may mean you eat at restaurants less. If the Lord wants you to spend more time discipling your family, then that may mean you spend less time on personal recreational activities. But I assure you that there is greater joy and freedom in doing what God has called you to than in chasing your own dreams.

So what are you waiting on? Start taking inventory today and leverage all you have for the greatest and only eternal cause in the world.

 

Preaching Through Books Without Bogging Down

March 17, 2017

One of the great debates in preaching circles is whether to preach topical sermon series or expository series through books of the Bible. I am sure you have met some people who have passionate opinions regarding one or the other. One camp says that preaching verse by verse through a book is tedious and becomes unengaging after a while. The other camp says that jumping all around the Bible is confusing and can lead to unfaithful exegesis. No man of God desires to be unfaithful to the text. Neither does a preacher have ambitions to be unengaging. I once heard of a preacher who preached from the book of Hebrews on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night for a long time. Pretty soon, people in the community couldn’t figure out how his congregation could understand him if he was always preaching in Hebrew!aaron-burden-36113.jpg

Let’s face it. We are not Martin-Lloyd Jones, who spent 13 years in the book of Romans. That doesn’t need to be our goal.

What does need to be our goal is faithfulness to the whole counsel of God over found in the biblical texts. The trouble rises when you realize that being faithful to the book of Ephesians may take a year and half, and you know that your church will tire of it in about six months. But what if I told you that preaching a topical and expositional book series simultaneously is possible? Not only is it possible, but it is also biblical, which is most important. Would you be interested then?

Two keys are necessary to excel at this type of preaching.

First, study the book as a whole so that you recognize the major themes or topics throughout a particular book you want to study and preach. Take, for instance, Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. This a letter in which Paul has some definite theological and practical matters he wishes to communicate to this church and he does so in the first few chapters. But it is also a letter where Paul answers some of the church’s questions regarding certain, disconnected “topics” such as marriage, matters of conscience, authority structures, communion, spiritual gifts, orderliness, and the resurrection. Each one of these “topics” is a mini-series within the overall “exposition” of the entire book.

Another example is found in the book of Matthew. At the end of chapter 4, Matthew states that Jesus, “went throughout all Galilee teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” At the end of Matthew 9 we find a restatement of this passage. This forms an inclusio, or bookend, for this portion of the gospel. This could be a topical/expositional sermon series entitled, “The Focus of Jesus’ Ministry,” within the overall exposition of the gospel of Matthew.

Paul’s letters to Ephesians and Colossians are especially geared for this type of preaching. In each, Paul takes time in the first part of the book parsing out the beauties of the gospel. In the second half of the book, he explains how and why the gospel is applied to practical areas of our lives such as church, parenting, and work. Each of those topics are worthy of their own mini-series within those books.

Another way to preach topical and expositional messages simultaneously is to identify themes that are sprinkled throughout a book. The gospel of John offers several possibilities such as light/darkness/night, the “I am” statements, the “signs” of Jesus, or how John uses the word group “to know.”

By identifying the different themes or topics within a book, you are afforded the flexibility to change series’ titles or subtitles and graphics while remaining faithful to the text of one book. So instead of taking two years to preach through a sermon series entitled, “1 Corinthians,” you can break it down into mini-series that keep your flock engaged, anticipating, and excited.

The second key to utilizing this way of preaching through books of the Bible is transitioning from one topic to the next, or one mini-series to the next. Good transitions accomplish at least three purposes.

First, they keep your church grounded in the overall context of a book. You may think your people get tired of hearing the overall sitz im leben of a book, but trust me, they don’t. You, as the preacher, study it over and over, but they likely do not. So after having spent three weeks on a theme, transition to the next theme of the book by casting an understanding of the overall context of the book. For example, you could say something like, “As we move from studying about humility to examining the joy of discipleship, let me remind you of what is going on as Paul writes this letter to the Philippian church from jail.” If your people do get tired of hearing about the context, then chances are that they at least know it, which is a good thing!

Second, transitioning gives you the opportunity to highlight the intended design of the book. Is there an identifiable reason why, in Ephesians, Paul moves from talking about living a life worthy of our calling in the church, and then in marriage, and then in parenting, and then in work? He is hitting all the major areas of our lives, and your congregation needs to know this. Is there an identifiable pattern as the author of Judges moves from judge to judge? Perhaps! It appears that as you move through Judges, there is a decline in morality.

The third purpose of transitioning is to connect the mini-series to the overall theme of the book. You can then connect the overall theme of the book to the entire metanarrative of scripture. This gives you the opportunity to preach the entire bible, focusing upon Jesus, His redemption and coming consummation. Your church need to see that the Bible is one main story broken down into mini-series of books, which are broken down into mini-series as well.

So rest easy brother. You no longer have to decide whether you will preach a topical sermon series or go through a book of the Bible expositionally. You can, and should, do both!

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