Monday, November 23, 2009

Death is a Process

Manley Beasley preached his last message to the Southern Baptist Convention in June of 1990 in New Orleans. In that powerful and prophetic message he made this statement: "Long before we have a funeral, death sets in. We seem to have the idea that death only occurs when we have a funeral." Manley was right; we miss the fact that death is a long-term process in the life of an individual, a church or a denomination.
How can we as Southern Baptists make needed corrections if we keep missing this point? Our denomination is in a state of death and decay. Must we, as some suggest, ignore the signs of dying in the Southern Baptist family? Must we wait until the funeral to admit we are in the throes of death? Please do not say that our problem need only be solved with money. Our deepest need cannot be fixed by money. Money is one of the leading symptoms of our dying. Other symptoms are disunity, character assassination of brothers who don't toe the line, control and cynicism, to name a few. Dying is our process but revival is the sovereign work of God. Who among us will believe God for revival?
Ed Litton

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Exceptional in the Most Ordinary Way

There is something deep within me that wants to do or be something exceptional. I often couch this thought in the phrase "for the Lord," but I have to wonder if it really is for the Lord or for me. This seems like a noble impulse, and it may be common to us all at some level, but it lacks some essential discernment. I can’t imagine a time when anything I could do in my strength would truly be exceptional for the Lord. How can you wow the one who with the flick of His wrist spun galaxies into order?

Still, it seems He longs for us to be exceptional in the mundane things—to be exceptional in the face of selfishness, rude clerks, ignorant words and other drivers. Maybe these are the things that best prepare us for the rare glimpses of His glory. When we learn to expect his presence in every area of daily living, then we’re not surprised when we see Him in a big way.

This kind of “exceptional” is God's way. We respond in exceptional ways when we do so with grace. We make exceptional choices when we trust Him. We act exceptionally when we draw on His grace and not our own power to live this life. I don’t deny that there are brief glimpses of glorious exception that seem to wrap life in gold and seal it with amazement. But such moments are rare indeed. What God has given us all in abundance are mundane routines that we trudge through daily, and He certainly means for us to be exceptional in these. It’s here that we see His glory—when our eyes are open and trained to spot Him moving in them.

This is where Jesus lived each day. This is why in the crowd He could spot one hurting woman who needed His touch. This is why He refused to shoo adoring and inquisitive children away. This is why He wouldn’t pass people by or treat them as blurry memories as he laid his head down to rest at night. Jesus showed us it is God's will to be exceptional in the uninspired moments and see the glory of God revealed. Living this way packed a lot of living into thirty three exceptional years.

Lord, help me bring glory to your name in the mundane moments of my life today. Help me be exceptional in the most ordinary way.

Ed Litton

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Bride

As a pastor, I have been a joyful witness to hundreds of ceremonies that have as their centerpiece the presentation of a bride. In the moments prior to the wedding march, I always stand at the altar with an eager groom and congregation, recalling a significant moment in Scripture. There will be a revelation of the Bride of Christ one day, and it will be glorious. Revelation 19:7 records it this way: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.”

When the doors fly open and the bride is revealed, my heart lifts with joy. I can’t help thinking of the day when the church will be revealed to all the world as the glorious bride of Christ. Revelation 21:2 describes the scene: “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” She begins her march down the aisle as cameras flash, women wipe tears from their eyes, and paying fathers calculate what all this cost (often with tears of their own). With a smile on my face, I wonder if anyone else in the crowd recognizes the spiritual significance of this moment.

I’ve repeated this little mental exercise in personal worship for years—until last week, when I once again found myself standing at a marriage altar. But this time I wasn’t the officiating pastor. I was the groom. When the doors opened, I saw a vision of glory. Yes, the same spiritual significance I’ve rehearsed over the years crossed my mind, but it was drowned out by a louder thought.

This was my bride—radiant, glorious, and beyond description in her beauty. Her dress sang like a thousand voice choir. Her dignity transformed the aisle into a promenade. Her smile enraptured me.

I then had another insight. In that brief and powerful moment, I knew what my Lord Jesus Christ will know. The joy of seeing His bride prepared and ready, eager to be with Him. In that moment a world of sorrows will fall silent. In that moment the grave ceases to claim another prize. In that moment it will be worth it all when the groom sees the bride.

It must have been for this joy set before Him that He endured the passion. The cost was beyond calculation, but this moment proves that it is worth it all. His patient love and enduring grace crowns that moment with unspeakable delight.

And I know in a moment what He will enjoy for all eternity. You cannot forget a moment like that.

Ed Litton

Saturday, August 15, 2009

He Carried Me

When you suffer loss it tends to leave you feeling helpless and powerless. We don’t get to choose the events of our lives, and we don’t control the outcomes of our choices. We can’t change the sovereign will of God or stop Him from moving. This doesn’t mean, however, that we have no responsibility. Though we’re powerless to effect much real change, we have utter control over how we see our circumstances.

I stand at the threshold of the second anniversary of Tammy's death. Tears are never far away. Like well soaked ground my heart seems to be an unending source of tears that wash over me when sorrow squeezes my heart.

Yet in this moment I’m filled with an inexpressible joy in my Lord Jesus Christ. I choose to look not just at what I’ve lost, but I choose to look at what I’ve gained. I’ve gained a more intimate knowledge of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. He is my shepherd who leads me in the valley of deep dark shadows. He has been faithful to walk with me, carry me, hold me—and yet He refuses to let me become an emotional cripple. He is awesome God, a loving Papa, and He is my help. I have learned to trust in Him. He is worthy of my "yes" first, then I await His command.

This is a reasonable act of worship.

I wouldn’t want to go back to what I was two years ago. I can say that knowing His faithfulness is worth everything. I love you, Lord Jesus! Your tenderest mercy entices me to look for you everywhere. Thank you for being my loving father and never once forsaking your holiness. I draw near to you, knowing that you are a consuming fire and you are the tender Father. You alone are worthy of my highest praise!

