Dateline August 29, 2021
Author’s note: The following is the transcript of the sermon I delivered at the Chapel Creek Fellowship upon the occasion of their pastor’s 20th anniversary at the church and the rededication of their sanctuary after it was damaged by the winter storm in February.
I was nineteen when I met Keith and Debbie Day. Believe it or not, we were all 19 and married, Keith, Debbie, Donya, and I. We were all born within four months of each other in 1961. But let’s not dwell on that…the year of our births. It was a long time ago now and I do not need any smart remarks about it.
Let me back up. Before I met Keith or Debbie, I met Todd, Keith’s baby brother, and his parents, Max and Nelda. The Days were pillars in the Friendly Lane Baptist Church, where, at the ridiculous age of nineteen, I held my first full-time church position – as the youth minister. I do not want to say it was the blind leading the blind, but I am not going to not say it either. Nelda, still one of the sweetest souls to ever grace my life, was greatly concerned about her oldest son and his wife. She just knew that, if we could ever get into their lives, they would give their hearts to Jesus. She wanted nothing more.
I accepted the challenge, though with far less confidence than Nelda possessed. I first met Debbie when I decided to pay the Days a visit at their home and invite them to church. Keith was working. Debbie was home. So, I introduced myself and invited her to come to church.
I met Keith later…I think the very next Sunday, in fact. It was Sunday afternoon and, being a kid myself and possessing a brain shaped like a football, I organized an afternoon football game for the boys. I figured sharing my passion for the great game was part of being a good youth minister. Todd brought his big brother with him. There he was in the flesh, my assigned target, Nelda’s firstborn. He had the blondest hair I had seen this side of a surfer movie. It was long, hanging to his shoulders, and, having been raised in a strict Baptist home where long hair on a guy was taboo, I immediately envied him. In addition, he was built like Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was friendly, though. He had the sweetest disposition.
What surprised me most was how he could run. Now, you would not know it by how long it takes me to get out of a chair today, but back then, I weighed 145 pounds and could fly. I had won several 100-yard dash track meets and played wide receiver and free safety on my high school football team.
This was my first chance to earn some respect from my youth department kids, some of whom, let’s face it, were just months – or a year or two – younger than me. But no matter how fast I ran, the one guy running right there with me was Keith Day. Never mind he used halftime to smoke a cigarette.
What began to form that day was the friendship of a lifetime. As a boy, I had this friend named Rober Bunnell. In Mineral Wells, Robert’s toughness and willingness to take down a bully or multiple bullies at a time was legendary. Robert and I spent our youth together, getting into trouble and dreaming big dreams. Robert saw me through boyhood. Together, Keith and I have learned the ins and outs, the hardships, the joys, the losses, the victories of manhood.
Within weeks of that initial meeting, Keith and Debbie had become our friends, the truest and best we would ever know. We hung out. We did everything together. They joined us in leading the Youth Department. We poured ourselves into the lives of a great group of kids, many of whom we count as friends to this day. Donya and I lived in an upstairs apartment on Jane Lane in Haltom City. Many nights were spent playing board games with the Days, cooking dinners, and soaking in the beauty of a burgeoning friendship. One of those nights, a serious discussion about Jesus and salvation ensued. That night, one of the highlights of my ministry took place. I led Debbie through the sinner’s prayer. She gave her heart to Christ, claimed Him as her Savior, and never looked back.
She wrote me this text the other day…
“I just remember how much I loved the Lord with all my heart and wanted to live for Him. I knew the year before when I knelt and followed along in prayer it was right but I was not willing to give it my all. I really thought I was, but it never felt complete.
The day the four of us were talking about the Lord, He knew the perfect person to put in my life and the perfect time for me to completely understand why I was doing what I was doing and what it meant to “give myself to Him completely.” I will forever be grateful for you allowing God to use that day.”
I will cherish this forever, especially because Debbie, like any good sister, is usually busting my chops.
