Monthly Archives: August 2013

Sermon Excerpt: Friend of Sinners

I am huge baseball fan as many of you are aware. When I lived in Milwaukee our home sat nestled into a cozy little neighborhood less than four miles from the historic old County Stadium that housed the likes of Warren Spawn, Hank Aaron and Robin Yount. While we lived there the Brew Crew built a new state of the art stadium complete with a retractable roof named Miller Park. One of the challenges of both stadiums revolved around parking, so a number of local restaurants and taverns on Blue Mound road provide free shuttle vans to and from the game for their faith.

 

There was a young lawyer in our church who often invited me to the games and we made it a habit of grabbing lunch or supper before the game at one of the restaurants on Blue Mound road and then catching the shuttle to and from the game. On this particular afternoon both of us were running a bit late, and the Brewers had schedule an early afternoon tilt, so we met at the restaurant/tavern and caught the van to the game.

 

After the game, my friend suggested that since we ridden the shuttle we needed to at least go in and have some appetizers before we headed home for supper. I agree, and that is where the fun began. We walked into the tavern and he went straight to the bar and sat down. By the way did I mention to you that I have never had a beer in my life? In fact, Nyquil stands out as the strongest substance I have ever consumed. Being a good Baptist, and especially a Baptist preacher from the South I knew better than to go to a bar, but here I was in quite a dilemma.

 

Not wanting to make a scene for my friend and church member, I just followed him and pulled up a stool at the bar thinking to myself, “What would Jesus do?” So far so good, but now came the tricky part. What was I going to drink? Being a grown man I did not want to order a “Shirley Temple” but at the same time, my convictions would not allow me to order a beer even for a sip. Thankfully, I remembered that a local brewery produced a rather full bodied root beer, so when the young bartender asked me what I wanted to drink I told her, “Give me a root beer in a dirty glass”…I just added the dirty glass part.

 

In a matter of seconds there I sat at the bar with a mug of root beer in front of me, and I was doing my best to just blend into the scenery. I sat there thinking to myself, if only my dad an ol’ time Baptist preacher could see me now. The last place I ever expected to be was at the bar drinking root beer with my buddy. At this point the situation took a turn toward the bizarre. Apparently my buddy was a regular and sitting around the bar were a number of his friends and colleagues. Once we had our drinks one of his buddies asked “hey, who is your friend?” My friend and church member in a loud voice fit for the court room declared to one and all. “Hey guys, this is David—MY PASTOR.”

 

I can still remember the chill down my spine when he announced to one and all his pastor was sitting at the bar. The funny thing was no one was shocked or even surprised. One and all said hi and introduced themselves to me. They asked about what church I was the pastor of. They could tell from my accent I was not from Wisconsin, so we talked about moving from Texas. Over the course of the next thirty to forty-five minutes I fit in rather nicely at the bar talking to a group of new found friends.

 

To be honest that was the last time I sat at a bar, but I must admit I would not be afraid to go back. However, if I did, I know I might get a reputation in town that could be cause for a special called deacon’s meeting. However, if that happened I think I would find myself in good company with my Lord Jesus who often was accused of being a “friend of tax-collectors and sinners.” Yes, you heard me right, when Jesus was nicknamed the “friend of tax-collectors and sinners” it was not a complement, it was an accusation. The Pharisees criticized him over and over again for being too soft on sin and sinners.

Luke 15

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

In essence Jesus was saying, “You want to criticize me for loving sinners, you need to take a good long look into the face of God. God rejoices when one sinner repents.” When one sinner repents there is joy in heaven—great joy!

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Commencement Address: Dallas Baptist University

President Cook, Members of the Board of Trustees, Distinguished Faculty, Servant Leaders, Parents, Friends and most importantly the class of 2013, thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today on this wonderful occasion—this rite of passage for you.

Let me begin my expressing my sincere appreciation to President Gary Cook. Thank you so much for this opportunity to celebrate this very special day with my daughter Kalie. Dr. Cook, you have been a wonderful friend to me over the past decade and thank you for your lifetime achievement here upon this hill. Dallas Baptist University shines brightly into our world today in large measure due to your undying devotion to this school, and the amazing team of professors and servant leaders you have assembled in the place.

Dallas Baptist University has held a special place in my heart from the first time I stepped on these grounds when this university granted my father an honorary doctorate some nearly forty years ago, and as of today there will be three DBU graduates in my immediate family and one to go.

