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Posts from February 2013

REAL Manhood: Jim Joyce Accepts Responsibility for the Blown Call

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32(ESV)

One of the most rare instances in baseball was about to happen once again during the 2010 Major League Baseball season. The Detroit Tigers were playing the Cleveland Indians. Pitching for the Tigers was Armando Galarraga. He had not allowed a single hitter to reach base through eight and two-thirds innings. The “perfect game” was in his reach. Many had heard of the potential feat through Twitter and on the news and tuned in to see the last out on television.

Jim Joyce blown callGalarraga pitches the ball and the Indians’ Jason Donald hits a ground ball toward first base.  Miguel Cabrera cleanly fields the ball and tosses it to Galarraga as he makes his way to first before the runner. It seemed that Galarraga had touched the base with ball in hand before Donald had arrived. The crowd and teammates are beginning to cheer when first base umpire Jim Joyce spreads his arms wide declaring Donald safe.

It was incredible. Galarraga was just one out from a perfect game. It looked like he had secured the out. However, Joyce had called him safe. Announcers and fans watched the replay and it was clear that Galarraga had touched the base first. In other words – Donald was out, but the umpire had called him safe.

The crowd went crazy. The Tigers’ manager, Jim Leyland made it known he disagreed. The announcers were sharing how the umpire had blown the call and were calling for an official change. However, in baseball, there is no provision for instant replay challenges. Therefore, the call stood. Donald was officially safe and the perfect game was gone.

Galarraga proceeded to get the next batter out, but would not enter the prestigious club of “perfect” pitchers. He would have been the 21st perfect game pitcher and the first for the Tigers.

After the game, Joyce admitted he had made the wrong call and contacted Galarraga to apologize.

“It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the [stuff] out of it,” Joyce said. “I just cost that kid a perfect game. I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay.”

While the call was never changed. Galarraga accepted Joyce’s apology. Even Jim Leyland, the manager, commented that the “human element” is what makes baseball so grand. He then praised Joyce as a good umpire.

The story was first about a blown call or maybe about the need for instant replay. For some fans it remains so, but for Galarraga, Joyce, Leyland and many other fans, the story is about a man, doing his best job admitting he made a mistake and accepting responsibility.

Jim Joyce showed an often absent quality of manhood in today’s world. He accepted responsibility for that which he had done. He didn’t bow up and let pride keep him from admitting he had messed up. He stood up and accepted that which was his.


The Problem with Mission Teams

A team of five from our church is preparing to travel to Portland next week to work with church planters in the city. In preparation for this, we are reading through the book Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission. This book is hot off the presses and is causing quite a stir (in a good way.) It was written by members of The Upstream Collective.

One of the authors is Caleb Crider. Caleb serves in Portland and we will be meeting with him next week. About a year ago, Neil Jimenez and I met with Caleb and others in the Portland area to discuss what urban planting and contextualization looks like. I asked the pointed question to Caleb, "So, when a church sends a mission team, do you find it difficult to keep them busy or keep them focused on assisting in the work already begun?" This led to an interesting conversation centered around the fallacy many churches step into when developing and sending short term mission teams.

WorldTravelIt was something I had feared was the case, but thought I'd check with one of the guys in the trenches. I have since had this discussion with missionaries overseas and other planters in larger, urban settings in our nation and beyond. The stories are similar. While the desire to have church groups come help is strong and very positive, the reality is that often the teams are not really prepared. The great danger is in having a team serving for a week to ten days and actually push back the Kingdom framework that has already been put in place. No church desires to do that. 

In Tradecraft, Crider shares this. . .

In had been a church planter in Western Europe for about six years when I began to realize just how great the divide was between churches and God's mission. Throughout the year, groups from various churches in the States would come to assist us in our ministry. For them, this was a "mission trip," but for us, it was real life. We wanted to treat them as peers - a bit of fellowship, some mutual encouragement, and then go out and engage people in gospel conversations. But for the most part, the well-meaning participants on these trips were missiologically illiterate. They were incapable of participating in international mission in any meaningful way.

One Monday morning, we sent a group of American Christian college students to hang out at the local university to learn all they could about the spiritual climate on campus. We prayed together, divided the group into pairs, and sent them on their way. Of the six teams, two had trouble navigating the metro system and never found the campus. Two teams played frisbee on the soccer field, not speaking to a single student the entire time. One team quickly put together a "survey" and approached random students to ask them spiritual questions. Because what little response they received was quite negative, this team was discouraged. None of the teams came back with any meaningful spiritual insight about national college students.

These groups were good at doing what they were told. On previous trips, they had all painted fences, handed out blankets, and played games with children. For the duration of their ten-day stay, group members were perfectly happy to sleep on the floor, walk great distances, and feel generally out of place in this "foreign" environment. But when it came to the reasons for doing these things, the whys of mission, most of them had no idea beyond some vague concept of "reaching people" and a performance-based sense of duty.

