Over/Under…At Church?? ~ John 2:13-17

IMG_1644About 25 years ago, I agreed to volunteer at a coworker’s church bazaar. I helped work the “over/under” booth, the most popular booth at the bazaar, I was told. Over/Under was a dice game in which patrons would guess whether the roll of two dice would be over, under, or equal to 7. They made their choice by placing $1 or $2 in one of three spots on the table: “over”, “under” or “seven”. Two dice were rolled. Players who selected “over” or “under” with a corresponding roll over or under 7 received their original money back plus an equal amount. If they selected “seven” with a seven rolled they received their money back plus a double amount. Money placed in the incorrect spot was donated to the church. It sure looked like gambling to me, but I was told the money placed on the table was not a bet; it was a “contribution”. As we worked the booth into the nighttime hours, patrons were three and four deep around the booth, drinking beer (as we were, too – it was free for volunteers), and pushing their way to the tables to offer their contributions.

Admittedly, I enjoyed working Over/Under. It was fast-paced and we got all the food and beer we wanted. But with all of that, I felt that something wasn’t quite right about this game at the church bazaar.

And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” (John 2:14-16)

According to my Bible’s study notes, the money changers and vendors selling doves and other livestock were there to serve foreigners that came on pilgrimage to offer sacrifices to God. They arrived with foreign currency that needed to be exchanged, and rather than haul sacrificial animals with them on their journey, these were offered for sale as a convenience. Apparently, human greed had taken over, and the money changers and other vendors were making a handsome profit by charging exorbitant prices for their goods and services. The purpose for visiting the temple was overshadowed by the hustle and bustle of the temple marketplace. God had been shoved into the background in favor of money and profits. Jesus, rightfully angered, literally turned their tables and ran them off.

I’m quite certain that Jesus would have had the same reaction had He visited that church bazaar. Aside from being on church property, I recall nothing at that bazaar that pointed to Christ. The Gospel was not shared. Worship was not discussed. This was not a community outreach; it was a church fundraiser. Many of the activities going on at the bazaar were activities that could happen at any club fundraiser. We looked just like the world. We were conducting business, nothing more. As I ponder this many years later, having matured somewhat in my faith, I feel bad for having participated and I have asked God to forgive me. Thank God for His mercy and grace!

The cross at First Baptist Church of Keller

The cross at First Baptist Church of Keller

Today, many churches are blurring the lines between things of the world and things of God. Many feel it is important that the church “fit in” to society to attract and retain members. Make people comfortable. Use décor that says anything but “church”. Offer a booming sound system and a gourmet coffee bar. Surrender to societal norms and values. Preach about prosperity and self worth with a big smile while never mentioning the eternal consequences of sin and the forgiveness offered only through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I’m certain that Jesus would disagree. Interestingly, the other three Gospels record these words of Jesus as He drove the vendors from the temple, “It is written, ‘My house will be a house of prayer; but you have made it a robbers’ den.’” (Luke 19:46) We must all lift our church leaders in prayer as we work with them, not to blend with the world to suit our own fancies, but to be salt and light unto a world that so desperately needs to hear the Gospel.

Ponder this: What would Jesus think if He walked into my church? What would He see? What would He hear? Would He be pleased, or would He clear the place out?

My Prayer for Today: Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for leading me to First Baptist Church of Keller. Be with all who preach and teach there, that Your Word would always be our focus. I lift up Your church around the country and around the world. Open our eyes and ears that we might see any points of diversion from Your Word and compel us to be faithful stewards of the Gospel. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

2015 Photo-Some-Days 4.18.2015

I am excited to sing “Brahms Requiem” with fellow members of the First Baptist Keller Chorale joining singers from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Howard Payne University, and Gambrell Street Baptist Church. To top it off, we are singing with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra! As we rehearsed last night, I was simultaneously humbled, somewhat intimidated, and very thrilled. The opportunity to sing with such talented musicians is a privilege, indeed. Brahms Requiem is a beautiful piece of music; come hear us on April 28 in the Truett Auditorium at the Seminary. I’ll be the guy in the tux. ;)

