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Posts from February 2016

"Binding Satan" and Other False Teachings

This morning as I was studying the Bible I came across the passage in Mark 3 where Jesus speaks of "binding the strong man." Here's the passage in context...

And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, "He is possessed by Beelzebul," and"by the prince of demons he casts out the demons." And he called them to him and said to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house. Mark 3:22-27 (ESV)

While studying about false doctrines and teachings that have infiltrated the church, I ran across a statement I have heard said by Christians over the years regarding "binding Satan." In most cases, the phrase is used as a declaration or as part of a sermon. For instance, "We need to bind Satan in this city!" or some such phrase.

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It sounds Christian and even alludes to the passage in Mark 3. 

The only problem is that the Bible says nothing about Christians binding Satan.

When Dr. John MacArthur was asked "What does 'binding Satan' mean?" he responded, "I don't know. It's not in the Bible."

Dr. Tony Evans addresses the Mark passage this way:

Some Christians, usually in the Charismatic or Pentecostal movements, apply Jesus’ parable to the spiritual warfare that believers must wage. They teach that Christians are the ones who must “bind the strong man” in their lives or in their cities and then win the victory in Jesus’ name. Some Charismatic preachers even name the “strong men” and attempt to identify the cities or geographical areas over which they hold power. Such doctrines go far beyond what Jesus said. The Lord’s parable was simply to impress upon the scribes that He was not in league with Satan. Never does Jesus instruct us to “bind the strong man” or tell us how to do it. We do not have warrant to interpret the parable as a spiritual reality over geographical regions.

False Doctrines Abound

Spiritually sounding phrases laced with just enough "amens, brothers, hallelujahs" and other such church terms often become accepted as gospel by Christians and church attenders who have settled into allowing others to read the Bible for them and have refused to "study to show themselves approved."

I am reading passages in Acts 20, 2 Corinthians 11 and 2 Timothy 2. There is a common thread running throughout these books. The thread is that of warning to the church. Warnings regarding false teachings, false doctrines and false teachers. The enemy has sought to twist the gospel and the words of God since the very beginning. Now, with two-thousand years of church life, we have a cumulative gathering of false teachings to swim through. 

The wise Christian recognizes this reality. The pastor understands the heft of his responsibility.

Perhaps more dangerous than the overt abandonment of biblical doctrine is the increase in religious talk that sounds biblical, uses biblical terms, but twists the meanings of Scripture to present another story. 

These warnings in Scripture are for the church, for those already immersed in the body of believers. The battle rages, but the weapons are unique in this venue. Doctrine does matter. So, stop "binding Satan" and handle the word of truth well.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV)


Ban the Bait & Switch in Church!

Years ago one of our church members (John Green) founded a young men's mentoring group on a local school campus. It was originally designed to help students who needed some guidance and male role models. The groups started small and eventually grew to over fifty gathering on campus prior to the beginning of the school day. The group was unapologetically faith-based, which is politically correct way to say "religiously focused." In the case of this group, the desire to present godly examples of men living out their faith became the focus. 

Over the years, leadership has shifted. I joined the leadership team a number of years ago. It is a weekly responsibility I have had for all these years and we are seeing God work mightily through the young men (and the older men mentoring them as well.)

The founder of the group is no longer working in the school system, but now oversees the educational aspects of a local group home for boys and girls. He is still very much involved in the promotion and focus of this group and since he is still a leader, active member, and minister at our church, he too promotes the solid theological focus needed to lead these boys not just into strong adulthood, but biblical manhood.

The on-campus ministry is called Real Manhood. The word "Real" is an acrostic that reveals the definition of biblical manhood being taught to the boys.

A real man...

  • Rejects passivity
  • Expects the greater reward
  • Accepts responsibility
  • Leads courageously

These are aspects of manhood that all men should seek to attain.

We have expanded the ministry in recent years to newer schools with a plan to be at even more in the fall. Of course, to have a ministry group meeting on a public school campus causes some to wonder. "Is this legal?" is a common question. Absolutely it is, especially since the group has a faculty sponsor and meets prior to school. Student leadership in the group is clear and reservations of facility mean that we are abiding by all laws as well as the "Student Bill of Rights." Our group is not unlike FCA or Cru or even non-religious groups meeting on school campuses. 

