pecaspers: a Blog in transition

September 24, 2013

Is It Christmas Already?

Filed under: Culture,Ministry,My Life in General — pecaspers @ 6:51 AM
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It is late-September. Do you know what that means? It means that Christmas is right around the corner.

That’s right; I went there.

You can argue that I’m jumping the gun here, but the fact is that most retailers have their Halloween stuff out already and will be putting Thanksgiving and Christmas decorations out in the coming weeks. Our church choir has already begun preparing for our Christmas cantata. Our LibertyYouth Christmas activities have been on my mind for over a month. We are less than 100 days away from the holiday that is the climax of “the most wonderful time of the year,” as the song goes. Ready or not, here Christmas comes.

As stores and churches make long-range preparations for the coming holiday season, I want to challenge you to go ahead and plan to prepare your heart. Ask yourself now whether your past Christmases have been mostly about how the eternal God took on flesh and lived among us, or if they’ve been focused on all the materialistic trappings and traditions with only a tip of a furry red hat to the baby in the manger. Will the biggest gift you give be to yourself, your kids, your spouse, or to your church as the body of the Christ we celebrate? Will you hustle and bustle to get the deals and buy presents and decide that you are too busy to be present among God’s people when they gather to worship Him?

I’m not trying to lay a guilt trip on you. I’m trying to give you a heads up so you can make plans that speak clearly about your priorities.

Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21, ESV) Paul instructed the faithful brothers in Colossae, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your[a] life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”(Colossians 3:1-4, ESV)

What treasures will most consume your Christmastime? Will they be laid up under a tree or laying at Jesus feet? When you set your mind on things above, will that be higher than the reindeer paws up on the housetop?

January 21, 2013

MLK and Inauguration Day 2013

If you don’t live under a rock, then you know that today was both the presidential inauguration and the public celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. Much was made during the ceremonies in Washington D.C. of the way Dr. King’s “Dream” was on display as fulfilled in the re-inauguration of the United States of America’s first Black president. But that’s kind of ridiculous if you think about it.

To quote King, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Like it or not, there were plenty of people who voted for and against Barack Obama just because he is Black. Interestingly enough, he’s actually bi-racial. King’s dream wasn’t that Black people would overtake White people in positions of power and influence. The dream is that people’s moral character will be seen for what it is without reference at all to the color of their skin. The dream is not reached until we stop talking about the first Black, Latino, Asian, or whatever whoever. When a person’s race doesn’t enter into the equation of how good a man or woman someone is, then we’ll be on the way. (Side note: My point here isn’t to argue for or against President Obama’s character.)

I’ll happily admit we’ve made a lot of progress. And of course, first [insert race/gender] [insert significant achievement]s occur as a sign of that progress. My own denomination elected Fred Luter as President of the Southern Baptist Convention this year; he’s the first Black President of the SBC. However, we have not arrived in a post-racial America until the hype is all and only about a person and not his or her skin. We have not arrived in a post-racial America until people stop throwing “he’s Black” into conversations when it isn’t actually important to the story being told–you know what I’m talking about. We have not arrived in a post-racial America until there’s a recognition of the fact that Black folks and White folks and Asian folks and every other kind of folks do in fact have some real cultural differences but that we’re all, more importantly, just folks. Folks created in the image of God. Folks diversified into many nations, tribes, and tongues by God and for His glory. Folks who all need salvation from their sin by Jesus the Son of the one true and living God. Folks who will all one day bow their knees and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Pray for President Barack Obama; not because he’s Black, but because he’s the President of the United States of America.

September 12, 2012

Tallassee Ministerial Alliance – Prayer for Our Enemies

Filed under: Culture,Ministry,Politics — pecaspers @ 12:53 PM
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On September 11, 2012, the Tallassee Ministerial Alliance and members of our community gathered to pray as we remembered the tragedy of eleven years before. I had the honor of leading the prayer for our enemies. As acts of terror and warfare still fill global headlines, please pray along with those who gathered that day. We prayed:

Our Father in heaven, You are the mighty Maker of heaven and earth. You scattered the nations at Babel, and you called out Abraham to make a nation of his descendants and to bless all the nations of the world through his Seed.

