August 2011

How big is your God?

August 26 2011 by D.E. Parkerson

The trouble with a lot of people is that their God is too small. The Apostle Paul said to the Christians at Philippi, “My God shall supply all your need” (4:9). Unless your God is that big, then He is too small. The truth Paul emphasizes in this verse can be summed up in three statements:

God will never let you down. The psalmist had a God that big: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” He believed that nothing could happen to you that God was not able to handle. The writer of Psalm 37 observed: “I have been young, and now I am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging for bread.”

When our God is bigger than our needs, it means the dread and fear we often face is taken away. This does not mean that we are immune to difficulty or hardship. It simply means that God will supply the strength and resources we need to face such times. God will never let you down!

Persons who feel that God has let them down are often those who give God no credit when things are going well, but when things suddenly turn in the opposite direction find it easy to blame Him. Their problem is not that God has let them down. It is that their concept of God is not big enough to believe He is able and willing to supply their needs — even in the toughest of times.

God will never let you off
. When God created our universe, He made the laws by which it operates. It has been in existence for a long time since the beginning, but the earth still revolves around the sun, and the law of gravity has not been repealed.

Likewise, God forged into this world the principles of life — love is better than hate, righteousness is better than sin, goodness is better than evil. But as time passes, we sometimes decide we do not want to be bound by the laws of God. So, instead of living up to God’s standard, we reduce God to the level of our living. The result is that we end up with a God not big enough to be the Sovereign of the universe and the Lord of our lives. Jesus said that God is our Father. A father is one who keeps control of his children as long as they are children. Children may disobey, but the true father, because he loves his children, is compelled to punish that disobedience. God is a true Father — we are His children, thus He never lets us off. But there is one more fact about God that needs to be emphasized.

God will never let us go
. I read recently the story of a young man who constantly was in trouble with the law and would generally end up in jail. His father would pay his fine and get him off free. Finally it cost the father almost everything he owned and left him with a broken heart.

A friend said to the father, “If he were my boy, I would let him go.” The father replied, “If he were your boy, I would let him go too, but he is my boy and I can’t let him go.”

That is precisely the message Jesus was trying to get across in the story of the Prodigal Son. When the son wanted to leave home and get away from his father, he was free to go. The father did not go after him and force him to return. Instead, he maintained the home until the son became hungry, realized he had made a huge mistake, and decided to come home. He was there waiting for his son, with the door wide open, abundantly able and ready to satisfy those hungers.

We sometimes talk about the “free will” that God has given us, as if He has completely cut us loose from Himself. Don’t believe it for a minute. We do not have free will when it comes to eating or not eating. Our very hunger demands that we eat or we will die. God has also built into us certain other hungers as well. There comes a time when material things do not satisfy.

God is patient and He can wait. But while He waits, the hungers of our soul keep us dissatisfied. We seek this and that, and rush here and there, but we find nothing that satisfies our deepest needs. Finally we turn to Him who said, “I am the bread of life: he who comes to me shall never hunger” (John 6:35). That is when we realize God will never let us go.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Parkerson is a native of Georgia, a graduate of Mercer University (B.A.), Southeastern Seminary (M. Div. and Th.M.), and Campbell University (D.D.). He has served as pastor of one church in Georgia and five churches in North Carolina. Following retirement as pastor of the First Baptist Church in Sanford on Sept. 30, 1996, he has served 10 North Carolina churches as interim pastor. His column, The Paper Pulpit, has appeared weekly in a few newspapers and other publications since 1958. He and his wife, Jessie, live in Wilmington near their daughter and family.)
8/26/2011 8:50:00 AM by D.E. Parkerson | with 0 comments



Our Extremity Is God’s Opportunity

August 19 2011 by D.E. Parkerson

The shrill ring of the telephone awakened me from sleep several years ago at 2 a.m. A deacon in the church I was serving said, “Preacher, my wife and I are at North Carolina Memorial Hospital. Barry had a bad wreck, and he is dead. Can you come?”

I dressed as quickly as I could and drove to the hospital. When I arrived in their presence at the hospital I found a broken-hearted mother and father whose world had come crashing down around them. Their only child, an outstanding young man who had just graduated from high school, had been brought by an ambulance to the hospital emergency room following a horrific wreck. He didn’t make it. The bright future that had been his only hours prior to that moment would never become a reality.

Has your world ever crashed suddenly around your feet? Have you ever come to the end of your rope? Have you ever found yourself at the end of a dead-end street where it seemed there was no outlet? What did you do? How did you respond?

