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Rethinking Megachurch  

No one would ever mistake it for a mega church.

Not by today’s standards. 

If it were a mega church, you’d cruise along a winding, tree-lined asphalt road and be greeted by attendants waving orange batons directing you to a parking slot half a mile from the church doors.  Not here in Petersburg.

Take exit 11 off of Kentucky’s I-275 and the cloverleaf turn practically dumps you into the humble parking lot of Bullittsburg Baptist Church.   Organized in June, 1794 by Elders John Taylor, Joseph Redding and William Cave, it’s the oldest church in northern Kentucky. By 1797, the young congregation constructed their first meeting place. 

If you should ever be in the area, do stop by.  And don’t miss the church’s rambling cemetery adjacent to the parking lot. Unable to resist a walk through the old gravestones, I grabbed my camera and ambled across the grass. 

Snapping pictures of the granite markers, I tried to imagine just who these people were.  Tried to hear them swapping stories of revolutionary war battles like the Siege of Bryan Station or the Battle of Blue Licks. 

I tried to envision church services across the centuries.  Ponder the ministry they would have had to families devastated by the Civil War.  Or World War 1.  Or World War 2.  What a span!

There’s no gleam to the white brick structure known as Bulliltsburg Baptist Church.  Should you attend a Sunday morning service, don’t expect massive video screens or fog machines. 

But what you will find, is a long trail of faithful obedience to God and His Word.  You will see evidence of 223 years of faithful teaching and preaching and praying….223 years of caring for the neighborhood, praying for the sick, visiting the shut-ins…223 years of being a light in Petersburg, Kentucky.

And if faithfulness in ministry is the measuring stick, maybe—just maybe—Bullitsburg Baptist Church is more mega than most mega churches we know. 

“Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you.”      --1 Samuel 12:24

 

 

 

 
Unexpected Beauty  

Rainy days are nobody’s favorite.

Who plans a wedding and hopes for a rainy day?  No parade has ever been improved by a downpour.  Same for picnics.  Few love songs connect rainy days with nostalgia or romance.  No one but a farmer enduring a parched summer welcomes a “100% chance of rain” in the forecast.

Who could possibly find glory in a puddle, or majesty in mud?  Exactly what is there, beyond the banal acknowledgement of a watered lawn or garden, to commend a rainy day?  A hint of an answer presented itself recently in an unlikely place on an unlikely day.  

Knobby fingers of darksome clouds stretched their grip across the horizon.  From those fingers trickled a steady drip of rain.  Hardly ideal weather for a vacation, but there we were.  And there it was—rain—lots of it. 

Opening the car door, I happened to glance down.  I am guessing that a parking lot has never before framed a canvas of priceless art.  Yet it seemed to right then.

A perfectly shaped maple leaf blazed an almost surreal red against the coal black asphalt.  The leaf was bordered by soggy tan wet wispiness—seeds, perhaps.  By contrast, they were boring and colorless.  All the better to spotlight that leaf!  The sheen of water over the electric red leaf gave it the appearance of those plastic coated wood tables you sometimes see in restaurants. 

Would I have noticed the leaf had it not been a rainy day?  Perhaps.  But would it have appeared as stunningly beautiful (enough to take a picture of it) without the rain?   Likely not.  The rain brought a peculiar grandeur, a glisten.

Which brings me to a question or two.  Is life a steady drip of disappointment for you lately?  Had your umbrella up for longer than you can remember?  We’re not the first!

It was in the storm that Paul offered a beautiful word of comfort to an unbelieving crew about the protective hand of God.  It was in the storm that Jesus handed His disciples the priceless jewel of belief that “even the wind and waves obey Him.”

Maybe it’s time for us to look down and find the beauty right where we are.    Right in the storm.   Beauty, after all, has been known to show up in the most unexpected places. 

 

 

 
Hurting God  

The invitation to “vent” and “uncage the rage” is one that never really delivers. But with the enormous platform offered by the web, rants are everywhere (“flame trolling” is nearly an art form).

But there’s a dark side—a very dark side—to ranting before God to which I’ve previously given insufficient thought.  I make this statement reacting to a recent journey into the book of Malachi.

In chapter three God says to the nation of Israel, “You have said harsh things against me.”   What?  Sounds like God was offended—and He was. But what kind of “harsh things” had they said?  For starters, they claimed:

— “It is futile to serve God.”

— “What did we gain by carrying out His requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty?”

— “Certainly the evil doers prosper.”

— “Even those who challenge God escape.”

In other words, they demanded of the Lord, “What’s the point of trying to be godly? What’s the point of trying to obey?  Everybody else seems to be doing better than we are.  So what’s the big deal here?”

The big deal is they were whining in the face of Almighty God, humanity judging Deity. No appropriate “fear of the Lord.”  No honor reserved for His name.

