Last night while the big game for the NFL was broadcast on NBC and Hallmark was showing yet another Christmas movie, a country music superstar came out of self-imposed semi-retirement. The Garth Brooks Stadium Tour has begun and the concert recorded in the rain at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana in October aired on CBS last night. The production quality of Brooks' concert was incredible. He has been known for his live shows since breaking onto the scene over two decades ago. While other country singers would stand behind a microphone in their starched Wranglers while playing guitar and belting out hits (George Strait, Alan Jackson, et. al.) Brooks would wear the wrap-around microphone that he must have either borrowed from Madonna or the Drive-Thru worker at Chick-fil-A, run around the stage or at times, pull a Bon Jovi and fly above the crowd. Brooks is an entertainer for certain.
Whether you like his music or not, there's no denying he has appeal for many. The stadium was packed. It was raining. It was cold. And while I know that post-production can do some pretty amazing things, based on tweets and reports online from those who were in attendance, plus what was seen on television, the crowd LOVED the show.
So, what does this have to do with anything related to church, Christianity, worship, or anything else spiritual?
While watching last night, I said to my wife "Brooks has the crowd in his hand. He's no evangelist, but he's evangelizing and the crowd is 'amening" their approval." I followed up with "If he asked people to come down front to make a decision, they'd come in droves." This was not a condemnation on crusades or the traditional "come down the aisle" moment in many churches. I was just noting that what we were observing in this very well produced event was something that we have seen in religious settings as well (albeit with fewer people in the crowd.)
My friend and pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Dean Inserra tweeted as the concert was completing:
Lessons to learn for the church from Garth Brooks concert on tv:
-People like to sing songs they know. -Good songs don’t get old. -You don’t have to be a top shelf singer to lead people in song.
Some of you reading will be upset that I, a Baptist preacher, may seem to be condoning the message or lifestyle promoted in Brooks' songs. Well, I'm not. However, I do know the words of many of the hits he played. I like some more than others. Yet, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who actually has a radio in their vehicle, an iTunes or Amazon Music account or who has been alive for the past twenty years or so who does not know at least some of the words to "Friends in Low Places."
Christmas at Church
No I do not recommend singing "Callin' Baton Rouge" at your Christmas Eve service. Yet, I do find some insight from this event that was on television last night. Spurred on by Dean Inserra's tweet, I recommend the following to pastors who are trying to find ways to connect with their communities during this Christmas season.
Plan Well. Every community is different, so know yours. If you don't...you have more issues than Chris Gaines. Presuming you know the people in your community, plan a service that will connect with them and allow them to not only feel welcomed, but encouraged that there is a God who loves them deeply. If your service is planned for church people, you will only connect with church people (yours and those who are members of other churches.) It's easy to plan a church service for church people. Don't.
Preach Clearly. Christmas sermons are sometimes the most difficult for pastors, because we (pastors) all too often try to be really creative and end up missing the point. Jesus is the point. He always is. He always must be. The "birth of Jesus" story is known by many, but don't presume it is rightly known by the crowd in your building. Some view the story of the nativity as little more than than a holiday fairy tale or myth on par with the Rudolph, Frosty, and Grinch stories. (BTW - I like all those stories and even the Charlie Brown one.) BTW - just because it's Christmas, don't leave Jesus as a baby in a manger. Get to the cross. Preach the resurrection. A little Easter at Christmas is needed by all.
Provide the Familiar. Sing songs that people have heard. Is it a sin to sing "Jingle Bells"? I say no. However, sing the carols that glorify the Christ. Don't skip or ignore those. People have heard them. Many know the words. They may just sing along. The words point to Christ. Christ is the point, remember? Sing about him. Worship him with these classics. It's possible. And, as we saw with Brooks' incredible show, you don't even have to have the very best singer in town on the stage leading. You do need to be able to lead people to sing, however. In the age of performance worship and having to present the latest pop-song worship chorus, many in the room are left watching and missing the opportunity to worship with song. Vicarious worship is not the goal. The best worship leaders are the leaders who worship.
