Saturday, December 29, 2007

Finishing Well

Like many sports fans, I watched the game tonight; the BIG game. And what a game it was! I was pleased with the intensity that both teams displayed, especially the Giants. Until the last quarter. It seemed they felt being ahead was good enough. It seemed like their passion melted into medicocrity. To be sure, they picked up the pace in the last 2.5 minutes. Sort of. Maybe. But the damage had been done. The clock ticked down. With one minute to go, Eli Manning made it interesting.

Sports historians and fans won't remember the losing team for long. They will remember the winning one, though. That is what we do; we remember winners.

The Giants could have been the team we remembered. If they had finished well, we would have remembered them. If those first 10 minutes of the fourth quarter had been played with the same passion as the rest of the game, then we would be talking about the Giants now.

That is what I want to do. I want to finish well. I don't just want to begin well; I want to end well. To be sure, I want that to happen about 40 years from now, or when Jesus returns--whichever comes first. It doesn't need to end today!

What does finishing well mean for me? It means preaching and teaching with more depth and understanding than I did last year. It means loving with more passion than ever. It means proclaiming the gospel with more urgency than I had as a young man.

For every Christian, finishing well means a greater intimacy with Jesus. It means being so in love with the Lord that we delight being in his presence more than anything else. It's not unlike Moses, when he sat in the niche in the rock on Mount Sinai as God passed by, showing him his glory. It is not unlike Enoc, who walked with God and one day just walked on into God's presence, where he remains to this day.

Maybe it's age I hear creeping up on me; but I find myself taking stock and paying more attention every year, every month, even most weeks. I want to be sure I finish well.

You can finish well, too. But to finish well you must begin well. You must begin with a repentant heart and with a faith placed in Jesus alone. After all, it is Jesus who died for your sin. It is Jesus who was buried and raised from the dead.

If you have placed your faith in anything else--say, a particular church, or keeping the commandments, or your own good works--then turn to Jesus now. Place your trust in him and call on him to be the Master and God of your life.

Begin well.

Live well.

Finish well.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Not-So-Holy-Holiday

For many, including myself, Christmas is more than a holiday; it is a holy celebration. Our tradition includes prayer and the reading of Christ's birth in Luke, chapter 2. We give gifts--lots of them; but we remember the main thing.

That was not so for some. My daughter works part time at a theater. They had to call the police when a wheel chair-bound lady attacked a pregnant lady. Silent night, holy night....

I read about a store clerk who attacked and viciously stabbed a customer in a mall in Jackson, MS. All is calm...

America has a ready answer for such events: holiday stress. I watched morning news broadcasts that told me over and over again about how to avoid holiday stress.

Let's go to the root problem, folks. Jesus is not the main thing for too many of us. Our families may be; our own reputation as being a generous giver may be; but Jesus, the reason for the season (pardon the cliche), is playing second or third chair in our symphony.

The dust has settled for many of us. So take stock this week. What kind of holiday was it for you?

Blessed Are the Persecuted

This is not what I intended to write today. But I just read a news story that I feel compelled to share. It's about defacing a Nativity scene in Oregon. In case you do not read the story, let me give you the first paragraph: "Vandals stole baby Jesus figures from two west Eugene nativity scenes early Thursday and left severed pigs’ heads in their places. Police are calling it a possible bias crime."

The act was heinous. The desecration revealed the souls of some very sick people. If a joke, it was a sick one; think of the children who may have witnessed that scene.

As bad as the act itself was, the last two words were what caught my attention: "bias crime." In our PC world, if this had happened to any other group it would have been a hate crime. If it had happened to those claiming certain immoral sexual freedoms, it would have been a hate crime. If it had happened to certain other religious groups, it would have been a hate crime. If it happened to certain ethnic groups, it would have been a hate crime. But it happens to families celebrating Christ's birth and it is called a bias crime. What is wrong with that scene? Who chose to soften the reality of this crime?

What's more, according to the reporter, the police did not seem to consider the act worthy of response--at least initially. They were content to take reports over the phone. The act seems to convey the message that crimes against Christians are not important enough to respond to. Christ's prophecy to his disciples is being fulfilled: "if they persecuted me, they will persecute you also." - John 15:20

My point is succinct: if it is hatred towards others, called it hatred towards Christians, too. Don't apply a double standard.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

In ?? We Trust

Agnostics and atheists want to expunge God from America's motto and pledge. Yes, Mr. Newdow is back in court. He thinks that the name of God has no place in America's life. He would have us remove God from public life.

Much like his predecessor, Ms. Murray-"O"Hairy," Mr. Newdow suffers from the delusion that the courts will give him control over America's implicit trust in God. Given that he is working through those infamous Californian federal courts, that may happen on a temporary basis. Then wiser minds will prevail and things will revert to its historical normalcy once again.

Mr. Newdow reminds me of my daughters when they were around 18 months old. We would play hide and seek. My daughters would cover their eyes and, to them, they disappeared from our sight. No one could see them! Then suddenly they would uncover their eyes and there they would be once again. Mr. Newdow's fallacy is not unlike that. He believes he can expunge God from American life by hiding the motto, by removing the name of God from the pledge, by attempting the silence the voice of Christians and Jews who happen to believe those words. Cover his name and God disappears. God was here before the motto and pledge, and God will be here long after, should it ever be removed.

Or perhaps we should only replace it. With what would we replace the name of God, Mr. Newdow? Allah? Self? Buddha? Krishni? With what?

If the likes of Michael Newdow, whose right to protest is protected under this nation's constitution, do not wish to tolerate my belief in God, then may they find an island and start their own nation.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Telling the Story

It's December. For many, many Christian denominations, that means missions offerings. Some churches have their own system for collecting missions offerings; but many churches still wait until December to make their push for international missions.

I spoke in one of those churches last week, and in another one this morning. My wife Pam spoke in a different one this morning. Tonight, we will speak together in a church that emphasizes their international missions in December. In fact, we will be busy the rest of the month doing just that.

And we love doing it.

We love sharing the story about what God is doing in South America. It's a great thing. It's a joy to share our story, especially if it motivates someone to dig into their pockets and give so others can hear the great story of salvation in the Lord Jesus.

Southern Baptists are challenged to give 165 million dollars this year. The truth is we could give it and never miss it. We could give 300 million and not miss it. We ought to. If we give 165 million dollars this year, we will be able to maintain (thanks to the falling dollar), and grow a little bit. If we were to give 300 million, we could send out twice as many men and women, which would mean that many others would hear the gospel.

Whatever your affiliation, don't be afraid to give a generous offering this Christmas. Put the salvation of others ahead of that new HD flatscreen (yes, that is one thing that I would get if I could). Give so we can continue to tell the story of Jesus!

Monday, November 26, 2007

A New Cyber Voice

A friend has begun blogging today. His site is called Shepherd's Voice. You can read his first post here.

Someone told me today that so many people are blogging now that this activity is passe. I don't know if that is true, or not. I do know there are untold numbers of opinions floating around out in cyberspace. My intent is to continue to try to point men and women to the one source of true contentment and true life: the Lord Jesus Christ.

Have a blessed day!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Church, Part 3

Here is the final installment of Dr. Adams' messages on the church. I hope they have been a blessing for you.

"Portrait of a Great Church"

Psalm 127:1
Matthew 16:18

A black man was trying to get into a white church during the 60's when racism was epidemic. Sunday by Sunday some of the deacons kept watch at the door and turned this black man away from every service. Finally, the black man summoned for the pastor to ask why he was not allowed in their church. The pastor met him on the steps and seeking to avoid the issue simply told the man, "Well, fellow, you just need to pray about it." One day, weeks later, the pastor saw the black man in town and wondering why he had not made any more attempts to enter his church facetiously asked him if he had prayed about the whole situation. The black man replied, "Yes sir, I prayed about it and the Lord said buddy, I've been trying to get in that church for 20 years and they won't let me in either."

You know some churches think they've got it and they're blind to the fact that they don't even count with God. I mentioned Samson this morning and the Bible says about Samson that he "wist not that the LORD was departed from him." Jesus is conspicuously absent from some churches and they don't even know it. Jesus said, "I will build my church." Somebody has hijacked the blueprint! The contractors of this age are building ecclesiastical empires they call churches that leave you scratching your head when you've got any knowledge of the New Testament.

Now, before I go any further I want to say that you can get into trouble saying you want to be a New Testament church. Which New Testament church do you want to be? Do you want to be the church at Ephesus who had lost her first love? Do you want to be the church at Sardis, that had a name of being a live church but was dead? Do you want to be the Laodicean church that was lukewarm and made God sick? Do you want to be the Philippian church for whom Paul said "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you," but had two fighting women in that church? How about the Corinthian church that was full of divisions and a man who had an affair with his stepmother? Which church do you want to be? The point of that message is that greatness in a church is not measured by the fruit but by the root. The fruit can be rotten on an otherwise good tree if the worms get in the fruit. We have the worms of superficial Christianity. What you see of their faith is just on the surface and it belies their heart. That's when you take the name but you don't take the aim. If you call yourself a Christian, you've took His name, you ought to walk with Christ. Your greatest pursuit must be to be like Jesus or you are a disgrace to all of heaven's causes on earth. We can never have great churches with fake Christians anymore than a hungry man can have delight when he picks up the fruit from the fruit basket and finds it is a wooden apple.

