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Posts from June 2014

Guest Pastor, Andres Lavanderos - 6/29/2014

062914_Pastor Andres Lavanderos

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Thanks to Pastor Andres Lavanderos for stepping in and preaching for me yesterday at First. Dres is a great friend and God has His hands upon him. I am proud to call him friend and blessed to serve alongside him.

Many have asked if his sermon would be made available. It is available here for download or listen as well as on our app and podcast.

 


Stop Labeling Things as "Christian"

Today is a big day in the United States as it relates to business requirements under the law. Hobby Lobby's case before the Supreme Court is supposed to be ruled on today. The case has to do with requirements mandated under the Affordable Care Act (or "Obamacare" as some call it) to provide contraception that may abort the life of a child.

Before I go any further, just to be clear, I am pro-life and believe life begins at conception. Therefore, I do not approve of the four medications/devices covered under the ACA that would lead to life termination.

However, this posting is not about the court case or the Supreme Court. That is just the latest news item to bring the subject of this posting to the forefront.

Many in the media, as well as the church, have begun using the word "Christian" as an adjective to define or describe things or businesses. This is not a recent move, but it does seem more pronounced nowadays.

The term was birthed in Antioch and it is debated as to whether it was created by enemies of Christ as a derogatory term for his followers, or was adopted by the believers as an indicator of devotion. In either case, the church eventually adopted the term as a descriptor of those who had surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. Acts 11:26 (ESV)

Over the last few decades, the term "Christian" has become an adjective to describe things that . . . well . . . can't be Christian.

Can a business really be Christian?

What about a T-shirt?

A band?

HobbyLobby_TestamintsCandy (Yeah, I'm talking about those "Testamints" that are sold in "Christian" bookstores?)

Bookstores?

Restaurants?

Chick-fil-A Isn't Going to Heaven

I love eating at Chick-fil-A and more than that, I am a big fan of their business model and leadership focus. I even worked for Chick-fil-A when in high school. Mr. Cathy is a man of conviction and a Christian. He has strong principles and incredible business acumen. I have nothing but respect for him and the Chick-fil-A family. 

However, even though some have called Chick-fil-A a Christian company. . .it is not. Just like Hobby Lobby is not. Neither are Forever 21 or In-N-Out Burger or any other company that gets listed as a Christian one.

Why?

Because businesses do not go to heaven.

Neither do nations, for that matter.

We must speak clearly when referring to what it means to be Christian. Christian is a term that describes and defines an individual who has surrendered his/her life to God through Jesus Christ. 

Simply put - THINGS do not become Christian, regardless how many fish logos you stick on them. Only PEOPLE become Christians.

Those of us who have repented and surrendered to Christ should focus more on living as disciples of His and fulfilling His commission. Therefore, go and make disciples. That means tell other PEOPLE about this hope we have. Don't waste your time telling a T-shirt, sticker, mint, or business about Jesus.

And stop using "Christian" as an adjective for objects.


Tilling Up Hard Soil in Wales

Our student mission team has arrived in Caernarfon, Wales and are gearing up for a week of prayerwalking and personal engagement with Welsh speakers and others in the town and beyond. I am honored to be here with them for this task. This is our second year here working with the CeLT (Celtic Languages Team) and once again, I am overwhelmed by the task ahead of us, but comforted that God is not.

During the summer months, a holiday home is leased in this town (Caernarfon is designated a town, not due to size, but due to the fact there is no cathedral here. Read about this process here, if you care) where the summer mission teams stay as well as short-term groups like ours. It is a comfortable venue, but basically becomes "little America" for a few months with a "Big Brother" feel (though without the voting off of roommates, HoH competitions and of course, the debauchery that often comes with the famous television show.) Believe me, the residents in this town know "the Americans" are here. That is a good thing, we hope. Our focus is to spend as little time as possible in the house and spend the majority of our time walking routes for prayer, meeting with the locals and serving with believers here.

Today consisted of orientation and once again, I was reminded of why we do trips to locations like this. The mission is the same regardless where we are, but the contextuality of serving in a post-Christian culture is unique. The spiritual soil here was tilled up centuries ago. There is a rich history of Christendom and the movement of God in this region. Stories from the Welsh revival are rich with instances of great things. However, that revival was over one hundred years ago. In North Wales, where our work is centered, a minister named Joseph Jenkins was used by God to reveal His calling and truth to the people. Other ministers came along, with Evan Roberts being the most well-known. 

Following this time of revival. . .Christianity has been in decline here, especially among the Cymry Cymraeg (Welsh speakers in Wales.)

The spiritual soil was tilled, worked and reaped for a great harvest. 

It is our belief that there is still another harvest yet to come. That is why we are here.

As our leader shared with us during orientation, there are many trips around the world where "prayerwalking" is added to the agenda for teams simply as spiritual filler. That is not the case here. In fact, we believe that intentional and strategic prayer throughout this area serves as a re-tilling of the spiritual fields. 

N-WALES-FLAG-large570We are not Welsh speakers, but we have a great love for these people. Over 85% of the people in our city (Caernarfon) and the surrounding regions here in North Wales speak Welsh as their primary heart language. The few Welsh-speaking, evangelical congregations here have much work ahead of them and they need face-to-face encouragement. Many in this region, especially the younger generations (40 and under) consider Christianity to be a fanciful religion, based on lies and fairy tales. Atheism is embraced, as espoused by Richard Dawkins, who is perhaps one of the greatest evangelists of our day, albeit for atheism rather than biblical Christianity. 

The soil is hard. 

While physically it rains often, spiritually, the rain often doesn't break the surface of the ground.

And yet, we have come.

We have come and we pray.

We pray, believing.

We pray, knowing that God loves these people.

God desires to rescue them, just as He has us.

