Monday, October 20, 2014

It's A Lot Like The Old Trick Question .....


You know the one ... "If God is all powerful, could He build something so big He couldn't move it?"

Well there are a lot of funny answers, like "yes, but it'd take forever to build". But the plain truth is: There is no such thing.

Same thing goes for everything that pertains to what God can or cannot do. Like saving what we view as the most despicable of human beings.

There has been a murder trial going on here in Shelby County which has gotten a lot of attention around here. It concerns the murder of three young men in a drug deal that eventually went bad.

REAL bad. Three murders over $40!

One reason it got so much attention here is that it happened about 2 blocks from our home, right in our subdivision. It's a twisty subdivision, though, and the house is probably less than 200 yards from our house.

If you think that's frightening to us, fear not. We're used to it. There was a quadruple murder 17 years ago, even closer to our house.

The picture up there is Mr. Jon Staggs, Jr, the suspect in the case. And, as of this afternoon, officially the murderer of those three young men.

The jury has found him guilty.

First reaction? He looks like a bad guy. Second reaction, he looks guilty.

Also, he was found guilty of multiple counts of Capital Murder, which qualifies him for a ticket to a ride on "Yellow Mama", the infamous yellow electric chair at Kilby Prison here in Alabama. My reaction to that was "More power to the guy".

Thankfully, those were very brief reactions, and were followed immediately by a flood of other things; knowledge and reminders of things more important than Mr. Staggs.

Foremost was Dr. Charles Carter's sermon yesterday about God's will that people be saved. He pointed out that nobody in Christendom back in the early days would have wanted Saul to be saved. Breathing murderous threats against believers, standing by and approving while a mob killed Stephen, and on his way to persecute another bunch of followers when God interrupted his plans.

It likely wasn't anybody else's will that Saul get saved that day, but it was God's.

Then there's David Berkowitz, the "Son of Sam" killer from New York. I've seen and heard testimonies about him, and seen some of his recent writings .. which definitely didn't come from a lost person.

God's will, interrupting things once again, in ways we'd never have expected.

Then there's Ted Bundy. Focus on the Family's Founder James Dobson interviewed him in his later days in prison, and told of his wonderful Christian testimony. You can see that interview here, starting at the 12:00 mark.

And run-of-the-mill ordinary citizen murderers aren't the only ones. Manuel Noriega, a former Head of State of Panama, had a big-time down-front conversion experience in prison. It's said that he is serving God faithfully, even though still in prison in Panama.

I believe it was Max Lucado who called this aspect of salvation "the insult of the cross". The fact that God in His unfathomable love extends the same offer of salvation to people we somehow think ought to be beyond redemption. Some folks do seem to be upset that certain people they felt were beyond hope get miraculously saved, and after having lived such detestable lives, are saved and inherit the same Heaven as servants faithful nearly all their lives.

Remember Madalyn Murray O'Hair? The famous, or infamous, atheist? In 1960, she filed suit in Baltimore, against the School Board, claiming that the schools' forcing her son William Murray, to endure mandatory prayer at school, was somehow violating his civil rights. That suit was successful and, after being affirmed by the Supreme Court, effectively ended prayer in public schools in 1963.

I don't know, but I imagine there was a lot of resentment and angst caused by, and directed toward, her son as a result of that case.

Today, he's still William Murray, but he became a Christian in 1980 and now heads an organization he founded, the "Government Is Not God Foundation". They are devoted to defending the rights of Christians in the USA. You can read about him and his foundation here. And I would note that he's genuine, too, as he was first called into the ministry while at a church pastored by a good friend of mine, Paul Burleson.

That last thing his momma would have wanted was for her son to be saved. But her wishes didn't stand a chance against God's will.

Which brings us back to the convicted murderer from my neighborhood, Mr. Jon Staggs, Jr. And my reaction to him, his picture, and his conviction. The reactions are, of course, entirely of my flesh. And I guess it's OK with me, as those reactions force me to decide that I must .. and I really want to ... have the same attitude toward him as Jesus would. Have the same view of him, as a sin-sick soul in need of redemption. In need of a Savior.

We might see him as beyond that. But I guarantee God doesn't.

A soul beyond redemption is like that object too big for God to move. It just doesn't exist. And I am glad of that.

