Is Your Church Serving Ham and Beans?

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          When I first started preaching the gospel I began my work in a small town in eastern Illinois called Mattoon. There I had the opportunity to be mentored by one of the most knowledgeable men I have ever known. He knew the word, he knew how to deliver it in such a way that the average person understood his message, and while I have only had a few opportunities to hear him preach through the years there is one lesson he shared with me that stuck. He talked about “Ham and Bean” Christians. This past Lord’s Day, I was reminded of that sermon as I listened to the men discuss the work of the church and the needs of the church.

What is a “Ham and Bean” Christian? There was a church in downstate Illinois that began offering ham and beans after Sunday morning services. The new preacher thought that it was a good idea to have a meal together as a congregation. The church experienced growth in the years that this preacher was there. Eventually that preacher moved on. In time, the tradition of “ham and beans” was stopped. It was the preacher’s work to start it and the elders of the church just let the practice go. As a result several families that had been attending chose to go elsewhere, or stop attending services all together. Those that kept going called those other Christians “Ham and Bean” Christians. They were Christians who didn’t come for the word, they came for the good food.

The world is filled with “Ham and Bean” Christians. And I think there have been more and more of these types of Christians growing every year. Based upon statistics I have had quoted to me in area churches I think this reality has grown into an epidemic. I know that the Barna group and other poll collecting companies have released data that says that the primary reason a person chooses a church is because of the preaching. But I have seen more and more churches claim that the reason most people walk in through the doors of the building are based upon the social functions offered at a church. I recall one church (I won’t reveal which one) that told me that the reason why they kept having new social programs every so often was that it was the only way to keep the people interested in coming. The people weren’t interested in the word of God, they were interested in basketball leagues, bowling leagues, ham and beans. I know of another church, that offered $100 in free groceries to the first 100 people that walked in through the doors. I don’t deny their attendance was great that morning. But, do you know what happened the following Sunday morning when they didn’t offer the $100 in free groceries? Their attendance dropped right back to where it was.

Gimmicks don’t save souls. They might get people in the door, but they won’t save anyone. Rom. 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for in it is the power of God unto salvation.” If all we use is gimmicks to get people in the door then can we really make the claim that we are not ashamed of the gospel? If we have to hide beyond basketball, free groceries and free meals how are we not ashamed? If the church you attend is not proclaiming the gospel maybe it is time to consider why? What are they afraid of? If the church you are attending is more concerned with social activities maybe it is time we consider the church a social club and not an extension of the divine God. As for me, I am firmly convinced that God’s gospel saves. I trust that when people hear it they can be saved. I trust that it doesn’t need sprucing up. I trust that it is not outdated. And I trust that God’s way can and will work today.

Never Again

This morning my littlest girl asked me to share with her the history of the rainbow.  With all the reports of flooding in Baton Rogue and our own rainstorms I thought it was a rather fitting reminder of God’s promise to Noah, his children and all future generations as well as every creature upon the earth.  To understand the nature of this promise we need to understand a little about the flood account in Gen. 6-Gen. 10.

The word translated as flood (mabbul) throughout these chapters is only used to describe the events that took place during the days of Noah.  There is an entirely different word used in the Hebrew to describe other types of floods.  They are not cognates or derivatives of one another.  There only similarity is that we translate both words as flood.  The singular use of this word in the Old Testament leads me to believe that it does not just describe a catastrophic event.  It was used to describe THE catastrophic events that all future catastrophes would be compared to.  No other flood could compare and so no other flood would be used to describe this event.  It is almost as it the word was “retired.”

So, what does this mean?  God promised to never again flood (mabbul) the earth again with water (Gen. 9:11).  But, haven’t local floods happened?  Right now, Baton Rouge has been battered with record rains that the locals are comparing to Hurricane Katrina.  If the flood of Noah’s day was  local flood like many proclaim then God’s promise is meaningless.  He has flooded localities many times over.  But, I don’t believe that this is the case.  The language used in Gen. 6-10 describes a world wide, global flood that destroyed everything that wasn’t on the ark.  This is the only way the promise of the rainbow makes sense.  God promised to never flood.  Either the world hasn’t flooded like it did during the days of Noah or God is a liar!  I believe God has kept this promise.