From there, it was on to Springfield, Missouri, and the married dorms of Baptist Bible College. We were so poor, we split a Ryder truck and, even with our stuff and theirs in it, didn’t overwhelm it.
The Days were there when Holly was born with Spina Bifida. They moved to California without the promise of a salary to help us build our first church. They stood beside us when we faced the first real crisis of our lives and ministry. They fought alongside us, wept with us, and celebrated the ultimate victory. In 1997, after sixteen years of church ministry, 13 as a senior pastor, when the roof caved in on my personal temple and all but crushed me, they were there.
Whoever said, “Nobody loves you when you’re down,” never had friends like Keith and Debbie Day.
And that brings me to the message I have come to give you today… Broken Halos, Bitter Losses, and a Better Tomorrow.
I will take for my text Ezra 3:10-13 –
When the builders completed the foundation of the LORD’s Temple, the priests put on their robes and took their places to blow their trumpets. And the Levites, descendants of Asaph, clashed their cymbals to praise the LORD, just as King David had prescribed. With praise and thanks, they sang this song to the LORD:
“He is so good!
His faithful love for Israel endures forever!”
Then all the people gave a great shout, praising the LORD because the foundation of the LORD’s Temple had been laid.
But many of the older priests, Levites, and other leaders who had seen the first Temple wept aloud when they saw the new Temple’s foundation. The others, however, were shouting for joy. The joyful shouting and weeping mingled together in a loud noise that could be heard far in the distance.
The Call to Worship
Imagine you are a 15-year-old Jewish kid. You wake early to get ready. Your mom has told you to dress your best. She even had a brand-new suit of clothing made for you. The entire family will be making a rare trip to the ancient, cherished city of Jerusalem, once the hub of Jewish culture. You have been diligently taught the history. You have heard the old folks, people like your grandfather, reminisce about the glory of good king Solomon’s reign. You have vivid pictures of the king’s greatest accomplishment etched in your mind – you have dreamed of what it would be like to actually visit Solomon’s temple. The exquisite wood used in the structure was imported from around the world. The great stones of its structure were hand-carved. It gleamed with brass and gold.
“It was one of the wonders of the world,” Grampa would beam. “It rivaled anything the Egyptians built. And, most importantly, it was filled with Shekinah glory of Jehovah.”
But 70 years ago, 55 years before you were born, everything was ruined. The Babylonian tyrant Nebuchadnezzar conquered Israel and enslaved its people. He forced them to evacuate their holy city, to abandon their temple. A few years later, in answer to an Israeli uprising, he had the temple destroyed.
In this part of the story, your grandfather weeps. “There was not a stone left upon another. It was completely destroyed. Gone. All the glory. All the history. Gone. Forever.”
The story was always the same. It started with such joy and ended with grampa in tears. So sad.
Of course, the scoundrel Nebuchadnezzar was defeated in 539 BC by Cyrus the Persian. You were 12 then. You remember how your family and the other Jews around you celebrated the defeat but in hushed tones. You were still not free. In fact, only your ancient grandfather is old enough to have any memory of freedom, of independence.
Cyrus was a better king. He had allowed Ezra the Priest and Zerubbabel, the political leader, to lead the building of a new temple in Jerusalem. After 70 long years, the people were going back to Jerusalem to raise a temple to the Lord God.
This was it! This was the day. You are in your new clothes. Everyone is happy. It is like a holiday. The journey is long, but the trip is good. For the first time in your life, Grampa’s story doesn’t end in tears. You have never seen him smile like this.
Your father teases his dad about the grin plastered on his wizened old face.
Grampa says he just wishes your grandmother had lived to see this day.
Finally, you have arrived, you, your brothers, your parents, and your grandfather. You have found your place in the throng that surrounds the great stones that your father explains form the foundation of the new temple. You are wedged between the generations. Your grandfather grips your left hand your father your right. You notice a change in Grampa but do not mention it. His smile is gone. His eyes are misty. Your father, on the other hand, is like a boy looking at a shiny new chariot. He is visibly excited.