Otherwise, I'd still be lost.

So would you.

Correction: My pastor tells me Yellow Momma has been retired in favor of lethal injections. So change that part to "an appointment with a sterile needle.....".

Friday, October 17, 2014

Respect. We Need Moore.

That guy in the picture is Dr. Russell Moore, President/CEO of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He's a man I respect, for more than one reason.

He has all the credentials , of course, and from where I sit, he's doing a terrific job. But there's another reason.

After he'd been elected to the position, but before his inauguration, he had occasion to come and preach at a Samford Chapel Service. I learned about it, and Peg & I went to see & hear him.

After the service, I walked over to where he was, and he called me by name. That wasn't surprising, really, as I've spoken from the floor at the convention, a number of  times, and I wouldn't doubt that there are more folks that know who I am, than folks I know myself.
What gave me cause to pause was that he called me "Mr. Cleveland".

I'm not really used to that.

Same scenario at the next SBC Annual Meeting; we saw each other in the hall and spoke for a few minutes.

I called him "Dr. Moore", for the same reason I call Sheri Klouda "Dr. Klouda" when addressing her. There are some people that I simply want to know I respect their position and their accomplishments, every time I see them, and it's also my way of reminding myself of those things.

Now: Dr. Moore could certainly call me by my first name, and it would be completely OK if he did. And I figure, at my age, I could probably call him by his first name, too. But I don't want to.

Respect ... demonstrated ... is an endangered commodity these days, and there's something so ... so .. just so right ... about showing that, in how we address each other ... when we're not everyday "buddies" ... that I have no desire to give up that little bit of that endangered commodity, Especially when addressing people of substantial accomplishment and position.

When I was an insurance broker, I had a client who operated a Child Care Center. I always addressed her as Mrs. Johnson, and she always addressed me as Mr. Cleveland. With real emphasis on the "title". Now, we got to be really good friends over the years, but there was just something so right about how we addressed each other, that I had no bit of a desire to change that. Not one bit.

If any of my friends from church, or members of my SS class read this, don't think I have any desire for anyone to address me differently from how they already do. That's not the point.

Respect is the point. Simply being respectful is Moore To The Point.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The "GOOD" Side of the Ebola Virus?

OK OK .. calm down ... I don't really mean that a deadly virus which is killing thousands of people really has any good or redeeming qualities. But since we're bombarded with a whole lot of information about what's going on in that aspect of life in these days, I thought an observation or two might be in order. So, since I'm not a doctor and have no answers, nor any expertise in such matters, it's naturally something I want to write about.

Hey ... lack of knowledge (read "ignorance") of things never stopped me before.

Start with the premise that we don't draw our next breath unless God ordains it. Unless He holds all things together on this "God-forsaking" planet.

  • Acts 17:28: "For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring."
  • Colossians 1:15-17: "The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together."
There's more, but I think you get the picture. Our security, our comfort, or assurance of things to come ... they're all in Him.

Now, the world has done a pretty good job of telling us how to be secure, comfortable, safe, happy, beautiful, fulfilled, and all that stuff. Is it possible that many or most Christians have bought into that thinking?

Let's face facts: we're going to be dead a lot longer than we're going to be alive. Hence, it seems to me the most important thing to nail down, in this life, would be where we're going to spend etenity. And Christians, of course, have done that. We trust Jesus to take us to Heaven when we die. So .. if we trust Him with something that important, why wouldn't our trust level be equally high when it comes to lesser matters, such as life on earth? Why wouldn't we trust Him in matters like Ebola, and our personal safety & security?

You know, if God's will would be for me to contract such a dread illness as Ebola, and die a death of victory over everything the world can throw my way, that'd have to be OK with me. I mean, God's will for me, and complying with it, is the most abundant way I can think of to lead this life.

I'm not hoping for that, but as someone living with Prostate Cancer, I do know the fears the enemy can hurl my way, and the temptation it can be to let such things interfere with the realization that God is still in charge.

I hate Ebola. I hate the death and misery it brings. I hate it equally with the Houston Mayor's attempt to intimidate and/or silence preachers whose passion it is to declare God's truth and minister in His name. But both of those newsworthy items do tend to reveal who or what it is we really trust.