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The unique thing about our group for young boys is that it is targeted to just one segment of the student population. A girl's version is being developed. With gender confusion and identity a front-page story nowadays, the need for what we are teaching our boys is needed now more than ever, in our estimation.

All boys, regardless of religious background or belief (or non-belief) are invited. Many who attend now do not regularly attend any local church. Some attend ours. Others attend elsewhere.

When talking with John about the viability of maintaining the group as leadership has changed, we have been adamant that no "bait and switch" occur when inviting boys to attend.

The Bait and Switch

For decades, businesses have been accused of using a "bait and switch" to gain customers. Simply put, this is an advertising technique that pretends to offer one thing, but once the customer arrives, seeks to sell another thing. It has been called a shady marketing strategy and customers, by and large, hate the practice.

Businesses who consistently utilize the technique tend to gain a poor rating from customers. In other words, you don't want to be known as a "bait and switch" company.

When Churches Bait and Switch

Though we denigrate businesses for using such unwholesome techniques, the church has been guilty of doing the same thing. Even with good intentions, the practicality of saying "Come to our event and win an iPad...but really, we just want to preach to you," comes across as more P.T. Barnum than C.H. Spurgeon.

Tweet: Saying  Saying "Come to our event and win an iPad...but really, we just want to preach to you," comes across as more P.T. Barnum than C.H. Spurgeon.

 When John and I were discussing the future of Real Manhood, we agreed that in no way should a "bait and switch" to be used to gain attendees. Parents who allow their children to attend MUST know that this group is an extension of our church's student ministry. That means we are up front with saying "Hey, Real Manhood is a ministry. It's a Christian ministry. It's a Baptist ministry. We teach the Bible to these young men and believe that God will reveal Himself to them through these stories. Real manhood, based on the definition we use, is unattainable apart from Jesus Christ." 

Tweet: Real manhood is unattainable apart from a relationship with Jesus Christ. Real manhood is unattainable apart from a relationship with Jesus Christ.

So far, so good.

Even non-believing parents understand where we stand.

Why is this important? Because to devalue the gospel by trying to package it as something other than it is, is wrong. Why would a ministry choose to be deceptive when sharing Christ? Why would a church do so? There's one in the Bible that is identified as deceptive and we, as Christians, should never wish to be associated with him.

I often wonder if we would have twice as many participants if we just promoted the gathering as a "mentoring group for boys with good life lessons." Perhaps. But, then we'd be lying. To be honest, if I had a son in school attending a group gathering that promoted itself as one way and sold a different bill of goods once the group was gathered, I'd be irate.

Perhaps all churches should consider then when seeking to engage the community and the culture? I'm not really opposed to gatherings that offer fun events, give aways (we even gave an iPad away a few years ago at a student ministry event), and special guests, but be sure to promote who you are and whose you are clearly, especially in our culture of cynics and charlatans. The Gospel deserves better.


firstFAMILY Podcast 007: When Does a Boy Become a Man?

When does a boy become a man? That's the question I have asked many at men's conferences, retreats and even one-on-one. I get a variety of answers, but the bottom line is that in our culture, there is no definitive rite of passage. The celebration of adolescence has created a wide, blurred line between childhood and adolescence. These boys are not quite children, but not adult either. 

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The Bible gives no credence to a life stage between childhood and adulthood. That has basically developed within the past century. 

In an era of confusion regarding gender, adulthood, and life, children need rites of passage and parents are the first, best option for bestowing biblical manhood and womanhood. 

In today's podcast, I talk primarily about young boys and the journey into manhood.


The Pope vs. The Donald

It seems like a reality show, but that shouldn't be a surprise. Our culture has embraced the reality show and ratings over the past few years prove this to be true. The race for the Presidency features celebrities (regardless how these men and women desire to describe themselves, they are now celebrities) vying to be the last man or woman standing in this version of Survivor. 

There are alliances.

There are tribal councils (we call them debates, but as any debate coach would tell you, these really aren't debates) where many candidates seem to be voted off the island following the event. Now, there's no host quenching a torch here, but when poll numbers come in after these events, the number of participants on the stage dwindles. So far, the Republicans have lost the JV and others from their large tribe. The Democrats have lost members as well.