Secondly, we have the worms of shrewd confession. You know some Christians in some churches have made an art out of confessing sin that is nothing short of mockery to God. It is almost popular nowadays to say, "you know I know I'm not perfect; I sin just like everybody else; I'm trying to live the best Christian life I can even though there are some things I do I know is not right with God." The way some folks tackle repentance would make you think the Church was put in the business of just refurbishing the Old Adam. God's word says, "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy." My dear friend, you can get down at an old fashioned altar and cry great big crocodile tears for the sins you've committed and if that is all you do you'll get up with those sins embedded in your soul like leaches. We need some old-fashioned repentance in the church if we want to have a great church. We've got to get on beyond the business of confessing to the profit-making of forsaking known sin in our lives. Confessing is only the business. Forsaking sin is the profit. Any business that doesn't make a profit is soon bankrupt. Any soul that confesses the sin on Sunday and jumps right back into it on Monday hasn't forsaken anything and will soon close His account with God in the minus column.

We also have the worms of sick commitment. It is absolutely surprising today what some church members consider to be acceptable commitment in their eyes to their church. Why, if half the workers in the local town factory showed as much commitment to their jobs as some church members show to their churches the boss would fire them on the spot. Jesus said this would happen in Matthew 24;12, "And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold." I heard about two pastors that were discussing the lack of commitment in their churches. One pastor said, "my church is too near the lake and too many of my people love to go boating." The other pastor responded, "Well, my church is just as near to the lake as yours but the problem in my church is not that we are too close to the lake but that we are not close enough to the Lord." Churches never become great in the midst of divided loyalties and misplaced priorities. Well, that is just the introduction and now I've got to start preaching.

This morning we discovered that God defines a great church as one that has great power, great grace, and great fear. There is no power without the favor of God and there is no favor of God without the fear of God. I'd like to have a great church, wouldn't you, with the power of God, the grace of God, and the fear of God all over us. Let me move on tonight to give you three other things in the book of Acts that God says makes up a great church.

Great Persecution

The fourth thing that makes a great church will shock you. It is great persecution. Look with me to Acts 8:1. Saul, who was soon to be the apostle Paul, had orchestrated the stoning of the great Christian, Stephen. They were about to bury the body of Stephen and Luke records these words, "And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles." Vance Havner, the great Southern Baptist evangelist, wrote in 1958, "We are not meeting opposition because we have come to terms with the world. We are living in peaceful coexistence with the age, forgetting that the friend of the world is the enemy of God. Such a policy will produce a popular and prosperous church, a great church in the eyes of men, but it will be part of the apostate world-church shaping up before our eyes." Paul clearly told Timothy, "all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution."
You know it could be that the church no longer has the guts to upset the forces of evil in the community anymore which explains why we're not persecuted for anything anymore. The beer taverns are afraid of us anymore like they were afraid of Billy Sunday. The dope dealers aren't threatened by us anymore. On the contrary, half their business is in the church membership. The divorce courts, the multiple marriages, the unwed pregnancies, and the bedrooms of fornication in America wink at the modern day church because we've swept such sin under the rug with open invitation to one and all to be arrogant and proud of our lifestyles. Is it any wonder that the Church today has shrunk in God's eyes and Jezebel hasn't the least bit of fear of Elijah in our day? God is calling His church today to be done with the done with the comfort in sin and get on with the business of confrontation of sin. We need to get over making Christianity acceptable to the world. That is a waste of time. We need to get on with preaching sin kills, hell is hot, sinners are condemned, grace is not cheap, and God has not changed. That is what will make a great church even if we are disliked, disbelieved, discouraged, and disowned. One of these days the true church will DIS-APPEAR, and that great church will have left a message behind that the persecutors will have to swallow whether they like it or not. Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Great Joy

Fifthly, God describes a great church in Acts 8 as one of great joy. Listen to it. Verse 6 says, "And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. And there was great joy in that city." Did you see it? Their joy was based upon the experience of God's power and favor in their midst. The joy is missing in most churches today because they don't ever see God doing much that is unmistakably God. They see man doing a lot but God is not even answering their 911 calls. Do you know why that is? It is because the joy of the Lord stands on two feet. What two feet? John 13:17 tells us. "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." There it is. The left foot is "knowing" and the right foot is 'doing." Joy comes from the knowing and the doing of the will of God no matter what the struggles may be. Listen, if you know what you're supposed to do for God and you back off from doing it you have just killed your joy. Did you know that?

So many churches today have become joy factories. The only problem is that it is synthetic or artificial joy. Big choirs, rockin' musicians, back-patting preachers, luxury buildings that dazzle the eye - all just to send you away home on Sunday with dazzled mind. Beloved, joy doesn't happen in the mind. Joy happens in the heart. It comes in an obedient relationship with Jesus Christ, not some eye-dazzling, ear-tickling, heart pulling church service that teases for the moment and leaves you empty later. The problem with all this is we've made joy the goal instead of the result. Joy comes as the result of all I've preached today. When God's people wait on His empowerment, walk in His favor, and work for His glory, not ours, joy automatically comes and stays. So many churches today look like the First Sad Sack Church of Pity Town, USA, or they look like the Second Put-On Baptist Church of Self-Righteousville, America. Either way it is missing God's true joy.

Great Numbers

Now, finally I want you to know that God describes a great church as one of great numbers. Acts 11:21 says, "And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord." When I read the book of Acts and the record of growing Christianity in the first century I am sorely pressed in spirit as to why that is not happening today. I mean God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, right? So when they started out with 120 in the upper room, which grew to three thousand souls by Acts 2:41, which grew to 7000 souls by Acts 4:4, and who knows how many by the end of the book, and I see we can't get a corporal's guard on Sunday night in most Baptist churches, I have to ask myself whose fault is that. It sure isn't God's! When it says that multitudes of men and women were added to the Lord after the death of Ananias and Sapphira I question what is wrong with the church today. When it says they chose deacons in Acts 6 and "the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem, and a great company of priests were obedient to the faith, I can't help but wonder where is the missing ingredient.

The reality we need to come to grips with in the church today is God's kingdom is not about counting the numbers but making the numbers count. The text says, "and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord . Now that's a number that makes a difference. David made that mistake in counting the numbers of Israel for the wrong reason. When I was a teenager I found it a mystery that Moses was commanded to count Israel in the book of Numbers but 500 years later David does the same thing and God is so angry He makes David choose one of three punishments: seven months famine, three months on the run from his enemies, or three days of pestilence. David chose the pestilence and it infected and killed 70,000 men, 5 percent of the soldiers he counted. Why would God ask Moses to number the people and be angry when David numbered them. The answer is in the purpose. In Israel, the only time God permitted the numbering of the people was for the military draft or for taxation. David numbered the people because his rebellious son Absalom was leading the people against his father. Likely, David was tempted to see how many men would fight for him should it come to a battle. The scripture tells us it was 10 months before David realized he had sinned and then one day his heart smote him for what he had done. Why was he convicted? Because he had numbered the people for the wrong reason. He was putting his faith in the numbers rather than in God. Joab tried to get him to see that before he ever numbered the people.

Today, the church is falling into the same trap. One church is jealous of another church if that other church has more in attendance. Another pastor goes around bragging with a swelled head of all the nickels and noses he has in his church. Another pastor is traded off like a piece of spoiled meat if the powers that be in his church decide he isn't producing the numbers they want. God didn't call me to produce the numbers. God called me to preach the Word and to help you go after the numbers but remember this: no man produces the numbers. It is God that giveth the increase. On and on I could go of how we have totally gone blind to God's plan for a great church. The only reason God is interested in numbers in His church is if they really count for the glory of Christ. What good is it if you can pack the pews when you won't penetrate the world with the gospel message of Christ? Are those 50 witnessing for Jesus? Are those thousands growing in their faith? Are those 150 baptisms last year functioning in Christian service? Let me let you in on a secret about God's math for the church. If the additions are doing nothing for the Kingdom of God but sitting on the pews then it doesn't matter how much you multiply you still come up in the minus column according to God. Two or three times nothing is still nothing. God didn't just say fill up the pew. God said fill up the heart with "whatsoever He has taught us" so that they can be productive disciples in the church. We've got enough spiritual deadbeats in the church today as it is.

