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Posts from June 2011

Can a Church Minister to Homosexuals Without Condoning Homosexuality?

Just putting the words "church" and "homosexuality" in the title of this blog posting will result in numerous hits. Since the topic is so divisive, it will undoubtedbly result in a number of responses as well, either here or on Facebook and/or Twitter. In most cases, the responses will not be positive.

Nevertheless, the question must be asked.

Over the past few years the questions of church and homosexual acceptance has been very newsworthy. Some denominations have affirmed homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle choice while others state that it is not a choice at all, but part of an individual's identity. On the other extreme, there are churches and denominations that have spoken loudly in their condemnation of homosexuality and all things gay.

Then, of course, you have the fringe churches like the one in Kansas that protests American military funerals while holding placards proclaiming God's hatred of gays.

Homosexual2 If you search the terms "Southern Baptists" and "homosexuals" you find a number of sites, blogs, news reports and opinions. Yesterday, a news report hit that a gay-rights group, presently unindentified, had propagated an elaborate hoax stating that the Southern Baptist Convention was on the verge of formerly supporting "gay marriage" and repenting of its stance on homosexuality. The hoax was backed with a press release, phone numbers and a website, all designed to look authentic. You can read the story on Baptist Press here.

At this year's Southern Baptist Convention, groups were protesting the SBCs stance on homosexuality and desired to deliver a petition requesting an apology to the gay community akin to the one given to African-Americans years earlier. In a surprise move, SBC president, Bryant Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia, agreed to meet with the protesters for a between session dialogue. 

It appears the meeting was good. However, there was no movement toward a denominational apology. I agree with Dr. Wright's statements regarding biblical authority and clear doctrinal teaching.

“If we’re going to be true to what God’s Word says, we’re not going to be able to come to common ground,” Wright said. “If we were to ignore what God’s Word is saying about sexual purity, yes, possibly, we could come to common ground. But looking at sexual purity from Scripture, we’re not going to be able to come to common ground. ... I hope you all would respect that we’re just seeking to follow Jesus according to the authority that He’s given us, and that’s the written Word of God. I would just ask you to respect us for that.”
Wright then offered the leaders a hypothetical illustration to demonstrate his point.

“Let’s say one of my sons comes to me and tells me he’s engaged in a homosexual lifestyle,” Wright said. “I hope I’m going to continue to show love, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to agree with the behavior. And, if he came to the point to engage in that lifestyle and wanted me to affirm the relationship, it would be like a heterosexual son coming home from college and saying, ‘I’ve been living with this girl. Why can’t we stay together when we’re in your home?’ ... That would be condoning sinful behavior. It’s really no different.”

This did not meet with agreement with the homosexual activists, yet the meeting apparently remained very cordial.

There are some Christian artists and pastors who have recently changed their tune regarding gay rights and homosexuality. Some have even come out of the closet themselves to embrace the homosexual lifestyle. Some of my favorite artists for years such as Chris Willis, Ray Boltz (who has a new song out titled "Don't Tell Me Who To Love"), and Jennifer Knapp have made these choices. Then there are gay artists like Jason & deMarco who state they are gay Christians who bring their message of love to the community of faith.  I say I am heart-broken because I believe these and others have fallen prey to the Liar. Some have forsaken the church due to its' "archaic" stance on homosexuality. Others have created or joined churches that affirm and even promote the homosexual lifestyle. 

The discussion of ministering to homosexuals naturally leads to the popular stories and political movements of the day. It's hard not to go there. I have had numerous discussions on my views (which I feel are biblical) regarding gay marriage. Of course, this is the news item of the day. New York recently approved recognition of gay marriage. The celebration at the NYC gay pride parade was covered internationally. The mayor of the city and governor of the state were lauded as heroes in this fight for gay marriage. Celebrities like Neil Patrick Harris and his partner announced their upcoming wedding. Even conservative bloggers and columnists are stating that it is now most likely that other "blue" states will follow New York here and we will soon see federal legislation regarding this.

I still stand firm in my opposition to legitimize or legally recognize "gay marriage." I also don't agree with giving full marital rights to those heterosexual couples living together. Some say I am old fashioned and too traditional and intolerant. I even had one woman ask sarcastically "What does another couple's marital status have to do with you?" That led to a discussion that actually changed no one's opinions. However, according the Bible, marriage is clearly ordained by God to be between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:21-24, Matthew 19:4-6).

So, back to the question posed in the title of this posting. Can a church minister to homosexuals without condoning homosexuality?

I believe the answer is "YES" and it must be.

However, the natural tendency is to avoid the topic or use it as fuel for debates which are rarely tinged with love.

Some will state that I'm condoning homosexuality. Those who would say that are foolish. Those who know me, know that when it comes to biblical authority, I am an inerrantist and believe that I do not have the authority to pick and choose which verses to believe. As for condoning homosexuality, I do not and cannot. Why? Because the Word of God states that homosexuality is a sin. Verses such as Leviticus 18:22Romans 1:26-27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9 are some texts that reference this.

My heart breaks when I see believers compromising Scripture to support sinful lifestyles. Yes, I have Googled "Bible and homosexuality" and found numerous sites that state how conservative, inerrantists have mis-read Scripture to conform to their pre-conceived ideas and homophobic tendencies. I respectively disagree with the seemingly intellectual on this.

By the way - just to clarify, there are other sinful lifestyle choices besides homosexuality and my heart breaks when believers compromise to justify these as well. 

Over the years we have had numerous teenagers and adults in our church who have struggled with gender issues. While I have met and prayed and tried to help a number of them (thankfully, these friends have felt comfortable enough to talk with me) some have just dropped off the charts, never to be seen in the church again. 

