Saturday, September 30, 2017


Rise Above Discouragement Jeremiah 20:1-13

Back in June, I was asked to preach at Forest Community Church, and I chose as my focus Jeremiah 20:1-13. As I prepared my sermon, I found several sources that deal with this difficult passage, and I wanted to acknowledge that what I say below comes from readings in several commentaries, books, and sermons. In other words, even though the delivery was my own, I recognize that a lot of the material below stands on a foundation laid by fellow Christians in their study and in their journey to follow God. I hope this sermon blesses you, and if it does please feel free to use these materials to encourage others to follow Christ in all that they do.


Discouragement is part of life. Discouragement comes most often when you do right things but experience poor results. You work hard, but you don't make progress. You show up to practice every day, giving it your all, but you seem to keep on losing. You spend time with your child--going out of your way to parent the best you know how--but she nonetheless rebels.

Discouragement eats a hole in our hearts. It makes us want to quit, saying things we shouldn't say, shaking our fists at God. That's how Jeremiah felt. God called him to speak a harsh message to a rebellious people. Jeremiah obeyed. Yet on one occasion Jeremiah so angered an assistant to the high priest and chief security officer for the temple, Pashhur, that the man arrested Jeremiah, beat him, and threw him in jail, locking him in stocks so that his body was contorted, writhing in pain. Here was a man in deep distress. He endured physical, emotional, spiritual, and professional anguish. He walked into deep despair, all for doing God's will.

Jeremiah was released the next day, emerging with a sentence of his own. He gave Pashhur a new name: "Terror on Every Side." This name described the terror Babylon would inflict on Judah, specifically the fate Pashhur would suffer when God's judgment fell. He would die and be buried outside Israel, which was considered a judgment. But what difference would that make? He had been preaching lies in the name of God and encouraging idolatry in the temple. So, why not live in a land of lies and idols, and eventually be buried there?

Enough about Pashhur - it is Jeremiah's rise above discouragement on which we want to focus. In this last of his recorded laments, which is similar to Jesus' Gethsemane experience, we find the highs and lows of human emotions: grief and joy, despair and delight, perplexity and praise. Like Jesus, Jeremiah reminds us that even a faithful servant of God can become discouraged. Jeremiah lived above his feelings and fulfilled God's will.

We, too, can rise above discouragement. Here's how.

I. Be honest - tell God how you feel (v. 7)

Jeremiah was honest. He felt deceived by God. The word "deceived" means to be enticed or seduced. Obviously, God does not mislead or trick people, but Jeremiah felt that God had lured him into the ministry only to make him a laughingstock. He felt like a helpless youngster who had been seduced and overpowered by a deceptive lover. He felt ridiculed and offended. His voice was not making a difference. He was crying out for the people to repent, yet they continued toward destruction and judgment. Jeremiah's intense lament was private – for God alone, not public.

God wants us to talk to him, even when we are angry, upset, and frustrated. He wants us to tell the truth. A lot of dishonesty goes on in relationships, even with God.

People ask me: Is it wrong to be angry with God? First, we must remember that anger is an emotion, and oftentimes emotions are neither right nor wrong: they just are. What we do with our emotions is a separate issue. People are sometimes surprised by the answer I give them: "If you feel anger toward God you should tell him. God is big enough and strong enough to handle your hurt and anger. So tell him about.  He wants you to pour out your heart to him. He wants you to express what is in your heart."

Didn't Jesus pour out his heart to the Father in Gethsemane and on the cross? We should do the same. Hold nothing back when you pray. Tell the Lord exactly what's in your heart, especially the bad feelings. By pouring out these emotions we are freed from their hold, and we enter more deeply into the loving embrace of the Lord.

God does not want us stuck in anger or any other negative feelings we may have. This is why we should be honest with God in prayer. We should go before God as we are, not pretending to be someone we are not. If we are honest with God in prayer, we may feel a sense of deep freedom, and we may find ourselves having a deeper relationship with God and less discouragement.

To bottle up our anger - even anger toward God - does only harm, never good. To be dishonest--even in our prayers--clouds our relationship with God. God desires real people, honest and forthright, who pour out their hearts before him, bringing him all their motives and emotions. The truth is that God knows the depths of our hearts--our thoughts, our motives, our emotions--even before we speak them. So, if we fail to be honest with God then we are only deceiving ourselves. Honesty with God is liberating. But honesty is only one part of this story. If we are going to be honest with God, we should also expect him to be honest with us. And God honestly expects us to obey him. Another way to rise above discouragement is to obey what God has called you to do. 

II. Be obedient - keep doing what you've been called to do (v. 9)

Because of Pashhur's unjustified actions, Jeremiah was ready to let go of God and leave him out of all conversations. But he couldn't do that. He would not be at peace doing anything else. God's message was like a fire in his bones that he could not put out. He could not be quiet about it. Jeremiah did not preach because he had to say something, but because he had something to say. Not saying it would have destroyed him.

Do you know why most pastors keep at the task despite rejection and anger? Plain and simple, for some pastors the call of God upon their lives keeps them going. The story was told of some pastors who bemoaned the struggles of their vocation. One said: "Do you want to know what I tell everyone who comes to me asking if they should go into the ministry? I tell them, ‘If you can do something else, do it.'" Another pastor piped up, "You know why I don't do something else? Because I am called."

When you are called, it is difficult to ignore that call.

