Monday, August 31, 2009

The Demand of Discipleship

My mind has been on discipleship a lot lately, after having journeyed through Luke 14. Jesus' call to discipleship is a far cry from the discounted version that is so popular today, where Jesus is offered as fire insurance. A Savior -- but not a Lord. So Tozer's dailly devotional from the weekend was very timely.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. --Ephesians 2:10

Therefore, I must be frank in my feeling that a notable heresy has come into being throughout our evangelical Christian circles--the widely accepted concept that we humans can choose to accept Christ only because we need Him as Savior and we have the right to postpone our obedience to Him as Lord as long as we want to!

I think the following is a fair statement of what I was taught in my early Christian experience and it certainly needs a lot of modifying and a great many qualifiers to save us from being in error.

"We are saved by accepting Christ as our Savior; we are sanctified by accepting Christ as our Lord; we may do the first without doing the second!"

The truth is that salvation apart from obedience is unknown in the sacred Scriptures. Peter makes it plain that we are "chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit for obedience" (1 Peter 1:2). I Call It Heresy, 1-2.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Small Groups

At the Decatur Church of Christ, we are introducing small groups beginning in October. Jacob and I are sharing the sermon time to inform our congregation about how that will look for us. I am REALLY excited about this new direction for our church. This is not simply another program or activity. I believe it to be vital to who we want to be as disciples of Jesus.

As a product of the "American Restoration Movement," part of my DNA is to want to restore the simplicity of the early church. There are many in our movement who believe that restoration occurred at a particular point in the 1930s or 1950s. Yet through my study of church history, I am becoming more and more aware of how grossly short we have fallen. What 1st brought that to my attention was the realization of how we were among the most racist religious groups in those years. How can anyone possibly think they have "restored" the church of Jesus when we practiced segregation?

But then, as I read about Constantine's declaration of a "Holy Roman Empire" that ushered in the Roman Catholic Church, I realized that we are still settling for much of its form. The way we "do church" is a mixture of Roman influence and apostolic example.

Small groups is a step in the right direction of returning to the intimacy of the early church. And I am hopeful that every member of our church will be a part. I do believe that this will go a long way in keeping people from falling through the cracks or being able to say that they never found a place.

This is my dream.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Edward Kennedy

Ted Kennedy passed away last night. I have long held a love-love less (hate is too strong a word) feeling toward him. Seldom have I agreed with Senator Kennedy on the issues. Yet there was something in the way he was so passionate about what he did believe in that I found admirable.

America has been obsessed with the Kennedy family for 50 years or more. There was Joe, the war hero shot down in a mission. Then John, the returning war hero who became president and ushered in "Camelot" -- also gunned down in his prime. Following John was Bobby -- a visionary who probably would have been president in 1968 had he not been murdered.

And then there was "Teddy." He seemed to live in his brothers' shadows. He had severe personal problems -- drinking and carousing. The death of Mary Kopechne still remains a mystery -- and cost him dearly as a serious candidate for president. But he trudged on.

I have often wondered at the Kennedy family's passion for helping the downtrodden. After all, here is a family of rich aristocrats. You would think they would be concerned about higher taxes, etc. But they all seemed to have a deep-seated concern for the poor and disenfranchised. My cynical side has asked what they had to gain by this. And although I struggle with how far government's role should go, I keep coming up with the same answer for the Kennedys: I cannot think of anything they had to gain -- other than the satisfaction of trying to help improve the life of those who are "lesser."

Tonight I will be speaking in Crockett. It is always a little bit like going home. Our 5 years of ministry there were SO rewarding. And even though we see most of them only once a year -- it seems as if we have never left. Old friendships are immediately new again.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Home Again

Beverly and I arrived home late last night after a hectic few days of travel. I spoke in Houston last Wednesday night. On Thursday we received the call from Memphis that Noah would be leaving the ark on Friday. So we left Houston Thursday afternoon and arrived in Memphis at about 2 AM. Next morning, we headed to the hospital, with Noah disembARKing at about 11:40. He is perfect! 7 lbs., 15 ozs. and 21-1/2 inches. His first word was "Grampy." You can see pictures of him by clicking on Josh Ross' link on my blog. I imagine our anniversary (August 21) will now take a back seat to Noah's birthday. But that is OK. We can celebrate our anniversary "season."

Yesterday morning we took Truitt to the Memphis zoo. It is now rated as the best zoo in the USA. I have been to San Diego's zoo, and have to admit that Memphis is right there with it. There was a lot of shade -- making for a nice walk. I don't think the temperature even made it to 80 while we were there. Truitt LOVED the pandas.

