Fort Hood, My Heart Goes Out to You

A few years ago, we flew into Killeen, Texas for a meeting, which is the town that borders Ft. Hood. We saw soldiers everywhere. When I saw on the news yesterday what had happened, my heart sank. I simply wanted to dedicate this tiny bit of space to letting any reader know that my heart breaks for the families and friends affected by this terrible act of violence. I’m praying for you, and millions of others are as well.

Life… In All Its Complexity

The blog has been put on hold for a couple of weeks now, primarily because of all that my wife and I have been experiencing in our personal lives. Here’s a recounting of it…

On Monday evening, October 30, Angie left her ladies’ Connection Cafe meeting feeling well, but by the time we drove from the church to our house (just a couple of minutes) she was in terrible pain. We decided to go to the emergency room. Our beloved friends, Cory and Lachelle McCaig, came to sit from about 10:00 pm until 4:30 Tuesday morning while Angie was subjected to numerous tests, which found essentially nothing wrong.

On Tuesday morning, October 31, we went for a follow-up visit at her physician’s office and he became concerned about some possible internal bleeding. He decided to admit her to St. Mary’s hospital where he would perform a laproscopic procedure simply to explore any potential problems. He, like the emergency room physician, sought to rule out the possibility of an ectopic pregnancy. One he began the procedure, he discovered the worst scenario, an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy, which can be deadly.

The short, one-hour procedure turned into a two and one half hour operation with a large incision. I was so moved as I waited in the surgery waiting room as about two dozen members of our church surrounded me, waiting to hear that Angie had come through the surgery okay. We were delighted to hear that she would be just fine. The physician explained that she had sustained heavy internal bleeding and that her risk of possible death had been higher than he had anticipated.

Angie’s Dad brought her Mom down from St. Louis to help take care of her for a few days but her stay was interrupted by yet another family emergency. On Thursday, Angie’s grandmother suffered a heart attack and was in intensive care in Washington, Missouri. The family had hoped that she was improving, but in the middle of Thursday night, a call came alerting us that she had taken a turn for the worse. Angie’s Mom borrowed my car and drove through the night to be at her mother’s side. Ella Briggs (our daughter’s namesake) went home to heaven on Friday, November 3.

Later that afternoon, Angie and I loaded up our van and began the trip to St. Clair to attend the funeral, but wisdom along with some forceful but loving input from our family, prompted us to turn back and stay at home. Angie was recovering a little each day, but it may be a total of six weeks recovery time before she is completely healthy again. We’ve taken a much needed one night sabbatical to a nearby vacation spot and have attempted to settle back into a routine, with Angie returning to work on this past Monday, November 13.

The Sunday before all of this began, my text included Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to His purpose.” That Monday night, Angie testified at Connection Cafe that she had (at least we thought at the time) a miscarriage, but that God was faithfully teaching us to trust Him. It isn’t merely a cliche that “everything happens for a reason.” When you’re a believer, nothing is left to chance anymore. You realize that God has a sovereign plan that allows His children to endure some very difficult crises in life in order that we might enjoy “the fellowship of (Christ’s) sufferings.”

Since we learn how to be disciples through the tough stuff, what have I learned from all of this?

First, I’ve learned the importance of God’s timing. Had Angie not been persisent with her physician in his office, he would have sent her home where she may have bled to death. We’ve heard numerous testimonies from others who experienced the same trauma and were in grave danger. God rescued Angie just in time. On a similar note, I’ve learned the mysterious nature of God’s timing. Why would Angie’s grandmother pass away just after Angie’s surgery when her mother would have to make a midnight dash for Missouri and when Angie could not attend the funeral? All I can conlcude us that God is ultimately wise.

Second, I’ve learned the value of a loving church family, a fellowship of believers. I was surrounded in a waiting room by numerous friends and members of our spiritual family. Once home, people provided meals as well as company with their visits. We’ve experienced an outpouring of love and compassion for which we will be forever grateful. I’ve often heard others say, “I don’t see how people make it through things without a church family.” That statement was exemplified in our tragedy.

Third, I’ve learned what a beautiful and courageous woman I married! I sat in the surgery waiting room virtually helpless. I could do nothing to ensure her safety except to pray. I could do nothing to help her recover except play nurse and fetch water. Yet I watched as Angie handled the situation like a champ. Note that champions have weak moments, moments of curiosity about the activity of God and moments of emotional break-down. Tears rarely come from cowards. I’ve learned a new respect for her. While it was our baby that died so prematurely in a pregancy complication, it was her body that experienced such drastic trauma. I wish I could be half as strong as her!

More than anything, we’ve learned “in all things (to) give thanks unto God, for this is the will of God for (us) in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) At our former church, we used to have a responsive chant: “God is good… all the time… and all the time… God is good.” God really is good. We don’t always get what we expect or want, but God never ceases to be holy or loving. God has been glorified in our lives in so many ways in the last few weeks, all we can do is humbly give Him praise, cry our tears, and go on in faith that God will always be good!