The call comes first from the heart - internal - as a result of the continued drawing from the Holy Spirit. This conviction is as deep within the innermost being of a person. Eventually, it becomes a solid foundation. It marks a person for life. In time the inward call of God is reflected outward, as the Christian community confirms it. No one can fulfill the difficult role of ministry adequately who has not been called and commissioned by Christ (internally) and the Church (externally).

Warren Wiersbe, former pastor and author, writes, "The work of ministry is too demanding and difficult for a man to enter it without a sense of divine calling. Men enter and then leave the ministry usually because they lack a sense of divine urgency. Nothing less than a definite call from God could ever give a man success in the ministry." (Howard F. Sugden and Warren W. Wiersbe, When Pastors Wonder How (Chicago: Moody, 1973), p. 9.

Four questions emerge to evaluate whether one has a call to ministry. Is there confirmation from God and by others? Are instructional shepherding and leadership abilities evident? Is there a longing to serve God with one's whole heart? Is there a lifestyle of integrity? Ministry is more about being that it is about doing.

When called, obey. Obedience is difficult and painful, yet I suppose disobedience results in more difficulty and pain. All Christians are called by God to follow Christ. We are all called to love God and to love others. This call can be difficult to live out, but if we are called we must also obey. Obedience can help us rise above discouragement. When discouraged, go back and get our obedience up to date. While we are checking our obedience, let's also remember the One who is with us. Let us be watchful to see God's hand in all of our situations. 

III. Be watchful - know that the Lord is with you (v. 11)

Jeremiah realized that he wasn't alone. "But the LORD is with me like a violent warrior" (Jer. 20:11). He was not on the losing side.  He was going to win because the Lord was with him like a mighty warrior. God would deal effectively, in his own way and time, with his enemies.

Often in our discouragement we look inward--to our problems, our frustrations, and our situation--when we need to look upward to a God who has not abandoned us. He is with us. He accompanies us. He is a present-tense God. 

Can we imagine the difference it would make in our outlook if we remained consciously aware that God is with us? Imagine going into a difficult board meeting knowing that God is beside you. Picture entering into a stressful presentation knowing that God walks with you. Envision confronting the status quo with the mighty arm of the Lord surrounding you.

Knowledge of God's presence can help us accomplish significant things despite our discouragement. It provides courage, valor, guts, strength, tenacity, and perseverance.

A. W. Tozer writes:

"The world is perishing for lack of the knowledge of God, and the church is famishing for want of his presence. The instant cure of most of our religious ills would be to enter the Presence in spiritual experience, to become suddenly aware that we are in God and that God is in us. This would lift us out of our pitiful narrowness and cause our hearts to be enlarged. This would burn away the impurities from our lives as the bugs and fungi were burned away by the fire that dwelt in the bush."

Living in the glow of God's presence will enable us to fight on despite discouragement. As we acknowledge God's presence in our difficulty, we should remember to come with an attitude of worship. Knowing God is there can help us rise above discouragement, and entering into a mindset of worship can fuel our souls with his peace and encouragement. 

IV. Be worshipful - praise God with your whole heart (v. 13)

Jeremiah's despair turned to joy, his defeated attitude turned to triumph, his dismay to courage. The key that unlocked the door to victory was praise. Jeremiah triumphantly proclaimed, "Sing to the Lord! Praise the Lord" (Jer. 20:13).

Praise is the one weapon in the Christian's arsenal against which Satan has no defense. When we praise God we acknowledge that he is in charge--he can do what he wants, when he wants, and how he wants.

Praise is more than just acknowledging God for the good that comes our way. Praise is accepting from God all that comes our way, both the good and the bad. The praise we offer when things don't go our way is far more precious to God than the praise we offer when all is well.

Praise does four things:

A. Praise recognizes a Provider

Praise takes our minds off our situation and focuses them on God. It reminds us that God has the right to rule and to reign in our lives how he sees fit. It acknowledges that God knows more about what he is doing than we do. It accepts that God can take all the bad stuff of life and make something beautiful out of it.

B. Praise acknowledges a plan

A few chapters later Jeremiah records God's words to Israel: "'For I know the plans I have for you' - this is the LORD's declaration – 'plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope" (29:11). God weaves a tapestry of our lives. We don't always see the finished product. Sometimes to get to the end we have our share of difficulties. When we realize God has a plan, we have two options: we can fight it, or we can embrace it.

C. Praise accepts the present

Praise is based on a total and joyful acceptance of the present as part of God's loving, perfect will for us. Praise is not based on what we think or hope will happen in the future. We praise God, not for what we expect will happen in our around us, but we praise him for who he is and where and how we are right now.

D. Praise releases the power

Prayer opens the door for God's power to move into our lives. But the prayer of praise releases more of God's power than any other form of petition. The Psalmist wrote, "But thou art holy, O thou that inhabits the praises of Israel" (Psalm 22:3 KJV). God actually dwells, inhabits, and resides in our praise. God's power and presence is near when we praise him.

When we praise God for the present situation as a part of God's plan, God's power is unleashed. This power cannot be brought about by a new attitude or a determined effort of self-will, but by God working in our lives.


Let me close with a legend that reveals the source of discouragement. Supposedly, the devil put his tools up for sale, marking each for public inspection with its appropriate sale price. Included were hatred, envy, jealousy, deceit, lying, and pride. Laid apart from these was a rather harmless looking but well-worn tool--discouragement--marked at an extremely high price. Why the costly price? The devil answered: "Because it is more useful to me than the others. I can pry open a person's heart with that when I cannot get near her with the other tools. Once inside, I can make her do whatever I choose. It is badly worn because I use it on almost everyone, since few people know it belongs to me."