Present the Decision. Don't forget to draw the net (that's an evangelism term that refers to giving people the opportunity to respond) and express to all who have attended your special Christmas Eve or seasonal service that God loves them. He sent his son. He wants to know them personally and they can receive something more than a temporal gift wrapped in paper. Life is available. Whether you allow people to respond by calling them down front, offering them a moment to meet with you following the service, giving them a link on your app to click, or a number to text does not matter. There are numerous ways to give people the opportunity to respond. Just don't leave it left undone. Otherwise, you will once again evaluate your service with your staff and say "We had a good crowd, but we're not sure if anyone made a decision and therefore, have no way to follow up." Yep - we've done this way too often.
What you don't need to have an effective Christmas service is the production budget of Garth. Don't be who you're not and don't fret that you don't have unlimited resources for smoke machines, lighting, or other effects. If you have those things, that's fine, but those are not the point when the true focus is clear.
So this Baptist preacher learned something from a country singer with hits about drinking, cheating, dancing, and a false narrative about prayer while performing on stage with a man dressed as a leprechaun at a Catholic university.
We launched our second year of GameDay Church on September 11. This church service/event in the parking lot of EverBank Field prior to the Jaguars - Packers game drew a crowd and allowed us to engage in gospel-centric conversations with those walking by and hanging out at our tailgate event. Being that it was September 11, I felt that addressing the fifteenth anniversary of the tragic day of terror that hit our nation was appropriate.
Here is a transcript of my message on 9/11 with reference to Matthew 9. Thanks to Jon Wood, our campus minister at IslandChurch for the story regarding the Eagles - Redskins football game.
A few years ago there was an NFL game scheduled on a Sunday, but rather than a 1pm start, this one started at 2pm. That’s strange, but not the strangest thing about this game.
The game was being played between the Redskins and the Eagles. Philadelphia was out of the playoff hunt, but they were looking to play the role of spoiler. The Redskins were sitting at .500 and were in a position to squeak into the playoffs, but needed the win.
The game began with the Eagles taking an early lead.
The Redskins took advantage of a Philly turnover and scored in the second quarter, to tie it up at 7 apiece. Not really an offensive game so far.
The game continued on and the fans who remained in the stands to watch what became a very sloppy game did so because, they’re well…fans.
The Eagles ended up turning the ball over more and the Redskins won. The game ended as most everyone thought.
And once the game was over, no one cared.
That game was over about 5pm and because of the way news spread at the time, the things happening globally that day became known by the fans and players by the end of the game. The announcer at the game, it’s is said, began asking some of the fans in the stands to report to certain areas immediately.
You see, on that day, December 7, 1941, everything changed.
America was divided at the time. Can you imagine a divided America? It was severe. Many thought the war was dumb and we shouldn’t bother or get involved. Others thought we must. Then, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor happened and there was no longer a valid option of sitting on the sidelines. America was thrust into World War II.
Those men who were called out of the stadium were active-duty military personnel. They were now at war. More would join. The entire nation would engage, even on the home front.
Fifteen years ago, another day began, just like every other day. People got up, had their coffee, went to work and then planes hit towers, a plane hit the Pentagon and one even crashed in Pennsylvania. The news reports were horrendous and clear.
Things had changed.
We now live in a post 9/11 world now and are reminded of that even as we enter EverBank today for the game. The metal detectors and bag searches are now normal.
Going to the airport and flying is different than it used to be.
We have a "new normal" because of these horrendous acts.
Sometimes, a regular day, or at least our plans for a regular day, can end up life-changing.
In these cases, the changes were brought on by attacks and terrorism. But, there are moments in life that are also unexpected, that lead to more positive and encouraging life-change.
In the Bible, there was a man named Matthew. He was a Jewish man, but not liked by his people. He was considered a sell-out. He was working for the occupying nation in his homeland by collecting taxes from his peers.
And, in those days, tax collectors were known to, and even expected to, fleece the people to pad their own pockets. The Roman government (the occupying one) didn’t care how much the native collectors gathered in taxes, as long as they had the amount Rome wanted. So, any extra they could get was for themselves.
So, Matthew goes to work on that day – just another day – nothing special expected, but something special did happen. Something he never saw coming.
