Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A Lesson from the Unborn John the Baptist

Two of our grandkids spent the night with us Monday.  It's always fun to have grandkids in the house...unless they're arguing over something!  (Not that a brother and sister would argue.)

Our morning routine is to read a daily devotional and pray together before I head out to work.  That includes a cup of coffee.  With the two kids up and about in the house our routine wasn't going to be the same.  So, while I was finishing up my bowl of Special K Gail texted me.   (Yes, we've slid down that slippery slope, it appears.)

"Come here with age appropriate devotion for all of us.  And another cup of coffee."

Hmmm.  I'm a Bible teacher, so here was a challenge I would accept.  On the fly.

With it being eight days before Christmas I thought of something with a Christmas theme.  My thoughts went to the story in Luke 1 of Mary's visit to her older cousin Elizabeth, herself about six months along, carrying John the Baptist in her womb.

I read from the Bible app on my smart phone (yes, I'm there, too) some of the story, keeping it age appropriate.  When Mary (recently impregnated with her consent* by the power of the Holy Spirit) arrived after a long journey from Nazareth to Judea she greeted Elizabeth.   "When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped inside her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit."

"Did you know that babies inside their mothers can hear sounds and people's voices?", I asked them.  "That is why when a baby is born and his or her mommy or daddy speaks to him/her ("it" is not an appropriate word for any of us) that baby will focus on the person speaking because the baby recognizes the voice".

Then I continued with the seed I hoped to plant in their young minds.

"Was tiny John the Baptist a person inside his mother?"  You could see them thinking, because in their experience a "person" is someone who can be seen.  I followed up with pointing out that he (unborn John) responded to Mary's voice, which was not familiar to him, but got his attention at just six months gestation.  OK, I didn't say "gestation".

They got it.  Unborn babies are people, too, with the ability to respond to voices.  More than anyone else, being unable to protect themselves, they need our protection

I hope they never forget that.

I still believe that "Jesus loves the little children of the world."  Certainly He doesn't exclude the littlest ones.

* "My it be done to me according to your word."  Luke 1:38

Thursday, December 6, 2018

"I Remember He Was Tall"

Our young family, ca. 1992, was given tickets through a Congressional office for a White House tour.  I'm a native Washingtonian, but had never been in the presidential mansion.  This was not not a tour opened to the general public where you stand in line and buy tickets (do they still do that?), but a bit more lengthy and comprehensive.  Our guide was a Secret Service agent.  My kids were all in elementary school and George H. W. Bush was President.  #41.

At one point in the tour we went through a room with garage doors.  It was just to get from point A to point B in the tour.  Our guide, with a bit of a surprised look gathered the group - maybe a dozen of us total, and had us stop.  Suddenly another door opened and in walked several Secret Service agents with President Bush.

Clearly, they were a bit surprised to see us in that room, and wanted to hurry him past us to get him outside and into his awaiting vehicle.  But, he would have none of that.  He walked around to us, greeted us and expressed that he hoped we were enjoying the tour while shaking hands.

I leaned down to my kids and said, "He's the President."

Gail remembers, "some men in suits coming down the steps and making a path. Followed by more men in suits, I was starting to wonder what was happening. Then I saw President Bush in the middle of all the men. He stood out because he was taller than the others, a big smile, and we all gasped, we just weren't expecting to see him. Then he stopped to greet some in our tour group. I was holding Rachel's hand, picked her up so she could see him (then later explain who he was). I think that he would have shaken everyone's hand if he was not being encouraged to move along by all the men. Then he was gone and we were all so excited that we got to see our President!"

My son Nathan, who is our oldest and would have been about eleven at the time says, "We were walking down a hall. I was near the front of the group and didn’t know who it was until he was past me. He shook hands with people behind me.  I remember he was tall."

It all took maybe a minute.  Then he was whisked away to some other location where he was needed, solving, no doubt the country/world's ills.  But, that he would stop to welcome us and shake a few hands said something to me about this kind, gentle man, at the time the most powerful man in the world.  We've heard so much of him the past few days.  I have no problem believing the eulogies.

