I normally write this little article on Thursday of each week. During the week an issue will come up and I use this space to shed a little light on the topic. This week I was rolling some issues around and couldn’t decide on just one so I put it off till Sunday morning. My mind was settled when I checked the mail this morning. I was invited to go on a mission trip to a country half way around the world!
Yeah, and it will only cost me $3000 plus shots, a passport and visas. I would be joining a team from Arkansas and working with a team from that country to: run a medical clinic, train church leaders, lead in singing/worship and prayer walk. Well, I’m no doctor and I’m a terrible nurse so that’s out. I can’t sing or play an instrument and they all speak a different language anyway so that’s out. Prayer walking… Now that needs it’s own paragraph.
What in the world is that? Where do we find it in Scripture? The walls of Jericho? I’m not an expert on all things Bible but I had never heard of this until about ten years ago and now every mission trip is doing it. I observed it a few times at church camp, a group of people walking to all the dorms stopping and praying at each one before marching around the tabernacle in prayer. Isn’t this the exact same thing the Pharisees did on the street corners? “Oh no, we pray quietly as we walk, they prayed out loud.” Then why don’t you pray in private at home and send your $3000 to a needy missionary. If our prayers are truly aimed at heaven, then they will have no trouble reaching any part of the globe. This is just a modern idea to make everyone “qualified” for missions. I also firmly believe it has it’s roots in Pentecostalism and the need to touch and rebuke things in person.
It’s true, I could give some advice to church leaders over there. Truth is I already do, via the world wide web. I regularly correspond with missionaries discussing any number of issues they have. Our church has sent books and care packets to a number of native pastors for training and encouragement. While many have expressed a desire to see me face to face, if given the option, $3000 dollars would be of better use to them than seeing my ugly mug.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti mission trips. But mission trips are for missionaries. Missionaries don’t travel the world and risk their lives to play music, sing or prayer walk. They go to preach the gospel and aid the people. Paul would never use this kind of money to spend 4-5 days with someone. But we will, because we spend it on vacations every year. And that’s what it is, a religious vacation. I’m not judging all who go on these trips, but I am condemning the whole “mission trip” system. Christians have lost sight of real missions and we need to get it back.
If you live or work on the north side of Van Buren you can’t help but notice a guy standing at the intersection of I 40 and Hwy 59 holding a cardboard sign asking for help. This used to be an occasional sighting but for the past two or three weeks it has been a regular occurrence morning and evening. I’ve tried to take a good long look at them every time I go by. I have yet to see the same guy twice but I’ve seen the same car 3 times.
I saw a big suv parked across hwy 59, the beggar ran up to the car and gave the guy inside a big wad of cash. The suv drove off to Oklahoma and he went back to the corner with his sign. Later that week I saw the same car parked by the bulk ice machine right around the corner from where the guy was holding the sign. Then to top if off, Wednesday there was a guy sitting on the corner in a wheelchair with crutches and a sign asking for money. I thought to myself, how did he get to the I 40 exit ramp in that wheelchair? Later, as I was leaving Mcdonalds, I saw him pushing the wheelchair across the gravel parking lot up hill by the ice machine, fold up the chair and get in the same suv and leave. Was he miraculously healed?
No, he wasn’t healed, he’s a fake. They are all fake and they are part of a team that are scamming people by playing on our emotions. They have a sad story on their sign and many people feel sorry for them and want to help them. Friday evening there was a young couple in their early 20′s holding a baby and a cardboard sign asking for gas money in front of the gas station. Now ask yourself this, what mom would hold her baby on the side of hwy 59 where everyone could see it in January? What husband and father would ask his wife and newborn to come stand out here by the highway with him while he panhandles? If you or I were in that predicament, our wife and baby would be in the car or in the station. But then again we are honest people who don’t make a living cheating others out of their hard earned money with a fake story to prey on their emotions.
Why does this bother me? #1 Truly needy people can’t get help because of all these phonies. #2 I hate to see honest people cheated. #3 I have a low tolerance for liars. #4 The longer they make a living scamming people, the longer it will be before they learn to make an honest living. #5 People feel good about helping the poor but all they’ve really done is buy cigarettes and a bottle for a lying con man.
In a country with “now hiring” signs in the windows of businesses and financial assistance available to anyone who can’t work, who still has to stand on a street corner with a cardboard sign? Here’s a better question, who in their right mind gives money to these crooks? Be smart with your money, don’t fund a con artist.
This past week while in my office I answered 5-6 phone calls form random people wanting to know if our church helped with groceries, paid electric bills, or just gave money to people in need. Four of theses calls began with a long stories about all their problems and why they needed money from Lee Creek. I told them that we didn’t have the finances to give money out to everyone who called asking for help. Then I suggested that they check with the local government agencies that have funds to help folks in their situation. The response was the same every single time “We’ve already called them and they can’t help us anymore so we are calling around to different churches.”