I'll close by telling you a story about numbers. A census taker stopped at this house and asked the mother who came to the door how many kids she had in the home. The mother said, "Well, there is Billy, Harry, Martha, and..." The census taker interrupted and said, "never mind the names, ma'am, just give me the number." Indignant the mother replied, "fellow, they don't have numbers, all they've got is names." Folks, if Aletheia Baptist Fellowship wants to be a great church we've got to really care about people. We may not like what comes with the name but if all we're out for is numbers everybody will know we're not as great as we think we are. Love the people for God's sake and let the Lord add to our numbers as He sees fit. Now, that is a great ministry.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Church, Part 2

Here is part 2 of Dr. Adams' message on the church:

Great Grace

Secondly, a great New Testament church has great power and also great grace. The end of Acts 4:33 says, "and great grace was upon them all." I have been studying and meditating on that passage for two weeks and it has intrigued me deeply in my spirit. Whatever this condition was on the Jerusalem church it was impressive, intuitive and inclusive. It was impressive because Luke calls it great grace. It was not small grace. It was not puny grace. It was not midget grace. It was giant, large, unmistakably huge grace. It was intuitive because Luke says it was upon them. Note that word "upon." When you get saved the grace of God comes in you to forgive you, cleanse you, and make you a new person from the inside out. But Acts 4:33 is different. It is grace that is upon them. A chicken can lay an egg but you really can't see the egg because the egg is inside the shell. But if I were to throw that egg and hit you in the face with it you've got egg on your face, don't you, and everybody can see it. It is right out in plain sight. You can't see forgiveness. You can't see the blood wash away a man's sins. That is unseen and inside. But the grace of Acts 4:33 is outside and wonderfully visible. Hold on to that thought. Finally, this grace, great grace, is inclusive. Luke says it was upon them "all." Nobody in that Jerusalem church at that time who were saved missed out on this condition. You could go from one church member to another church member to another church member and one by one you could see this great grace clearly manifest on all their lives. Today we're living in times of "spot grace" on the church and it is hard to spot. Few believers have what this talks about enough to recognize it. What in the world is Luke referring to here when he speaks of great grace upon them all?

I believe the answer goes back nearly 4000 years to man named Noah. In Genesis 6:8 you read, "But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD." Noah had the favor of God on his life when God wanted to destroy every other living soul on the earth. I wonder sometimes if God just wouldn't like to shut the doors of some of America's churches because they have completely lost the favor of God. I'm sure the only reason He keeps them open is to testify of what it is like when a church has completely lost the favor of God. Do you know what that looks like? Have you seen that in churches but you were unwilling to make the diagnosis? I'll tell you what it looks like. First of all, the love is gone. The love of God demanded His grace and the grace of God declared His love. These are companion blessings in a church and when one is gone the other is nowhere to be found. "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." My dear friends, if the favor of God is to be seen upon our fellowship in such an impressive way you and I will be so touched by God's unmerited favor on our lives that we can't help but share that same love and grace with each other. If you lose that you lose the greatness in your church. Not only is the love gone when God's favor is missing. The light is gone. The lights have not only gone out in Georgia but in all fifty states of America where God's church does not yearn for the favor of God. You'll see it in the church when people fight the message and the messenger. The reason why somebody can't see the truth is because they are in the dark. They reject the light, run from the light, and eventually relinquish and forfeit the light. Light doesn't stay around in persistent darkness. Light likes light and darkness likes darkness. If light stays around darkness and tries to coexist, pretty soon the light will be extinguished. You can park your car in a dark garage overnight with the lights on high beam and you'll have a dead battery by morning. Try explaining that experience to someone by telling them you thought your garage stuff would be better by morning if you left the light on. They'll think you're crazy. I'll tell you so many Christians trying to be light today hang around darkness thinking that eventually they'll make an impact and change the darkness when the truth is all they are doing is running their battery down. If darkness will not come to the light it is because their deeds are evil and they love evil according to John 3:19.

The favor of God totally leaves a church when they will not receive the light of God's truth. Finally, you can tell when the favor of God is gone from a church. Not only is the love gone. Not only is the light gone. The luster is gone. A diamond ring that has lost its luster is just a rock. A church that has lost the favor of God is just a building on the street. It might as well be bulldozed down as to continue on without God's blessings. When the favor of God is on a church the preaching anointed. When the favor of God is on the church the offerings are astonishing. When the favor of God is on the church the invitations are amazing. When the favor of God is on the church the fellowship is appealing. When the favor of God is on the church the vision for ministry is awesome. When the favor of God is on the church the love is authentic. And when the favor of God is on the church the presence of God's Holy Spirit is apparent. A great church according to God has great grace upon all the members. Do you have the favor of God on your life? This church can be no greater than the favor of God on your life.

Great Fear

Thirdly, our last point in this morning's message is that a great church has great fear. Great power, great grace, and great fear is what God says makes up a great church. In Acts 5 we read that it didn't take long for a good thing to start spoiling. This great church in Jerusalem that had oneness, generosity, and the favor of God also had Ananias and Sapphira in the membership. God struck Ananias and Sapphira dead for pretending a full dedication of their property and proceeds to the benevolent ministries of that church. If they had just sold the property and said they got $100,000 for it but were only willing to give half of it to the church they could have still been on the finance committee. But no, they lied and said they were giving all they got for the property to the church when in truth they were holding back part of the proceeds. What happened shocked the whole town and the undertaker. We read twice in Acts 5, verses 5 and 11, that "great fear came on all them that heard these things; and great fear came upon all the church." The Ananias and Sapphira club prospers in the modern day church and the fear of God has been lost in Christendom. It might do us some good today to call all five undertakers in this city to stand outside our church doors on Sunday with their hearses and the prophet of God to declare at the threshold, "if you come into this church today and your worship is not in spirit and truth; your Christian life is a lie, these men are here to give you a ride home to the cemetery."
Great churches do not search with their eyes frantically to find happiness as much as they squint their eyes to aim at holiness. We're too busy planning fun and have forgotten our fear of God. Preachers have lost their fear of God because they stand in their pulpits and powder puff iniquity and put cold cream on the cancers of sin in their congregation. Church members think they can bow at the altar of Baal on Saturday nights, drink their cocktails, sleep with whomever they wish, as long as they come in on Sunday and sing ever so piously "I'd Rather Have Jesus." I tell you we have lost the ability to be horrified at sin in the church today. Preachers are dishing out sun baths to church members when they really need surgery. But church members have become so brazen in conscious sin the pulpit pump might as well be pumping up a balloon full of
holes. Beloved, we are in the last days before Christ comes. According to Revelation 21:2, He is coming to get a bride that will be adorned for her husband. The bridegroom is not interested in a powerless church. The bridegroom is not interested in a love-less church. The bridegroom is not interested in a church with soiled garments. The Bridegroom is coming for a great church who has made preparations and is looking for His return. Are you going to be ready?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Taking a Fresh Look at the Church, Part One

A friend of mine, Dr. William Timothy Adams, recently preached a message about the church. Now, being a church planter of sorts, his message interested me. I am including the first of two or three parts for your consideration.

"Portrait of a Great Church"
Psalm 35:18

I have been to some great churches in my life. In 1979, I had the privilege to go to the largest church in our denomination at that time, the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas. My reason for going to that church was the reputation of the pastor, Dr. W.A. (Wally Amos) Criswell. He was known in our convention for being the champion of conservative theology and belief in the perfect inspiration of the Bible. We went to the early service and I discovered that Dr. Criswell only preached the 11 o'clock service so I didn't even get to hear him that day.

In 1981, I had the privilege to enter into two other great churches around Cincinnati, Ohio. My friend, Johnny Holloway, pastored the First Baptist Church of Dayton, Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati. In that church there were 10 old-time stained glass windows that towered on the walls of the sanctuary 15 feet tall. Each of those beautiful windows depicted some scene in the life of Christ. Johnny told me that the church had insured each of those windows for $100,000 apiece. The First Baptist Church of Dayton, Kentucky was known for its colored crystal worth a million dollars. Johnny was a pretty good preacher too. Johnny took me over into Cincinnati one day to a Catholic church. I stood there that day in that cathedral church admiring the massive ceilings some 200 feet high with all the Romanesque architecture. The windows had wooden doors that closed to keep the light out and those doors on the windows were at least 75 feet tall. That church was known for its building.

In 1997, I had the awesome experience to visit in Adrian Rogers church, Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. I have in my library several books by Rogers and also his predecessor, R.G. Lee. Dr. Lee preached a famous sermon all over this country called "Payday Someday." The sermon was preached over a 1000 times all over the world actually as R.G. Lee traveled 100,000 miles a year in his 18 year post-retirement ministry. You can almost hear him speak the sermon from the grave: "And now with the introduction of these four characters— Naboth, the devout Jezreelite—Ahab, the vile human toad who squatted befoulingly on the throne of the nation— Jezebel, the beautiful adder beside the toad—and Elijah, the prophet of the living God, I bring you the tragedy of 'Pay-day—Someday'." Bellevue Baptist Church has always been considered great because of her preachers. It is a sign of the times for sure that such a church in these days has begun to attack their preacher, Steve Gaines, just like the attack upon Jerry Sutton, at Two Rivers Baptist Church, another church famous for its evangelistic efforts through the years.