God, in Christ, You became that Seed of Abraham, and by your perfect life, death, and resurrection you became the ultimate Blessing to all nations–the Way to a restored relationship with You for all mankind, for anyone who will repent and believe.

We confess that our hearts do not always reflect Your heart. I’m sure some of us here today have sinned against you by things we’ve done or said against people who consider themselves enemies of the United States of America. We do pray that You would cause any attempt to attack our homeland to fail. We do pray that you would bring an end to the governments and organizations who seek to destroy both Americans and the United States of America herself.

But God, help us to always remember that this country is not our home, that the United States of America is not the Kingdom of God. Those who crashed planes into symbols of our national pride and identity are under your wrath–I am sure–but they are there because they sinned against You, not us.

Forgive us for any time we have wished death or suffering on men and women created in your image. Forgive us for thinking that we are somehow superior for being born in this country and not the Middle East, Northern Africa, or somewhere else. Forgive us for every failure to extend hospitality, kindness, friendship, and especially the gospel to Muslims, or to those we assumed were Muslim, or to anyone else we considered “not one of us.”

Father, by Your grace and through the power of the Holy Spirit, break our hearts for our enemies. So, standing before You based only on Your goodness and the faith in Christ we have by Your grace, we pray for our enemies as you taught us to.

We ask for your gospel–the good news of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone–to spread like wildfire across the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Central and South Asia.

We ask for You to call out missionaries from our churches to take the gospel to those who have no access to it.

We ask for you to continue to reveal yourself to Muslims through visions and dreams. We ask that you would change the hearts of American Christians so that our own churches would be welcoming to the millions of people who come from nations without the gospel, that we would share with them Your goodness and love, that they would see how their sin has separated them from You, that we would explain clearly how in Jesus Christ You gave the answer to our problem, and that people from all over the world might repent and believe and join the fellowship of our churches. Oh that our churches would look more like people from every nation, tribe, and tongue gathered around your throne and less like country clubs and family reunions.

We ask for you to raise up leaders from our churches to start new churches here in America, especially in the major cities where the nations have come to us.

We ask that you would bring to salvation would-be terrorists so that their fervor could overflow to eternal life for many just like you did with the Apostle Paul.

Your will be done. Your Kingdom come. Forgive us our failures. Use us for Your glory. We pray these things in the Name of Christ and for His glory among the nations…even ours…even our enemies. Amen.

March 8, 2012

What Do You Want To Be?

Filed under: Culture,Ministry,Possibly Prophetic — pecaspers @ 9:08 PM
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“No one ever says, ‘I want to be a junkie when I grow up.'”

That was the punch-line of a public service announcement intended to keep kids off drugs from years ago. That PSA started with images of a ballerina and other typical childhood dream jobs with children’s voices saying what they wanted to be when they grew up. Then you see someone running from and caught by the cops in slow-mo, and you hear the line above. It’s a pretty clever commercial, but it’s probably lost on most of its target audience.

You see, if you want to be a ballerina, a firefighter, a school teacher, an astronaut, or whatever, then you have to work at it. You go to school, you practice, you go through training, you discipline yourself or submit to an authority who disciplines you, you make sacrifices of your time, all so that you can be the thing you are striving toward. The clever twist is that it is the same with being a junkie. A drug addiction is expensive, takes up a vast amount of the addict’s time, will cause certain relationships to be cut off, and typically progresses from so-called gateway drugs to substances most readers wouldn’t know exist. It takes commitment to be a junkie; the obvious problem being that it is a chemical dependence driving the commitment, and it’s not one drug users think about ahead of time.

However, nobody just starts free-basing heroine. Similarly, no one who tried out as a walk-on at Auburn University or the University of Alabama would become the starting quarterback having never played football, or even worked out, a day in his life. So what’s this got to do with the Christian life? As D. A. Carson puts it, “People do not drift toward holiness.”