Ed Litton

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


Majestic. Enormous. Foreboding. Floating in space, clouds swaddle the earth and cover our lives in uncertainty. They also bring beauty, framing our life pictures. But more significantly, they remind us of God. In the Bible, clouds are always associated with God's greatness.

Paradoxically, even as they remind us of God's awesome power, they overwhelm us—and we forget the greater goodness of God. In confused moments we often say we feel like we’re "in a cloud." They bring storms that ignite our deepest fears. They also bring shade to relieve us from the greatest exhaustion. And clouds move on, proving that storms may come—but God doesn’t allow them to stay.

Sorrow and suffering may come like a dark, lightning-filled cloud—and God’s presence with it. He comes in the clear blue but more often in the dark mid-day storm clouds of sorrow and suffering. It was by a cloud that God led his stunned and confused people on a wilderness journey. God told Moses that he would come in a dense cloud. When Israel was on the verge of revival the prophet saw a cloud the size of a man's hand become a formation that filled all the seeable heavens. I look at clouds billowing up and outward and I think of how swiftly our God moves from seemingly nothing to fill the entire heavens with His glory.

God mysteriously moves in clouds, it seems the darker the better. It’s not so important that you can tell the difference between cirrus or nimbostratus. It’s only important to remember that clouds are a sign that God is there. In dark clouds the glory of God filled the temple, reminding us that our greatest worship is in our darkest hour.

Cloud formations are forever changing. One moment they may look like your third grade teacher and the next resemble an elephant in a parade. Our immutable God never changes his essence or his character—but his ways, oh, his ways can be quite unpredictable. Like the clouds, we cannot manipulate Him. The seeding of clouds to produce rain has never really worked, neither does baiting God to move in the direction of your will.

Clouds are so daily, just like the grace of God. Each day has trouble of its own, Jesus told us. The skies can be clear in the morning and overrun by a mid-day traffic jam of storms. Yet even in this unpredictable, daily nature of clouds we see the faithful hand of God to rain upon the just as well as the unrighteous. And in the clouds God speaks through the multi-colored arch of the rainbow, a reminder of His promise of holiness, faithfulness and goodness.

At times I look into a cloud and wonder about the great cloud of witnesses watching us run this race of life. I wonder what it will be like when He returns in the clouds. My favorite cloud formation without doubt is when the sun shines through and the shadows form shafts of light that touch the earth—reminding me not only of his return, but also of his daily grace that covers me in radiant light until that day.

There is something about clouds that makes me stop my anxious thinking, my busy moving and my relentless struggling. Looking up, lifting my chin heavenward, I see the clouds and remember that God is the Lord of those massive, majestic, foreboding things, and he is the Lord of me. Because of the dark clouds I can look sunward without being blinded. On a bright day I can remember that there is more than this life. I can stop looking down, lift my head, and hope and dream as I remember that my redemption draws nearer with every breath.

I praise the Lord for clouds.

Ed Litton

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Do They Observe Birthdays In Heaven?

Today is Tammy Jayne Hull Litton's birthday. July 15, 1960, was a day that I can’t possibly remember because I was just two days from celebrating my own first birthday. I now know that this day was one of the most blessed days in my life.

Tammy was born into a very stressful situation. Her birth mother lived in a small Oklahoma town and pretended that this child was her husband’s—but in fact this child was the responsibility of another man. In our fragile human state, powerful secrets require extraordinary effort to maintain. So while her husband was away, the doctor induced labor and Tammy was born.

At this same moment, God knew that another woman named Betty Hull was longing for a little girl. He connected her to a doctor who understood how important secrets can be. Some secrets are bad, but the ones that make sure little girls get born are necessary. Within hours of Tammy’s birth, Betty picked her up with trembling hands and a delight filled heart and beheld an amazing miracle for the very first time.

Within those tiny dimpled hands rested the genius of an accomplished oboist. Within those ears was the makings of perfect pitch. Within those big brown eyes was the vision a tender mother and wife. Her thick dark hair and olive skin was beautiful. In that moment in time, Betty had no way of knowing that the baby would be fun-loving, highly organized and full of joy, with a keen wit and a great mind. She had no idea that this little girl in whom God had placed such desire for Himself would believe His word and touch lives and fulfill the dreams and hopes of others so perfectly.

Betty couldn’t possibly grasp that God would use her to shape the life of one who would shape so many other lives. Only God knew, because He keeps some secrets really well. Until, that is, it’s His time to shout it from the roof tops. Until His genius plan becomes clearer to much slower mortals.

Birthdays are very important days. Days to remember that only God fully knows all things. We can trust him to keep the secrets that need to be kept. We can also trust Him to celebrate the things that really matter.

I conclude that there must be birthdays in heaven. On a day like this, there must be a gathering to celebrate God's creative genius. (What must it be like to live in such a state of perpetual awe?) There must be a daily expression of His unique creativity in the life of one little girl. There must be a moment, if not much longer, likely on July 15th, in which the Lord beckons Tammy to His side and says to the host of grateful souls and amazed angelic throng, "My ways are higher than your ways"—and this is my precious daughter, who often felt disconnected and undone in her birth but now knows the glory of my purposes.

With warm tears bathing my face, I offer blind praise to my God and King for His genius love and great grace marked in time on July 15th. I’ll be forever grateful for this day. Bells must be ringing, joyous music must be played in heaven because God, the author of life, has given life, redeemed life and gloriously granted eternal life to one precious child, Tammy.