As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”Matthew 9:9-13 (ESV)
Look at what happened. Jesus, the Son of God, intentionally went to a guy that the religious people, the neighbors, and others in the community did not like and would avoid if possible. Jesus went to him. He met him at his place of business, in his own comfort zone and offered him a chance at new life.
He said, “Follow me” which seems like the shortest invitation ever, and it was, but coming from Jesus, it was clearly strategic.
Matthew didn’t expect this, but was overwhelmed with the invite. “Me? Follow you? Seriously?” and he did.
Matthew became one of Jesus’ twelve apostles, one of his closest friends. He, like the others in Jesus group of close friends, would later be described as one of the men who was turning the world upside down, for good.
Just another day, right?
Everything changed and on this day, it changed for the better.
We can all relate to the 9/11 change, especially if you’re old enough to remember it. Some of us may remember Pearl Harbor, but at a minimum, we’ve read about it or watched the videos about it. We understand how those moments can change everything. And some of us here have a Matthew story – we understand how Jesus surprises us and changes everything. When we least expected it.
And maybe some here today will experience this. It’s just another Sunday. It’s another football game. It’s the start of the season. There was a day much like this last season and the season before, etc. But, today, you’re here and maybe, just maybe, Jesus is still doing what he did 2000 years ago. He’s meeting you when you least expected it and saying “Follow me.” Now, you get to decide to follow him or not.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Mt 9:9–13). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
When I was a kid, I would plant beans in cups in my room. It’s weird, but I was a weird kid. My mom would buy bags of dried beans at the grocery - you know lima beans, great northern (or butter) beans, etc. I’m not sure why I wanted to do this, but I would take some of those beans, put some dirt in a cup and plant them in a little one-bean garden in my room.
Eventually, this became part of the required science project in junior high school. Amazingly (at least to me) these beans would sprout and grow. I never had any beans grow on my bean plants, but they always would sprout and grow. Some became pretty tall.
I was probably the only kid in school growing beans in cups in my room. Now, I knew of some other students who grew plants in their rooms, but I was never allowed to hang out with them. I think they eventually got caught.
I was never a gardener, but some of you are. We have master gardeners here in the church family. I do not know the intricacies of gardening. It requires more patience than I have, I guess. But those of you who know more about that, know the principles referred to in Scripture regarding gardening and faith. You know, “You reap what you sow” and the like.
The Bible actually uses a number of references related to agriculture and life outside the city. It’s wise not to skip these portions just because you may not live on a farm or grow your own food. The deeper truths are there and vital.
In James' letter in the New Testament he speaks of the need to receive with meekness the implanted word. It made me think of those beans I used to plant, for some reason.
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. James 1:19-21 (ESV)
This is a reference to Christians who have been born again. This word is the gospel. It has been given to us as a gift. Jesus spoke of this. James referenced this.
In John’s account of Jesus’ life, he shares a moment where Jesus spoke to religious leaders who sought to kill him.
I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. John 8:37 (ESV)
Jesus is speaking to people who are people who were highly religious and looked upon well by those in society. They were the celebrity preachers of the day and were greatly loved. They knew their Bible (well, the Old Testament at least) and could quote it verbatim. They looked well, dressed well, spoke well and yet. . .Jesus calls them out.
Apparently, the implantation of the word of God (a phrase I never hear anyone using) is more biblical than “praying the prayer” and “asking Jesus into your heart.”
What Is the Result of Not Receiving This Word?
Apart from the reception of the implanted word, religion is dead.
Maybe that’s what has happened to most of the churches in our nation?
Maybe that’s why the mission has seemingly been forsaken?
Maybe that’s why we lament that “things are really getting bad?”
Maybe we have spent too much time focusing on behaving well rather than the reception of the word and therefore have fallen into the mundane walk of a religion with no power?
Could it be that we have unknowingly become more like the ones wanting to throw stones at Jesus than like Jesus Himself? Not consciously, but perhaps it has occurred.
Maybe that’s why it is so difficult a concept to quantify the command to “make disciples?”
Maybe that’s why we think that by doing more religious activity we are forwarding the Kingdom of God?
In the midst of this reality, there is great news. All we have to do is put away and receive.
