Crises Will Come to Your Community. How Do You and Your Church Respond?

There are some things that God has brought to mind in our church over the past week. These are things not tied to programming or ministry events, but out of a response to a community crisis.

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Photo credit: neil cummings on VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

You see, last week a story ran on our local news stations regarding a crime committed in the Mayport area of our city (Jacksonville, Florida.) A young man robbed an internet cafe, then escaped from the facility with police in pursuit. He ended up in a neighboring community where he was running through yards, jumping fences, and eventually found a back door open (the screen door was closed due to the nice weather) at a home where he entered, kidnapped the elderly man who lived there, then stole the resident's vehicle. A high-speed police chase developed with the suspect in the driver's seat and the elderly man in the backseat. At a speed in excess of 100 miles per hour, the driver ran over two police officers, leaving them in critical condition and after a PIT maneuver by a pursuing officer, the vehicle crashed, leaving the driver and the kidnapped victim gravely injured.

This is an amazingly terrible story and when I saw it on the news that day, I was shocked.

Later than afternoon I received a phone call from our campus minister at Oak Harbor Baptist Church (OHBC), Brian Hoffman. OHBC is a revitalization we are leading at a small, fifty-year-old church in the Mayport community. We have been working and partnering with this congregation for almost three years. Brian asked if I had seen the news and then told me that the gentleman who was kidnapped was Louis Reese, one of our deacons at the church who has been key to our ministry and revitalization efforts.

I was shocked and a flood of emotions came over me. I know that whenever a story like this hits the news that it represents real people in very real circumstances. However, like most people who read trending news stories or who actually watch local broadcasts, there are always other stories presented and the impact of the initial one often fades as commercials and others are shared.

In this case, it was clear that this story would not fade away for me. It would not disappear, at least from the minds of the OHBC church members, the neighbors and friends of Louis in his subdivision, or the officers and family members impacted. The family of the suspect would be viewing this news story closely as well.

Since last Wednesday when this occurred, we have held a prayer meeting, under the guidance of our campus minister, Brian. We have given interviews with numerous media outlets to get the word out regarding the prayer and the online giving option available where we are collecting funds for our church member and the two officers who were injured. Many in the community have joined us in this journey. We have sought to keep those informed of the latest updates as we asked for prayer for Louis and all involved.

Sadly, on Tuesday of this week (January 8) our brother and deacon Louis Reese died. His body was badly injured and after valiant work being done by the doctors and nurses of Memorial Hospital in Jacksonville, God brought Louis home. We are deeply grieved and yet, so very hopeful. We know where Louis is. He is in no pain. These are not simply religious sounding "funeral words" to help the living cope. These are truths based on the goodness and grace of God and of Louis's surrender to Christ as his Lord and Savior. It was Louis who stated his desire to see many in the Mayport community come to know the Lord as he himself had through the ministry of God's church at Oak Harbor Baptist. Though he never dreamed that these circumstances would possibly lead to that, we are confident that God's message of hope and salvation is being proclaimed through the life and legacy of Louis Reese.

As we now plan a funeral service for our loved one, we are reminded of his desire that Christ alone be honored. What a legacy! What a lesson for his church (OHBC) and His church throughout the world. 

What To Remember When Crisis Hits 

  • Don't Waste Your Crisis - Years ago John Piper wrote a book titled Don't Waste Your Cancer. This was written as he was undergoing treatment for the disease and has been a helpful resource for many who have faced similar trials. In our case, we know that the tragic, evil, and seemingly random events of last week have impacted many in our city. Through these difficult times, God provides peace, hope, and help. To ignore this reality is to ignore an opportunity to live out one's faith and to let others see the hope we have in Christ. This is not easy and this is not an opportunity for the church to grandstand or take advantage of circumstances. It is, however, a time "such as this" when the church must firmly and clearly, even through grief, present the fullness of the gospel. 
  • Your Church's Address Is Not An Accident - It was just a few years ago that OHBC was at a point of crisis regarding survival. After months of prayer and meetings with other churches and associational leaders, hard decisions were to be made. This is not uncommon among many of our smaller churches in America. The glory days of ministry are often gone and the realization of next steps often leads to either a revitalization or replanting effort, or sadly in some cases, the dissolution of the church and sale of property. OHBC is located in an area with great need. There are two large schools next door (an elementary and a middle school.) There are two large trailer parks nearby. There are numerous subdivisions of homes and a large number of duplexes and multi-housing facilities as well. The Navy base is just a few miles away. There is a large military and civil service population nearby. While there are other churches in the region, there is no church on the road where OHBC is within such close proximity to all these people. It is no accident that OHBC is located where it is - in the middle of a "field" where the "harvest is ready." Sometimes, we long for the people who used to live near us and in so doing, program and do ministry for a people group that no longer exists. OHBC is positioned to minister to many who now are living in fear due to the criminal activity that made the news, struggling to know what to do next, and have many questions related to faith, among other things. This is true for every church plant (even those who didn't get into the property they initially desired) and established church (even those who are placed in a community that has changed dramatically.) We must remember that we are where God has planted us, for his glory and the good of his church and the community surrounding it.
  • Crises Will Come, Be Prepared to Respond - No one looks for a crisis moment. You shouldn't. Yet, they happen. In small towns, rural areas, and big cities there are moments when things occur that thrust the community out of its "regularly scheduled programming." This may be a storm, a tornado, a hurricane, or some other natural disaster. It may be a closing of a factory or a base leaving many fearful for their economic future and stability. It could be a crime, such as we have experienced. The fact is we live in a broken world. Sin has infected all of creation from the moment of Adam and Eve's betrayal to God and his commands. Yet, we do not live as those without hope. We do not believe God to be good only when everything in our lives is going according to our preferences and plans. We do not worship a God who performs for us. We lives surrendered to a God we do not deserve to know personally, but can through Jesus Christ. In the crises, we hold tight to this faith, showing and sharing with others that all else falls apart when the world is falling apart. Christ alone, our hope in crises. Our hope and salvation. The crises will test your theology. You can pass the test. That's God's desire.
  • Have a Public Voice, But Be Clear and Hopeful - There are many religious people who have found the microphones over the years during moments of crisis. Some seek to bring attention to themselves. Here are my recommendations when giving interviews and speaking to the public at these times:
    • Have One Voice - Whether it is the Lead Pastor of your church or another designated spokesperson, have one person speak to the media from the church. This allows for clarity and a solid, concise message.
    • Share Hope - Crises are difficult, thus the name. There's a flood of responses and emotions that come from fear, anger, worry, etc. Don't minimize these. Address them. Share that you have them as well, but always be clear that hope is available and it is found in Christ. You don't have to preach a sermon, but a clear, focused, quick message of hope that comes from Christ is needed. Don't forget that.
    • Provide a Press Release - If possible, and the crisis is something where many are seeking an interview or a statement, provide a written press release that can be emailed or faxed (yes those still exist) to the news media and reporters. This allows the words to be thought through, clear, spelled correctly, with information on follow-up if need be. There is an acceptable format for such and it would be wise to use that. Click here for a good template and example (don't forget the hashtags at the bottom - that's protocol, not decoration.)
    • Stay On Target - When interviewing, especially with various outlets about a story, you need to realize that you will be talking to people who are doing their job and also competing with the others doing the same job in order to get the story, a different take on the story, or a unique perspective. Be careful to stay on target with the information you provide. If there are medical issues, don't respond to those questions. If there are legal issues, don't respond to those questions. If there are questions about the person's past or relatives, don't go there. These questions are common and will come. Be wise. Stay on the story of the moment. In our case, it was about praying for the health and recovery of our loved one and the officers injured. Remember, whatever is said will be aired, printed, and posted online. In most cases, you're speaking for the church, not the family, neighbors, etc. This is vital to remember. 
    • Don't Overstep - As stated in the above point, you are speaking for the church. Unless the family has designated you or your church's representative as their mouthpiece, do not speak for them. Don't post updates or events related to the crisis online (especially if it is related to a person, not a natural disaster, etc.) without approval of family members or those impacted. No one wants to learn the latest family update from an online post rather than from a family member.