When a church overtly begins to minister to those battling gender issues, it becomes a clear target for those in the gay-rights movment. We are called intolerant, unloving, unaccepting and mean. Yet, fear of being called these things and more cannot and must not keep the church from lovingly reaching out to those who are struggling with gender issues and same-sex attractions.

Not only must the church respond in love to the individual, but to the family members as well. 

The culture and some gay-rights activists oppose ministries such as Exodus International because they state that people are born gay and there is no way to be formerly gay. I disagree based on the testimony of friends who have come out of the homosexual lifestyle. In fact, I met a young man in the exhibit hall at the SBC who leads a ministry for those struggling with same-sex attractions. He speaks from experience. This young man shared how God delivered him and is now using him to encourage and help others.

What can the church do?

We must be intentional.

We must be strategic. 

People are hurting. Christian men and women are wanting help with this and often they look to the church and only see the anger when this issue is brought up. 

I am not sure what this ministry will look like. In fact, it may become available, but not necessarily promoted widely. Why? That should be obvious. However, those in our community dealing with homosexual tendencies, gender confusion, same-sex atractions, etc. and family members of those dealing with these issues must see the church as a place where God's love abounds and help and healing are available.

What must the church not do?

In no way, can the church condone what Scripture says is sin. The Bible must be our authority, not public opinion or cultural shifts.

I have seen young people who have attended our church come out on Facebook (this apparently is the most popular way of coming out nowadays) and Christian friends and church members stating things such as "I'm so proud of you," or other affirming statements regarding the outing. 

Don't misread here - the homosexual is to be loved, but the homosexual lifestyle is not to be affirmed. Why? Read the biblical references quoted above.

Christ loves homosexuals and died for them. . .just as He died for all sinners. Yet, it must be remembered that Christ died to set us free, not to keep us in bondage to sin.

 


Why Still Have Youth Camp?

As I write this, our junior high students are in Cleveland, Tennessee at StudentLife Camp. Our senior high students will be traveling to Daytona for StudentLife at the Beach in a couple of weeks. As a former student pastor, youth camps were a staple of annual scheduling. Some great memories were made at camp and more importantly, some amazing life-changing decisions.

Adults still remember those youth camp weeks and most remember them fondly. Of course, there are always those who had bad experiences. In most cases it was the student's first time away from home and the homesickness ruled the week and manifested itself in real, physical illness.

However, for the most part, these camps were positive and great times.

Churches seem to be wondering if the youth camp is still a viable ministry event. Is it worth it? Is it even biblical? 

Alvin Reid, Professor of Evangelism and Student Ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently posted his "Thought on Youth Camps." Reid has spoken and continues to speak at numerous youth camps throughout the nation. While each one is different, there are similarities. There seems to be a youth camp template that is pretty universal in Baptist life, regardless of location, speaker, worship leader and schedule.

Camp I think his points as mentioned in his post are excellent. He lists these items as needed to have an effective youth camp. I list them here with my commentary:

  • Know your purpose. Some camps are evangelism rallies or mini-crusades. Others are discipleship-oriented. Some are built around themes or activities. Some are great. Others are terrible. The effective youth camp knows why it exists (and by the way, just because it's summer and we have always gone to youth camp is not a viable purpose.) 
  • Go Deep. Believe me, students can handle deep theological discussions. The fluff that is often provided at some camps result in inch-deep believers or lost students who still don't understand the urgency of the message. Camp must be more than a youth version of Vacation Bible School. Challenge the students. Don't sugar-coat the message. Dig deeper. Otherwise, the camp will be remembered more for the bad food, lack of air conditioning in the cabins and the unholy escapades that happened when the counselors weren't around.
  • Play with a Purpose. Guess what? Christianity is fun. Games are exciting. Recreation is often an after-thought with a "Go pick a team and play some pick up basketball." That's a waste. Recreation and play should be vital to the camp. Be intentional. Be strategic. Be creative and have fun.
  • Have a Great Team to Lead. This is vital. The camp counselors or Team Leaders or whatever your camp calls them must be prepared. The experience of the students rises and falls on the preparation and spiritual depth of the leaders (and that's not just the guy speaking each night at worship.) Pour time and prepare the leaders. Don't let this just "fall into place."
  • Live at Camp What You Say on the Stage. Reid speaks as a camp speaker here. We love to bring in the latest "celebrity Christian" to speak to our students, but we must focus more on the character of the speaker and the authenticity of the message and messenger. Prima donna camp speakers that need a "green room" with only red M & Ms and does not want to hang out or connect with the students during the day is a loser. Also, in the age of Facebook, Twitter and Google, it becomes really easy to determine if the speaker on stage is just sharing a "sugar stick" of a sermon or actually is living what he preaches. Authenticity matters. Oh, and if the speaker spends more time selling his books, CDs or T-shirts from the stage - boot him out. Self-promoting Christian leaders develop more self-centric followers. Neither honors God.
  • Teach Adults. Most of the adults who come to youth camp are volunteers. Some are paid youth pastors, but not the majority. So, why do they come? At some level, they love students (or maybe they were the only ones who were allowed to drive the church van?) Set aside time to focus on these adults. Pour into them. Otherwise, the camp may not have the lasting impact it could. These adults go home with the kids. How incredible for them to echo what was learned, hold students accountable and be held accountable by students, and be that voice of wisdom for the long term.
  • Help Those Called to These Students. There are student pastors who are called to serve God by serving students. In many cases, they're tired. They are overworked and stretched and often on the verge of burn-out. 