New birth is received through surrender to God’s Spirit, the repentance of sin and reception of Jesus Christ as Lord.
The Spirit carries the word into our lives and reveals the truth of Christ that is not possible just by choice. It’s by God’s design.
Life is given through the word and through that word of Truth, we are transformed.
The Spirit of God dwells within the children of God. The word of God is implanted within the children of God.
Verse 21 tells us the result of receiving this implanted word is the salvation of our souls. Don’t underestimate this.
It’s truly a simple principle, when you think about it. “Put away” and “receive.” Maybe you have a desire, but that hasn’t been enough for you to see life change. Maybe you were sincere in your prayer to receive Christ. . .but still there’s something not quite right. It’s not about having everything figured out. It’s about total surrender - perhaps the one thing keeping many who have “prayed the prayer” from being disciples of Christ.
What if we did this? What if we received with meekness the implanted word? What if total surrender happened today? What if church attenders and even church members took the dangerous step of faith into living as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
It’s not adding something into our lives. It’s replacing something.
You and your sins must separate, or you and your God cannot come together. - Charles Spurgeon
I have had the honor of seeing many young men and women step up and say "Yes" to God regarding calling into ministry. As I reflected on the men and women serving Him in various churches, missions, ministries and even in the workplace that I have had the honor of knowing over the years, I have been humbled by God's grace.
Yesterday, we had the privilege of licensing and ordaining Robert L. Powell to the Gospel Ministry. Robert grew up in Orange Park as a regular attender and member of First Baptist Church. At age twelve, he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ and as a high school senior, he said "yes" to the calling into full-time ministry. He has since graduated from The Baptist College of Florida and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and currently serves as the Children's Ministry Assistant Pastor at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in Baker, Florida.
He has been called out, equipped, sent out and set apart for God's glory and His ministry.
Ever tried out for a sports team as a kid and discovered, much to your surprise, that when the final cuts were made, you were NOT on the team? That was my seventh grade baseball experience and effectively shifted me to basketball and a career of bad church softball.
There is a truly awkward feeling to show up at at party, thinking you are in the right place, only to discover that you weren't really invited.
Sometimes people feel this way in church or around believers. It's not a clique issue (though those are issues) but one of family. When the conversations go places spiritually and you just feel lost, thinking "What are they talking about?" there is a sense that you're standing at the punch bowl at the party, but truly aren't part of the group.
Some, tragically, have committed their lives to church or religion and missed Christ in the process. This type of faith is a superficial, dead faith and when trials come, is revealed for what it is.
Maybe this is why there are so many non-attending church members in our churches today, relegated to the "Whatever happened to them?" files.
This message looks at James chapter 1 and digs into this reality.
Yet, here's the good news of the Gospel - there is an open invitation to join the family of God. The gift of salvation awaits. Listen to this message and if you need to talk to someone personally about where you stand with Christ, comment below.
When you hear principles of parenting or marriage and you know the information is right and good, do you ever feel that for you and your family "it's too late"?
"If I knew then what I know now" is heard over and over again.
Knowing that God redeems our past is incredible, but sometimes even that doesn't bring the comfort needed. Why is this? In this message, I share plainly how we, as believers, are often victim to the lies that keep us from living as redeemed children of God in a redeemed family.
Pastor Bob Roberts shared at a conference I attended a few years ago. His global missions network is vast and he interacts with believers who live throughout the world. It has come to his realization that while American believers speak of Kingdom and the Kingship of God, it is a paradigm shift from everything we have been taught as children.
You see, as Americans, we live in a nation that was founded with a rebellion to a king. From our perspective, this is a good thing. It’s a historical milestone and we celebrate the Revolution and the heroes who have become our Founding Fathers.
Our nature, therefore is to celebrate human independence and freedom and to push back against monarchies where there is a ruler or ruling class. Yet, when we come together as believers, we speak of the King of kings and Lord of lords, worshipping God and praying for Kingdom miracles to occur and for His Kingdom to flourish.
We do this – and we should – but, often our nature pushes against this.
In this summer series at First Orange Park, we are focusing on Jesus’ answer to his disciples when asked "Lord, teach us to pray." His response is the model prayer, often called "The Lord's Prayer."