That is the problem I want to talk about: “They can’t help us anymore.” Webster says the noun “help” means: the action of helping someone to do something; assistance. The problem is too many people are relying on short term help to overcome a long term problem. Quite simply, there’s more going out than coming in. When their “assistance” drys up they have no plan to overcome it. The easiest solution is to call on someone else to replace the assistance they lost. That’s where the church comes in. The government will no longer pay my bills, so lets see if the churches will. The local food bank cut back on our free groceries so let find a church to get free groceries. The electric company will no longer wait to be paid so lets ask a church for the money to pay this bill. Now let us assume the church pays the bill, gives the groceries, and hands out money to those that ask, where do they get the money for next month’s groceries and bills? None of these people lost jobs, they only lost assistance. Without someone else’s help they can’t make it.
How long can the church pay someone else’s bills? How long can the church buy groceries for others? I’ll answer these questions, until the church runs out of money. That is exactly what is happening, churches are running out of money. Two of these people told me that the churches that used to help them don’t have the funds anymore. They already receive all the government help they can get and now they don’t know where else to look.
I know where to look, its in the classifieds under the heading, Help Wanted. This is not the hand out section, its the hands on section. Instead of looking for a new church to help pay your bills, find a job and pay your own. I did try to tactfully suggest they look for employment. The ones who didn’t hang up on me gave a hundred reasons why they couldn’t work. Gov Scott Walker of WI summed up my feelings this week when he said “Public assistance should be a trampoline, not a hammock.” If you have no plans to work for more, learn to live on what you have.
I want to take this space to recap a subject we covered last Wednesday night in Bible study. This one subject, in my personal opinion, has done more to crippled our country in the last 2-3 generations than anything else I know of. The subject is debt and we discussed the dangers of it given in Scripture. The reason its such a big deal is because we have such big debts these days. Sadly we are OK with it and think it’s normal. Its not OK and its not the norm. I gave some stats on American household debt and I can personally give them to you if do not realize that families today have more debt than ever before. It’s not just bigger houses and nicer cars. It’s lawn mowers, boats, furniture, vacations, even meals bought on credit cards.
But let me jump ahead to God’s view of debt. In Proverbs 17:18 and 22:26-27 the Bible says borrowing is “foolish” and that debt could cause to loose what you already own if you can’t pay it back. The Bible also says Debt makes us a slave in Prov 22:7. Almost every American is enslaved by debt and some more so than others. Now think about this verse: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” You say “Oh preacher, that’s talking about greed not debt.” But I beg to differ, you work like you do because you owe like you do. Debt has enslaved your free money and required more of your time than you really want to admit. You can work because you want more or you can work because you’ve already spent more. You probably don’t realize your condition because you think everyone is in this condition, it’s normal.
Lets deal with idea of debt being “normal” for everyone. To be honest, you sound like a kid saying “everyone else is doing it.” Debt was designed to get us out of a temporary emergency, not a lifestyle. The generations before you didn’t live this way. The Bible says we are not to live this way. But the world says: “you need it now” “don’t wait” “only $99 down and $99* a month”*till death Before to long we miss church because we need the overtime. We can’t give to missions, we live paycheck to paycheck just paying bills. The next thing you know we can’t retire because we owe to much. Sounds culturally normal but biblically abnormal.
So what made us think we are supposed to pay bills for the rest of our life? The world we live in convinced us of that. God says “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.” That is true freedom, your only payment this month is to love your fellow man. That may seem impossible, but it’s not. It may take some time, but everyone of us can get out of debt if we want to. I want you to be free to serve God and not your debts. ~HWS
While I have many doubts about the ability of President Elect Donald Trump to turn our country around, I have been truly pleased with most of the people he has chosen to surround himself with. Take for example his selection for secretary of defense Gen James Mattis. Here is a well qualified proven leader with an impeccable record of integrity. The same could be said of Senator Jeff Sessions, his pick for attorney general. These men aren’t loved by everyone, but who is? However, those who personally know them will admit they are valuable sources of information and administration. These men and a few others have given me a positive outlook on the next 4 years for our country.
Why do these supporting roles give me hope? Because they will have a positive influence on his administration. The people you surround yourself with can bring you up or down to the occasion. If our next President has the wisdom to seek wise counsel, and I believe he does, he will avoid many of the mistakes he would’ve made on his own or with weak advisors.