I would think the crucially important thing for people in either of those classes of folks ... pastors and patients ...to remember, would be keeping their eyes and their minds and their hearts intensely fixed upon the Triune Entity that is God.

The Author and the Finisher of their faith.

God, help me keep my eyes and mind and heart there, too. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Does God "Play Favorites"?

We've all noted in the Christian world, that some folks seem more gifted than others, some folks produce or evidence more fruit in their lives, some folks seem more blessed than others, some people seem to have it more "together" than others, etc. I'm sure you can add some adjectives of your own.

The only reason I can think that I'm writing about it is that I don't know any better.

First, does God ever make choices? Sure. He chose Abraham to produce a mighty nation, and in the doing, unchose every other nation. He left them in the state He found them.

Does He ever choose some for things we'd describe as bad? Sure. Check Habakkuk, where He says "Look! I am raising up the Chaldeans (Note .. also known as the Babylonians), that bitter, impetuous nation, that marches across earth's open spaces to seize territories not its own." Habakkuk goes on to acknowledge that God had appointed them to execute judgment. And, as Habakkuk predicted, they later fell, themselves.

There's also an interesting verse in Proberbs 16. Verse 4 says "The Lord has prepared everything for His purpose - even the wicked for the day of disaster"

Romans 9:18 also tells us God says "So then, He shows mercy to those He wants to, and He hardens those He wants to harden."

Without getting into the whole Calvinism thing ... learned scholars haven't resolved it in centuries, so I'm not likely to do it, either ... let's talk about believers who have been adopted into God's Family. Folks who can call God "ABBA" ... the vocative case of the word "Father". (The vocative case is the case one uses for a name which describes the person being addressed, so only God's children can call Him "Abba"). Why do we see such differences in the church?

I can think of a couple of reasons. Most likely there are others.

First is the fact that God has gifted everyone for the Kingdom work that God has in mind for that person. He does not force us to use them, however, and people have a myriad of reasons for their failure to exercise their giftedness in the Kingdom work. I think that's generally owing to ignorance about Spiritual gifts ... meaning only a lack of knowledge about them ... coupled with a general lack of expressed expectations on the part of most churches today.

I know I've taught courses about Spiritual gifts many times, and generally the response is underwhelming. I cannot explain that, other than folks' inherent feelings that they are not (A) worthy, or (B) able, to be used by God.

We can think that, at times, when we misunderstand giftedness and how the Body of Christ works together. We think the teacher is somehow more gifted than the lady that baby-sits infants in the nursery. In that case, what's missed is that, without a capable trusted person in the nursery to do that, mom & dad aren't going to be in Sunday School or Worship Service.

Isn't that a bit like asking the pilot which wing is more important in the aircraft?

The only thing that makes any sense to me is that every gift God has given is equally important in the Kingdom, and it's only our inability to see that which hinders our eagerness to do what we see as "lesser things". If we could see eternity, as God does, we'd see that every exercise of our giftedness bring something equally glorious, somewhere, sometime, somehow.

Hey .. we're all unworthy of anything God wants to uses us for. He tells us in Luke 17 that our attitude should be that we're unworthy servants, and only doing our duty. But He promises to bring the increase (so He should also get the credit) when we do.

If you don't know what you have been gifted to do, in the Body of Christ, find out! Doing that is the only way I know to experience truly abundant life.Which is, after all, one of the two things I'm aware, that Jesus saidHe came to earth to bring us.

And ... in case you doubt your giftedness to serve, check 1 Corinthians 12: 11, and unless you're not included in "each one", then you're in. And He promises in verse 7 to produce that which is beneficial. 

So ... do you wanna count?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Back Doors, Spinning Wheels, and Undisciplined Members

This one may be short. But it's potentially very important.

Laymen (remember I was raised in the era of the genderneutral use of "-man" and "-men" so take that into consideration please....), you need to see if your pastor has read this book. If not, buy it and give him a copy.

Make him promise to read it. Then read it yourself.

If he takes the info to heart, he's going to need all the support he can get.

The book is a magnificent display of things which make "high assimilation churches" the way they are. In many SBC churches, they may take in 50 new members in a year, yet their attendance might increase by 15 or 20. Or none. That doesn't happen in what Thom Rainer refers to as "High Assimilation Churches". Their increase is as much, or more, than their new member count.