I will give thanks to the LORD for his righteousness. I will make music to praise the name of the LORD Most High. ~ Psalm 7:17 via crosswalk.com

Brahms Requiem rehearsal, 4.17.2015

Brahms Requiem rehearsal, 4.17.2015

2015 Photo-Some-Days 4.13.2015

Building a sales pipeline is some of the hardest work I’ve ever done.  It requires diligence, perseverance, patience, research, preparation, and sometimes a thick skin. I find that I perform best in an initial meeting with a new prospect if I drive to the location of the meeting well ahead of time, then locate a local coffee shop in which to decompress and collect my thoughts. Thirty to forty five minutes sitting in a Starbucks may sound like time wasted to some; for me it is time well spent as I put the stress of metropolitan traffic behind me and focus on the task at hand.

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” ~ Alexander Graham Bell via BrainyQuote.com

Decompression and prep time before a new business meeting

Decompression and prep time before a new business meeting

Wedding Crisis Averted ~ John 2:1-11

It’s a wedding catastrophe, the prospect of which can give a bride and her mother prenuptial nightmares as they painstakenly plan each minute detail of the big day. Picture this in your mind: The vows have been repeated and the reception is well underway. The bride and groom have started to breathe as the stress of pre-wedding planning begins to fade into the past. The band is cranking out some great country music (remember, I’m from Texas), and the wedding guests have filled the dance floor. As the umpteenth guest compliments the bride’s parents on the lavishness of the day, and long before the reception is scheduled to conclude, the bartender sidles up next to the mother of the bride to quietly tell her that the supply of wine ordered for the reception has run dry. Can you visualize the look of horror that appears on her face as she processes that news? The bride, her parents, the bartender, and the venue manager look at each other, “how in the world did this happen? And what do we do now?”

As it turns out, Jesus and His disciples attended just such a wedding – sans the country music of course. As the celebration is well underway, Jesus’ mother, Mary, learns that the wedding host has run out of wine for the guests. She tells Jesus about the conundrum, clearly in a tone that only a mother can convey:

When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “they have no wine.” (John 2:3)

Taken in context, this is more than just an “oh, by the way” comment. This is a statement that expects action on the part of Jesus; an expectant statement that only a mother can deliver. Jesus caught the gist, for He replied, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4) Jesus, honoring the wishes of his mother, commands that the wait staff fill six stone jars with water. They do so, and at His command they draw out a sample for the wedding host who declares, most likely with a huge sigh of relief, that the choice wine is now being served.

This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him. (John 2:11)

There you have it. With this, Jesus’ first public miracle, His earthly ministry is launched and His journey to the cross begins.

As we read John’s Gospel, it is important to remember that John, himself, was one of Jesus’ disciples and an eyewitness to the events he recorded for us in his account of Jesus’ time on Earth. Doubters and conspiracy theorists may dismiss this event as some sort of smoke & mirrors trickery, but nothing surpasses the credibility of an eyewitness account; just ask any trial lawyer.

I believe. Do you?

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, thank you for sending Jesus to live on Earth as a man and die on the cross in my behalf. Thank you for calling His disciples and for inspiring John to record his eyewitness account of your Son’s earthly ministry. I pray that You would bless my study of John’s Gospel, strengthening my faith and maturing me into the witness you would call me to be. For His sake and in His name I pray. AMEN.

Preparing for the Divine ~ John 1:34-51

When I was a young boy I wanted to be like my Uncle Mike. We lived in Minnesota, but Uncle Mike lived in California! He was a bachelor at the time and was the director of one of the more renowned high school bands in the state. When my parents would tell us that Uncle Mike was coming to visit, I would get so excited! I remember my parents taking me to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to pick him up. We would arrive early and wait at the assigned arrival gate, the anticipation building within us. The big, white jet finally pulled up outside the window and the passengers began to disembark down the jet way. We craned our necks until he finally appeared – finally, he had arrived!

John the Baptist had a specific life assignment from God: “He said, ‘I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.’” (John 1:23). John most certainly completed his assignment with flying colors, for in reading this passage, there is a definite sense of anticipation among those whom Jesus first called as His disciples. They were ready.