Men and women, I fear that the portrait of a great church is crumbling today just like a toddler turns over the massive picture of a 750 piece jigsaw puzzle labored over by someone for weeks to get all the pieces together. Now it lays on the floor in a jumbled mess. What God meant to be his finest portrait of heaven on earth has now become a pile of disjointed intentions only fit to be swept up in the box of time and stored in the closet of nothingness if we do not recover our true reason for existence. I further fear the church has lost her relevance in our world due to two arenas of total defeat: the arena of compromise and the arena of carnality. We have laid our head like Samson in the lap of Delilah flirting with this world's God-defying ways and she has sheared the strands of our power. We stand powerless to turn back the tide of sin's cesspool because we take a bath in it every Friday and Saturday night before we go to church on Sunday.
Someone has rightly said that if you put a ship in the water it will sail fairly well but when you get water in the ship she will sink. Our churches are sinking today, having no influence on sinners who need to get saved, because they see no holiness in our ranks. Furthermore, we have traded our birthright for a mess of pottage.
Aletheia Baptist Fellowship is all about going back to the old-fashioned ways, the unchanging truth of God's Book. The more I live and pastor the more I despise what some churches have become. We've got dance halls that still call themselves churches. We've got theme parks pumping out entertainment with God's money for youth and adults alike that still call themselves churches. The look like "great" churches because they've got big budgets, big buildings, big crowds, and big, I mean really big shows. Ed Sullivan would have been proud. The only thing is the modern day church today is big where the New Testament church was small and small where the New Testament Church was big. Aletheia Baptist Fellowship is all about forsaking the trends of the times and following the Truth of the Ages getting back to what the Bible says is a great church.

David said, "I will give thee thanks in the great congregation: I will praise thee among much people." Do we even know what a great congregation is today? Having begun in the Spirit shall we close out this age in the church finishing in the flesh? I hope not. I would hate to face Jesus with that record. I will be found leading a church when Jesus comes in New Testament greatness or be hiding in the woods in shame. What is a great church? When David speaks of the great congregation in this Psalm it is obvious that he means a great number of people since he says that very thing: "I will praise thee among much people." The congregation of Israel numbered in the millions. Yet, David did not mind to be totally different than the crowd. He speaks in this Psalm about those who are fighting him, devising his hurt. David was so strong in his stand for God that the people around him were mocking him and rejoicing when he had adversity. He characterizes himself as a "darling" to be rescued from the lions. I'll tell you today that the church, the true church needs to be rescued from the lions of business, worldliness, emptiness, coldness, and smugness. We need to repent, recharge, resurrect, and revive to the Lord's plan. I tell you I'm sick of humbug churches with tranquilizing preachers. God give us great churches with New Testament greatness. I want to give you six things God describes as a great church today as we take a short and quick journey through the book of Acts. You're going to find these Heavenly definitions of a great church in Acts 4, 5, 8, and 11. I will read the passages for you.

Great Power

First of all, a great church according to God, (not according to you or me, not according to the Tennessee Baptist Convention, not according to the local newspaper) has great power. Acts 4:33 says, "And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus." Folks, the key to New Testament greatness in the church is not in the implementation of programs but in the impartation of power from a mighty God. I've come to a time in my life and ministry where I absolutely do not want to do church at all without the power of God upon us.
Let me tell you how that is going to happen. It will happen the same way it happened in the first century church of the Bible. It will come by tarrying and telling. It will come by waiting and witnessing. It will come by experiencing and expressing. Jesus told His disciples to wait in the upper room until they were endued with power from on high by the Holy Spirit. In most churches today we wouldn't know the difference if the Holy Spirit went into retirement. If God doesn't show up we'll resort to plan B and just get on with the program. That is not greatness. That is foolishness. A great church according to God in the New Testament is a Spirit-filled church. But we don't even know what the term means. You can only be a Spirit-filled church as the believers in that church are Spirit-filled. A Spirit-filled Christian is not to make you a spectacle or an obstacle. It is to make you a miracle. Some folks think if you're Spirit-filled you'll have particular manifestations in your life which will mesmerize the congregation. I'm here to tell you that God doesn't fill you with His Spirit to show you off. God fills you with His Spirit to show off Jesus. You don't get the first-billing and anything that calls attention to you is no evidence of Spirit-given power.

That leads me to the second proof of God's empowerment to the church. I said it will come by tarrying and telling. God doesn't empower you to show you off but to send you out. God doesn't fill you to parade you but to employ you in the gospel witness. Notice what the verse says again. "And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus." Acts 1:8 says, "And ye shall receive power... and ye shall be witnesses."
God never promises His power to any church who neglects God's primary business. There is no power for an entertaining church. There is no power for an ear-tickling preacher. There is no power for a social club church who thrives more on their in-house activities rather than out-of-the-house evangelism. We put the plug in the socket of God's power at the point of obedience to the Great Commission of God to go tell the world about Jesus. If we will not do that we're dead and there is no power in us. There is a lot of work in our churches but not much witnessing. You can't expect to have a great church that way. It's good to fix the chicken but its better to fix the soul of a man headed to hell. Its good to set up chairs for a meeting but its better to set up a meeting with an unbeliever so Jesus might become the Chairman of his heart. Are we going to do that at Aletheia or not? You may have a church the size of the Pentagon but if you do not have God's power you might as well be a doghouse, greenhouse, movie house, or madhouse as to claim to be God's house. The church needs to be a force for God not a farce to God. Greatness comes when it is obvious God's power is behind the operation.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

This Place Called America

I love America. I really do. I served our country almost 4 complete years. I still sing the National Anthem. I still place my hand over my heart when I say the pledge. I get misty-eyed at the sound of taps and the sight of the missing man formation when fighter jets fly over. I would not hesitate to answer "the call" even today.

Today I salute the thousands of men and women serving our country. Too often they get a bad rap by the media. In fact, if you listen closely, the media often insult the intelligence of those brave warriors. But I laud their prowess. I honor them.

This place called America has other warriors, too. They should be honored. I am speaking of men who are faithful preachers of the truth of God's word. Pastors are in the news lately, largely because of the most recent attention given by one of America's Senators.

I know there are some bad apples in the barrel. But folks, preachers too often get a bum rap. The average pastor, once respected as a leader in the community, now ranks down at the bottom with those particular lawyers who advertise big payoffs if you only use them to sue others. When that doesn't happen, he has to compete with those popular men who can afford to buy television time.

Yet on they plug, week in and week out; on they go, sharing the word of God, ministering to their flocks, and trying to encourage the downtrodden.

In the place called America these warriors are still able to preach and minister. So far. There is a subtle and dangerous move to eliminate those who are faithful to the word. There are attempts on the part of the perverted to make a hate crime of any speech against certain kinds of immorality. There is a theological move to lower Christianity to the level of false religions. Over half of evangelicals already believe that there is more than one way to be born again (but they are mistaken). More and more want us to denigrate the exclusive claims of the gospel.

I was reminded of that tonight. I was also reminded that there is one name whereby we must be saved: Jesus Christ. It does not matter your ethnic background, or your religious background. If you don't turn to Jesus Christ, you won't be saved.

In this place called America, I can say that. In some places around the world, I would be in jail for telling you that--if I lived. But if we do not repent, we may live to see the day that we cannot share that good news.

So, America, I have one word for you:


Monday, November 05, 2007

The Silence of the gods

Today we were greeted with a major news story in the United States; no, not the one about Pakistan. That was bad. No, not the falling stock market; that's old news. Today we learned that "Hollow-wood's" writers went on strike.

Me, oh my! What will we do? The entertainment gods' personal priests have gone on strike for more money. Those scribes of pornographic comedy and immoral one-liners have silenced their voices.

All we will see for some time to come will be retreads and reality junk. And we are supposed to groan and writhe in agony? PLEASE! Somebody give them a lollipop and tell them to stay on strike awhile longer. Okay, maybe the idea of reality shows is a repugnant one. But the idea of these witless wonders staying on strike for a few weeks is so pleasant to my mind.

America, wean yourself from your entertainment gods! Go outside and take a walk.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Somewhere in South[ern] America

Last Wednesday I left my wife and youngest daughter and headed for the airport. Check-in, normally a lengthy process, was a breeze. I was walking upstairs to enjoy a cup of coffee within 5 minutes of my arrival at the airport.

I walked down to the advertised gate--gate 19. As I looked out at our Boeing 767-300, I relished the idea of a daytime flight; we always travel at night. This was going to be delightful. But something was not quite right. The ground crew was lounging on the steps, not loading luggage, not readying the plane.

My suspicions were finally confirmed. That plane was not leaving for Miami. The dreaded words, "We're sorry to inform you that Flight 510 to Miami has been delayed," were announced to the chagrin of more than one hundred travellers. I meandered up to an agent and asked her how long of a delay. She told me she would let me know at 11. Eleven came and went. I went back. "Oh," she said. "I've been looking for you (I was no more than 20 feet away at any given time). You are one of 3 passengers who will miss their connections in Miami. We have to make other arrangements."

Now folks, I have always wanted to hear some of those words: "you are one of 3. . ." But I wanted it to end with ". . . winners, chosen at random for an all-expense paid trip around the world, culminating in box seats at next year's Super Bowl." Or, maybe, ". . .one of 3 winners of a new Lotus, plus five years of gasoline." But I did not want to hear that I was going to miss my connection.

I should have been more spiritual. I should have said, "Great! That means there is someone in Miami that needs to hear the gospel." But I was not so spiritual. I was not angry; after all, it was not that agent's fault that the plane had technical problems (to put it in her words). I was pretty glad I was not on that plane, in the air, only to discover that there was a mechanical failure that would mean we would get to discover the skill level of the pilot as he took us down into the cold Pacific Ocean. I really was not interested in seeing if my life vest would inflate.