The points are from Dr. Reid (the comments are mine) and I think he is absolutely right. 

There are those who see youth camps as unbiblical. There's a truth to the fact that one week does not alleviate the responsibility of moms and dads to parent and lead their children to walk with God. However, I see camps as a great tool for aiding these students.

Camps can be life changing.

Camps can also be a waste of time and resources.

There should be an expectancy regarding youth camps. My children have both been to basketball camps in the past. When I pay for these events and work to get them there, I expect a return on my investment. I expect them to come back knowing something more about basketball than when they left.

In the big picture, basketball doesn't matter at all.

Therefore, when I send them to a camp that really matters - one that is focused on preaching and teaching the Word of God and leading to life-change that glorifies God, I pray at home expecting a work of the Holy Spirit in my children's lives.

I think they're still worth having, as long as they do not become just another annual event on the calendar. They must be prayed over, planned out and prepared purposfully to bring glory to God. Otherwise, just send your kids to the Y for the summer.

You can read Dr. Reid's thoughts on his Facebook page by clicking here.


Two Things About God You Can Bank On

01 6 - End Well


I hate stories that don't end well. We've all been there. You know, watching that movie that has been hyped and promoted only to invest two hours to have it end terribly. There's this longing hope that as the story arc continues the resolution will be worth the wait. I remember as a kid being excited to see the third Star Wars movie - Return of the Jedi. I was not as young as when I first saw Star Wars, so I was already beyond buying action figures and playing with the X-Wing Fighter, but there was some excitement to see what happened to Han Solo, to see the major role Boba Fett would play in this story and to just see how the good guys would finally win. Then, I went to see the film.

It started strangely, but with familiar characters, so there was still some excitement, but then the movie just went on and on and seemed to get worse and worse. Boba Fett was killed off in a really dumb way, and quickly too. It appeared that the Muppets had invaded the Star Wars universe, there were too many gaps in the story between films that were never answered in the film, like "How did Luke become a Jedi after flunking out of Yoda's training?" and other things. Yet, there was still hope. This question kept running through my mind "Maybe it will end well."

So much for that.

It ended with a party around a bonfire with all the living characters appearing really glad to be through with it all and the dead characters sitting in the background glowing - all while the deeply annoying walking Teddy Bears (Ewoks) were playing music and dancing.

Really.

I just lost two hours of my life for this?

And that's what I was thinking as a kid. 

Well, it's frustrating, but when a story resolves, it's great. It's important to have a good ending. 

When we began our series in the book of Haggai, it started off as kind of a downer. There was the prophet coming into town to inform the people that they had rejected God and His work. In many cases, the people would not have responded positively, but in this case they do. They begin to work on the Temple. However, even in doing the "right" work, they are later visited by the prophet again to let them know that they were doing the "right" work, but not with the "right" heart. 

The little 2 chapter book of Haggai ends with three verses directed to the leader of the people, Zerubabbel. It almost seems as an afterthought, but upon closer look, you can see that God is ending this part of the story with two statements of encouragement to the people of the day and to us.

Control The message subsists of two truths:

  1. God is in control
  2. God keeps His promises.

You can bank on these truths.

I like a story that ends well and this one does. The great thing is we are invited into the story! Are you ready to end well?


Baptists and Immigration - About People Not Politics

This year's Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix was the least attended since 1944. As happens every year, there were some significant decisions and important statements and, as always, items that cause a level of confusion among messengers and member churches. It seems the mainstream media, and even some religious media outlets and bloggers, watch for the annual "controversial" issue. This is what sells papers and draws people to blogs.

We, Southern Baptists, have had our share of interesting resolutions over the years. Of course, there were the years of internal strife among Baptists in the days of the conservative resurgence. During these days, it seems that Southern Baptists were regularly in the news. Then there were the resolutions of boycotts that seemed to come  regularly each year that moved us to being described as the denomination that known more for what we are against rather than what we are for.

You have probably heard it said that any publicity is good publicity. I think that was stated by someone trying to convince himself. There are numerous examples where publicity has not been good for the one receiving it. Recent news stories about certain politicians prove this to be true.

The problem with stories and Tweets and reports on denominational meetings, especially from mainstream media outlets, is that often the story as reported seems totally foreign than what happened at the event. 

This year, there were a few items deemed newsworthy by the media and have, thus been reported over and over. There's the issue of the NIV 2011 translation and the resolution on immigration and the election of Fred Luter as First Vice President. (Luter is newsworthy due to the fact he is the first African-American pastor elected to such a position within the Southern Baptist Convention.

After finding ourselves ahead of schedule over and over again throughout the meeting, we slowed down at the point of discussion of the resolution on immigration. You can read the original resolution here - http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/amResolution.asp?ID=1213.

The resolution was questioned from the floor after presented. The question focused primarily on the portion that stated:

RESOLVED, That we ask our governing authorities to implement, with the borders secured, a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country;

The apparent issue was that, in the opinion of the questioner and apparently many in the room, this statement appeared to support the concept of political amnesty for those living illegally within the American borders.

Shortly after this question was raised and the Resolutions Committee attempted to address it, the Twitter-verse lit up with Tweets by frustrated Baptists and some who saw this as just another religious group dealing with politics. Many were posting such things as "Reserve this discussion for Washington" or "Where's the mission-mindedness we were just talking of?"

My friend, who had traveled with me to Phoenix, asked me why there was so much ado about this resolution? We both know that immigration is a hot button political issue. We did not miss the irony that we were discussing immigration in Arizona, which has been in the news for months regarding immigration issues. Yet, it did seem out of place that the following discussion and debate ensued at the Southern Baptist Convention. 

