I once thought of starting a club for procrastinators, but I never got around to it. Procrastination is preparing a sermon while the choir sings. (No, I have not been guilty of this.) Procrastination is filing your taxes on April 15th. Procrastination is running through airports. You could probably add many more items to the list.
On rare occasions I think procrastination might be divinely guided. Just a few short weeks ago, I received a letter from our Texas Baptist Convention that let me know about an effort to rebuild the homes of fifteen pastors and their families who lost their home in the recent typhoon that hit the Philippines. For only 5000 dollars a home could be built. I had intended to bring that up at a Missions Committee meeting, but the agenda was so full I did not do it. I put the matter off. I felt strange about it because it had touched my heart as soon as I learned of it. I remember asking myself why I had not acted with more resolve on this worthwhile project. I knew we could easily be involved. What was causing me to hesitate?
I was recently elected to the Executive Board of our convention. This is a body of leaders from all over Texas that handles business for our convention between annual meetings. In a meeting in late February, they revisited the matter of the damage in the Philippines and showed pictures of the devastation. They also showed pictures of the pastors and families who were left homeless. They reported that seven homes and been financed by churches around the state and they wanted to find support for rebuilding the other eight homes. Once again, I felt sad that I had not acted immediately to be a part of this project. The meeting is a two day meeting. On the second day I was looking over the agenda while we worked our way through, and I noticed that the last item was a time for comments and other miscellaneous remarks. It was as if at that moment the Lord revealed to me his plan. I determined that I would make a comment that Crestview would provide one of the houses for the Philippine pastors and that I hoped others there would consider doing the same. As soon as that moment came in the meeting I ask to be recognized and stated in a matter of fact way what I was confident Crestview would do. I very gently challenged others in the room to follow suit. Within around two minutes, forty thousand dollars was raised in the room and all fifteen homes were financed. A Filipino pastor who serves as our board Vice-President began to weep. Excitement swept the room as we ended on such a high note. In my heart, I knew that I had found the answer to my perplexing procrastination. God had silently asked me to wait so that at the proper time acting would prompt others to act. The hero of our story is never us. The true hero is the Lord. He allows us the privilege of joining him in changing the world. Only eternity will reveal what the acts of love and kindness toward the Philippines may yield. The typhoon brought death and destruction, but this loving assistance will create partnership and praise to the glory of God!
Maybe someday I will get around to starting that procrastinator’s club? Maybe you would like to join? Providing that you can get around to it.
There is a trend at work in the American church that is disturbing to me. Many independent churches and quite a number of Baptist churches do not have membership rosters. This might seem like a little thing, and it is easy to take a spiritual tone and suggest that God knows those who are his, but this trend adds to the lack of accountability and engagement that is so desperately needed in order to be a healthy church. Let me describe real situations in my own community. A family whose home I have personally visited on more than one occasion disappeared from attendance several years ago. I had baptized the children in the home, counseled the head of the household in an important career decision, and called them by name every time I encountered them in the community. When I called to check on them they told me that they were “attending” another church. This church had loud music which the kids loved and a larger youth group etc. I simply told them that I was sad to see them leave, but was glad that they had not simply dropped out. I continued to see them around town. They are still on our roll seven years later. The church they attended does not ever show the courtesy of informing former churches of their pastoral care to families that depart. This is becoming epidemic. So who calls if they stop attending there. Just a few weeks ago that family was back. In following up with them, I discovered that they had indeed dropped out for awhile. (I have permission to tell this story without the names.) When they did drop out, they were never called or even missed by the other church. The children, now in college, to this day have not had a single contact made from the congregation they attended all through high school. Do you see my point?
Now let me say that this same story could be repeated at Crestview. Here is the difference. If they were in a bible study, they would likely be missed and contacted. They would continue to receive mail. They would likely receive email. They might be visited by a visitation team. They could be visited by a staff member. They would never have their names removed from the roster unless they asked to be removed or unless another church ask for confirmation of their former membership due to their involvement elsewhere. What I just described is a process of accountability which safeguards to some extent the phenomena of people dropping out. I estimate there may be more than twenty thousand drop outs living in Georgetown. These are people who once worshiped somewhere with some degree of regularity and now never attend. When I first came to Georgetown, I began to personally visit inactive members. I remember one older couple who informed me that they became discouraged with the church and would not likely be back. I had a pleasant conversation with them and then I said these words, “Even if you never attend, I want you to consider me as your pastor. I am applying for the job. If you need me, please call. Thank you for allowing me to visit with you.” I then had a prayer with them. They were in church the next week and attended until poor health made it impossible. They went on our homebound list and were regularly visited by myself and others until they passed away. What I just described could not happen in many churches today where people are never even enrolled in a concrete way. We need to take membership more seriously.
