Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Hope, AR Native Desires Presidency

Former President William Jefferson Clinton is not the subject of this post; although I am sure he still desires the Presidency. There is another son of Hope, AR who desires the office of President of the United States, and like Mr. Clinton, the man of whom I speak is also a Southern Baptist, a former Governor of Arkansas, and is a former chair of the National Governors Association.

Those are about the only similarities between Mr. Clinton and Mike Huckabee. Mike Huckabee (Doesn’t that name just scream Arkansas?) was a guest on MSNBC’s Jan. 28 Meet the Press. Tim Russert asked Mr. Huckabee why he was running for President. Here is Huckabee’s answer:

I think America needs positive, optimistic leadership to kind of turn this country around, to see a revival of our national soul, and to reclaim a sense of, of the greatness of this country that we love, and also to help bring people together to find a practical solution to a lot of the issues that people really worry about when they sit around the dinner table and talk at night.

Are you asking yourself, “Who is Mike Huckabee?” I’ll admit that until yesterday all I knew about him was that as a Republican he twice won the Governor’s office by a landslide in a yellow-dog democrat state. Here is what I learned today.

According to Wikipedia:

He graduated magna cum laude from Ouachita Baptist University, completing his bachelors degree in 2 1/2 years before attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Prior to his political career, Huckabee was pastor of several Southern Baptist churches in Arkadelphia, Texarkana, and Pine Bluff, Arkansas. He served as President of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention from 1989 to 1991 and as President of a religious-oriented television station.

You might think the above information alone would be enough for me to vote for him were he to receive the Republication nomination. You would be wrong. First of all, just because someone is a Baptist does not mean they automatically qualify for public office. Second, if God has called this man to the gospel ministry why is he running for President? Why was he the Governor of Arkansas? As you would expect, leaving the pulpit for politics was one topic Russert addressed, and he quoted Huckabee from early in his political career. Here are those quotes (taken from the MTP transcript linked above):

“Huckabee … explained why he left pastoring for politics. ‘I didn’t get into politics because I thought government had a better answer. I got into politics because I knew government didn’t have the real answers, that the real answers lie in accepting Jesus Christ into our lives.’” And then this: “I hope we answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ.”

I wholeheartedly agree that the real answer is in repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. I disagree with the notion of “taking the nation back for Christ” on two levels. First, when was this nation ever Christ’s? Yes, I fully believe that our great nation was founded on Biblical principles, but it is a fallacy to refer to this nation as ever being truly Christian. Second, Christ ordained that we reach our communities through evangelistic not political effort. The greatest affect that a person can make on his community, his state, his nation is to honestly, exhaustively, passionately, boldly, and persistently proclaim the gospel. The government can’t save you, but the gospel does.

Listen, before you political activist types turn deep shades of red; I think that Christians should hold political office, but I think that “reclaim America for Christ” soundbites are just plain unBiblical and untenable on the national level. Accordingly, when Russert pressed Huckabee about that quote Huckabee said:

Well, I think I—I’d probably phrase it a little differently today.

Now that I have that off my chest, let me say this; Huckabee does have a solid conservative track record, especially on crucial social issues such as abortion and marriage, and he is a proponent of creationism. I’m all for that! Some conservatives have criticised his fiscal policies. The CATO Institute, a conservative think-tank, gave him an “F” for his last term as Governor and a “D” overall. The reason for such a low-ranking is mainly because he increased spending and raised taxes. You can read his fiscal policy defense in the MTP transcript.

Here is one final quote from Huckabee:

“One of the reasons that I’m running for president is because I think that America needs folks who understand what it is to start at the bottom of the ladder and climb their way to the top. We’ve got a lot of people who are born on third base and think they’ve hit a triple. “America loves an underdog. America loves people who have had to struggle and for whom every rung of the ladder has been sometimes three rungs up and two back down, Thank God for the one you’ve gained, and keep climbing”.