Charles Colson was heavily involved in the break-in at the Watergate hotel and went to prison. In his book Who Speaks for God he testifies: “Sure, Watergate caused my world to crash around me and sent me to prison. I lost many of the mainstays of my existence — the awards, the six-figure income and lifestyle to match, arguing cases in the highest courts, and a position of power at the right hand of the President of the United States. But only when I lost them did I find a far greater gain: knowing Christ.”

After he was paroled he said, “I wouldn’t trade the toughest day of the last few years — which includes those in prison — for the best day of the 40 years before. What I couldn’t find in my quest for power and success — that is, true security and meaning — I discovered in prison where all my worldly props had been stripped away.”

One of the ways people respond to tragic circumstances is to blame God and cry out to Him, “How could You let this happen to me?” I have known many people who have done that. It has always been interesting to me that many of those who blame God on those days when everything was going wrong have seldom or never given Him praise and thanksgiving when everything was going right.

God never promised any of us a life free from pain and disappointment. He did promise us that we would never be alone in our pain, that we would be able to draw upon a source from outside ourselves the strength and courage we would need to survive even the most difficult moments — that is, if we choose to call upon Him.

Even the starkest tragedies can be redeemed from senselessness if we trust God and ask Him to impose meaning on them. The right question to ask when our world begins to tumble down around us is, “Now that this has happened to me, what can I learn from it by trusting in God’s goodness and guidance?”

We are not alone in our suffering and trial. We all know others who have triumphed over tragedy because they knew they had a Resource, One who cared and comforted and enabled them to find blessing even in their times of brokenness.

The Chinese combine two characters for the word crisis. One character means “danger” and the other “opportunity.” These two possibilities are inherent in every crisis. A crisis is a crossroads, and the outcome is determined by which path is taken.

In other words, our extremity is God’s opportunity.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Parkerson is a native of Georgia, a graduate of Mercer University (B.A.), Southeastern Seminary (M. Div. and Th.M.), and Campbell University (D.D.). He has served as pastor of one church in Georgia and five churches in North Carolina. Following retirement as pastor of the First Baptist Church in Sanford on Sept. 30, 1996, he has served 10 North Carolina churches as interim pastor. His column, The Paper Pulpit, has appeared weekly in a few newspapers and other publications since 1958. He and his wife, Jessie, live in Wilmington near their daughter and family.)
8/19/2011 8:18:00 AM by D.E. Parkerson | with 0 comments



Christianity Beyond Church Walls

August 12 2011 by D.E. Parkerson

“A conversion is incomplete if it does not leave a man with an intense social consciousness,” writes William Barclay, New Testament scholar, “if it does not fill him with a sense of overwhelming responsibility for the world.”

No church should ever become an island of believers isolated from the hurts of our world. If the world sees the church as nothing more than self-proclaimed pious people who are connoisseurs of preaching and praise, but uncaring and uninvolved in meeting the needs of hurting people, it will shrug its shoulders and walk away.

The parable of the Good Samaritan in the New Testament emphasizes this very point. The religious leaders mentioned in this parable were regarded as among the most spiritual in that day, but they did not impress Jesus. The point that Jesus emphasizes in this story is forever contemporary.

Churches that fail to reach beyond their walls to meet the needs in their communities cannot fully carry out the mission assigned by Christ. Elton Trueblood, a great Quaker theologian, once described such churches as “stained glass foxholes.” “They meet,” he said, “isolated from the world, wash their own car, and go home.”

I commend the body of believers known as the Salvation Army for they believe that faith which operates only within the walls of a church structure has no resemblance to the truth Jesus both exemplified and taught. They have impacted our world for Christ in an outstanding way for well over a century. They understand that evangelism and practical ministry are the obverse and reverse sides of the same coin.

William Booth, founder of the Army, and his successive generations of warriors have an affinity with the philosophy of renowned missionary C.T. Studd:

“Some wish to live within the sound
Of church or chapel bell,
I want to run a rescue shop
Within a yard of hell.”

Some Christians may not be ready to make that level of commitment, but every Christian should and can be sensitive to the needs of hurting people. Multitudes of people in our country, especially including those who are homeless and those who are victims of domestic and other kinds of abuse, live all around us.

Richard Foster, in Freedom of Simplicity, writes, “Our contemporary culture is plagued by the passion to possess. The lust for affluence has become psychotic. Christian simplicity frees us from this modern mania. It brings sanity to our compulsive extravagance. … People once again become more important than possessions.”

The story is told of a simple-living Quaker who was sitting on his porch while his new neighbor moved in. He watched with interest as the newcomer unloaded his goods. Every kind of trinket and expensive gadget imaginable seemed to come off the moving trucks. Finally, he strolled over to greet his new neighbor. Looking at the abundance of fancy belongings, he said with a stroke of wit, “If, neighbor, thou dost ever need anything, come to see me and I will tell thee how to get along without it.”