So when we asked these volunteers to go out and incarnate the gospel, they were at a loss as to what, exactly, that might mean and how, practically, to do that. They had no understanding of urban living, social tribes or persons of peace. They had no experience gathering pertinent geographical, social, or spiritual information that might assist in church planting efforts. They were unfamiliar with the unchanging gospel, and fearful of culture. Worst of all, few had any sense of why they were participating in such a trip in the first place. Without basic missionary tradecraft, a Christian is incapable of moving beyond volunteerism into partnership in mission.

While pretty blunt and to the point, and to some potentially offensive, I must say that Crider echoes what I have heard numerous times. Don't get me wrong, there are many short term trips where the group attending truly doesn't understand the missiological impact of what is to be done, and in spite of that God has used them. In fact, God has often called participants into full-time service as pastors and missionaries as a result of such trips.

There are times when such trips could be avoided. I don't propose churches stop sending teams. I believe in the short term mission trip, strongly. (I am leading one next week, you know.)

What should be done? 

What is the fix?

First of all, communication with the missionary, pastor or planter on the field is a non-negotiable. The team arriving should see their mission as not only to the community, but to the missionary on the field. Encouragement is always needed. Prayer is vital - and not just a token "bless those folks" prayer offered every so often. Sincere, strategic prayer is required. The Enemy does not want the Kingdom of God expanded. Therefore, he will do whatever he can (though limited) to disrupt or push forward his kingdom. So, we'd better pray.

The church must step up when it relates to missiologically preparing teams. Otherwise, we will end up with transplanted team members doing good deeds, but not pushing forward God's Kingdom. 

We need to also understand that an improperly prepared team could conceivably undo work the planter/missionary has put in place. It's one thing to be ineffective. It's another to be destructive.

Understanding the identity of the missionary (i.e. all Christ followers are missionaries) is key. Mission is not something we do. It's who we are. 

I am excited as I read, think and pray through this. It's evident that God is doing a great work. He's been at work, is at work and will continue to work on a Story that expands His Kingdom. How incredible it is that He invites us along on the journey. Let's play our role well.


Our Last Chance to Reach Boomers

Generational ministry has always been a challenge.What works with one generation often offends the other - you know, things like music style and tucking in one's shirt. (Just a joke, don't get bent out of shape, now.) 

I have a book on my shelf titled Reaching People Under 40 while Keeping People over 60. It's a great title and covers a subject that is paramount in many American churches. The Builder generation (also known, according to Tom Brokaw as the "Greatest Generation") has seen more change in their lifetime than any other generation in the history of civilization. Born before 1946, they were influenced by the Great Depression, rationing, World Wars I and II, Pearl Harbor, the growth of the automobile industry, radio and television. Many remember when it was an accomplishment to fly across the ocean and later in life celebrated the first man walking on the moon. The church was a building in the community where good things happened. They would join and stay committed. They tithe and understand loyalty. Over time, God used this generation to lead out in some of the greatest spiritual awakenings in our nation.

Happy-baby-boomersThis generation believed in and supported missions. Thanks to the Builders, we have the Cooperative Program. A higher number of Builders call themselves Christian than any subsequent generation.

The next generation to hit the scene were the Boomers. This is a huge group. During the baby boom following World War II, more than 76 million live births were recorded in the United States. For years, this group was the largest generation in history. Since then, theyounger "Millennial" generation has supplanted them with this title (nearly 80 million Millenials born between 1980 and 2000.)

Thom Rainer, President of LifeWay, recently blogged about the Boomer generation (his generation) and the harsh reality facing the church. Here is some of what he wrote. . .

We estimate that only about one-third of Baby Boomers are Christians. That means that 50 million adult Americans in this generation are unchurched and have yet to be reached with the gospel of Christ.

And time is running out.

Rainer shares some facts about Boomers as revealed in LifeWay's research. I list them here with his comments and my comments made in red as it pertains to our church here at First. . .