We left after lunch, and got home last night about 10:45. I am reminded daily how blessed I am. My three kids and their wonderful spouses have blessed Beverly and me with 5 wonderful grandkids. Life is sweet.

Tomorrow we hit the road again. I speak in Crockett tomorrow night. So we will go down tomorrow afternoon and return tomorrow night. I used to LOVE to drive. Not so much any more. But Crockett is always a treat.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I Hope I Have Another 33

Thirty-three years ago today, I thought I was SO mature. 19 years old (I was quick to add that I would be 20 in October) -- and two days away from getting married. In retrospect, taking in most factors -- I was nowhere near ready for marriage. And I was about to learn a lot about myself.

On this side of it, as we approach our 33rd anniversary, I can see how God matured me after the fact. Fortunately I married an INCREDIBLE woman who, next to God Himself, showed me so much grace. She encouraged me and was patient with me as I grew into a man.

At this point in our lives, I cannot imagine life without my best friend and soulmate. I still get excited in the evenings when I hear the garage door open -- knowing that she is home. I love to see her smile -- because I take credit for it. And even to this day, aside from the Holy Spirit (actually in partnership with Him), she is my greatest motivator to greater Christlikeness.

I am writing this two days early because I will be out of the office for a few days. But I just want Beverly and all bloggerland to know that I have lived a charmed life. Choosing a mate at 19 statistically is a HUGE mistake. But God not only protected me -- He gave me the best.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Marinating -- not Microwaving

Tomorrow, Lord willing, Beverly and I will go to Houston, where I will speak at Bammel Road Church of Christ. We will spend a couple of days with our son Jonathan's family.

This will quite likely be a SERIOUS travel week. I just have a feeling that we will leave Houston to go to Memphis for the arrival of our grandson Noah. That is probably how Beverly and I will celebrate our 33rd wedding anniversary -- which is Friday. I'm excited!


I was reading an article by Joe McKeever entitled, "Why Sermon Preparation Takes Me So Long." Here is part of that article:

I once heard John Bisagno, veteran pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church at the time, say he did not understand why many pastors require so long to prepare a message. “Give me some privacy, my Bible and a note pad, and in two hours without interruptions, I have the sermon.” This, I might say, is just one of the five hundred reasons most of us who know Dr. Bisagno envy this gifted servant of the Lord.

To put it bluntly, few of us can produce the kind of sermon we ought to be preaching in that brief a time. In my case, this preparation time is not measured in hours, but in days or even weeks. Perhaps it has something to do with limited intellect, but a sermon has to grow in my mind—marinate as opposed to microwave, I sometimes put it.

I love that imagery of a sermon marinating rather than microwaving.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Waiting Game

It's kind of hard to settle into my daily routines right now as Beverly and I await the arrival of our grandson Noah. Next week I preach on Wednesday night at my youngest son's church in Houston. We plan on staying to see him coach a football scrimmage on Friday. And that Sunday, Jacob and I will be co-preaching here as we introduce an exciting new opportunity to the Decatur church.

But all of that could be tabled if Noah decides to make his grand appearance. So we will try to go on as if he will wait until his due date. But we are also practicing the old Boy Scout motto: Be prepared.

Well, Jerry got what he wanted. After 13 years of mediocrity and hot-air promises which the "Cow-sheep" (Randy Galloway's term for blind followers of Jerry Jones' Cowboys) buy into every year -- he is opening his monument. I like the way Jeff Jones referred to it in his blog: Jerry's ego-plex.

How the mighty have fallen.

I have nothing personal against Tony Romo, but I tire of hearing him compared to Aikman and Staubach. How about let him win just one playoff game before he is enshrined in the Hall of Fame, please.

My son Jonathan and I were talking about this last time he was here. If you were to rank the all-time Cowboy quarterbacks, where would Romo fall? Here's mine:

1. Staubach (Two Super Bowls)
2. Aikman (Three Super Bowls)
3. Don Meredith (Two NFL championship games)
4. Danny White (Three NFC championship games. This guy was GOOD, but had the misfortune of following Mr. Cowboy)
5. Craig Morton, Eddie Lebaron, Tony Romo

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

For the Sake of the Call

As you read the following words from A. W. Tozer, remember that he wrote 50-60 years ago. He sometimes comes across a little harsh, but his passion for being a sincere disciple of Jesus cannot be questioned.

But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness and handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. --2 Corinthians 4:2

Here again is seen the glaring discrepancy between Biblical Christianity and that of present-day evangelicals, particularly in the United States....