I guess the phrase in this part of the resolution that caused so much concern and is getting the hits in the mainstream media (and to the disdain of many Southern Baptists is being compared to President Obama's stated policy) is the portion that states "a just and compassionate path to legal status."

Pastor Wiley Drake, never one to shy away from the floor microphones at the SBC, stated in an angry tone that this would be known as "Southern Baptist amnesty." What? Really? When he said this, I was wondering if he was reading the same document I was and had heard the presentation as stated. 

The aforementioned statement, in my opinion, does not promote amnesty. In fact,the committee added an amemdment to the resolution that clearly states the opposition of amnesty.

Usa-mexico-border When Christians begin to talk about the immigration issue, opinions grow and voices increase in volume. Some will state the love for the alien within our borders as the ultimate guideline. Others quote Romans 13 as the reason for deporting all illegals. However, what is troubling is that the biblical standards and reference verses often never come out in the discussion. Rather, the proof-texts seem to come more from statements by politicians, talk radio hosts and party faithful. 

When it comes to the reporting of this resolution at the Convention in the mainstream media, it seems that no one is happy. Some state that Baptists have no right making political statements (which, if you read the resolution in full, it's not a political statement, but a biblically-based one.) Others are offended that Baptists would make a statement that doesn't line up with their preferred pre-determined political view. Others just like to not like Southern Baptists, so this gives them fuel for their distate, regardless where they land on the issue.

I'm not opposed to Christians being involved in the nation's political process. Nor am I opposed to being informed of vital news issues of the day. We cannot just put our heads in the sand and say "It'll all work out for good." We know that left to our own devices and man-made understandings, we do not drift toward good or right.

I'm glad the Resolutions Committee presented this resolution because it is forcing us to dig deeper to address the issue. However, the issue I am referring to is not the legal ramifications of illegal immigrants, but the church's response to people of all backrounds, nationalities, cultural differences and skin colors.

While not evident in the printed media or sound-byte comments, the committee's heart was understood, at least by me, at the meeting. The desire was not to make political statements about immigration and amnesty, but rather to focus on the international mission opportunities that are upon us here within our borders. Our ultimate motivations must never be simply political, but biblical.

As Reggie McNeal always says, "Don't hear what I'm not saying."  I'm not advocating the breaking of immigration laws, nor the blanket forgiveness or amnesty for breaking such laws. My primary concern is that we, as Baptists and Christians, realize that our first priority is glorifying God by living according to His Word and obeying the Great Commission to make disciples of Christ and to love God and others.

Those of us at the Pastors' Conference and Convention heard message after message about reaching the entire world for Christ. The messages at the Pastors' Conference were great reminders of the reality that this life is not about us, but about God. These were inspiring messages by church planters and pastors regarding the global mission. (You can listen or view them here.) Our North American Mission Board presented true statistics regarding the state of church planting and lostness in the United States and Canada. The International Mission Board urged the adoption of unreached, unengaged people groups and even led us in the appointment of new missionaries. These were the highlights of the meetings for me and many others. Yet, the message the world hears is that, even though we elected our first African-American First Vice President, we must still like being a predominantly white-only denomination and want to remain such.

What a travesty.

I read numerous Tweets that said as much during the debate on immigration.

Fortunately, I was able to attend this year's meeting. The heart of the meetings, and the heart of our denomination, is to glorify God and reach every person, from every tribe and nation with the life transforming and saving message of Jesus Christ.

Love God. Love people. Make disciples.

These are primary. 


Why Just Being a New Testament Church Isn't Enough?

We are proud to consider ourselves a New Testament church. That is a phrase I have heard my entire life while growing up. Pastors would say "We are a New Testament church." It would be printed in bulletins and sermons would be built around it. As a Baptist kid, it was just another phrase that was heard all the time in the church. I never really thought about it. I figured it sounded good and was positive. It was. Of course, as a child I always wondered what the alternative was. Was there such a thing as an Old Testament church? Maybe that would be called a synagogue.

As I grew older, I realized that this statement about being a New Testament church was centered around the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) and Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40) and was a phrase that meant we were more than just a building, but the people of God on mission for Him.

Again, a very positive thing.

Then, I began to read about these churches featured in the New Testament. Wow. The original New Testament churches weren't exactly running on all cylinders all the time.

Consider the church at Corinth. That church was so full of problems, it took two lengthy letters from Paul to confront the dysfunctions. Seriously, here are just a few of their "issues":

  • A church member having an incestuous relationship with his stepmother (1 Corinthians 5)
  • Worship services were a free for all with numerous irreverent public displays (1 Corinthians 11-12)
  • There were many cliques in the fellowship (1 Corinthians 1, 3)They were suing each other (1 Corinthians 6)
  • Though generous, they had some real financial issues (2 Corinthians 8-9)

Then, there's the church at Rome. They also had some major sin issues. They had some serious doctrinal issues that had to be answered. They also had church/state issues that were confusing them as well as fellowship/function issues.

The church in Galatia battled over what the true nature of the Gospel was. The issue and role of the law confused them.

The Ephesian church had problems understanding the universal & local church distinctions.  Therefore, they were confused about the role and function of church leaders.

The Philippian church had two factions growing apart based on an argument between two influential women in the congregation.

The church in Thessalonica was having arguments regarding the second coming of Christ. Some had even retreated to a mountaintop to await his return (1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Thessalonians 2). I guess they had billboards in their city giving the day of Christ's return, too.

Then, there are the churches of Revelation.