But my mind was set. My course was set. I was ready to be in South[ern] America. It wasn't going to happen on my timetable. By the way, I said something about that a few weeks ago. The plans of the heart belong to man... Mine were interrupted and took one of those interesting turns.

The airline was good to me. They put me up in a nice hotel; they gave me a $20 supper ticket in a place where one course alone cost that much. But at least I got that. And I got a free ride to and from the airport.

So the next day, Thursday, I arrived quite early at the Miami Airport. Guess what? I was once again one of the specially chosen ones. This time it was for the full search of my person and my carry-ons. I let them know I knew the drill and that it happened every single time I had ever traveled through the Miami Airport. I was only glad I had come to the airport early. Those kinds of delays have been known to make one miss a flight.

I made it to my final destination with no more troubles. Except one: I bought a soft drink from a vending machine in Atlanta. Those bottles hold 20 ounces. How on earth does one manage to drink that much liquid at one time? And WHY?? It's one more evidence of the self-indulging nature of many Americans. As the man said in his movie, SUPER SIZE ME! Once you drink those things, you have to (please forgive!) get rid of it at some point in time. So guess what? The stewardess (or whatever they are now called) announced, "Sorry, ladies and gentlemen; the 'facilities' on this plane are out of order." Do you know what such announcements do for you? It's a pyschological thing; but they make you want to go use "the facilities." It's like running water.

Now I am in the process of settling in. There is much to be done. Pam and Melissa are still back in South America. I am here, tending to issues we have to face. I want things to be smooth when they arrive. Our host church has gone a long way in making that possible. The home we are going to live in is nice and very comfortable. I even cooked a meal there tonight. We will be blessed in that home and church, I have no doubt.

So now it begins; a new chapter in a new volume. For the next ten months, more or less, we are somewhere in South[ern] America.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Final Pages of this Life Volume

Tomorrow is the last page of a long chapter in this volume of our life, and the first page of a new chapter in a new volume. At 10:40, I will fly north towards the great nation called the United States.

Looking back, it's been some ride. We returned to South America thinking we would do one thing. Before we even stepped foot on South American soil, we found that our job had changed. Not that we minded; we are here for the Lord's pleasure. It seemed that it pleased him to change our roles.

What have we seen in the past term of ministry? We have seen victory above all else. We have seen scores--hundreds--pray to receive Christ. We have seen dozens and dozens respond to the call to missions and Christian ministry. God started churches in some areas; in other areas, some churches ceased to meet. We helped build a community in one place. In another, the community gave us their building for us to meet church.

There have been joys in abundance. We have laughed and enjoyed deeply the presence of Jesus in our midst. Friends have been plentiful. There has been good fellowship with believers, both missionaries and nationals. Pam and I were even "officially married" in a local church in our 25th wedding anniversary. It was a fun celebration.

There have also been heartaches. But in all of it God has proven himself the faithful friend he tells us he is. We have been knocked to the ground, metaphorically speaking; but we were able to stand back up because our strength is not from us. Our strength is that same resurrection power that raised Jesus from the dead and seated him at the right hand of God in heavenly places. There he reigns victorious, above all principalities and powers. Here he reigns victorious in our hearts.

There have been battles. You don't start churches, win the lost, train leaders, disciple new believers, and other things important to starting churches without them.

Sometimes the battles have been intense. It's only the grace of Jesus that has enabled us to hold our heads high in those times.

Sometimes the battles have been personal. We are flesh and blood. We are not perfect. There are times we think we are farther along in our walk with the Lord, when suddenly someone does something or says something that reveals that our old nature still lurks behind some closed door. That old nature stinks, by the way; it's rotting and rotten. My old tennis shoes smell better!

We are looking forward to this time of rest. Our supervisor told us today to be sure to do just that. He told us to rest, to love on our two daughters living stateside, and to do all we could to not be thinking on this ministry we are leaving behind.

We are looking forward to writing a new chapter in our next life volume. The pages are clean, the pen is in the hand of a ready writer. What will it say? I don't know, because I don't know what the future holds; but I know who holds the future, as the song says!

The next time I write, I will be somewhere in southern America.

Peace! Kevin Shearer

Sunday, October 21, 2007

What's Happening in the Earthquake Zone?

It's been a long time since I posted anything about the earthquake relief efforts. You can actually find regular updates at Jeff and Judy Hughes do a good job keeping things updated.

Here is what I know from my conversations with those working there: we have as many as ten outreach groups in and around Ica. God has opened so many doors via our regular daily efforts there.

The men have returned to work and are once again earning a living--albeit a meager one. We are at the point of wrapping up the food deliveries for the food kitchens. That part of the ministry will end soon. We will continue to provide breakfast needs to the kitchens for the many children, until the end of December.

Our big push now is in the area of cleanup. In all the department (equivalent to a state in the US) of Ica, some 320 thousand people suffered extensive damage to their homes. Most of those are in the city of Ica. We have regular teams coming in, mainly from South Carolina, to help with cleaning up the lots where the houses once stood.

Each time we help with something like this, it demonstrates that our Lord Jesus Christ is interested in and loves these hurting people. Yes, like all of us, they have sinned and fallen short of his perfect glory. Yes, they, like we, deserve to be punished for that sinfulness. And yes, Jesus Christ died for their sins, just as he died for yours and mine. Jesus wants them to know this. Jesus sent men and women to proclaim this in the midst of their pain.

And they are responding. We seek no glory. It's all for Jesus. We are just enjoying the ride.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ordered Steps

A man’s heart plans his way,
But the LORD directs his steps. - Prov. 16:9
Those are words we need to remember. Make your plans. Prepare your week, your month, your year. Plan out your life. But remember this: it's the Lord who orders your steps. And his ways won't necessarily be yours.
Have you ever floated down a river? I have never known a river that is perfectly straight, or without it's sandbars, fallen logs, or sudden twists and turns. Life is like that. But when you let God direct--order--your steps, the ride is much easier to enjoy.
So when 2 weeks ago a wise man told us we needed to change our plans, we had to listen. We had to pray. And finally, this past Saturday morning, we had to decide to trust the Lord to direct our steps.
We are returning to the states 9 months earlier than we planned. We will also stay a little longer than we planned. It's a personal thing. But God is in control. We have had more than one confirmation that our decision is a good one. It's sudden. But it is necessary.
We are sad, even heart-broken, over leaving our ministries so suddenly. But we are confident that the Lord has ordered our steps. It's a faith thing. It's the only way to live.
I will continue to write from our place of residence in Mississippi. I will continue to keep a pulse on things here in our place of ministry.
Why? Because our steps have been ordered. Our Lord has called us to it.

Monday, October 08, 2007

A Good Work

There are certain words that should be used carefully and sparingly. I am speaking of superlatives: great! wonderful! magnificent! terrible! horrible! And then there is "awesome." We should save that one for our Lord God; the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Having given that caveat, I am now going to describe last week with the Mississippi Singing Churchmen: Great! Wonderful! Magnificent!

The presence of God was awesome.

Their attitudes were second to none.

Their work was excellent.

God saved scores of men and women. I do not even have a final tally, but it will be close to one hundred who made professions of faith.

The president of Congress, Luis Gonzales de Posada, and I share comments regarding our work.

We shared with the powerful and with the poor. We worked in the inner city and the outlying areas. The group sang in schools and in parks. They worked, as we say in Mississippi, "can to can't." Sixteen hour days were normal. Twice we had a break and only worked twelve hours.

In the end, it was all a joyful celebration of the hand of God in our midst.

Thanks, Churchmen. Thanks, prayer warriors. Thanks to the Lord, above all else.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Out of the Comfort Zone

On Sunday, we rubbed shoulders with people of considerable means. On Monday, our choir of 49 walked dirt streets, weaving between houses made of mat or thin plywood, and rubbed shoulders with men and women whose clothes were tattered and whose children could have taken two baths and still left a ring in the tub--if there was a tub to be found, that is.

These good men were definitely out of their comfort zone. But they handled it well, believe me. Their hearts swelled with joy and thankfulness. One man strained to read his notes under the dim lights that characterize most indoor lighting in that community (it was dark by then); I told him, "I bet you never complain about the lighting in your church again." He laughed and assured me that his complaining days were over. Walking down those streets has a way of doing it.

One big man gave me a bruising hug, thanking me repeatedly. He kept speaking of how needy those people were. I told him that he had to look past their physical poverty and recognize that their spiritual poverty was a far greater problem.

In all, The Mississippi Singing Churchmen have now sung to more than 2,500 people. They have seen more than 50 professions of faith. Their ministry is impacting Lima; but the Churchmen are being impacted, too.

They left their comfort zone when they stepped off Delta Flight 335. They fell into a wonderland of strange sights and sounds when they drove out of the airport gates. Now some wonder why they did not do this sooner.

It's a good thing to leave your comfort zone. It does wonders for your faith level. Don't get stuck on a lower level; don't be content when God can take you farther.

