Go to a ‘Prayer Meeting’. Record the requests that are offered. Compare them to the prayers of the Apostle Paul as found in the Epistles he wrote. Be astonished. Be mortified. Be stunned. Be grieved.
There is little or no correspondence between what you heard as ‘requests’ and the prayers of Paul. The former were what I label ‘organ recitals’. Almost entirely requests for physical ailments of one kind or another. That might be legitimate if there were also a corresponding number of requests for spiritual power, forgiveness of sin, confession and repentance, etc. Not so. Paul left Trophimus at Miletus sick (2 Tim 4:20). It is not recorded that he prayed after the fashion we hear most often in our Prayer Meetings. ‘Organ Recitals!’
I offer just one passage that is typical of Paul’s prayers. Please consider and imitate as you pray.
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory,
1. may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,
2. having the eyes of your hearts enlightened,
3. that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you,
4. what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
5. and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe,
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:16-23).
But it’s the poor who are really losing. The poorest third of households buy half of all lotto tickets, according to a Duke University study in the 1980s, in part because lotteries are advertised most aggressively in poorer neighborhoods. A North Carolina report from NC Policy Watch found that the people living in the poorest counties buy the most tickets. “Out of the 20 counties with poverty rates higher than 20 percent, 18 had lottery sales topping the statewide average of $200 per adult,” the North Carolina Justice Center reported.
A 1986 California survey found that lottery players were split 50-50 on whether they played for money or for fun. But among those with less than $30,000, “25 percent more respondents cited money rather than fun, while the reverse was true for those with higher incomes,” wrote Garrick Blalock, David R. Just, and Daniel H. Simon in a study “Hitting the Jackpot or Hitting the Skids.” The researchers made another damning discovery: Local lottery ticket sales rise with poverty, but movie ticket sales do not. In other words, lotto games are not merely another form of cheap entertainment. They are also a prayer against poverty. This fits what the researchers call the “desperation hypothesis”: States are making their most hopeless citizens addicted to gambling to pay for government services.
Some policymakers argue that the moral cost of lotteries is low. After all, the games are voluntary. And perhaps the money collected by the state is better off going to schools than to booze and cigarettes and whatever else.
But to see the true source of the lottery’s appeal, don’t look at poor neighborhoods. Focus on the states.
Half a century ago, gambling was criminalized in every state except Nevada. As recently as 1980, just 14 states held lotteries. Today it’s 43. A political cynic might say lotteries are the perfect public policy: A tax disguised as a game without an organized lobby to oppose it. Corporate income taxes punish corporations, and companies respond with lobbyists. Personal income taxes and estate taxes hurt the rich, and rich families fund elections, so no need to elaborate on that problem. But lotteries disproportionately affect the poor, who vote at lower rates, donate less to campaign funds, and have inconstant representation on K Street and its equivalents in the states. So no surprise that, as recently as 2009, lotteries provided more revenue than state corporate-income taxes in 11 of the 43 states where they were legal, including Delaware, Rhode Island, and South Dakota.
In an age of rising income inequality, it’s pernicious that states rely on monetizing the desperate hope of its poorest residents. State lotteries take from the poor to spare the rich, all while marching under the banner of voluntary entertainment. Banning lotto games will not make our poorest communities suddenly rich. But these neighborhoods have lost enough lotteries in life even before they touch a penny to the scratch-off ticket.
Tough Nut To Crack
That is a tough nut to crack. That phrase is often heard when characterizing a difficult task. Leading Turnaround Church is that kind of Nut! Ever done that? If so, you will immediately agree with this statement.
I captured the photo below when mowing our yard. We have a huge Walnut tree in our back yard. To say that the production of walnuts is prolific is a gross understatement. I picked up four 75 gallon containers of walnuts this spring. If you ride over them with the mower it sounds like World War III. Not beneficial for the mower blades.
Walnuts are truly tough nuts. The photo shows the remains of walnuts the legions of squirrels we host devoured. While the walnuts are tough, they do not deter the squirrel’s quest for food. Sound familiar?
”Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matt. 5:6 )
Those squirrels were not to be denied. Tough our not, they cracked those nuts. They feasted on the meat they found securely tucked away in those hard shelled walnuts. Difficult to access, but with persistence they had a ‘fine dining experience’.
Application – There is a stream of Baptist called “Hard Shell Baptist”. This is true of Baptist whether we are speaking of the Denomination or just that flavor of believer. Try to change the culture in a church and you will quickly discover just how hard ‘those nuts can be’!!
When you as a Leader, one that hungers and thirsts for the righteous Health & Effectiveness in a local church, you will, like those squirrels, crack those nuts. You will persevere. You will prevail. You will triumph. Why? Because that brings Honor and Glory to Jesus Christ Who is Worthy. So sharpen your tools, pray much, stay at the task and crack some nuts!
Every Pastor has them. C & E people. Christmas and Easter, the two times each year when people pay their obligatory dues to God and ‘go to church’ as though church is something we go to.
Yesterday was no exception. The crowd was larger than the usual, swelled by these C & E, in this case E people. I made several observations of these folks that I share in this BLOG.