Many people succumb to this infamous tool of Satan. Maybe some us feel its effect now. We can rise above discouragement. Will we:

Be honest - tell God how we feel?
Be obedient - keep doing what we have been called to do?
Be watchful - know that the Lord is with us?

Be worshipful - praise God with our whole heart?

Thanks for reading! 

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Sunday, August 20, 2017


Trials Build Character: A Sermon on Hebrews 2:9-18

A couple of weeks ago I had the honor of preaching at Brookneal Baptist Church. The text for my sermon was Hebrews 2:9-18. The title of my sermon was "Trials Build Character: Look to Jesus". I preached a similar sermon a few years ago entitled "When You are Afraid: Look to Jesus". Here is the link to the sermon I preached in August 6, 2017 at Brookneal Baptist Church. I hope it is a blessing to you! Thanks for listening!

Brookneal Baptist Church Sermon Hebrews 2:9-18

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Monday, July 31, 2017


Rich or Poor? Which is Best?

In the Beatitudes, Jesus states “Blessed are the poor” or “Blessed are the paupers.” He also states in the Gospels that it is difficult for a rich person to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Have you ever wondered at the juxtaposition of those two thoughts? I know the traditional interpretation of both sayings, and I am aware of the devotional literature that surrounds them as well. What I want to consider for a few moments today is the abject difference between the two.

The poor are blessed, but the rich have a difficult time entering into God’s kingdom.


Most of us have been “poor” at some point in our lives. Oh, we may not have been as poor as the poorest of the world, but we had to do without due to our lack of means. Maybe our stomachs even growled and our heads hurt from hunger. Perhaps we even had to bypass the purchase of a particular item we desperately wanted or even needed. Yes, we have known some form of poverty.

Did we feel blessed? Really?

Did you feel “happy” during those times of poverty? In all likelihood, we looked forward with some measure of pleasure/joy to the day when we wouldn’t suffer such setbacks. We prayed and wished for a time when we would have abundance and would not have to “do without.” We didn’t feel blessed, we felt miserable.

Some of us today are rich, or at least, we aren’t poor any more. We can pretty much get what we want or need when we want or need it. We don’t have to “do without” unless we choose to do so. As an example, I recently signed a contract on a house that is much more than I have ever paid for a house. Homes in Lynchburg are costly (compared to homes in Waco, that is), and yet I can afford the note. I am no longer “poor”!

Do I feel far from the kingdom of God? Do I feel unhappy or a lack of blessing? Not really.

What could Jesus mean then? Was he just speaking rhetorically or do these words tell us something important?

I think it is Matthew who says “Blessed are the poor in spirit” as opposed to simply “Blessed are the poor.” I like what Oswald Chambers says in My Utmost for His Highest.

“The teaching of the Sermon on the Mount produces despair in the natural man—the very thing Jesus means it to do. As long as we have a self-righteous, conceited notion that we can carry out our Lord’s teaching, God will allow us to go on until we break our arrogance over some obstacle, then we are willing to come to him as paupers and receive from him. ‘Blessed are the paupers in spirit,’ that is the first principle in the kingdom of God. The bedrock in Jesus Christ’s kingdom is poverty, not possession; not decisions for Jesus Christ, but a sense of absolute futility—I cannot begin to do it. Then Jesus says—Blessed are you. That is the entrance, and it does take us a long while to believe we are poor! The knowledge of our own poverty brings us to the moral frontier where Jesus Christ works. . . . Jesus Christ never asks us to decide for him, but to yield to him—a very different thing.. . . If I know that I have no strength of will, no nobility of disposition, then Jesus says ‘Blessed are you, because it is through this poverty that I enter his kingdom. I cannot enter his kingdom as a good person, I can only enter it as a complete pauper.”

In other words, as long as I think of myself as offering some gift or blessing to God, I cannot receive his free gift or blessing. Unless I recognize the poverty of my own will and spirit, I cannot humbly receive what God has to offer. Like a little child, I must recognize my limitations in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. Rich people like us think we can buy or earn what we need or want, God says that the kingdom of heaven is for those who realize that they cannot enter on their own abilities or initiatives. Thanks be to God for the grace to enter! Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift in Jesus Christ!

Thanks for reading!

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Monday, May 15, 2017


A Note about Legacies (in loving memory of Bobbie Percer, Jerry Falwell, and Ray Newcomb)

I first wrote the piece below in August 2009. That summer had been a summer of introspection and thought about life. By that time, two great influences in my life had gone to be with the Lord: My dad in August 2004, and Dr. Jerry Falwell Sr. in May 2007. Since then, another man who shaped and influenced my spiritual life, Dr. A. Ray Newcomb, also passed into eternity to be with the Lord he loved so much. These men formed and fashioned me in many ways, but this post is not all about them. In fact, this post is simply in their honor. You see, 10 years ago Dr. Falwell passed into eternity. I only had about 3 years to serve with him, but the things he taught me (even before I ever set foot on Liberty Mountain) still have an influence in my life today. He was a man full of big dreams and a lot of love. As far as he was concerned, no one was beyond the reach of God's great gift of love and grace, no one was beyond Jesus. My dad was very similar. My dad loved on the folks other people simply turned away. I didn't realize how much alike these two men were until I met Dr. Falwell at Liberty. Dr. A. Ray Newcomb, the man under whose ministry I became a Christian and yielded to the call to ministry, was not only a man of the Word, he was also an evangelist and a man of prayer. Many of us may never know how many times he prayed us through difficult situations in life. Like Dr. Falwell and my father, Bro. Ray influenced lots of people for the kingdom of God.  At any rate, today marks 10 years since Dr. Falwell left us, and I wanted to reprint this old note to remind us all of the importance of legacies. Thanks, Dad, Doc, and Bro. Ray, for caring for us and leaving such a legacy! I hope we live up to it!

