Monday, January 25, 2010


I recently wrote the following article for SBTC Crossroads magazine; it will be printed in the upcoming issue. However, as most of you do not receive this particular magazine, I am posting it on my blog for you to ponder. Be blessed.


Obscurity is a double-edged sword for God’s servant. On one side it is a joy rarely embraced … even though what it offers is of tremendous value. On the other it is a peril that often results in feelings of depression, drudgery, even hopelessness. Few actively seek obscurity; many fervently crave notoriety. The search for significance permeates our 21st century church culture with the idea that languishing in some obscure piece of geography that even God struggles to find is to be avoided at all cost. I have witnessed this in others and I have slid down both sides of the sword myself. Perhaps now that I am further down the road, I can shed some light on the precious value of time spent serving in obscurity.

Serving God in obscurity is one of the greatest training tools for ministry in existence. Please don’t misunderstand, I value formal education tremendously and can be quite opinionated in this area. I have long held that if someone has opportunity to advance their knowledge in a conservative seminary classroom and chooses not to do so, little wisdom is found in that logic. Formal education is of immense value as we study to “show ourselves approved.” No price, however, can be put on the value of hands-on learning in a real pastoral setting.

At one time, the young seminary graduate typically left the classroom to accept a call for service in a rural country church with eager anticipation. They would arrive on the field, experience the culture change, learn from the congregation and begin their pastoral residency training. There they learned how to make hospital visits, do weekly outreach visitation, perform funerals, hold the hand of those experiencing death, and write sermons. They learned the value of a cup of coffee for decision making and conflict resolution. But also, they learned when to speak up and, by all means, when to shut up, none of which can be taught in a classroom. This obscure setting is where the minister and real ministry would first meet to form an inseparable bond.

Serving in this type setting is where humility in ministry is learned. With little encouragement, we ministers can so easily begin to think too highly of ourselves and our polished skill set. We might even begin to see God as fortunate to have us on His team. Today, the idea of leaving big city lights and traveling to places where the only lights at night are stars is unthinkable for many. The thought of serving in a place where the telephone book is so small its not even a good fly swatter, where you see more livestock than humans, or where traffic moves so slowly that the dogs can nap in the road is the undoing of many young men entering ministry service. They cannot handle the obscurity because they have been trained to think far bigger and they have missed the importance of touching lives one at a time. If not careful, pride in their ability causes them to disdain the smaller place of service. Yet, God has a way of teaching us minister’s humility as we serve those who value truth, integrity, and stability even more than flashy sermons and high-minded ideals.

An obscure place of service is where God also teaches His servant who’s really the boss. Every church has people of great influence in the congregation; they are not the boss. The pastor has to learn that no man is boss, only God. In my years of ministry I have been confronted with local power brokers who seek to negatively leverage their influence against the body of Christ. Early on I had to determine who was going to be the boss, an individual or the Lord Jesus. Without fail and without regret I have always sided with God as the one who calls the shots in the local church. This comes through a natural dependence on God above all else. Dependence of this sort does not emerge during times of ease, but when the cannons are thundering and the rifle fire is intense. Here is where the minster truly touches the heartbeat of God for His church. Recently I read where Henry Blackaby said, “The heart of God and the heart of the one God chooses must beat as one.” This only comes through absolute surrender and devotion to duty. God does not strengthen the rebel, but He solidifies the courage and resolve of the dependent servant who recognizes Him as Lord and boss!

One final point, confident service in a place of obscurity is a testimony to the sovereignty of God. It is a bold statement to those watching your life, and there are more than you know, that God Almighty is in control and able to deliver his servant from obscurity in a moment’s notice. Take Joseph as the Scriptural example. At 17 he was sold into slavery and separated from his father’s house. He then languished obscurely for 13 years, being falsely accused, unjustly imprisoned and forgotten. But one day – a day like any other – Joseph’s life changed with sovereign precision. On that day he was extracted from prison, given clean clothes and a shave, and marched into the presence of the greatest king on earth – Pharaoh. On that day he was utilized to give Pharaoh not only the interpretation of the forthcoming famine but also a direct plan for how it should be handled. On that day he was promoted to the second highest position in the land – from the prison to the palace – all in one day! What a tremendous testimony that God knows our exact position always.

Do you trust in the sovereignty of God in your place of service? Do you believe your sovereign Lord sees you in the obscurity of your prayer closet? If God can see you when you pray, don’t you think you should trust that He sees you where you serve? I do not know your circumstances, but I do know the God who reigns above all trials and troubles we will ever face. So stay focused and alert. Work with diligence and faithfulness. Keep your eyes on your master because joy comes in the service not in the location. And should God choose to change your circumstances, never doubt what He can do in just one day.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

IMB Missionaries and Persecution...

I am in the office today after having spent the first part of the week in Richmond, VA at an International Mission Board meeting. It is my joy to report that the IMB is doing well and that the attitude among trustees is fantastic. Yes, we have been somewhat affected by the financial downturn in America resulting in some belt-tightening measures, but the organization is working harder than ever to make every dollar count and to provide maximum support to our missionaries around the world. There is a sense of unity on the board that is powerful and contagious. We are looking to the future together as we pray for God's leadership in the selection of the next president of the IMB. I ask you to pray as well for Dr. Jimmy Pritchard and the entire President's Search Committee as they seek God's man for this position.