Ed Litton

Monday, July 06, 2009

I Saw The Lord

Sometimes you read or hear a statement or a short sentence that strikes hard at your soul. Recently I was reading a sermon by Andy Stanley on the difference between confessing being a "sinner" and a "mistaker." What a powerful point that most, if not all of us, are willing to confess our mistakes and missteps but not our sin. Churches are now full of people who will not openly confess sin because we are "mistakers" not "sinners." A mistake does not require anything more than a better opportunity to take another stab at whatever "it" might be. A "sinner," on the other hand, needs something more profound and painful. A sinner needs a savior.

Confessing sin is one thing, but dealing with our sin is another. The prophet Isaiah had an amazing encounter with God that we often hold up as a model of great worship. It was great worship, but it was first a great encounter with Holy God and his grace to deal with sin. If you will allow me to give you a play by play runthrough, there might be some beneficial things for us to acknowledge about God, sin and ourselves.

First, there was crisis.

(vv.1-4) In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

Our sin infected nature never wants to run to the Lord unless it is being chased. We all seek many things in life, but not the Lord unless or until we’re in obvious need. This was true for the prophet, and it is true for us all. Whatever the impact of the crisis of the death of King Uzziah, it made Isaiah seek the Lord. How often I have been in the place of prayer only to realize that I was praying like a card dealer in a casino. I toss prayers to the Lord like a card and then step aside for another dealer. Crisis has proven to be a devastatingly powerful tool in my life, causing me to fall upon the carpet in utter, helpless abandon before the Lord. I tend to crave comfort at such moments. I tend to fill his ear with my pleas, and I know his faithful presence.

Second, there is confession.

(v.5) "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."

In the presence of holiness, we can see our sins in high definition contrast. If Isaiah was devastated by the loss of one king, he finds his true King in God's presence. In crisis, things appear clearer than we normally see them, and in fact we wonder how we could’ve been in such a fog.

Isaiah instantly becomes convicted that his sin is centered in one place. I dare not suggest that sin only impacts one place, but I will confess that my sin experience, which is vast, is that there is often a Beaver Dam of sins at one place. That dam didn’t suddenly appear. It took a while, and it took effort for a few things to dam up the flow. For Isaiah it was at the point of his lips. God's Spirit strives with us to help us see our sin "bunched up" in some area of our lives. We become keenly aware of our sin first and then how others have so blindly lived in sin.

Third, there is cleansing and cure.

(vv.6-7) Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."

We all long for cleansing and freedom. We often desire cleansing first and foremost and sometimes alone. However, freedom from a particular sin is significant to the Lord. He not only wants to forgive our sins by His grace, He wants us to go from this place and sin no more. I take it from Isaiah's encounter with the living God that this is exactly what took place. The burning of conviction, the stinging of the holy fire of God touched the very point of his sin and changed the makeup of that part of Isaiah's life.

I’m not suggesting that Isaiah never struggled with the temptation to say things that are sinful. There was now a lingering reminder of the power of God's grace. Oh that we should ask the Lord to remove our sin and to place within us a holy hatred for our sin—not rendering our lips incapable of sin but incapable of forgetting the burning price of sin. There are certain very hot things I won’t touch, like the red coil of a stove. Why? Experience that left a lasting forty-year memory of pain, so dramatic I don’t want to experience it again.

What if our sins were so graphically burned into our memories? It’s a work of grace to help us know the burning and cleansing power of the atonement of Christ. Seldom do "mistakers" find such burning memories.

Fourth, there is the call.

(v.8) Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"

Prayer can begin in a self-focused motivation, but an encounter with the living God always leads us to selflessly go to others to tell of the truth and grace of God.

Maybe we’re seeing few who go because there are fewer still who draw near to the Lord and seek His face. Crisis doesn’t automatically lead us into His presence. Being in His presence doesn’t automatically give us His perspective; however, when we choose to seek Him, allow His conviction into our lives, refuse to rationalize our sin but confess clearly, we’ll know the forgiving and delivering grace of God. Then we will see with clarity that we’re not alone in our sin, and others need His liberating grace also.

Ed Litton

Monday, June 15, 2009

Where Jesus Dwells

Andrew was a curious sort—a seeker in the truest sense of the word. His search for spiritual reality beyond the religion offered in his day led him out to the wilderness to hear the fiery prophet John the Baptist. It was there that John pointed him to Jesus, putting him face to face with the one for whom he was seeking.

The only question that comes from Andrew's somewhat tongue-tied lips is a seemingly insignificant piece of trivia. “Teacher, where do you live?” What makes us ask questions like this? Could it possibly matter?

I suspect I would ask it because I couldn’t think of a more significant question to ask. Yet this is a very important question. Like Andrew, I want to know more about this amazing person that John the Baptist declared in no uncertain terms was the long awaited Messiah.

Jesus said, "Come and see." We don’t know if Jesus inhabited a prophet’s chamber in the home of a gracious couple. He may have had a lean-to in the desert. Maybe he kept a place in the city. Wherever it was, Jesus took these two future disciples with him there, and they spent the day together.

There is something tantalizing about Jesus that makes us want to spend time with him. But often, unfortunately, it is only in short spurts at his place. We may invite him to visit our place, but seldom do we surrender it completely to him. He remains something of a friendly stranger to most.

In another part of scripture, a teacher of the law actually pledges to follow Jesus wherever he goes. Jesus replies, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." Besides the obvious—laying out the requirements for following him—Jesus also enlightens us about his dwelling place. Maybe the answer is not a location as much as it is a way of living. Wherever I am, I am with him. He dwells in pain, suffering and loss, as well as joy unspeakable. Whatever your circumstances, he is there. Living in consciousness of his presence is far better than living in a place.

We find great security in our dwelling, our position, our placement. Jesus is all about the moment. What Andrew had no way of realizing on that day, in the full flush of excitement in meeting the Messiah, was that Jesus would take him to some very uncomfortable places. He would sleep with greater insecurity and a lot less personal comfort.