So, Jesus instructs them and gives them a template for their prayer – that if implemented, would change everything.
In this message, we look at the second element given to us by Christ as our model for effectively praying and communicating with God.
Pray then like this:"Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come – Matthew 6:9-10a (ESV)
One phrase – just half of a verse – yet, so impactful and powerful.
I am currently in Columbus, Ohio, gathering with thousands of family members (that's what it feels like) at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. I have been to numerous denominational meetings such as this in the past, but this year, there is a different feel.
I call it a meeting with family members, for that is what it truly is. Baptist brothers and sisters from throughout the land gather together and reconnect with old friends, worship together, make decisions that will impact many through policy affirmations. Like many families, we also grimace at some things said and done by others in the family. It is like being with others over a holiday and then the crazy uncle shows up. We love him, but we never know what he's going to do or say. Every family has that guy. Our SBC has those as well. And, if you can't figure out who he/she may be. . . it may be you.
A "REALITY SHOW"
Since I categorize our SBC meeting as a family gathering, in some ways it has become like the families featured on television reality shows. There is a sense of trying to just be family, but always knowing that the cameras (or in this case, the national news media as well as bloggers, Tweeters and Facebook posters are in the room as well. . .just watching and waiting.)
Personally, I am glad these guests are in the room, either physically or virtually, in that I believe God uses these avenues to ensure we (Baptists) stay on focus, in "witness-mode" and loving to all, even though we cannot be and will not be affirming to all.
On the heels of headlines that bemoan (or celebrate) the decline of evangelicals in America and statements in op-eds like this one have found places in national media outlets.
As Southern Baptists gather Tuesday for their annual summer meeting, gloom hangs over the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. (Thomas S. Kidd & Barry Hankins, The Washington Post)
While the reality is that numbers in Baptist life, such as membership and baptism, are in decline, I have not sensed an overwhelming sense of gloom in our gathering based on this. Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research continually reminds us that "facts are our friends." It's true. The scorecard that has been used for decades in SBC life has been flawed from the outset and while we all know the numbers we have seen in the past were never truly accurate, as Dr. Al Mohler stated at a Baptist21 gathering, "We've never really trusted our numbers, but we bragged on them when they worked for us."
This is true.
Yet, in the midst of facing the facts of these numbers, this convention meeting has become one of purpose - a purpose beyond denominationalism.
Dr. Ronnie Floyd has been touring the nation and using social and traditional media outlets to emphasize the need for prayer among Baptists and all evangelicals in our nation. At the outset, a pastor emphasizing prayer sounds uneventful or, honestly, not impactful. The sad reality is that when a SBC meeting adjusts its schedule and shifts traditional sermons, business and other events to open up a prime, evening session for prayer it becomes newsworthy.
More Than a Meeting About Same-Sex Marriage
The Pastors Conference began on Sunday evening and with winsome truth presented by pastors throughout Sunday and Monday, the Spirit of God was challenging messengers (this is the Baptist term for those from local churches who have been elected by their churches to represent them at this gathering) in ways that was needed and still needed so that we may lovingly engage a culture with the hope of the Gospel without fear or hatred.
The news reports have been focused on Dr. Floyd's message on Tuesday morning where statements regarding the nation's proclivity of endorsing and promoting same-sex unions were addressed. For the average reader of the news, one would think that all Southern Baptists do is talk about LGBT people in our families and cities. While these issues must be addressed, this was not the "Anti-Gay SBC Meeting" so many have stated it to be. To be clear, there has been no waffling on the biblical truths and the religious liberties and pending Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage has been discussed in numerous venues throughout the week.
However, what is often not reported are the bigger stories and foundational Gospel elements that our family came together around. What has not been reported is the movement of the Spirit of God in a moment of declared repentance and reconciliation.
Some Notable Moments in This Year's SBC Family Gathering
These are moments that I deem as powerful and focus oriented. To be honest, some were moments where God may have spoken more clearly to me than others simply due to my personal journey of faith and the chapter of life where I nowreside.
