Monthly Archives: December 2013

Christmas Worship!

In the summer of 1741 for nearly twenty-four days, he had been holed up in his study in a writing frenzy. Hardly stopping to eat, the music flowed as if coming down from above. At one point his assistant enters the room to find the composer in tears.
Looking up, the composer confessed with deep emotion in his voice:
“I did think I saw heaven open, and saw the very face of God”

These words dropped from the lips of George Fredric Handel, the fifty-six year old composer who penned the score for the “Hallelujah Chorus” that hot summer afternoon. Yes, the face of God smiled on his humble servant and a gift from heaven was inspired in his heart.

Now fast forward to the premier of the musical, the “Messiah” in Lon-don. According to tradition, on this festive night King George II sat in his royal box for this performance. At the conclusion of the second movement, the choir and orchestra began singing “Hallelujah…hallelujah…hallelujah” the first power words of the chorus by the same name. At this point to the amazement of the audience the King stood, and as was the custom all his subjects joined him in standing during the majesty and wonder of this hymn of praise to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Some scholars debate whether the King stood in awe and wonder, or whether he stood in deference to King Jesus, even some skeptics suggest he only stood to stretch his legs!

Having stood under the wave of the “Hallelujah Chorus” as it washed over my body and soul, I have to suspect it must have been the awe and majesty of the moment. Interestingly enough even to this day, some 270 years later, people still stand.
Without doubt God created music to stir and move the hearts of his highest creation. Preaching has its place and significance, but as a preacher I must confess that rarely has a sermon caught up my body and soul like the power of worship and music.
This Saturday and Sunday afternoons and evenings our choir, orchestra and worship ministry will present the 49th annual “Living Christmas Tree” under the direction of Jim Cleaveland. This will be our gift to El Paso all wrapped up in the sight and sounds of Christmas.

You will want to be in your spot for this year’s performance wrapped around the theme “Forever More Proclaim” which comes from the closing line of the Christmas classic “O Holy Night.” That is exactly what I believe you will experi-ence a “holy night” of worship and praise. A night set aside to glorify the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who invaded planet earth on Christmas morn. Nestled in the arms of his mother, Mary, Jesus came to save us from our sins and to be the hope of the world.

There are still tickets available, so call the office today or come early. The 4:30 matinee performances sell out quickly, we have more tickets for the 7:30 per-formances. You don’t want to miss being part of the miracle and wonder of worship, especially at Christmas.

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Lottie Moon: Love in a Tiny Package

One day an old farmer in a straw hat and overalls approached a veteran Baptist preacher from the neighboring country church. He poised the following inquiry: “If you were not a Baptist, what denomi-nation or church would you be a part of…Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Church of Christ, Pentecostal, or Presby-terian? The preacher pondered for quite awhile, then lowered his spectacles and looked his neighbor in the eye and said, “Well, if I wasn’t a Baptist I guess I would be….ASHAMED!”

I must confess I feel the same way down deep inside, although I am quite confi-dent that we are not the only ones who are going to be in heaven. In fact, I sus-pect one of the reasons God created Bap-tists is because He has a wonderful sense of humor. For instance, I came across this humorous take off on Jeff Foxworthy’s routine “You might be a red-neck if…” Entitled, “You might be a Southern Baptist if….if you believe the power of God rests in the back three rows of the auditorium…if you think Jesus actually used Welch’s grape juice and saltine crackers at the Last Supper…if you com-plain the preacher only works one day of the week and on that day he works too long….if you wonder when Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong will ever get paid off!”

Speaking of Lottie Moon, sadly, the re-markable story of this pioneer mission giant has been lost through the years. I fear most Southern Baptists don’t re-member or have ever known the great heritage Lottie Moon passed on to us.
Lottie Moon was born in the deep South and grew to a height of four feet and three inches. Although tiny in stature, she had a heart as big as China. She grew up in an affluent family and had the oppor-tunity to receive a college education which was quite uncommon in her day. This education opened many doors in her future.

During her college days, Lottie gave her heart and life to Jesus under the preaching of John Broadus, one of the founders of the Southern Baptist Seminary. She grew in her faith and sensed God’s call to foreign missions with a particular burden for China. In 1873, she boarded a ship and began her journey to her new homeland as a Southern Baptist missionary.
Upon arriving in China, she took on the task of being a teacher, first for boys, and then for girls which was quite controversial among the Chinese who held to ancient traditions. However, Lottie knew instinctively God wanted these young women to know more of life than allowed under Chinese rule.