Eventually there will be a tribal merger with only two candidates left - a Republican and a Democrat (and a bunch of independents and smaller party representatives, but as history shows, they really have no chance to win.)

This week a surprise element entered the story. This would be akin to a "very special episode" of a television show. 

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Photo credit: DonkeyHotey via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

The surprise element in this race is Pope Francis. As head of the Catholic church, the Pope was asked his opinion on Donald Trump (the Republican front-runner) as a candidate and his plans if elected President of the United States.

"A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel." Pope Francis

That quote set off a firestorm. The Pope apparently declared that Donald Trump is not a Christian. And, surprisingly, this offended people, even The Donald.

The networks are loving it! Because...ratings.

Donald Trump responded with a prepared statement.

"The pope said something to the effect that maybe Donald Trump isn't Christian, okay? And he's questioning my faith, I was very surprised to see it. For a religious leader to question a person's faith is disgraceful." - Donald Trump

Now, softer responses are coming out from the Trump camp and even from the Catholic church. But, that doesn't really matter. The story is taking off and the question of "What is a Christian?" is now, once again, making headlines.

The internet and media are exploding with opinions regarding the divide. Republican Catholics who support Trump are frustrated with the Pope. Moderate Catholics who oppose Trump are celebrating the Pope. Evangelicals who do not view the Pope as the leader of the church, much less the voice of Christianity, are cringing that these discussions are happening. Non-believers don't care about the divide, but wonder why others do. Opponents to Christianity just shake their head and state that this is just another story about the idiocy that is Christianity.

Basically, everyone is offended.

And the reality show continues on.

The big difference between this reality show and the ones funded by the networks is that this one really matters. It's not just a game. This is much more serious.

What Is a Christian?

And, bigger and more important than the political fallout is the question that has come to the forefront - "What is a Christian?"

Many followers of Jesus Christ are now being asked this question. Friends, family members, coworkers and even fellow students and acquaintances are asking the question. What's needed is the answer.

This is when the reality show really matters. 

This is when it's more than a show, but reality.

Are We Prepared to Respond?

Are we ready to respond?

Are we prepared with a winsome, truthful, honest, and potentially offensive answer? Not offensive for the sake of offending, but offensive because the Gospel is offensive! Offensive because the reality is that not everyone is a Christian. I'm not agreeing with how the Pope defines true Christianity here, so don't misread this. I'm also not agreeing with Donald Trump with how he may define true Christianity, so there.

I am agreeing with Scripture alone.

So understanding this, we must be prepared with the answer that is being sought (and most are not really seeking the true answer, but be diligent.)

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3:15 (ESV)

 


firstFAMILY Podcast 006: Broken or Just Embarrassed

I blogged about this last week, but felt the need, based on many discussions with friends to discuss the difference in between broken over a loved one's sin and just simply being embarrassed. There is a difference and perhaps this is what hampers our prayers, our service to the Lord, and possibly the restoration of relationships. These are just my thoughts and I would welcome comments and responses.

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"New and Improved" Cooperative Program Giving

We all seem to want the latest version of everything.

Whether it's the new iPhone, new car, latest version of Madden or maybe the latest fashion...we like "new." Even better than "New" is "New and Improved." Ever see that plastered on a product in the grocery store that you've used for decades? Makes you wonder what was wrong with the version you used to use? Just because the word "New" is attached to something does not mean it's better. Remember "New Coke"?

Nevertheless, I'm as guilty as the next person when it comes to liking the shiny, new version of stuff.

Sometimes, new is better.

Sometimes improved is a true claim, not just a marketing strategy.

When it comes to church and missions engagement, there are always newer options available. With the advent of internet, mission engagement globally can take place through an uplink to Skype or FaceTime. Emails and newsletters are sent digitally and immediately received. Even trips to far away, exotic mission fields are little more than a drive to an airport and a half-day flight away.

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We truly do have some "new and improved" options when it comes to missions.