As we begin let me take us back to the year 1973—some forty years ago. Most of you who sit before me were not even a twinkle in your mother’s eye forty years ago so unless you paid attention in the history class much of what I am about to share with you will be news to you. In 1973, I was entering my teenage years at the ripe old age of thirteen years old, but I can still vividly remember that year. In 1973 the long struggle in the jungles of Vietnam ended as American soldiers returned from war not to ticker tape parades but with the bitter taste of defeat in their mouths and wondering why 49,000 of their comrades had to die in this senseless conflict against Communism. I can still remember as a child watching the evening news as the names of fallen soldiers filled the screen. A whole generation of American’s lives were marred and shattered and our nation was divided along a generational divide in those dark days. To make matters worse in Washington the Senate began hearings about the activities of President Nixon and his men in the Watergate Hotel during the election. These hearings and the uncovering of the Watergate tapes led the next year to the unprecedented resignation under duress President Nixon.  From that day forward Americans have not looked at the president in the same way. As the Supreme Court deliberated and rule in favor of abortion in the Roe vs. Wade case that has shaped our nation ever since and led to the deaths of countless numbers of babies.

Meanwhile in the Middle East Egypt and Syria teamed up to attack Israel in what has come to be called the Yom Kippur War and the tensions in that region reached a critical stage. In the movie theatres across the land Linda Blair filled the big screen as a demon-possessed teenager in the haunting film entitled “The Exorcist” the story of a priest who eventually kills himself after a struggle with the devil himself.

During these dark and difficult days when we as a nation struggle to find our way Andrae Crouch and his sister Sandra sat down at the keyboard to pick out a tune for the lyrics that God had laid on their hearts. Andrae was the pastor of an African-American church in California and knew instinctively that the people of our land needed a word of hope. Often times music has the ability to bring hope to people as the words and melody imprint themselves upon the human heart.

There at the keyboard they began to sing—and I will spare you my rendition—“ Jesus is the answer for the world today—above him there’s no other—Jesus is the way. Jesus is the answer for the world today—above him there’s no other—JESUS IS THE WAY.” In a world turned upside down by chaos and confusion Andrae Crouch called a young generation back to reality by reminding them all by the sounds of his music that JESUS IS THE ANSWER.

You see Andrae Crouch was right then and he is right today. Isn’t strange how history seems to repeat itself over and over again. Today, after ten long years of struggling, bleeding and dying, in Afghanistan a generation of young American warriors is making their way home to a nation that hardly remembers that we are at war. The Middle East continues to be aflame with violence and hatred. Our political world has ground to a halt with spiraling deficits and strong division down the aisle as Democrats and Republicans treat each other as enemies rather than as partners in this struggle we call American democracy.

As a parent I wish we had given you a better world, but I am so thankful as a father and as a pastor I can say to you and to my daughter this morning—there is an answer and his name is Jesus. If there is one thing we want you to take home with you today after your years of sitting the classrooms on this beloved hill—it is the truth that JESUS is the answer.

As a teenager I memorized these words of Jesus that have been a beacon of light for me through all the twists and turns of my journey. Looking deep into the eyes and hearts of a generation of highly religious yet confused young men, Jesus said, “The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10 KJV). Jesus understood that life at its essence is a life and death struggle. He knew that “happily ever after” was found only in Fairy Tales.  He knew we struggle with real enemies within and without.

For most of my life, I believed when Jesus spoke of the thief in this statement He was referring to the devil himself, and there is no doubt that our arch enemy prowls about seeking who he may destroy, but at a closer look I have come to the conclusion that the real threat Jesus was referring to in this statement was “empty, life-sapping, religion.” You see Jesus came to show us that religion full of rituals and rules would slowly but surely destroy us from the inside out. Jesus knew that going through the motions and playing games with God and those around us would numb and deaden our hearts and souls. Jesus knew that putting on the “mask” on Sunday morning and going to church to keep up appearances while you lived an estranged life from your creator and the lover of your soul would eventually only lead to spiritual death and separation from the God who loves you.

You see life on this planet does not revolve around religious rules and rituals. Life on this planet truly begins when you have a day to day personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ and through Jesus Christ alone. At the end of the day life does not come down to how much you know. It comes down to do you have a personal relationship with Jesus. Simply put it is not about religion—it is about a relationship—a real, personal, loving, intimate relationship with God.

In simple terms Jesus declared to all who would hear him “I have come that they might have LIFE.” Who is the they? It is anyone and everyone who hears His voice and is willing to come and follow Him. Jesus gives life. Jesus does not want you to settle for the American dream that seems to be fading, or some arbitrary definition of success. Jesus wants you to be “fully alive”

As the father of four girls I am become an expert at “chick flicks” and I must admit on occasions I learn something from them. A number of years ago Will Smith starred as Andrew Hitchens in the movie Hitch. He was a love doctor. He helped men in their efforts to win the hearts of the young women who had captured their souls. I loved this line from the movie. Hitch instructed his pupil. “ Life is not the amount of breaths you take, it’s the moments that take your breath away.”