Where does Jesus live? David knew the answer: "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty" (Psalm 91:1).
So Jesus does have a place. The answer to Andrew's question isn’t found in a lean-to or small apartment in the city but in God's eternal home in heaven. He has promised those who follow him that they will have a place there too. Jesus said in John 14:1-2, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going."

Come to Jesus, make no conditions, come and abide with him. He’ll lead you through this nomadic life with all its complexity and take you to a place built just for you. Don’t be overly impressed with and don’t over-invest in the places of this world. Jesus dwells with us.

Ed Litton

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Anniversary

May 28th is the anniversary of our wedding. It was twenty-seven years ago this week that Tammy and I entered into the covenant of marriage. Even when the now fading pictures were bright with color and newness, they could tell only a small part of the story. Young faces, luminous in their garments of hope, laced with fear of the unknown.

I was an idealist and she was the pragmatist. We began with little but the best of intentions. I believe we meant it when we said the words, "Till death do us part," yet in my heart my fingers where crossed as I refused to grasp the weight of those words. I know there was no way to fully embrace the reality of those words on that warm evening in May of 1982.

Now I often stand at the altar with young couples, many of them as idealistic as I was the night of my own wedding. I lead them to repeat the same vows, and I know they have no more clue of their reality than Tammy or I did years ago; nonetheless, vows matter. We make vows not just for those warm, clear nights when stars twinkle with hope. We make vows that are weighted with truth and value for a thousand dark storms that threaten to blot out those stars. We make vows to love, honor, and cherish. We make vows to endure because enduring is essential in this, the one human relationship that challenges our self-centeredness to its core. We make vows that sustain commitment through sickness, poverty, and worse.

Everyone needs ideals that guide them through reality. We all need to take them seriously and think of them more often than we do. We ought never to forget what we pledge on that day. I’m blessed to officiate for many couples who make such vows, and thus I’m reminded more often than most. As they repeat these solemn words I wonder how little they truly understand what they are pledging themselves to. Yet I’m happy to repeat them over and again. These vows remind me that God adores the serious commitment as much as the celebration of that commitment. He officiates our wedding days, knowing full well the storms that await us. He smiles, knowing that those who take him seriously he greatly helps. He is my help, and today I remember and celebrate that it was with Him that Tammy and I entered into this covenant. He knew the very moment that covenant would be completed and yet remained utterly silent about it so as not to remove the mystery of his ways or to place an impediment to our growing faith. He kept his end of the bargain with great faithfulness. We kept ours by his grace and good favor.

Now I stand on the threshold of making those same vows again. This time the repetition of these words will be tempered by a better sense of how they’re often lived out. Sorrow and pain have informed my intellect but have not stolen my passion, for by his grace I stand on the other side of that covenant with the ideal intact and passion undiminished. That is a miracle.

Happy Anniversary!
Ed Litton

Friday, May 22, 2009

Jesus is Watching

In the eighth chapter of John's gospel, where Jesus is verbally jousting with the Pharisees in the Temple court, a seeming throwaway comment about the location of this verbal scuffle tells us something important: "He spoke these words while teaching in the temple area near the place where the offerings were put..." Both Luke and Mark tell us of another time when Jesus sat there during the giving of offerings. Taking note of a widow giving two fractional coins, together amounting to less than half a penny in our currency, Jesus stunningly declared that the woman had given more than all the others.

Apparently Jesus regularly sat near the place where offerings were taken. Even today he observes the offerings in my church. He observes the amount we give to missions, as well as other necessary and supporting causes—a sobering reminder to Southern Baptists at this moment in our history. Jesus is watching. When tempted to argue over the allocation of funds, we need to remember He who sees our hearts is still watching. Jesus sits near the place where the offerings are made, and he knows when what we give demands greater trust. He also knows how flippant and boastful I can be in my giving.

I am all about percentages in giving, since the tithe is a percentage. Our Cooperative Program giving is a percentage, too. Yet we have not begun to give as we ought. The unnamed widow whom Jesus observed gave out of her extreme poverty and need, which forced her into a greater dependence upon the Lord. What am I giving that reflects such a sacrifice? When smugness washes over me, I tend to relax the tension of my giving and forget that Jesus’ favorite seat is near the place where the offering is taken. I forget that those piercing eyes are fixed upon my heart. I forget that giving matters more than anything else I do, because it indicates my heart condition like nothing else. The question that haunts me is, does my giving hurt? Does it threaten my security? It’s not a sacrifice if it costs me nothing.

C.S. Lewis believed in the tithe, but he also questioned the settled feeling that comes to those who live by percentages. “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare." Southern Baptists have missionaries ready to go on the field but cannot send them because of the limitation of resources; something in me says we cannot, in the face of Great Commission opportunity, be satisfied with merely giving what we can spare.

On a personal note Lewis adds, “There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.” We need to give, sacrificially give, and not stop giving until it hurts. Why should those we send to the nations be in want of resources while we stay in our nation and smugly leave the offering plate, satisfied that we’ve done enough?

Ed Litton

Monday, May 11, 2009

Joy in the Mourning

There is a difference between joy and happiness. They can coexist, but don't confuse the two; they're nothing alike. One endures in the presence of overwhelming darkness, the other only in the pleasant daylight. One gives the will to breathe another breath. The other can take your breath away but is fleeting.

I am in love with a beautiful woman named Kathy Ferguson. I asked her to be my wife and she said yes. She is strong, wise and fun. She lifts my weary head and reminds me that there is still living to do. She came alongside me in my grief as a friend and showed me that even the greatest loss can be endured. The quiet moments between us remind us that we each understand the other.

We come from relationships that were healthy and strong. We each have three children, two boys and one daughter. Our lives have traveled on parallel tracks that never crossed. I long admired her husband, Rick Ferguson, from a distance. There are fellow pastors you hear about but never meet. You hear about their character or strength under fire. You admire their vision and thank God for their faithfulness. One church planter who knew Rick told me, "There are some things I will never understand about the ways of God. We still miss Rick, and church planting in Colorado has never been the same."