We are continuing to journey through this crisis as a church family. We are hopeful and confident in Louis's eternal home and the legacy he leaves. Please join us in praying for his family as well as others who have been so greatly impacted by these events. May we be viewed by our Heavenly Father as a church that responded well, brought Him glory, and provided good to our world.


We Must Pray for Other Churches in Our Community

Do you love your community?*

For some, the fact you live where you do was decided by someone other than you. Perhaps your employer moved you to the place you live? Maybe you relocated to help family members in need? Some of you were born where you currently live, but upon conception, you were not consulted regarding where home would be.

For others, you strategically chose to live where you currently do. You may have no family nearby, but love the area and through a series of circumstances, you relocated to your current place of residence.

Every community has things to love about it as well as things that would never make it on the Chamber of Commerce's website or promotional brochures. Yet, as a Christian, there is wisdom in seeing one's current home as something God has intentionally orchestrated for his glory and our good.

The church-saturated community

Living in the Jacksonville, Florida area, I am fully aware that what we deem as normal here is not for most of the nation and world. Jacksonville is known for many things - the Jaguars, the Navy, the railroad, beaches, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and for having more churches than stray dogs. There are some noted legacy churches in our city. There are also a number of newer, quickly-growing non-denominational megachurches. Somewhere between the handful of large established and large new churches are dozens and dozens of churches with varied histories, legacies, community presence, and health. For instance, there are just over 200 Southern Baptist churches in our city. Add to that the churches of other denominations and those with no affiliation and you can understand what I mean.

With this many churches it is no wonder that comparisons and competitiveness develop among church bodies and pastors. The sin nature remains.

As the new year begins, I am seeking to change the perspective of competition and fear of other good churches that often creeps into our church body and even among staff (me included.)

If we truly love our community, we (the Christians) must be more strategic and focused on what truly matters. Could it be that God has placed all these churches, of various sizes and contextual makeup, throughout the city for something bigger than just the growth of any one church body? Could it be that this growing city has been strategically marked by God with his children and his church for his glory? I know there are many organizations that are church in name only. I understand that not every group that has "church" on its sign preaches the gospel and affirms biblical doctrine. I get that not all "churches" have the same goal in mind.

But what about those churches who do? 

It may be too much to call all the pastors together for some large city-wide project. I have been to those meetings in the past and to be honest, I don't like them. They often end up with too many men and women in a room trying to determine the pecking order of importance while the project or event for the city becomes the primary focus, rather than the movement of God that was initially declared to be the focus. 

I believe pastors and church leaders should intentionally, strategically, and declaratively pray for the other churches in their community. 

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We should pray for other churches because...

  1. We serve one God. This is pretty simple isn't it? We're on the same team. For those holding to biblical fidelity, focused on the gospel, and intent on making disciples, we must realize the incredible blessing of not having to reach our city or community alone. When one church grows, the church grows. Your church is not your church. It's God's.
  2. Our community makes no distinction between churches. This is a broad statement and I know that those in your community likely do know the difference between the large church with money and many ministries for kids and teenagers and the small one that does not have the same resources. Yet, more than likely, most in your community do not know, or care to know, that each local body is autonomous and unique. For your community, if one church fails, it's as if all of them fail. If one church has a moral issue, all the churches are stained. Therefore, it is not good to see the pastor at the church down the street fail. You may not agree with him. You may not like his personality, but if he fails, you fail. When one hurts, the entire body (and that extends outside the walls of your local church family) hurts. When your church is known for not liking the others in town, you perpetuate the already believed lie that Christians hate others, even their own.
  3. Our jealous hearts need healing. The jealous, comparative, and competitive nature that develops between churches and church leaders is deadly (Song of Solomon 8:6, 1 Corinthians 13:4, Philippians 2:3, James 3:14-16, Proverbs 14:30.) One of the best ways to melt away the jealousy and competitiveness that rises when other churches seemingly are doing better is to first, repent and second, pray for the other churches and their leaders to thrive.
  4. This helps our community. So you love your community? Sure you do. Then, realize that having a variety of healthy churches throughout the community is good. What if the church-saturated community becomes a gospel-saturated one? This can happen when the church serves well together, for God's glory. The fringe benefit of honoring and glorifying God through obedient worship and service is that the community is blessed.
  5. This glorifies God. Paul instructed Timothy and the church as a whole to pray for others, especially those in leadership positions (1 Timothy 2:1).  We even see in the book of Acts where one local church collects funds for another in need. This love for other fellowships should not be just historical, but common today. God is honored when his children are united in him.

So, as the new year begins, make it part of your weekly worship services to pray for other churches in the community (and throughout the world.) I would recommend praying for one church by name each week. Pray for the pastor by name. Many in your congregation may know the church and pastor. Some are likely former members of said church. 

If other churches do the same, then be comforted in knowing you and your local body of believers are being prayed for as well.

Just imagine a new year where the biblically-centered, gospel-focused, doctrinally-sound churches in your community and city stand together for more than the growth of their individual kingdoms. 

_____________________

*I am writing from a western, American evangelical perspective and realize that there are many people throughout the world who have no choice but to live where they do and have no options for relocating. I also understand that the "church on every corner" that is a reality for many American towns and cities is not the norm. Therefore, the call to pray for other local churches expands to praying for the global church for all.

 


The Difficulty of Being a Single Adult in the Church

About fifteen years ago, prior to being called as the Lead Pastor at our church, I had the honor of serving as our Single & Young Married Adult Pastor at our church. This was following my initial stint as Student Pastor. During that time, I learned much. Mostly, I learned how much I did not know regarding ministry to and with those who were categorized as single adults in our church.

For many current evangelical churches in America, the single adult ministry often is forgotten or deemed unimportant. While that may not be stated aloud, the lack of focused ministry to and with those who are unmarried proves otherwise. Even if not intended, this appears to be what is experienced by the unmarried believers in the church family.

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Recently, I was leading our deacon ordination council interviews with prospective deacons. One young man is newly married (within the past two years) and I asked him point blank "How difficult was it for you to serve faithfully in the church as a single man?" The question had nothing to do with the ordination interview. That was complete. It was simply a question that had been on my mind recently. His response was not unexpected, nor shocking. He stated, "Very difficult." 

His response was centered around the fact that many, if not most church programs and activities tend to be promoted with "family" or for those who are married.

Years ago one of our senior adult men (married for decades and wife still alive) asked me why we even had a single adult ministry. His question seemed odd, if not a bit offensive at first, but as I discovered, came from a sincere desire to understand. The last time he could have been categorized as a single adult was right after high school. He remains happily married and did not know why those who were unmarried would not feel comfortable in a couples' class.

The truth is some do feel comfortable with others, regardless of the marital status of others. Yet, the fact remains that not all do.

While our church is intent on ministering to and with families, leading parents to be lead disciple-makers in their homes, the reality is that while unintended, some who are not married feel left out. Some have expressed that it is like being the friend of the high school student with a boyfriend and being invited to go to the theme park with them. It can be enjoyable, but you end up sitting behind the happy couple on the roller coaster, or even worse, in the "Tunnel of Love."

Why is it this way in the church?

Writing as a man who has been married to the same woman since I was twenty years old, some may view my responses and analysis here as uninformed or disconnected. Yet, as a pastor called to lead a congregation into the fullness of God's teachings and minister to those who have been segmented into ministries based on age, gender, and marital status over the years, I hold a heavy responsibility to do my best for all who are part of our church family. 

Without doing an extensive survey, but simply talking to people who are single, and having served in pastoral ministry for almost thirty years, here are some things that seem to be making it so difficult to be an engaged (not engaged to be married, but engaged strategically in ministry), faithful single adult believer in the local church. Of course, there are exceptions and varied other things that could be listed as well. Feel free to add to the list in the comments.

1. There's a post-high school and college gap in the church.

If your church has a vibrant, strong student ministry - that is wonderful! Some churches even have a strong collegiate ministry. But, what about when a person makes it through those ministries that include events, mission trips, camps, conferences, Bible studies, and more? If your church is like most, many have couples classes and small groups for adults. These are good. But...what about the adult who did not get married in college or even has a significant other at this point? This gap is real and what many have discovered is that these ministries for youth and students tend to have designated pastors or ministers leading them. The youth pastor is the go-to person for teenagers. There may even be a collegiate pastor. Yet, the lack of designated leadership for the single adult ministry post-high school and college often leaves a large demographic with no where to land. 