I cannot over sell this point. Life with Jesus can and should be a breath taking experience. Jesus called his standard of life—abundant—that literally mean “beyond measure”—“exceeding your imagination.” I fear we settle too easily for a cheap empty imitation of life. We play it safe. We are like toddlers who play with the boxes and the ribbons on Christmas morning when the wonderful colorful gift of Christmas rests at our feet.

What does it mean to be fully alive? I believe it means to live your life with your eyes wide open and your heart aflame. For years I was a bit embarrassed by my middle name Lawrence—that is until I discover the amazing life of T.E. Lawrence, known to many as Lawrence of Arabia. T.E. Lawrence was an Oxford trained scholar who traveled to the Arabia as an archeologist who as an army officer got caught in the military struggles of the Arabia. He lived a life of danger and adventure, but he was also a prolific author and writer in his book he made one of the greatest observations about life lived as it is meant to be. When he wrote:

All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.  http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/t/t_e_lawrence.html#4psiuKPoMKrJUlZg.99

What does it look like to follow Jesus and to have a personal relationship with Him? What does living more abundantly look like? I believe it means living a life of abandonment. It means living by faith and not by sight. It means taking risks and being fully alive. It means not playing it safe, but living the adventure even being a bit dangerous. It means living a life of no regrets.

Please never forget JESUS is the answer—trust Him—follow Him—serve Him and you will be fully alive and you will leave your mark on our world. Don’t take from this place an empty dying religion—take home with you a vibrant living personal relationship with God that will transform you day by day into the person God created you to be! Remember JESUS IS THE ANSWER no matter what you face!

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El Paso Fun!

A little over three years ago when we first considered making El Paso our home, I must confess I knew little more about El Paso other than what one could learn from a Marty Robbins’ ballad. I knew nothing of the rugged beauty of the Franklin Mountains or the pastel wonder of an evening sunset. I knew nothing about the history of this southwestern cross-roads and international melting pot. Nor did I know of the rich history of Fort Bliss and the great names like General Pershing and Omar Bradley, who walked the parade grounds in days gone by.

Briefly let me count the ways El Paso has warmed its way into my heart. I love living in the large city that is dis-guised as a colony of small towns. In a matter of minutes one can travel from a fruitful river valley community of wooded lots and farms to breath taking mountain views from your back porch. You can walk the streets of the Eastside and eat at some of the finest restaurants in the land after shopping some of the trendiest stores or you can find an “old hole in the wall” diner in the northeast and surround yourself with a cross section of people from uniformed soldiers to gangbangers.

One cannot speak of El Paso without mentioning its amazing food—especially Mexican food. One of my favorite observations is how everyone seems to have their favorite place to eat whether it be Leo’s, Avilas, Good Coffee, Carlos and Mickey’s or count-less other neighborhood diners. Of course, the younger generation loves their food that can swim. I am not talk-ing about sushi; I am talking about Chico’s Tacos swimming in its warm secret sauce! One must admit Chico’s Tacos is an acquired taste.

I love being in downtown El Paso with its historic buildings that can take one back to the streets of old Chicago or listening to the organ pumping out a tune in the Plaza Theatre before the running of an old classic movie during the film festival. The old Plaza Hotel opened by Conrad Hilton during the Great Depression reminds me that vision and courage can conquer depression and retreat day in and day out.
However, one cannot speak of their love for El Paso without mentioning the people. Great cities emerge from the faces and hearts of its people. The people of El Paso bring warmth to life much like the rays of the sun warm our faces. Hospitality does not fully capture the spirit of the city but it is a good start.
It’s my prayer that our church would continue to reflect the rich diversity and warmth of the city we call home. We “practice heaven on earth” by reflecting the glory revealed in Revelation 7:9 when John recorded what he witnessed: “ After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.”

In El Paso we get a jump start on eternity!

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First Day of School

Do you remember the excitement and anticipation of the first day of school? Yes, I am talking about the parents as they dressed their little ones and rushed them out the door in their new tennis shoes and jeans. Of course, the first day of school for the students offered a mixed bag. On one hand, there was the dread of the easy days of summer—sleeping late, no home work and an open schedule but on the other hand being around your friends at school is a nice change from being trapped with mom and dad most every day with the rules and quirks.