First, there are those parents who convinced unbelieving children to ‘go to church’ with them. These are almost always mothers who live with the dread that their children are lost. They pray for them. They invite them to special events. They persuade them to attend on Easter. As the service progresses, you can observe these mothers wiping tears from their faces as we sing the songs of the redeemed. They know their children are not.
Second, there are those unregenerate children. This is a growing legion, a well defined demographic in our culture. They sit stiffly with arms folded. Their faces reveal the scoffing attitude which resides in their hearts. They do not sing. They do not pray. They just endure, frequently checking their phone or watch to see ‘how much longer’ before I can get out of here, free once more till Christmas.
Third, there are those friends and extended family that have prayed faithfully for these scoffers over the years. These folks for the most part are waiting for the Pastor to ‘get em saved’. Not gonna happen!
Finally, there is “the message”. This is an emotion packed diatribe complete with video clips of the crucifixion. Bloody. Traumatic, yet terribly deficient and truncated. There is no way possible to depict with even a semblance of accuracy by dramatic reproduction the horror of the crucifixion of the Son of God. The spiritual, not the physical aspects of the crucifixion are the most wretched. The theological dimensions of the crucifixion are not delineated. Why must Jesus die (to atone for the Sins of men). What is Sin? What is reconciliation? What is an Ambassador (2 Cor. 5:11-20).
Is anyone transformed by this gathering? Only eternity will tell. The ‘faces of Easter’ that I observed did not reveal any changed attitudes or submission to the TRUTH of the Gospel. Perhaps because what they heard was not the Gospel. God help us!
Salad For Breakfast
We gather at Cracker Barrel. The background music is ‘Casting Crowns’ bringing us hymns and choruses (this is Alabama). The Waitress, who is always cheerful, brings us coffee and water. Then she takes our orders with the exception of one man. This is where it gets interesting. He always gets the same thing.
There are 8-9 men in this group. We meet at 6 AM to enjoy the common bond we share in Christ and to be accountable to one another for the integrity of our faith. Did we share the Gospel with anyone in the past week? Are there any specific issues in the lives of people we contact each day that need our prayers and encouragement? Any specific issues for which we can and should praise the LORD?
Back to the guy who always gets the same thing. He is a Fireman. He often joins us just having completed a night shift with the Fire Department. His order is always the same. In fact, our waitress knows what to order for him without asking. He gets a HUGE salad (cf. photo below). Cheese wedge, deviled eggs, ham, lots and lots of lettuce and two large containers of dressing. This is his ‘evening meal’. There is never a shred left when he finishes. The others consume eggs, pancakes, sausage, oatmeal, grits, bacon, etc. He gets Salad!
When you encounter people from day to day, remember this. When they have salad for breakfast they are not whacky. Their journey has a different rhythm than yours. And, you may want to try ‘Salad For Breakfast’ some time. You may enjoy it!
One of the candidates for the office of Governor in AL is proposing a Lottery, ostensibly to fund and support Education. Such a proposal is ethically, morally and pragmatically bankrupt.
Wisdom Literature, the Book of Proverbs, declares with absolute clarity that the incorporation of such a mechanism into Social Policy is woefully lacking and counter-productive.
Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread,
but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense. (Prov. 12:11)
The literal translation from the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Old Testament for the final phrase in this verse, ‘lacks sense’ is ‘has a needy or deficient heart’, (kesar leb). The NIV translation of this verse is ‘but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment.’ The lottery is the quintessential fantasy and those who fund this endeavor by purchasing lottery tickets are the least able to afford such expenditures. The poor are enticed by this fantasy and squander financial resources they can ill afford to waste. Waste indeed! In the end of this game, everyone is a loser.
A 2011 paper in the Journal of Gambling Studies conducted a thorough review of the available research on lotteries and concluded that the “poor are still the leading patron of the lottery”.
The most effective means of improving the education of children in Alabama is dedicated and involved parents, mothers and fathers. They turn off the TV. They shut down the Video Games. They read to and with their children. They model the vital importance of education by daily focus, instruction and personal investment in the things that matter most.
Buying a Lottery Ticket is indeed a fantasy. We do not need a Governor that promotes fantasy as Public Policy. We do need parents that invest wisely and persistently in the education and development of their children.
How many pulpits in America would be vacated if Pastors were required to mount the scales before they mounted the pulpit?
Recent research reveals that obesity among Pastors is greater than obesity among the overall population. The church does not tolerate the sins of gossip, greed, or false witness. They should not tolerate obesity due to the intemperate and undisciplined consumption of food and a lack of discipline in exercise and physical fitness. Failure in these areas reflects poorly on the message of the Gospel.
According to Pulpit & Pew, an interdenominational research project on pastoral leadership, clergy work was considered one of the healthier professions in the past, just below teachers in terms of low mortality rates.
Follow the link to a color map of the USA showing the Obesity rates by State.
However, recent data has found the obesity rate in clergy members has climbed to 30 percent.
One of every three American adults is obese
By 2015, 75% of adults will be overweight; 41% will be obese
Google BMI = Body Mass Index. Find out how you are doing in the “Battle of the Bulge!”