He was the last of the greatest generation to lead our nation.  Tall, indeed, in many ways.

After President Bush exited, our tour guide looked at us and in amazement said, "That never happens".  I'm glad I was there when it did.

RIP, Mr. President.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Searching for Humility

“He must become more important. I must become less important.” - John the Baptist

My years of shepherding Jesus’ flock have continued to prove that the greatest challenge in the life of a disciple is to be selfless. When my walk with the Lord is conditioned on my wants and not His I’m walking alone.

To paraphrase John, “It’s not about me.” He recognized that Jesus was the "lamb of God who takes away the world's sin".  As popular as John was at the time, he knew he was no Jesus. 

No wonder Jesus called him the greatest man ever born.

He got it.  Our innate human nature is not to be humble but to find some reason for human pride; not to be selfless, but to exalt self; not to remove pick up the towel and serve, but to demand to be served. 

And this applies even to the most sincere Christ followers.  Ask Peter.  As the old Pogo cartoon aptly said, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

I'd like to be more like Jesus' cousin John, although I know he would tell me to look, not at him, but at Jesus.  What better time of year to do so than when we remember that the Almighty willingly chose to not only become human, but to do so as a baby in a poor family whose first cradle was a manger.

 [Jesus Christ],  who, existing in the form of God,  
      did not consider equality with God 
      as something to be used for His own advantage. 
7      Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, 
      taking on the likeness of men. 
      And when He had come as a man in His external form, 
8      He humbled Himself by becoming obedient
      to the point of deatheven to death on across.
Philippians 2:6-8 (HCSB)

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Let’s Stop the Hate

I heard the news Saturday afternoon of the massacre at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA.  Finding out that something like that has happened again in the “land of the free” brings (at least on me) a cocktail of emotions.  Shock is followed by incredulity.  I felt anger toward the hatred that overcame the perpetrator and sadness and compassion for the victims and their families.

That this followed so quickly on the heels of another hate-filled man sending pipe bombs to targeted men and women who have been either leaders or vocal in their support of a particular ideology underscores the evil hatred that lurks somewhere nearby, just under the radar for most of us. 

That such an attack happened in a house of worship should give us all greatest alarm.  One of the highest virtues of our system in America is the freedom to worship without fear of governmental control, and without the fear that what happened Saturday could ever happen.  We’re still recovering in many ways from a similar incident in a Texas Baptist church 51 weeks ago, proving that any faith, any house of worship can become a target of deranged hatred.

Disagreement is part and parcel to a free society.  Debate is the discourse that allows us to present the rationale, hopefully a rationale that is reasoned and moral, in our democratic republic.  Healthy debate, healthy disagreement is a good thing, allowing us to not only understand differences but to work toward living together with them in peaceful ways.

If you read the news and especially the commentary (which is what this piece is) you’ll find finger-pointing and blame being passed around.  It especially concerns me that those claiming to follow the Prince of Peace can spread vitriol toward others with whom they find offensive rather than seeking the “ministry of reconciliation” to which they’ve been called.  Look up 2 Corinthians 5:16-21. 

Sadly, somewhere in the last decade the notion that disagreement equaled hate became popular in many.  That translates into the idea that a vote for one is hatred for the other.  That translates into the idea that if one’s world view is influenced by a particular theology it must by default hate those who adopt a different world view.  That notion has in itself resulted in a growing hate between us in so many ways.

Hatred for another because of those differences, whether religious, political or racial is destructive to the foundation of our society.  And there are societies built on foundations of hate, who only seek to either convert infidels or if that is not possible, to kill them off.  In a small way, that is what took place Saturday morning.  That is what was attempted last week as bombs were mailed.

There has to be a better way.  The Good News is that things can change and that anyone can become a new creation, allowing the Creator to fix what’s broken in each of us.  I’m actually a believer that indeed, things will change for the better.  It’s why I pray, “Your Kingdom come”. 