One of the two who heard John speak and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He found first his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah ” (which translated means Christ ). John 1:40-41

As Jesus called these first disciples, two things stand out that are worthy of consideration:

Immediacy: The disciples called in this passage (One unnamed, presumably John himself, Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael) didn’t hesitate. They immediately dropped what they were doing and followed Him.

Witness: Two of the called disciples, before doing anything else, shared the good news with his brother. Andrew found his brother Simon, whom Jesus renamed ‘Peter’ and Philip shared the good news with Nathanael.

How would I have reacted? Would I have been ready? These are sobering questions, but in considering them I realize that they are questions that each believer faces even today. The Bible tells us that Jesus is coming back, and when He does His return will be like a “thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2). There will be no John the Baptist to pave the way. Instead, the way is paved in God’s Word. So while those first disciples were prepared to meet their Messiah via the witness of John the Baptist, we modern day Christians must begin our preparation for His return by reading and studying His Word.

God’s Word, the Bible, is a beautiful gift. Time in God’s Word is time well invested. In 2014 I completed a one-year Bible reading plan through which I read every verse in Scripture during the year. My reading of the entire Bible reinforced, beyond any doubt, that God’s Word is Truth. The entire book, both Old and New Testaments point directly to our Savior. To fully understand and appreciate God’s work, we must read His Word; all of it. I’m doing it again this year, and God willing, will do so every year to follow. God’s will and plan for humanity is revealed in His Word, and by opening it and reading it, the beauty of His plan comes alive. Will you join me?

My prayer for today: Lord God, thank you for your Word. Thank you for sending Jesus to save me from the consequences of my sins. Just as the first disciples did, help me to follow Jesus and share the Good News with the world. In His Holy name, AMEN.

Culling Twitter: Quality vs. Quantity

When I made the decision to give up Facebook for Lent this year, I never imagined that it would lead to a flurry of activity on my Twitter account. Therein lies the problem.

There is much about Twitter that I enjoy. I enjoy the opportunity to interact with very bright individuals whom I would likely never meet outside of Twitter. Many Twitter users dedicate their accounts to offering inspirational quotes or passages of Scripture; I’ve been blessed from time to time by several such posts. I once had a brief Twitter conversation with former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner – that was cool!

Basketball Hall of Famer Charles Barkley said on ESPN Radio yesterday morning, “The Internet is where losers go to try and feel important.” I know of many very smart and influential people who actively use social media quite constructively, so I disagree to some extent. However, I think I understand what he was getting at. The context of his comment was a discussion about the backlash celebrities receive when they opine online on current events, such as the recent Freedom of Religion Act passed in Indiana.  In discussing the backlash, Sir Charles said that this is why he is not a user of social media. As outspoken as he tends to be at times, I’m a bit surprised by that, but I get it. My Twitter feed has exploded with bigoted comments, expletives, and a host of misinformation just on Indiana’s new law alone. Commenting on such things can be risky, for offering a comment with which an aggressive user disagrees often leads to name-calling and, at times, personal attacks. As these uber-aggressive superusers spew their poison, complete misunderstanding and tarnished reputations often result. Multiply that by political spin from users of all political spectrums on every topic imaginable, most of it twisted to disparage the opposing point of view, and Twitter becomes in large part a cesspool of aggressively communicated and potentially harmful misinformation, much of which is posted by individuals who would hardly be considered experts on the topic about which they are commenting. So while Charles Barkley may not be an expert on social media, his assessment has some degree of validity and his avoidance of it in this context seems to be a rather wise decision.