  • Most churches, if they have an intentional outreach ministry, gear it toward the younger generations. That is understandable. But relatively few church leaders are asking the question, "What can we do prayerfully and strategically to reach the Baby Boomers?" This is a good point and true. It's easier to plan a children's, youth, or young adult event with the intent of engaging and reaching those groups. As for Boomers, it seems that they're the forgotten generation. The following points illustrate, however, that typical senior adult ministries or "church events" are not the strategy best suited to impact this generation.
  • Most of the unchurched Boomers do not have an anti-church mentality. They are more receptive than most imagine. The problem is that we presume they don't care and won't come. Some have been burned in the past, so there is that barrier, but we tend to create more barriers than truly exist.
  • Most of the unchurched Boomers would not be caught up in worship wars. They have a wide tolerance and even fondness for many musical and stylistic approaches. A church's worship style would most likely not be a hindrance to reaching a Boomer. This is so true. The "worship wars" of the past are, thankfully, sliding away into history. Builders seem to have been more concerned with stylistic worship, but most Boomers grew up listening to Elvis and the Beatles and Johnny Cash and even Southern Gospel (for the church crowd) so a variety of music styles is not a big deal. However, there is a preference for worship songs with "meat" in them. Fluffy songs that say nothing and are just phrases repeated ad nauseum are not normally liked, nor enjoyed.
  • Though Boomers are fast becoming senior adults, they will not appreciate many churches’ approaches to senior adult ministry today. They want to make a difference, not simply be entertained and take trips. You may very well reach many Boomers by demonstrating how the Christian life is the only true life of meaning, and how they can make a difference as a believer. This is the challenge in that most of our designated "senior adult ministry" activities have little to do with ministry and more to do with entertainment. Boomers desire to do things that matter. Our approach to senior adult ministry needs to mature to the point that fun events can still happen, but significant ministry also occurs. We must stop acting like people can retire from serving Christ.
  • Boomers are becoming increasingly introspective. They are asking life questions that really matter. Their receptivity to matters of eternal import could be great right now. Reality is setting in. More funerals of friends are happening and as Solomon said, "It's good to go to a funeral every now and then to remember what life is truly about (paraphrased)."
  • This generation largely doesn’t want to talk about retirement. They speak more in terms of career shift or new vocational opportunities. They are not ready, and probably never will be, for traditional approaches to retirement. This changes how we plan and perceive the "new senior adult ministry." There's more understanding that "retirement" is not a biblical term. We can work with this. Also, the fact remains that many who were looking forward to retirement cannot "afford" to do so now.
  • The Boomers are thinking about relationships now more than any point in their lives. A simple but powerful way to reach the unchurched in this generation is to get Christian Boomers to connect with them. Many Boomer Christians haven’t invited someone to church in years. Now is the opportune time. Sadly, this is true. Many in the churched Boomer generation (many, not all) have bought into the Brand Expander view of church and have settled for comfort in their pews, friends in their small groups and comfortable routines when it comes to church. Vicarious evangelism and missions are not acceptable and this generation is now getting it. They are understanding that just showing up for the religious gathering is not enough. In fact, it's not much at all. The culture (I mean the "Christian sub-culture" that we have allowed to grow) allows for consumer Christianity. The Gospel forbids it. This generation, who by and large, have left the evangelism to the "professional Christians" (i.e. pastors, missionaries and deacons) are primed to step into the larger story and be obedient as it relates to the Great Commission. The church must see this opportunity and give "handles" for Christ-following Boomers to hold onto.

Rainer states, "More than one million Baby Boomers will die before the year concludes. If it took you five minutes to read this article, ten Boomers died while you were reading. By 2015 the death rate will increase signficantly. We have but a few chances left to reach the lost and unchurched among the Baby Boomers. Time is growing short."

Wow!

As I look at these statistics, thinking about the members of our church representing all generations, I cannot help but focus on the Boomers. The number in our community is huge. How many know Jesus? How many have we asked?

As with all churches, there are things that happen within the fellowship that cause distractions. These distractions can be over things as trivial as the color of carpet in a building or a change to something deemed untouchable by some. Yet, in just about every case - the issue has nothing to do with the Kingdom of God or the expansion of this Kingdom. In fact, I'd say that more church splits and rifts ending in disunity among churches in our nation have been over things that do not really matter and have nothing to do with expanding God's Kingdom. That's sad, tragic and unfortunately, true.

"Concerns" grow and distractions increase and lost people remain lost. I'm sure, even now in our fellowship, there are many "concerns" out there. Some are things we should be "concerned" about, while others. . .well, they're just distractions.

In the midst of issues that often come up and steal away precious Bible study time and ministry opportunities, I wonder how many have been"concerned" that we haven't baptized anyone in the past two weeks? I am still waiting for the day when each worship service ends with faithful members bringing their friends to the altar saying "I led my friend to Christ and they are coming today to join our fellowship and follow through with believer's baptism."

Time is running out. Boomers and others from all generations continue to live in our community and beyond far from God.

May we be like the sons of Issachar who knew the times. May we take to heart the title of the sermon series we're currently working through and "keep calm and stay focused." Somehow, I knew that once we publicly stated "We must remain focused" that the enemy would do everything in his power to distract us.

These are challenging, yet exciting times. Let's not miss what God is doing.


Marriage & Divorce (1 Corinthians 7)

021713_1045_Keep Calm 15

According to a recent survey by Pew Research, the percentage of all adults in the country who were married just a few decades ago was just a little over 70%. The numbers today hover at just a little over 50%.