The same is true of the Christian. The influences in our lives will shape the decisions we make. Those decisions will account for the situations we find ourselves in the coming years ahead. If we go life alone or with worldly counsel, we are sure to make many mistakes. However, if we seek godly companions, enjoy fellowship in a strong church, and spend time in the Word of God, we will have a positive outlook on the years ahead.
While no amount of preparation can grantee we will never make mistakes or find ourselves in a tight spot from time to time. We should take steps to avoid the bad influences in our life and make an effort to surround of ourselves with wise counsel. Listen to the words of wisest man that ever lived, King Solomon taken from Proverbs 19:20-21.
Hear counsel, and receive instruction,
that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end.
There are many devices in a man*s heart;
nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.
Surround yourself with men who know God and you’ll avoid folly.
I continue to be amazed at what God tells people these days. You all have heard me many times warn against saying “God told me…” So you may be saying to yourself “Is he going to talk about that subject again?” Why yes I am, and I admire your discernment. The reason I continue to discuss the subject is because I’m constantly confronted with the phrase. Maybe that’s because I’m a pastor and people feel led to give me a word from God directly, and that may be true to a degree. However, I don’t think is the full story. I honestly think the subject hasn’t been addressed in churches for decades. Couple this with the rise of Pentecostalism and we now have it’s widespread acceptance. Add to this the fear that most Christians have about challenging anyone who claims to have received a special word from God.
The stage is set for anyone to claim that God told them anything and everything. In all seriousness, many of these people genuinely believe God really did tell them this. So when we finally work up the nerve to ask “How do you know that God really did tell you this?” The answer is all to often “I just know.” or “I just believe he did.” And that’s usually where we leave it.
This past week I couldn’t leave the conversation at “I just know.” Because I, just knew, God would never say what he claimed. He said “God told me to vote for Hillary Clinton, so I did what I was told.” Now fast forward to this part of our discussion: “Preacher, how do you know God didn’t tell me this?” #1 God wouldn’t verbally endorse something He has condemned in writing. #2 God wouldn’t ask us to promote sinful behavior that He already forbid in Scripture. #3 While God picks each and every leader, He still holds us personally accountable for who we vote for. #4 God’s views on homosexuality an abortion are clear and unchanging. #5 If the apostle Paul was qualified and in the running, I wouldn’t claim God told me to vote for him. I would simply say he is the best candidate according to the Bible.
When challenging the claim of “God told me” we must go to what God has already said, and that is on paper. But more importantly me must do it with love for them and love for the Truth. I know this is true because God told me so… What? You can check for yourselves, I got it from 1 Cor 13.
We are officially in the “New Year’s Resolution” season. Now is the time for you to determine to change something about yourself this coming year. Step two, go out in the woods and drive a stake in the ground, or carve your commitment into a rock (you low-lander can carve it into a tree). On second thought, Why not do all three? Set your new resolution down in a permanent manner so you will not change it. Step three, post it somewhere prominent where you will be reminded of it regularly. The refrigerator door, bathroom mirror, or better yet the opening screen of your phone so you’ll be sure to see it 200+ times each day.
Allow me now to skip ahead to April or maybe just to the end of January when you give up on the new you and settle for the reality of the old you. I know some of you have a rare success story when something really did change that one year, but that was an oddity and you need to quit dwelling on the past. So here we are, after three plus weeks of trying. right back to where we were Dec 31, 2016. Oh the horror of it all! We failed again!
Instead of making one or more New Years Resolutions every year and not keeping them, lets learn something “new” this year. First off, man’s “will” is really useless. Honestly we can’t stick with much of anything unless we absolutely have too. There is a salvation illustration in there, but I’ll let you work that out on your own. Secondly, there is nothing wrong with resolutions as long as we understand they were made by us. I’m not saying don’t try to fix what’s wrong but I am saying be realistic about your expectations. Thirdly, why do we wait till Jan 1 to start? If it needs fixing we can start any time before or after the 1st. Fourthly, don’t make “do or die” resolutions. You’ll kill yourself. Last but not least, Is this resolution of any eternal value? If not, I wish you the best of luck with that. If so, you have an Advocate with the Father who can ensure your success. When you falter (and you will falter) He stands ready to forgive and start you again.
God never offered to help us accomplish our personal wishes this new year. But He did promise our personal transformation into the person He wants us to be. With that, I wish you many successful resolutions all year!
I honestly think the number one reason most Americans attend church these days is for purely social reasons. As a pastor I have a bird’s eye view of the movements of church goers. I hear the moans of loss and sighs of relief from pastors as their members move to various churches. Some times they hate to see them leave and at other times they won’t be missed. But the real question is why do people change churches so often?