The spiritual battles here are great. From ancient druidism to modern atheism, the Enemy has blinded the eyes of so many.

But, the story is far from over.

I believe "post-Christian" to be just another name for "pre-revival." Maybe it should be "post-religion" to "pre-relationship?"

So, as we accept our role as spiritual ground tillers this week, please join us in prayer. We know we could pray from home, but by being here, walking these streets, meeting these people, and praying for them by name, we aver being obedient to God in this part of His story. 

Will the harvest come this week? Maybe it will be next week. . .or next year. . .or years from now. 

God is the one who draws people to Himself. 

I'm just excited He has chosed to use me and others, like you, in this story.


"What God Has Shown Me at #SBC14." Not An Easy Lesson

I have had the opportunity to serve as a messenger from my church at the Southern Baptist Convention in Baltimore this week. If you are on Twitter, you may have noticed #SBC14 trending most of the week. 

We have many things to celebrate as Southern Baptists. Just to be clear, I do celebrate those victories for God and His Kingdom and am proud to be a Southern Baptist. Our mission-focus took center stage at this convention as both mission boards (North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board) shared moving stories and testimonies of how God is working through our efforts of faithfulness throughout the world. Our generosity was celebrated as we looked at record mission giving, support for widows and orphans and an increased emphasis on Great Commission giving and the Cooperative Program.

Yet, in the midst of celebratory promos and thought-provoking panel discussions held by SBC agencies and other groups, the reality of the state of the SBC and the evangelical church in America hovered over the convention center.

I am not a pessimist and I do not believe the SBC (and yes, I'm speaking of myself in this designation) is simply "rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic." However, there is something amiss. Even as we celebrate the largest Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in our history, record church plants in our SEND>>North America strategy, positive moves on immigration reform, morality and other religious liberty issues, strides forward in racial reconciliation, and all that God is doing "out there" (this term is used to describe the amazing Kingdom growth movements taking place in other areas around the world) there is something amiss.

It was touched on by numerous speakers throughout the Pastors Conference and the Convention. 

With apologies to James MacDonald, there was the "elephant in the room" that for the most part was danced around, but never addressed clearly.

That is, until Francis Chan said what he did on Monday evening.

Francis_chanI was asked a few times by friends and acquaintences, "What did you think of what Chan said?" Well, that's a loaded question, but as I have thought about it, I believe he opened the door to a discussion that must continue. It cannot be left to quippy Tweets and discussions around exhibit booths.

Chan, in what I believe was a terrifying moment of honesty, through weeping eyes, shared that he sensed something just not right in the room. As I listened to him preach, I was thinking "He's not on tonight. Something's distracting him." I brushed the thought away, basically because I felt I really didn't know if he was "on" or not . . . and anyway, who am I to say?

Then Francis paused. 

He shared that he was struggling with the message. He shared that there was something just not right and while it seemed, on the surface, that everyone was good and agreeable and open to the Word, there was something. . . .just. . . .not. . . .right.

Then, he said it.

He said that the last time he felt this was when he previously spoke at the Southern Baptist Convention.

At that moment, you could've heard a pin drop.

I looked to my wife and said, "Uh oh."

It wasn't that I was mad. It wasn't that I disagreed. I knew something wasn't clicking.

I know some probably left angry that evening, feeling that Francis had insulted them, or all Southern Baptists, maybe. 

I did not. Francis shared how he grew up Southern Baptist. He apologized if he came across judgmental. He wasn't backtracking, but what I discerned was a man who gave God's message to God's people. . .and it was a hard message. A heart in tune with God's will break when God's breaks. Francis did not plan to bring that word prior to stepping on the stage. I'm confident of that. Yet, he did. 

At that moment, added to what other pastors and speakers had said throughout the day and affirmed by what I have heard afterward, it was clear. God is at work throughout the world. It's a mighty work. However, if we find ourselves satisfied with the state of our service for Him, and continue to celebrate mediocrity as if it is excellence, we will miss God.

I believe our default setting (mine included. . .just so you know I'm not throwing stones here) has been to collectively complain about everyone else's speck in the eye while continually ignoring the log in our own. 

Some question if we should pray for revival or if that's even biblical. Some wonder if the state of God's church in our culture is inevitably going to die. While the debate rages and lines are drawn, I'm broken this evening at a reality that just will not go away.

People need Jesus.

Simple.

They don't know they need Jesus, but they do. 

And. . . here it is. . . I am not sure I love them enough to make sure they meet Him.

Oh, I love God. I love people. I have to. I'm a Christian. Not only that, I'm a pastor. So, I guess that makes me a professional Christian, right?

But, do I really love God and people enough to do something? You know, like introduce them to each other?

I know that theologically reeks of poor verbage. I know that God is the one who draws people to Himself. I know. But, I also know that God has given me a commission and somehow, for some uknown, stupid reason, I have become okay with just affirming its reality while ignoring it.

Maybe that's what was happening in the convention hall? Maybe there were more like me who have allowed the holy discontent with the status quo of western, American churchianity to be silenced.

"I am satisfied with Jesus" is what the old hymn states. It's that other line that stings - "Is my Master satisfied with me?"

Could it be that we have become so used to lukewarmness that we falsely believe it's the best there is?

Is revival needed? Yes, that's what people are seeking, but perhaps this is where we must begin - not with a prayer for revival, but with a prayer for repentance. 

Lord, you are at work. I want to join you in this work. I know the best is yet to come. I celebrate what you have done in our denomination, but I confess that I, for one, sometimes "settle" for less than best. I fear that often we are in the room with you, but like those in the multitudes following Christ around Galilee, we're with you, but we miss you. Break our hearts. Break our arrogance. Break our selfishness. Please use us as your instruments for unconceivable Gospel-centered, Kingdom work. Amen.