Even if the church is not large and there are no designated pastors or ministers, the gap is still felt. Some single adults who desire to be married find in the smaller church that they stand alone in what well-intentioned, but wrong friends and parents claim a "small pond" and thus, the single adult is encouraged to go elsewhere to find a prospect for marriage.

This concept of "finding a prospect" leads well into the next point.

2. Singleness is often viewed as a stage of life to survive.

It may not be intentional, but whether from parents, grandparents, other family members, or those in the church, offhanded comments like "When are you going to get married?" often come across negatively. 

Rather than viewing singleness as a stage to survive and get through until you find that perfect someone, could it be the church should elevate those who are living faithfully to the Lord as single adults. Perhaps even honoring their faithfulness as Paul alluded to in his letter to the church at Corinth.

So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better. 1 Corinthians 7:38 (ESV)

This is not a shot at the married, but should be viewed as it is intended, as an affirmation for the single believer.

Often in the church, this affirmation is absent. One pastor of a neighboring church told me years ago when referencing his single adult ministry that "There are some who are single for a season and others who are single for a reason." While that statement could be taken well, if intended to affirm the "reason" as being for the calling of God, this pastor actually was speaking in a demeaning manner of those who apparently just couldn't get it together and find a spouse. That is wrong and in the age of the easily offended, that statement should offend.

In an article featured in Relevant Magazine, Preston Sprinkle states the following truths regarding the subtle and not-so-subtle anti-singleness message in the church:

Much of this anti-singleness message saturates the air of our churches, sometimes with words, other times with actions. The message is usually it is subtle and unintended. But single people hear it loud and clear: You’re incomplete until you get married and have at least two kids. (But if you have more than four, then people think you’re weird again.)

Just ask any post-college single person at your church how they feel. Ask them if they feel like they are valued, honored, respected, loved and invited into the lives and homes of other families of the church. Ask them if they are ever made to feel incomplete by off-handed comments (“Why aren’t you married yet?”) or sermon illustrations that always draw from parenting. Ask them how they felt on the weekend that the church was away at Family Camp.

The fact is, marriage is a small blip in our existence. We’re all born single and called to steward our singleness for the first 20-30 years of our life. Many people will be called out of singleness and into marriage and then called to steward their marriage to the glory of God. But us married folks will be single again, in this life, whether through divorce or death of our spouse. And then we’ll spend eternity with God as single persons once again. (Full article here.)

3. Marriage has become an idol

This is a difficult topic. Marriage between a man and woman is ordained by God. It is good and is even used as an illustration of Christ's relationship with his church. It is honorable. It is holy. Yet, as with all good and godly things, there is the potential for marriage to become one's idol. The family unit has also become this for many in the American church.

It's difficult because the church actually, unintentionally, propagates this opportunity for false worship.

One woman declared:

What truly should be addressed in church is the idolatry of marriage. So many singles (well, for women) feel as if they can’t be on mission until they get married. (from article here)

When thriving as a Christian is equated to being married and having children, these great and godly elements of life are elevated to places they do not belong. 

This does not mean the church should avoid ministry to the married. In fact, with the divorce rate so high and marital issues between believers continually present, ministry to and with pre-married and married couples must continue. The godly marriage takes effort. No one drifts toward that reality.

Yet, alongside a strong ministry for those who are married, a vibrant, intentional, gospel-focused ministry with single adults must happen as well. Otherwise, the multi-faceted church intent on "being all things to all people" for the sake of reaching some, ignores a large demographic in the community.

4. We join ministries, not the church

The American church has been impactful for generations, but throughout the twentieth century an industrial model of business entered into the church. The programmatic structure became expected and helpful. It was beneficial for many as children's, student, age-graded, and gender-based ministries developed. The development of single adult ministry emerged as it was discovered the gap existed.

Even now, we understand that programmatic division, while helpful with age-based learning stages, often leaves many on the outside looking in when they cannot find where they fit.

The church's focus should not be built on a demographic study or gender focus, but solely on the Word of God. This may seem contradictory to the premise that single adults should be ministered to and with, but while I do believe a focused ministry for the unmarried (with or without children, never married, divorced, or widowed) is vital, I strongly believe that single adults should not be relegated to a satellite ministry that seems to orbit the church. I believe the same for student ministry and others. God ordained the church. We are called to unite together as his church locally for his glory and our good. If a person simply joins a ministry (regardless the demographic attached) they and the church find themselves disobedient to God's call. How many teenagers in our churches really were never called to unite with the church and fall under the shepherding leadership of the lead pastor, but simply joined a youth group and hung out with a youth pastor? Yeah - that hit a nerve, right? It's the same for any ministry.

5. The return on investment is not high enough

Oops. That's hitting too close to home, right? 

This is a sinful reality among many churches, but let's call it what it is. If a church seeks to grow, increase membership, and along the way increase its budget, the best option is to focus intently on family units. Create a ministry for mom and dad and the kids. It's a higher return. 

The single adult will have one income. It may be lower (not always the case) than the married adult. The activity in ministry is going to be limited to just the one person, rather than an increase in children's, youth, men's, and women's ministry. When it's all about numbers, the one becomes less valuable than the ninety-nine. So much so that often the one is left to fend for himself and ultimately will disappear from the fellowship.

What is the answer?

The answers will be varied, but it begins with the realization that all these issues and more are not only present, but prevalent in many of our churches. To ignore a large portion of the population is to simply say, either overtly or covertly "You don't belong." 

The answer likely has nothing to do with hiring a single adult pastor. It likely isn't to elevate a programmatic ministry model as the answer either. Yet, it begins with a passion to see all people come to Christ and thrive as part of the local church.  

Not every adult is called to be married. Yet, every Christian, married or single, is called to God and equipped for service within his church. 

As a pastor, I must be conscious of this reality and ensure that not every sermon illustration is about marriage or parenting - though many are from my own story, so I won't ignore them. I must ensure that when seeking those to lead in ministries, we are not only looking from a pool of married persons. I must lead biblically in all areas, focusing on the value we have as children of God to be bestowed by God alone and not elevated by whether an individual is married, single, divorced, widowed, or "it's complicated."


When Your Church Hires the Wrong Pastor

I heard from a church a few states away last week whose pastor is leaving. He's moving on to another place of service. No issues there. However, in this case, the tenure of this pastor was challenging, to put it nicely. I won't get into the details, but one church member stated in a conversation "How did we miss so badly in calling him?"

To be clear, in many cases after a new pastor is called to serve in an established church there comes a time when some, hopefully not many, in the church start to question leadership style, direction, personality, etc. In some cases, the pastor is the needed person, called by God for that church. In other words, in these cases, God brings his man into his church to reclaim the church for God's glory. This requires a man with a clear calling, a missional outlook, a loving spirit, a mix of patience and urgency, the heart of a shepherd, thick skin, and a wife who can handle criticism, and children who are strong enough to weather the harsh things said about their father.

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Photo credit: Chris Yarzab on Foter.com / CC BY

In these instances a long tenure is needed and decades later, the historic review of the church's health is often keyed to the moment the church called this man as pastor.

But what about the bad hire?

It's true. There are times when it becomes clear that the person hired as pastor or as a member of your church's pastoral/ministerial staff is not a good fit. In fact, to be clear, there are times when it was wrong.

There are various reasons for such a hire and more than can be covered in this post. But, in my experience, here are some of the reasons a bad hire happens.

1. The pastor/minister was never truly called by God for the position.

I have talked to numerous men who have felt the calling to preach. I have asked how they have discerned such and at times, the clarity of the call is overwhelming. At other times, it simply seems that the individual is frustrated in his current job, not feeling fulfilled, and sits in the congregation watching the pastor or other ministry leader and thinks "I could do that." While that may be an impetus used by God to draw a man into pastoral ministry, it often is little more than a desire for personal fulfillment partnered with frustration of current status in life. 