To make converts here we are forced to play down the difficulties and play up the peace of mind and worldly success enjoyed by those who accept Christ. We must assure our hearers that Christianity is now a proper and respectable thing and that Christ has become quite popular with political bigwigs, well-to-do business tycoons and the Hollywood swimming pool set. Thus assured, hell-deserving sinners are coming in droves to "accept" Christ for what they can get out of Him; and though one now and again may drop a tear as proof of his sincerity, it is hard to escape the conclusion that most of them are stooping to patronize the Lord of glory much as a young couple might fawn on a boresome but rich old uncle in order to be mentioned in his will later on. Born After Midnight, 17.

I believe that in these difficult times, when the number of Jesus-followers is diminishing as a percentage of the population, we need a fresh approach. Now is not the time for more Joel Olsteen-type promises of prosperity and ease. Rather, now is the time for us to return to a call to discipleship. Jesus never sought quantity, but quality.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Way to Go, Tiger!

I love golf. But I bet you already knew that. One reason I love it so much is that it is a game of honor. What other sport or game do you know of where players will call penalties on themselves? A golfer addresses the ball and it moves. No one sees it move but the golfer. He calls an official over and tells him what happened -- and receives a 1-stroke penalty.

Another example of the greatness of golf happened Sunday -- although Tiger-bashers may not see it as that. Tiger was paired with Padraig Harrington in the final group on Sunday. As they came to the 16th hole, they were informed that because they were not keeping up with the group ahead of them -- they were being "put on the clock." A 2nd warning can result in a penalty.

Now think of the sense of this. Admittedly, Harrington is a SLOW player. I tire of waiting for him to get into a shot. But on Sunday, probably 75% of the gallery is following these two guys. Every hole, they are having to wade through people. Before each shot, they have to wait as the crowd gets into place. And yet, they are still on pace to finish in about 4 hours. Not a "slow" pace of play.

Besides that, they are in a head-to-head battle for the championship. No one else is really even in the hunt.

So as they arrived at 16, Harrington had a one-stroke lead over Tiger. And that is when the official informed him that they were timing his shots. He immediately hit his tee shot deep into the rough to the right -- but Tiger followed by hitting his shot deep into the left rough. The 2nd shot was Harrington's big mistake, as he tried to punch out into the fairway. He hit the ball through the fairway into the rough on the left side, leaving a difficult lie. Tiger punched out into the fairway, and then followed that with a highlight-reel shot -- a 182-yard 8 IRON to inside a foot. Harrington continued his meltdown from there -- finishing the hole with an 8. Tiger carded a 4 -- and went on to win the tournament by 4 shots.

So who took the officials to task after the round? Tiger. He said what happened on hole 16 was uncalled for, and it was especially unfair to Harrington. And guess what happened yesterday? Tiger was fined -- not for throwing a fit in his own defense. He was fined for speaking up FOR THE GUY HE WAS PLAYING AGAINST!

Now, Tiger Woods can afford whatever fine he was given. But I just tell that story to say that you won't find that kind of class in most any other sport. Please, I am not saying this to knock baseball, football, basketball, or whatever. I am just saying that golf is unique. And to me, that is part of its allure.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Gear Up? or Tear Up?

Yesterday may go down for me as the greatest day I have personally experienced in a church. From 4-7 PM, we had invited the community (through flyers handed out door-to-door and put in the food boxes as WARM) to come to our building for free school supplies, haircuts, clothes, and a number of other services. We did not know what to expect, but had premonitions that we had joined the Father in His activity.

I don't cry easily. But yesterday, I found myself stopping a number of times to dry my eyes. And this morning, I am still crying as I think about it. Because at 1:30 they started coming. By 3:30, they were lined out into our parking lot. By 4:30, there was not ONE empty parking place, and volunteers were parking people 2-deep on the grass.

We were prepared to hand out 400 backpacks of school supplies. We had NO idea what to expect. We were prepared to hand out another 100 "rainchecks." Well, we ended up giving out 272 rainchecks. We had bought 1,000 hotdogs, already having a plan B as to what we would do with the leftovers. Not one hotdog was left. Around 200 haircuts were given, with 6 incredible volunteers working NON-STOP for over three hours. Richard, a local hair stylist, cut 50 himself!

I couldn't tell who were the happiest -- the families being helped or our volunteers who were finding out the truth of how it is more blessed to give than to receive. The volunteers were INCREDIBLE -- around 130 strong. I have never experienced an atmosphere like that! The Spirit of Jesus was definitely evidenced (I'm crying right now as I write this).