After years of teaching, Lottie became dis-satisfied with simply teaching and moved inland to be an “evangelist.” She sought to find creative and powerful ways to get the gospel to the Chinese people. In an effort to fit in and to contextualize the gospel, Lottie took on traditional Chinese dress, and since she was already “tiny” she fit in quite well.
During her career, Lottie preached the gos-pel during the days of the Sino-Japanese War (1894), Boxer Rebellion (1900), and the Chinese Nationalists revolution that overthrew the Qing Dynasty (1911). During these hard times she suffered with her people—even to the point of starvation. In fact, shortly before her death, she had been reduced to nothing more than skin and bones and weighed only fifty pounds. The Foreign Mission Board demanded that she make her way home, but she never made it. Lottie Moon died on Christmas Eve 1912 in the harbor of Kobe, Japan.

What a remarkable tiny, little woman with a big heart! This Christmas when you give to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, you will be helping to support nearly five thou-sand missionaries who have left home and family to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, just like Lottie. I hope you can now see why Lottie Moon inspires us to be generous every Christmas!

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Popcorn to Praise

Do you ever throw yourself a “pity party?” I suspect you know what I mean. You are having a bad day, month, season or year and you believe down deep inside you are not getting what you deserve. You have been a good boy or girl but for some strange, dark reason you did not make it onto to the blessings list. You find yourself living in the pits and consid-ering redecorating since it appears this is going to be home for the foreseeable future.

In the late 1980’s I found myself throw-ing a “pity party” for myself that would have made Job blush. At least he had what appeared to be good reasons for his frustration. I was just acting like a spoiled kid, throwing my mashed potatoes against the wall because I begged for French fries instead.

On this particular morning, my “gripe session” revolved around my disdain for my mode of transportation. I believed it was beneath me. I found myself driving an older model four-door gold Cutlass. We purchased this car because of our growing family so we could make room for the car seats.

During these challenging days, my Cut-lass developed a bad habit. There was something wrong in the engine and when I drove it, the engine emitted a strange popping sound. To be frank, it sounded like popcorn popping in the microwave. My girls found it quite helpful because they knew when I was coming home when they heard my engine popping its way down the street.

I had grown accustom to the popping sound for several reasons. One, I did not have the money to fix the problem. Two, I did not have the knowledge and tools to fix the problem. Basically, if a problem cannot be fixed with a butter knife and duct-tape, I am out of luck. Three, it was not all that embarrassing on the highway or when I was moving. However, I dreaded stop lights.

The day before I was making hospital visits in the North Dallas area and pulled up to a red light. I found myself sitting directly be-hind a gleaming, black Mercedes-Benz se-dan with a big green and gold “Baylor Uni-versity” sticker in the window. I, too, graduated from Baylor and I thought to myself, “Where did I go wrong? I graduated from Baylor, too?”

The next morning at the breakfast table my quiet time turned into a “pity party” as I shared with the LORD a piece of my mind—that honestly I could not really spare!

I complained about my old car—its funny noises. I griped about how it was unfair that I was starting a new church and I had to drive such a horrible car. I tried to manipulate my Father in heaven by suggesting my car was a bad reflection on His care for such a valued preacher like myself.

Right in the middle of my tirade, I looked up to see Kalie and Lorin making their way into the kitchen for breakfast. I marveled at the smiles on their faces and the wonder in their eyes. Right then and there, I knew I had made a terrible mistake. God had given me far more than I deserved and they were sitting right in front of me eating cereal and milk.
I lowered my head in humility and asked God to forgive me for my “pity party.” I thanked Him for all the countless ways, big and little, He filled my heart and life with joy.

I got up from the table, kissed the girls “Good bye” and headed for work with gratitude and joy in my heart. Interestingly enough at a red light on Main Street, my “popcorn machine” stopped popping and my engine purred like new. A mechanic told me that probably one of my lifters broke free, but all I know is God healed my heart of ingratitude and my engine of pop-ping. The Psalmist nailed it saying: “Give thanks to the LORD for He is good” (Ps 107.1 NIV). Have a happy Thanksgiving!

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Pray for a Veteran

At 11 o’clock, on November 11th in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and eighteen thankful people around the world commemorated the end of World War One, a war given the nickname “The war to end all wars.” Of course, we know now that nickname proved to be meaningless because the evil residing deep in the heart of the human race screams for power, possessions, and property and blood fuels its hunger.

Back in the day, the celebration of this historic 11-11-11 came to be called “Armistice Day” but after the long bloody years of World War Two and the Korean War, Americans changed the name to “Veterans Day.” Sadly, much like Memorial Day, this national holiday has lost most of its significance and meaning, especially since the vast majority of Americans have forgotten we still have young men and women on the battle field even at this late hour.