Charles Spurgeon spoke much on the calling to pastoral ministry, holding it high and of value. One of his most famous statements about the call is as follows:

If any student in this room could be content to be a newspaper editor or a grocer or a farmer or a doctor or a lawyer or a senator or a king, in the name of heaven and earth, let him go his way; he is not the man in whom dwells the Spirit of God in its fullness, for a man so filled with God would utterly weary of any pursuit but that for which his inmost soul pants.1

While it is clear that many pastors would have and have done well in what has been classified as "secular" work by some, Spurgeon's quote goes to the heart of the calling. If a man could live content and fulfilled as a Christian, evangelizing the lost, discipling others, and doing so in the marketplace, then do so. However, if the calling of God is to shepherd the church, serve him in the capacity of an overseer, pastor, or elder, then by all means, that man is to do so.

The sad reality is that some men see the pastorate as nothing more than just another job. It is not. It cannot be. 

2. The pastor/minister is simply seeking a religious job and platform.

This reality is more and more prominent in the age of the celebrity preacher. Churches fall prey to this when seeking to call/hire a man to lead them. The danger is in lumping the good, qualified, popular pastors with the ones who are little more than attention seekers selling themselves with just enough Jesus added on to be dangerous (if not heretical.) 

In the recent 9 Marks podcast "Pastors' Talk" episode 69: On Pastoral Calling featuring Mark Dever, Brad Wheeler, and Jonathan Leeman, the men candidly discuss the concept of calling. You can listen to the full podcast here.

Dever is questioned by the others regarding some who seek to serve and why some should be rejected. He states:

The guy who keeps telling me he’s called to preach but isn’t making any opportunities to share the gospel likely isn’t called. He’s just waiting for someone to give him a platform. He likely just wants a religious job.

I know this guy. He has appeared in my ministry at different times. Unfortunately, in my immaturity, I have often given opportunities that should have never been given.

We have dealt with these as well in our network's church planting assessment weekends. A discerning heart often picks up on statements and desires that lean more toward this version of self-promotion than to biblical pastoral ministry.

While the church calling a man may be enamored by the potential celebrity status intent on competing with the church down the street, the result is often an unhealthy ministry led by an uncalled minister who does more harm than good. And ultimately, God is not glorified.

3. The wife is not called.

What? Isn't it just important that the man surrender to the pastoral call and go?

Uh...no.

Here's a little nugget from the Pastors' Talk podcast that speaks clearly to this. Let's say the man feels called and is sharing this with his wife. Dever asks about the very real questions that couples in ministry deal with. In this example, it is the man speaking to his wife. In other examples, the godly wife knows her husband is called to more, but he resists. We all know those as well. But in this case, 

  • How does the husband convince his wife that it is okay to be poorer than they would be otherwise? It may mean resigning from a high paying job and moving out of the nice, gated community in an intentional down-sizing to serve. 
  • How does the husband convince his wife that it is okay to be the object of more criticism than she would be normally? I know some who have greatly struggled and even slowed or stopped a move to full-time ministry simply due to an aversion to this role of "pastor's wife."
  • How does the husband convince his wife that it is okay to live more publicly with all the kids than she would have to normally?

The calling of a pastor (and since I'm a complementarian, I am speaking of a man in this role) is not divorced from the calling of his wife. Maybe I shouldn't use the word divorce - that brings up an entirely other, needed discussion. 

Simply put, I agree with Brad Wheeler in the podcast:

If the Lord has called the man, he has called his wife.

Conversely, if the Lord has not called the wife, he has not called the husband.

Yes, it's a package deal.

4. The Lead Pastor is overly enamored by having men called from his ministry.

Ouch. This one hurts, but it is true and reveals a bit of idolatry. 

It is a great thing to have men and women surrender to ministry in the church. It is honorable and celebratory to have them do so under your leadership as pastor. However, there is this reality that all too often occurs in churches. The lead pastor is loved. He has faithfully preached, taught, and shepherded the church. God has used him well and many are coming forward to surrender to ministry.

Yet, some of those who come are not called.

They want to be on staff. 

They want a title.

They want to live the preacher life (or at least the version they see from the congregation), but they are not qualified. They are not called. They have been given another role.

It's not a downgrade. In these cases, the individual is called to evangelize and disciple, as all Christians are. They are in the marketplace, in the schools, in the workforce. They are on the frontlines. They are called, but not biblically qualified to pastor or serve as an overseer. Yet, they are given a position. They are given a title. Why? Because the lead pastor is excited that someone would come forward under his ministry to do so. 

Yet, it's a disservice to the individual and as will always be revealed, to the church.

The danger is when that unqualified individual is given a position to which he has not been called, the ramifications are serious. Ultimately, he will likely either quit, fold under the pressure, or have to be dismissed. At any rate, that family is hurt (he, his wife and children) and the church. Shame sets in. Embarrassment occurs. Even anger results. 

In some cases, the person is done with church, because it is very hard to go from being listed on the website and bulletin as a minister to just sitting in the congregation again. Sometimes, the person just goes to the church down the street or in the next community over. Either way - the rift is real. 

And it always comes back to harm the church and the lead pastor.

There are numerous other reasons why the wrong person is in a pastoral position.

The question is, "How does the church survive this?"

Sadly, some do not. If the church has a man in pastoral leadership who has done more than just preach poorly, become arrogant, or hurt people's feelings, the harm may be lasting. In some cases, sexual sin, affairs, and even abuse occurs. Our church dealt with this long before I joined the pastoral staff in 1994. The senior pastor at the time led the church to hire me as student pastor. It was about a month after arriving I was told by him and others in the church that three youth pastors prior, a sexual crime had been committed by the man with the title. The senior pastor at the time apparently resigned later for his own indiscretion. 

It's been over thirty years now and while most in our community have no idea of those days (and I'm thankful for the senior pastor who called me to his staff and the immediate previous youth pastor who was able to serve with distinction before moving to another church) the scars of past sins in our church remain.

While these were the most heinous offenders, others over the years have come and gone. Good guys, but wrong hires.

Not all. Believe me, God has blessed us currently and in the past with godly, called men and women to serve in ministerial leadership positions. 

At times, I'm certain some in our church have wondered if I was a poor hire. Most of those are now members at sister churches in the community. 

God's church survives these moments not by forming another committee to go "find the right guy this time" but by grounding itself in the gospel and in prayer. God loves his church and he always calls his man to serve as he desires. The church must be prayed up (that's a church phrase we use, right?) and discerning, knowing that God never leads to the wrong man.

As for the pastors/ministers/directors of ministry serving at your church now - pray for them and their families. Be their defense in prayer. Even the right ones can be tempted and are. 

If (when) there is a vacancy in the position, depending on your church polity, prayerfully consider the points above before putting another in the role. 

I believe and have been affirmed that I have been called by God to pastor. Yet, even in my affirmed calling, my old nature sometimes (all too often) rises up and leads me to say and do things that are not God's desire. In other words, I'm not the perfect pastor for this church, but I am the called one, by God, equipped and strengthened by the Holy Spirit for this task. As are the other godly men I know serving faithfully for the sake of the call.

__________

1Charles H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing, 2017), 47.


What Do You Know About That New Church Down the Street?

I was asked the question again recently. It was an honest question from a father whose daughter began dating a young man who attends  a newer church in our city. The church has grown quickly and has made it into the Outreach Magazine "Fastest Growing Churches" list. The name is unique and represents a departure from denominational ties. This is not unheard of and not a cause for concern necessarily. The growth has expanded to multi-site campuses with campus pastors in addition to video feeds from the main campus. The church's presence online and on social media is strong. Yet, we all understand the marketing model of the American church and thus, the question was asked.

"Pastor, what do you know about this new church in town?"

I've heard this over and over for many new and revitalized churches in town. Church members and neighbors are curious. In truth, the questions are often asked with a hint of skepticism. While a generation or two ago, the questions may have been about the non-denominational tag or the music style. Nowadays, those elements do not garner the concern. 

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Photo credit: yourfaithchurch on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

The questions now are about doctrinal integrity. Oh, the people may not use that term in their question, but ultimately they want to know if the new church is legit. 

"Is this church okay?" is what they're asking.

Of course, as the pastor of the church where I serve, the members seek my advice in these areas. I don't doubt other pastors have been asked the same questions about me, our church, and our campuses. Nevertheless, I have a responsibility to gracefully and truthfully answer the question.

In some cases, the answer is "I don't know." 