Of course, when we speak of missions engagement as evangelicals, and especially as Baptists, we know that funding is needed. Prayers, provision, and people are the three elements churches offer to missionaries in the field. Prayers are paramount. That is first in the list for a reason. Can we have new and improved prayers? I believe so. When prayer life becomes stale, we need to be like the disciples who came to Jesus and asked to be taught to pray. I go back to that passage regularly for insight into prayer and use the template offered in the Model Prayer to keep me focused.

Provision is a nice, alliterative way to say money. It takes money to send people onto the mission field. It requires money to build facilities, provide food, water, resources and other elements needed on the mission field. Those who look down their noses at requests for funds when it comes to mission engagement miss the practicality of sending. Don't spiritualize it and say that no missionary should seek funds. That's not spiritualization. That's just stinginess disguised as religion. Generosity is godly and when funds and resources are provided with a generous heart, the kingdom increases and all play a role.

Sending people could be in the form of support teams or short-term mission teams or the sending of long-term, career missionaries. All are vital.

As Baptists, we have cooperated in our mission giving for decades through a system known as the Cooperative Program (CP). When you study the history of the Southern Baptist Convention, the initiation of the Cooperative Program is pretty amazing. There were other names for this considered, but Southern Baptists landed on Cooperative Program. The compiling of funds together enables missionaries to serve on the field, seminaries to educate pastors and ministers, agencies to function and denominational work to take place.

Over the years, collective giving to CP has gone down. 

Perhaps it's the name. To be honest, Cooperative Program sounds old. You know why? It is. Yet, old doesn't mean non-functioning. In fact, for decades CP giving has enabled the SBC to engage a lost culture more effectively than we ever could have done alone. As Baptists, we celebrate our autonomy. Yet, even in our autonomy, we affirm the value of cooperation.

While SBC agencies face difficult issues regarding funding and ministry engagement for the next generation, we (my church - firstFAMILY Church of Orange Park, FL) have continued to give through CP. In fact, we increased our collective giving to 11 percent of total receipts. Now, I readily admit there is no calling for local churches to "tithe" to denominational entities. Yet, there is a mandate to live generously. Living with the end in mind and with wide-angle glasses so we can attempt to see the larger picture, we understand the value of giving.

So, we give.

Unapologetically.

Faithfully.

Sacrificially.

As God leads.

In 2015, we gave over $264,000 through our Florida Baptist Convention to the Cooperative Program. I'm not bragging. In fact, I'm pretty amazed at that amount and there is a part of me that says "Do you know what we could've done with that amount of money to our property? With our staff? For church programs?" and then I shake my head and come back to reality. We have been able to do so much more through giving than we ever could have through keeping.

Now, in Florida, we have a "new and improved" version of CP giving. For the first time in SBC life, a state is sending more out of the state than is kept. We now give 51 percent of all CP giving out of our home state. This is what some may call "radical." 

New and Improved? Well, not so new, but improved. 

We're honored to be a part of a larger story.

Watch this video to see how Florida is engaging the world for the Kingdom through CP gifts:

 

 

 


Broken or Just Embarrassed?

There are numerous times I am asked to pray for family members and loved ones of friends who seem to be walking away from God or are overtly anti-Christian, anti-church, and anti-God. The heartbreak of parents lamenting the walking away of children from the faith is overwhelming. The church is full of parents struggling with the prodigal story. Some sought to raise their children in the faith. Others came to Christ later in life themselves and lament the lost years where God was not honored in the home.

As I sort through the emotions that come with these stories (and there are many stories like this) I must also look at my own response. As others in the ministry can attest, we are not protected from these stories. They often become more than something we are seeking to help others manage, but also biographical.

It wasn't long ago a question came to my mind.

I'm ashamed to even admit the answer to the question that I offered, yet as I continue through this journey of life, perhaps others have felt this as well.

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In the midst of the hurt, the grief, and the pain, when a child (or a spouse, close friend, other loved one...you pick the scenario) walks away from a life of Christ-centeredness, church, morality and a biblical worldview, am I broken for the sin expressed or just embarrassed by how these actions make me appear?

Oh, I know the right answer.

As a Christian, sin should grieve me. I should have compassion for those struggling with faith questions. I should pray for the Light of the world to shine brightly through the encompassing darkness loved ones find around them. I should be broken, seriously broken for how sin has entered my story and kidnapped my beloved. 

