Empty Promises

PromisesPromises_580x326I listened to the weather report this morning as the meteorologist predicted the change in our weather for the days ahead. When one of the news anchors teased about the accuracy of the report, the meteorologist responded with a humorous disclaimer by saying,”I just try not to be wrong every day.”

Her words brought a knowing smile as I thought back to the three days prior. We’re in a drought in Texas. It’s the worst drought in about 60 years. When the weather forecast calls for rain, we want that forecast to be accurate. We’re looking for a sure thing. And that was the forecast for last Friday, Saturday and Sunday – three days of rain. But Friday came and went with no rain. Saturday did the same. On Sunday, a few drops hit my windshield, but I could have counted them all on one hand. It was just another empty promise from those who are supposed to know something about our future weather. I know they can’t be totally accurate. But it’s disheartening to count on something you not only want, but something you really need, only to find it to be an empty promise.

As I smiled at the disclaimer from the meteorologist, I thought of how grateful I am that Jesus needs no such disclaimer. He said, “Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” And, after His burial, the chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor (Jesus) said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure…”

But no disclaimer was necessary. There was no 70% chance or 90% chance. There was only the promise. “Bury Me, and in three days I will rise!” Death could not hold the author of life. And when we trust Him and rely, without question, on His promise of life, death will not hold us either. And we don’t even have to wait three days for our resurrection. To be absent from the body, Paul said, is to be present with the Lord. No empty promises and no disappointments.

As you celebrate Easter, thank the Lord Jesus for the fact that we can live in light of His sure promises. He offers no disclaimers and we experience no disappointments.



The Busyness Trap

BusynessIt’s that time of year. April 15th is only a week away. My CPA recently told me that the “normal” hours no longer exist during this season. Days begin early and often go until 2 a.m., leaving only a few hours to rest before beginning again. Thankfully, that doesn’t continue throughout the year. But that conversation struck a cord with me as I have been battling my own to-do list lately.

Life has its seasons. Not just the four seasons, but seasons that relate to a stage of change or of responsibilities, schedules and activity. Those seasons are not always predictable. Life seems to be running smoothly and then, you look at your calendar and find that there just don’t seem to be enough hours to get it all done. I’ve been in one of those seasons lately. It can be frustrating. But God has recently given me some needed insight into this season of busyness.

First of all, I have discovered that I have become a victim of the digital age. Technology is a wonderful tool, but it also has its dangers. One of those is the threat of encroachment – the fact that we are always available to our work and to others. My digital devices can set and control my schedule. As a result, there is little opportunity for rest or quiet periods that leave room for our minds and spirits to take some needed sabbatical hours. As a result, I don’t start the day with a renewed joy because I never really left work. I left the office, but not work. I stayed connected, even working while semi-engaged in what is supposed to be a relaxing time at home. So I have a hard time getting back to work the next day because I never really left work. It becomes a cycle that wears me down and makes me less productive while constantly working. Pascal once said, “I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.” In our digital age, that statement is more true than ever. I have too often bought the lie of believing that every possible moment must be given to getting the work done and being constantly available. But the truth is, a schedule that allows for some time away from my work will allow me to focus on work when I should be working. Staying plugged in makes me less effective, not more.

The second lesson is a reminder of the fact that my plans are not the ones that matter most. Yes, I should have plans and goals. But I also need margin in my schedule which allows for the unexpected that God brings into my day. Psalm 146:4 says, “When his breath departs, … on that very day his plans perish.”  One day my life will end and my plans will perish as well. When that day comes I don’t want my legacy to be the fact that I was a busy man. I want it to be a legacy that demonstrates the value of knowing Christ and enjoying life in the pursuit of His plans. I want His to-do list to dominate my calendar. When that happens, frustration gives way to fulfillment. That’s the season I want to live in. How about you?


Maybe I’m a Millennial

America’s largest generation consists of nearly 79 million individuals who were born between 1980 and 2000. They are known as Millennials. So, by age category, I don’t qualify as a Millennial. But when it comes to some of the views of those in their twenties and early thirties in this generation regarding worship and the church, I can count myself as one of them.

Thom Rainer, President and CEO of LifeWay, also leads a respected research group and has researched and written about the Millennials. In a recent blog he refers to new conclusions from his research regarding worship style preferences of this younger generation. When asked what worship style they preferred; traditional, contemporary, or some spectrum of blended styles; the answer was somewhat surprising. The overwhelming response was “none of the above.” Style of worship is really not their focus at all. Instead, says Rainer, they are looking for worship and music that have three major elements.

First, they want the music to have rich content. They want to sing songs that have deep biblical and theological truths. That desire is demonstrated by the fact that they are gravitating toward hymns that are being revived or re-styled. As an example, Rainer points out that the hymnody of musicians Keith and Kristyn Getty have taken the Millennials by storm. They are not in a new cycle of the worship wars. They’re not interested in that. They are looking, instead, for depth and richness of content in the songs of worship.