That is because I do not know. Go figure. I haven't attended a worship service there. I haven't met the pastor. I haven't been at any meetings with the pastor. I don't know them, and therefore, do not have enough information to give an answer.

However, in some cases, even without knowing the church or pastor personally, there is enough information online through sermons, doctrinal statements, theological beliefs, and social media postings to discern the primary teachings of the church, from the church.

As for music style or whether the church has stage lighting, a band, a choir, a wooden pulpit, a table, etc., I really don't care. I do care about what is (or is not) being taught regarding Christ, the Word, and the church.

Doctrine matters. 

It always has.

To be clear, I have a number of friends who are not Christians. I have friends who are Christian, but not Baptist. I have friends who are Baptist, but not Southern Baptist. I have friends who Southern Baptist, but not missionally focused. In other words, I actually do have friends and acquaintances who differ with me on issues of importance. I have even more that differ with me on issues that aren't that important.

Regarding these questions of validity when it comes to churches and those who claim to be called to preach, these are important. These are also things that will divide. Rightly so. 

In January of 2019, I will begin a doctrine series on Wednesday nights at our First Baptist Church of Orange Park campus. I will be dissecting some of the heretical doctrines of Christ that have existed for hundreds of years and how some of these have actually infiltrated the modern American (and non-American) church. 

Then, at a date to be determined, we will show the new documentary titled "American Gospel." This film is strong, clear, and needed. 

We have secured the license to show this legally and will be presenting it at our different campuses and in some of our home groups. Below are a couple of the trailers for the film.

 

American Gospel - Trailer 1 from Transition Studios on Vimeo.

 

AMERICAN GOSPEL from Transition Studios on Vimeo.

So, what about that new church? Well, in this case, the church in question is solid. Their pastor preaches the gospel of Christ unapologetically. Their doctrine is biblical. Their mission and church planting focus is spot on. I'm glad to know they're in our city as we serve and work together to glorify God. This is for His glory and the good of our city.

As for some of the other churches in our city? Well, some are good. Others feature little more than spiritualized snake-oil salesmen selling a false gospel of prosperity and me-ism that takes advantage of those who are less discerning and hoping for God to perform for them. They fit into the categories exposed in this film and should be avoided.

"Would it be better for my friend or family member not to go to church anywhere rather than go to one of those churches? They are really positive and the music is great?"

That's a great question and my answer would be YES. It is better they not go anywhere than sit under someone teaching lies. Though, I would pray that they would follow the drawing of God's Spirit and come to Him and unite with a legitimate church that preaches the gospel, lives it out, and seeks to serve the Lord fully.

These are challenging times. In a city where there are almost as many churches as pharmacies, chicken restaurants, and gas stations, the wise person will test the teaching and seek God's lead regarding where to attend and serve.


Garth Brooks, Notre Dame, and Your Christmas Service at Church

Last night while the big game for the NFL was broadcast on NBC and Hallmark was showing yet another Christmas movie, a country music superstar came out of self-imposed semi-retirement. The Garth Brooks Stadium Tour has begun and the concert recorded in the rain at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana in October aired on CBS last night. The production quality of Brooks' concert was incredible. He has been known for his live shows since breaking onto the scene over two decades ago. While other country singers would stand behind a microphone in their starched Wranglers while playing guitar and belting out hits (George Strait, Alan Jackson, et. al.) Brooks would wear the wrap-around microphone that he must have either borrowed from Madonna or the Drive-Thru worker at Chick-fil-A, run around the stage or at times, pull a Bon Jovi and fly above the crowd. Brooks is an entertainer for certain.

Whether you like his music or not, there's no denying he has appeal for many. The stadium was packed. It was raining. It was cold. And while I know that post-production can do some pretty amazing things, based on tweets and reports online from those who were in attendance, plus what was seen on television, the crowd LOVED the show.

Photo credit: tncountryfan on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC

So, what does this have to do with anything related to church, Christianity, worship, or anything else spiritual?

While watching last night, I said to my wife "Brooks has the crowd in his hand. He's no evangelist, but he's evangelizing and the crowd is 'amening" their approval." I followed up with "If he asked people to come down front to make a decision, they'd come in droves." This was not a condemnation on crusades or the traditional "come down the aisle" moment in many churches. I was just noting that what we were observing in this very well produced event was something that we have seen in religious settings as well (albeit with fewer people in the crowd.)

My friend and pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Dean Inserra tweeted as the concert was completing:

 

Dean hit the nail on the head in this comparison.

Some of you reading will be upset that I, a Baptist preacher, may seem to be condoning the message or lifestyle promoted in Brooks' songs. Well, I'm not. However, I do know the words of many of the hits he played. I like some more than others. Yet, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who actually has a radio in their vehicle, an iTunes or Amazon Music account or who has been alive for the past twenty years or so who does not know at least some of the words to "Friends in Low Places." 

Christmas at Church

No I do not recommend singing "Callin' Baton Rouge" at your Christmas Eve service. Yet, I do find some insight from this event that was on television last night. Spurred on by Dean Inserra's tweet, I recommend the following to pastors who are trying to find ways to connect with their communities during this Christmas season.

  1. Plan Well. Every community is different, so know yours. If you don't...you have more issues than Chris Gaines. Presuming you know the people in your community, plan a service that will connect with them and allow them to not only feel welcomed, but encouraged that there is a God who loves them deeply. If your service is planned for church people, you will only connect with church people (yours and those who are members of other churches.) It's easy to plan a church service for church people. Don't.
  2. Preach Clearly. Christmas sermons are sometimes the most difficult for pastors, because we (pastors) all too often try to be really creative and end up missing the point. Jesus is the point. He always is. He always must be. The "birth of Jesus" story is known by many, but don't presume it is rightly known by the crowd in your building. Some view the story of the nativity as little more than than a holiday fairy tale or myth on par with the Rudolph, Frosty, and Grinch stories. (BTW - I like all those stories and even the Charlie Brown one.) BTW - just because it's Christmas, don't leave Jesus as a baby in a manger. Get to the cross. Preach the resurrection. A little Easter at Christmas is needed by all.
  3. Provide the Familiar. Sing songs that people have heard. Is it a sin to sing "Jingle Bells"? I say no. However, sing the carols that glorify the Christ. Don't skip or ignore those. People have heard them. Many know the words. They may just sing along. The words point to Christ. Christ is the point, remember? Sing about him. Worship him with these classics. It's possible. And, as we saw with Brooks' incredible show, you don't even have to have the very best singer in town on the stage leading. You do need to be able to lead people to sing, however. In the age of performance worship and having to present the latest pop-song worship chorus, many in the room are left watching and missing the opportunity to worship with song. Vicarious worship is not the goal. The best worship leaders are the leaders who worship.
  4. Present the Decision. Don't forget to draw the net (that's an evangelism term that refers to giving people the opportunity to respond) and express to all who have attended your special Christmas Eve or seasonal service that God loves them. He sent his son. He wants to know them personally and they can receive something more than a temporal gift wrapped in paper. Life is available. Whether you allow people to respond by calling them down front, offering them a moment to meet with you following the service, giving them a link on your app to click, or a number to text does not matter. There are numerous ways to give people the opportunity to respond. Just don't leave it left undone. Otherwise, you will once again evaluate your service with your staff and say "We had a good crowd, but we're not sure if anyone made a decision and therefore, have no way to follow up." Yep - we've done this way too often.

What you don't need to have an effective Christmas service is the production budget of Garth. Don't be who you're not and don't fret that you don't have unlimited resources for smoke machines, lighting, or other effects. If you have those things, that's fine, but those are not the point when the true focus is clear.

So this Baptist preacher learned something from a country singer with hits about drinking, cheating, dancing, and a false narrative about prayer while performing on stage with a man dressed as a leprechaun at a Catholic university. 

Weird.

________________

Photo credit: tncountryfan on Visualhunt /CC BY-NC


What Is Holy Sexuality? - A Review of Christopher Yuan's Latest Book

Years ago I met Dr. Christopher Yuan for the first time. I was at a denominational convention where he and his mother had a booth set up to promote their ministry and book Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son's Journey to God. At the time, I was intrigued by the brief introduction to them and their story. Little did I know that my wife and I would be experiencing similar circumstances when our son expressed to us that he identified as gay. It was during this time I contacted Christopher and invited him to speak at our church. All in our family were encouraged by his message of hope. Christopher shared his personal story along with his parents during our morning worship service. That evening he led two seminars related to Christianity, the church, and LGBTQ+ individuals. It was during his presentations that I first heard Christopher use the term "holy sexuality." He used the term in his first book as well. This term is more than just another evangelical buzzword. As Rosaria Butterfield has said, this term is "a concept that changed the paradigm of what it means to live out God's best for us."