That's how Christ expressed his feelings over the people, right?

Right.

Yet, because of self-centeredness and a religious viewpoint on many things, that which should be expressed is suppressed. Am I really broken, or just embarrassed? When a person is hurt by a loved one the pain goes much deeper than if it were just from an acquaintance. If hurt by a stranger, anger may be expressed, but again, it's not as deep as from a loved one.

I think of Judas' kiss and betrayal of Christ. He was not just a member of the crowd. He was a close friend, a loved one, one of the twelve. Oh, I know he was a thief from the beginning. So did Christ. Yet, I also know that Judas was loved.

The betrayal hurt, but only a loved one can betray, right?

So friends as you sort through your responses to prodigal children, betraying spouses, hurtful relatives and those who seemingly walk out of the church never to return (at least via their expressed plans) how do you feel?

Yeah, feelings are dangerous, yet you still have them. So, how do you feel?

Beyond the anger, frustration, and hurt, does the sin that seemingly kidnapped your loved one leave you broken in grief and moved to deeper prayer and trust in a God who loves your loved ones more than even you? Or...and this may surprise you at the truth...are you really just embarrassed because of how your loved one has chosen to walk away? In many cases, the walk away isn't hidden from your church family and friends. Thanks to social media and an inability for most people to live their lives privately, everyone (it seems) will soon know the lifestyle choices of your loved one.

And that may leave you embarrassed, right?

Or...broken.

May we see the story for what it is and understand the Enemy's tactics well. May we have compassion for those who are far from God and remove ourselves from the center of the story. If my embarrassment is the primary factor, the story is all about me! Yet, brokenness over lostness leads to reliance on the God of grace and mercy. 

Life is difficult and no story runs smoothly, especially if you're intent on honoring God. However, it is wise to remember the depth and strength of the love of an unchanging God in the midst of the difficult days. Continue to love people, even those who have betrayed you. That, my friends, is impossible apart from the grace of God.

In truth, I'm embarrassed that I have been more embarrassed than broken.

Of this, I repent.


firstFAMILY Podcast 005: Jason & Kimberley McGibbon - Church Planting, the Arts & X-Men

McgibbonIn today's podcast, I spend time time talking with Jason and Kimberley McGibbon of Hamilton, Ontario. Jason and Kimberley moved to Hamilton five years ago after having taken their son Liam to the children's hospital there for some vital treatment. As a pastor in Milton, he knew their fellowship would eventually send a planter out to launch a new work. He just didn't know the planter sent out would be himself. 

God has blessed Jason and Kimberley as they seek to engage the culture of Hamilton. We talk a little about the uniqueness of Hamilton and the church culture (or lack thereof) in the city.

Jason is a gifted musician and painter. I discuss with him the subject of the arts and the church and how many opportunities are missed by local congregations when it comes to artistic engagement.

Jason and Kimberley have four children - Daniel, Caroline, Liam and T.J. They range in ages from 21 to 10. T.J. has been given a unique opportunity and Jason and Kimberley see this as a Kingdom- focused outlet for God's glory. T.J. always desired to be an actress and God has opened doors for her to do voice work and star in some movies. Some are faith-based films, like the newly released "The Masked Saint." Others appeal to a broader audience, such as the soon to be released "X-Men: Apocalypse." We discuss how God has used this ten year old girl to open up conversations on television and movie sets about Christ and the challenges of parenting in this world.

The Hamilton Fellowships

hamiltonfellowships.com

Twitter: @THFellowships


When the Church Goes Noseblind

You've seen the Febreze commercials, right? The term "noseblind" references that reality when you enter your house, your room or your car and you can't notice the funk that everyone else smells. You're used to the smell (and maybe smell that way too) and therefore, cannot distinguish the odor.

 

You're noseblind!

Tony Morgan recently blogged about a church in Wisconsin he had consulted that had grown noseblind to their culture. 

Over the past few weeks, it has become clear that our church has grown noseblind in certain ways. I'm sure every established church faces this. As pastor, I acknowledge this reality and while meetings to discuss what "ought to be done" seem helpful, they often do little more than acknowledge that certain things must be addressed and then due to lack of time, other priorities or lack of budget these "undone things" remain. 