Kathy is different from Tammy—but then why would God start a new chapter of my life with someone just the same? I’m drawn to Kathy for many reasons. Her wit is quick. Her wisdom is strong. She has opinions, but they’re tempered by a grace that quickly remembers her opinions are not the center of the universe. She loves to laugh, and the joy of the Lord is her strength. She genuinely cares about the hurting, and those who suffer the most profound losses move her. She loves her family deeply. She is wise. Her taste in men is superb. Okay, I threw that one in as a joke. We’ve both been tempered by our losses the way fire strengthens steel. We share a deep resolve and desire for our lives to bring glory to Christ. Oh yeah, she is gorgeous! I’m energized by just the sight of her.

Whatever is left of our days on this earth, we’ve agreed that we want God to use us together for His glory and the good of His Kingdom. May God continue to be glorified! May we build upon the strong foundations of our lives past as we reach for the future.

Ed Litton

Monday, April 13, 2009

What If?

Historians sometimes use a mental tool called a counterfactual, best understood by the simple question "What if?" A counterfactual can clarify actual events in history when applied to subsequent events. For example, we discover that an unseasonal fog sets in on the Hudson River, allowing General George Washington to escape the massive British navy and army at Brooklyn Heights and thus preventing the abortion of the birth of our nation. Counterfactuals shed light on the often forgotten elements of history and reveal in greater clarity God's divine providence. I am amazed how history often hinges on seemingly insignificant events that prove to turn the tide. God often shows up in the fog and provides a way of escape in perilous times.

The Southern Baptist Convention stands at a seminal moment in our history. The idea of using a counterfactual in reverse, to help us think more clearly and see more plainly our place in history and God's divine intervention, captured my imagination. The theme of this year’s Pastor’s Conference is a counterfactual question, "What if?" The biblical foundation for this meeting is found in Philippians chapter two, verse two:

"Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose." (NAS)

How can the future be changed if we as believers really seek to have one mind, one love, one spirit and one purpose? This question, properly answered, can and must change the course of the way we cooperate. I hear and read a lot of things that concern me about our current situation, but I am confident that these "realities" are but opportunities if we will meet the Lord together in Louisville, Kentucky.

What if we came together to do more than our business? What if we met to seek the Lord? What if we met to get things right with Him? What if we met to be made right with one another? What if we came together and allowed His heart for the nations to consume us to the degree that our differences faded into the backdrop of a great continuum, a God-woven tapestry begun in the book of Acts? What if we as Southern Baptists met and refused to allow God's work among us to become irrelevant to our generation? What if?

I am praying and believing that this Southern Baptist Convention will be different, in the sense that we will see a genuine move of God and our hearts will be refreshed, renewed and strengthened for these great days we are living. Will you join me in prayer to this end? Will you refuse to allow cynicism to rule your heart and believe that God has an infinite capacity to surprise our plans and that He moves in such moments in the lives of His people? Will you ask the Lord if it is His will for you to be at this year’s Pastor's Conference and ask Him to make a way if there seems to be no way?

One thing is clear in the study of history: there are moments that few expected to be so significant—yet wars, nations, and great movements hinged on these moments. What if this year’s Southern Baptist Convention would be one of those historical moments that finds us standing in awe of God, as He moves providentially to fulfill His purpose?

Ed Litton

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Stone’s Throw Away

If I had been one of the twelve who walked with Jesus, I know I would have knelt in the dark garden and, with gnarled thoughts, begun my struggle to pray. Sorrow would have consumed me to the point of exhaustion and sleep would have been irresistible. While I escaped in dreams, my Lord would have battled the unthinkable alone, praying “a stone’s throw” away from me. (Luke 22:41)

Why would the Holy Spirit inspire such a term in the mind of Luke? Why use that phrase to describe the distance between me and my Lord in prayer?

We throw stones for several reasons. We throw stones when we’re bored. We skip stones when we’re nervous, standing by a lake with nothing else to do. We throw angry stones at people. Sometimes we throw stones in prayer. That’s right, we toss our hard things at God from a distance. I find myself doing this often. I rush into His throne room with a list of wants and needs. I dare not draw too close to the King, I just toss my small stones at the throne in words, pleadings and sometimes even demands. Prayer becomes a means to an end. If I just exercise sufficient faith in the means then the end becomes a reality.

This mystifies God. Isaiah 59:16 says, "And He saw that there was no man, And was astonished that there was no one to intercede..." (NAS)

Lately I’ve found myself tossing a great many stones to the Lord without entering close in worship. Prayer that doesn’t begin in worship digresses to duty, bouncing onto the floor unanswered, leaving my heart as hard as the stones I’ve thrown toward God.

Worship helps me draw near to a place where I can see how great He is. When I see how great He is, I am struck with awe. When I am struck with awe I become curious about His mind. When I have His mind, prayer is transformed to a desire to do His will. Then and there my prayers change, the hard things are transformed in my own heart, and intercession becomes a joy again.

Stop hurling your hard, stone-like troubles at God. Don't remain a stone’s throw away from Him. Seek to know His mind. Then intercede in prayer according to His will. There is much to intercede for, but astonishingly few truly intercede—because we pray a stone’s throw away.

Hebrews 10:22 encourages us to “draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water." (NIV) We can be confident that our Lord not only calls us to draw near He cleanses us to draw near. We don’t have to stand at a distance we can draw near with full assurance.

Ed Litton

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Three Snapshots of Faith

Going Not Knowing
Faith doesn’t need to know where it is being led or whether or not the journey will be successful. Faith refuses to be distracted by what is seen in any given moment. Faith moves in the face of the blowing winds of unanswered questions and unfulfilled promises. Hebrews 11:8 says, "By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going." Faith begins with believing God's revealed word, accepting as true what God says, and realizing your task is to act upon it. According to Heb. 11:6, "without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."