A little over a year ago, I wrote the post below after attending several key events in the lives of some important folks in my life. I want to reprint the article today for a very special reason. Today, August 11, 2009, would have been the 77th birthday of Dr. Jerry Falwell. He was a man of great influence and even greater dreams. His life and ministry cut a large path across this country and had an amazing effect on thousands (no, make that millions) of people. I used to listen to the Old Time Gospel Hour on the radio shortly after I became a Christian. I was even a Faith Partner in his ministry. I wanted to play football at Liberty, and although that never happened, I still felt as though Jerry Falwell was in some ways my pastor and teacher. I read his sermons, I joined his first Moral Majority, and I genuinely appreciated his life and  influence on me as a young man trying to figure out what God wanted me to do.

I watched Jerry Falwell's ministry from afar until August 2004. That month two very important things happened in my life: My father passed away, and I moved to Lynchburg, VA to begin a great adventure teaching at Liberty University. Dr. Falwell became a larger than life part of my adventure. I only had the privilege to meet the man face-to-face a few times, but each time he remembered me and details of my life. He revealed such a genuine concern for me and my family that I began to think of him (to some degree, at least) as my second father. I remember once as he walked through the seminary offices, I could hear his booming voice as he talked to folks. As he passed my office, I heard him say, "Wait, I need to stop by and say hello to Leo." He not only remembered my name, he wanted to come into my office to check on me. His leadership and his kindness still inspire me. Oh that every pastor or leader could be a little bit like Jerry Falwell!

I hope that I live up to his legacy and expectations. I miss him, and I wish he had remained with us. At any rate, here are my thoughts on legacy, presented on this day in honor of a man who profoundly influenced my life: Dr. Jerry Falwell.

Ecclesiastes 7:1 A good name is better than a good ointment, And the day of one's death is better than the day of one's birth.

Proverbs 22:1 A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, Favor is better than silver and gold.

Recently I have experienced several occasions that caused me to think seriously about the idea of legacy. Recently I attended Liberty's graduation, in which I watched several students and good friends walk across the stage to receive their degrees and launch into their ministries. Then, on May 15, I paused to remember the life of Dr. Jerry Falwell who passed away several years ago. May 17, 2009 saw the retirement of Dr. A. Ray Newcomb from 33 years of being a pastor at First Baptist Church, Millington, TN. Then May 21, 2009 witnessed the high school graduation of my nephew, Ethan Percer. All of these events reminded me of beginnings and endings, but more importantly they reminded me of the impact a legacy can have on people. In the next few paragraphs I'll try to explain.

I'm not sure how much we think of the impact of our lives. As I watched the high school students graduate with my nephew and the graduate students walk the stage in VA, I couldn't help but think about what I may hear about these people in the future. Some of them have already made an impact, some of them have a future impact to make. Most of them have no idea what the end of their lives will be, they only have dreams and hopes and (perhaps) plans. I remember holding my nephew shortly after he was born. Ethan seemed so tiny to be the first grandchild born to my parents, and as I held him in my arms, I prayed that God would grow him into a warrior, a man of God who is willing to help others and to serve God no matter the risk. I had forgotten that prayer, to be honest, until one day I heard a story about my nephew tutoring other students in school and going out of his way to help others when it wasn't necessarily a popular thing to do. He has laid a foundation for a legacy that will not fade. I received an e-mail from his high school principal that said, "I would be proud if all of my students were like Ethan." Ethan is building a legacy.

Some of the seminary students who walked across the stage recently have begun their legacy. Many of them left homes and nice jobs to pursue a degree at the seminary. They said "no" to "success" as the world measures it so that they would have the opportunity to labor for God. Some will labor in obscurity, some will never have "the largest Sunday School in America," some will never make the "big money," or write the most impressive "how to" book for other pastors. I know their lives, their hearts, and I know that their legacy will be greater than any can imagine. Does anyone remember "James the Less"? He was one of the twelve chosen by Jesus, but even church history and tradition have trouble determining who he was. Yet, he was one of the twelve, one of the original disciples, one of the eyewitnesses to Jesus' life, ministry, death, and resurrection. Not as famous as James the son of Zebedee, this James nonetheless left enough of an imprint on history to be regarded as one of those individuals who "turned the world upside down" with his life and preaching. We no doubt graduated a lot of these individuals, folks we may have a hard time identifying who will nonetheless make a great impression on many they will bring to Christ or love in God's name. "Less" may describe the knowledge of them, but it will not define their impact on those to whom they minister. I bet there were people in the first century who didn't think of James as "the Less" because of what God did through him. Nonetheless, James built a legacy, and like him, many of these graduating seminary students are building a legacy.