And so I ask: what do you want to be? Do you want to be a godly man or woman? Do you want to be a devoted disciple of Jesus Christ? Do you want to be an encourager to those around you? Do you want to be a good wife or husband? Do you want to be a mentor to the leaders of tomorrow? Do you want to be a helper to the helpless? Do you want to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom? Do you want to be like Jesus?

No one ever says, “I want to be CEO Christian when I grow up.” (CEO Christians are those people who attend church on Christmas and Easter only.) No one ever says, “I want to be a bitter deacon who makes life hard for the pastor when I grow up.” No one ever says, “I want to be the old woman responsible for stopping every potentially great move of God in my church with a furrowed brow and the words ‘We’ve never done that before.'”

What are you doing to become what you want to become? What are doing to keep from becoming something you would never want to be? What are you doing to keep your church from being just another stagnant and declining North American church? What are YOU doing to make the transition from where you are to something greater/bigger/better/more glorious?

…or do you just want to be wasted?

December 19, 2011

Red and Green

Red and green are the colors of Christmas. Red because of the bloody reality of a virgin birth, because of the bloody reality of a death by crucifixion, because of the blood of the lamb who takes away the sin of the world. Green because of the new life which Christ came to bring, because of the eternal life that he paid for with his death, because of the promise of a life that never withers and never fades and never ends–evergreen.

Red and green are the colors of Christmas. Red because of the oppressive debt you’ll incur buying toys your kids won’t appreciate but will break in a couple of weeks, because of the hue of your screaming daughter’s face when she doesn’t get the pony she wanted, because of the color your son will see when he shoots his eye out with his new BB gun. Green because of the money you’ll spend on presents and food and cards and decorations, because of the envy that drives so much of your children’s wish-lists, because of how sick you are from all the constant go-go-go of the holiday season.

Red and green are the colors of Christmas. Red because that’s the way your eyes will look the morning after you get too deep in the “Christmas cheer” at that party. Green because that’s the way your face will look after you expel some of that same “cheer” singing carols into the porcelain megaphone.

Red and green are the colors of Christmas. Red because that’s what color Santa Claus wears. Green because that’s what color Christmas trees are. Why does it have to mean any more than that?

We’re all going to be donning lots of red and green in the coming days. In fact, your decorations have probably been up for weeks. The question we need to ask ourselves is what sort of red and green are we using. What’s your red and green mean? But wait, you can’t answer yet. You have to wait until it’s over.

I doubt there is anyone reading this article who is saying to himself or herself, “I’m only celebrating commercialism, greed, and over-indulgence this December 25. It’s got nothing to do with worshiping Christ.” However, the truth is that there is often little proof that we did otherwise when we look back after the day is gone. So I challenge you not to think too highly of yourself but to consider yourself, and how you celebrate this Christmas, with sober judgment (Romans 12:3). Let us examine ourselves, and how we celebrate this Christmas, to see if it puts on display our faith in Christ and the glory of God (2 Corinthians 13:5).

How will you celebrate the coming of Messiah this Christmas? Will you gather in worship with your church? Will you take your visiting family members with you to church? Will you give generously to help people in need? Will you read the story of Christ’s birth from the Bible? Will you spend money you don’t have to give presents to people who don’t really need them? Will you keep your family away from church because Christmas inconveniently falls on a Sunday this year? It’s not what you say about Christmas; it’s what you do that matters (James 2:14-16).

Red and green are the colors of Christmas. What kind will yours be?

October 31, 2011

Halloween and Christmas

Filed under: Culture,My Life in General — pecaspers @ 9:16 PM
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I was in Wal-mart when they started putting out the Halloween costumes a month or so ago. Then I rounded a corner and found myself faced with Christmas decorations. I’ve become accustomed to the Christmas stuff coming out before Thanksgiving, but to see Christmas lights, ornaments, and garland already gracing the shelves before the leaves had started to turn was a little bit of a shock. Yet that’s not the point of this post.