Ultimately the blame is on the brokenness of humanity.  Of course, we’re not all haters.  We’re not all terrorists or mass-murderers.  Some are broken in ways far deeper than most.  And it is true that words, more than anything flame the misguided passions that become hate, whether those words emanate from the church house, the White House, or your house or mine. 

I can't get past Saturday's synagogue massacre. How is it rational or moral to hate people because of their religion? (Of course, the answer is, "it isn't"). I'm unashamedly Christian, and I disagree with many other religions' basic tenets. But disagreement and hate don't need to hold hands. Not in a Christian's hands.

Let’s cry out against hatred while at the same time keeping our disagreements civil.  Let’s realize that to truly hate one of us is to hate us all, regardless of color or creed.   

Let’s realize that to hate Jews is to hate Jesus.  Jesus said hate is the moral equivalent of murder.  And to hate Jesus has many ramifications, none of which are to anyone’s benefit.  To hate Jesus is to hate Christians – His followers.  To hate Jesus is to welcome an eternity separated from Him in Hell. 

Hate is just wrong. Let’s stop the hate.

Rick Lawrenson is the Lead Pastor of Nags Head Church.

© 2018 Rick Lawrenson


Friday, October 26, 2018

When You Have to Let Them Go

Certainly, an effort must be made to reclaim lost sheep.  Jesus said that’s what shepherds do.  But if after honest, sincere efforts you discover they have no desire to come back, you have to let them go.  You’ll have enough to do with the sheep who are in the fold.  Put your focus on them.

From The Replanted Church.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Is You Is or Is You Isn't?

The idea of an “inactive [church] member” is really a contradiction of terms.  So let’s stop pretending about who is part of our churches.

Paul seemed to be clear in his letters to the churches that not only should every believer belong to a local church, but that every one who belongs does so to contribute in an active way.
From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part. - Ephesians 4:16 HCSB (Emphasis mine).

To the struggling Corinthian church he wrote
A manifestation of the Spirit is given to each person to produce what is beneficial… - 1 Corinthians 12:7 (My emphasis again).

The historian Luke recorded that those 3,000 on the Day of Pentecost who believed and were baptized became part of the Jerusalem church.
So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them.  (Yes, I’m still emphasizing).

Also check Paul’s words to the Roman church in Romans 12:3-10 about using the gifts God gives to benefit the church.  An uninvolved “member” really isn’t a member.

Taken from The Replanted Church.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Giving Grace

Last week (and all week) a commercial truck was parked in our church parking lot.  We don't mind during the week...we have plenty of space.  But on Sundays (including last Sunday) we often not only see every parking space filled, but we park along the street and anywhere we can put a car.  (That's a great problem to have at church, by the way.)

But the company owning the truck didn't ask if they could park it there.  It is easier to ask forgiveness than permission.  And they didn't move it for Sunday.  I called the number on the side of the truck and left a message on Saturday.  "Just wondering if you were going to move the truck before Sunday morning?"  But, it was Saturday and their office was closed.  So, I didn't really expect a reply. 

And I didn't get one.

There was some talk among a few at church on Sunday about having the truck towed.  It seems the owner of the company doesn't have the best reputation in the community.  But I said, "No.  I'll talk to them tomorrow.  It's OK for now."

My office window faces the place where the truck was parked, and on Monday morning I saw a guy open the truck door and prepare to drive off.  So, I went out to meet him.  I explained that we didn't mind him parking here during the week, but we needed the space on Sundays. 

He apologized and said the truck wouldn't be back.  The driver lives in the neighborhood, by the way.

Tuesday afternoon, while working on Sunday's sermon, I looked up to see another truck (same company) parking in the same space.  Since I had told him it was OK during the week I thought nothing of it.  But, after parking it I saw him coming to the office door, so I got up to meet him there.

"My wife has been transported by ambulance to a hospital.  Is it OK if I leave the truck here for a couple days? I'm on my way there now." 

I had heard the page (I carry a fire/ems pager) to transport her earlier.  So, I knew she was pretty sick.