Yuan book

Just a few weeks ago, I received an advanced readers copy (ARC) of Christopher's newly released book Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God's Grand Story. I began reading and found myself highlighting phrases and paragraphs on almost every page. Dr. Yuan unpacks so much related to sexuality. While he addresses LGBTQ+ identifiers, his book is not focused solely on these. Sexual sin, whether homosexual or heterosexual is sin. Yuan states...

We cannot properly understand human sexuality unless we begin with theological anthropology. Anthropology, in general terms, is the study of humanity. Essentially, it's the human search to answer the important question Who am I?

All our thoughts and actions are influenced at some level by how we answer the question Who am I? This suggests a closer relationship between essence and ethics than many realize. The two inform each other. Who we are (essence) determines how we live (ethics), and how we live determines who we are.1

Dr. Yuan's solid emphasis on the gospel and identity as bestowed by God presents a firm foundation for the book. As an HIV+ man who had for years lived sexually promiscuous as a gay man, was a self-described partier and drug user, and eventually went to prison for dealing drugs, Yuan does not speak as one who views sin as superficial or overly-simplified. He writes and speaks as one who has been in the pit, experienced an undeserved rescue, and continues to live amazed at the grace and mercy offered from God. The main character in Dr. Yuan's story is not himself, but God. 

Some have declared Yuan's perspective on anthropology or ontology to be flawed. I have read declarations that he misuses data and scientific proof. Others who identify as LGBTQ+ see Dr. Yuan as a sell-out or a betrayer. The negative reviews of his books mostly feign to be intellectual analyses, but often reveal a personal vitriol against Dr. Yuan based on his current message and lifestyle.

Yet, for those who have actually read Yuan's writings (not just the two books here, but also his second book Giving a Voice to the Voiceless: A Qualitative Study of Reducing Marginalization of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Same-Sex Attracted Students at Christian Colleges and Universities) or heard him speak, it is clear that Dr. Yuan is not playing fast and loose with science, research, or historical aspects of biblical Christianity and sexual ethics. His revealed research and intelligent insight debunks any theory that he simply bases his beliefs on conservative, biblical talking points or Twitter-size hot-button phrasing. Does Dr. Yuan have a personal agenda? Absolutely. Every author does. Every Christian does. Dr. Yuan's agenda is not to harm others at all. His agenda is revealed in his writings clearly. It is simply to declare the message of the gospel well, unapologetically, without compromise, and fully in love. 

On a practical level, Dr. Yuan's latest book on holy sexuality should be read by any evangelical pastor seeking to minister well to those in the church or community desiring to better understand their LGBTQ+ friends and relatives without abandoning biblical fidelity. He addresses the reality of loving without affirming. For those who do not believe their friends or church families are impacted by this reality of culture, it is time to wake up. Many pastors would rather just not address these issues. Some who have done so end up doing more harm than good, that is certain. For pastors seeking to ignore the very real questions being asked by those self-identifying as gender fluid or any one of the many letters being expressed by the common LGBTQ+ identifier (or their loved ones) the fact is clear - you cannot remain silent. Your silence speaks loudly. 

Dr. Yuan's book is not only informational related to the biblical understanding of sexuality, but relatable, insightful, and practical. The included study guide provides real-life questions that can be addressed in small group studies. These all point to biblical answers and are firmly rooted in the gospel and a biblical worldview.

I agree with Rosaria Butterfield who stated in her review that this book is the "most important humanly composed book about biblical sexuality and godly living for our times."

I encourage every Christian with a loved one identifying as LGBTQ+ to read this book. I encourage every single adult Christian (heterosexual or same-sex attracted) to read this book to better understand the very real concept of holy singleness and holy sexuality. In addition to Dr. Yuan's clear and correct take on holy sexuality, his focus on the value and role of those whom God has called to singleness within the body of Christ is powerful and needed. He addresses head-on the idolatry that has overtaken some within the Christian church regarding the false elevation of marriage as essential for spiritual maturity.

Read This Book

There's more to unpack here, but for sake of space, I will end with "Read this book! It is needed and valuable."

The book is available at these sites and more: Amazon, Barnes and Noble,  CBD.

_________

1Christopher Yuan, Holy Sexuality and the Gospel, (New York: Multnomah, 2018), 9.


When A Christian Author Apologizes for His Best-Seller

The evangelical church world of the 1990s was transitional and unique. This was the era of huge youth groups which were used as draws for suburban families and the growth of ministries with expansive buildings, events, conferences, and matching t-shirts.

In the era of youth ministry defined by Super Summer, See You at the Pole, Night of Joy, EdgeTV, DiscipleNow Weekends, Fifth Quarters, and True Love Waits rallies came a best-selling book on relationships written by a twenty-one-year-old son of a national home-schooling leader. The book immediately became a best-seller. People like Elisabeth Elliot and Dr. James Dobson endorsed it. Churches were purchasing copies and providing them to students in their youth ministries. All the sudden even the concept of dating someone was considered sinful.

Harris
Joshua Harris' book I Kissed Dating Goodbye was everywhere. Well, at least everywhere in the conservative, evangelical Christian subculture that exists in our nation. I actually have a copy of the book in my office. I have had it since 1997 when serving as Student Pastor at the church here. 

Harris, in retrospect, shares in a TEDx talk...

I was twenty-one. I knew a lot, okay? I should probably mention at this point that I had been home-schooled my whole life and I had only been in one serious relationship at this point.

He goes on to say that there were things in the book that he still believes to be true. It's clear that some were benefited by what he had written. Yet, about two years ago, he discovered that a growing number of commenters on social media and in other areas within the bubble of his church-world expressed not that they were helped, but that they were harmed. 

That's a broad-stroke, but nevertheless, the reality exists.

Harris, a former pastor at an east coast megachurch resigned a few years ago to pursue seminary training. You can Google this to see more of that story, but by his own admission, as a forty-year old pastor, he realized that which had disdained and declared unnecessary (quality seminary training) was something he needed and was being led to pursue. But, that's another story.

The Book Has Been Discontinued

The best-selling book has been in publication since the original release in 1997. However, just over a month ago, Harris declared that he has requested his publisher stop printing the book. The publisher has agreed. 

It's a bold move and has caused a bit of question among those content on living in the subculture. Harris states:

In light of the flaws I now see in I Kissed Dating Goodbye, I think it's best to discontinue its publication, as well other supplemental resources tied to it (this includes the two books I wrote after it whose content is similar.) My publisher, whose encouragement in this process has been deeply meaningful to me, supports this decision and will not reprint the books after the current copies in their inventory are sold.

The Author Apologizes

So, what is wrong with the book? Why has Harris publicly apologized? For what is he apologizing?

He states it best here:

While I stand by my book’s call to sincerely love others, my thinking has changed significantly in the past twenty years. I no longer agree with its central idea that dating should be avoided. I now think dating can be a healthy part of a person developing relationally and learning the qualities that matter most in a partner. I recommend books like Boundaries in Dating by Dr. Henry Cloud and True Love Dates by Debra Fileta, which encourage healthy dating.

There are other weaknesses too: in an effort to set a high standard, the book emphasized practices (not dating, not kissing before marriage) and concepts (giving your heart away) that are not in the Bible. In trying to warn people of the potential pitfalls of dating, it instilled fear for some—fear of making mistakes or having their heart broken. The book also gave some the impression that a certain methodology of relationships would deliver a happy ever-after ending—a great marriage, a great sex life—even though this is not promised by scripture.

Harris' complete statement is found here.

Pendulum Swings

Most people understand the concept of the pendulum swings regarding popular opinion and cultural norms. In one era something becomes popular and people rally around it. In the next, the opposite is true. This occurs politically, culturally, and sociologically.