Just purpose to step out of the comfort zone. But do it God's way. Heed the voice of Jesus and go where and when he says to go.

Friday, September 28, 2007

War of the Worlds

We live in a place of constant warfare. All of us do, as a matter of fact. Physical wars aside, there are wars that take place in and around us that we need to remember. There is a war--a conflict with culture. If you are a committed follower of the Lord Jesus, and are not in conflict with the culture in which you live, there could be something seriously wrong about your concept of true Christianity.

We are at war with our own desires, too. They constantly pull us in different directions. As Paul said in Romans 7, the good I want to do is not what I end up doing. The evil I do not want to do is what do. I bet you can relate! I can!

We have a war with the forces of evil--with the devil. His forces are working against us.

So why was I surprised today when things began heating up related to my next volunteer group? Why was I surprised when certain entities in this country began seeking to shut us down and keep us from proclaiming Jesus all around the city? I don't know! But I was. I guess I took my eyes off the Master; off our Lord Jesus Christ.

I can't wait to see what God is up to. He must have something really big planned. The forces of the world and of darkness are working hard to stop us. Stay tuned. I will update you as I can next week.

Jesus is Lord. He wins the war of the worlds.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A God Day

Yesterday I walked the streets of that former landfill now known as Oasis. It was cloudy--one of those heavy clouds we see that promises rain, but never comes through for us; that's how it is in a desert. The volunteers with me looked at the rain and commented, "Looks like rain." "Yep," I said. "But don't count on it; it doesn't rain here." So we stood there on that sand and dirt street with an icy wind whipping us as though we had taken the last cookie from the cookie jar. My sweater, normally enough for me, barely served as a wind-breaker.

I sent my team out to pass out flyers of an upcoming concert we will have in the area. While they passed out flyers, smiling and nodding (not one spoke any Spanish), I proceeded to walk amongst the people I have grown to love and enjoy being around. I played with children, boys and girls alike. I exchanged slaps on the back with the men. I hugged and kissed the ladies (ahem! on the cheek). More than once I heard, "Where have you been? Have you abandoned us?" I explained that I had been out taking care of other ministries. That was not good enough. They want a better explanation. So I used the "E" word: earthquake. Then they understood.

Before long, I found myself talking to Mario. Mario is 84. He has cancer. He is tired of living in pain. I offered to pray. It was all I could do; I don't have $100 a month for the pills they said would prolong his life. I prayed, asking God to bless Mario. He interrupted me, "It's Mario RODRIGUEZ." He wanted to be sure God blessed the right Mario. I told God I knew he heard what Mario had just said. I asked for strength, peace, and healing. Before praying I asked Mario if he knew the Lord Jesus; he told me he knew him with all his heart. It's much easier to pray for a man who says he knows the Lord.

Then I wandered down a narrow alley till I found Judith. Judith is a beautiful 18-year-old (approximately) who just gave birth to an even more beautiful baby girl. "Come see my baby," she said, excitedly. I stooped and went into the small straw mat hut with dirt floors. Theirs is better than some; they have three rooms. It was warm enough inside (thankfully). There, in the middle of the only bed they own, lay that precious baby. Judith looked up with proud, but pleading eyes. "Please pray for Chris; she has a lung infection and a blood infection." I did. Chris cried all the way through, sneezing from time to time. I told Judith I would be back. Judith has her own health needs. I know some doctors who plan to help meet them.

Everywhere I went, God used me to meet some need in someone's life. Everywhere I went, the people asked if I would be there that Sunday. I told them I would try. And I will. After all, you cannot plant a church down here if you do not walk among the people, seeking ways to meet them where they are.

I walked back to the main road, ignoring the most recent bite from the winter winds that blew around me. It was a good day. It was a "God" day.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

When God Speaks

Divine Grace Baptist Church is in the metro Lima area. It's over 30 years old. They have never started another church.

In recent months God has been at work in Divine Grace Baptist. The pastor has been stretched. God is challenging him. Recently, they took a group down to Ica to help in the recovery efforts there. All reports about their team were glowing; they did everything possible to make a difference. Someone working there challenged them to consider adopting one community and making it their field. The pastor, a good man, but young, was reluctant. The missionary reminded him to see if God was speaking to Divine Grace. She told him to find out where God was working and recognize that as God's invitation to join him (thanks, Dr. Blackaby, for that lesson on faith).

So, timidly, almost reluctantly, the pastor asked the church what they thought about taking on three (not one; THREE) communities: two in the Lima area, one in Ica. He was not prepared for the response. Men and women, young and old alike, stood to their feet to pledge their support and volunteer to serve on the three teams.

My friend Gamaliel (according to one of his church members) was surprised by the response. It overwhelmed him. He discovered that God was speaking to His church even while He was speaking to Gamaliel.

And when God speaks we have a choice: we either obey or we run.

What will you do?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Routing the Enemy

As I said in my last post, we are in the process of upsetting the opposition. The workers are finding such an openness to the good news of Jesus Christ. We have a number of areas where our workers are sharing the gospel, where we have been asked specifically by the people to start some kind of work. God is truly at work.

We are feeding over 18 thousand people, more than 4 thousand families. Each person our teams encounter have a moving story to share. Some of those stories are miraculous. Some are heart-wrenching.

I have been here in Lima for most of that. My presence here enables others to minister there. I want badly to be there; but things just are not working out to be there.

Still, I have a story to share. One of our newest works is Torre Fuerte (Strong Tower) Baptist Church. It's been in existence since April. Now listen: there are 30 - 40 adults attending each week. Most of them have made a profession of faith in Christ, but have not yet been baptized. Yet, they are there.

Strong Tower is in the community where we helped to build a retaining wall. That project earned its money the day of the earthquake. The residents there earn just about $100 a month. That's $1,200 a year.

They asked me last Sunday if they could participate in our disaster relief in Ica. This church of very poor people have collected food, clothing, and other goods. Next weekend six of them will travel to Ica to deliver these goods to our team; they will help distribute the food and minister in those ravaged communities.

It is going to be an exciting moment in the life of a brand new church. They are starting out right. They are thinking upward and outward, not inward and downward.

The enemy is being routed. What happened in Peru has resulted in spiritual and numerical growth in the Family of God.

To God be all the glory....

Monday, September 03, 2007

A Lesson in Faith

This story will be told in full at a later point. For now, get ready to be rocked. Our relief team in Ica found yet another community that needed help. They are already helping over 18,000 people. But it seemed that this community was one that the relief team needed to be in. So they went in to check it out. They found a group of very hungry people. There was no food to be had.

The missionaries told the people to get ready, that they would be back. When they came back, the pots in the common kitchen were washed; the people were lined up in an orderly line; there was firewood under the pot; and the lady in charge was holding a match in her hand. They were ready. Everyone present was moved to tears. It was a divine appointment.

How many times are we ready when we have asked God to meet our needs? How many times do we have the pot ready for the food and the match in hand?

Oh, to have such a faith every single day!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Upsetting the Opposition

Today was a day of upsets. One of the big names in women's tennis was shocked by a teen from Poland. I have never even heard of the girl who won. Then there was the powerhouse Michigan, that Goliath of a football program who met the Davidic Appalachian State. Now I have heard of Michigan. I know of their prowess on the field and on the basketball court. Michigan started the day ranked number 5; it will feel the sting of that stone for weeks to come.

We are in the process of creating an upset, too. Our disaster relief teams will go out in the morning, armed with nothing but the word of God. Did I say nothing? The word of God is alive and powerful; it cuts deeper than any sword or surgical tool you know. The power of the word is the Living God. His Holy Spirit breathes life into them. The Bible is his words to us. They are real, relevant, and for you and me.

So our teams in Ica will head out to 6 different locations tomorrow. They will enter the realm of the hurting and disillusioned and present them with God's truth. The enemy may not have caused the horrible earthquake that shattered their lives; I don't think Satan is that powerful. But he has certainly tried to make something of it since then. We intend to upset his plans. We intend to be David before Goliath. The team has its pouch filled with smooth stones. They have readied their slings. They will not miss the mark.

Tomorrow is going to be a good day to be a servant of the all-powerful God, through his son Jesus, and in the power of his Holy Spirit. If you are not on his side, it's time to join the winning team.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Most Recent from Ica

This morning, Pam and Melissa headed down to Ica in a two-truck caravan. Pam and Melissa will be there until Monday, at the latest. Pam has given a lot to this project in the past two weeks. When she was not in Ica, she was here, often working on gathering supplies until nearly midnight. Please pray for Pam (featured below) and others like her who have given so much of themselves to this effort.

Today she told me that the people of Ica are very sensitive to the gospel right now. She said we could start ten Bible studies tomorrow if we had the personnel to pull it off. My heart was crushed; we have personnel. There are believers living there. But the believers living there (and here, for that matter) are still bound up and convinced that they are somehow inferior and incapable of leading out in such a work. I want to ask you to pray for God to raise up workers among those of Ica. Pray for God to free up our resources!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Photos from Ica

Outside a hut this family erected when their house in Ica
was destroyed in the August 15th magnitude 8 earthquake

God has given us a small window of oportunity to change a country for the glory of Jesus.
Pray we will be wise in our stewardship of resources and time!