While it is true we are free to be open and honest with God (David certainly was in the Psalms), let us ever remember God is still God.

  • He is still “a consuming fire” (Heb. 13:29).
  • He is still “robed in majesty” and “armed with strength” (Ps 93).
  • He still “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Tim 6:16).

As for our feelings of unfairness, God has warned us in advance, “My ways are not your ways.”  Nor has He made a secret of His perspective: “Man looks on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart.” 

Back to Malachi chapter three.  This God, this all-consuming, all-knowing, all powerful King of Kings was offended—and said so.   Hurt the Almighty?  That’s exactly what they had done: “You have said harsh things against me.”  But what about us?

If a recording of my every thought about God, my every conversation with God were to be broadcast on Facebook, I promise you I would be devastated.  God would likewise be forced to conclude, “You have said harsh things against me.”

Time to watch our words.

Time to watch our thoughts.

Time to honor our God—even when life disappoints.

 
When God Shut the Door  

The lighting is dim and the thunder is loud.  An eerie way to board a ship.

Though you know it’s “just” a replica, it’s impossible to avoid the sensation that you’re standing on the real ark that the real Noah built.  The biblical boat in Williamstown, Kentucky is the largest timber frame structure in the world, constructed of 3,300,000 board feet of wood. In fact, the ark is so large, you could plop three NASA space shuttles nose-to-tail on the roof, while storing the equivalent volume of 450 semi-trailers below decks.  That’s a lot of boat.

The team at Answers in Genesis has done a masterful job of creating not just the ark, but detailed models of systems that might have been used for water collection and storage, food distribution, waste management and more.

Hiking the three decks of the ark, you see for yourself that eight people (Noah and his wife, along with their three sons and daughters-in-law) really could have managed the care of the thousands of animals on board.

Along with a camera card full of pictures, we left the Ark Encounter with two takeaways.  First, there’s Noah’s long obedience in a single direction.  Imagine decades of sawing, lugging, pounding—and waiting.  All of this while skeptical neighbors jeered and mocked.  Remember—no one had ever seen a single drop of rain, let alone a storm.

The other takeaway snuck up on us.  On a wall was posted the text of Genesis 7:16, “…Then the Lord closed the door behind them.”  Consider: some of the skeptics may have been hard core, even vicious.  But some of them might have secretly wondered if straight-as-an-arrow Noah was actually right. 

Then God shut the door. And thunder blitzed.  And lightning blazed.

No more chances.

No more warnings.

No more opportunity for rescue.

God shut the door (see photo for what that door may have looked like). 

What a metaphor for God’s offer of salvation.  Today, the “door” is still open.  There’s still time for people to be rescued from sin.  But there will come a point when once again, God will shut the door—and it will be too late.  Are we courageous with this message?  Or are we cowards?

Noah was faithful in his generation.

You and I must be nothing less.

 
Chasing Eden  

The crowd was thick as we ambled down the pathway of the Creation Museum snapping pictures and connecting the dots of Scripture with the visuals before us. So much to see: fossils, animals, life-sized dinosaurs (they move and make noise) and Disneyesque animated Bible characters.  As we made a turn, we entered a recreation of the Garden of Eden. 

Pristine vegetation was densely populated by animals of all kinds.  In a cluster of critters sat Adam himself, giving names to these furry friends.  We noted several creatures that you and I would be terrified to meet in a forest today.  But in Eden, they were calm and friendly.

Around another turn, we saw Adam talking with Eve in the shade of the garden.  They looked so relaxed, so real, so perfect.   All was well in Eden.

Still another scene showed the first couple splashing in a brook, thick with water lilies.  High above them—but not too high—coiled a serpent secretly despising their unbroken happiness, perhaps brooding over his planned offer of forbidden fruit. 

Finishing up this portion of our tour, it was time for lunch, after which I confessed to Diana I felt like I had rushed through the Garden of Eden and really wanted to go back. 

This time I savored every second, every view, entirely immersed in the scene. And once again, I left Eden, reconnecting with Diana at Noah’s Cafe. 

As she was comfortably reading a book, she was more than happy to oblige my request for a third walk-through.  It was as if I was chasing Eden.

Somewhere in that recreated perfection, I stumbled on to the truth. I want the real Eden.  I want to splash in the unbroken happiness of God’s presence, hanging out in a place entirely free of selfishness or greed or pride or sin of any kind. I long to hear the footsteps of God walking in the cool of the Garden.

But what’s next for Christ followers is better than a restored Eden.  It’s heaven.  Unbroken fellowship with the King of the universe in an untainted land where no serpent will ever tempt again.  

Perhaps, like me, you hunger for Eden.  May I encourage you to set your sights higher?  “Set your minds on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:2).  As Spurgeon put it, “Christian, anticipate heaven…Within little time you will be rid of all your trials and your troubles.”

How great will that be?  Better—much better—than Eden!

 
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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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