But should it occur theologically? It has. The liberalism spurred by the age of enlightenment rightly caused great concern. Some responded by swinging far to the other side, past a conservative and literal reading of Scripture to a legalistic base.

The fear now is that some (maybe the children of the legalists) are swinging too far to the other side and embracing a form of tolerance that ignores Scripture and absolute truth. It's always a fear, but then fear is always the motivator for the growth of liberalism and legalism. Maybe these two extremes are not that dissimilar.

Some fear the reaction to Harris' apology will be an increase in unbiblical sexual relationships and a tolerance for ungodly acts. I think those with this fear give more credit to Harris' influence that deserved. It's definitely more than he would claim.

Yet, there is something here in Harris' statement that deserves acknowledgment and kudos. 

The book emphasized practices (not dating, not kissing before marriage) and concepts (giving your heart away) that are not in the Bible. In trying to warn people of the potential pitfalls of dating, it instilled fear for some—fear of making mistakes or having their heart broken.

That statement is the key. When unbiblical models are declared biblical, sin occurs. Fear was the result. A generation of church kids were given good ideas that were not necessarily God ideas, yet were not provided the wisdom of proper discipleship to discern the difference.

Serial dating is not condoned as godly either, so be wise here. Yet, the reality that holy matrimony, though God's plan for many does not eliminate the reality of holy singleness. For some in the church subculture, the message has been clear - if you're not married, there's something wrong with you. Maybe some have held too tightly to Harris' book while abandoning the one that should be read which speaks truth unapologetically and without error (uh...I'm talking about the Bible.) 

I appreciate Harris' candor and honesty. His apology is well received and the journey he has taken to get to this point is worth study. 

For more info and to watch Joshua Harris' documentary click here.

 

 


Somebody's Feelings Will Be Hurt

For those from a certain generation, the term "Growing Pains" brings to mind a 1980s sitcom starring Kirk Cameron and Tracey Gold. The term originally referred to the aches and pains associated with the transition from childhood to adulthood brought on by the onset of puberty. These aches are most often in the legs and while uncomfortable are known to just be the normal process of physical maturation for healthy young people.

When it comes to spiritual maturity, there are growing pains associated with this part of the journey as well. For the past couple of months I have been preaching through Paul's letter to the church at Philippi. Chapters 3 and 4 speak clearly on the expectation that Christians are to mature in their faith. While a child-like faith is to be lauded, a childish faith is to be condemned. It seems that even in the first century, Christians were content on beginning the journey of faith, but as the days, months, and years went by, they found themselves no more mature than at that moment of spiritual rebirth. Paul uses his own experiences as encouragement for others to grow and move forward in faith. This is not an affirmation of what has been deemed "works theology" but the proper expectation of a growing Christian.

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Philippians 3:14-16 (ESV)

In chapter 4 of the letter, Paul calls out two women in the church. We don't know much about these women other than their names, Euodia and Syntyche. What we do know is that these women used to be friends. They're both Christians. They are both members of the same church. They actually served together along with Clement, with Paul on mission. The tragedy is that these women are now at odds. They are divided and apparently their division is so severe that Paul has heard about it over in Rome while in prison. 

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Photo credit: lundgrenphotography on Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

While we do not know what they are fighting over, we do know that whatever it is is so ridiculous that it holds nothing positive regarding eternity, Christianity, or the growth of the church. Their inability to reconcile has apparently placed the church in a dangerous position. People are likely taking sides. Those who used to worship together cannot even sit together now. Disruption and division now is known as the characteristics of this church, especially from those outside the church.

Here's what I believe happened. One of these ladies had her feelings hurt by the other, either intentionally or accidentally.

In this case, the division is between two women, but this type of argument and fight is not gender specific. 

A Promise You Can Bank On

As a longtime member of Baptist churches, I can promise you this - if you actually attend and participate in your local church, you WILL get your feelings hurt. Sometimes your feelings are hurt by those on staff. Sometimes they're hurt by other church members. Sometimes they're hurt because someone did something. At other times, it's become someone did not do something.

In the case of the first century, where churches are designated by cities, hurt feelings leading to fights in the church are even more severe than today in America. 

In most areas in the our nation today, there are other options. You know, other churches. I know there are some rural areas where this is not the case, but in our community there are almost as many churches as coffee shops and pharmacies. In the almost twenty-five years here in our community, I have seen hurt feelings dealt with in various ways, but one common way is to just leave church A and go join church B (or C, D, E, etc.) We have seen this revolving door in action for decades. The sad reality is that some church leaders actually view this as growth. Yet, these members soon get their feelings hurt again and end up at the next church promising creative worship experiences, relevant teaching, and incredible children's and youth ministries. In a culture of the easily offended, hurt feelings are more common than afternoon rain showers in Florida.

Yet in the first-century church, there were no spin-offs, splits, new works, or church plants to join down the street. So, what would happen? Well, the same thing that sometimes happens to the "losers" in church fights today. They just would stop attending. They would become names on a roll where a few months later someone would ask "Hey, whatever happened to so-and-so?"

That still occurs and when it does, God is not pleased, the kingdom is not moved forward, the great commandment and commission are forsaken, and immaturity becomes the norm.

Sometimes, the growing pains of being a Christian include learning how to trust God when your feelings get hurt. 

No one wants their feelings hurt. No one wants to feel disenfranchised. No one wants to be ignored, left out, voted down, or deemed a loser in an argument. Yet, these things happen. All the time. It is through these difficult times that God will bring us to a point of reconciliation and hopefully restoration. These are growing pains.

Sometimes we ache because of immature or poor decisions on our part. Sometimes the pain comes from another's decisions or actions. Christ understands that.

So be thankful for growing pains. Take Paul's advice on how to respond and move forward. Paul believed that Euodia and Syntyche would reconcile and that the church would step up to facilitate this. So, there's hope for you as well.

Here's God's antidote for these growing pains.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:4-8 (ESV)


"I Came To Get Things Ready for What Was Yet to Come" - Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

Twenty-five years ago (1993) the trustees of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in Louisville, Kentucky unanimously voted to hire Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. to serve as the ninth president of the institution. I was finishing up my Master of Arts degree from what was at the time the largest seminary in the world, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) in Fort Worth, Texas. I remember during that final spring semester hearing of the hiring of Dr. Mohler at Southern.

At that time, I had not heard of Dr. Mohler. He was known in Southern Baptist circles certainly, but I was a young student who surrendered to full-time ministry while in my small Texas church. What was happening in Kentucky never crossed my mind. What I did know was that SBTS was not the seminary to attend if I desired to be led by biblical inerrantists who were conservative in their theological understanding. I learned this while in junior high school in Fairborn, Ohio (my father was in the Air Force, thus the moves from Ohio to Texas.) Our pastor in Ohio had just retired from the Air Force and was going to continue his studies in seminary. The closest seminary was SBTS, but he made it clear that he would not be attending the seminary in Louisville. I overheard our pastor explaining why this was, and while I was not really focused on biblical inerrancy as an eighth grader, I knew that to attend a school where the Bible was taught as true, from beginning to end, was important. At least that's how I viewed it as a junior higher.

Nevertheless, as God continued to clarify his calling upon my life, I eventually found myself enrolled at SWBTS. I have fond memories of the time and while SWBTS was dealing with leadership issues as well, it was nothing compared to what was happening at Southern.

SBTS had just hired a 33-year-old man to serve as president. The conservative resurgence was in full effect and while many SBC universities and colleges were not reclaimed, the seminaries would be, and SBTS was perhaps the biggest challenge.

Dr. Mohler stepped into the leadership role and immediately was faced with opposition.

His steadfastness to biblical fidelity and theological truth is to be admired and lauded. In fact, in 1995 it appeared that his tenure as president could go down as one of the shortest in SBC history. Yet, he prevailed. The trustees affirmed his leadership. Following the loss of millions of dollars of endowments and having over 60 percent of the faculty leave (either willingly or through termination), the days at SBTS did not seem sunny. 

For those who remember, we understand how close we came to losing our first seminary to the throes of theological liberalism. 

Yet, Dr. Mohler persevered. God has since blessed SBTS in so many ways. 

Mohler

Dr. Mohler continues to lead the seminary well. Enrollment is up. The work being done through SBTS continues to impact the world for the sake of the Gospel. 