Secondly, these Millennials want authenticity in a worship service. They are not interested in a performance and can sense when both leaders and those in the congregation are just going through the motions. In other words, these young adults are not interested in something “canned” or a production. They want authentic worship.

And lastly, they want quality in a worship service. The quality grows out of the authenticity they expect, along with the preparation of the worship leaders both spiritually and in the planning. Size of the church is not important if the quality is present.

And one further general insight gained is the fact that Millennials, along with a sizable number of seekers in their generation, are moving toward churches where the teaching and preaching is given a high priority and the members are focused on serving the community and the world.  They’re not interested in fighting over non-essentials. According to Thom Rainer, “Their focus is on theologically rich music, authenticity, and quality that reflects adequate preparation in time and prayer.

In light of the research and in spite of my age, I know I’m a Millennial. And you?





How Quickly It All Comes Back

images I’m sitting in the airport as I write this. Camille and I are returning home to Texas after three days in Alabama for a family wedding. This is where I grew up, but I haven’t lived here since I graduated from college. I do have additional “deep south” years invested in Atlanta, Georgia and South Carolina. However, with two stints in Texas – the last one has been for 20 years now – I’ve lost that Southern drawl that came with life in Alabama and across those southern states. But after a very brief time, it all comes back. I find myself giving three syllables to one-syllable words and unintentionally blending in with those Alabama accents. If you’ve never lived there, don’t be fooled  b y the poor attempts of TV and movie producers to make  actors sound like southerners. They think that “y’all” should be used after about every three words and the drawl is always exaggerated. It sounds hokey, not southern. So, as I return home to Texas, I’ll probably be bringing some extra syllables with me, but it won’t take long to lose it all again. As I listened to the voices of family and friends over these days, and found myself picking it up in my speech as well, I thought about how easy it is to fall back into the past. Accents and southern drawls are one thing. They’re pretty harmless falls. But I thought about the fact that it’s also easy to get around people, places and cultural influences from the past that encourage us to slide back into a place spiritually where we don’t need to go. Because, just like that subtle return in the way we speak and blend into long forgotten patterns, we can also slide back into thoughts, conversations, and actions from our past which need to remain in the past. It’s easy to blend in and take up the old patterns of life, even when we don’t deliberately set out to do so. Those old ways can feel comfortable, and before we know it, we’ve begun to live like we used to live. Paul says, in Colossians 3:3, “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Then he identifies some of the old attitudes and ways that are to be put to death and left behind. And in verses 9-10, he reminds us that, as a believer, “you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” With roots in the deep south, I think a southern drawl is a beautiful thing, and I don’t mind its return. But I need to remember that my past holds some things that can easily and quickly return, but bring death, not life. And to that, I don’t want to go back.


Building Godly Homes

At Anderson Mill Baptist, Imagewe’re committed to families. We know they come in different forms: two-parent homes, blended families, single parent families, and singles. But whichever the case, we believe God has charged the church with the responsibility of encouraging, equipping and resourcing the family to be the primary faith-training center for believers. The church comes alongside the family for teaching and help in the process. The church can also provide ministries that will allow us to have a greater impact together on our community and the world than we can have as individual families. But all of us spend more time in our home or with our family than we do at church. And home is where the greatest opportunity for faith-training lies.

Deuteronomy 6:5-9  says, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Discipleship and family ministry are at the heart of the mission of our church. This weekend we will have a great opportunity to learn more about some exciting steps we’re taking in family ministry. “Disciple Now” for our students begins Friday night and concludes with worship on Sunday morning, and that worship time will be led by Jim Allen, our Student Pastor, and Dr. Jim Dempsey, our Associate Pastor for Families. They will be sharing with us a challenge from God’s Word along with some specifics of an exciting plan for resourcing parents to be all that God wants them to be for the children in their homes. Without a plan for building godly homes, parents will struggle and lack markers to guide them on the path to success. We want to help create that plan and provide some practical resources to help make it a reality for every home.

Whether you are a parent, grandparent or unmarried, there’s a place for you in family ministry. So I hope you will listen prayerfully on Sunday and ask God to show you what He wants to do in your life and home as we build Deuteronomy Six homes together.

Pastor Rod


Overcoming Discouragement

Overcoming Discouragement

Paul Washer wrote, “This morning I came to the Word greatly discouraged. I left greatly encouraged.” Maybe you’ve been there. I certainly have. Though I’ve always been a positive person and not prone to discouragement, like most people, I’ve had those moments when I find myself under the weight of circumstances that appear to be less than bright and promising. But inevitably, like Washer, I find that the life-changing power of God’s Word can push back the dark clouds and allow me to gain a fresh perspective. Time spent reading God’s Word helps me to see my life and circumstances more from His perspective instead of my own.