Social Media is a blessing and a cursing. Blessing – there is an infinite opportunity to exchange messages with a host of people, some redeemed and some not. That is great. Cursing – this infinite opportunity includes many who are not biblically literate and in fact downright heretical. Their thinking is shaped by some of the influences promoted on this same tool.
Here is where the conflict enters the picture. The text of Scripture, Titus 1:9 includes a command for those who are Elder/Pastor/Shepherds to teach/instruct in SOUND DOCTRINE and to REBUKE those who contradict it.
He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Titus 1:9)
When correction is offered regarding unorthodox or heretical postings the conflict rages. What one regards as a proper REBUKE, others regard as a WITCH HUNT. The Strange Fire Conference hosted by John MacArthur at Grace Community this past October turned a brush fire into an inferno.
REBUKE has many nuances in the original language; bring to light, expose, convince, reprove, rebuke, punish (A Reader’s Greek New Testament, 2nd Edition, p.464, note 42).
The following are my thoughts offered during one of the Social Media Exchanges.
A Word about the “Witch Hunting” accusation that is appearing with greater frequency in Social Media among professing Christians.
First, there are some who are attracted to controversy like bugs to light. There is excessive criticism and perhaps hatred in their post. This should not be.
Second, great (faithful) Leaders are commanded to teach Sound Doctrine and Rebuke those who teach otherwise (Titus 1:9). Doing so IS NOT WITCH HUNTING – - IT IS OBEDIENCE TO THE CLEAR MANDATE OF SCRIPTURE.
Third, a primary test is motive and manner. When I encounter false teaching I must first examine my own heart/eye and make sure there are no LOGS present. Then, I must speak/write with absolute accuracy based on sound exegesis of the text. Then, I must carefully and honestly ‘rebuke’ the offending party/parties.
Fourth my Brothers and Sisters, compassionate and consistent fidelity to the commands of Scripture is NOT “Witch Hunting”. I call upon all who are using this nomenclature to cease and desist. The fall out will be intense but the task is not conditioned by the response of those we speak to in love.
There is Pathology in Theology. When error however obscure is not challenged it ALWAYS grows and eventually explodes into damaging heresy and apostasy.
Responses solicited and welcome. THANKS!
Follow the link to acquire additional insight into this false accusation that exegetical precision is “Witch Hunting”. Anything but.
The following text was written by a Pastor friend of mine (35 years) as he prepared his Sunday morning message. Well worth reading. This kind of friend is a gift of the richest fare!!
Preparing for Sunday’s Message and wrote out the following thoughts on “Following Jesus.”
Just recently, I joined a new gym. I spoke to Andre and he explained the terms of membership. It was much like my previous gym. I could get a basic membership for $25 per month but for a few dollars more I could use the massage machine and bring visitors with me for free. The same approach is used by Amazon; you can sign up for free, but for about $100 a year you can get Amazon Prime that allows you many extra privileges such as free shipping and access to a variety of Movies and Music. For the avid reader you can sign up for Kindle Unlimited that gives you access to hundreds of thousands of Ebooks; you can read and listen to them for $9.99 a month. For another $15 per month you can join Whispersync for voice and seamlessly move between reading and listening to a book. There are probably other services they offer that I still haven’t discovered.
I hope you see the point. In the market place it is not all or nothing but you can decide which services you want and ignore the others. As the consumer, you decide what is good for you and without penalty ignore the parts that are not a fit. This climate has in many ways filtered into the church in America. Many churches have become Amazon clones and offer a variety of services that you freely choose to use or ignore, no questions asked. The lines become a bit blurred here and it is easy to feel the marketing shadow creeping in to shape membership commitments in the church. It is not so easy to say whether this is totally right or wrong.
Let’s take this one step further and ask if there are such options for “Following Jesus.” Can you sign up for the basic package with minimal commitment and be guaranteed a “fire escape clause” but for a bit more get a measure of joy, a sense that life has meaning, and a guaranteed future in heaven. For the really hard core you can sign up for the full membership with discipleship, scripture memory, and even some suffering for Jesus. It is clear that many approach following Jesus much as they choose their Amazon options. Has Jesus offered us these options or are they marketing ploys that religious franchisers use to sell Jesus?
Matthew’s Gospel makes it quite clear that following Jesus is quite different than the familiar marketing model. In fact, it is all or nothing! Jesus said if anyone wants to come to me the terms are not negotiable. You can’t sign up for basic or premium discipleship. You are either in or out! You either follow Jesus completely or you follow your own path (which is really Satan calling the shots without really understanding how he is using you). Every one who chooses to follow Jesus must exercise self-denial, kill the sinful passions that constantly pressure you to conform, and purposely and intentionally follow Jesus without reservation. Luke’s Gospel makes the demands even stronger, unless you hate mother, father, children, and even spouses you cannot be his disciple. Isn’t this a bit too radical??? Don’t we need some balance?
Almost eighty years ago D. Bonheoffer wrote, The Cost of Discipleship to combat such cheap grace. There is no basic membership offered by Jesus but for those willing to follow him at all costs there is life that throbs with his presence and Joy unspeakable and full of glory.