I love Halloween. I’ve always loved it. It’s mostly because I love to dress up in costumes. (What? That’s not weird. It’s not like I go to conventions or anything…but maybe that’s because I lack the free time and disposable income…I digress.) Halloween is also the holiday I’ve had the most success with over the years; I can’t think of any major heart-aches or social breakdowns associated with my Halloween history. And then, of course, there is all the candy. That’s why it bugs me when Christians get so down on Halloween and people who celebrate it.

My Halloween philosophy: I celebrate Halloween like everyone else celebrates Christmas.

By “everyone else,” I mean anyone who isn’t a devoted follower of the Christ whose birth Christmas commemorates. For most people, they completely neglect the fact that there is a specifically Christ-focused meaning behind Christmas. (Don’t give me that whole, “Christmas is only a pagan holiday!” crap. Read up on some real church history before you echo the oft-repeated errors you’ve heard.) I realize that Halloween came about because of a intermingling of European
pagan spiritism and pre-Reformation Catholic Christianity. It can’t be avoided that present-day Wiccans and other neo-Paganists have adopted Halloween as their holiday. I don’t care much about that just like I don’t get all frenzied up about ousting Santa Claus from Christmas. I like costumes, candy, and parties.

You see, most people don’t care that Christmas is about the actual birth of God as a human child so that He could live a sinless life so that He could die as a perfect sacrifice for the sins of all humanity so we could repent and believe the good news. Most people just like getting dressed up, getting/giving gifts, and going to parties. Did you see the Christmas episode of Glee last year. The Jewish characters, the atheistic characters, the characters with no discernible religious beliefs, everybody celebrated Christmas. Have you seen the movies that come out in November and December–[Insert Character here] Saves Christmas, A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas, etc. Contrary to all the “Happy Holidays” hullabaloo that surfaces every year, most everybody loves Christmas. Why can they all enjoy a Christian holiday without serving Christ, but I’m supposed to shun a holiday with no basis in reality?

What do I mean by no basis in reality. Well, lost souls don’t really wander aimlessly on All Hallows Eve. The demons aren’t really on the prowl looking for goodies and causing trouble the night before All Saints Day. Satan has no greater power this night than any other. Hell is no nearer to Earth on October 31. I get to enjoy Halloween because at its foundation there is only folk-lore and superstition, and those things aren’t even what the holiday is about anymore. Ask any six year-old, Halloween is about costumes and candy. I don’t have to believe in those other things to enjoy putting on a costume and eating candy. If everyone else gets to swap presents and go to Christmas parties without believing in–or even considering–the TRUTH of Christ, then I see no reason I can’t enjoy Halloween.

The vast majority of people in my culture don’t think of Halloween as having any religious significance. No non-Christian is going to look at my enjoyment of Halloween and say, “I can’t believe you like costumes and candy, you hypocrite. I hate your Jesus because of you.” What’s sad is that the conflict about Halloween always seems to come from Christians. Isn’t it a bit…well, hypocritical to demand that schools have fall parties and harvest festivals because “we” disapprove of Halloween and then cry “foul” when other people demand that schools have winter festivals and holiday parties because they disapprove of Christmas?

Maybe I’m wrong. What do you think?

October 10, 2011

Judging Others

“How about you worry about you, and let them worry about them?” Whether working with young people in church or substitute teaching, that’s the kind of thing I tell students who are complaining about something little another kid has done. And I do mean little; “He’s in the wrong seat,” “She’s talking,” or “They aren’t doing their work.” If he’s in the wrong seat, let that seat’s owner come to me about it. I can hear her talking, and you yelling across the room that she’s talking is a much larger disruption. If you are busy telling me about other people not doing their work, then you apparently aren’t doing your work either. You make sure you are doing what you are supposed to be doing, and leave it to me to make sure everybody else is doing what they’re supposed to do. That’s part of my job, not yours.