The priests are regally dressed in robes, each holding a trumpet or a cymbal. They blow their trumpets, they clash their cymbals, and the entire crowd begins to sing, “Jehovah is good! His faithful love for Israel endures forever.”
There is a great roar at the conclusion of the hymn. There are shouts of “Amen!” There are cries of joy. But there is something else. There is an equally lusty weeping. Some weep for joy. Others for sorrow. It is almost as if the ancient city itself is wailing. And here you are, caught between the two. Your grandfather grips your left hand and weeps, and you know he is sad. Your father grips the other and he weeps but in a different way. He is clearly overwhelmed with joy.
And you wonder what is the difference? Why do the old men weep and the younger men rejoice?
And the answer…is perspective. Some, like your grandfather, remembered the majesty of Solomon’s temple. This new temple, they believe, will never match the glory of the old. Others, like your father, have spent their entire lives displaced, living under a brutal regime, never experiencing a moment of real freedom, of liberty. This is a glorious moment to those! This is a reminder of glories past to the older generation, but a fresh start to a better tomorrow to the younger.
Perspective. The power of perspective can be stronger on emotions than even the truth. How you see a thing, how you perceive it, will impact your relationship with it and your reaction to it.
Some see starting over as a loss. They cannot see the beauty of it because they are too busy mourning the loss of what used to be. They live with the Good Old days Syndrome. You don’t even have to be very old to do that…to devalue the moment before you because you refuse to let go of the way things were.
Starting over is a part of life. I doubt anyone connected with Chapel Creek Fellowship thought you would be, in many ways, starting over today. I doubt that Keith and Debbie envisioned that on their 20th anniversary as your pastor, they would be getting back into a sanctuary. I doubt any of us saw a pandemic in our future back in those good old days before social distancing and face masks. Churches all over the world are recovering from the losses associated with months of closed doors and virtual church services.
Starting over is a part of life. Sometimes, you start over because of…
circumstances beyond your control. The place you work shutters its doors and lays you off. You lose your life partner through death or divorce. Maybe you are a small business owner and you are squeezed out by the big box store down the street, or a pandemic takes you down.
Sometimes it is the result of your own mistake or shortcoming or sin. You miscalculated the cost of doing business or misjudged the market or mismanaged your business and thus failed. Maybe you committed some egregious moral sin and now you are dealing with the damages, the fallout, picking up the pieces of your heart, your family, your reputation.
Maybe a Texas freeze damaged your place of worship and for months you have had to meet in a makeshift location. And here you are, in this beautiful place, like the Jewish kid at the Temple celebration, starting over.
We hear a good deal about start-ups and seed money for start-ups. You don’t hear as much about restarts. Let me tell you this, Jesus had a start-up organization. It was the only one of its kind. There was nothing before it that looked or acted anything like the church He came to build. One would think that He, being God Incarnate, would assemble a crackerjack crew, that he would gather the brightest young stars from the religious seminaries and entrust the future of His church into their hands.
Let me tell you what He did instead…
He found himself some fishermen. They were poorly educated, blue-collar workers. The Alpha in the group was a hothead. He was always jumping to conclusions. He ran hot and cold, a man of passion and in possession of a sailor’s vocabulary. His name was Peter. He was passionate about Jesus Christ. So much so that when Jesus was opposed too vociferously, Peter tried to take off the dude’s head with his sword…and whacked off his ear instead.
When Jesus declared on the eve of his Crucifixion that His disciples would be scattered because of His impending humiliation, Peter jumped up and said it didn’t matter to him what anybody else did, he would never abandon Christ.
Peter said to Him, “Even if all fall away on account of You, I never will.”
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus declared, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.”
Peter replied, “Even if I have to die with You, I will never deny You.” And all the other disciples said the same thing.