"Of course.  Park it here.  What's your wife's name? Can I pray for her?"  He shared her name and his as well and thanked me for the prayers. 

It got me thinking about grace.  Had we had the truck towed, or even told them not to park it there I somehow think Christ would have been not only absent, but ashamed.  Instead, He saw to it that we get to minister to this man.  Who knows what might come of it? 

Grace is far better than law.  Law was on our side, had we towed the truck or put up a sign, "Church Parking Only!".  But grace says something far greater, doesn't it? 

This recovering fundamentalist is still learning.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Be in tune with the Spirit

I’m a firm believer in the church being the body of Christ, and that the Holy Spirit places those in the body who will be productive and cooperative within the body.  See 1Corinthians 12:1-11.  And since the Spirit has that role, He also has the role of moving people out who no longer work with what He is trying to accomplish.  The role of the pastor/replanter is to be in tune with the Spirit and follow His lead.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Letting the Back Door Swing

One of the toughest pills for a replanting pastor to swallow is that some need to leave.  Every pastor called by God is a shepherd at heart.  We don’t want to lose a single sheep, even one who disagrees with us.  Surely, we convince ourselves, they’ll come around.  We pray for them.  We walk on eggshells around them.  We lose sleep over them and get that queezy feeling in our stomachs with each phone call, text, email or Facebook post from them.

But let’s be real.  If God has called you to replant He has called you to be His agent for change leading the church back to life.  Those who will work against you and that change must be converted to the vision or they must go elsewhere.  And that’s OK.  In fact, it’s necessary.  A replanter is like a planter in this regard: God gave the vision to you.  Your job is to help others see it and embrace it as well.  Hopefully many will.  But some will not.

Taken from The Replanted Church. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

A New Review!

"The Replanted Church" is a book that needs to be read by so many today. The author is a veteran pastor and church leader, faithful in his work for decades, and he speaks with wisdom and experience. Even if you are not in the trenches of full-time Christian ministry, the book is a good primer on leadership. Lawrenson gives pointers on how to creatively navigate struggles that churches of any size will face. As one who has spoken in (and served as consultant for) hundreds of churches throughout the U.S., I know many of the issues that Lawrenson so aptly writes about. Struggling congregations everywhere will benefit from this."

Thanks to my friend, author, apologist, evangelist and educator Dr. Alex McFarland for reviewing the book, The Replanted Church on 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

A Replant Happening in South Carolina!

I met with a young 27 year old pastor from South Carolina this morning for breakfast.  For the last 5 months he has been the pastor of a church that was about to close its doors.  But, God has him there to keep that from happening.

His church is a perfect candidate for replanting.  Although it is 130 years old, it is ripe for a new beginning.  A few months ago someone put a copy of The Replanted Church in his hands, and he's now in his second go-around with the book. 

Listening to his heart for the church - the church he grew up in - leads me to believe God's not through with them yet!  I'm excited for him and the church as they watch what God can do.

Will you join me in praying for them?

Monday, June 11, 2018

Easy-peasy? Nope.

There's nothing easy about replanting a church.  Consider the Hebrews seeking to take back their Promised Land.  During their 400 years in Egypt others moved in, squatting on their farms and living in their cities. 

"It would have been so much easier to settle in Canaan had no one moved in when they left for Egypt.  But, easy isn’t usually a part of God’s plan for us.  And if something is easily gained, it tends to also be easily surrendered." - The Replanted Church


Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Change that lasts...

Change is slow.  Maybe I should say that change that lasts comes slowly.  And one reason is should be slow is that it starts with little things. - The Replanted Church.

It takes change to bring a dying church back to life.  But, it can be done!  Just know where to start with the changes.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

What I Learned from Yanni and Laurel

Try as you may as a communicator to be clear in what you say, not everyone hears it.  Their presence and even an affirming nod means nothing!

Preaching since I was 16 and just finding this out now.  Good grief!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

What We Have Here is a Failure...