Cohabitation, single-person households and single parenthood have all statistically increased in recent decades. This is most prevalent among younger adults.

In 1960, 59% of adults age 18-29 were married. Today, that number is just around 20%.

Of all married adults in the US, one third has experienced divorce at least once.

For years this statement has been made from pulpits across our nation, “Christians divorce at roughly the same rate as the world.” This most quoted statistic among pastors is perhaps the most inaccurate. 

Based on the best data available, the divorce rate among Christians is significantly lower than the general population.

From Baptist Press:

Many people who seriously practice a traditional religious faith -- be it Christian or other -- have a divorce rate markedly lower than the general population.

The factor making the most difference is religious commitment and practice. Couples who regularly practice any combination of serious religious behaviors and attitudes -- attend church nearly every week, read their Bibles and spiritual materials regularly; pray privately and together; generally take their faith seriously, living not as perfect disciples, but serious disciples -- enjoy significantly lower divorce rates than mere church members, the general public and unbelievers.

Professor Bradley Wright, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut, explains from his analysis of people who identify as Christians but rarely attend church, that 60 percent of these have been divorced. Of those who attend church regularly, 38 percent have been divorced [1].

No-fault divorce came about in the States in 1970 and since then a false declaration was made that basically said “divorce is a good option. It’s good for kids if mom and dad don’t get along, or if they don’t love each other, or aren’t happy. Therefore, it’s good – for mom, dad and the kids.” After all, we want everyone happy.

Divorce460Somewhere along the way, the self-seeking ideals of a culture that began to live with the presumption that life was about them and their personal, temporal happiness prevailed. And. . .we swim through a culture that uplifts personal opinion and feeling above absolute truth to such a degree that truth is often hard to find. When found, many find it difficult to believe.

We find ourselves in a state that many believe to be new, but as you study history, the breakdown of marriage has seemingly preceded, by a generation or two, the demise of empires and cultures.

These are just facts. . .and should not be shocking to us.

I’ve discovered that as you study history, human nature tends to prevail regardless of culture, century, race, or even religion. Lost people have always acted like lost people.

Darkness is strong. Depravity is inherent.

That’s why Jesus told us, as his disciples, we are to be the light of the world.

Now more than ever? Yes. Every generation of believers has stated that and it’s true.

So, as we look to 1 Corinthians 7, questions arise. Questions about relationships, about marriage, about divorce. Answers are sought – perhaps not authentically, but at least a curiosity prevails. Believers want to know what God has to say about marriage, about divorce, about remarriage. What’s allowed? What’s not? What happens if we’ve already messed up? Can we be redeemed?

If the picture of a man and woman uniting in holy matrimony is God’s illustration of Jesus’ relationship with the church, then it stands to reason the Enemy would do everything in his power to destroy that illustration, that picture of love and holiness, and consequently, the relationship between a husband and wife.

Listen to the audio link for the rest of the message.

I'm Ready to Head to the Mountains

A place I love going to and spending time is in the mountains of Tennessee. Our annual men's weekend over Labor Day is a favorite of mine (this year, our ladies are doing a similar trip in May. Check it out here.)

Our early-bird deadline for the Battle Ready Men's Weekend is March 1. As I watch the promo video featuring scenes from last year, I find myself eagerly wanting Labor Day to arrive.

Go to www.battlereadymen.com for details on the weekend and registration options.


Battle Ready2


REAL Manhood: Dan Werner - Dad & Coach

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. Psalm 103:13(ESV)

Dan Werner is an excellent football coach. He has been coaching for over twenty-five years. Werner worked as an assistant coach at numerous colleges over the years. Schools such as Cornell, Louisiana Tech, James Madison, Murray State, UNLV Auburn, Miami and Mississippi appear on his resume. 

Dan met his wife Kim in 1993 at a party in Ruston, Louisiana where he coached at Louisiana Tech. Kim and Dan were a perfect match an football was a common love. They fell in love with each other and were married. There would be many moves in their future. Moving is always traumatic for a family, Dan told Kim, but much less traumatic than having nowhere to go.

DanWerner220nocred_061512Kim and Dan soon had two children, a daughter named Maya and a couple of years later, their son Ian arrived. Ian would soon be diagnosed with autism. This took a toll on the family, especially Kim, since she was the primary care-giver while Dan was working and traveling.

Then, the phone call came. Dan was on the road when he received the news. Kim was dead. She was just 37 and in great health, but had an enlarged heart. Dan was grieving and so were the kids.

He knew he could not be the father he had to be and continue working as he had been. In the past, he justified that Kim would take care of everything at home. That was no longer an option.