Relief Work Continues

In interest of time, if you are interested in updates on the relief work in and around Ica, please go to: Jeff and Judy Hughes have done a great job keeping that blog updated with the latest information.

Our Peruvian Baptist partners are working hard in Chincha, another hard-hit city. Some of our missionaries are headed there in the morning to try to help with food distribution for many homeless families.

Men and women are responsive to the gospel. Their hearts are tender, due to this terrible tragedy. Even in Lima we are seeing positive things happening as a result of their brush with disaster. Where I preached on Sunday (a day to promote missions in a local church), many indicated they were repenting and believing on the Lord Jesus. Including those who recommitted their lives the Lord, there were 24 public decisions.

God is at work in Peru. Help us seek the Father's face so that we respond his way.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Ica, Peru: The Word Is Out

I just got off the phone with some of our missionaries onsite in Ica. The word is out that a group of missionaries is helping the earthquake victims. Our disaster relief leader is being overwhelmed with more requests for help for more communities.

Please pray for our team to have wisdom in the distribution of the supplies we purchase. You can only imagine what it is like to have hungry men and women staring at you, hoping for some help in the midst of their dire circumstances. We are grateful for their confidence; we are grateful for the outpouring of love by many from around the world. But we need to be very judicious in our support.

Some of the team has returned to Lima today; they will head back to Ica tomorrow. Others are returning to Lima tomorrow to get more supplies for the base camp. They will return to Ica on Thursday.

Me? Well, the work here has to be done, too; I have my hands full with that. Have you ever tried to work without a heart? My heart is down there, amongst those hurting people. I am in a real pickle; I need to be here, but I want to be there.

Pray for Peru! Now is the time for a spiritual awakening of great proportions.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Saturday News from Ica

The earthquake has changed the heart of Peru for the next few weeks, at least. I hope it changes Peru forever--for the good.

Today I heard from our base camp in Ica. The missionaries are working hard distributing food and other items in stricken areas. Then we learned today that there is one community that was almost completely destroyed and has not received any help from anyone. They have not eaten in two days. The research team that discovered them found a well-organized system; all they needed was the means to prepare the food and the food to prepare. Our team quickly prepared relief packages and are in the process of delivering them to this community.

Tonight another truck leaves carrying supplies to the base camp in Ica. Pray for their safe arrival.

The Peruvian Baptist Convention is preparing to enter into Chincha, another devastated city. They need to make a difference there, too. Their research team left out today to prepare a base camp to meet needs there. Next week, once the team has reported back, we will prepare supplies for that camp.

We are preparing and distributing supplies; their physical needs must be met. But we also desire to meet the deeper needs in their lives. We are spiritual beings. We must meet those spiritual needs. There is only one acceptable food for that spiritual need: the word of God, the Bible. We will minister this with as much passion, if not more, as we have demonstrated in reaching their physical needs.

May we all be more concerned with the eternal!

Friday, August 24, 2007

News from the Quake Zone

I just returned from Ica, Peru. Ica is the largest of the cities that fell victim to the August 15th 's magnitude 8 earthquake. In some ways we were pleasantly surprised; but in others, we could only weep with those who wept.

The surprise was how quickly the government had the Pan American Highway up and repaired enough for regular transit. There was this one bridge, though, that we did not relish crossing. On the way back even that bridge had been closed and a by-pass set up; this confirmed our earlier reluctance to cross it.

We arrived in Ica in a relatively short amount of time. There were still plenty of closed roads all over the city, but the main thoroughfares were open and well-transited. Up and down the deserted side streets, one could see house after house, store after store crumbled; it was as though a boy stomped on his sand castle and kicked the pieces all over.

But the government agencies were hard at work, cleaning up the rubble that littered the streets.

Meanwhile, our team was hard at work, readying the damaged church property to serve as our base camp for relief in the Ica area. We had to finish tearing down a damaged wall; we had to tear down the collapsed roofing structure; and we had to clean up pounds of dirt, bricks, and adobe.

Yesterday some of us went out to coordinate our first attempts at food distribution. We walked among shells of adobe houses. The initial panic was over, but the people were still hungry. The Peruvian Government is slowly and systematically delivering primitive stoves and gas bottles, along with a large cook pot. The rice and other goods had already arrived. Their spirits were good. One father and his little boy approached me with a big smile, thankful for our attempts to help them.

No words and no still photos can truly capture the essence of what we saw and experienced in the past week. We need your continued prayers. We need your prayers for lives to be radically changed in Peru. Of the nearly 30 million who live in Peru, close to 27 million live a Christ-less life. We need Jesus to make a difference.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Setting Up Operations

Our lead team has determined that Ica, Peru will be the base of operations. We can set up there for housing purposes; but please pray for the relief team to find a place to store the goods we will obtain to distribute to the earthquake victims. Today they tore down the front wall of the church property. It was leaning, about to fall out into the road. Tomorrow we will purchase plywood and put up a temporary wall.

Two trucks of us will head out tomorrow (Wednesday) morning. Our purpose is to help set up the base camp and begin the tedious, but very important, logistics coordination.

Pray for a safe trip for those traveling.

Quake relief efforts

Fox News carried an interesting story this morning. You can read it here.

Baptist Press also carried an interesting article. You can read that here.

We are trying to find drinking water to take down with us tomorrow; it's for our teams. It's a challenge. Most water companies have sent their boxes of water down to the relief effort. Yes, they sell water in boxes here. Naturally, it's in a thick plastic bag with a spout, and only contained inside the box; but it makes it easier for transportation.

We are making progress; but we can't seem to make it quickly enough. God grant us patience and endurance to run this long race...

You can follow other updates at our relief information site.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Quake Response

Tomorrow, a team heads out to "ground zero" to find a place to set up a base camp for our relief operations. The team will also be looking for contacts among certain groups that will enable us to coordinate the relief the most efficient manner possible.

On Wednesday, a second team will head out with much the same purpose. Some of them will be going down to try to counsel us as to how extensive our response should be. Others will be part of those who will dedicate the next couple of weeks to the establishment of the base camp and the logistics network in the quake area.

In addition to this team, another one will depart from Arequipa to travel to Nazca, a city south of Ica, to research the availability and prices of basic items for more immediate relief. It will be easier to get some things shipped to Ica from there than from Lima.

On Thursday, a team will travel down to aid in both relief and perhaps equipping the base camp. Since conditions are nowhere close to optimum, those going down most likely will be roughing it for the duration of their time in the area.

Thank your your overwhelming response and encouragement to us closest to the disaster.

The Tragedy of the Michael Vick Saga

This is a respite from the constant news about the earthquake. My mind needs the break.

Mr. Vick is in trouble. He reached an agreement with law officials. His crime? Dogfighting. Mr. Vick may go to jail for this. He can spend up to five years in prison for his crime. What he did is ugly. It's despicable.

The tragedy is this: Mr. Vick will probably go to jail for killing dogs. That's probably something he deserves. Killing dogs for sport is a sick-minded thing. Yet, hundreds of men and women who murder babies through abortion walk the streets of America as free men and women. Kill a dog and go to jail; kill a baby and make a few thousand bucks.

That is the tragedy of the Michael Vick saga. His crime is worse. Dogs win. Babies lose. America loses.

God help us.

Planning and Preparation for Disaster Relief

The Mission has already sent one team down; their job was to assess the damages from last Wednesday's earthquake, give some immediate relief to the few they could help on short notice, and then return with a report. We meet today to form the response teams.

There are several teams in place all over the stricken area. But there are so many communities that were affected that no single entity can do this alone. We plan to be as strategic as possible, sending help where we can make the most difference.

Meanwhile, the aftershocks continue; with them, death continues to sting the survivors. Yesterday's 5.7 aftershock claimed a 12-year-old boy when a cement beam fell on his head. He had gone over to that part of his fallen house to pick up the sledge hammer and bring it to his father. It was his last act of obedience.

Heart-wrenching stories like this can be replicated a thousand-fold. There is no way to paint an accurate picture.

One local paper showed hundreds trudging out of the city, looking for other places to live. Hunger is driving them out. There is no food to be had. What food is available is under lock and key for fear of looting and robbery.

On the positive side, one pastor lost all he had. His house was completely destroyed. Yet, this man of God ignored his and his family's needs for shelter to help his and surrounding communities with their needs. His selflessness is astounding. May we find many more like Pastor Cesar before this tragedy ends!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

More Photos from Ica

The front wall of the Baptist Church in Ica leans precariously over the sidewalk.

This family stands within distance of the civil defense tent (black, in the background) set up in that area to try to meet some of the needs.

Note the dog sitting on top of his master's "house," as though he was guarding the remaining possessions.