Lets try to answer that with a series of questions. Is it because they have relocated to a new area? Are they seeking a place closer to their home? Has their current church defected from the faith forcing them to leave to seek out true gospel preaching? Have their personal views of Scripture changed causing them to seek a new church inline with their new views? These would all be good reasons to find a new church. But I seldom hear these reasons listed. Most people are looking for a new church for social reasons.
How do I know that, you may ask? Well let me list some of the questions I get from people looking to change churches. How many attend LCBC? I have kids, what do you have for my kids? Who all goes to your church, anyone I know? Is there anyone my age their? Do you have many veterans, retired people, young families, professional people, blue collar, sports fans, outdoorsmen, singles, widows, or any any other subgroup I can relate to?
I could go on but you get the point. Now when someone finds a new church here’s what they often say: “The kids love it here.” “The new preacher relates to me.” “My friends or the kids friends, were already going there.” “They have so many activities to get involved in.” “They have a coffee shop in the foyer and free day care on Fridays.” Are you seeing a pattern here? We like our opportunities to socialized in the new church.
Now the Bible instructs us to be in close fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. BUT, the standard of our fellowship is the gospel. I’m seeing people leave gospel preaching churches for social reasons. The opposite is equally true as well. We see countless Christians who are gospel starved hanging onto a church because of their kids, friends or activities. Pick your church by the gospel and stay put. You will never regret it.
Have you noticed that the weather is getting much colder? Of course you have as soon as you open the door in the morning it hits you. Most people hate the cold but a few of us love it and look forward to the cool crisp winter air. Regardless of you personal climate preferences a good hot fire sure feels good when you come in out of the cold. Or when you get in the car and place your hands over the heater vents and within seconds the feeling comes back in your fingers. That warm soothing effect quickly overcomes a long exposure to the cold.
The corporate worship of the Church should have the same effect on believers. After a few day out in the world our spirit craves the warm fire of fellowship around the Word. If we stay out to long we will start to loose some feeling in our extremities. That’s when a quick warm up is needed in order to keep us going. After just an hour or two with the saints we begin to feel better and the cares of the world don’t seem as harsh as they did when we first came in.
The cold is not dangerous as long as we dress for it and limit our exposure to it. There’s a parallel to the Christian life here as well. When you aren’t prepared for the world and you spend to much time in it, the world can have an adverse affect on you just like the cold does. If you fail to meet with the Lord and his people on a regular basis you will start to loose some feelings. If you neglect these warning signs, you could end up with spiritual frost bite! There’s no shortage of testimonies from those who stayed away to long and now have some lasting scars to show for it. So don’t get to far away from the fire.
Even the Apostle Paul had this desire for fellowship. He wrote in Romans 1:11-12 “For I long to see you,…that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.” He knew that his presence would be for their encouragement and they would likewise encourage him. That is the way church works. It is beneficial to attend regularly for encouragement and to be encouragement to others. As the world grows colder and colder toward God it is comforting to know we have a warm church to attend.
I have recently observed the chatter of church goers online criticizing churches who are not meeting Sunday morning Dec 25 at their usual time because it’s Christmas. To which some proudly boast “We have church every Sunday and especially on Jesus’s birthday!” or “We won’t compromise with the worldly traditions!” At first glance they seemed to hold the spiritual high ground. This led me to contemplate a fresh and a new the validity of the claim that a church must meet every Sunday and especially on a holiday.
First, let us ponder the Jesus’s birthday claim. “If you love Jesus, you’ll go to church on his birthday” they said. #1 Is Dec 25 his real birthday? #2 Are we instructed to keep his birthday? #3 If so, why don’t we go to church every year on Dec 25 instead of just the years that the 25th falls on Sunday? #4 Why doesn’t the Bible give us his exact birth date if it’s so important? #5 When did the celebration of Christmas even start?
Secondly, let’s ponder the Lord’s day. #1 Have you ever missed a Sunday for anything other than illness? Maybe for vacations, traveling to visit family, work, or other responsibilities? #2 Does our church only hold one service a week? #3 Do you attend every single service of every week? #4 Is it mandatory that the assembly have to meet on Sunday? #5 Is there ever a legitimate reason to miss a Lord’s day service other than illness?
Paul actually answers this dilemma in Rom 14:5 “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” I’m not going to engage the online Scribes over this issue. He is already “fully persuaded in his own mind.” But before you take up criticizing our church calendar, ponder those two paragraphs of questions above and think of what you will doing Christmas morning. I’ll venture to say that you’ll spend it with your close family and that you’ll have Jesus’s birth in mind as you go thru the festivities. Therefore I don’t see the harm of a healthy church spending Christmas morning with their families this year or in 2022, 2033, 2039, 2044 and 2050. If you still “esteemeth one day above another:” we’ll meet at 5:00 pm Christmas Eve.