 
I must admit, going off to school to-day has changed. I marched off to first grade with my “Big Chief” tablet and a number two pencil. Today stu-dents show up with smart phones, tablets, lap tops, and a wide array of high tech gadgets to prepare them for the world of today and tomorrow—a rapidly changing world. Some experts have suggested that human knowledge is doubling every eight years so by the time a first grader graduates from col-lege, knowledge would have doubled twice! Who can keep up?

 
If there is an unsung hero in the edu-cation journey, it has to be the class-room teacher. I hope most of us have fond memories of teachers who poured their hearts and lives into us as students. I know I am who I am today because of teachers like Mrs. Yeats, and Coach Stephenson just to name two.

 

In El Paso, public education has been under tremendous scrutiny and often harsh criticism in recent days. I fear too many wonderful educators have been hurt and discouraged in all the mudslinging. Having lived in many places across our nation, I can attest the education my youngest daughter received at Franklin High school pre-pared her well for her future. If you know a teacher, who teaches in the public schools, in a private academy or even at home say “thank you” for a job well done.

I recently saw an editorial cartoon com-paring the world of yester year to today. In scene one “Johnny” came home with a failing grade and mom and dad are clearly upset with “Johnny.” In scene two representing today, “Johnny” comes home with a failing grade and the parents are screaming at the teacher. It appears we have forgotten that edu-cation at its best is a vital partnership between mom & dad, teachers, and little “Johnny” and “Janice.”

The writer of Proverbs wisely observed: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6 KJV) The key part of this wise statement revolves around the phrase “in the way he should go.” It may infer indoctrination, but I would suggest the “way he should go” reflects the wonder and glory of each child. You see education is not a “cookie cutter” industry—one size fits all. No, every child reflects the image of God in his or her face, but also each child has been created with a unique blend of gifts, talents, passions, and abilities. Parents and teachers would be wise to study the child as much as the curriculum.

Whisper a prayer for our teachers and students as the school bells ring that the hand of God will be at work in the hearts and minds of the next generation in the home, the school house, and the church.

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Victory in Jesus: Sermon Excerpt

I have a confession to make…I listen to country music from time to time. I must admit one of the things I love about country music is its honesty. When you listen to a song and its lyrics you can practically know for certain what must be going on in the composer’s heart and mind…at least most of the time. For instance, I love these classic song titles:

“How can I miss you if you wont’ go away” or “I liked you better before I knew you so well.” It sounds like the honeymoon is over doesn’t it?

How about these soul crushers: “My wife ran off with my best friend and I sure do miss him!”

Of course if you are planning a romantic evening you may want to pop in this classic “I changed her oil and she changed my life” or “If you leave me—can I come too?”

If you are an eligible bachelor and want to be famous in country music just date Taylor Swift and she will write a song about you. If you don’t believe me just ask Brandon Borello, Drew Hardwick, Stephen Liles, Joe Jonas, who thought he got the last word in when he broke up with her in a 27 second phone call—at least it wasn’t a text,  Taylor Lautner of Twilight fame, and John Mayer who hit it big with “Dear John” and “The Story of Us!” I fear Taylor just dates to get more material for her songs!

Like Country music most gospel music has a story behind it. Take the classic hymn by E.M. Bartlett write in 1939 entitled “Victory in Jesus.” I love the words of the chorus where he wrote:

O victory in Jesus,

My Savior, forever.
He sought me and bought me
With His redeeming blood;
He loved me ere I knew Him
And all my love is due Him,
He plunged me to victory,
Beneath the cleansing flood.

Clearly E.M. Bartlett challenged all of us to see the victory in our lives that can only come through Jesus. His words take on even more meaning when you realize what was going on in the world as he penned these words in Arkansas. As you may remember from your history class in 1939 Germany invaded Poland and Hitler unleashed the first shots of World War 2. Meanwhile, Albert Einstein approached President Franklin D. Roosevelt about the possibility of the development and deployment of an atomic bomb. If that was dark enough, in 1939 Bartlett himself suffered a major stroke and this song would be the last one he ever wrote. In his darkest hour, Bartlett knew that “Victory in Jesus” was his and our only hope.

This message of “victory in Jesus” stands at the heart of the gospel and must be our message of good news to El Paso and the world around us. Our only true victory is in Jesus. As we think and dream about the future and vision of our church. It must revolve around Jesus. Jesus must stand out as our message and heart of all we do.

 

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Is Jesus Still the Answer?

Do you remember the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and seventy-three? For those of us with traces of gray in our hair we can vividly remember those days, but for a younger generation coming of age among us it is only distant history covered briefly in a boring history class.