These are the New Testament churches?

Yet, even in the midst of these dysfunctional, confused, challenged congregations, God was at work. Lives were being transformed. Families were being healed. They weren't perfect. That's obvious. Maybe that's a relief to us today? Maybe a challenge. However, note that their imperfections and sins were not sugar-coated nor ignored. God called Paul to address them, and in the book of Revelation the Apostle John wrote to them. God's men spoke truth into their midst so that just "doing church" would never be acceptable.

Antioch Then, there's that one New Testament church. That one that was imperfect as well, but somehow in the midst of being a fellowship of imperfect people, they knew that being church meant more than gathering together. It's the church of Antioch. It's an inspiring church. It's a model for us and other 21st Century "New Testament Churches." Jeff Iorg, President of Golden Gate Theological Seminary says that Antioch is an ancient model for the future church. This church, full of transformed people, transformed its community and the world as we know it.  Rather than repost here, read Acts 11:19-30 for a glimpse into what God was doing through this church. Much of what follows in the book of Acts has its roots in this passage. What an incredible church.

So, being a New Testament church is vital, but it's not enough. When it comes to being a New Testament church, we need to remember that the best model for us would be the Antioch church - a loving church, a praying church, a giving church, a sending church, a transforming church. Let's be an Antioch church!

 


Doing the Right Thing Isn't Enough

01 5 - Contaminated Life


What happens when we, as believers, do not experience or "feel" the blessings of God in our lives? Tumblr_kvjjl8D8Xx1qzfsm2o1_500 We tend to respond to guilt-ridden announcements and pleas from the church to join another Bible study group or volunteer in some ministry or sign up for another class, or maybe give more in our offerings to ministry. All those are good. Make sure you get this - they are all very good. Yet, often just by doing more "churchy" things, the intimacy with God and the closeness with the Father does not result. Why is this?

The people of Israel were facing the very same thing. In the days of Haggai the prophet, the people of God were now working on the Temple (after being chastised for ignoring the work in Haggai chapter 1) and yet, were still not experiencing God's blessings. In other words, they were like many Christians today - doing right things, but wondering if it really mattered.

The prophet Haggai comes down to tell them God's message once more and builds his message upon two questions asked to the priests:

"If someone carries holy meat in the fold of his garment and touches with his fold bread or stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it become holy?" The priests answered and said, “No.” Then Haggai said, “If someone who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” The priests answered and said, “It does become unclean.” - Haggai 2:12-13 ESV

The prophet then explains that it wasn't the work that was wrong, but the hearts of the people doing the work. To do the right thing with an unclean heart contaminates the work.

This has been very revealing to me. In my mind, I know this. I know we are to be clean before our God. Yet, in our cultural Christianity we slide into "just doing church" and think that it's OK. 

Consequently, we have generations of believers hanging their hat on the fact they prayed a "prayer of salvation" years ago and maybe even joined a church and started working in it, but are not living with clean hearts and pure minds. . .and wondering why they aren't experiencing the blessings of God.

God will not bless that which is unclean. Bottom line.

We say "God bless America" and somehow we think He will bless us as a nation even though we (collectively) continue to refuse to live according to His Word and for His glory. Now, that's not a political statement, though some might try to make it so. It's the same as saying "God bless me" and yet, we live our lives mostly for our own selfish gain, or at least on our agenda.

When will we begin to realize that saying "It's not about us" isn't enough? We have to actually live it out. Go figure?

Take the time, please and listen to the audio recording of yesterday's message. I believe it will be worth your time.


Do We Really Want the "End to Come?"

David Platt begins slowly as he shares with the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention. He's been thrust to "fame" in the evangelical and especially the Baptist world due to his role as Pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham and his recent book Radical (and now Radical Together) and his Secret Church meetings.

When Platt became pastor of Brook Hills he inherited a wonderful church that was reeling from a pastoral scandal. Not the easiest of tasks for anyone, much less a very young man who had never pastored full-time before (at least of a church the size of Brook Hills.)

Over the past few years, God has used Platt to position Brook Hills for ministry and global impact that has been incredible.

I shared with my friend Neil that Platt speaks softly and slowly at the beginning of his message and systematically increases in volume and speed. He draws the listener in in a way very few can or do.

The humbleness presented by him seems authentic and leads the congregation to want to hear what he has to say. At no point does he sound like he's bragging or boasting or plugging a book (like some do.)

The message was clear and it was clear he had been listening and taking notes when other pastors had shared. He opened with prayer and echoed John Piper's message of "hallowing the name of God." 

David-platt Like an engine warming up, you could feel Platt warming up as he shared. Once at full throttle, people (me included) were Tweeting phrases and statements as quickly as he finished saying them. Why? Not to put him up on a pedestal, but in my case, to invite more into the conversation.

Many of my friends back in Florida were following my Tweets and have shared that it was like a play-by-play of the message. While I'm sure many were frustrated at their phone clicking every few minutes with updates, I could not help but share these truths.

Where yesterday's topic was primarily on planting churches, today's was focused upon reaching unreached, unengaged people groups.

It seemed that Platt was echoing things I have been sharing with our fellowship over the past couple of years, but I was shaken by the fact that just asking our small groups to adopt a group in prayer is not enough. We (First Baptist Church of Orange Park) are to adopt an unengaged, unreached people group (UUPG) as a fellowship and intentionally and systematically do all we can under the power of the Holy Spirit and for His Kingdom to see that these people are reached with the Gospel.

That is the primary task.

Platt shared what I and others in Jacksonville have been talking plainly about for months. It is not the responsibility of the International Mission Board to address the problem of UUPGs, but the responsibility of the local church.

