Monday, August 20, 2018

The Real World

This is a picture of my “happy place”. Since we moved into our new home six months ago, it is my favorite room in the house. Only it’s not in the house. It’s our screened in porch. And I love it.

Most mornings I come out here to drink my coffee, read the paper and do my devotions. On the few occasions we’ve had rain this summer, I enjoy coming out here, protected from the elements, and watching it rain. When I’m grilling out on the patio, this offers a more comfortable respite from the scorching sun, especially when I turn on the ceiling fan.

We have a small backyard, but there is a large field behind us. I think they use to plant corn there, but this year it’s just weeds. But I don’t have to take care of it, so I don’t mind the weeds.

It’s very peaceful. But just to the west of the field, is 169 Highway. Because of the topography, you can’t see the highway. Because of the trees, you can’t hear the traffic as well in the summer as in the fall or spring, but there is still a heavy “hum” as a reminder that civilization is just on the other side.

So, even as I’m taking it easy, reading a book or just relaxing, I can hear the rumble of the tires. People traveling from Paola or points south into “town”, as we call it (anything north of us is “town”). People making their way south to the country from the city. Occasionally there’s a car horn or an emergency siren. But usually it’s just the steady hum of rubber on pavement.

As much as I love that porch, I know I can only stay here a little while. There is a world that awaits. There are voicemails to return, meetings to attend, emails to answer and sermons to write. I’d love to stay out on the porch, but the hum just beyond the field calls me to engage once again with the world.

Maybe it is just a little like when Peter, James and John joined Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. There they were allowed to witness Jesus in His divine glory, bookended by Moses & Elijah. It was such a majestic sight that Peter wanted to stay up there, on top of that mountain. But Jesus refused, insisting that they return from the mountain to the valley below—a valley full of selfish, sinful people. Who could blame Peter for wanting to maintain that mountaintop experience? But the ministry was not on the mountain, but in the valley.

I love the porch, but that is not where the bulk of ministry takes place. It happens in hospital rooms, and homes, and funeral parlors. It happens in the church and in the office.

So, rather than begrudge the fact that I must leave the porch in order to go into the world, I should just be grateful for a porch to which I can retire from time to time. But the hum on the other side of the field continually reminds me, it is just for a little while. There is work to be done.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Did God Really Say Everything Happens For a Reason

In an effort to comfort a grieving friend or loved one, have you ever reassured them by saying Everything happens for a reason?  What is the basis for that statement? Did God really say everything happens for a reason?

We’ll explore that topic on Sunday as we conclude the Did God Really Say sermon series. Our study will focus on one of the most familiar verses in the Bible, Romans 8:28. Join us as we examine this great—but often misunderstood—promise of God.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Did God Really Say 'God Helps Those Who Help Themselves'?

In a society which puts a premium on industry and independence, many Christians subscribe to the idea that God helps those who help themselves. Where is that verse in the Bible anyway? Sounds like something that might be in the Old Testament. Perhaps it’s in Proverbs. Or did one of the prophets say it? 

Did God Really Say God Helps Those Who Help Themselves? 

Not to burst any bubbles, but…no. He did not. Not in the Old Testament. Not in the New Testament. One pastor suggests maybe it is found in 1 Americanus 17:76.
But in fact, Scripture teaches us just the opposite. God helps those who cannot help themselves, and who recognize that fact. We’ll be exploring all this on Sunday, August 5th. We have just one service, at 10:00. Come join us, if you can.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Did God Really Say God Would Never Give You More Than You Can Handle?

A couple sits in the room where for the previous five days their newborn son fought so valiantly for life, only to see it slip away in the end. Their pastor holds their hands, seeking to comfort them by saying, I know it’s hard, but God would never give you more than you can handle.

The wife of a decorated war veteran watches helplessly as her husband’s struggles with PTSD cause him to act more erratically as he increasingly becomes a danger to himself and those around him. She feels so isolated and alone. But her long-time friend assures her, God would never give you more than you can handle.

Between the loss of his job, his wife’s passing and the increasing debt as he tries to keep his kids in college, the man doesn’t really know how he’s going to cope. He has all of these raging emotions, and no healthy way to express them. But the guys in his Bible study try to encourage him when they say, God would never give you more than you can handle.

Those words are designed to bring comfort. If you haven’t spoken them, you’ve probably heard them spoken by others. By concerned, well-meaning folks. But where in the Bible are we told God would never give you more than you can handle?

You may have trouble finding that verse. Because it’s not there.

But God’s Word does have lots to say about the suffering of trials and tribulation. And we’ll explore those teachings this Sunday, in our new Sermon Series Did God Really Say…? I hope you’ll join us.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Did God Really Say...?