That brings me to two pastors--one gone and another freshly retired. Dr. Jerry Falwell and Dr. Ray Newcomb may have taken decidedly different paths to ministry, but they have something in common--their lives and ministries encouraged and affected many who now try to follow in their footsteps. Both men gave multiple decades to one congregation (Dr. Falwell served at Thomas Road for over 50 years, Dr. Newcomb at First Baptist for over 30 years), and the dreams and plans they received from God have inspired many to pursue the purposes of God for the love of Christ. Both men played a role in helping me grow as a new Christian, in helping me understand the concept of "call," and in helping me define the ministry to which God appointed me. I do not know where I would be without the legacies of these two men. On his retirement, we had a celebration of the ministry of Bro. Ray. During the singing of "Thank You," the minister of music asked all of us who had become Christ followers under Bro. Ray's ministry to come forward and stand by the stage. It seemed like over half of the crowd came forward to testify that God used this man's life and ministry to bring them to Jesus! There were doctors, lawyers, postal employees, politicians, teachers, and even one seminary professor. I was fine until then, but that scene brought tears to my eyes. Bro. Ray was getting to see his impact in a very visible form. Here were dozens, even hundreds of people whose lives will never be the same simply because he obeyed God to serve at First Baptist Church in Millington. That number doesn't even count the lives that have been touched by those individuals as they went out to emulate their pastor. Bro. Ray and Dr. Falwell built great legacies.

Well, I've rambled a bit. I want to close with one more legacy to bring this full circle. As I watched my nephew graduate and as I participated in the celebration of my pastor's life and ministry, I couldn't help but think of one person who would have been so proud of both of them--my father. My dad, Bobbie Percer, Sr., passed away in August 2004. I have no doubt he would have loved this week--watching people honor his pastor and his grandson--oh, how proud he would have been. But my father's legacy is bigger than his joy at the accomplishments of others. You see, my dad left quite an impression. When my father passed away, my family and I drove to Millington from Waco, TX for the funeral. On Friday night before the funeral on Saturday, we had the traditional "viewing" when people would come to give their condolences to the family. I stood there greeting people in a line that stretched so far outside of the funeral home that the people were literally standing in the parking lot. I met folks I did not know, and they told me things I had not heard. One fellow told me how he came to Christ because my dad gave him shoes and a ride to church. This fellow's family was embarrassed to go to church because they did not have proper clothing. My dad not only clothed them, he gave them a ride to church. Another young man told me that he never would have graduated college if my father hadn't helped pay for his education. A young woman (with several children) told me of how my dad had helped her family and been instrumental in leading her husband and several children to the Lord. That incredibly long line of people marched through that funeral home and praised the life of this man, my father, in ways I could not even imagine. My dad was a great man. No, you'll never hear his name mentioned with luminaries like Jerry Falwell or Billy Graham, but man what a large footprint this one man left in a small town in west Tennessee! Lives were changed (including those in his family), and eternities were determined. He did not even recognize all that he had accomplished, but he continued to love and to serve others because he loved a great God. His legacy is intact because he followed the example of his Lord. Bobbie Percer Sr. was a hero to many, and he is a hero to me. If I can have half the influence on others that my father had, I'll be a happy man. Bobbie Percer Sr. left a legacy and a good name.

I watched all of these scenarios open before me recently, and it made me a bit introspective. What kind of legacy am I leaving? Where will my footprints lead others if they follow me? Who would attend a celebration of my life and what would they say? Would my love for Christ be obvious? Would my love for others be mentioned? God has blessed me to walk with giants (and some giants in training), and I have to admit that I am often overwhelmed by their collective witness. I am reminded of a conversation I had with Dr. William L. Lane. I admitted to him that I didn't think I could live up to his example of a godly life and scholarship, and he said to me, "Never covet another person's gift, and never despise your own." He went on to remind me that God had not called me to be identical to Dr. Lane or to anyone else. God had called me to use my unique gifts and abilities for his glory. I do not have to live up to the stories of these giants, I simply need to live the legacy God has given me. No matter how obscure or unrecognized or inconsequential a life may seem, if it is lived for God it will have a legacy. Love God, love people: that legacy will no doubt last. What kind of legacy are we leaving the next generation?

Thanks to all of the men and women who left their footprints in our hearts and lives!

Thank you, dear reader, for reading!

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Sunday, April 09, 2017


Repost: Easter--What did we really expect?

A couple of years ago I wrote the note below as I contemplated the week leading up to Easter Sunday. As I read the note earlier today, I thought it might be worth posting again. I hope it is a blessing to you!

The week before Easter is commonly called "Holy Week" by Christians. During this week we celebrate (is that the right word?) the last week of Jesus' life on earth. People will make pilgrimages to Israel and retrace Jesus' final steps, they will pause at the "rock of agony" and cry where Jesus cried out to God in Gethsemane, they will go to the pit where Jesus was interrogated, they will pause where Jesus supposedly stumbled under the load of his cross, they will visit and contemplate Golgotha, they will visit the empty tomb, and they will weep and cry and mourn.

Rightfully so . . . this was THE WEEK for which Jesus lived his entire human life, and it was a rough one for him. On Sunday before his crucifixion he entered Jerusalem with cheers ringing in his ears. The (usually fickle) populace embraced him for all the great miracles he performed, and they hailed his coming as though a conquering warrior had entered the city. Like paparazzi following a Hollywood star, they trailed behind this carpenter from Nazareth and looked for ways to become part of his entourage or to at least get a "piece of the action" as Jesus came to town.