Will Huckabee receive the Rebublican nomination? I doubt it. As a conservative, however, I would feel much more comfortable with a Huckabee than a Giuliani.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Don't Call Me...I'll Call You

That’s what Kelvin Sampson heard for much of tonight’s game. The Illini fans taunted coach Sampson for not calling Bruce Weber when coveted recruit Eric Gordon started waffling on his oral commitment to Illinois. Somebody should have called the IU offense because it left the arena shortly after tipoff and it never returned. The Hoosiers began the game by draining seven of their first ten shots; after that it was one wrong number after another.Much was made of Kelvin Sampson “stealing” stud recruit Eric Gordon from Bruce Weber’s Illini. The only thing Sampson is guilty of is poor etiquette. Yes, he owed Weber a phone call; a phone call explaining that Gordon wanted out of his oral commitment to Illinois in order to play his college ball in the real Assembly Hall. You know, the Assembly Hall that has five national championship banners hanging from the rafters. Sampson should have called. The irony is that here is a guy who was slapped with NCAA sanctions because he racked up an obscene number of minutes to recruits. Evidently his troubles have caused him to become nervous around the telephone.

But Samspon didn’t steal Gordon. The North Central star only committed to Weber last year because of all the uncertainty surrounding IU’s program, and the young man was right. Mike Davis resigned before the season was over. Gordon had no idea who would be hired to take the helm of the once powerful program. (Too bad IU hasn’t been a major player in the NCAA since Gordon was in diapers.) With the swift hiring of Kelvin Sampson, and with the return of all the players except for Vaden and whatshisname from Europe (really, I can’t remember his name) Gordon realized that he’d much rather be in Bloomington than Champaign.

I wish he was there now.

The anemic offense that was on display this evening is in desperate need of Gordon’s skills. The Illini were up 49-40, not at the half, but with 20.9 seconds left in the game; one point a minute. Pathetic.

Don’t misunderstand me. I like what Sampson has done with this team, and I think that he will restore some of the shine to this rusty and dusty program. This was his first “bad loss”, however, and after beating an athletic UCONN squad in Hartford, and after cracking into the Top 25 in both polls, being beat down by a weak Illinois team is unimpressive. About as unimpressive as one point a minute.

Is anyone else tired of seeing DJ White with the ball 30′ from the basket? Is anyone else tired of the team launching a three every other time down the floor? Sure, it’s great when they go down, but when they don’t…well, you get one point a minute.

Just once, I’d love to see Wilmont curl off a White screen in the lane for either a 12 footer or a pass to White as he rolled to the hoop.

Just once.

That will happen about as soon as Sampson finds Weber’s phone number.

Read any good books lately?

If you're like most people, neither you or your children have read any books lately. Our culture has increasingly become video and picture oriented rather than text oriented. Books have been shelved. They are disregarded, and when one does take up a book, it is often seen as a chore or an "assignment". Who wants another job to do? Nobody, and so, books are put away to look nice in the bookcase and collect dust with the other household antiques.

Of course, you are currently reading a blog. Perhaps you feel that I've overstated the issue, but a blog is not a book. Al Mohler has written an interesting article on this topic - Defining Literacy --Do Your Kids Read Books? I encourage you to read his article, and the Washington Post article that he cites. I do, however, want to provide you with this small excerpt:

Reading is an important Christian discipline. Further, growth as a Christian disciple is closely tied to the reading of the Bible, as well as worthy Christian books...A loss of literacy and respect for the book amounts to grave danger for the Christian...The electronic media have their places and uses, and I am thankful for the accessibility of so much worthy and important information through digital means. Nevertheless, the electronic screen is not the venue for lengthy, thoughtful, serious reading. The vehicle for serious reading is the book, and the Christian should be a serious reader.

Not only are leaders readers, but Christians should be readers as well. God's revelation to us is words on a page. If we as Christians are to love and please our Savior we must read His book; not just to soak up information, but to live what we learn.