This is why Abraham is considered to be the father of faith. Abraham moved forward in life in spite of the fact that he had little evidence this vision would become a reality. Hebrews 11:10 says was “looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God." Abraham saw many of God's promises come true along the way, but the ultimate promise of a city whose architect and builder is God he won’t realize until the New Jerusalem is revealed from heaven (Rev. 21:1).

Knowing but still Going
Faith doesn’t need every problem solved before it acts. Mark's gospel tells of Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome taking spices to Jesus’ tomb on a Sunday morning to anoint his body. On the way they asked each other a very practical question—"Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?" Far from being delusional, the women were all too aware of the obstacles they faced. I marvel that knowledge didn’t leave them sitting immobilized around a kitchen table until they’d secured help in moving the stone; they were knowing but still going. Little did they know the stone was no longer a problem, because He was already risen. The resurrection of Jesus solves our biggest problems and moves the hard things that obstruct our walk of faith.

Our mission in life as believers in Jesus Christ is to live by faith in the son of God. To move in trust that no problem is too big for the God who moves stones. Faith demands that we believe, refusing to let our unbelief keep us from taking action or from living in light of the promises of God.

Going and Knowing
Faith is willing to take God at His word with no supporting evidence necessary. I’m amazed by the visit Gabriel made to two people in Luke's gospel. First the angel visited a priest named Zechariah, who was in the throes of some very significant temple duties. Gabriel delivered God's promise that a boy named John, a forerunner to the Messiah, would be born to this aging, childless couple. Zechariah's response in Luke 1:18 is interesting. “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” Compare his question to that of Mary, the mother to be of Jesus, who was visited by the same angel in Luke 1:34. “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” Which response was by faith and which was faithless?

Zechariah demanded evidence that would remove the possibility of doubt. He wanted to see something that would keep him from being an old fool for believing God. Wasn’t it enough that one of God's highest ranking angels had just appeared to him? Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." Mary's response, however, is one of faith. She states the obvious, but not as an objection or a demand for more assurance. It isn’t wrong to note the impossible nature of your circumstances, but it is wrong to demand supporting material to remove doubts created by our own limited perspective. Such supporting material rarely strengthens our weak faith. Faith stands on God's Word regardless of the evidence to the contrary. Faith moves on what God has promised—and sometimes all you have to move on is knowledge of His character.

You might be tempted to say it would be hard to live without the fulfillment of God’s promises in your life. We all grow weary of waiting on the Lord. Going without knowing means trusting day to day in the promises of God—and when the memory of those promises wears thin, clinging to the character of God. Every day, in every way, we get to believe either in what we see, hear, smell and touch—or in what God has said. Like Abraham, like the women who went to minister to the body of Jesus, like the young Virgin Mary or even Zechariah, we must each move forward in faith. We must go about our duties, our lives, and the journey marked out for us. We must be honest about the impossible things we face, but we must always leave room for our awesome God to move the hardest things we face—be it a stone or a mountain or our own stubborn hearts. God is faithful. He is the Stone Mover!

Ed Litton

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Preach the Word

The command in Second Timothy, chapter four, is straightforward and simple—or so it seems. Many a preacher gladly heard and obeyed the call of God, but in our youthful passion we often miss the other phrases surrounding this exhortation. Phrases like "be prepared in season and out of season," "keep your head in all situations," "endure hardship." Many of us imagine the art of preaching is bound up in style, meter, technique and voice quality. The truly spiritual among us know that preaching is bound in the text; proper excavation and presentation are the stock tools of the biblical preacher. So we take great pains to do the less than glamorous work of preaching in our study.

Preaching is far more incarnational than I imagined. Methodist bishop William Alfred Quayle said, "Preaching is not the art of making a is the art of making a preacher." I have at times thought I could skillfully avoid preaching my life and my struggles—especially the humiliating ones. I now realize I cannot. No matter what text you deliver to your hearers, you can’t divorce your life from it. It may be comforting to think that my skill as a communicator could override my own struggles and hardships, but they just cannot.

We are all practitioners of what we preach. We either preach what we practice or we don't—but either way it comes through loud and clear. Haddon Robinson defines expository preaching as "the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through him to his hearers."* While we work with the text like a potter shapes clay, God's Holy Spirit kneads us, working truth into our being. We either reveal to our hearers the reality of the text in our own lives or we reveal that we’re out of step with the text in our own lives. Both may be unconscious communication, but both preach loudly.

Some of us would love to think that a sermon can be presented as emotionless instruction, as if we were dishing boiled okra onto the hearer’s plate. You must realize that the incarnation of God's Word in you, lived out in your own suffering and hardship, seasons the message and makes the word palatable and even delicious to the hearer. It is an act of sacrifice for the man of God to be transparent and to bleed openly before his hearers. He is vulnerable and in great danger in front of others. The tragedy is that many of us preachers traffic in truths we have never lived out and frankly don’t care to experience. We can even develop an unintentional smugness that says to our hearers, "if you are like me, you won’t suffer what others suffer." No man I know would intentionally do this, but more comes through your sermon than you realize.

When my wife of twenty-five years died, I was amazed how many people in my church struggled spiritually with why God would allow me, their blessed pastor, to suffer like this. My concern is that maybe I’ve given them the idea that as God's man I’m shielded from hardship and suffering. I do know this—often I preach out of a sense of fear. Sometimes I'm not even aware of this fear but it drives my message passionately. I end up communicating an unintentional message. I have to stand on a pedestal to be seen and heard but the reality of Tammy’s death reminded many that no one is immune to suffering—not the man standing nor the one sitting.