1973 stands out as one of those years that shaped the human story dramatically, especially in the United States. In 1973 a battered generation of young American warriors returned from battle not to ticker taped parades but to a divided nation. A peace treaty was signed between the warring factions in Vietnam, but the American soldier returned home with the bitter taste of death in his or her mouth. Their minds were haunted by the huge question of why 49,000 of their comrades bled and died in the jungles of Vietnam. Was it worth it? Why did we fight there?

I can still remember as a child watching the list of fallen soldiers scroll down the television screen during the evening news as our nation watched a generation of its finest fight and die in its struggle against the advance of Communism. Still to this day those haunting memories touch the soul of our nation.

Meanwhile in Washington D.C. the Senate began hearings on the activities of President Nixon and his men in the Watergate Hotel during the previous election. Soon Watergate would be on the lips of practically every American and President Nixon wished he never owned a tape recorder as the “Watergate Tapes” revealed the dark side of American politics. When it was all said and done, President Nixon resigned in disgrace, and the American presidency has never been the same.

Meanwhile down the street, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the ground breaking case of Roe vs. Wade, and our highest court struggled with the issues of a woman’s right to choose and the sanctity of life. The Court’s ruling legalized abortion and our nation has never been the same as we have struggled with repercussions of this landmark decision.

In the Middle East, Egypt and Syria teamed up and attacked Israel in what came to be called the Yom Kippur War. Tanks and soldiers squared off in a life and death struggle for the existence of the Jewish state.

As the world crept closer and closer to chaos, Andrea Crouch and his twin sister Sandra sat down at the piano, as he picked out a tune to some lyrics God had impressed on their hearts and souls. They sang, “Jesus is the answer for the world today—above Him there’s no other—Jesus is the way. Jesus is the answer for the world today—above Him there’s no other—Jesus is the way.”

Into the darkness their song spread like an anthem of hope as a young generation sang out with all their hearts to a world lost and dying “Jesus is the answer.”

Strangely our world is not so much different some forty years later. A generation of young American warriors are returning from battle, Washington is still divided, and the Middle East is still aflame. Just like then it is still true today—Jesus is the answer for the world today! Believe it. Sing it. Live it.

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Rain, Rain Go Away

“Rain, rain go away…please come back another day” stands out as a children’s saying you practically never hear in El Paso. In a city where people use umbrellas more to protect them from the sun than the rain, when it rains. I mean really rains like a “gully washer” as hillbillies used to say up in the Smoky Mountains where my daddy grew up people look out the window in awe saying, “So that is what rain looks like.”

I love the story of the old West Texas rancher who reported to an outsider that his ranch only received eight inches of rain a year saying, “Boy but you want to be here the day it comes!”This week I-10 look more like the mighty Mississippi than an interstate highway, and the streets running down off the mountain were transformed into raging mountain streams missing on the trout. It was a glorious day if your roof did not leak!

There is nothing in life like the fresh smell of the country side after a long steady rain and the beauty it brings as the grass grows and the flowers bud. During the dry hot dusty days of summer a dark rain cloud on the horizon brings hope and so does the LORD.

The Old Testament prophet Hosea who knew a great deal about dry dusty days used the imagery of the coming rains to bring hope to a people thirst for hope and change. Hosea, the prophet, who God used as an example to his friends and neighbors when his wife turned out to be a prostitute knew more than his share about heart break and humiliation. He knew the aching pain of a fractured home and broken heart.

Hosea came to realize that often times those dark days lead to hope and change. The heart that is broken by sin can be healed and pieced back together by the touch of the nail-scarred hand of our LORD. I love his picturesque language in this statement:

“So let us know, let us press on to know the LORD. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; And He will come to us like the rain,
Like the spring rain watering the earth.” Hosea 6:3 (NASB)

His invitation to “press on” encourages me not to give up or give in. Our LORD’s coming to us is as sure as the sun coming up morning over East El Paso.

Hosea promises the seeker that “He will come to us like the rain.” There may be dry spells in your journey, but don’t give up rather look up. As the hymn writer so aptly said, “There shall be showers of blessings.”

So enjoy the rainy days and let the smell of rain in the air remind you of the goodness and faithfulness of our LORD.

Tennis Shoe Sunday!

Let me remind you to wear your tennis shoes on Sunday and most importantly bring a pair of tennis shoes for our “Shoes for Orphan’s Souls” Drive. Our collection closet is about a foot deep in shoes, but our world is filled with barefoot boys and girls who need a new pair of shoes to brighten up their day and to help them get off on the right foot.

We will also hear reports from all three of our Summer Mission Teams Sunday morning you will not want to miss this special time of celebration!

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