In his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life Donald Whitney cites the following statistics from a survey of people who identified themselves as "born again Christians":
"18% read the Bible every day and 23% said they never read the Word of God."
That is unacceptable. Since it was Jesus who said, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4), surely He intended, at the very least, for us to read every word.
Read any good books lately?

15 Minutes or Less

That's what the young man said to me last night. My phone rang yesterday evening after the State of the Union address, and, consequently, after "phonegate"; the debacle some have identified as a basketball game between IU and Illinois. I figured that someone wanted either to discuss President Bush's address to the State or "phonegate".

I preferred to do neither. (Although, it was different seeing Nancy Pelosi sitting behind the President. I didn't say bad. I said different. I kept waiting for Cheney to give her a playful elbow to the arm, glance her way and crack a smile, anything like that. That was like waiting for Kelvin Sampson to call Bruce Weber, but I digress.)

Dianna answered the phone, and she promptly handed it to me. I could tell that she didn't know who was on the other end, so I began to think of witty things that I could say to the telemarketer before hanging up on him. I was mildly rebuked when I discovered that the caller was a South Putnam high school student who wanted me to speak at their FCA meeting on Thursday morning. I love how God refocuses my attention on what's important. I hate that it needs to be refocused so often.

Like I said, the young man asked me to speak at their morning FCA meeting, and he asked me to speak for "fifteen minutes or less". That is all the time I have because this is a "before school" meeting.

Fifteen minutes doesn't seem like a long time. Is it possible to communicate anything of eternal significance in 900 seconds or less? I plan on communicating the gospel, specifically from John 3. That Biblical passage allows us to eavesdrop on the late-night conversation between the Pharisee Nicodemus and the Lord Jesus Christ. I don't know how long their conversation lasted, but I do that during the conversation Christ simply called Nicodemus to faith and repentance.

He told him, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:7) Christ then explained that the new birth is made possible because of the cross, and he used an Old Testament story to illustrate: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:14-15)

In a relatively short amount of time the Lord exposited and cogently illustrated Numbers 21:4-9. Nicodemus discovered that religion will not earn salvation, but that salvation is a free gift from the Father. This free gift is made possible by the Son's sacrificial death and resurrection from the grave, and it is available to those who will humble themselves, repent of their sins, and look in faith to Jesus.

That can be said in fifteen minutes or less.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Fall and Rise of Nebuchadnezzar

The Bible is replete with devastating, yet instructive, examples of pride's effect on man. There's Uzziah, David, Moses, the Apostles, Herod Agrippa, and the church at Laodicea, but my personal favorite is found in the fourth chapter of Daniel's prophecy; where the pride of Nebby K. Nezzer, which is Veggie Taleese for Nebuchadnezzar, is recounted for us. The first five verses of Daniel 4 read as follows:
Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you. I thought it good to show the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me. How great are his signs! and how might are his wonders! his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation. I Nebuchadnezzar was at rest in mine house, and flourishing in my palace: I saw a dream which made me afraid, and the thoughts upon my bed and the visions of my head troubled me.
Here King Nebuchadnezzar is enjoying the golden years of his life. The world was conquered, the borders were secure, and all the economic indicators were strong. He had palaces, power, and prosperity, but he also had a problem; this awful dream that no one could interpret. No one that is, except for Daniel, whom Nebby K. called Belteshazzar. Of course, it wasn't Daniel who interpreted dreams, it was God, but Daniel was the instrument used by the Lord.