Today the American G.I. answers the call to duty, not in response to a draft number but he or she volunteers. Few, I fear, ever expect to be deployed time af-ter time to foreign fields like Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the average career soldier has served in a war zone at least twice if not three to four times over the past ten years. Deployment means waking up every morning, staring the “dragon” of war in his fiery red eyes, and trying to sleep at night with his hot breath on your neck.

I learned the imagery of a “dragon” from COL Mark Landes, who joined our church right before deploying with over three thousand young men and women under his command in the Bulldog Bri-gade of the First Armored Division. Mark taught me a great deal about courage, leadership, and the psychic of the modern citizen soldier.

On his last Sunday before deployment, he shared with me that he was confident that he would bring back practically all of his soldiers from Afghanistan, but he said, “Pastor, pray for their souls. I fear I am going to lose their souls over there.” With the ignorance of a man who has never served “downrange” in battle, I inquired, “What do you mean?”

With kindness, and thoughtfulness Mark replied, “A soldier must learn to live with his dragon. The dragon never goes away. He must learn to make peace with it.”

I believe I am beginning to understand a portion of what this warrior leader meant. As the old adage goes, “War is hell.” In war men and women witness, and often at times have to do the unthinkable in response to the call of duty. As Paul noted, staring evil in the face, the soldier and the law enforce-ment officer do not “carry the sword in vain–for he is a servant of God, and aven-ger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrong doer.”

This cancer of war continues to eat away at the souls of warriors. Many suffer with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or many men and women of conscience have suffered “moral injury” because on the field of battle they had their conscience seared by the struggle with the green eyed monster of evil, hatred, and inhumanity that spurs the dragon of war on.

The warrior king and poet David knew all too well this struggle with the “dragon.” Without doubt, nightmares woke him from a fretful night of sleep in a cold sweat with fear in his eyes. Read Psalm 56 through the eyes of a warrior and I suspect the follow-ing phrase will come into full color in your heart and mind, when David wrote, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in you” (Psalm 56:3 NIV).
As we end this week of reflection on our veterans, I was handed this quote:

“Only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you: Jesus Christ and the American G.I.—One died for your soul, the other for your freedom.”

Whisper a prayer for a veteran today, I can assure you, he or she needs it.

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Thanksgiving with a Twist

Some say “every cloud has a silver lining.” Like Milton who penned the following statement “Was I deceived or did a sable cloud turn forth her silver lining on the night?” I have come to believe God really does work all things for good in the hearts and lives of those who love Him com-pletely. Those who love Him come rain or shine.

In his closing comments to his friends and comrades in Thessalonica, Paul captured the depths of spiritual-ity when he wrote:

“16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continu-ally, 18 give thanks in all circum-stances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV)

During this Thanksgiving season my attention has been drawn to his clos-ing insight, especially the idea of giv-ing thanks “in all circumstances.” At first glance this recommendation seems fitting for the stoic who grimly expects the worst of life, but does God really want us to thank Him in “all circumstances?”

Now with a few hundred thousand miles on my odometer, I must confess that Paul was absolutely right. Look-ing back over the previous mile mark-ers of my journey, I realize that many of those unexpected detours led me on a ribbon of back roads that deliv-ered me to some of the most amazing destinations along the way.

“A Lost Senior Year”

During the summer of my junior year at Haltom High, I received the dreaded news that our family would be uprooted and moved to the piney woods of East Texas to a strange little
city called Texarkana. At the moment I knew my world had been crushed. I lost a senior year with my friends, a girl friend, and the future I had charted. To-day I realize this detour led me to preaching opportunities never dreamed of, to enrolling in Baylor University, and meeting the love of my life, Robyn. God works all things for good.

“Lost Election”

In October 2007, I narrowly lost the election to be president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas to Joy Fenner. A dear friend of mine, Bill Wright, nominated me and we both sensed we were part of something very special going into the vote. When I heard the news that I had lost by sixty votes, I was crushed. It tested my char-acter and my resolve to work for posi-tive change.
Strangely my narrow defeat led to my victory the following year in Fort Worth. God used that year in exile to hone my heart and create networks of friends across the state. Once again God’s timing was best. God works all things for good.

“Detour Signs”

As you look back over your journey this Thanksgiving, let me encourage you to jot down a “thanksgiving list with a twist.” Look back and note how many times you have uncovered the finger prints of God all over some of the twists and turns of the adventure we call life.

Thank God for prayers unanswered, closed doors and open windows, sleep-less nights that led to marvelous sun-rises, and tears turned into joy. Be thankful God still works all things for the good of those who love Him.

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