My heart has been aching this week for the wife and daughters of Dr. Fred Winter, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Maryville, Illinois. I cannot imagine the horror of the congregation that watched as a deranged gunman shot first his Bible and then Fred to death. I didn’t know Fred, but do I know that last Sunday he stepped into that pulpit to do what he has faithfully done for over twenty years—preach the word. In the act of answering God's call and fulfilling his mission, he lost his life. What is the Message? It’s not safe to preach anymore. But then again, it never has been. Fred's message and life are one. We live in a fallen and sin-sick world that needs the words in Fred's Bible applied to people. Fred was a faithful man of God who preached the Word.

Today Fred is preaching his greatest sermon ever. His life, now in full reflection of those who loved him and knew him and his faithfulness to "preach the word," is speaking not only to the people of Maryville, Illinois, but to a nation. This is incarnational preaching at its best.

Ed Litton

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Wounds from a Friend

"Wounds from a friend can be trusted..." Prov. 27:6 (NIV)

Someone recently asked me if my view of God's sovereignty helped or hurt my recovery from grief. I thought for a moment and said, "Yes!"

Life apart from an all knowing, ever present, and in-control Heavenly Father is unthinkable because His sovereignty governs my life and destiny. I know even in my suffering He has never for one moment been out of control. I know Tammy's passing from death unto life wasn’t just an act of grace to save her—it is His will. That’s where the wound comes. It’s hard to grasp anything good from such profound loss, but knowing He is sovereign and good heals me. In His infinite wisdom there’s hope, but at the same time, in His sovereignty there is deep mystery. I trust in Him—not what I understand about Him. I cannot grasp deity anymore than a newborn can grasp quantum physics. I can be cradled in his arms, loved and nursed in my sorrow, and know the goodness of my Lord in the land of the living.

Taking this path leads to greater understanding and insight into life, myself and His sovereignty. His wounds aren’t meant to harm; they’re designed to refine me, to make me a vessel more apt to fulfill His purpose and glorify His name. I trust His wounding because He is my friend. I’m discovering there is no friend like Jesus.

Ed Litton

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Three Common Experiences

“Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak Whispers the o're-fraught heart, and bids it break.” - Macbeth
In giving sorrow words I find it necessary to confront three states of being in which the hurting heart may find itself.

I’m not suggesting that what I’m about to say is a cure-all, but it’s important to accept that depression is normal. If you and I weren’t capable of depression, neither would we be capable of celebration. In fact we’d truly be the “bland leading the bland.” Of course some states of depression far exceed the normal; however, everyone will find themselves depressed at times. There are numerous examples of depression in Scripture, because it’s a common malady. Elijah the prophet suffered severe depression—for reasons that are clear to readers of his story, though maybe not so clear to him. I want you to see how God dealt with this man.

“Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’" 1Kings 19:5 (NIV)

The angel of the Lord didn’t offer Elijah instruction on how he could better manage his schedule. The angel touched him and gave him the most practical instruction: get up and eat. In other words, when you’ve suffered a setback, a layoff or death in your life, what should you do about your depression? Do the next thing. For me it was simply to breathe. Get up and make the bed. Eat. It felt at times like putting one foot in front of another was a major achievement. I marvel now at the grace of God who helps the hurting simply do what they’ve lost the desire to do. It’s seldom inspiration that leads us out of depression, but doing the simple things can lead to inspiration. God cares and reminds us of the practical.

In Luke's gospel, some disciples are walking away from Jerusalem following the crucifixion. They’re joined by a stranger they don’t recognize. When he asks why their faces are downcast, they’re incredulous that anyone could be ignorant of the tragic events that had taken place in the city. Listen to their words that define their utter sense of dejection.

"...but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place." Luke 24:21 (NIV)

Hurting people often demand answers from God. After Tammy died, I had a lot of questions, but I knew that answers would not bring her back, nor would they satisfy the aching of my heart. For me, answers in and of themselves would never be enough. You see, the disciples on the road had the facts straight. They knew what they’d just experienced and had already put the events into context. They were accurate—but their conclusions were wrong. You can hear their dejection in the phrase "it is the third day since..." They accept the reality of the death of their hopes and all that seems to remain is dejection. They don’t recognize Jesus until He expounds on all the Bible foretold of these events, connecting the dots of all God promised through the Prophets and relating how these things impacted their experience. They’re amazed, but it isn’t until late in the evening that the light goes on. They finally see that the very Savior whose loss led to their dejection is now sitting before them alive.

This leads me to one undeniable conclusion. God's answer to our hurting heart is often not an answer—but Himself. He’ll remind us of His promises, but He sometimes walks beside us like a stranger until our eyes open to see it’s Him.

Despair comes when we realize we’ve blown an opportunity that will never come again. We all experience these things. We think about what should have been our response or what could’ve been our opportunity and wind up with a feeling of unutterable self-loathing. This kind of despair may be far more dangerous than depression and dejection combined. The desire to attack ourselves, berating and belittling our very existence drains us of the energy that sustains life.

Jesus has an answer for despair. To a group of snoring disciples who missed a golden opportunity to pray for and with Jesus, he simply said, "Rise, let us go!" Matt. 26:46 (NIV)

What should I do after I’ve failed my Lord again? Get up from despair and do the next thing. Refuse to lie in a pool of my own bloody despair. Rise and trust His goodness and grace for the next opportunity to be faithful. Trust Him as I walk with Him down the path to the next thing. Others may think me glib for refusing to sulk in my failure, but faith requires that we move, not allowing failure to corrupt the next move of faith. Far from ignoring failure, faith refuses to make a habit of it.

Ed Litton

Monday, January 26, 2009

Agents of Grace

Grief still pays me unexpected visits sometimes, coming upon me like an unseasonable storm. Lately it has been in situations when one of my children needs a mother's comfort or care—and I feel helpless to be that for them.