Let us all be grateful for what we have, but let us also be aware of persons in need to whom we can minister in the name of our Lord. A Christian faith that does not reach beyond the walls of a church structure falls short of being the genuine article.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Parkerson is a native of Georgia, a graduate of Mercer University (B.A.), Southeastern Seminary (M. Div. and Th.M.), and Campbell University (D.D.). He has served as pastor of one church in Georgia and five churches in North Carolina. Following retirement as pastor of the First Baptist Church in Sanford on Sept. 30, 1996, he has served 10 North Carolina churches as interim pastor. His column, The Paper Pulpit, has appeared weekly in a few newspapers and other publications since 1958. He and his wife, Jessie, live in Wilmington near their daughter and family.)
8/12/2011 8:10:00 AM by D.E. Parkerson | with 0 comments



Preachers aren’t perfect ... but you knew that!

August 5 2011 by D.E. Parkerson

Someone once said to me, “Being a preacher is like being a major league baseball umpire. You are expected to be perfect on the first day, and improve every day after that.” Perfection, of course, is impossible for either baseball umpires or preachers. All humans make mistakes. Certainly preachers do; I’ve never been a major league baseball umpire.

John Wesley once said to a struggling preacher, “Your temper is uneven; you lack love for your neighbors. You grow angry too easily; your tongue is too sharp — thus the people will not hear you.” What he was trying to say is that the impact of preaching is not ultimately determined by a minister’s mastery of homiletic technique or the clever use of illustrations.

The preaching that transforms lives is rooted as deeply in how preachers live as in what they say. Effective preaching has to be backed up by integrity, and integrity is demonstrated when unity exists between the truth preachers proclaim and the lives they live before the congregation they serve. It is another way of saying they must “practice what they preach.”

John 1:14 tells us that, in Jesus, “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory.” Jesus did more than speak truth. He lived on earth as truth incarnate.

Consider Jesus’ sermon on servanthood in John 13. His words (13:13-17) are empowered by His life (13:1-5). What Jesus says and what Jesus is are one and the same! This is the model after which all preachers should pattern their lives and their preaching.

The Apostle Paul, also, understood that the call to preach is a call to both speak and live the truth. He lived carefully so as to put “no stumbling block in anyone’s path” (Rom. 14:13). More surprising — and certainly more challenging — was Paul’s habit of calling attention to his own conduct. Twice he pleads with the Christians in Corinth to imitate him. To the Christians in Philippi he says, “Join with others in following my example.” According to Hebrews 13:7, every preacher should be able to make this same plea.

But what does this mean? How “good” should a preacher have to be to be “good enough” to preach? What does a life of integrity look like? One thing is certain — it is not about perfection. Paul made that very clear when he said, “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12, NIV).

Paul admits it — he wasn’t perfect. But he was striving. He was growing. He was making progress in his Christian life. From his example, we understand that the integrity that empowers effective preaching is not a standard to be met — although standards are involved. Rather, it is a process — a daily process of “pressing on” with Christ.

Choosing to actively engage in this process is a big part of what it means to live a life worthy of imitation. When we, as preachers, are careful to “press on” in our own spiritual lives, we serve as visual aids for younger believers trying to grasp what it means to follow Christ, we learn to respond to life’s circumstances in God’s way, and we help those to whom we preach do the same. When we fall short, we can show them what it means to seek forgiveness. When we are sinned against, we can model what it means to forgive. When we grieve, we can demonstrate how to grieve with hope.

One of the statements made in homiletics class in seminary in the mid-1950’s by M. Ray McKay, has stuck with me to this day, “Be sure to always preach because you have something from God to say, not because it is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning.” I have also learned that it helps to remember that the capacity of the mind to absorb is limited to what the seat can endure.” In other words, if you haven’t struck oil by noon, you are either using a dull auger or you are boring in the wrong place — or possibly both.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Parkerson is a native of Georgia, a graduate of Mercer University (B.A.), Southeastern Seminary (M. Div. and Th.M.), and Campbell University (D.D.). He has served as pastor of one church in Georgia and five churches in North Carolina. Following retirement as pastor of the First Baptist Church in Sanford on Sept. 30, 1996, he has served 10 North Carolina churches as interim pastor. His column, The Paper Pulpit, has appeared weekly in a few newspapers and other publications since 1958. He and his wife, Jessie, live in Wilmington near their daughter and family.)
8/5/2011 5:34:00 AM by D.E. Parkerson | with 0 comments