This coming Sunday, July 22nd, we will begin a brief new series of messages entitled, Did God Really Say…?, in which we will examine a few common sayings that people think are in the Bible, but which are not. I am really excited about this series, as it will help us to distinguish between conventional wisdom, and the Truth of God’s unchanging Word in some key areas of life.

The genesis for this series is rooted in a study I did last year during my Sabbatical. During that time, I was able to spend an expanded period of study without the pressures of having to compose a sermon for the next week. Instead, I was able to go in-depth into the Scriptures, and from those notes, I have put together the four messages that will make up this new series.

For every subject we will study, there are countless other topics that could have been included, because there is a high degree of biblical illiteracy in our society. People possess just enough
“knowledge” to be dangerous. So, for example, many people have come to believe that money is the root of all evil or spare the rod, spoil the child are direct quotes from the Bible. They are not. But that won’t stop some of you from looking up those phrases to prove me wrong. :-) 

In any event, those are just two examples of the kind of statements that reveal our lack of knowledge and understanding of Scripture. We’ll touch on only four such subjects this time, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find a sequel sometime in the near future.

I hope you’ll join us over the next four weeks as we look at some other statements that people attribute, erroneously, to Scripture. We’ll start this week with the oft-repeated phrase: God Just Wants us to be Happy. Did God really say that? Join us on Sunday and find out.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Sutherland Springs, Texas

A shooting last year at a night club that catered to the homosexual community resulted in a tragic loss of life and was rightfully mourned by our nation. But it didn’t have a personal impact upon me, because I don’t frequent night clubs.

The shooting last month in Las Vegas at a country-music show was equally tragic. I paused to think of friends and family members who might attend such a venue from time to time, but again, it had minimal impact upon me.

And then there was a shooting at a close-knit Baptist church in a small Texas town. At last report, 26 people in that congregation, ranging in age from 18 months to 72 years, were killed. It included the Associate Pastor & his wife, and the teenage daughter of the Lead Pastor. Now this one hits close to home. Painfully close.

This is not a monologue on guns or mental health issues. These things need to be discussed in a rationale manner which might affect public policy. But that’s not where my thoughts take me today.

Today, I am considering how painful this event is for the survivors. For the family members. For the other church members. I cannot imagine suddenly and unexpectedly losing 26 members of my church family. I mourn every time one of our families moves away or decides to attend a different church. Let alone 26 such members. That’s just devastating.

Think about it. On a day we were celebrating 5 baptisms, singing songs of praise and contemplating what God’s Word has to say about our tendency to hide from God, our brothers and sisters in Christ 800 miles to our south were literally fighting for their lives. They had come to church to worship God and fellowship together. They had made plans for lunch after church. Some were looking forward to watching a few football games on TV. Some of them were planning on attending their kids’ soccer games.

And then a man—we can think of all sorts of adjectives to attach to that word (crazy, deranged, sinister, etc)—entered the church with evil intent, and carried out a massacre beyond our capacity to comprehend.

In the span of a few minutes, lives were taken, and those who survived would be forever changed. A place of worship became a place of sacrifice, the likes of which none of us can really imagine.

Much time and interest will be devoted to trying to figure out the motive for such a senseless killing. Maybe it was a domestic abuse situation on steroids. Maybe it was the result of untreated mental illness. But in the end, the shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas occurred for the same reason as the killings in Orlando and Las Vegas. It doesn’t really matter the race or nationality or religion of the perpetrator. It doesn’t matter his country of origin or his political agenda. These events—differing in time and distance—all stem from the same problem. Evil lurks in the hearts of men. They may have different “reasons” for the outpouring of hatred and malice, but ultimately they spring from hearts turned against God.

Our prayers rise upward on behalf of those affected by this tragedy. And they rise upward on our behalf. Because wherever we go, whatever we do, sin & evil are there. They may not manifest themselves in mass murder, but they permeate every aspect of our lives. And while honest people debate the wisdom of laws affecting guns or mental health issues, the answer—the solution—ultimately lies in Jesus Christ, and in Jesus Christ alone.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

25 Years & Counting

25 years. The “Silver Anniversary”. Quarter of a century. A Quadranscentennial. 

That’s how long I’ve been in pastoral ministry come next month. 

It doesn’t seem possible that it was 25 years ago that I loaded up my wife and 18 month old daughter in a U-Haul making our way to England, Arkansas to begin my first pastorate at County Line Missionary Baptist Church. It was a relatively small church, literally in the middle of the cotton fields. It was made up of folks who knew the meaning of a hard day’s work. Truck drivers and farmers and laborers and teachers. They loved the Lord. They loved each other. And they loved on us. From the moment the U-Haul arrived in town, they helped us get settled and made us feel at home. They somehow came to accept a city-slicker like me, who had trouble distinguishing a tractor from a combine.