Can we at least agree that there are some things about God and his ways that are beyond us? For instance, since God gives us prophecies that concern things that will happen in the future that means that he knows how things will turn out. He apparently knew us before creation since the prophets tell us so and since Jeremiah knew he was called when in his mother’s womb. Here is the place where some things break down. Some take these truths to mean that God never had a plan for those who do not believe on Jesus or open their heart to God. I strongly disagree. I base my position on the powerful emotion that is all over Scripture which reveals the heart of a loving God who reaches out to those who turn away. Isaiah says in 65:2, “All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people.” Here is a question for those who see God as not offering salvation to those who reject. Why would God hold out his hands to people that he decreed from eternity would be damned to hell? I am not suggesting that their rejection took God by surprise. I am simply stating what seems obvious. God is too loving not to reach toward even those that he knows will turn away. They are responsible for their obstinate behavior. They are loved of God. They spurn that love. Some do it knowingly. Some may not really know, but do it in complete ignorance. When Jesus said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” What was that about? I simply cannot find the God in the bible that is taught by those who call themselves “Calvinists”. Personally, I am not interested in being called by any name other than the name of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. “Christian” will do just fine for me. No disrespect to Calvin, I just think he was a little too determined to define his break with Roman Catholicism. I appreciate his emphasis on the sovereignty of God. However, he should have stopped sooner in his effort to display the ways of God. He got in way over his head. He had no corner on that market. We always do. “Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?” (Job 11:7) The obvious answer should be “no”.
I have said very little about it publicly, but this Spring Shannon and I will go to the Holy Land with a large group from our congregation and area. This is the trip that I put off in 1982 in order to do mission work. My father offered to send me to the Holy land as a gift at the same time that I had an open door to go to Brazil and preach and do door to door evangelism. I asked him to sponsor my trip to Brazil instead. I chose the mission trip and set the course for thirty years of international travel to do missions. It is time now to go to the land where God touched the earth. When we realize that God is eternal and stands outside of time and space, and then acknowledge the coming of Christ for what it is, we are accepting the fact that God entered time and space and set foot on this earth. When he did, the place where he touched the earth is by virtue of that fact holy ground. I call to mind how at the burning bush in the book of Exodus God commanded Moses to remove his shoes because he was standing on holy ground through the reality of God’s presence on the mountain. As grand as that was, the coming of Jesus was the ultimate close encounter between God and man. Our faith is a historical faith. Unlike almost all other religions which are philosophical and make claims that cannot be verified, our faith is etched into the sands of time and burned into the historical record. That is why I always say that the bible is like no other holy book on earth. I have actually read many of the other books of other religions and I can tell you that there is no comparison. They cannot be verified archeologically or historically. They do not provide points of correspondence with history. They are filled with that which is more myth than mystery and more legendary than legitimate. The primary theatrical stage of the Scriptures is found in the land of Israel and those lands immediately surrounding it. I want to go walk on that stage and get physically in touch with the greatest story ever told. I have no doubts about the truth of the story because I know the author. Pray for the Lord’s strength and health for us as we travel on the last day of March through early April.
A revolution has begun at Crestview Baptist Church. People are rising up and throwing off their taskmasters. We are likely now at 85 per cent participation in the three programs of the “Breaking Free” challenge. If everyone who participates just makes a few adjustments in their financial lives the impact will be enormous on their futures. Last night we were expecting 34 participants and we welcomed 48. Several people from the community came and participated with us. This is just one of numerous classes underway this week. To learn more go to peoplesharingjesus.com.
I call this a revolution because it is a counter cultural movement. We live in a culture of massive debt. Our government is spending money in a reckless and irresponsible way and shows few signs of seriousness about changing the pattern. Approaching half of the American population either cannot or will not take responsibility for their own lives. This situation can only end bad. Only a revolution can save us. If our government will not lead then perhaps the people must do so. If Washington D. C. will not cut up her credit cards, then maybe if enough of us cut up ours we can set a powerful example of how it is done.
So why is a church doing a program like this. The principles arise from the Scripture. The old Protestant work ethic built this country and it can rebuild it if only it is practiced. The key word here is “discipline.” Has anybody noticed the similarity between the word “discipline” and the word “disciple.” That is no accident. The church has failed to make disciples in the area of stewardship for too long. Stewardship is not merely supporting the work of the church. Stewardship is handling all of your resources in a God honoring and responsible way that produces blessings for you and for the community around you. The word itself implies that we are temporary stewards of the resources that belong to another. Those resources belong to the Lord. “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” (Psalm 24:1) Do we live like we really believe that? Think about it.