Some of these same folks will probably yell "Crucify him!" in just a few days, by the way.

When Jesus offered them something tangible to grab, they wanted to be a team player, they wanted the fishes and loaves, the healings, the wonders, the mighty signs.

How soon their tune would change . . . how quickly they would turn on the one who was innocent of any sin except the failure to live up to THEIR expectations.

How like them we are today . . .

When things are going our way, we look to heaven and sing God's praises. We celebrate and sing and run to join the band as God rides triumphantly over all our "enemies." But as soon as Jesus fails to live up to OUR expectations, what do we do?

I know the spiritual answer--"though he slay me yet I will praise him."

Do we really? Will we? Will I?

I'm struck with how Jesus routinely challenged the popular expectations of the crowds who showed up hoping for another demonstration of heavenly power and flash. In John 12, just after the people have celebrated his "triumphal entry," Jesus tells them that the way to jump on his bandwagon is for his followers to hate their lives in this world. Just think how that must have sounded to the celebrants rejoicing in the coming of their conquering hero!

"You want to be a part of my movement, a part of my thing?" Jesus asks, "Then you will have to regard your life in this world as a dead man would. You have to become the least, the slave, the dead one, in order to get in on my movement."

Come and die.

What an invitation!

Of course, Jesus knew that in just six days he would literally fulfill that invitation. The innocent would die for the unquestionably guilty . . . and he would die horribly.

I can just imagine how this conversation must have put a damper on the celebration in Jerusalem. Jesus took a party and turned it into a wake. The next thing we know he is engaged in theological discussions with the people and with the Jewish leaders. He created a controversy that caused folks to take sides. All he had to do was accept the adulation and promise to "win the war that must be won," but Jesus decided to go against expectations again. He decided to allow God to get the glory through humility and death.

Hasn't this happened to us? Just when we think we have God's agenda all spelled out like it ought to be, He throws us a curve ball that reminds us we aren't in charge! We have a hard time "boxing Jesus" into a neat package.

What's the point then? The point is that we should reverse the procedure. Instead of putting expectations on God, we should look for HIS expectations for us. What has He required of us? What does He want? How should we respond to His voice?

The week of Easter we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the process maybe we should participate in a funeral of our own. Maybe we should let die our selfish expectations about how God "ought" to act towards us. Bury them, and let God resurrect them in His image.

As we contemplate the price of our salvation, let us willingly become slaves to the one who has paid such a price to purchase our freedom. Like Jesus, let our prayer be "Father glorify your name." Remember, if a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it will yield much fruit. It is, however, pretty useless in a bag with other seeds. Let's allow God to plant us where he wants so that our service can produce fruit for his glory. Let's follow our crucified Lord by living cruciform lives.

What would the world look like if we did?

I'd really like to find out!

Thanks for reading!

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Thursday, March 30, 2017


Act Like Men: Strong Advice for Tough Times 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

Earlier this month I had the privilege of preaching at Brookneal Baptist Church for their "Men's Day" celebration. The notes below are from the sermon I preached that morning. If you'd like to hear an audio version, feel free to click here for the sermon:

Intro: When I realized that I’d be speaking at Brookneal Baptist on a special men’s day celebration, I decided to focus my thoughts on men in general to fit the theme. Of course, what I have to say today will be applicable to all Christians, so I expect the ladies to pay attention as well, okay? There is a severe lack in our society today of what may be called “mature” people—Just look at the news: Yet another politician behaving badly, Celebrities acting like children, Even the church is not immune to immaturity. There seems to be a real shortage of mature people.

Remember the “how to be a man speech” in he movie “Second Hand Lions”? Our passage today is Paul’s version of  the “how to be a man” or “how to be mature” speech. It is strong advice for tough times. Before we go any further, let me remind you that all of Paul’s statements here are commands, they are not options.

Corinth: Before we actually look at our verses for today, let me give you some insight into the church in Corinth. These people were a mess. They had divided on a variety of issues. They had split into factions determined by slogans and political posturing. They had forgotten what they were taught and become lazy in their spiritual growth/wisdom. They had ceased to serve one another and passed judgment on each other to the point of lawsuits. They had immoral activity in their church. They abused their spiritual liberty and hurt one another with it. They had no spiritual discipline and had become disorderly in their use of God’s gifts. They lost love for one another. They had forgotten the power of God’s love and Christ’s resurrection. They needed some mature people to lead them. They needed strong advice from Paul to face their tough situation.

Our passage comes at the end of a letter Paul wrote with the intention of addressing these problems in the Corinthian church. He responded to some of their questions as well as addressed the issues at the church. In chapter 13, Paul admonished them to learn to love while serving each other. In chapter 14, he encouraged them to use God’s gifts in an orderly and praiseworthy fashion. In chapter 15, he educates them on Jesus’ resurrection and its impact for believers. In chapter 16, Paul closes his letter with some practical advice. This church was in tough situation, and Paul gave them some strong advice.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14. We see in these verses five commands from Paul. In brief, Paul tells the Corinthians to 1) be alert, 2) stand firm, 3) be mature (act like men), 4) be strong, 5) do everything in love. The middle command here is where I want to start my sermon, so bear with me as I rearrange the narrative just a bit. I think that the advice to act like men is a reference to being mature, and I further think that the other commands are built around this one. So, Paul’s strong advice for tough times is centered on the idea of maturity.