Authentic unity among our mission boards - For years, our two mission boards (International & North American) have done great work, but have never truly worked strategically together. One of the first noticeable moments of unity was when I went into the Exhibit Hall and saw both IMB and NAMB exhibit booths next to each other, decorated similarly, one giving away coffee mugs and the other giving away samples of coffee, while missionaries from both agencies wore similar shirts. Now, that may seem superficial to some, but it's a message that was heart loud and clear. Throughout the week as Drs. David Platt & Kevin Ezell spoke to groups together, their camaraderie was apparent and the reality became even more clear - these guys are working together. For those outside the SBC family, this doesn't mean much, but for the family members, this is HUGE. . .and wonderful.
Powerful Sermons - I did not hear every sermon presented this weekend at the Pastors Conference and Annual Meeting, but I did hear most. These godly men have obviously prayed for weeks in preparation for their moment to present the Word. None took it lightly. No sermon was bad (in the sense one can grade a sermon) and all were valuable. Of those that "rang the bell" for me regarding challenge and conviction, I must say that my brother from Jacksonville, H.B. Charles, Jr., Dr. Russell Moore and Pastor J.D. Greear's messages resonated loudly.
James MacDonald & Harvest Bible Chapel are now Southern Baptist - There was rumor that James would make an announcement during his sermon on Monday night. I told a friend "He's joining the SBC." Now, I had no idea and do not know James personally, but when he made his announcement, it looked like I was in the know. Ha. Nevertheless, this is a big story. Now, there are some who are not fond of James and Harvest and may not be happy they are now part of the family, but then again, there are Baptist churches who have been in the fold for decades that others aren't too fond of either, so that's irrelevant. What this does show is that a significant church leader in our nation with influence among many churches has stated that the mission and the doctrine of the SBC is valuable and viable and he wants to be a part. So. . . just like that, we now have a new church in the Chicago area (with others throughout the land in the network.) I'm not sure we count that as a new church plant, though Kevin Ezell may try to do so (That's a joke for those who struggle with written sarcasm.)
Send Network Luncheon - Over 2,000 people gathered to eat a soggy sandwich and some powerfully powdered BBQ chips at the Send Network Luncheon. This was a huge gathering and yet, it was basically a large crowd seated in a room watching Platt and Ezell talk about reaching the world for the Gospel, and to enjoy seeing Platt squirm when Ezell asked loaded questions and told jokes on his behalf in front of the crowd. It became clear that Platt and Ezell would make a great touring comedy duo, with Platt playing the straight man and Ezell telling the jokes. (BTW - the use of the term "straight man" is a comedy term that has no connection to the current LGBT discussion that many think Baptists cannot stop talking about.)
The Cooperative Program Stage - In the Exhibit Hall, there's a small stage set up between the IMB and NAMB booths. This is the Executive Board's CP Stage where interesting interviews and frank discussions about polity, future and mission take place. Hosted by different denominational leaders throughout the day, these discussions are worthy of a small stand-up audience.
Free Stuff - Numerous booths throughout the Exhibit Hall offering pens, T-shirts, books, coffee mugs, and candy means pastors become little kids for a couple of days, holding out their free Guidestone bags and basically "Trick or Treating" from booth to booth. Keep up the free books and coffee mugs. These are a pastor's favorite things.
Not Your Traditional SBC - I was impressed and encouraged by the attendance this year, especially in a city that requires most messengers to fly to in order to attend. The racial and generational diversity evident in the room was exciting to see. Ted Traylor told us to wear blue jeans on Tuesday and Russell Moore said we need more tattoos in the SBC. Maybe those were shocking statements, but it's hard to imagine hearing that from the stage a decade or two ago.
The Two Most Impactful Moments
The Prayer Gathering
Tuesday night's prayer gathering was promoted well. Yet, to be honest, I went in like many of my friends (who were honest with me) expecting . . . well, little. Yes, I confess this sin of low expectation. I confess that I was tired and wondered if it would be worth me staying for this event. . . for I sometimes bristle at "Christian events" that seem to exist just for the sake of being an event.
I knew I needed to do so.