“Judge not, that you be not judged,” (Matthew 7:1, ESV). That verse is probably quoted or alluded to more often than John 3:16 is. Most people pull it out when they’ve done something wrong–or continually do wrong as their lifestyle–and don’t want to be held accountable for their actions. When a Christian merely tries to call sin sin, the cry is often, “How dare you judge me/him/her/them! Jesus said, ‘Judge not!'” It doesn’t surprise me when non-Christians get this wrong. I’m horrified, though, at how often I hear God’s people misuse this teaching. This portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount continues as follows:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:1-5, ESV).

Jesus’ point isn’t that you can never say anything anyone does is wrong. His point is that you better have the big issues in your life under control before you try to help a fellow Christian with his problems. Take the log out of your own eye, (pay attention, now) then you will see clearly (See clearly to do what, Jesus?) to take the speck out of your brother’s eye! Get it? You make sure you have yourself under control, under the Holy Spirit’s control, so that you can help your brother. For more on this, check out Galatians 5:12 through 6:10.

Christians aren’t to “judge” others in the sense of declaring a final verdict as if we had all the information and were the ultimate authority. Jesus will be the final judge in that sense. However, we must “judge” in the sense of distinguishing between good and evil, sin and righteousness, and sometimes even good and best. With individuals, we must judge in keeping with the law of love, that we love others as ourselves. Most people find it far easier to try to correct others than to actually control themselves. Have you dealt with your planks? When you see a speck, are you trying to help in love or are you just looking for an excuse to poke someone in the eye?

Speaking of which, I think you’ve got a little something in there…

May 16, 2011

Don’t Send Your Kids to College and away from God

The end of the school year is approaching. In the coming months, many of you will be sending your children off to college for the first time. Many more will be sending one or more back to college. Some of you are the ones who’ll be going away. And most of the rest of you reading this article have a grandchild, nephew, niece, cousin, other relative, neighbor and/or close family friend who will be in the collegiate mix as well come August. Don’t let the Sunday before they (or you) go off to college be the last time they (or you) regularly attend a church until they (or you) are married and have children.

That may sound like a strange thing to say, but that’s what happens more often than not. You go to college, and nobody makes you get up on Sunday morning so you don’t. You’ve never had to pick which church to go to because you’ve always gone to the same one–or at least to whichever one your parents took you to–so you just don’t go to one at all. You’ll go to the church you grew up in when you’re home, but you are home less and less often the longer you are in college. Then you graduate, and you get a job somewhere new, and you don’t find a church when you move there because you are completely out of touch with God and being out of touch with His people doesn’t bother you anymore. Somewhere along the why you have a kid, and you remember VBS and Sunday School and you start taking your kids to whichever church has the best Pre-school and Children’s ministry in the area.

However, what you should do is this: go to church the first Sunday you are at school, keep going until you find a place where you can get involved, become a member of that church, and get yourself equipped “for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until [you] attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that [you are] no longer [a child], tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes,” (Ephesians 4:12-14, ESV).

I suggest you start with a church of the same denomination you grew up in, but don’t be afraid to visit a church of another denomination or a non-denominational one. Find a congregation where the Bible is taught faithfully, where there are older people to mentor you, and where there are younger people for you to help out as well. Don’t use some mid-week student Bible Study as a substitute for a real church. Student ministries are great, but the Body of Christ is broader than the 18-25 year-old age bracket, and you need cross-generational relationships for your benefit and theirs.

Some of you are terrified by this whole idea. The rest of you know someone who would be terrified by it. It’s funny how the people who cry “foul” when someone suggests that church membership means that you have a responsibility to be involved, ought to give generously, and will be held accountable for how you live your life, are the same people who think that it is some form of spiritual treason for people to move their church membership from where they grew up to where they are now. That’s the worst kind of hypocrisy. Either church membership means something to you and you’ll be an integral part of a local church wherever you are, or it means nothing to you and it shouldn’t bother you when people leave a church they once were part of to join another one where they live.

Regardless of what you think, church membership matters to God. The Bible clearly teaches that members of a local church are like members of a body. An organ cut-off starts to rot pretty quickly, but an organ transplanted can live and add life to a new body. Would you rather see your college students live and grow in another church, or rot because they are cut off from the life of their childhood church?

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