While at the meeting I had the privilege of visiting with two long-term missionaries and their experiences around the world (names withheld to protect the obvious). This beloved couple has been on the field more than a quarter century, they have buried a son in Africa and faced untold physical persecution throughout their tenure. They are indeed heroes of the faith like those the writer of Hebrews describes as "of whom the world has was not worthy." Like those to whom they minister, they have come to realize that persecution is like the sun coming up in the East, it's going to happen. But of course this is reality for 80% of the Christian world who live with regular, on-going persecution because of their faith in Jesus Christ. When asked whether he felt persecution would come to the United States, the missionary said, "Why would Satan want to wake us up (through persecution) when we've already shut up!" What a powerful and thought provoking response from someone committed to giving his life for the Gospel. This incredible servant made another statement that I leave you with today, a statement every evangelical Christian in America should hear and give utmost consideration. He said, "When you deny Christ and refuse to share God's truth of salvation for fear of persecution, are you not identifying more with the persecutor than you are with the persecuted?" What a question to ponder...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Memories of Gardening Days Gone By...

In 1997 my family moved from Houston to a small Southeast Texas town by the name of Spurger. (It's pronounced like burger with an Sp in place of the B.) Many of you have never heard of this beautiful little out of the way place, but it exists at the corner of FM 1013 and Highway 92 in Tyler County. Although we only lived in Spurger several years, this little community sowed its roots deep into our hearts and produced many precious memories for our family.

Spurger is where my son, Jordon, and I spent hours waging war with his BB gun on all the Red Wasps, Yellow Jackets, and Hornets seeking a free meal from the pears rotting under the tree by the parsonage. Jordon is an excellent rifle shot today... I credit the time spent aiming at a winged insect as tantamount to the reason why. Great adventures were had under that pear tree as he and I devised our battle strategies in the blistering heat of the summer sun. Although only seven at the time, he was capable of executing military commands with such precision that Patton would have been proud. Those pesky critters with craving appetites never had a fighting chance as we stormed their strongholds and demolished their defenses. When the flying armies we opposed were unalarmed by our presence, Jordon would be the long distance sniper, taking out the enemy with incredible stealth. When the defenses were raised I would sometimes take over the rifleman duties so as to fire rapidly, often in self-defense. Of course both of us were barefoot and treading carefully was a necessity. One wrong step onto a large ‘bull’ Yellow Jacket would send you doing the one-legged Watusi away from the field of battle as you headed to triage for wound treatment.

Oh the memories that flood my mind as I think of those wonder years. More precious than gold are the memories of good times gone by.

Spurger is also were I learned to garden. On the side of the parsonage, not far from the pear tree was my first garden site. There is where the soil was tilled, rows were created, and seed was planted. There was where many mornings found me hopping out of bed, jerking on my jeans and hurrying out the door to inspect the rows for growth that occurred overnight. There was where I had my first hands-on experience with God’s “Law of the Harvest.”

The Law of the Harvest states that what is sowed will be what is reaped. Since I sowed corn seed in my garden I would reap ears of corn from the stalk. Since I sowed beans, I would reap beans. Upon sowing potatoes, I would reap potatoes as I scratched them from the fertile soil. Never one time did I plant a seed that did not produce a crop according to its kind. It was a sure thing: what I sowed in that garden produced more of what was planted… every time.

This same Law applies to our relationships and the fruit we should bear in the Christian life. Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” With abounding clarity, God’s Word confirms the Law of the Harvest to be just as applicable to our everyday lives as it is to the farmer sowing seed in his garden. When we sow kindness, we reap kindness. When we sow peace, we reap peace. When we sow love, love is what we can expect to reap. Conversely, when anger, discord, hatred, impurity, crankiness and bitterness are sown, these are guaranteed to be reaped as well. God’s Law of the Harvest is an unbreakable, unbendable law. That which one sows, that will one reap, it’s as simple as that. So, my question for you is this – what kind of seed have you sown today? Think about it and then do some planning on what you plan to plant the rest of today, and tomorrow, and the day after that.

And by the way… if you don’t know what the one-legged Watusi is, you’ve never stepped on a ‘bull’ Yellow Jacket barefooted.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A New Year, A New You...

We hear so much talk about getting a "new you" at the turn of a new year. We are diving into 2010 and I'm wondering how many of you really want a "new you" or you simply want to change some of the things you find less appealing about the current you.

The way I read and interpret Scripture, you only become a new person two times in your life. Certainly you are new when you are born. Every parent understands this when they hold their new baby for the first time. The only other time a person becomes "new" is when they receive Jesus Christ as Savior and are born again. At that moment the person becomes a new creation in Christ and regardless of the quantity of new calendar years they experience, they will never in this lifetime experience being a "new" person again as you are only born again one time. So do you really need a new you, or do you need to change and tweak the old you? If you need to be born again, I pray the Holy Spirit is so clear with you that you cannot turn away from your computer without confessing your sin and the need for salvation through Jesus Christ alone.

My 17 year old son recently became the new owner of my black 2003 Dodge pick-up truck. I have to confess that due to the dusty conditions in West Texas, my truck has not seen near the number of scrub downs it has needed over the years. Before I handed over the keys, however, I detailed the truck, replaced the cracked windshield, had a new Rhino Liner installed in the scratched up bed, and thoroughly cleaned the interior. What a difference it made! I was floored by how gorgeous the black truck was when the old layers of dust and dirt was removed allowing the shine to come through. He's got a great truck; something he can be proud to drive.

What a picture of the average Christian life. For far too many, their normal Christian walk is anything but a shining example of the power of God. Many who claim salvation through Jesus Christ are no longer a Q-Beam of faith shining forth to pierce the prevailing darkness, but merely a dull, impotent glow. If you find yourself in this situation at the start of 2010, let me encourage you to stick around over the next few days as I provide some guidance for revitalizing your faith. I will be sharing some thoughts for how you can find a fresh bounce in your Christian walk and experience a spiritual satisfaction that only comes from a right relationship with God. So tune in tomorrow as I tackle some incessant spiritual killers that attack us all at some time or another.