The book explains why that is.

I know our church baptized about 50 people last year, and I believe that was rather typical. Yet our attendance did not increase. At all. In fact, we're down perhaps 20% in attendance over the past 14 years.

Not to tell too much of the tale ahead of time, but Sunday School and New Member Classes are essential, crucial, critical parts of making your church more than a revolving door for church members, or a gatheringplace for non-attenders who want nothing more than their name on a roll somewhere.

Wow. How much misleading can THAT do in a year or two?

Curiously, high-assimilation churches did not see "Discpleship Training" as an important part of the assimilation process.

Hmmm......

Simple dumb "why-didn't-I-think-of-that" thought: Maybe the reason we see so little church discipline, today, is that so few churches tell members what is expected of them, when they join. I mean how can you discipline someone for not doing what you didn't tell them they should do?

We've got a massive oversupply of "pie in the sky by and by" sort of phrases and words in the SBC. What we need is more of what us old Hoosiers referred to as "puttin' the corn down where the hogs kin git at it...".

Dr. Rainer's book does just that, and will reward those who read it, if they're concerned about open back doors, spinning wheels, and undisciplined members.

And are ready and willing to do something about it.

Oh. Yes. Dr. Rainer wrote this book in 1999!

Go figure.

Friday, October 10, 2014

OF SAWS, OTHER TOOLS, AND ROBERT LeTOURNEAU

Robert LeTourneau was the exceptional man who invented a good percentage of the modern earth-moving equipment you see today. If you ever see one of those big scrapers with two wheels at the back, a huge scraper bucket, and two wheels and a motor at the front on a swivel, know that's called a "Tournapull".

Named after Robert you-know-who.

Anyway, the second-best thing he ever did ... and maybe the first ... is write an autobiography titled "Mover Of Men And Mountains". He was a contractor protege of Henry Kaiser, and prolific inventor. Also, he was one of the founders of the Christian Business Men's Committee, which you can read about here.

In his book, he recounts the story related to his first job. I don't recall the job, exactly, but his boss saw him sawing some pipe with a hacksaw. He noted he was using very short strokes on the pipe and the boss told him he was using only a small part of the teeth on the saw. "Use long strokes", he said, pointing out it was wise to use all the tool available to you. And it saved effort.

Expand the thought. You can use one tool for lots of things; you can use a screwdriver to remove a paint can lid, or to stir the paint, but not nearly as well or easily as with things designed for that purpose.

You can use pliers to tighten nuts & bolts ... rather than walk to the tool box to get the right wrench ... but sooner or later you're apt to ruin the nut or bolt, and you won't tighten or loosen them as well, with pliers, as with a wrench.

I'm sure you can think of other analogies which fit.

Confession time: I've always viewed the classic Baptist plan of enrolling people in Sunday School ... whether they were saved or not ... and then keeping in contact with them even when they're not attending ... with skepticism. I always viewed that as "badgering", and I didn't see any command in scripture instructing lost people to come to church, anyway. (Yes, I know about the passage about "compelling them to come in, but I think that was about Israel and the pagan world, not about the local church. And it resulted in some people being dressed in the wrong clothes and being cast out. )

But it now occurs to me that we need to use every tool in our toolbox to reach the lost.

Two things about the Baptist church had always bothered me. One was the emphasis on inviting lost folks (and others, of course) to join a Sunday School class, and make them members thereof. The other was the seeming Spiritual immaturity of so many Baptists that system had produced. The other thing was that, despite the Baptist emphasis in "Evangelism", that didn't seem to pan out in real life.

Probably 15 years ago, I noticed several disparate facts.


  • Baptists were generally scornful of "Calvinism", indicating that those doctrines were "anti-evanglistic" ... namely, if God sovereignly chooses those who are to be saved, then "why witness"?
  • Baptists emphasized evangelism.
  • The most popular evanglism "program" used even by Baptists ... "Exangelism Explosion" ... came from D. James Kennedy's Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church.
  • I had been approached by friends, and folks I'd just met, asking the "key question" ... "If you were to die tonight, do you know where you'd spend eternity"  ... many times since we'd been in Birmingham ... since 1975 ... but never once by a baptist! ALWAYS by a Presbyterian!   
  • That last fact is still true, today. 39 years later.