Dan resigned from his college job. A small private school in Batesville, Mississippi was looking for a football coach. The headmaster of the school had been praying for an experienced coach, but this was ridiculous. Werner was overqualified, but he took the job.

This coaching job would mean stability. He could coach and provide for his family, but more important, he’d be able to be at home with his children and give them a sense of normalcy as they grew through their grief together. It was a healing time for the Werners.

He coached successfully for a number of years before Ole Miss called again. This time it was different. The Ole Miss coach was an old friend who offered Werner the job of Co-Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach. The difference? He would have time to be with his family. After consulting his children and gaining their approval, he once again is coaching college football.

Dan Werner was given an opportunity to shirk his responsibility. He could have justified in his mind the torrid work schedule, but he didn’t. He gave up the dream job to work at a high school. He did this and accepted the higher calling and responsibility.


"God Has Left the Building!"

As Baptists, the autonomy of the local church has been something held in high honor for centuries. I affirm the reality of seeking God as a local church/gathering of Christ-followers. I believe in the denominational structure my tribe holds (the Southern Baptist Convention) that seems "upside-down" to those within hierarchical denominational structures.

Angry-faceThe benefits of being interdependent (i.e. cooperative - we like that word better) far outweigh the isolationism some churches hold. It seems in the New Testament that Christ-followers in different churches felt an obligation and calling to pray and support other churches throughout the world. There was a Kingdom-mindedness that prevailed. It was a team effort featuring all true churches working to push back the darkness and fulfill Christ's call and commission. Autonomous? Yes. Interdependent? Yes.

That being said, within this concept of interdependence, cooperation, brotherhood, and biblical fellowship, we have a responsibility to hold up the standard of the Word of God in such as way that the calling of the Lord for His church may be fulfilled and His Kingdom expanded.

And that. . .is why this video clip frustrates me. Mainly because some in my community believe our church to be like this. This becomes just another barrier (and an unecessary one, at that) to reaching our world for Christ.

I have thought for a few days about this clip. I think I should preface you watching the clip with some points:

  • I don't know the church presented here personally.
  • I know it's a Baptist church, but not an SBC church. However, I know some SBC churches that behave much like this one as well as many non-SBC churches who are not like this.
  • The church featured has been in the news, but I'm not posting based on other stories. . .just based upon the actions in this clip.
  • I don't hate this church featured. . . at all.
  • I don't hate the pastor featured. . .at all.
  • I don't approve of the tactic of this speaker. . . at all.
  • I'm sure the pastor speaking loves the Lord. I'm not questioning his devotion to Truth.
  • The clip is going viral. It was sent to me by a church member (with no agenda, just another clip forwarded to a friend.) Therefore, I address it, because of the viral nature of YouTube and the fact the name of the church is very similar to the name of the one I pastor (though we are not in the same tribe, denomination or area of the country.)

Well, enough said. Watch the clip.

At first, as I watched it, I laughed. Every pastor has had someone in the congregation cause a disruption at some point. I've had teenagers talk, babies cry, strange guys walk down the aisle at the wrong times, men snore LOUDLY, etc. There are various ways to deal with disruption and this pastor's, well. . abrupt way just seemed. . .funny.

Then, it changed for me.

It was no longer funny.

I showed this to a few other trusted pastors and their responses were similar to mine. I was just checking. Perhaps I was overly senstive. Then, I realized it wasn't over-sensitivity, but offense and frustration.

After Tuesday's posting on Brand Expanders, I have had numerous conversations with church members and friends from other churches. These conversations have been healthy. There's a common theme of "You're right, but what do we do?" Well, we repent, as I said, and we change. We must cease living and functioning in such a way that dishonors Christ.

The actions of this pastor in an attempt to retrieve a proper decorum in the service were anything but God honoring. Unknowingly to him, this short clip may actually be pushing the Kingdom of God back.

Here's what concerns me regarding the clip. . .

  • While the distraction in the service had to be dealt with, screaming at the individual caused the focus of the message to shift away from the Word of God. It became about the pastor.
  • The fake, condescending smile is insulting and infantile.
  • The phrase "Love you" and "Still love you" may have been sincere, but did not seem so.
  • Legalism oozes from this scene.
  • "Amens" and affirmations from the congregation gives the perception of hate. . .not love.
  • "You need to be at the altar" comment may be true, but because he was talking during an illustration about cheese? I don't think so.
  • Based on the numerous comments on YouTube under the clip, there is a theme that greatly bothers me, and this church and others like it (and perhaps even my own and others in my tribe at times) are to blame. It is the stereotypical negative perception of Baptists who are legalistic, holier than thou and known more for what they hate than Who they love. Unfortunately, I heard just this week of a couple of instances in my own church where church members asked guests to move "out of their seats" and to "not bring that coffee cup into the room." Then, I heard from a friend in the community that our church is known for that. What??? Seriously? We're still "that" church? AAAAUUUUGGGHHHH!!!!!!
  • I know people who grew up in churches like this (by their own admission) and once adulthood hit, they left. They avoid church like the plague. Is it all the church's fault? No, the individual is responsible for his/her actions and reactions, but sometimes the church does more to push the Kingdom of God back than to move it forward.
  • WWJD? I know, it's cliche, but I can't help but thinking "He wouldn't do that!"
  • We have enough barriers with those far from God without creating new ones. Seriously!?!