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The Longer You're In a Place, The Less You See

This principle of familiarity is true in all organizations, especially churches. In our church, which has a conglomeration of buildings built in different decades and with different styles, our oldest facilities are where our preschool and children's ministries meet. If only I had a time machine so we could go back, redesign facilities built more recently and ensure that our most precious attenders had the newest and best, I would.

Simply put - adults should have the older facilities to gather within. Our preschoolers and children should have the very best. This is not to elicit some self-centric generation wars. It's simply the truth. Parents bring their families to church and they desire to know that their children are safe, are being put in the care of the best workers in the church and have the cleanest, nicest place to meet. I would affirm that our best workers serve our preschoolers and children. Safety is a priority. Our facilities are clean. They're just not the most attractive.

We've grown noseblind to this reality. 

Therefore, changes must be made and to continually kick this issue down the road is not only avoiding a vital need, but will eventually create a situation where parking spots will become more available as well as seating in the worship services. 

In our case, a renovation is happening this year. It's a temporary fix, but needed. We are putting our upgrade efforts in the most important facility area at this point.

While some may say "That preschool area was good enough or my kids," the reality that "my kids" are now in their twenties or thirties, reveals that upgrades are required.

The Guest Experience

Church leaders KNOW that the first impression for guests is vital. We know that a positive guest experience is required. We know this. It's just that maintaining a positive, intentional, and engaged first impressions experience is difficult and often gets pushed to the back burner.

We know that we only get one opportunity to make a good first impression.

Yet, we default to the culture of the church and forget what a good first impression should look like. 

I heard, once again, yesterday that guests have come to our worship services only to be told by someone that they were sitting in their seats in the worship service. It amazes me and frustrates me. Let's just say that if we could determine who is greeting first time guests with "Hey, you're in my seat!" we could develop a "last impressions" team and have a back door revival.

Church ushers do a wonderful job of greeting people at the doors and give them bulletins and programs when they enter, but most church ushers do not actually serve as ushers. When was the last time a church usher walked you into a worship center, helped you find a seat and asked the church member already seated to move down so you could sit? It happens in theaters all the time. It works. We just forget the need for guests in our gatherings. (Now, I understand that not everyone needs to be walked to a seat, but it is a nice offer.)

Where to park? Where to go once you've parked? Where's the small group or worship service of choice? What about kids? 

We know that guests have questions and some are looking for a friend who invited them. Others just want to know what to do next. Good first impression teams engage guests in the parking lot and provide steps for the entire church experience. This is vital in established churches, but also in plants and churches that gather in schools or other rented venues. Sometimes the permanent directional signs on rented buildings do not clearly identify where church gatherings are taking place.

Need for a New Staff

I told my Executive Pastor last week that our church needs a new pastoral staff. This may be "amened" by some in the congregation at all churches, but I'm not speaking of firing staff members. I'm talking about realigning leadership roles and creating a new leadership staff identity within the men and women serving the church currently. This requires a realignment of roles, vision and purpose. Job descriptions and roles designed to minister to and lead a culture that no longer exists creates a logjam and encourages noseblindness.

No church has the privilege of coasting and therefore, no leadership team should ever consider that all they have to do is all they have ever done. 

This is more than just jumping on the latest trend or church model. 

WARNING: Conflict Is Inevitable

It's been the case since the book of Acts. Since local churches are comprised of human beings, conflict is inevitable. Change and upgrades often fuel such conflicts. Remember, though that if nothing is done to remedy the noseblind church, that church will lose sight of the mission, distractions will grow and the people of God will be eliminated from the Kingdom story. 

When the church goes noseblind, the mission is forfeited, the Kingdom is ignored and eventually...you become a club.


I Just Wanted to Eat My Donut In Peace

I woke up pretty early this morning with a plan.

Every Wednesday, I lead a boys' mentoring group at one of our local junior high schools. That begins at 8am. It finishes around 9:15am or so and I head to my office at church. I then have a 10:30am Bible study for senior adults each week. These are two highlights of my mid-week. 