Perhaps nothing is both more critical and at the same time more difficult in leadership than effective communication.  Sometimes what is said isn't heard or perceived as it was intended, which leads those being led to confusion and frustration.

So, work hard at making your communications as clear as possible.  Not everyone listens well, especially in this day of texting without true verbal interaction.  And the filters we have all accumulated in our minds can affect the communication both coming and going.

"I thought I heard you say...", when that wasn't at all what you said is a perpetual challenge that even good leaders will experience.  What takes them from good to better finding ways to improve.  And there is always room for improvement in all of us.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Pros vs. Cons

We can weigh the pros vs. the cons, but ultimately we must come to the conclusion that the only way for it to fly is if God provides the wings. - The Replanted Church

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Replanted Church. Finally done.

About ten years ago I started writing the story of what God did to turn our church around.  Knowing that there are more churches (than we would like to admit) dying in America, my hope was and is that the principles God used with us will give encouragement to congregations who are circling the drain.

Last fall I was granted a Sabbatical by my church. I knew that time should be used to get the book done.  With the help of some friends in Colorado and the use of their cabin, and others who have published writings to help with the ins and outs of getting it from a file on my laptop to print, the project was finished in early February.

My amazingly talented son, Nathan, did the cover design.  Looks great, doesn't it?

Our story (at least the part in the book) begins in 1991 and goes through 1996.  Five years of seeing change come about that resulted in a healthy, growing church. 

None of it is rocket science. 

I'll be changing the look of this blog somewhat - it's been unchanged for far too long - and posting more regularly about church stuff that I've learned in an effort to help other pastors.  If you're part of a church, even if not a pastor or on staff, I hope you'll at least be challenged by some of what I post.

And if you like it, order a copy of the book!  Mostly, could you pray for those pastors and churches who read it.  My hope is for it to make a difference in the Kingdom.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Billy Graham: We’ve Lost a Giant

Facebook blew up last Wednesday. 

Every media source and the whole world (it seemed) was reporting and commenting on the news that Billy Graham had died at age ninety-nine.  We all knew it was coming soon.  We’d been thinking that for the last decade at least.  Finally, his Lord made the call and home he went.

He has had my admiration since I was a boy.  They say that he proclaimed the message of salvation in Christ in person to over 200 million people!  That doesn’t include all of us who watched his telecasts through the decades.  Suffice it to say no preacher reached as many since Jesus uttered the Great Commission to “Go into all the world” with His Good News. 

Memories are etched in my mind of him on our black and white console in the 1960’s, coming in primetime network television, pre-empting whatever was usually on.  With a Bible in one hand and extending the other, he urged men, women and young people to receive Christ at the end of his sermons.  Always. That’s because he was an “evangelist” – from the Greek it means someone who proclaims the “evangel”, the Good News of Christ. 

I’ve seen videos of the invitations he gave to “come forward”.  In some cases, people didn’t walk, they ran to trust Christ, so compelling was his message.  And as a preacher myself, I learned from Mr. Graham that the offer of salvation God has given isn’t complicated.  There are no hoops one must jump through. He loved to quote Jesus’ words, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”.  It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

And so, in over 60 years of preaching they came by the hundreds of thousands – no, probably the number is in the millions – to simply receive God’s gift they heard about from a simple preacher with a simple message.  I’ve read the last few days many of those who responded at Billy Graham “crusades”.  Many are my friends.  Their lives were changed at that moment, not by Billy Graham (and he would be quick to point that out), but by their new-found relationship with almighty God through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus.

He was known as the “pastor” to every American president since Harry Truman.  All of them sought him out, asking for his insights, wisdom and mostly his prayers.  And he, without partisan, obliged them all.  I have to wonder, had it not been for his influence in the White House, what might be the condition of our nation today. 