This dream was serious business, and Nebuchadnezzar was dismayed because he didn't understand the meaning of the dream. Daniel is dismayed because he did understand the meaning; so he tactfully answers the king at the end of v. 19, "My lord, the dream be to them that hate thee, and the interpretation thereof to thine enemies." In other words, "My lord, may the dream concern those who hate you, and its interpretation concern your enemies!" And then he provides the interpretation, which is recorded in vv. 24-27:
This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High, which is come upon my lord the king: That they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and they shall wet thee with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over thee, till thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will. And whereas they commanded to leave the stump of the tree roots; thy kingdom shall be sure unto thee, after that thou shalt have known that the heavens do rule. Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquility.
Daniel identifies Nebuchadnezzar's principal problem as pride, because up to this point Nebuchadnezzar had failed to acknowledge that it is ultimately God who rules. The king's world was bound up in self; his was not a problem of low self-esteem. In fact, he esteemed himself too highly, and he did not esteem God at all. That had to change. What was the remedy? Verse 25 provides it, "Acknowledge that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of men."

Nebuchadnezzar must look away from himself, and look to Almighty God. This is the proper therapy for all who suffer from a proud heart, but the King refused the treatment. Daniel continues the saga in verse 28:
All this came upon the king Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon. The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty? While the word was in the king's mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee.
And all that Daniel had foretold, came to pass. Just imagine the astonishment of the palace servant as he who was couched in splendor is no longer allowed on the couch; as he who once walked in the palatial gardens, is now grazing in the palatial gardens. All of that because of pride.

New Perspective

In time the King was restored. Verses 34-37 read: And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven… Up to this point the King had never looked beyond his own accomplishments, now he had a new perspective. This is reminiscent of the prodigal son from Luke 15:17, "When he came to himself."

New Perception

"and mine understanding returned unto me…" When the king thought seriously about God and His glory, then he was able to come to terms with himself and his need. God had been remote to Nebuchadnezzar, now He is a personal God to whom honor is owed.

New Praise

"and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honored him that liveth for ever…" No longer is Nebuchadnezzar singing "I Did It My Way"; it has been replaced with "God Did it His Way"!
Whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honour and brightness returned unto me; and my counselors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me. Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.
Only God can effect such a change in the heart of the proud. And don't you think that this story is only historically interesting but practically irrelevant, because most of us have our little empires, whether they are professional, recreational, social, commercial, and even ecclesiastical. We all have personal realms in which we believe ourselves to be more significant than we truly are. How easy it is for us to carry on about what we have accomplished instead of what God in His goodness has chosen to bless. We use much of what happens around us to feed our egos rather than fuel our humility. So we must fight this pride monster ruthlessly. And here's how we do it.

Under the Influence of the Word

Humility means recognizing and believing that "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it," (Psalm 127:1a). Paul said "let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…"

I have yet to meet an effective believer who neglected feeding on God's Word. All believer's should follow Ezra's example; he "Prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and do it, and to teach [its] statutes and judgments," (Ezra 7:10). And as a member of this church you need to follow Israel's example; Nehemiah 8, one of the greatest revivals in history occurred when the congregation gathered together and told Ezra, "Bring out the book!" Attend expectantly, listen carefully, and apply the Scriptures properly, and then you will be able to leave joyfully.

Under the Influence of the Spirit

We need to allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives; being filled with the Spirit is not the privilege of a few, but the birthright of all who are in Christ. Remember the Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled." You will never accomplish anything for God apart from the work of His Spirit. As the prophet Zechariah 4:6 said, "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts." We must not think of ourselves more highly than we ought. God is not looking for the powerful, or the successful, or the rich, or the beautiful, or the dynamic communicators. In fact, God has chosen the foolish and the weak things of the world to shame the wise and the mighty of the world. God is looking for those individuals who have a broken and contrite heart, "The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart;" "a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise." And these are the people, whether they are extroverts or introverts, funny or melancholy, these are the people who are regularly bowing before God's Word with an expectant heart and seeking fresh enablement from the Holy Spirit.

