Monday, July 31, 2017
Rich or Poor? Which is Best?
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!
Monday, May 15, 2017
A Note about Legacies (in loving memory of Bobbie Percer, Jerry Falwell, and Ray Newcomb)
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!
Sunday, April 09, 2017
Repost: Easter--What did we really expect?
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!
Thursday, March 30, 2017
Act Like Men: Strong Advice for Tough Times 1 Corinthians 16:13-14
Sunday, February 26, 2017
Some Musings on Purpose
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!
Sunday, February 12, 2017
Paul's View of the Church: ETS Paper 2014
Let me know what you think! Thanks for reading.With the rise of the internet and electronic communications, the world has witnessed a rise in so-called “on-line communities.” These on-line communities represent a loosely connected family of sorts where people interact with each other via electronic resources. As a result of these things, many Christian communities have attempted to build a “church community” in an on-line environment. Paul describes the church as a community in most of his letters, and in some letters he even describes the church as a body and a bride. The language Paul uses is very relational and almost physical. How would Paul respond to the move today to create on-line Christian communities? Paul would respond that the church that represents Christ is comprised of people who gather physically and by their worship and actions embody the Lord whom they serve. For Paul, the body and bride of Christ is more a physical reality than simply an on-line collection of disembodied electrons. Taking cues from Paul’s letters (specifically but not limited to Romans and 1 Corinthians), a contrast will be built between on-line Christian communities and Paul’s vision of the church as Christ embodied in life and action. The importance of physical contact, regular interaction, and actual (not virtual) community will describe the church as seen through Paul's eyes..
Saturday, December 24, 2016
Advent 2016: The Mystery of Christmas
I started this blog several years ago, and every year I have posted a piece I wrote around Christmas 2003. It kind of sums up for me what is the "Mystery of Christmas" as I meditate on the Incarnation and its implications for humanity (and perhaps for God as well!). The very idea of God becoming "one of us among us" (Immanuel) still fascinates and overwhelms me. God, the creator of all things, humbled himself, became of no reputation, and entered his own creation so as to renew and to redeem and to rescue us (and, ultimately, to do these things for all of creation as well). God, the Creator of all things, became flesh so that he might accomplish the plan to make his grace and glory known in humans and in all of creation. The God who never knew death would die for us. The God who never knew sin would become sin for us. He would break the power of sin, condemn sin in his own flesh, and provide for all of us the rescued we need to become the people God always intended us to be. What amazing love! Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! As you celebrate the first advent of our King Jesus the Messiah, I hope you enjoy this rerun. Feel free to make comments if you'd like.
A little over 2000 years ago, a tiny child was born in some pretty bleak conditions. Oh, he wasn’t the only one born in less than optimal conditions. In fact, in some ways, he was one of the lucky ones. He and his mother actually survived childbirth and thrived. Still, this story is unique and amazing on several levels.
First, this child would literally change the way time is reckoned in the world. His life and abilities would have such an impact on generations of others that a brand new movement would be created, one that would radically change the very face of the earth (sometimes for good, sometimes not so much). His name would become recognized among the names of the greatest of humans, yet he never forgot his own humble beginnings or lost a sense of who he was.
The second thing about this child is tied to the first in that this baby, this helpless lad full of spittle and mush, was born as the very Son of God. When Mary held his little head to her breast, he drank human milk. Yet, he was (and is) the God of the universe. Can you picture this simply ridiculous yet somehow poetic scene? God, who calls the stars by name, pressed to the human breast for sustenance. Humble yet awesome, is how some folks would no doubt recall this child.
A little over 2000 years ago, God proposed that the only remedy for the human condition of sin would be if he humbled himself, stepped out of eternity and into human flesh, and suckled at Mary’s breast in preparation for the greatest, most impressive conversion of all. God, in Mary’s arms, toddling around Joseph’s home, learning to talk, learning to walk, tasting and touching things with human hands! As the Psalmist says in Psalm 139, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for us, we cannot contain it!”
God knew that the only way to redeem us was if he did it himself. Haven’t you ever had that thought? You know, the one where you say, “If I want something done right, I’ll just have to do it myself?” Imagine God having that thought about bringing us to proper relationship with him. Imagine again that the only way he knew he could do that is if he came to earth as a baby. Think of it—-how vulnerable the almighty God was at that moment, how paradoxical that the God of all creation had to learn to walk! And why did he put himself in this situation? Out of his divine sense of justice and righteousness and mercy, out of his inexpressible love for humanity he acted in this manner.
God humbled himself. In a sense, he took on our insanity so that we may be sane. He became flesh so that we might walk in his Spirit. He became sin that we might be righteous. He became poor so that we might be rich. He who had the reputation of Creator became a humble servant with no reputation. He became a toddling, dribbling, helpless babe so that we could become mature humans in the image of the almighty Son of God. What wondrous love! What humility and service! How then can anything he asks of us be too difficult?
Lord, in this Christmas season, remind us of your sacrifice and love so that we might be a light shining in darkness to others. Teach us to live a life of humble service like your Son did on our behalf so many years ago. As we celebrate the babe in the manger, may the glory he revealed in his life shine through us towards others that they may know God. May the grace of God and the peace of Christ rule in our families and our lives.
Thanks for reading!
Merry Christmas! May you know the blessings of the God who humbled himself and served!