Growing up in a Southern Baptist home, then studying church history with that same Southern Baptist bent, I learned a couple of things about church members: (1) everyone has an opinion, and (2) Baptists love to fight (especially over opinions).  While we may even get over a fight as to how prone to fighting Baptists are, history shows us that churches can have wedges driven down the middle of them for any number of reasons. People fight over the color of the carpet, the use of choir robes (or not), the pastor’s style of hair, or so many other things. I think I know why. Satan likes to get and keep us distracted.

Throughout his classic The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis has the title demon advising his young protégé, Wormwood, to keep the soul the younger demon is responsible for distracted with minor things. At the point that the soul is lost to the enemy (i.e. becomes a Christian), Wormwood is cautioned to double his efforts so that the new convert will not influence others into the faith. That is the way of the devil—to keep us arguing about insignificant matters so that others will not come to Christ.

With this in mind, let us make a greater effort to achieve a common goal: unity. As we spread the heart and soul of unity we will not be driven apart by the myriad things that distract us. We can concentrate on the ultimate prize of Christ-likeness and as we draw closer to Him, we will draw more people into His arms.

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”  —1 Corinthians 3:6-7

About four years ago, I received a book from a fellow pastor as a gift. The book was called I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference. It didn’t take long to read or to process. It was Thom Rainer’s advice on what makes a good church member, including what the church should expect of her members, and what members themselves would do well to commit themselves to so that their local church can become the expression of the Church that God (her Maker) wants her to be. I read the book and was inspired.

If I decided that I wanted to be the best church member I could be, the first step that I should take is to deliberately decide to be actively involved in contributing to the church. Rather than sitting back and soaking up what is doled out by the church like a sponge it is time for me to pick up my role in the church.

This means that I have to identify (with the help of the Holy Spirit) my role. Based on who I am and where my abilities lay as well as what I am willing to allow myself to do (which is sometimes the scary part because the Spirit may direct me out of my comfort zone), I must do what God directs me to do. This, of course, is without pointing fingers at others, but concentrating on my own role. It means that I am a part of the team–God’s team–and must do my part so that others can do their part. Suddenly, I am concentrating on doing my calling as a member of the church and I don’t have time to point out how everyone else is falling short. And so, in the church, I have a function. And I will do my best to (with the Lord’s help) fulfill my function.

“Jesus said, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me.'” –John 21:22

Ah! Vacation Bible School. With the week upon us, can’t you just hear the high-pitched voices of the children roaming through the church hallways, catching up with friends from school and from last year’s VBS? And then there are the teachers and helpers, smiling and enthusiastic, a bit bedraggled by Wednesday or Thursday, but still smiling (a smile that turns into a relieved grin when the last child departs with parents or grandparents on Friday). Yes, it’s VBS week, and we are excited. Excited about the children and families who will be touched by our ministry this week. Excited about all the volunteers who will be helping out with this mammoth endeavor. Excited for the chaos that clutches the church during these few short summer days. But most of all we are excited about the story of Jesus and the Heavenly Father that will be told, retold and absorbed this week.

Personally, I am excited to be looking to the stars for the evidence of God’s existence, His love, and His provision that will be our focus this year with the help of LifeWay’s “Galactic Starveyers” VBS material. If we are in doubt about the existence of a Creator-God who loves us, we can simply look to the skies and see the evidence of His Majesty. If we can’t get our eyes on the stars, we can gaze at the world around us and see His handiwork proclaiming His perfection. And if we don’t find any of the natural world in our scope of vision, we can make a quick examination of ourselves—we are designed to breathe automatically; our blood flows unaided by a thought (unless we have gone out of our way to damage our heart); even our fingertips shout out to us that the One True God had a design because each one of us can claim the uniqueness of personal fingerprints. So, this week let’s look (if we can) to the stars and discover the God of the universe.

God saw all that He had made, and it was very good indeed.”  —Genesis 1:31a

What comes to mind when I mention the word “patriot”? No, not the New England football team (although I’m sure some people went there). Several years ago, Hollywood released an action film set in the American Revolution that bore the title Patriot, which is closer to what I have in mind. But what is it that hits your mind’s eye at the thought of patriot or patriotism?

Perhaps it is the image of one of our forefathers bending over the freshly written Constitution, plumed pen in hand, ready to sign. Maybe George Washington crossing the Delaware River as we have seen in a painting. You might even think of a military veteran who embodies the image of America. Some will think of Old Glory flying high and waving in the breeze.