It was the perfect place for a young man who had never pastored before and who was starting his seminary education a few months later. They let me make mistakes. They gave me gentle guidance and firm direction. They modeled the love of Christ in as genuine and authentic a way as any church I’ve ever known. Best of all, they loved Kim & Kacie in a way that helped us make the transition pretty smoothly. I learned much more in the 3 years I was their pastor than in all the classes and seminars of my seminary education. 

From there we moved about 30 miles south to White Hall, Arkansas, just outside of Pine Bluff. Bethany  Missionary Baptist Church was a larger church, and it was my first experience as the Senior Pastor of a church with a staff. I will always cherish my pastorate at Bethany, in large part because it allowed me to be a co-laborer with my long-time friend, who was their Worship Pastor when I went there. I was Best Man in Bill’s wedding in the early 80’s and he was my Best Man in my 1989 wedding. Bill is probably the most authentic & Godly man I know, committed to living out his faith in a sincere manner. We made some great friends at Bethany, and they helped to instill in me an even deeper affection for the truth of God’s Word.

When we returned to Overland Park in 1997, we thought the Lord was leading us to help with a new church plant in Overland Park, one sponsored by the church we had just left in Arkansas. We started helping there, but before long the Lord led us back to our old home church, which had been without a pastor for a few months. Through an interesting and unexpected series of events, I agreed to serve as Pastor of Landmark Missionary Baptist Church, leading them through a time of transition and relocation from KCK to Bonner Springs. During the time I served as their pastor, I also worked a full-time job. After 5 years, and having led in the construction of new facilities, I found myself with nothing more to give. Leaving that congregation of dear friends was painful. I’d known most of those folks for more than 20 years. It was in that church that Kim & I had been married, and it was in that church that I was privileged to baptize Kacie. But we knew that the time had come for us to move on.

When we left Landmark, I thought my service as a pastor was over, but I still possessed a heart for ministry. After the Lord led us to Olathe Bible Church, I was blessed to be given an opportunity to teach an Adult Bible Fellowship on Sunday mornings. Teaching that class remains one of the greatest blessings of my ministry, at any level. In the three years I taught The Connecting Point, we grew from a class of about 20 people to more than 70 in attendance each week. It was a multi-generational class, and we loved to study the Word of God together. We still count some of those folks among our dearest friends. 

In 2005, we began to talk about the possibility of my going on staff at OBC as a campus pastor. OBC has a real heart for church-planting, and had already planted two churches in suburban Johnson County. They were looking at beginning a new church plant, and had settled on Spring Hill, on the Johnson County-Miami County border. Over a period of months of prayerful consideration, I accepted the call to pastor the Spring Hill Church Plant. I joined the OBC staff as a full time pastor in June, 2006, and we began holding services in Spring Hill that fall at Life Spring Church. 

The rest, as they say, is history. It’s been an incredible journey that has spanned more than 10 years. This is the longest tenure of my 25 year pastorate, and it has been amazing to see God work in the hearts and lives of this church and this community. This experience has stretched my faith beyond anything that I ever imagined. From meeting in a school building, to purchasing land, to buying a shopping center that housed a grocery store and remodeling it to be a church campus. We began running the community food pantry a few years ago. We’re known as the church that “hands out water bottles” in the Fall Festival parade every September.  

The one thing that this journey has taught me is to be open to where God is leading—and don’t ever think you know where He will lead you next. I never thought I’d be a pastor. When I did surrender to the ministry, I never thought I’d move to Arkansas. Once we moved to Arkansas, I never thought we’d come back to Kansas City, and certainly not to our home church in KCK. When I left Landmark, I never thought I’d pastor again. And I’d even say that I never thought we’d move to Spring Hill, but honestly, I didn’t know anything about Spring Hill until we considered the call to minister here.

So much has changed in 25 years. Different cities. Different states. Different churches. Different people. Most have been wonderful, Godly, loving people. Some have been…less wonderful. But I think I’ve learned something from all of them. 

Kacie has gone from an 18 month old toddler to a beautiful young married woman. Her husband, Andrew, is a great young man whom we didn’t even know a few years ago, and he has become a valued part of our family. Kim is a help-mate in every sense of the word—my partner in love, in ministry and in life. Over these years, I’ve put on a few pounds and shed a few hairs. 

But the one constant: a God who is the same yesterday, today and forever. He has always been faithful, even when I have not. He has led us through times of abundance and through times of struggle. He has comforted us through dark and difficult days, and He has blessed us beyond anything we could think or imagine. 

I don’t know what the future holds. Will I be around for 25 more years? If I am, will I still be a pastor? Will I still be in Spring Hill? Will I have any hair left at all? 

I don’t know the future. But I know who does know the future. He has led me throughout my life, and particularly throughout my ministry. He’s seen me through all these years. I think I’ll trust Him to see me through to the end. And I’ll do it with a sense of wonder—what will He do next?