I get to be reminded of this promise every time I see the rainbow.  A few weeks ago, I needed to remind myself and my children of this important promise.  We had a rather severe storm system move through our area.  I was at a bible study and the storm hit before I could get home.  Visibility was nonexistent.  I could not see beyond the hood of my truck.  It took me more than fifteen minutes to travel less than three blocks.  When I finally got home, I learned that my littlest was terrified.  She was worried about me, she was worried about the storm.  I had to remind her that no matter how bad it got outside, this storm would pass.  It would pass because God made a promise.  The sign of the covenant is visible during the day time after the storm… the rainbow.  The word rainbow doesn’t exist in the Hebrew.  It is just the word “bow” as in archery.  Since learning of this, I have found it interesting that the bow points upwards into the heavens.  It is as if God is saying if I fail to keep my promise, may this bow slay me dead.  God cannot die.  God cannot lie.  Therefore God’s promise is guaranteed.

This storm will pass.  All storms will pass.  So long as life continues, God promises to let the storm pass.  Never again will you be completely flooded.  There might be some areas of your life that overwhelm you, but some portion of your life will be dry.  Some portion of your life will find a haven… and God has promised to be that haven.  ( ).

The Day of Rest is Coming

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The last six days was easily the most exhaustive six days that I can remember having in a long time. On Friday morning, I ran 11.25 miles in preparation for my 25K coming up in early October. Until that run, I thought I might actually be able to pull off the 25K without much of a problem, but my legs were completely spent by the time I was done. By the end of the day I was pleasantly surprised as I was able to go on a mile walk with the kids without hurting. Saturday morning, my daughter was showing at the state fair (she did quite well). This required me to be up at 4:30 so that we could pack the car with her vegetables and be on the road by 5:15. While she was done with her part around 9:00 we were required to be at the awards ceremony at 4:30. I thought this would be a great opportunity to have a nice bonding time with her as we got to spend the entire day hanging out. We must have walked the entire fairground area 4-5 times that day. By the time we got home around 6:30 my feet were in a great deal of pain. Sunday was a typical Sunday. I got up early, finished preparing my lessons, etc. After a couple hours of standing in my dress shoes, which are not particularly easy on my feet, I was getting weary again. I taught class again Sunday afternoon, again on my feet for another 90 minutes and then proceeded to work on the car that afternoon, with another brief walk. Monday morning was another early morning as we were headed back to the State Fair, this time as a family. After walking around all day at the fair, I ran 5 miles and then went to the boys’ football practice (another 2 hours on my feet). I woke up this morning understanding exactly why God had commanded a day of rest for his people under the Old Law. I understood why Jesus would occasionally disappear into the countryside and pray. And most importantly, I understand why I look forward to that day of rest that is coming.

“For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”; and again in this passage, “They shall not enter My rest.” Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, He again fixes a certain day, “Today,” saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, “Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that.  So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God (Heb. 4:4-9).” There is a day of rest coming; a day when more than just my weary feet can take a break; a day when more than just my legs can take a break from the training. There is a day coming where we enter the Lord’s rest. A day that is described by John as a day when God shall wipe away every tear from our eyes. A day that God will remove pain, suffering and sorrow. (See Rev. 20:4.) I wish that I could tell you more about this wonderful place of rest, but Paul said that when he was caught up to the third heaven he saw things he could not express (II Cor. 12:4). Some like to point to John’s description of God’s city in Revelation as he goes on to describe the street that looked as if were glass, the precious gems which were the very foundations of the city and the giant sized pearls which made up the city gates. But, I don’t know if John was trying to use this world’s most beautiful materials to describe when it indescribable or if being in heaven was so wonderful, so magnificent that what we deem as previous and valuable here on earth is nothing more than building blocks in heaven; that is in heaven gold is as valuable as concrete, onyx is as valuable as concrete blocks, and pearls as abundant as wood.

In the end, I know this much, heaven is a place I don’t plan on missing. I am going to live my life to please my savior. I am going to be found to be a good and faithful servant. What about you?

 

 

What Do You Long For?