1) Act like Men/Be Mature—The Greek term here means something like to behave like an adult as opposed to acting like a juvenile. In other words, Paul commands the church to exhibit positive masculine/mature properties. Be mature and be brave.

Three characteristics to note here: 
a. Spiritual maturity—1 John 2:12-14—John encourages his readers to progress on to a mature position, to leave behind childish things (1 Cor. 13:11-12)—cf. Ephesians 4:13. This maturity comes from the Word of God (1 Peter 2:2; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 1 John 2:12-14—young men are strong in the Word of God)—this Word of God refers of course to both the written Word (the Bible) and the Incarnate Word (Jesus)—to be spiritually mature requires us to be adept in both (1 Cor. 14:20—the Corinthians need to grow up). What about us?  Where do we need to grow up?  Where do we need to stop acting juvenile?  What relationships and situations need maturity instead of juvenile selfishness?
b. Courage—“Give me 100 men who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I will shake the world: I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen; and such alone will overthrow the kingdom of Satan and build up the Kingdom of God on earth.” John Wesley “Courage is being scared to death, and saddling up anyway.”  John Wayne
c. Consistency—a constant process of growth that builds Christ-like characteristics in our lives.

The rest of this passage reveals for us what it means to “act like men” or to “be mature” according to Paul. To be mature requires us to be on the alert.

2) Be Alert/Be Watchful—a military term with a strategy in mind that means to be vigilant. It is the opposite of indifference or apathy. It is an active concern to be aware. What happens when those on guard duty fail their watch? The enemy sneaks in. Others may suffer loss. Someone may die. In the spiritual life of a Christian, watchfulness must be combined with prayer (Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 4:2).

What are the objects of our watching? Some examples include--The enemy (1 Peter 5:8); Temptation (Mark 14:38); False Teaching (2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1); Opportunities to share God’s good news or to do God’s works (Titus 3:1; 2 Timothy 4:5); The return of Christ (Matthew 24:42-44). 

We need mature people to lead be alert leaders, to train others to be watchful. To act like men/to be mature means to watch out for each other. Watching out for each other requires a solid foundation in Christ. We must stand firm

3) Stand firm in the faith—Another “militant” term—Paul is calling on the Corinthians to make a stand, to be recognized, to hold their ground (cf. Ephesians 6:10-11). Read 1 Corinthians 15:58. There is a connection between being watchful and standing firm. An army on the watch is an army ready to stand. An army caught off guard is an army soon defeated.

How do we “stand firm”? Be a disciple/be a learner—spend time learning the great truths of God from the Bible—search the Scripture to find God’s plan. Know what you believe (2 Thessalonians 2:15). Know why you believe it and be ready to offer a reason (1 Peter 3:15). Once you know what and why, act on it—do the truth. Standing firm is like a tree planted with deep roots—it is solid because it has a strong foundation—our foundation is what God accomplished through Jesus and shown to us through the revelation of the truth of the Bible. Our faith (belief and action) should be an anchor for us (2 Timothy 2:15). To act like men/to be mature means to make a stand in what God has done.
Standing in God’s work requires and results in strength.

4) Be Strong—The Greek here refers to a strength in action rather than simply strength in possession. It isn’t how much you bench press, it is how you act when strength needed. The biggest muscles will freeze up if there is no strong character. 

Ephesians 6:10—”be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might”. Three kinds of strength here—empowerment (be endued with the Lord’s power), strength (a similar word as used in 1 Corinthians), and power (might or muscle). We must gain power from God, act on what he gives us, and use it to accomplish his purposes. 2 Corinthians 10:3-6—we pull down fortresses. What does this strength look like in action?  Philippians 2:3-4. God’s power properly applied usually acts on behalf of others. Which brings us to our final point—We have all these “militant” terms, then Paul calls us to love.

How do militant ideas fit with a concept of love? To act like men/to be mature we must be strong—but strength must be always be tempered with love.

5) Do all in love—What’s love got to do with it? Only everything. God at his most powerful is also God at his most vulnerable. Look at John 1:1-3, 14—God who created all things revealed his glory, grace, and truth by becoming one of us and revealing God among us (i.e., “Immanuel”). Philippians 2:5-8. Jesus was equal with God, but he didn’t take advantage. He emptied himself, and he became a servant. Incarnated as a human, he humbly obeyed even to the point of dying for our sins on a cross. How did Jesus love?  He gave himself so others could live. That’s the love Paul refers to here. To act like men/to be mature requires us to do all things in love.

The Corinthians certainly needed this kind of love (Paul even discussed it in chapter 13 of this book). Their divisions had caused factions and fighting. They had become rivals instead of brothers. They were engaging in lawsuits instead of love. They were acting like children. They were not watching out for each other. They were not standing firm in the truth Paul had taught them. They were giving in to weakness. Where do we need love?  Where do we need to show love? 

To act like men, we must learn to do all things in love.
That little three letter word “all” is difficult isn’t it?
“All” things—even my marriage?  My kids?  My job?  My business relationships?  Even with those who don’t “love” me? Even in situations where showing love could result in a loss for me?

What do you think?

Acting like men/being mature is not easy. No one said growing up would be simple. Paul’s advice here is strong, but the situation is a tough one and needs a strong solution.