Real Pastors

“Turn… And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding…” -Jeremiah 3:14-15

The period of the prophets was marked with the terrible tragedy of a declining spiritual leadership. It was an age of false prophecies and empty messages. It was a duplication of the age of which the Apostle Paul speaks when he proclaims, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”

Our supercenter generation today is begging for an entertaining, ear-tickling message as well. We don’t want to hear about sin, about repentance, and about hell. We’d rather hear about how to change diapers and how to get rich from the pulpits of America than to hear about our need to turn back to God in humble repentance. Jeremiah issued an amazing prophecy here. Turn… and then God will give you truthtellers, pastors according to his heart.

I love growing churches. I believe God can use megachurches and there are some great ones in existance today, teaching the truth and making disciples. At the same time, the current wave of huge churches which teach only half of the Bible’s truths is an indicator of our times. We are stuck on having relevant teaching at the expense of truthtelling. May God give us hearts of repentance, that we would turn and seek His truth!

Do You Remember?

Do you remember where you were this morning, five years ago? I was just heading out the door when a “breaking story” on Good Morning America caught my attention. Within twenty minutes, America’s culture would be forever changed. If you don’t believe that, just visit an airport with a pocketknife today (absolutely not written in seriousness). I remember getting calls from church members who were worried about family members on airplanes who were as of yet unaccounted for.

I and some other leaders in our church began to spread the word that we would have a prayer meeting that night. It would be unadvertised, but perhaps we could reach as many as possible by phone. Word spread quickly. Our attendance was higher than almost any Sunday morning crowd we’d ever had. At the meeting, there was a buzz about gas prices. We actually wondered if we’d be able to buy gas on the way home that night. Our lives changed, quickly.

Looking back, it seems so selfish to speak of the changes in my life when I knew no one directly involved. I do, however, remember wondering what might come next. Would we have to learn how to seal off a room in our house in case of a biological attack? Would we open a letter and be exposed to Anthrax or another chemically dangerous substance at the church? Would there be a war… with a draft? The questions sound extreme, but they seemed so obvious to ask at the moment.

Now my questions are different. On the top of the list is what will have to happen next? You see, God had America’s attention for several months. Church attendance spiked. But our attention was quickly diverted, not so much to competing deities, but rather to competing interpretations of God.

There was the god who accepted every single victim of 9/11 freely, not because of their faith in Christ, but rather because they died in a horrible tragedy. There was also the god who accepted Muslims and Christians alike, as though each simply chose different pathways to heaven. And there was also the oblivious god who really had no control over human events whatsoever. This god was caught just as much by surprise by the attacks as we were that morning.

What will it take to cause us to return to the God of the Bible in repentance and reverence? What kind of economic downturn, natural disaster, or political upheaval will be necessary for us to skip the sentimentalism and turn in real repentance to the true God?

Did God intend for September 11 to occur? Only in the sense that His ultimate foreknowledge of the events that day fit into His sovereign plan for human history. He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. I don’t think God wants another 9/11. I simply wonder what God thinks of our returning to business as usual so quickly.

I reflected on 9/11 by re-examining the message I preached four years ago (one year after the attack). Here were my thoughts then in a message entitled “What Should America Remember”…

The most well-known catch-phrase right now is “America Remembers.” My only question is, in the midst of a media frenzy where networks are competing to see who can have the most emotional draw on the minds of Americans for the biggest advertising dollars, exactly what is America remembering?

America should remember that we are far from perfect. From September 11 of last year, I have seen hundreds of emails, poems, stories, quotes, and even songs celebrating the greatness of American and her people. There were definitely some heroes made during the tragedy. God certainly used a lot of people in His ministry to the hurting, but we’ve been guilty of sentimentalism. What’s wrong with that? It circulates ideas that are false according to God’s Word

False messages of 9/11:

· America is a country where most people are good.
· People are justified of sin upon their death.
· A tragedy like this could not be part of God’s plan.

Isa. 13:11 – “And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.”

What we should acknowlege: 1.) We have disappointed God. 2.) We have made ourselves vulnerable.

America should remember that life is completely unpredictable.

Real Truths About Life:

· We don’t chart our own course. “I am the captain of my fate, and I am the master of my soul.” That’s beautiful and inspiring, but it’s false! If I want to be the captain of my own fate then my fate is hell! 1.) My choices do matter! Duet. 30:19 – “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:” 2.) Chance happens to everyone! Eccl. 9:11 – “…the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”

· We don’t know the future. Prov. 27:1 – “Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” Knowing this, I should make the most of every opportunity to love my family, to share Christ, to enjoy the goodness of God, to make the most of my life!

America should remember that God is in control of the world. He controls history. Acts 17:26 – “And He hath… determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation.” He appoints leaders. Rom. 13:1, 4 – “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God… for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” He has decided the future. Acts 17:31 – “…because he has appointed a day, in which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained…”

America should remember that our greatest needs are repentance and faith. Acts 20:20-21- “And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews and to the Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Repentance means a genuine change. We have yet to really get the message of 9/11. Church attendance is back to normal. Liberal activists are back to their old tricks. People are back to their old habits. 2 Chr. 7:14 – “If my people, which are called by my name shall humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

If I were preaching that message again today, I’d change my wording on some points, but I still believe that these are the things worth remembering. There are others I’m sure. May we be stirred today to pray for our leaders and our military personnel, to be vigilant and as much on guard as we need to be, and may we seek the face of our high and holy God to bring revival to America’s soil again!