Before anyone could throw up the typical excuse "Well, what about local missions?" Platt addressed it. He said. . .

  • Local missions are necessary.
  • Global missions are tragically neglected.

This goes back to a clearer understanding of Acts 1:8. This verse does not mean that we are to reach Jerusalem first before we go to Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. It's not sequential, but all-encompasing. We are to reach locally and globally at the same time.

The key verse of the day is. . .

And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:14 (ESV)

There were so many nuggets of truth in this message, so many things to hang your hat on, so many things that motivate me and challenge me, but without putting feet to the truths, they remain what, unfortunately I fear they will for many, just good Tweets and motivational thoughts.

Platt main it plain when he said, "If we aren't intentionally going after unreached people groups, we are disobeying the Great Commission." That phrase was re-Tweeted by many.

So, what does this mean for us? What does this mean for First Baptist Church of Orange Park and other churches in the Southern Baptist Convention?

It means we can no longer waste time on things that don't matter for the Kingdom of God. Everything must be put on the table and evaluated based on the questions of "Who are we?" and "Why do we exist?" Not all answers lead to unreached people groups, but a good portion do.

Isn't that our primary focus?

Isn't that why we're here?

To make disciples and bring God glory through fulfilling the Great Commission and Great Commandment?

Absolutely.

Christ has been minimized in many of our churches. He is seen as a wimpy man hoping that we "invite Him into our hearts" and we have dumbed down the Gospel to make it appealing to the masses (and some of those masses are church attenders.) 

If Christ has been minimized, we have sinned. He is King! He is Sovereign! He is the Prince of Peace! He is the Word!

He. . . does not need us.

We need Him.

Common wisdom tells us to play it safe.

Biblical mandates remind us that the Christian life is not safe.

Common wisdom tells us to take care of our own.

Bibilical mandates remind us that we are to make disciples as we go.

Common wisdom tells us to save for a rainy day.

Biblical truth tells us that the days are short and the time is now.

What's been called radical was supposed to be normal. May we be the radical/normal Christians Christ has saved us to be.

"Satan doesn't want the end to come. The question is 'Do we?'" - David Platt


Ezell Tells Startling Truths. . .Will Baptists Listen?

Last night at the Southern Baptist Convention, the North American Mission Board presented its annual report. This year, there was a little buzz surrounding this in that the previous year or so at NAMB has been challenging. Dr. Kevin Ezell was called to be the new President of NAMB and he apparently jumped in with both feet intent on streamlining the agency and moving it strategically toward fulfilling the mission Southern Baptists have given it.

Kevinezell Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective) NAMB had to cut staff dramatically at it's home office. I believe Ezell said that this downsizing saved in excess of $6 million. In an age where many churches, businesses and families are making hard economic decisions, NAMB too had to face reality.

I attended NAMBs luncheon on Monday at the Pastors' Conference and yesterday attended the Baptist 21 Lunch/Panel Discussion. Kevin Ezell was at both, as well as other leaders and forward thinkers. One thing that I kept hearing at these meetings was the calling and emphasis that must be placed on church planting. However, I was encouraged in that the reality that churches plant churches was espoused. We (SBC Churches) cannot continue to expect an agency or convention (i.e. NAMB, state conventions) to plant churches. The responsibility is the church's and that cannot be delegated.

NAMB's "Send: North America" strategy seems to be saying and presenting all the right things. NAMB will serve as a catalyst and a connector for churches and church planters. No more can the small, rural church say "We're too small to plant another church." Well, they can say it, but it's just not true. 

Don't get me wrong, church planting has always been one of NAMB's priorities, even in the days when it was called the Home Mission Board, but just as happens in ministries and churches over time, the primary functions often become secondary as the formerly secondary aims become more important.

So, last night Ezell took the stage to give the North American Mission Board report. I was encouraged. Rather than hearing how great things are and sharing nothing more than religious propaganda, Ezell shared "hard truths."

Just look at some of the Twitter updates (yeah, mine too) from the evening:

Ed tweet Mohler tweetDavid tweet
Kevin Ezell shared that the numbers of church plants, missionaries and other positive stats that have been presented in recent years have not been quite accurate. It's not that anyone was wishing to deceive. I don't think that was the issue. It was just that we had moved to counting things that really shouldn't have counted.

We cannot say that everything we do is "missions" when it's not. We have watered down the term. Otherwise, we will continue to do good things in our community (that's a presumption) but not make it clear why we do these things and thus, the secondary aim becomes the primary. In other words, we will go the way of denominations that "lost their first love" and will just maintain the organization, be it the local church or a denominational agency.

We cannot say that everything we do is "evangelism" when it's not or we will continue to raise up a generation that believes that just by putting a "fish sticker" on the back of their car or wearing a T-shirt with a Bible verse printed on it, they are sharing their faith intentionally. This leads to a culture where believers do not live out their faith urgently.

I appreciate Ezell's bold statements and telling of the truth. 

I fully expected some questions to come from the floor for him regarding the lay-offs at NAMB and the difficult decisions he has made in the previous months. Yet, he seemed to answer some of the burning questions prior to the allottd time such as when he said "We plant Southern Baptist churches who affirm the Baptist Faith & Message 2000." So much for the controversy over the Acts29 church planting partnerships.

By focusing on the one ministry that God has pushed to the forefront and sharing the stories of everyday people and laymen and women who are serving in this ministry, the spirit in the convention center changed, or should I say, it was evident the Spirit of God had landed in the room. Disaster Relief has been in existence for years and there are still comments made at the meeting regarding the service the DR teams provided during the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe, but this year has pushed these volunteer teams to the front of the line, with all the disasters that have hit our nation.