I fully understand that by posting this, some will classify me as something I am not. This is a dangerous post, but you know, it's getting old.It's old when those who wear the name of Christ and attach the name "Baptist" to their fellowships have an obligation to the King and His Kingdom. (BTW - for those who still think I took "Baptist" out of our church name. . .get a clue. We are boldly stating that we are Christ-followers first! We are Baptists (Southern Baptists) by choice and our church's name still affirms that)

Who are we?

We are Christ's church made up of men, women and young people who have surrendered to His Lordship, seeking to grow as and make new disciples. We are Baptist as a celebration of new life expressed in the live illustration of new life through believer's baptism, as commanded by Christ. We are not about ourselves. We are simply the vehicle designed to bring glory to the Father. We are Christ-followers!

Oh, one other thing about the clip. What happened with J.L. and the cheese?


I Fear We May Be Brand Expanders

Over the past few months. . .well, years. . .God has developed within me a discontentedness. It's not really a negative thing. I'm wired in such a way (by God's design) to see things and wonder why they are the way they are.

It's always been this way. I remember sitting in our worship center shortly after we opened it in 1994. I'm sure there was an inspiring message that day and some great music, but I could not get over the fact that the round windows on either side of the stage area were not centered. Why is the window on the right closer to the stage area than the one on the left? Yes, this still bothers me.

Also, why are the doors that go behind the stage different? Why does one open "in" and the other open "out?" Is this so we can run laps around the stage and just push the doors open?

These are just examples, but you see what I mean, right? I wonder why things are the way they are. Was it accidental, intentional, or just something that's "always been done that way?"

Some of you understand the DISC personality profile system. Guess what? I'm a "High D." I'm sure that's a shock to all of you who know me.

CHARACTERISTICS OF THE HIGH "D" PERSONALITY

  • Directness
  • Key to motivation is challenge
  • Basic intent is to overcome
  • Likes to be in charge
  • Thrives on challenge, pressure and tough assignments
  • Desires change
  • Fears being taken advantage of
  • Needs direct answers

Shocking right?

As this holy discontent has set in over the past few years, I have begun to ask some harder questions. Questions like. . .

  • Why do we seem to have gatherings called "worship services" when very few in attendance are actually worshipping (or at least appearing to)?
  • Why does it seem we are content on "making church members" rather than "making disciples?"
  • Why, in a community with so many churches does it seem that the church (as a whole) is making so little impact?
  • Why are so many people content with being church members?
  • Why are so many churches focused on building new buildings rather than building disciples?
  • Why are so many self-proclaimed Christians angry all the time?
  • Why don't we live as missionaries here in our own community?
  • When did a person's political party become the litmus test for their Christianity?
  • Why is there an overabundance of orthodoxy with no identifiable orthopraxy?
  • How did we end up with this subculture we call "Christian" that looks so different from what Christ has called us to?
  • Why do so many within the church say "We're kingdom minded" but act like other churches in our community are the competition?
  • Why do some church members (me included) get upset over things that don't matter for the Kingdom, yet do nothing tangible to expand the Kingdom?

There are more questions. I always have questions like this. I'm still wondering why the windows are the way they are.

God has brought some folks into my life over the past few years that seem to ask the same types of questions. Men like Wes Hughes, Caleb Crider, Sean Benesh, Matthew Jolley, John Robinson, Wallace J., Jeff Christopherson, Andrew Lamme, Brett Porter, Scott Swanstrom, Rick Wheeler, Hal Haller, Bob Bumgarner, Reggie McNeal, Ed Stetzer and tons more.

Believe me, having a cup of coffee with these guys is an experience. Maybe one day, we can all get in the same room just to pray and talk and solve all the problems in the world of the postmodern church?

Seriously, God is definitely at work in this generation of churches. Apparently, I am not the only one with a "holy discontent" regarding the state of the church.

We are the remnants of a less than effective church growth movement. A movement that has successfully placed more people in a smaller number of buildings regularly, but has failed to see widespread growth of the church in cultural settings that are either post-Christian or well on the way to become such.

In Jeff Christopherson's excellent book Kingdom Matrix, he presents graphically that which is happening in our culture (both community and church cultures) as it relates to the expansion of the Kingdom of God. (I love when an author writes what I've been thinking. It makes my thoughts seem more legitimate.)