I would estimate that over 800 people came to us yesterday (Jacob says he thinks there were 1,000). And while I am glad we were able to help, I cry for our county. We have a lot of wealth in Wise county. But there is SO MUCH poverty. 1/3rd of our county's residence come to WARM for assistance every year -- over 20,000 different individuals.

I am sure I will hear many moving stories about things that happened yesterday. But so far, this one has touched me the most. Donna Moon saw a cute little girl, about 6 or so, eating a hot dog. This was about 6 PM. Donna asked her how she was enjoying the day. She smiled and said it was really good. And then she said that the hotdog was the first food she had all day. That breaks my heart!

I can't wait until next year!

LATE NOTE: We preachers are often accused of "preacher counts" -- over-inflating numbers. But I am being told by many who were here yesterday that they would estimate the number were more like 1,200-1,500!

Friday, August 07, 2009

Examining Oneself

The following is borrowed from Edward Fudge's blog:

While an Oxford student in 1729-1730, John Wesley wrote a list of questions for his own self-examination, and later refined the questions for use in his small groups. This regular exercise in self-examination was one of Wesley's "methods" that gave rise to the nickname "methodist." Today, nearly three centuries later, Wesley's 21 questions are still as applicable and challenging as the day he first wrote them.

* * *

(1) Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I am? In other words, am I a hypocrite? (2) Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate? (3) Do I confidentially pass onto another what was told me in onfidence? (4) Am I a slave to dress, friends, work, or habits? (5) Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying? (6) Did the Bible live in me today? (7) Do I give it time to speak to me everyday?

(8) Am I enjoying prayer? (9) When did I last speak to someone about my faith? (10) Do I pray about the money I spend? (11) Do I get to bed on time and get up on time? (12) Do I disobey God in anything? (13) Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy? (14) Am I defeated in any part of my life?

(15) Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful? (16) How do I spend my spare time? (17) Am I proud? (18) Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisee who despised the publican? (19) Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I going to do about it? (20) Do I grumble and complain constantly? (21) Is Christ real to me?

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Ross Report

Several news items this morning keep swirling around in my head:

1. The release of the two women being held by North Korea. Former President Bill Clinton helped to secure their release. The North Korean government said they had received a letter of apology from President Obama. Spokespeople for the President said no apology was sent. Of course, the claims of an apology letter come from one of the strangest (and scariest) leaders on this planet, Kim Jong II. This is a guy who claimed, after playing his first round of golf, that he shot an 18! That's right. He actually claimed he had 18 holes in one -- and expected the free world to believe it!

2. The massacre in the Pittsburgh area. I cannot understand why a person who wants to kill himself feels he must take others with him. Of course, Beverly reminds me that rational people cannot understand irrational thinking. I guess that bodes well for me.

3. The woman who was driving drunk and high with her 5 children in the car. She drove down the wrong lane of a highway for 2 mile before having a head-on collision. Eight people died. It ought to make us very defensive in our driving to realize that there are MANY people on the road who are driving impaired by drugs, alcohol or texting. I saw a lady driving the other day with her blackberry on her steering wheel, reading a map, and eating.

4. A 101 year old man in Weatherford who still works full-time. He has been practicing law since the mid-30s. He will soon receive an award as the oldest full-time worker in America. He frankly admitted that if he didn't work, he would die within a year. Asked the secret to still being alive, he said, "I haven't died yet."

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Gift of Fatherhood

Thirty-one years ago today, August 3, 1978, we were living in Abilene, Texas. A tropical system came through, dumping FEET of rain. The town of Albany, north of Abilene, had nearly 30 inches that day.

During the early morning hours, Beverly, who was 9 months pregnant, began to feel very uncomfortable. So later that morning, we went to the doctor -- and then on to the hospital around lunchtime. Labor had set in.

But it was a slow process. And Beverly was SO uncomfortable. She only found relief by leaning against my back -- which I had to fold up like a lawn chair. (No, I'm not expecting any sympathy).

Finally early in the evening, the doctor found that things were not progressing -- and determined the reason why. He decided to take the baby by cesarian section. This was in the days when the dad had to bide his time out in the waiting room.

But I can remember it like it was yesterday. The nurse came out and informed me that Beverly was fine. And then those words that were music to my ears and forever changed my life: "It's a girl!" Talk about walking on air!

Today I am thanking THE Father for the gift of fatherhood. Happy birthday, Jennifer Laine Ross Bizaillion! Whether you like it or not, you will always be my little girl. But I could not be more proud of the woman you have become.