I could hear Bill Bright saying, as he did before he died, that the next and last great awakening to come in our nation will be through the ministry of disaster relief. We are positioned well for this and NAMB and Kevin Ezell seem to recognize this.

The NAMB presentation ended with a commissioning of twenty missionaries and endorsements of military chaplains for service in North America and with our military. This was the very best way to end the evening. We have talked about sending. We have talked about supporting missionaries through CP giving. We ended with the great opportunity to set apart those called to go and have been reminded that many, many others have received this call and we, the church, must be a strategic sending group. 

The time is now.

P.S. BTW, some still have issue with Kevin Ezell being the President of NAMB. He stated in one of the panel discussions regarding the past year "It's been awful, but it's been worth it." That's very telling. Ezell is who God has placed in this position for this time. It is our responsibility to pray for him and the continuing work of the North American Mission Board.


Statements That Left the Crowd Silent

Yesterday was the second day of the SBC Pastors' Conference here in Phoenix. Neil and I made it to most of the sessions. While there was no "new" news shared by the speakers, it was encouraging to hear and be challenged by truths that God has already spoken to us as a congregation in Orange Park. It was affirmation of our aspiration to join God in this incredible global movement occuring now.

Here are some of the points I noted from the pastors sharing:

Bartholomew Orr - Pastor, Brown Missionary Baptist Church in Southhaven, Mississippi.

Pastor-Orr-thumbnail Orr spoke on the theme of "Staying Connected" and used his cell phone as a great illustration. The challenge, of course, was to pastors to remain connected and solid in their intimacy with God.  Orr read from Colossians 1:24-29.

Orr stated that too often people within the church, born-again believers, live in such a way where the love of Christ is not proclaimed. This occurs when believers forget their first love. Orr said "People are coming to the church looking for solution, but too often find pollution." Ooh. That stung. 

Going with his cell phone motif, he shared these points to stay connected.

  • Deal with hang ups (hang ups of pride, materialism, and sensitivity)
  • Deal with dead spots (the only dead spot is being outside the will of God)
  • Deal with low battery or loss of power (What causes shut downs for believers? Burn out - tired of people, Black out - knocked out by people, Blow out - pride)

Gregg Matte, Pastor of First Baptist Church Houston, Texas

Gregg-matte I first became aware of Matte and his ministry when I was leading students and collegians. He founded Breakaway Ministries at Texas A & M University and God used him greatly to impact the lives of college students, both in College Station and in other places.

About seven years ago, he became the pastor of First Baptist Church of Houston. This church is only four or five years younger than the state of Texas. Nonetheless, Matte was entering into his first pastorate in a place with deep tradition and following some great pastors. 

I was moved by Matte's message focusing on the first recorded miracle of Christ at the wedding in Cana. This is featured in John 2:1-5.

I have many notes from this message, but was intrigued by the fact that most likely the water did not turn into wine until the servants scooped the water out of the jars and started walking toward the master. There's much here and I won't dissect it all in this posting, but suffice to say at some point in the future, I'm sure I will be sharing more about the truths in this passage with the church.

Afshin Ziafat, Pastor of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas

Afshin's story is remarkable. He was born in Iran and before the revolution in the late 1970s, his family moved to Houston. His father was a doctor and Afshin was set up to attend medical school and follow his father's footsteps and enter into practice for himself. However, as a young boy, a tutor gave him a Bible and as a young man, Afshin accepted Christ as personal Savior. 

This decision disturbed his Muslim father and therefore, his father gave him a choice - Jesus or him. Afshin made the most difficult decision in his life when he chose Jesus Christ. The words of Christ echo where he said that Luke 12:53 that he came to divide father against son.

Afshin shared some very hard truths that I don't really think the majority of the crowd in attendance could handle. He shared that he's proud to be an American, but more proud to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God. He shared of the great love he has for Iranians and Muslims and how God has opened doors for him to reach people in his homeland of Iran and other Middle Eastern nations. 

He shared that he didn't believe that if Paul lived now and the news of Osama bin Laden's killing was announced, that he would run down to Pennsylvania Avenue and high five others. There was silence at this point in the room. Ziafat then said that Paul would fall to his knees and thank God for the grace shown to him, for in a way, he (Paul) was the bin Laden of his day (referencing the killing of Christians.) Oh, there was a groan at this point.

However, I agreed with Ziafat's point. His focus was on the tremendous, life-changing, grace power shown by God to lost people.

Ziafat ended by sharing of those in Iran who are, or have been recently, imprisoned for their faith in Jesus Christ. Wow! This sounded just like a friend's story we have heard back in Orange Park. 

John Piper, Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota

JohnPiper Piper is well-known among pastors today and it was obvious the crowd grew when he began speaking. Piper is an interesting mentor for many young pastors. He is unapologetically a stallwart of reformed theology. Even though I do not consider myself a five-point reformist, I do respect and appreciate the teaching of Piper. His message this morning was simple - just one point. He was focused on the audience of pastors. He focused on the first portion of the Lord's Prayer where it states "Hallowed be Your name."

The emphasis and revelation was that this phrase was not just an acclamation, but a petition. To slow down and focus on the hallowedness of the name of God, which is so valuable and important for us as believers is vital for our walk in intimacy with God. When you realize this is the very first petition in the model prayer, it should be taken to heart in our own lives.