Discouragement can be the result of failure or disappointment. In Luke 5, some of the disciples had been fishing all night but had caught nothing. These were professionals. Fishing was not a hobby, but a way of life. It was what they had done all of their lives. They knew how to catch fish. But after a long and exhausting night of work, Jesus climbed into the boat and told Peter to push out into the deep and let down his nets. Peter’s discouraged reply: “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” Then he said, (and you can imagine the discouragement and the “I-told-you-so” tone in his voice), “But at your word I will let down the nets.” The result? The nets began to break under the strain of a huge number of fish. The difference? Listening to the words and encouragement of Jesus instead of focusing on the failure and disappointment experienced by working in their own power and their own plan.

Discouragement can also follow a time of success. 1 Kings 19 describes the experience of Elijah, who became discouraged after a great victory at Mount Carmel, where he stood as a lone representative of God against the evil Queen Jezebel and 400 prophets of Baal. It was an amazing victory, but when it was all over, Elijah was emotionally and physically spent. When Jezebel threatened him, he fell into dark discouragement and ran from Mount Carmel in fear. Finding a broom tree in the wilderness, he sat down to feel sorry for himself and languish in his discouragement. He convinced himself that he was all alone and was ready for his life to end. But God whispered to Elijah and gave him a different perspective. God assured him that there were others who were walking with Him as well. He was not alone and had not been abandoned. But God delivered his message of encouragement to Elijah in “a low whisper” (v. 12). It was a word that Elijah could have missed had he not withdrawn from some ominous noises that surrounded him. But the life-changing word was there when he paused to listen.

The voices of discouragement are everywhere. “You can’t…” “You’re a failure…” “You’re without help or support…” But we will not give in to discouragement if we will stay in God’s Word each day and listen to the voice of the One who has said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Be Encouraged!
Pastor Rod


Learning to Listen

One Wednesday evening, as people were gathering for our Fellowship Meal time, I put my plate on a table and went to get my drink and salad. When I returned I discovered that two young brothers from one of our families were preparing to find a seat for their family meal. One had placed his dinner at the same table I had chosen, but his younger brother was very concerned about his selection. “No! We can’t sit here!”, he was saying to his brother. “Why not?”, asked the older? “Because,” he responded, “we can’t sit by the man who talks!” I loved it! Sounds like a Native American Indian name, doesn’t it? “The Man Who Talks”.

But I’ve been thinking about that issue of talking versus listening lately and have wondered if God hasn’t said the same thing to me at times. He wants me to take time to listen to Him, but I’m often rushing into His presence, doing all of the talking, then rushing out again, leaving Him to say, “I can’t sit with the man who talks.” Or at least, the man who does all of the talking.

We live under media and information overload. There’s always a list of emails, tweets, phone calls, text messages and media voices lining up throughout the day to push information our way. Some, maybe most of it, is good. But lately I’ve been feeling like I’m inundated with so much information that I can’t keep up with it all. There’s always something waiting – a must-read article, an urgent email or text, or a blinking light on the phone which says I have messages awaiting my attention. Many of those communications are important because they represent people. But others don’t rise to the same level of importance, and I must be careful that I don’t treat them as such. If I’m not careful and discerning, I will end up giving my time, energy and attention to every voice that comes my way while allowing them to crowd out the time needed to hear the voice of the One who has the most important things to say.

I’m asking God for that discernment as I delete emails and unsubscribe from some “voices” that I don’t ever remember subscribing to. Sure, I’m keeping a lot of good stuff, such as blogs that I find encouraging and challenging, along with the connections to people and ministries that are always important. But I want to make sure that I’m not giving my best time and attention to everyone and everything else while failing to have un-rushed time to sit quietly in the presence of God, not doing all the talking, but listening to Him in prayer, in His Word, and through the quiet but clear voice of the Holy Spirit.

God, please keep me from being “the man who always talks“.
Pastor Rod


Blessed Are The Poor

As we continue the rollout and careful explanation of our newly clarified vision, I’m preaching through the measures we have established that will help us determine how we are doing in accomplishing the mission and ministry God has given us. For five weeks we’ve been looking at “developing a daily heart of worship,” which includes corporate worship, daily private worship, a growing prayer life, and developing an obedient and generous heart in regard to the tithe and giving.

It’s essential that we develop that generous and obedient heart, recognizing that God owns it all and we are merely managers. Remember: Tithing is not God’s way of raising money; it’s God’s way of raising children.