So, as is the case on Wednesdays often, I stopped at our local Dunkin' Donuts for a coffee and a French Cruller (an incredibly good donut that is low-calorie because there's so much air inside - well, that's my theory.) The employees see me coming and now, these two items are always waiting. I'm a creature of habit. One of these days, I'm going to mess with them and get a frosted donut. It'll blow their minds!

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Nevertheless, my plan was simple. Drink my coffee. Eat my donut. Sit in a booth, read my Bible app and study for the day's sessions.

Please Leave Me Alone So I Can Do Some Christian Stuff

Everything was going according to plan. I was not seeking to engage anyone in conversation. I simply wanted to be left alone to read. You know, like you feel on an airplane when you just want to read, watch a show on your iPad and not have to talk to the stranger seated next to you. This is why Dr. Dre invented Beats - so you can put on headphones on an airplane. These headphones declare "Leave me alone" to the rest of the passengers.

My Beats are blue, by the way.

Well, as you have probably figured out by now, a woman came into the donut shop. She sat in the booth directly in front of me, and was facing me.

Awkward!

I looked up and it felt like we were sitting at the same booth, especially since there was nothing but empty benches in between us.

I smiled and said "Hello" because that's what nice, Christian guys do.

She said "Hello" back.

Whew! That was close. I thought we'd have to actually talk. Remember... I wanted to be left alone.

Then, this woman asked if I lived near the donut shop and she began talking about the community and how nice, but different it was. She lives on the Westside of Jacksonville and was going to a doctor's appointment in a nearby office. She was just waiting at the donut shop because her taxi picked her up too early.

Oh, she's a single mother with two adult children and a teenager. She is having a tough time and is dealing with fear and worry about some life situations.

How do I know this?

You guessed it. She began to talk to me and I had to listen.

Are You A Christian?

She then said, "Are you a Christian?"

What? Why would she ask this? I'm definitely a Christian, but I wasn't reading my Bible (just the app) and am not wearing anything with Jesus fish or other churchy embroidery on it. I mean, I'm honored she asked and I said, "Yes" unapologetically, but was wondering why she asked.

I thought "I wonder what she thinks about Christians?" and yet, it wasn't going to change my answer.

I then asked, "How did you know I was a Christian?"

She said, "I don't know. I just did."

Hmmmm.

At this point, I figured I was all in on this potential divine encounter. In other words, I thought "Okay, God. I get it." 

I closed my iPad and asked her "Are you a Christian?"

She answered "Yes" and then moved into my booth.

That was unexpected and caused me a little discomfort.

Are You a Preacher?

She then asked, "Are you a preacher?"

Oh boy, now I'm caught. Do I look like a preacher? I don't slick my hair back (don't have enough to do that). I don't talk with a preacher voice. I didn't say "sister" or "amen" every other phrase. I am wearing a golf shirt and khakis. I looked like a Best Buy employee. I didn't even have the traditional preacher uniform on (I knew I should've worn my Chuck Taylors today).

I answered "Yes" and discovered that apparently caused her relief.

Nonetheless, we talked for about fifteen minutes. She shared her story a bit. I stated that I had to leave to go to the junior high. Then we prayed. We prayed for strength and for power. We prayed for the worry that had overtaken her that led to an unhealthy fear and stress would be relieved by God's Spirit. We prayed over her children. 

Then I said, "Good-bye."

I don't share this to say "Hey look at me. I did a good Christian thing."

I share this because I intently did NOT want to engage anyone in conversation. I wanted to just go through my routine. I wanted to read my Bible, not talk to someone about the Bible. I wanted to eat my French Cruller (well, I did to that) and drink my coffee in peace.

And then she showed up.

And then God nudged me as if to say "This is why you're here right now."

I wonder how many times I miss the moment? I wonder how many times my routine reigns in my life so I can just get through another day? I wonder how she knew I was a Christian, much less a pastor? I wonder where I can go to eat a donut in peace? Ha ha.

Nevertheless, I was reminded of this verse...

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3:15 (ESV)

So friends. Be ready. Oh, and if someone says "You look like a Christian" that hopefully, is a good thing (unless their idea of a Christian is some warped caricature. In that case, just be real and change that perspective.)