The first thing we must understand is that there are two Kingdoms - the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Darkness. There is no middle kingdom, though modern Christians have tried to create one. There is no "grey area" here. We are either expanding and moving forward the Kingdom of God or the Domain of Darkness.

So, three basic understandings are needed here:

  1. At any given moment I am either building the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Darkness. Period. There is no third kingdom. However, we have "built" one. We have created a third kingdom that doesn't really exist or matter.
  2. It's possible to participate in church expansion and unintentionally be an agent for shrinking the Kingdom of God.  As the church, we are fascinated with outputs. The church growth movement celebrated this. In the midst of this, we have forgotten the mission of God at times and the reason for the church being placed here, or in a specific area. In other words, we have made the church the end result - the output, rather than the expansion of the Kingdom of God.
  3. It is possible to unknowingly value the Kingdom of God before acknowledging the value of its Source; the King.

These are illustrated through forms, in this case identified as either "sacred" or "secular." (I know, I know, "everything is sacred" but for the sake of this illustration the designations make sense to my Westernized thought patterns.)

Kingdom matrix

Here's the bottom line. The bottom left quadrant is bad. . .really bad. This is the darkest area. This group of Self Seekers is prominent in our culture (best illustrated by the characters on the sit-com Seinfeld and others.)

The next worse is the group known as Brand Expanders. These seem spiritual, but are fake. We are to avoid this group. The problem is that often we naturally drift toward this quadrant as individuals and churches. It's hard to avoid ourselves.

Kingdom Seekers are those who do not know Christ, but are on the journey toward surrender. They are lost, but curious. They know there's a bigger story and they believe they're not the central part of it, but they just haven't stepped over to Christ, yet (for various reasons.) I like to call this group "pre-Christ followers." I'm optimistic.

The Kingdom Expanders as designated in the top right quadrant is where we need to be. This is the sweet spot. This is the place where the Story and the Author (God) are central. Self-centeredness has no place here. The local church is not the end game here, as it is for the Brand Expanders. The local church is the vehicle to expand the Kingdom. When here, we understand that the "payoff" most likely will not be this side of heaven. In fact, the "payoff" is not even considered the goal. Expansion of the Kingdom is the goal.

So, why do I fear that we may be Brand Expanders? Just look at these descriptors of how Brand Expanders deal with certain things:

BRAND EXPANDERS AND. . .

  • MONEY - results in religious consumerism. This is what you get when you cross the values of materialism with the subculture of Christendom. We get the crowd that followed Jesus in search of a show, a miracle, a meal. It's a gathering, but it's not the church. It's more Pharisaical than we would like to admit. It puts us, or even our local church, as the center of the story. We become "fans" of Jesus and proud of our church. . .but we don't become disciples.
  • ENERGY - results in competition. Yes, I know this is hard to believe, but churches often say they're on the same side (God's side) but live as if they're competing with each other. It would be as if Coca-Cola and Pepsi stated publicly that they were friends and wanted everyone to enjoy the taste of cola. Yet, everyone knows they hate each other and would love to put the other out of business. Now, churches would never say that (I hope) but how many have secretly celebrated the demise of another local congregation? It's sick. It's done all too often.
  • CHANGE - results in conformation. I know, we all hate change. That's what we say anyway, while we Tweet on our iPhones and Skype our grandkids and set our DVR to record Duck Dynasty. Hate change? Not really. We just hate change in how we do church. The Brand Expanders promote conformity, which looks simply like behavior modification without a heart change. Christopherson states, "Neither the old lifeless legalism of 'believe and behave,' nor the cool, funky, hipper versions of a more open-minded conformation can produce the inner change that advances the Kingdom of God an inch. We may be marching in a straight line, but we will be following a different Commander."
  • COMMUNITY - results in group isolation. The Self-Seekers live in isolation. The Brand Expanders do so as a group. Often lived under the banner of "church autonomy" (which as it is played out in our day is far from what we see in the Book of Acts) are those who isolate themselves from others and gather in their "holy huddles" for the sake of their group, not God nor the Kingdom of God. "As long as our expectations of the disciple do not include the humility of authentic community and only requires weekly exercises in group-isolation, we have created adequate elbowroom for darkness to maneuver unhindered." (Christopherson)
  • LOVE - results in storage. The evangelistic motivation of reaching a certain target group often results not in a missiological selfless love for others, but in a strategy to reach a desired group that will fit into the current "church." We love those who look like us, think like us and won't cause us stress. We will often ignore the racially, economically, and culturally diverse by leap-frogging them to reach those who . . . are just like us.
  • AUTHORITY - results in a love of corporate identity. This is where the local church becomes the end all, be all for the people. It's about the church. It's about the organization. It's about my "small group" or "Sunday School class." I have heard many people brag on their small groups to such an extent that I wonder if they even know why they gather? Bragging on the King? Bragging on Jesus? Not the Brand Expanders. These are the people who have "visitation nights" and go market their class and church to such an extent that they seem less like disciples of the King and more like Kirby vacuum cleaner salesmen (no offense Kirby vacuum cleaner salesmen.)