The Earthquake: A Perspective from Within

The following is from the relief team leader's report to our regional leadership:

The first city we arrived in was in Cañete. We went to a section of the town were we have a new Baptist church. This community is called Santa Cruz. There are about 300 adults in the community. Counting children, the community is over 1000. This area suffered some structural damages to houses with 8 to 10 houses be completely destroyed. These families were sleeping out in an open field. They did not have any type of shelter. The community had been without water and electricity for two days. The community had organized a common kitchen area. With large pots, they were cooking food for everyone who could contribute something. While we were there, a small water truck from the government arrived. However, he only had a limited amount of water and was not planning to return to the community. Through the local pastor, we were able to contract a water truck to provide water for the next several days. We want to return to provide some temporary shelter for these the 8 to 10 families. There is the potential for a volunteer team to help with rebuilding the homes, since there was so few that was completely demolished. We would probably want to build the homes with materials that are similar to the other houses.

We went on to the next major town called Chincha. We decided to leave the trucks full of supplies on the main road and Debbie and I entered the town with the pastor and British missionary. The concern I had was that if the people saw the trucks full of supplies, they would want the items. We did not have enough to give out to large groups. The town, like most of the area was without electricity. When we entered the town, there was a lot of damage to the brick buildings downtown but some of the greater damage was in the poor areas. In these areas, the houses are made of adobe (mud brick) walls. We have a new Baptist work in a poor area called Pueblo Nuevo. Caesar, the young pastor, lost his entire house. When I refer to “house” I am typically referring to a one or two room structure. It is incredible to see the concern of this pastor for helping the people in his community when his house was one of the hardest hit. There were blocks of these houses that were completely demolished. In his community there are about 120 families. Again, the greatest need was water, food and shelter.

Caesar then took us to a larger community called Húsare de Junin. This community has 360 families. When we arrived in the community in my truck, several hundred people quickly made two lines behind the truck, ready to receive any help. I was very surprised how orderly the people were. This was not the case in most of the communities. I had to explain to them that this was an investigation trip. As we talked to several hundred people, the main need they had was for food and water. We told them that we would try to get a water truck to help them that day and return with other supplies. We rode around the town of Chincha in search of a water truck who would take water to these people. Water in these towns is a business. Owners drill wells then use trucks to sell water to the poor communities. We went to several areas that had wells many were already empty and the ones who had water did not want to sell it to us. We were very discouraged. Then we say another truck and Pepe and Caesar approached the driver. The driver was moved by our desire to help the people. He agreed to take water to the communities and only charge $16 dollars for over 5000 gallons of water. Only God can make that happen! We left money with Cesar to take 6 loads of water to the communities in the next several days. We need to return to these two communities to provide food and shelter.

In these two communities in Chincha (really, all of Chincha), the markets had closed because of looting. The small stores that were still selling food had raised the price to as much as 3 times the normal cost. The people who had a little money were not able to get it since it was under the rubble of their homes. Due to the disaster the town has virtually stopped functioning. There was no work and most people live day to day, buying food with the money they earn in that same day.

I will also add that when we were leaving the community Húsare de Junin, we made a wrong turn and entered another community. Several hundred people approached our vehicle asking for help. The people were somewhat upset that we were unable to help them. They were yelling things like, we need water, we need food. We left this area with several people running after our vehicle. While the people did not harm us or the vehicle, we understand how volatile the situation is. The people are desperate. In several occasions when we were talking to the people, they expressed their frustration that no help is arriving. They would often say, If you cannot give food to all of us, please give some food to the children.

When we left Chincha, we went toward Pisco. This town is one that has made much of the headlines. Most of the deaths had occurred in Pisco. It took several hours to get to Pisco because of the damage done to the roads. There were places that the asphalt road had been lifted or dropped 4 feet. Some parts of the road had slid off the cliff on the side to the ocean. Another difficult part of the stretch of road was damage done to a bridge. We waited over 2 ½ hours to cross the bridge. They would only let a few cars cross at a time. While we were waiting in line, looters were assaulting the vehicles that had supplies. There were some military soldiers who would shoot in the air and run off the looters. However, when the soldiers were some distance away, the looters would return. Some of them were able to open the back of one of our trucks and take several items. We were finally able to get the attention of one of the police who chased the looters off. This type of looting was happening all along the road from Chincha to Pisco, to Ica. When we approached Pisco, we decided not to enter the town for several reasons. One was that we did not have a contact in that town. Another reason was that our trucks were loaded with supplies that were headed for Ica and we felt that we could be at risk for looters. When we returned to Lima we would go through Pisco with the trucks empty.

We continued to Ica. We have a Baptist church in Ica. The Pastor of the church is named Daniel Terrones. When we arrived at the church, we had to unload the supplies quickly. There was a lot of looting taking place in Ica. The day before, the main market was closed due to looting. The church was completely destroyed. The front wall is leaning forward to the point that is will fall at any minute. Since no one can enter through the front door, the only access to the church is climbing on the roof of the property next door and going down a stairway to the pastor’s house that is connect to the church. The church is about 30 by 60 feet with a metal roof structure. The columns on one side of the church collapsed causing the roof structure to fall.

That evening, I went with the pastor of the church and Pepe Flores to a community called, Los Pollitos. This community is a squatters area. There are over 300 families in this community. It was dark when we arrived in the community. However, I could tell that most of the houses were completely destroyed. We talked to the people and asked them to prepare a list of every family. The community did not have water so we said that we would return the next day to talk about how to get water to them. Like all communities, we prayed for their needs and thanked God for sparing their lives. of their homes. In this area, like most of the areas we visited, the evenings drop into the 40s° with heavy mist.

There is a small school beside the church property. The guard of the school agreed to allow us to park our trucks in the school, on the courtyard. This was another work of God. The town of Ica is not safe and I was concerned about where to park our vehicles. The guard said that as long we were gone before the administrator of the school arrived at 8:00, we could stay. Several of the missionaries slept in the vehicles while others slept on the floor in a school room. Throughout the night we heard gun shots, police whistles and people shouting. Since the community had not electricity, there was looting most of the night. Several of the looters would approach a house with guns. They would enter the house and rob what they could. At times, people would bang on the metal gate that led into the school parking lot. I stayed awake most of the night walking around the vehicles. At one point in the night, we had two significant tremors. We could hear a lot of people screaming. They were running into the streets, thinking that another earthquake was happening. The people in the area are very traumatized.

The next day, we returned to the community, we found that they had water. Since this community is near more developed residential housing, they have access to several water faucets. We mentioned to them that God had heard our prayers and had help restore the water. However, as we looked at the houses, every house was damaged. Most were completely destroyed. The needs were similar, food, blankets and shelter. They also asked for flashlights since at nights, looters would come in and carry off any item they had that had survived the earthquake. Most of the people were sleeping in the streets, in front of the rubble of their homes. In this area, like most of the areas we visited, the evenings drop into the 40s° with heavy mist. The needs were obvious. While there were over 100 people around us, we were able to talk to the four community leaders. They presented a list of all families living in the fours sectors of the community. We told that we would plan to return with food and plastic to help them have temporary shelter. While we were talking with them, two other communities came to use with the list of their families. We quickly toured their communities, noting similar situations. We told the people that our contact was pastor Daniel.

When we returned to the church decided on a plan to distribute the water, blankets, and hygiene kits. The pastor would work with the community leaders to decide who has the greatest need at this moment. He would rent a taxi to take the materials to them. The pastor also mentioned several church members than needed some of the supplies. We had originally planned on giving out the supplies while we were in Ica but due to great number of people who where in need and the problems of looting, we decided it would be best for the pastor to give out these items on a personal basis. One idea he is going to do is to give each church member several of the hygiene bags. They are to find people in need and use the bags as a witnessing tool.

After we met with the pastor we began our trip home. The traffic around the difficult parts in the road had increased. In fact we passed about 16 miles of stopped cars and trucks going in the opposite direction. I know that many of these vehicles will not make it past the difficult areas of the road until tomorrow. On the way home we went to another town called Paracas. This town is directly on the ocean. When the earthquake hit, the large waves entered all the houses. While it did not demolish the houses, it did do damage. However, the houses are still livable, once the mud is cleaned out. We talked with a volunteer groups from the Civil Defense of Columbia. They mentioned that the 200 to 300 people would not return to their homes. They were living on a large sand dune. They were afraid to return to their homes. The problem is that they are out in the open without any shelter. The volunteer group has met many of the immediate medical needs of the people. They did share with us that they were low on medical supplies. They shared with us the most common medicines used in their disaster relief response. This list will assist us in the future. We may purchase some medicines to help this volunteer group. We don´t feel that we need to give anything to the people at this time but we could help in the cleanup.

From Paracas we went through parts of Pisco, the town we had bypassed earlier. There is considerable damage in this town. We later found out that one of the members of the church where Debbie and I attend has family in Pisco. This person may be a good contact for us. We should know more about this person this next week.

We arrive in Lima around 6:00 this evening. The return trip took about 9 hours. It typically takes 4 hours for us to make the same trip.

We found the people to be very responsive to our help and open to talk about God. Several times Pepe Flores mentioned to the people that they were blessed because they were still alive. They openly agreed with him. Pepe led the large groups in prayer, asking for Gods protection, provision, and forgiveness for not always following him. It was incredible to hear several hundred people repeating the prayer that Pepe was leading. This prayer will lead many toward a saving knowledge of Jesus. It was also so encouraging to hear Pepe and the local pastors talk about how they could start new churches and cell groups among the communities we are going to help.

Pray for Peru!