Let us all, in the words of the Apostle Peter, be "clothed with humility," (1 Peter 5:5). Let's put on the garment of humility.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Humble Heart

About this time three and a half years ago, I sat down at my computer to check my email. In just a few moments I was reading a long list of prayer requests that a former church member (she was a current church member at the time) had emailed. As I looked over this person's various prayer concerns, I came across my own name, and I read the following:

I would like to ask for prayer for our Associate Pastor, Travis Gilbert. Please pray for the Lord to continue to work in his life to make him a strong, confident leader of our church, but also to possess patience, understanding, and humility. (Emphasis added)

This was a bulk email, sent out to a large number of people. Many thoughts ran through my mind as I read, re-read, and read again that not so subtle accusation that I lacked patience, understanding, and humility. I remembered the confrontation this person and I had just days before. I clearly remembered being stern with this person, but I had still maintained a proper attitude. "Yes," I said to myself (When you're a pastor, you do a lot of talking to yourself!), "…yes, while there was an avoidable confrontation, it had not been a combative confrontation." Nonetheless, here I sat reading, along with who knows how many others, this indictment in prayer request's clothing: "Our Associate Pastor lacks humility."

My initial reaction ran a gamut of thoughts and emotions. I thought, "That's great, now you're tagged with the impatient and proud label." Reputations are funny things, if a person has a reputation of being an early riser, he can get away with sleeping all day. If person has a reputation of being impatient and proud, everything he says, does, or preaches, is colored by that preconceived notion.

So, yes, for a few moments I sat there staring at the computer screen, feeling sorry for poor old me. But then I had a second thought, and I said to myself, "You know, it is a good thing if people will pray for you to be patient, understanding, and humble!" Humility is one of the character qualifications listed in 1Timothy 3 as a requirement for a pastor; it is a necessary aspect of a pastor's life; humility is a necessary aspect of any Christian's life!

Apart from faith and obedience, there is probably no more important spiritual virtue or characteristic than humility. A humble heart is pleasing unto God. The Lord God said:
  • Isaiah 66:2b, "To this man will I look {this is the one I will esteem}…him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word."
  • Psalm 34:18, "The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit."
  • Psalm 51:17, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise."
Christ began the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes, with the first four having to do with humility:
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
If there was anything true about the Judaism of Jesus' time, it was that most of the religious folks were not really concerned with living righteously, but they sure did want others to think they were righteous. They paraded their external religion around and expected the accolades of the crowd. They always sought the chief seats and the high places. They blew a trumpet when they gave their alms, and when they did their fasting they made a big public show out of it. That's because legalism is always the companion of spiritual pride, and is the complete opposite of true spirituality which has the virtue of humility. Thus, when Jesus started the Sermon on the Mount, He attacked the religious of His day with a direct hit.

It is true that humility pleases God; our God has fellowship with the humble person, but humility is not vogue. It seems that our culture views humility as it does smoking, something that is hazardous to your health and should be restricted. We live in a world that is preoccupied with brains, bodies, and bucks, and the by-product of all that is a perpetual and persistent self-love fest.

The prophet Jeremiah, however, proclaimed in 9:23-24, "Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD."

But in our day, slick advertising campaigns encourages you to spend your extra money, or even money that you don't have, on yourself because, "You're worth it." We drive around with bumper sticks boasting, not in the Lord, but on our elementary student who's made the honor roll. It seems that most people have as their personal credo that famous slogan which says, "No, I am not conceited! Although I have every right to be."

I have grown up in a generation that has taken "Ole Blue Eyes" at his word, and everyone sings to himself, and to any who will listen, "I did it my way!" But in a list of seven things which Almighty God hates, pride is listed first, (Proverbs 6:16-17, "These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto Him: a proud look…" and Solomon also wrote, 16:5a, "Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord…" And just too completely drive home the point, 21:4, "A high look, and a proud heart…is sin."

If I were to instill in my own three sons the good characteristics of work, courage, and perseverance, but not instill in them the grace of humility, then I'll end up raising a pack of Pharisees; virtuous in many ways, but too proud to see their need for God. That is reminiscent of King Uzziah, who the Chronicler says was "marvelously helped, till he was strong. But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction," (2 Chronicles 26:16).