The holy discontent is real and holy in that God has brought it. You see, I believe the Brand Expanders are akin to those who are neither hot nor cold and make God sick (Revelation 3:16).

Yet, we drift there. It's easy to be a Brand Expander. It's easy and in our culture, seems right. It seems holy. It's affirmed in 2 Timothy 3:5 in that these people are "having a form of godliness but denying its power."

We must get out of this quadrant and lead others to as well.

Why?

If we do not, we are destined to be just another church in the Bible belt that gathers for sake of ourselves, feeling good, having programs for the kids and classes for the adults, blessing a community. . .and yet, not making disciples nor expanding the Kingdom.

Are you a Brand Expander?

  • Are you focused on things that do not matter for the Kingdom?
  • When was the last time you bragged on the King?
  • Do you love people. . .well, only some people?
  • What is your most recent "God story?"
  • Are you angry. . .at things that really don't matter. Seriously. Will God say to you one day, "Why did you waste so much emotion and energy on that when you could have experienced life, abundant and free and expanded My Kingdom?"

Some say we need revival. I believe we do. We need to move from the quadrant that seems spiritual and godly but in truth is expanding the Domain of Darkness to become Kingdom Expanders.

How do we do this?

We start with REPENTANCE.

To be a Brand Expander is a sin. No debate. No questions. No "but, what about. . ." It's sin. Repent and surrender to the King and begin living like we believe.


Partnering Strategically with Church Planters in Toronto

We were privileged to host Jeff Christopherson and Andrew Lamme of the North American Mission Board (NAMB) on Sunday. Jeff and Andrew are key leaders in the church planting initiative in Toronto. Our association (Jacksonville Baptist Association) and members churches are seeking to partner with Toronto officially as a "Send City" for the purpose of engaging the culture and increasing God's Kingdom.

Andrew spoke at our 9:15am service. You can listen to his message here.

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Andrew lamme copy

Jeff spoke at our 8am and 10:45am services. You can listen to his message here.

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Jeff christopherson copy


REAL Manhood: A Sniper's Best Friend

Bert Kemp was a West Tennessee farm boy who grew up near a small town called Cottage Grove. It was the Depression and everyone in the family was expected to contribute to the family. Bert was gifted. He loved to hunt and had the uncanny ability to shoot a gun or slingshot at small targets and hit them with the first shot. He would hunt rabbits and squirrels and sell the meat to the local store to make some money for the family.

SniperHis sharp-shooting became well known around the community and beyond. At one point a representative from Remington came the small west Tennessee community to recruit Bert to work for them as an exhibition shooter. It would pay much more than he had ever earned, but he had a responsibility to his father and the farm, so he turned down the offer.

It wasn’t long before he was given an offer he couldn’t refuse. The United States had entered into World War II and Bert’s Uncle Sam came calling. Bert’s sharpshooting ability became well known among his fellow soldiers and commanding officers. He was now a sniper and after training at Camp Blanding in North Florida, he would see duty in North Africa and Europe.

Once again, his ability with a gun became well known. However, he now had a partner. This was before snipers were paired as a designated shooter and a spotter with a scope, but Bert and his newfound friend Wesley Holly became life-long friends. They each were snipers and deadly from great distances with a gun. Holly’s story was much like Kemp’s, growing up on a farm in Mississippi rather than Tennessee. Each would end up saving the other’s life during the war.

When the war was over and both men had received their numerous ribbons and awards, they returned to their respective homes back in the States. They lost track of each other until the mid-1950s.

It was during Sunday lunch in 1957 when Bert received a telephone call at home. It was the local Paris, Tennessee police. A woman had called them from Mississippi. She was trying to reach a man named Bert who had served with her husband in the war. It was Wesley Holly’s wife. Wesley was severely ill and in the hospital and he kept calling out for “Bert.” It was a last ditch effort, but she figured it was worth a shot.

Bert left immediately. He stayed by Wesley’s bed, held his hand and talked to him for several days before he regained consciousness. He stayed with him until he was convinced Wesley would recover. The friendship born in crisis on a faraway battlefield was re-born in crisis in a Mississippi hospital, and they would be close until Wesley’s death, thirty years later.[i]



[i] McKenney, Tom C. "Bert Kemp: A Reluctant Warrior with a Deadly Gift." The Sniper Anthology: Snipers of the Second World War. London, England: Frontline, 2012. 35-60. Print.