Interestingly, as a boy he preferred baseball to religion.  I detested going to church,” he said when recalling his youth.  But at age 15 something radical happened in his life.  “But finally, I was persuaded by a friend [to go to a meeting]…and the spirit of God began to speak to me as I went back night after night. One night, when the invitation was given to accept Jesus, I just said, ‘Lord, I’m going.’ I knew I was headed in a new direction.”  And as a result, generations came to hear and respond to that same invitation through this North Carolina farm boy.

We never met, although I did hear him preach once in person in Atlanta over twenty years ago.  Yet, I know he would be embarrassed if the focus of this column was on him, because he never lived that way.  He would say to me, “Rick, point them, like I did to Jesus.” 

We’ve lost a giant, both in American culture and in the Christian world.  But the hope is that those of us who knew his Savior will see him one day.  The message he preached will continue to change lives.  I know, as a Gospel preacher that I stand on the shoulders of Billy Graham, and am thankful to have lived in a generation he impacted.

Monday, February 19, 2018

School Shootings: A Revolution is Needed

Once again last week, we were stunned with the heartbreaking news that a deranged mind entered a school and slaughtered seventeen, mostly students.  It’s as though you could hear our collective gasp across the land. 

No one would disagree that it has become an all too often tragedy.  Finding solutions, that’s where we disagree.  I’d like to suggest several reasons for the increasing evil that has sadly become part of our fabric as a nation.  And, you’ll notice all are interwoven.

Growing up in the late 1950’s and ‘60’s, I vividly recall a very different America.  As we worked in those days to correct the wrongs it seems we also worked, covertly as it may have been, to feverishly dismantle the rights.

First, we have ostracized God from having any place in our country.  When the courts ruled in the 1960’s that sanctioned prayer could no longer be allowed in our public schools, a chain-reaction started, going beyond simple prayer, that has grown continually until today.  The outcome has become a disdain by the courts and by governments that has moved a nation that at one time was “God-fearing” to fearing anything that mentions the Divine. 

Without a sense that, as our Declaration of Independence said so famously, we are endowed certain rights by our Creator, we have no moral base.  Morals had to start somewhere.  As a theist, I would contend that they began with God who created us in His own image, instilling in us a sense of right and wrong.  Remove Him from the equation and morals become relative. So, if it feels good, do it.

The next step in our downward spiral was to declare, by the “sexual revolution” of the ‘60s that marriage and family were no longer hip, thus tearing down the very basic building block of society. In fact, government, in its efforts to eradicate poverty, gave financial incentives to avoid marriage. 

The result of the breakdown of the family has been the rapid rise of fatherless children.  When the sperm donors no longer are held accountable to be fathers, teaching, loving, and providing stability in the home, the results, especially on boys are horrific.  I’m told that a common thread that runs through so many who have killed in our public schools is the lack of a father.  And if not a father, at least a strong male father-figure.  Who else can teach a boy how to control himself?  Thank God for moms, especially single moms who are trying to do their very best.  But, boys need dads.  By the way, so do girls. 

In 1973 we then, under the mantra of freedom, were told by the SCOTUS that human life was no longer precious.  With any logic, one can follow the path opened by making the taking of innocent life legal.  With every abortion (and there have been millions) our national conscience has been hardened, little by little to the value of all human life.  Today countless boys and young men spend hours each day killing in video games.  And the result is a de-sensitivity to murder and mayhem.  If we see it over and over, the shock value increasingly decreases.

Lastly, the failure of “the church” to stand firm both for their long-held beliefs and against moral decay in society.  I put “the church” in quotation marks only to be inclusive of all organized religions. In fact, “the church” has often been its own worst enemy.  As the mainline denominations have surrendered to the waves of political correctness they’ve become less and less a source of moral correctness in the world.  Before religion points its fingers at the irreligious, it first needs to look in the mirror at its own failures to make a difference and speak with a loud, if necessary prophetic voice.

The bottom line is that our schools are no longer safe as they once were, and the primary cause is the breakdown of society.  The media and politicians will try to enact change on a purely legal, political level.  But laws cannot change hearts.  Only a return to God can make a difference because that would be revolutionary.  And a moral, spiritual revolution is what is needed, and is our only hope.