Overcoming Temptation

Temptation. This one word encompasses all of the greatest threats to a consistent and successful Christian walk. Let it be known that you cannot resist temptation. That is, temptation will always be a part of your life. But you can refuse to give into it in the power of Christ.

The Best of Circumstances

…all our fathers were under the cloud… passed through the sea… baptized into Moses… at the same spiritual food… drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

– 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 (NKJV)

Paul points us back to the Israelites in their wilderness journeys. He quickly reminds us that great circumstances do not guarantee freedom from temptation, nor from the consequences of yielding to its power. Five times, he says that all of the Jews were at the center of God’s blessings. Then, he lists the top five…

  • They all witnessed the guidance of God in a pillar of cloud and fire.
  • They all witnessed the parting of the Red Sea.
  • They were all identified with a great leader in Moses, the lawgiver.
  • They all ate the manna that God provided them miraculously.
  • They all drank from the rock, which symbolized Christ’s presence.

But the Bible says that they failed… miserably. Their bodies were scattered across the wilderness as a result of God’s judgment. An entire generation of people, all of whom had seen some of history’s greatest miracles died in the tragedy of overwhelming rebellion.

What you and I need today is not a perfect set of circumstances. It isn’t even a great manifestation of God through the miraculous. Where we must begin to be successful is in getting to know the God of the miraculous. Again and again, the Israelites demonstrated that they had all the gifts God could offer, but the did not know Him well enough to remain faithful. They had tasted His goodness, but had not indulged themselves in Him. Have you met Him? Have you gotten to know Him more today?

The Worst of Decisions

Now these things became our examples,… that we should not lust after evil things… and not become idolaters,… nor let us commit sexual immorality,… nor let us tempt Christ,… nor complain.

– 1 Corinthians 10:6-10 (NKJV)

Even in the best of circumstances, we can make the worst of decisions. In fact, Paul will make the argument that our self-assurance is really Satan’s playground. Paul reviews the five-step downward spiral of yielding to temptation. You may find some of the steps surprising, but valid nonetheless.

First, we lust. The miraculous becomes boring and commonplace. The miraculous whets our appetite for more of God, but if we don’t seek Him in our hunger, we’ll find other junk to fulfill our desires. Then comes idolatry. When the thing we lust for becomes the object of our worship and the focus of our attention. Willpower is quite self-destructive because it often placed our gaze on the very thing we’re trying to resist.

Step three is committing the act. For the Israelites, it was sexual immorality. For us, it could be anything that breaks down our relationship with God. The word “commit” is significant here. It not only infers that we take action once, but that we resolve to give into a particular behavior. We “commit” ourselves to doing this evil thing. Beyond committal comes a change in our spiritual character in which we “tempt Christ.” That is, we begin to question the very beliefs that might have saved us to begin with. We lose our convictions.

Finally, we complain. This is more than a simply comment. It describes the heart’s calloused reaction to self, God, and the world around us. An old gospel song proclaimed, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go. Slowly, but wholly taking control. Sin will leave you longer than you want to stay. Sin will cost you far more than you want to pay.”

Are you on the downward spiral of sin and rebellion? Whichever of the five symptoms describes you, bail out of your rebellion now and repent. Confess your sin and return to God’s overwhelming grace.

The Greatest of Promises

Now all things these happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition… Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will now allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

– 1 Corinthians 10:11-13 (NKJV)

Today we have the privilege of learning from thousands of years of human civilization. The story of the Israelites’ rebellion in the wilderness was recorded and preserved in an infallible Bible so that we could learn from their mistakes. Satan is still up to his old tricks. In fact, He doesn’t need new ones when the old ones still work just fine.

If you want to overcome temptation, you must rely on God’s precious promises. Paul gives some of God’s great promises to us here. The battle for purity always begins in the mind, so you must begin to replace the lust, idolatry, and questioning of your convictions with God’s alternative thoughts. Namely…

  • If you think you can handle temptation on your own, think again!
  • Every temptation you face has been faced many times before. You’re not alone.
  • God is faithful! Enough said. He’ll be there for you, never leaving nor forsaking you in the heat of the battle.
  • God will never allow you to be tempted beyond your ability. This removes our excuse, but it also removes our fatalism.
  • God will always give an alternative thought, action, or attitude that will rescue you. There’s always an escape route!
  • You’ll be able to “bear” temptation. This literally means to “stand up under the weight” of temptation.

Perhaps you feel trapped in habitual sin today. You may feel too weak to overcome temptation. It’s possible you’ve even questioned whether the battle against temptation is worth it. I can assure you it is! The reward will be greater intimacy with God and a greater reward in heaven. You’ve been entrusted with the years of your life, however many they may be. Trust the great promises of God and determine today to overcome in the power of Christ. He’s worth it!