I picked up almost 300 new followers on Twitter during Lent. One doesn’t gain followers by being silent; one must engage Twitter to gain a following. Admittedly, the thrill of surpassing 400, then 500, and now almost 600 followers led to my using any means necessary to further increase my numbers, including choosing to follow almost any user that first followed me, thus contributing to what has become at times a very ugly Twitter feed. Much of my feed is filled with tweets from users advertising products, forwarding bits of misinformation, or exchanging barbs with one another; none of which I am interested in reading. As a result, items of true interest to me often are buried beneath the rubbish of the cesspool, and sometimes I am drawn into the cesspool myself. I try to be very careful about what I post, but on a few occasions I have gone back and deleted tweets that, in retrospect, helped filled the cesspool rather than contributing to a positive dialogue. Of course, engaging Twitter and building a following was not my intention when I made the decision to give up Facebook. Even as I type this, I’m rather uncomfortable with the notion of having people “follow” me. There is only One worthy of following – our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Succinctly stated, Twitter has become a distraction for me. I sit here, over lunch at my desk on Maundy Thursday, bearing a burden of guilt for not having prepared for Easter as I intended. When I first began composing this post, my intent was to remedy this problem by exiting Twitter altogether. Then I scrolled through my feed. I saw Scripture. I saw prayer requests. I saw news items of interest. I saw personal friends. And, yes, I saw garbage. I realized that I was about to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Twitter, and social media in general, is just like anything else. It has it’s positive aspects, but too much is simply too much. Hence, rather than making a complete exit, I am embarking on what I have dubbed “The Big Cull”. I will shave my list of users I follow to include only those who post quality items that will contribute to what will become a very beneficial Twitter feed. I’ll lose some followers, for sure; I don’t care. The high has passed. It’s not about how many people I interact with; it’s about who I interact with and what each of them brings to the table. What I really want to do is keep the baby and dispose of the bathwater.

Although my giving up Facebook for Lent didn’t work out quite as I had planned, my eyes have been opened. My use of social media will continue, but on a much more measured basis.

And, now, let “The Big Cull” commence. May God will richly bless you this Easter season and beyond.

“I hate the Church” – An Open Letter

Dear Christian Friend,

My heart aches at your statement that you hate the Church and have left her fellowship. You say the Church is full of judgmental hypocrites. In a way, I can understand why you might say that. I believe you when you say you love the Lord, so as a fellow believer, I hope you’ll consider a few things.

I attend church for several reasons. First and foremost, it is a place to offer worship, honor, and praise to the One who sacrificed His perfect life on the cross to save me from the consequences of my sins. Can I praise God while listening to Christian music in my car? Yes. Can I praise Him as I admire the beauty of His creation? Of course. Are those offerings of praise pleasing to God? I believe they are. But it’s in church that I sit side-by-side with Christians from all walks of life, lifting our voices in unity together in praise to the Lord. That energizes me; it rejuvenates me. There is no replacing that. When I miss church, I miss church and I can’t wait to go back.

You say that churchgoers are judgmental. What you call judgmental, I call accountability. Once we connect with the Gospel and become saved, the desires of life begin to change; such is a sign of one who is truly saved. A healthy church will teach us what a Godly life looks like through Biblical preaching and teaching and encourage us on our Christian walk. I want my fellow Christians to help me along the path of sanctification. The Bible even encourages us to hold one another accountable (see Matthew 18 for example). We do so out of love for one another, not to win a “gotcha!” game. I get it – we don’t always get this right; there are jerks in church. There are jerks at work, on the roads, at the airport, and in the grocery store, too. Are you going to quit your job? Are you going to quit driving your car? Are you going to hole up in your house to avoid the jerks in life? Of course not.

You see, the church is full of sinners. Sinners just like me and just like you. Sinners who know the Lord, seek to live lives pleasing to Him, and make lots of mistakes in the process. Sinners who rally around the fallen and support him as he seeks to mend his ways. Sinners who lift one another in prayer in times of illness, unemployment, mourning, and other difficulties. Sinners who, though well intended, sometimes say the wrong things. Sinners who throw themselves on the mercy of the Cross, just as God intended. Your decision to leave says, in effect, that you think you are better than the rest of us. That, my friend, is the sin of pride rearing its ugly head. If you really stop to think about that, I know you will realize that you’re not. We’re all sinners. We’re all saved by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. We all have room for improvement. We need each other. We need you and we want you to come back.

Friend, you have a lot to offer the church, just as she has a lot to offer you. The things that you say have driven you away from the church are the very things that should draw you inside. I hope you will reconsider. I hope you will come back. I’m praying for you.

Your Brother in Christ,

Jeff

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,038 other followers

%d bloggers like this: