Fellowship — the Weakest Link in the Church Today

Text: Acts 2:42-47

The Jerusalem church had a problem. This congregation of 120 souls held a one-day revival and by nightfall, they had baptized 3,000 people. Talk about overwhelming the system! No church is set up for this kind of growth.

The challenge they faced was how to disciple these new believers, to get them established in the Christian life as quickly as possible.

The task was complicated by several factors. Many were foreigners in Jerusalem for the days of Pentecost, which had just ended. Their friends were ready to head home, but since Jesus Christ had just entered their lives and rearranged their priorities, they planned to remain in town for a while to learn all they could as quickly as possible before heading home.

Since the church had no meeting place, they crowded into homes and any available corner of the Temple for classes taught by the apostles. To further complicate matters, new believers were arriving all the time. By Acts 4:4, the number had risen to 5,000 believers. Clearly, this was not an orderly and well-organized process of discipleship. They were doing the best they could under unprecedented conditions. The image of “herding cats” comes to mind.

In building His fledgling church, the Lord was using three different kinds of stones, so to speak: the Word of God, the Work of God, and the Worship of God.

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The Next Generation of Parents

I’ve said to my sons they are far better fathers to their little ones than I was to them. I’m a little grateful that they argue the point, but I stand my ground.

For one thing, they’re home more than I was. Ask any pastor. The evening meetings at church are bad enough, but add to that the out-of-town trips to speak in other churches, denominational appointments, conventions, mission assignments, and–well, you get the point. I look back to those days 30 years ago with regret that I was not there more than I was.

However, without engaging in an autopsy here–and punishing myself too severely–I will admit I did a few things right.

Every parent makes mistakes. I wouldn’t be surprised if even James and Shirley Dobson–the world’s greatest authorities on how to raise kids–look back to mistakes they made in raising Ryan and Danae.

If we wanted to grovel in regret and self-pity,we each have done enough wrong to supply plenty of material. But let’s not. Let’s focus for a moment on things we did right.

The only reason I mention this here is to “put a bug” in the ear of some parents who read this.

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Pretty Scary

In Poplarville, Mississippi, police have arrested a guy for sending threats to African-Americans. According to news reports, he texted targets announcing that he is so angry over the election of Barack Obama as president, he is determined to kill thousands of N—-rs. That’s terrible.

But here’s the scary part: it turns out he was black.

He was trying to stir up further racial tension and dissension. As if we need any more.

Up the road a few miles above New Orleans — on what we call the “North Shore” — police have shut down a KKK-type operation and arrested everyone involved. A young Oklahoma woman had joined the group and was going through the initiation when she suddenly decided this was not for her. “You can’t leave,” they insisted. When she refused to back down, their leader pulled out a pistol and killed her. Everyone is being charged either with her murder or abetting it by covering it up afterwards.

These are whites, of course. But they are a cancer on America today, I’ll say as clearly as I know how.

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The Last Thing We Need

The mayor has erected signs all over New Orleans announcing big plans for future development. Tuesday’s Times-Picayune says he did this “hoping to boost public confidence.”

The question that occupied much of Monday night’s meeting of the City Council, however, was whether such signs inspire the citizens of this city or anger them. Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell said, “Instead of signs saying what we’re going to do, why not put up signs saying what we’ve completed?”

Sure would save a lot of money on signs.

In the three years and three months since Hurricane Katrina devastated this city and regions around us, our mayor and his administration have developed incredible skills at announcing plans and program. Numerous press conferences have been called to unveil architects’ imaginative plans for developments on this block or in this neighborhood. The paper gives the hoopla front page coverage the next morning, and then nothing happens. Pretty soon, another conference is called, another drawing is unveiled, another front page heralds the news, and then nothing.

The citizens have long since grown skeptical over any announcement emanating from City Hall.

Instead of learning, however, Mayor Nagin and his people want to invest more money in bigger and better signs of their plans.

I’m with Ms. Morrell. Tell us what you’ve done, not what you’re planning.

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Time to Give Thanks

Not being a pastor any more, I almost have little need for the extensive files loaded with anecdotes and illustrations accumulated over the years. However, with Thanksgiving approaching, I dug out the thick file so labeled and chose a few of the stories and insights on the subject. Just because the paper they’re on is beginning to “yellow” does not diminish their value.

In a 1973 sermon titled “Don’t Sit on the Thorns,” Brian Harbour speaks of a 17th century preacher named Jeremy Taylor who had just seen his home plundered and his family driven out of doors, their worldly possessions gone. Taylor writes,

“What now? Let me look about me. They have left me the sun and the moon, a loving wife and many friends to pity me, and some to relieve me. They have not taken away my merry countenance and my cheerful spirit and a good conscience; they have still left me the providence of God and all the promises of the Gospel, and my religion, and my hopes of heaven, and my charity to them, too; and still I sleep and digest, I eat, and drink. I read and meditate — and he that hath so many causes of joy and so great, is very much in love with sorrow and peevishness, who leaves all these pleasures and chooses to sit down upon his little handful of thorns.”

Taylor (and thus Brian Harbour) says the fellow who chooses to complain instead of giving thanks is like one who intentionally sits on a handful of thorns.

Gloria Steinem (hey, I’ll quote anyone if it’s worth saying!) once said, “America is an enormous frosted cupcake in the middle of millions of starving people.” She was right. For God’s people, it’s not enough to give thanks for our bounty, but must be looking for ways to share God’s blessings with others who have less.