The prayer meeting began and we sang. I would say worship began, but that doesn't necessarily begin just because music starts. Worship did begin shortly after I joined in with the singing. I asked God to speak to me, one of thousands in a room that was much more full than I anticipated (again, I repent of my sin of low expectations.)
One by one, prayers were offered. We followed Dr. Floyd's lead, but it was clear that Dr. Floyd wasn't really the one leading this. God had entered the fray and had taken control.
I prayed with a group sitting near me. I had never met them before, but I believe, as I told them, that God had placed us near each other in the room so that we could unite in prayer.
We prayed with and affirmed the prayers of brothers and sisters around us and on the stage. Prayers of confession were voiced. Prayers of repentance were offered. Prayers of reconciliation between the races were stated - this was more than a resolution. Prayers of pleading - asking for healing of our families, for our children, for our nation, for our culture, etc. were placed before God. Prayers for our leaders, for President Obama (YES! Baptists prayed for the President. We asked forgiveness for not doing so and for ignoring the biblical mandate.)
We prayed as we sang.
And we believe.
We believe that prayer works and that God hears our prayers.
We contemplated the reality of the "If. . . then" prayers and realized that God may not doing the "then" portions because we have not been obedient in the "if" portions.
Was this just a meeting? Well, it could be for some, but that's their choice. I believe this is not the end-game, but the beginning.
The Missionary Commissioning Service
Together, IMB and NAMB, under the direction of Dr. Ezell and Dr. Platt, respectively, led out in a commissioning service for missionaries and churches (yes - the local churches) who have said "Yes! We will go!"
I was sitting alone in the crowd, but with family as the stories of individuals and couples were shared. Details on the lostness of our world were presented. I was challenged by the strong word given by Dr. Platt regarding the reasons we must be sent and be sending.
I was brought to tears as I thought of the stories before me. Missionaries pictured on the screen were sitting in the crowd. When their names and photographs appeared on the screen, they stood up, holding a Lumio book lamp in their hands, and it became clear - these people are doing the hard things and doing so because they must.
They are the light of the world taking the Light of the world into the darkness and we are sending them. Therefore, we are going with them.
It was powerful. It was amazing. This was more than a simple prayer and a passport.
At the close, under the direction of Dr. Platt, we were challenged to celebrate these who say "YES" more loudly than we cheer for our favorite football team. How can we cheer louder for those who play a game that doesn't matte for eternity than for the God who is sending out his ambassadors into the darkness for a task that holds eternity in the balance?
Why Come To These Gatherings?
In the past, people would come to the SBC Annual Meeting to watch or be a part of the latest argument or fight. There are some pretty nasty chapters in our story. Yet, today, even with disagreement from some we find ourselves as Stetzer stated on Monday, experiencing more peace in the family than in recent years.
This is significant, especially in a culture that will continue to marginalize and maybe even criminalize some of the biblical and moral stances we must take.
We are a family (crazy uncle and all) and God has seen fit, in His grace, to let us in on His great story.
That's why I come. This is my family and our Father has much for us.
To be honest, we often relegate prayer to being the last resort when facing issues in life. Once we have extinguished all we can do in our power, we then say "Well, I guess all we can do is pray." Unfortunately, by pushing prayer into a last resort, back burner option, we end up with tepid prayers and often stand as weaponless warriors.
This summer series is a focused look at Jesus' model prayer as expressed in Matthew 6.
To begin with, we must focus on the phrase "Hallowed be your name" and realize that it is not just a declaration, but a command. This is a dramatic shift for me, and likely many others. However, unless we get this. . .the rest of the prayer loses power.
Some points to remember:
Prayer is not a mantra that is just to be repeated.
The Lord's Prayer (i.e. Model Prayer) is a template Jesus has given us to enable us to live holy and have intimacy with the Father.
Our prayers often begin with "Thank you for __________" and then a list of what we desire God to do for us. It's wise to note that the model prayer does not use that template.
God is not God because we tell Him so.
God is not Lord because we declare it.
Prayer is a gift.
Many Christians struggle with praying (even pastors.)
Prayer must move from being our last resort to our first response, and as a friend told me yesterday, "It then needs to move from first response to preemptive strike." Yes!
The audio link above is the beginning of this series on prayer.