Does the word patriot ever bring to mind church? Does it have a place there? I am aware that we come to church to worship God, Who transcends national boundaries. But I am also sure that He designed us to be part of the nation we were born to. To be part of her growing, her activity, and her welfare. He desires us to be patriotic insofar as such patriotism does not take His place at the forefront of our lives.

Yes, I am a citizen of a Kingdom yet to be fully realized, but I am also part of my native land. So when the flag is carried at the front of the parade, I’ll stand tall with my hand over my heart in salute. When the National Anthem is played, I will stand and sing out. And I will also, when my Savior is mentioned, speak out boldly in His behalf, honoring Him with my words and my actions. And so I will be the Patriot God has created and called me to be.

Happy Birthday, USA!

“First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.”  —1 Timothy 2:1-2

In the late 1970s there was a worship chorus that encouraged singers and listeners to “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord.” That line was followed up with a reason to do so: “And He will lift you up (higher and higher).” The sentiment is appealing and Scriptural because we have that very promise in James 4:10.

Sadly, our modern society would like to make the promise the purpose. In other words, we spend our time concentrating on what God promises to do to the neglect of our responsibility. I would suggest that it is the Christian’s responsibility to carry out our end of the agreement, and leave it at that. We are expected to humble ourselves—act in humility. If we do so as a means to reward then we are no longer humble but mercenary. We also begin to view God with an air of superiority saying, “I’ve done my duty (been humble), now God is required to respond by ‘lifting me up.’”

In light of the focus found in Micah 6:8 (the Lord has told us what is required of us: to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God), humility is an act of worship—not a means to elevation. So when James offers the promise of being exalted because of humility, he simply is directing Christians to be in worship. If we want to experience true worship, we will approach the Lord in an attitude of humility. Having done so, we will find ourselves in direct worship of the living God. We have no other responsibility.

Two thoughts occur to me: first, I no longer require anything of God. He requires humility from me. And second, regardless of God’s response to me, I have been in worship of Him through my humility of heart. My elevation is God’s desire for me. It is spiritual in nature and not physical or political. Therefore, let me worship Him . . . with humbleness of heart.

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”   —James 4:10

It was supposed to be a game. The two opponents would face each other and grab hands interlocking the fingers. Then they would begin to push on each other trying desperately to bend the fingers of their opponent back to near breaking point, until one or the other would cry out, “Mercy!” The game was called “Mercy” and I do NOT recommend it as a form of pastime or entertainment. I also do not see it as a means to learn about mercy.

What I know of mercy I learned from my father. He walked a life that was courageous, contagious, and filled with the love of God for his fellow man. Perhaps the best example of this attribute was based on an image that I had built up within my own mind. Dad was strict, and he had a way of indicating how things should be—his way. So, when I knew that God was directing my path to study at an institution in another state rather than the college where he wanted, expected, and knew I should attend, I didn’t know how to approach him. When I finally drug up the courage to tell him that I was transferring from his choice to mine, I expected a long, drawn-out argument in which I would have to defend my choice. The lesson in mercy came in Dad’s response, “If it’s what you’ve got to do, Son, it’s what you’ve got to do.”

Our Heavenly Father is much more succinct in showing His mercy. He gives it every day. When we breathe in and out, His mercy lets us live. When we say “yes” to faith and obedience to His Son, His mercy grants us everlasting life. In this He gives us what we do not deserve, what we have not earned: an on-going relationship with Him. What unwarranted gift have we given someone today?

“I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”  —God to Moses as recorded in Romans 9:15

Kurt Vonnegut starts his story “Harrison Bergeron” with these words:

The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

The story goes on to tell how life is perfectly equal in 2081, but the reader gets the sense that, though it is equal, it may not be fair or just. Justice doesn’t mean that everyone is exactly alike, but it means that everyone has an opportunity to survive and to thrive.

When we act in justice to those around us, righteousness is both defended and advanced. When injustice runs rampant, people lose hope and dignity.

God has asked us (as His people) to deal justly, or rightly, with the world around us. That means when we see the injustice of the weak being usurped by the strong, we stand up. It means that when we hear of those less fortunate than ourselves, we readily give something of ourselves to make their life a little more just. Crime happens when justice is ignored. Right happens when we follow the justice of the Lord.

Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For you will be judged by the same standard with which you judge others, and you will be measured by the same measure you use. —Matthew 7:1-2