Image result for americans recieve gold olympics summerThe 2016 Summer Olympics are well under way.  It amazes me when I see these athletes do what they do.  Listening to them talk before and after their events are over can be rather warming.  The joy that overtakes these athletes is enough to melt even the hardest of hearts. After each passing event I am reminded more and more of the drive and determination these athletes have.  For many of them the Olympics have been their dream, their goal, their longing for as long as they can remember.  That longing has moved them to excel at their craft.  It pushed them from being ordinary to extra-ordinary.  It moved them to create unforgettable Olympic moments like when Keri Strut vaulted the U.S. to gold with a third degree lateral sprain.

This longing, this drive, is spoken of in the scriptures. “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God,  for the living God.  When shall I come and appear before God (Psa. 42:1-2)?”  While the Psalmist is not pining for gold he is longing for God to intervene.  As a deer longs for water.  As a deer longs for water in the hot desert.  That deer long for water, knowing that is all that matters.  It is what drives the deer to keep going.  It is the only thought upon the deer’s mind.  The Psalmist knows that God will sustain him.  He knows only God can strengthen him.  So, he longs for God.  The Psalm concludes with the Psalmist certain of his salvation; his victory.  “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?  Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God (Psa. 42:11).”  He can and will rise above because of God.

So, what do you long for?  What is your inner most passion? As a Christian the answer should be God.  We should be longing for his salvation.  For when we do, we will rise above.  When our soul pants for God as the deer pants for water our lives will go from ordinary to extra-ordinary.  That is, we will go from a people who rather than just living in this world will find a way to walk with God as men like Enoch and Noah once did.  This type of life enables us to rise above the world and stand before God on the “podium” that really matters.

How Easily are You Offended?

I love studying about the apostles.  These twelve men had the amazing opportunity to walk and talk with our Lord.  While the gospels really aren’t their story it does give us some insight into several of them so that we might understand more perfectly the impact Jesus had upon their lives (and regretfully the reality that not everyone is going to believe as we learn about Judas Iscariot).  One of my favorite stories about James and John is found in their nicknames.  In Mark 3:17 we learn that Christ surnamed (or nicknamed) them “sons of thunder.”. Something about their demeanor reminded Jesus of thunder.  I am not entirely certain of this connection, but it is interesting that the most “thunderous” action we see from James and John was found just outside a Samaritan village.  In Luke 9:51-55.  Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem as he left Galilee.  This meant that had to travel through Samaria.  The Jew/Samaria relationship was considered heavily strained at best.  As such, it was not uncommon for a Samaritan town to not give safe passage through it.  (Perhaps there were offended that Jesus wasn’t there to see them).  James and John responded with the desire to call down fire from Heaven to consumed this town.  There are only a handful of records were fire from heaven was sent and the last town completely consumed by it were the cities in the valley… Sodom and Gomorrah.  They were so frustrated by this town’s perceived insolence that they likened their offense to that of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Wow, just wow.  This village showed no hospitality and they are thinking burn it to the ground.  I cannot imagine what they would do to the church that failed to invite them to dinner afterwards.  However, Jesus rebuked them and they went through another village.  Jesus was not easily offended.  He moved on, no big deal.

I wish I were more like my Lord and Savior.  I sing “O to be like thee, blessed redeemer.  This is my constant longing and prayer.  Sadly, I live “O to be like thee, sons of Thunder.  This is my son constant over reaction.” I hear that little voice in my head screaming out “how dare this person challenge me.” I thank God every day I don’t always listen to that voice.  Even as I write this, I hear the thunder outside thinking how many times I have failed.  How many times I thundered my response, calling for fire from heaven to destroy my enemies.

My friends, there is a reason why Jesus said we need to turn the other cheek.  It was not because he was calling for us to surrender our guns to the government.  A slap on the cheek in the end is an inconsequential action against us.  In the big picture it means nothing.  If someone doesn’t like my sermon.  I need to say to myself, “this is not the end of the world.  It is one person’s opinion.” Their distaste for that lesson is not going to bring the end of my world.  So, I need to stop reacting as if it would.

Help me God to be more like your Son.  Help me quiet the thunder in my heart.  Please let the storm pass and peace of your Son rule my heart.