What does love do? In our world today, love is not only an important element, it is THE MOST IMPORTANT element. Without love, watchfulness can deteriorate into a judgmental spirit. Without love, Paul’s commands could lead us to be militant but hardhearted. Love keeps our firmness from becoming hardness and our strength from becoming authoritarian domination. It keeps our maturity gentle and considerate. It keeps our right doctrine from becoming obstinate dogmatism and our right living from becoming smug self-righteousness. It makes us like Christ.

Love is not easy.  In fact, love cost Jesus his life.  We need to remember, however, that sometimes the toughest task produces the sweetest results.  Look at how God’s love redeemed you!

As Phillips Brooks said, “Never pray for an easier life—pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers—pray for powers equal to your tasks.  Then doing your work will be no miracle—you will be the miracle!”

Conclusion—So what do we do?  How do we respond to this passage? Our circumstances are not so different from the church in Corinth. We live in a divided society, live in divided families, even attend divided churches. We have people around us acting like juveniles—blaming others for their problems or only looking out for themselves—we have a lack of “grown ups”—we need some mature men. We have problems creeping in, temptations attacking us, people falling, we need someone to be on the watch. Our society and our churches seem at times to be slipping into all kinds of problems or errors or sin. Nothing seems to be solid or firm. We need folks who are on a solid foundation. We need strength tempered by love. We need mature men and women who will watch out for the church and for others. Take a stand for God’s truth and be bold. Be strong in God’s power to accomplish God sized tasks. Love God and love others as Christ commanded.

Application—Our response to this passage is simple. We must act like men, we must be mature and brave. We must go to our homes, our churches, our neighborhoods, our jobs, and embody the principles Paul has described here. We must be willing to be a solid foundation, a trustworthy people, a group of men and women who love each other as Christ loves each of us. This will require us to be creative, to reach out to those others have deemed “unreachable” or “untouchable”. We will need to imitate the life of Jesus in our everyday lives. We must be humble servants looking to bless others with God’s grace. Will we risk it? If we don’t, who will? What will our families, our churches, and our world look like if we do? I’d like to see that!

So here is some strong advice for these tough times—Be the mature one, act like Christ—be watchful, be strong, stand firm, and do all things in love. 

Thanks for reading!

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Sunday, February 26, 2017


Some Musings on Purpose

A couple of years ago I heard a sermon, but before the sermon the visiting preacher spent a good 10 or 15 minutes "selling" his book that was related to the topic of his sermon. As I listened to the preacher, I began to ask myself questions about the purpose of preaching and the church itself. I wrote the following notes in response to this moment of musing, and I thought I'd share them here. To be clear, I have not organized these. I simply wrote down some thoughts in a "stream of consciousness" style. I hope they are helpful.

Is our purpose the pronouncement of our accomplishments, or is it living for God's glory and fame? How does a Christian leader today straddle the fences of profound prophetic preaching and personal promotion? Should such a straddling exist? Whose kingdom really matters to us? 
I've been told that if you want to know what is important to a leader, listen to his conversation. He talks most about what matters most to him. Take a look at the book of Acts. What did the leaders of the early church talk about most? What seemed to be in the center of their attention?  
Here is some context on Acts: The leaders of the church experienced some persecution for preaching Jesus. The Sanhedrin (the Jewish Council) wanted to kill them (not for publishing or promoting a new book) for talking about and living for Jesus! The persecution that the church faced led to some phenomenal growth (both in numbers and in spirit).  
Do we want revival? Then we need to quit asking for more of God and start giving more of ourselves to him. Revival requires the quickening of the dead. In other words, something that is dead becomes alive. So, what is dead in us? Why don't we bring that to God, sacrifice it, give it to Jesus to resurrect. He alone can do it! What do we have that needs to be fanned back to life? Why not let the "Resurrection and the Life" do his work?  
The great need of the day is hearts fully devoted to God and his stuff. In Philippians 3, Paul lists a very impressive resume. Nonetheless he notes that it is less than "nothing" compared to Christ. He calls is a pile of manure, a bunch of crap. His publications, his promotions, his titles, his accomplishments, his highest points in life are counted as stuff to be flushed away! Think of it--our highest moments of achievement are just manure when compared to Jesus.  
What makes Jesus the Messiah so great? Go back to Philippians 2. Even though he was God, he humbled himself. He lowered himself, he became small to reach all, he emptied himself to fill others up, he became a servant even though he was really a king!  
Do we want revival? What has to be emptied? Where do we need to learn humility? Where do we need to learn to serve instead of striving to be "large and in charge"? If we want revival, we must first learn to humble ourselves and to serve others. Revival will not come via books, sermons, small groups, or tithes. Revival starts with humility. 
The story of Acts is the story of the church continuing the work of Jesus the Messiah to "destroy" the works of the devil. Jesus is out to bring an end to the work of our adversary the devil. Satan does not "counter-punch" as much as he flails blindly like a wounded beast who know his time is limited. He is undone, the cross has effectively destroyed his work. His flailing may in some sense have a strategy to it, but they are still the actions of a desperate and losing entity. He knows he can't win, so he tries to lie his way into stopping the work of God.  
Who do we want to be more like? That is the question. We can strut and bluff and pretend to be great, but then we are like the Great Pretender Satan. Or we can learn to walk humbly, to serve others, to lay down our lives in obedience to God, and in that way we can find ourselves more like Jesus. Do we want revival? Self-promotion won't get us there. Jesus understood that, the leaders of the early church understood it . . . will we? 
Thanks for reading!

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