My son Tyler was diagnosed at the age of fourteen with a disease that has no cure. Tammy, in typical style, moved swiftly past the immediate pain of that news and began to deal with the practical realities of the disease. There were hospital stays, procedures and medications. Tammy handled them all with skill and a mother's care. She would read up on the disease and become an overnight expert. I would sit in silence with the doctor as she ran through a list of questions I never would have thought to ask. That’s just what a mother does. It’s been said that a woman's beauty is revealed in and after pregnancy. Actually, I think she’s transformed by a sacrificial love that is awesome to behold, actually it is breath taking. The first time I laid eyes on Tammy, I knew she was beautiful. But when she became a mother, a new, more defined beauty emerged.

Thankfully for almost six years our son has been free from symptoms as the disease stayed in remission. Just over a week ago, though, Tyler came to me with the news that the symptoms have returned. So did my grief. I felt overwhelmed by the list of things that Tammy had managed to keep so orderly. I didn’t know where to begin or what to do. So I formed a plan of action with her as my role model. The problem was I knew I would never be able to do it all—especially providing the comfort a mother alone can bring. Yet it has to get done, and swiftly.

Today we went to the hospital for a test. We arrived early and sat down to go through the procedures for outpatient admission. The first woman we spoke to welcomed us with sweetness and kindness. She found Tyler's file, confirmed his appointment and told us his name would be called in a few moments. When Tyler was called and we got up out of our seats, this dear woman, stopped Tyler and cupped his face in her hands. She whispered something to him, and I watched him hug her as she held him. Tears formed in my eyes as I realized that what I couldn’t give Tyler God provided through a stranger, a mother, an agent of grace. As we walked down the hall I asked Tyler what she’d said. She’d given him words of comfort and faith in the Lord's plan for the whole of Tyler's life. She spoke hope into his anxious heart, another thing a mother does.

As a father, my concerns for my children are many. I feel saddest when I think of how they’ve been deprived of an amazing mother. Yet God has a way of breaking through the storm of our grief and showing us a glimpse of His glory through one of his agents of grace.

I want to be an agent of grace. I don't think you can plan such a ministry. I think, rather, you simply make yourself available to the Lord, love people, and stay sensitive to His Spirit's prompting voice.

Before the day was over another mother made one of the most amazing meals and brought it to our home. Another one of God’s wonderful agents of grace.

Tyler is going to be fine. Thank you, Lord, for your agents of grace.

Ed Litton

Friday, January 16, 2009

Lets Talk About Our Investments

How is your 401K? How’s your retirement account doing?

Honestly, I do not like those questions. If you’re like me, this line of questioning is painful just about now. America and most of our neighbors in this world are in a severe economic downturn…okay, a precipitous slide…no, it may better be termed an economic avalanche.

In this economic environment it’s too easy to complain about my losses in the stock market. The question I don’t want to answer is this: Why did I invest so much in things that means so little? Why place so much confidence in things that can’t last, which are here today and gone tomorrow?

Jesus once said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal." Matt. 6:19-20 (NIV)

The other day my financial adviser tossed out a mantra I know he must have repeated a thousand times before he said it to me. "You've got to think long term." How long-term do I need to think? Until retirement? Further?

Yes, further. Jesus makes it clear that Investing in anything that can be eaten by moths or rust, destroyed by the second law of thermodynamics, or stolen by thieves who break into our confidence and loot our investments is a short sighted. Jesus gives us the wisest financial advice ever given: keep the long term in focus because this hurting, corrupted, fallen and painful world is slowly and surely passing away.

The greatest retirement plan in the world is out of this world. I’m not planning to stop putting money into my retirement account, but I will try not to over-invest in this world. God is faithful to provide all my needs according to His riches in glory. Today, my greatest investment is to give the hope of eternal life to another person who will live forever.

Trusting Him!

Ed Litton

Saturday, January 10, 2009

40K Faith

How do you know if gold is real? How can you determine the proof of gold? Experts tell me that one way, maybe the best way, is to melt the gold down. In the fire the purity of gold becomes obvious. You can take it to the experts at a pawn shop or a jewelry store, but even then the best guess rules. Only heat reveals gold’s true purity.

This is also true in the Christian life. The only sure way to determine the quality of your faith is to test it in the fires of adversity.

1 Pet. 1:6-7 says, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

So trials are necessary for a reason we may not fully appreciate. These melting experiences prove the quality of our faith. We suffer grief in all kinds of trials for what reason? So that our faith, which has higher value than gold, may be proven genuine. The end result is that Jesus Christ, the author and perfector of our faith, may be praised, glorified and honored.

Following Tammy's death in August of 2007 I had the most amazing experience. I was overcome gently but profoundly by a sense of assurance. That sense was far more profound that can I make it sound. It was the most solid awareness of the credibility and security of my relationship with Christ that I have ever experienced. It was almost a revelation. I remember the thought clearly. I believe the Lord spoke to my spirit, "You really are a believer."

As most believers do, I have struggled over the years, slightly not profoundly, with assurance of salvation. I knew that salvation comes as the work of God but that there are certain marks in a believer's life which identify a genuine experience of grace. I knew those marks were present in me. I settled that issue a long time ago and had a sense of strong assurance.

This later experience after Tammy’s death was unique. It was as if God revealed to me that my suffering of this trial was proof that I was His child. My response of faith, not the strength of my faith, was proof I was a believer. My hope in God’s provision and the willingness to trust Him was proof. Then there was the word of God that came by His Holy Spirit that day. I’m grateful for the sweet ministry of the Holy Spirit throughout my grief. He comforts when we let Him. He whispers hope and encouragement as well as assurance. I was given a sweet peace that I wasn’t looking for nor that I thought I needed. That in and of itself was the sweetest part. You see, the Lord gave me something I didn’t think I needed and for which I wouldn’t even have asked. He gave this gift because He is good. The truth is He had already given the gift of truth in the Word of God, and my faith is borne and strengthened by that written Word.

I’m grateful for the proof of faith.

Ed Litton