I have had to change my approach. I'm going to start bugging my class to invite anybody they come in contact with, to Sunday School. So what if most decline, and only some of the folks who do come get saved, or get discipled? That's still converts and disciples!

This change of mind came about via the reading of Thom Rainer's book "High Expectations". He pointed out therein that Sunday School was the biggest common factor among churches whose numbers proved they did the job of assimilating new members into the Body. In other words, churches which had "closed the back door".

As I recall, our own church has baptized about 50 people annually for the past 14 years, but our attendance now is in the 700-800 range. "High assimilation" churches generally saw an attendance increase that was greater than their increase in membership! Obviously, those churches were using every tool in the toolbox to "reach, teach, and minister". That's the motto of Don Dixon, our Administrative Pastor / Minister of Education

And yes, I'm still going to be encouraging and instructing the class on how to share their faith comfortably, easily, unashamedly, and in a logical manner. Without fear or regret.

 We're about to see how Don Dixon's motto works, with using all the tools we can get our hands ... and hearts ... on.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

WHEN ARE WE GOING TO ADDRESS THIS?

Once again, a mid-40's man has gone off the deep end, and killed others.

And himself.

The picture on the right was the scene yesterday morning, outside one of UPS' facilities in the Birmingham area. Shortly before, an employee who had been recently terminated returned to the building, in his uniform, entered it, and shot & killed two people who seem to have been instrumental in his termination.

He then killed himself.

He was 45, married, the father of two children, and a loyal member of a local Baptist Church. Church members were "as surprised as anybody" when reports came in as to what he'd done. "He loved his family, he loved his girls, and he loved his church", a good friend said. "He had a servant heart".

First, let me say I am not a medical or psychological professional. Or any other professional, since I'm retired. But I know real well what I went through when I was 45, when things were going well for me, from all appearances. I'll tell you what I remember about my situation, and from a book I read at the time.

Neither do I know what his church did nor did not do in response to his plight, or the plight of middle-aged men in general. But see if it makes sense that what I'm going to describe might be what happened to the man who killed himself and 2 others, just yesterday.

First of all, men are driven by testosterone. It's what makes us hunter-killers. Think of the family going somewhere on vacation; mom wants to stop and smell the roses, but dad wants to keep on killing miles. And it spills over into all we do .. we want to win souls, and are disappointed by what we see as failure. We want to make sales and win arguments and win at card games and bowling and all the rest.

But the male body also produces a bit of estrogen, the female hormone. That's no problem until the production of testosterone declines seriously, generally by the early 40's.

It's like we "tip over an edge". Something changes. Winning no longer delivers the thrills it did. Making that next sale produces no internal "high". We sense something's wrong, and particularly for Christians, we think it shouldn't be so. We shouldn't be moody or depressed.

And we don't want to tell anybody, either, Don't want to ask for help, any more than we like asking for directions on a road trip.

It can also induce depression, when we feel changes we cannot describe.

Stress does a couple things, one of which can be to depress testosterone production. And if that produces depression in us, the depression in itself reduces the hormone production.

It becomes a self-feeding spiral. In my case, a change in management at my employer, and the knowledge that I was going to be a grandfather, pushed me over that "edge", bigtime. Sometimes I'd just lie with my head in Peg's lap, crying.

Until I found out what it was, by reading "Passages", by Gail Sheehy. Once I found out I was supposed to feel like I did, it robbed the feelings of all their power. I found out feelings could neither force me to, nor keep me from, doing anything.

That, and getting fired ... with 18 months' pay in one lump sum ... ended the ordeal.

It's called "male andropause". Look it up. See if it doesn't make sense that the shooter at UPS may have been driven by depression, and by feelings he couldn't explain. And ask yourself why his church, of which he was so loyal a member, didn't tell him all about this before he ran aground and ended 3 lives.

Perhaps they did. Perhaps his pastor had told the men of the church, or better yet the men and the women, what to expect at his age. But I know I've never heard any church broach this subject in over half a century of regular church participation.

Except to deny that the "mid-life crisis" was real.

Well, it is. It's time we dealt with it.