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A Voice We Need to Hear

Gwen Williams is a dear sister in Christ who is well-known to many who have lived any time in New Orleans or come here to minister. She has been redeemed through the precious blood of Jesus, she is an African-American who bills herself as “Miss Chocolate,” she has ministered to inner city youth for decades, she belongs to Fred Luter

Monday Morning Ruminations

A ruminant is an animal that chews its cud. To ruminate is to sit back and reflect on yesterday’s happenings. Here are some I’m chewing on this Monday morning….

“What I Told Billy Graham”

As you doubtless know, they are soliciting birthday greetings for Dr. Billy Graham on the occasion of his 90th birthday which took place last week. How they will sift through a half-million notes and e-mails is anyone’s guess. What do you want to bet a book will be produced with the hundred most interesting?

In my note, I reminded Dr. Graham of the time in November of 1987 when he and George Beverly Shea and a couple of other friends sat in my office for an hour and a half, as we waited for the start of the afternoon funeral service of his longtime colleague, Dr. Grady Wilson, who was a member of our congregation (FBC, Charlotte, NC). I told him, “As we sat there, I found myself having a little inner conversation that went like this. I asked myself, ‘Do you pray for Billy Graham?’ I answered, ‘People all over the world pray for this man, but I’m only one person.’ I recall laughing at that and thinking, ‘Well, hotshot, do you know anyone who is two people? We’re all only one.’ Ever since, I have prayed for you!”

Incidentally — this is to our readers now and not what I said to Dr. Graham — I’ve been working on a missions sermon this week, and the Lord brought that incident to my mind. When it comes to the Lord’s work, many of God’s people excuse themselves from doing anything significant because “I’m only one person.”

The sermon could be entitled “I’m just one, but….” And it would work out to something like this.

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Fatal Flaws

I’ve been enjoying a book on Abraham Lincoln from the hands of Brian Lamb and the good folks at C-Span. Called simply “Abraham Lincoln,” the book is a collection of brief chapters from various authors/historians on the 16th president.

This Friday morning, waiting in my doctor’s office for my periodic post-cancer checkup (“You’re fine. Come back in 6 months”), I came across insights about two men near Lincoln, both making similar points.

General George McClellan was put in charge of the Union forces early in the Civil War. Allen C. Guelzo writes that McClellan was an outstanding general in many ways. “He built a wonderful army. He was a great organizer, a tremendously talented engineer. If management consultants had existed in 1860, his was the resume that every management consultant in the country would take as an example.”

“There was only one problem,” Professor Guelzo writes. “(McClellan) didn’t like to fight, which is a strange thing for a general.”

A fatal flaw, I call it. It’s what caused Lincoln to sack him. McClellan did not seem to realize that the whole point of building a great army was to engage the enemy. Guelzo adds, “He might have been a genius, but he was not a genius for achieving victory.”

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An Open Letter to My Fellow Right Wing Nuts

With everything inside me, I detest this kind of conversation, but I’m going to give it a try. I’d like to pour oil on troubled waters. If it turns out I’m just stirring them up worse, I apologize and will drop this.

So, you’re upset that Senator McCain lost the election and that Senator Obama won. You cannot believe that any Christian who cares about God’s Word and Christ’s glory and society’s survival would vote for Obama. After all, he’s pro-homosexual, pro-abortion, and pro-a lot of stuff which “normal” Christians do not go in for. On top of this, Obama sat under Jeremiah Wright’s teaching all those years without a murmur of discontent and only disowned him when the public learned of the poison that pastor was spreading.

You’re so upset you’re emailing your friends around the country despairing over the foolishness of the American electorate.

You believe people were just voting their pocketbooks and not their convictions in rejecting McCain and choosing Obama. You are upset that Obama is the most untried, green, mysterious president-elect in history. You worry about what this nation is coming to.

Me, too. I voted for McCain.

However, I have several thoughts I’d like to call to your attention.

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In our Wednesday morning pastors meeting, I asked the African-American pastors how they were feeling after Barack Obama’s win last night. All answered with variations of, “Great!” One told me privately, “I feel the American people got the presidency back.” Another said, “I don’t just feel great for my people. I feel great for America right now.”

I rejoice with these friends and determine to pledge our new chief-executive my faithful prayer support. In fact, these are the most important days to pray for the new leader, when he’s making crucial decisions regarding his staff. Those who didn’t care much for Bush’s staff (Cheney, Rove, etc) will be the first to admit how critical it is that the president choose wisely. So much of the success or failure of his administration will be determined by the quality of the men and women with whom he surrounds himself.

One of the things I admire most about Senator and now President-elect Obama is his unflappability. Throughout this marathon campaign — far too long and much too costly — we’ve seen the candidates in every kind of trying situation. At no time did I see Obama lose his temper and come unglued. With the relentless attacks and unreasonable charges flying in all directions, that’s as good a compliment as I know how to give. He was as cool under attack as anyone I’ve ever seen.

The Wednesday edition of the Times-Picayune carries a feature about Bo Pellini, the first-year football coach at Nebraska. Lately he’s been losing his temper on the sidelines and cursing out his coaches and players. The reporter said YouTube has been playing excerpts, to the consternation of Cornhuskers far and wide. Someone in Bo’s family who can read lips confronted him with the way he is losing his cool and demeaning his colleagues and players. He admits to being chastened. “I’m working on my temper,” he claims.

Coach Pellini did not ask me, but I can tell him how to conquer a temper. I’ve been there.

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