None of the disciples had any clue how hard things would get that night. They had no idea the depths of the bloodlust among the religionists who hated Christ or the cruelty of the Roman soldiers who would carry out Pilate’s sentence. They knew the storm was coming; they didn’t know how ferocious it would be. They would find themselves shrinking into the shadows, mixing into the crowd, afraid of association with the one upon whom the wrath of Hell was descending. Three times that night Peter would be recognized and accused of being one Jesus’ followers. Three times, he vehemently denied. The third time, he cussed like the sailor he was before he even met Christ – cussed and denied he knew Him.
Peter wept bitterly over his betrayal, but it didn’t stop him from going back to his old ways after Jesus was buried, back to his fishing boat, and taking his fishermen brethren with him.
So much for that plan, Jesus! How do you like those ragtag, unlikely superheroes now? Look at them. First sign of real trouble and off they go. Good luck with that start-up! You are dead and they are gone.
But, as you know, Jesus did not stay dead. That is why we are here today. If He was still dead, there would be absolutely no purpose in Chapel Creek Fellowship. This sanctuary would be a waste of space and money. But He is alive!
He found those wayward disciples, found them toiling away in their fishing boat. From the shore, He called to them to ask if they had caught anything. They had not. They didn’t recognize him either from that distance and besides, He was supposed to be dead. They were not looking for Him. He told them to try the other side of the boat, which must have seemed laughable to those seasoned fishermen. They did as he suggested because, why not? May as well try one more time. This time, they caught more than they could haul.
Later, after He revealed Himself to them and fed them, He called Peter away from the others. Can you imagine the dread Peter felt? He must have thought Jesus was about to scold him mercilessly or, worse, tell him to get lost. With friends like him, who needed enemies?
Instead, Jesus cut through the tension between them with a different knife.
“Peter,” he asked. “Do you love me?”
I can see Peter, looking like a slump-shouldered kid in trouble, his head hanging, mumbling, “Yes, I do.”
“Peter,” Jesus repeats. “Do you love me?”
Peter, taken aback, maybe searches his own heart a little more closely this time.
“Yes, Lord. I do love you.”
Again, Jesus asks him, “Peter do you love me?”
Peter is vexed. His soul is anguished. Maybe the tears are bubbling in his eyes. His heart is as broken as his spirit has been for three long, nightmarish days.
This time, he looks Jesus in the eye.
“Lord, you know everything. You know I love you.”
“Feed my sheep,” Jesus says.
Can you imagine? This guy thinks it is all ruined. He thinks he has no business being a spokesman for Jesus Christ, no business being a full-fledged apostle. Yet Jesus is telling him to be just that.
Maybe then Peter remembers an earlier conversation he had with Jesus, back in the good old days, back before he failed so miserably, back before everything changed…
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He questioned His disciples: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” Jesus asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by My Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Some want to say that Peter is the rock upon which Jesus built His church. Not so! In the original language, there is a play on words in play. Jesus says, “You are Peter (Petros)”, which means a stone. “Upon this rock (Petra),” which means a giant boulder, “I will build my church.”
“Don’t you even worry about it, Peter. You are going to do the best you can. You are going to be vital to this start-up, but the truth you just spoke, the truth that I am ‘the Christ, the Son of the Living God,’ upon that, I will build my church and Hell and all of its forces won’t be able to stop it.”
So, here he is, the hothead, learning that it is not all about him, it is not his own willpower or sense of loyalty. It is all about Jesus!
Lesson learned. And so, this fisherman with the sharp tongue and itchy trigger finger becomes one of the three most important early church figures. He becomes one of the founding fathers, revered and looked to for guidance and strength. He writes two New Testament epistles. Years down the road, when he is taken by the authorities for illegally preaching the gospel and sentenced to be crucified, this man who cowered under Christ’s cross will valiantly declare that he is not worthy to die the same way his Lord did and so requested to be crucified upside down.
We still read him, study him, talk about him, and respect him today, 2,000 years after his life and death because he was willing to pick up his broken pieces and start over.