Ken Whitten, Pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida

Ken-whitten Whitten is a wonderful pastor and leader throughout the state of Florida and the Florida Baptist Convention and in the SBC. I have had the opportunity to meet Whitten and his energy and excitement is contagious. I look at their website and it says "Exciting Idlewild" and knowing Ken, I believe it.

His message lined up exactly with what our leadership at First Baptist Orange Park and many in our fellowship. God blesses generous believers and we must live out this generosity. Our "stuff" isn't ours. 

Whitten's brokenness and authenticity was felt during this message. I was challenged and moved.

Louie Giglio, Pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, Georgia

Louie-giglio Louie is anointed by God and has been used, in his words, as a "pastor" of a movement for years. The Passion Movement has impacted thousands of young adults throughout the years. I have always loved to hear Louie speak because he says the obvious things that all of us are thinking.

He is now a pastor of a church, a new plant in Atlanta.

He spoke on the person of the Holy Spirit and said things that are obviously truth, but often are not spoken in Baptist circles regarding the Spirit and Pentecost and our celebration of the power of the Spirit.

Louie's messages are not always conducive to note-taking, but there are great nuggets of truth that resonate. Here are a few I wrote down:

  • God always accomplishes His purpose through the person of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit!
  • My God is so mysterious that He cannot be summed up on a bumper sticker.
  • We need a Trinitarian revolution of the heart.
  • Sin didn't make us bad. Sin made us dead. Dead people cannot do anything for themselves.
  • It is not Christ "and" you, but Christ "in" you, the hope of glory.
  • When the Holy Spirit comes, He doesn't make a big deal about Himself, but always points to the Son. That's why if your church has a dove on the front, you've probably missed the point.

There's more, but you need to go here to watch and listen - http://sbcpc.net/


"We Love Muslims" and Life Outside the Bible Belt

We had a great time yesterday here in Phoenix. The morning began with a an hour and a half drive south to Tucson to visit Chase Delperdang and Legacy Church. Chase is a church planter we have been supporting for the past year. In an area where there aren't evangelical churches on every corner, Legacy is making an impact. They have had to make some hard decisions on meeting location, first at Butterfield Elementary, now at Donaldson Elementary and beginning August 21, they will be meeting in a brand-new (still being constructed) charter school called. . .get this. . .Legacy Traditional School. Doors have opened and it appears God is all over this.

DSCN0262 I asked Chase why they moved from Butterfield since that was their primary location. The issue is that Butterfield is located in a very hard-to-get-to location and most people in the community (unless they have children attending there) do not know where this school is located. They continue to serve the teachers and children of Butterfield (Chase's wife is a teacher there) but will be meeting at Legacy Traditional soon. Legacy Traditional is located in the same area as Butterfield, but on a main road. This looks to be a great move for the church.

That's a picture of Chase, his wife Jennie and me to the left.

The worship at Legacy Church was great. It's different planting a church in an area outside the Bible Belt. Chase shared that at least 25 people in attendance yesterday are not believers and many others are brand-new Christians. The fields are truly ready for harvest.

Bob-roberts Last night, Neil (the previously undisclosed traveling partner) attended the SBC Pastors Conference. The first speaker was Bob Roberts of NorthWood Church in Texas. I first met Bob about 20 years ago when I was the student pastor at Davis Boulevard Baptist Church in North Richland Hills. Roberts had recently planted NorthWood and they were just getting started. God has truly blessed the ministry of NorthWood and Roberts. Roberts shared how doors have opened for him and his church to minister in Vietnam and Afghanistan and throughout the world. A term that Roberts has coined is "glocal" which means that as the church we are to be missionaries both locally and globally. (www.glocal.net)

Roberts has a boldness in his speaking and some would say it's just that East Texas swagger, but believe me, he cuts to the chase. There's no missing the point Roberts is making.

When he explained how bridges have been built to enable him to boldly share the gospel of Jesus Christ to Muslim imams in Afghanistan and to Communist leaders in Vietnam, you could have heard a pin drop in the room. When Roberts said that likely Muslims were watching the conference online globally and that we, as Southern Baptists, had the opportunity to tell them that we love them, I think it shook some people to the core. He challenged us to verbally state, without compromising our beliefs, that we truly love Muslims.

BishopPeter-Thumb It's is obvious that the theme of this conference is more than just token evangelism and "tract handing out." The challenge is to live dangerously for Christ and invest in the lives of those who need to hear the message. Roberts and NorthWood's ministry is a model of this. The following speaker, Bishop Peter Ndhlovu of Zambia, shared about how God has used him and others in the Bible Gospel Church to reach hundreds for Christ throughout Africa. Stories of how Muslim imams in African villages are giving over their schools to the Christians and allowing Christ to be taught are so inspiring.

The message was clear: "Now is the time!" We are beyond just meeting together to talk about how great it would be to live out the Great Commission and reach the world. Now is the time to live it out. Many are living it out and we are inspired by their stories. Yet, the point is clear. . .we are part of this story as well.

Within the next decade we will potentially see every unreached, unengaged people group on the planet presented with the Gospel. Do you understand how key this is?

Just read this passage in Matthew that Bishop Peter shared:

Matthew 24

11And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 
12And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 
13But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 
14And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

We are living in the days described by Christ Himself.

The worship last night was incredible as well, especially when the choir led by J. Teddy Johnson of Hope Baptist Church in Las Vegas, led worship in numerous languages. This may be what heaven sounds like as the multitudes worship the Father.

Looking forward to being challenged by today's speakers (John Piper, Rick Warren, Greg Matte, Louie Giglio, Darrin Patrick, et. al.)

You can watch the conference live online at www.sbcpc.net.