In light of that, I want to share some information I recently read in the Harvard Business Review, based on polling data gathered by Gallop from 132 nations. Analysis of the data shows that religious belief appears to be the main reason why people in poor countries see greater meaning in life than residents of wealthy countries. Where are those who see greater meaning in life? Among the nations with the highest sense that life has meaning are Niger, Sierra Leone, Togo, Ethiopia, Laos, and Ecuador. None of these countries are known for their great wealth. In fact, the opposite is true. These are among the world’s poorest nations. But many of the people in these countries connect their daily experiences with their belief system founded on God’s Word and trust in Him. In the midst of extreme hardship, they have found meaning because they trust God, the only source of meaning in life.

So the believers in these nations have much less than the average American Christian, but they have more fulfillment and meaning in life; while many Christians in the U.S. are busy trying to make or hold on to their wealth thinking that in it they will find fulfillment and meaning. Wealth and meaning in life are not synonymous. It seems that the Harvard Business Review has discovered the truth of what Jesus told us about the relationship between our hearts and money.

The article concludes: “What’s the meaning of life? Answers may vary, but the poor have a better handle on it than the rich. Not quite what you’d expect. Unless you take Jesus seriously.”

Matthew 6:19-21

Pastor Rod


Not Being Fed?

As we systematically unfold our newly refined vision, we’re spending time taking a good look at those things that will help us to measure our success in growing and in achieving the goals God has given us. One expectation God has for all of us is that we are able to feed ourselves from God’s Word and teach others to do likewise. But we too often hear evidence from people of the fact that we may have lost sight of that expectation.

Pastor James Emery White recently wrote: “How many times have you heard the line, ‘I just wasn’t being fed.’ ‘I just wasn’t growing there.'” Every pastor has heard some version of that sentiment. So, what’s all of that about? White says that there are two issues at the heart of the problem.

One is what he refers to as “spiritual narcissism,” which refers to a consumer mentality in the church that views the church as a feeding station that exists to keep the members stimulated and fed. The teaching at church is viewed as a food bar where we search for the things that appeal to us – things we like. The result is usually weight gain but little that produces energy for ministry and service.

The second issue is the distorted view of how “feeding” should take place. Though pastors are charged with the responsibility to teach, that doesn’t relieve individual believers of the responsibility to feed themselves and help feed others. We are called to share our lives as we encourage and urge one another toward spiritual maturity. Teaching in the church is needed, but we will not grow without one another and unless we take responsibility for ultimately feeding ourselves.

Colossians 3:16 states it clearly: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

Does the church have some responsibility in feeding? Sure. We need one another in the church. But the ultimate responsibility lies with me and with you as individual believers. God has given us His Word, His Spirit and the charge to feed on His Word, allowing it to make itself at home in us.

So, the next time you are tempted to say, “I’m not being fed,” ask yourself what you’ve done to feed yourself, and, if you’re applying the truths you’ve already been fed. And ask, “What have I done to help feed the younger believers who really need it?”

Pastor Rod


Daily Personal Worship

Some 50 years ago, A. W. Tozer wrote: “The need for solitude and quietness was never greater than it is today.” If that was true 50 years ago, the need today is exponentially greater. With the constant noise and the interruptions throughout the day from emails, text messages, tweets, FaceBook and Instagram notices, along with instant access from others to our cell phones, the need for solitude is greater than Tozer could have ever imagined when he wrote those words.

We need solitude. But we need the solitude of time alone with God each day. It’s our greatest necessity and our only avenue to know God as we should and to live lives that honor Him. I hope you were able to be in worship this past Sunday for the third message on “Developing a Heart of Worship.” From the life of Daniel we looked at the why, when and how for a time of personal worship each day – or a “Quiet Time”. I encourage you to go to the website (www.ambcaustin.org) to listen to the message for the first time, or to review it if you were present on Sunday. I ask you to do so, not from self-promotion, but because I believe a Quiet Time each day in personal worship is the most important element to spiritual growth and victorious living as a Christian. We never move past the need for time in God’s Word each day, along with a time of prayer for yourself and others.

A consistent and effective Quiet Time begins with an attitude of determination, desperation, and dedication. Find a plan for reading God’s Word in a systematic fashion. There are scores of plans available. Many can be found at www.youversion.com, which is the site where you can also find the sermon outlines each week for AMBC by looking under the “Live” tab and searching for Anderson Mill Baptist.

Then, you may find help in organizing your prayer time through a simple acrostic that has been around for many years:
A – Adoration (Give God praise for who He is)
C – Confession (Repent of those things the Holy Spirit brings to mind that need to be confessed and forgiven)
T – Thanksgiving (Thank God for His blessings and for answered prayer)
S – Supplication (Ask God for needs for your life and ministry as well as for the needs of others)

We have had a tremendous response from individuals in the church family who have made the commitment to begin a daily Quiet Time. I hope you will be part of that group, or among others who have been faithful for years in meeting God each day in personal worship.

Pastor Rod