Let me tell you about one more guy.
He is a second-generation follower. He is not among the hallowed 12 apostles. His Mom is involved in the church and personal friends with the apostles, a real stalwart in the fledgling church. He grows up hearing the late-night fireside chats. He must shiver with excitement to hear the harrowing tales of close calls and then that crazy Crucifixion week. Then came the resurrection and Pentecost. How it must have fired the boy’s imagination!
He is a bright, energetic, promising young man, full of vim and vitality. He has so much potential that the great Apostle Paul and his fellow missionary Barnabas decide to take him on their missionary travels.
But his pedigree, it seems, is better than his constitution. About halfway through the journey, he loses his stomach for it. We don’t know why he quit. We just know he quit. Maybe it wasn’t as glamorous as it had sounded when the storytellers told their tales. Maybe he was homesick. Whatever the reason, he quit.
When it was time to begin a second missionary trip, Barnabas wants to give the kid another chance. Paul is not about to hear of it. He takes a “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me” posture. The two great men have such a bitter disagreement over the kid that they split. I guess you could say it was the first church split in history.
Paul takes Silas and embarks on the greatest missionary journey in New Testament history. He establishes churches all across the land. He builds a network of believers that will become the foundation for the enduring church throughout the ages.
Barnabas, whose name, by the way, means encourager, takes the kid and ministers with him. More importantly, he ministers to him. I once heard a preacher say the fact that Barnabas disappears from the biblical record proves Paul was in the right and he was wrong. I am going to say right here and now that is bull hockey. (You know I wanted to cuss right there, don’t you?)
I think they were both in the right and each in the wrong. They could have found a way to resolve their differences. But if you think Jesus is going to let Satan thwart his plan over a couple of belligerent preachers, you got another think coming. Jesus used them both to serve His purpose, to further the gospel.
While Paul honeycombed the land with baby churches, Barnabas poured his soul into a battered preacher boy who needed someone to believe in second chances. That kid’s name was John Mark. The second of the four gospels bears his name. He wrote it. Barnabas didn’t disappear. The encourager inspired a gospel writer.
The kid who grew up hearing the stories of Jesus wrote his own version under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And get this…
What about old Paul and the kid? Well, writing from prison, Paul pens these words to the church in Colosse…
My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you greetings, as does Mark the cousin of Barnabas. You have already received instructions about him: If he comes to you, welcome him.
Again, from prison, the aged Paul writes to his protégé Timothy
2 Timothy 4:11
Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is useful to me in the ministry.
Only the broken will ever know the transformative power of Jesus Christ.
Why are you here today? I know, you are here because you want to celebrate with Keith and Debbie. You are here to see how good the renovated sanctuary looks. You are here for the fellowship. Your are here with a friend.
But why are you here! Ask yourself that question. Why did God in His infinite wisdom bring you to this moment in this place to hear this preacher deliver this sermon?
I have asked myself that same question. Why am I here? Why me, Lord? I have no business preaching. And I think that is why I am right here right now. It is not my business. It is His. I am here because I am broken. If I were not broken, I might be somewhere else, maybe in a church where I am the pastor and rather than preaching, I might be performing. I might think I am there because it is my birthright because it is what I have done since I was seven or eight years old when I began preaching to my kid sister and her stuffed animals and dolls, playing church. I might be somewhere playing church today. But I am here and so are you…because we are broken.
Answer His question. “DO. YOU. LOVE. ME???”
If so, what are you prepared to do about it?
Do you need a fresh start? Here it is. Do you need forgiveness? He is full of that. Do you need to believe in something bigger than yourself, something better than what you have found in all the other places you have sought fulfillment? You have come to the right place.
I would love to tell you what I think of Jesus
Since I found in Him a friend so kind and true
I would tell you how He changed my life completely
He did something that no other friend could do
No one ever cared for me like Jesus
There’s no other friend so kind as He
No one else could take the sin and darkness from me
Oh, how much He cares for me…