Dr. Mohler is not perfect. He would attest to that truth. Nevertheless, from my perspective, Dr. Mohler was God's man at SBTS twenty-five years ago. He is the right man for the role now. For all that he has done at SBTS, I am thankful.

I have just completed my Doctor of Educational Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Come December, I will have the privilege of shaking Dr. Mohler's hand on the stage in Alumni Chapel and then will be honored to wear not only the title of Doctor, but of SBTS alumnus. 

Many younger students at Boyce College (the undergraduate college of SBTS) and Southern likely do not know all that took place during those years in the mid-1990s. Even many older Southern Baptists may not have been aware. Yet, as we thank God for all he has done, and honor Dr. and Mrs. Mohler for their service to SBTS and all Southern Baptists, it is wise to look back and remember from where we have come, while looking ahead to a bright future.

Throughout this week, trustees, faculty, students, and alumni have celebrated Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr.'s twenty-five years of service as president of The Southern Baptist Seminary. I am thankful as well. Please take the time to view the video highlighting this occasion.

 

Thank you Dr. Mohler.


You're Not Special and God Does Not Need You

The title of this article may sound like one of the harshest statements to make to someone and could be considered mean-spirited, but before you ignore the rest of this posting, read through it and think about what this title means.

Back in 2012, English teacher David McCullough, Jr. became a trending name online and was even featured on numerous television shows related to the commencement speech he gave at Wellesley High School. It's a very good speech and if you have not heard it, it's worth the click to view here. McCullough's address was to a crowd of soon to be high school graduates. My address is hopefully wider.

We live in the era of self. Of course, there has never been an era not focused on self, but it seems that more and more, things are being said, written, sung, and declared that seem to elevate the individual higher and higher. Just look at the self-help books and resources available in bookstores (online and storefront) and libraries. There are so many things focused on self-esteem, self-worth, self-awareness, etc. that it is easy to see how marketers can take advantage of the era to make money. Apparently, many people struggle with so many "self" issues, that if you could just come up with an answer to one, you can bankroll your future and maybe keep your kids out of having to get student loans. 

Interior-of-railway-station-1

To declare that you're not special sounds insulting. Even among Christians. The Christianized version of all the self-focused resources out there end up filling shelves in church libraries (some churches still have those) and even sit on the bedside table of Christians seeking to have better and healthier life experiences here on earth.

But, there's a problem.

You're Not Special

Regardless what your mom told you.

You're not.

Oh, you are unique. Yes, God formed you in your mother's womb. Just like he formed Jeremiah in his mother's womb...which means you're not the first to have been formed uniquely in the womb. So, I would say that means you're not special. Right?

You have unique fingerprints, DNA, life experiences, right? Sure. You're the only you there every has been. (I can almost hear Mr. Rogers say it.) You're like a snowflake (just an example, not meant to be an insult here.) 

But you're not special.

In Heath Thomas and J.D. Greear's commentary on 1 & 2 Samuel, they state:

Contemporary North American society would have us all be Sauls instead of Davids. And for the most part, the church repeats these lies in Christianized forms. Thus we teach people that they are special, unique, like a snowflake. In a [more] profound sense, none of us is all that special. Yes, we are fearfully and wonderfully made in God's image, but we do the Bible a great disservice when we try to show how these truths lead to self-esteem boosting and puffing up our egos. Even the prophet Elijah, the greatest prophet in the Old Testament, was - according to James - "a man with a nature like ours" (James 5:17).1

One more thing...

God Doesn't Need You

That flies in the face of what many Christians have been taught overtly, or at least subtly. This normally occurs in church when a dearth of leaders and volunteers occurs (based on our last leadership team meeting, this only happens on days that end in "y".) Sometimes, it is expressed when there is a budget shortfall or a need for funds (again, all the time in our church and others I know.)

The call to service sounds like "God needs you." You know, if you don't do something right now, all that God had desired and planned and expected will fall apart. It's as if God is up in heaven wringing his hands just hoping you'll join the team. And if you are a Christian, he's really hoping you'll decide to serve in the church, in the ministry of need, or give a bit more in the offering. Come on! He's counting on you!

As for God needing us, it's a flawed perspective. It's an unbiblical treatise. God does not need. He is not needy. He is not lacking. We do not fill a "human-shaped void in his heart" to turn a common sermon illustration upside down.

God does not lack for personnel.

God does not lack funding.

God does not have to deal with a deficit. 

Perhaps this doesn't help you feel special, but the truth is that the gospel is not focused on making us feel special.

God Is Special

There it is. The special One is God alone. We are like those people in the Bible. You know, Abraham, Moses, Joseph, David, Peter, Ruth, Hannah, Nicanor (look him up), and more. They're heroes of the faith. They did some pretty amazing things. Yet, before they became really amazing, it was very clear ... they were all so very ordinary.

or·di·nar·y
ˈôrdnˌerē/
adjective
  1. with no special or distinctive features; normal.
    "he sets out to depict ordinary people"

This is hard to come to grips with for many. Let me encourage you to ignore the false "amazingness" that is often depicted on Instagram and Snapchat from your friends and others you follow. Those stories do little more than puff up the already puffed up and depress the ordinary people just trying to live faithfully. It's a pretty amazing tactic of destruction our enemy uses. 

Also, be careful. It's easy to become a "me-monster" when talking to others. It's our nature to one-up others just to espouse our "specialness." 

If I'm Not Special and God Doesn't Need Me....?

Then what? Right? This is a huge shift from what the culture (and parents and grandparents and coaches and teachers, etc.) tell us. In a world where everyone gets a trophy and everyone is special and unique, this harshly stated reality check is needed. But, be careful or you will miss the greatest thing related to this revelation. 

In our "not so special" world of being very ordinary, the very real and special God actually desires to know you and rescue you from the sin that infects you (and yes, we're all infected with this.) This solely special God loves you so very much and by grace, he invites you to know him and join him. And this invitation can take the ordinary and make it extraordinary, but not of ourselves, but by and through Him alone.

As stated by Thomas and Greear, "Christianity is a large collection of nobodies worshiping a great big Somebody."

Even those who have surrendered and have been redeemed need reminding of this...daily.

You are dearly loved, and you don't deserve it.

You're not special. God is.

God doesn't need you. God wants you.

_____

1Heath Thomas and J.D. Greear, Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary: Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Samuel (Nashville, B&H Publishing), 122-3.

 


The Real Results of the Kavanaugh Hearing

Some of you remember Robert Bork. I was a sophomore in college when President Ronald Reagan nominated Judge Bork to fill the vacated US Supreme Court seat of retiring justice Lewis Powell. I remember reading about Judge Bork and observing the process of his nomination and subsequent denial by the Senate as part of a US Government class I was taking that semester. I was intrigued that this man was being opposed in such a strong way by the senators of the opposition party to the President. It was a clear that a political wrestling match was occurring before the American people. Ultimately, Judge Bork was rejected and his name became a verb. From that moment, regardless which US President was serving, when a Supreme Court nominee faced challenging questions and opposition from those on the judiciary committee, the threat of being "Borked" has come up.

Now, another name may become a verb. Judge Brett Kavanaugh has gone from being well known in a small area of the legal and political world to being the lead story on all American news networks in addition to many international ones. His name has been trending on social media for over a week. 

Kavanaugh's Nomination

When US Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement earlier this summer, speculation began regarding whom President Trump would nominate. This is the second court seat to be filled in the Trump presidency and while there was clearly opposition to Justice Neal Gorsuch when nominated, he was approved and began serving on the court in April 2017.

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Justice Anthony Kennedy has long been considered the swing vote on the Supreme Court. President Ronald Reagan nominated Justice Kennedy after Robert Bork was "Borked" and when Reagan's second choice, Douglas Ginsburg withdrew his name when it was discovered he has smoked marijuana (boy - how times have changed.)

Kavanaugh's Accusers

For the first few weeks after Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh the nation was presented with images of the judge and his family with stories of their meeting, public service, and family stories centered around their daughters and sports.

Then an accusation of sexual misconduct and attempted rape appeared. At first, it seemed like an old-fashioned "whisper campaign." The accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a professor of psychology at Palo Alto University and research psychologist at the Stanford School of Medicine, claimed that while in high school she attended a party with other students from the area. At that party, one of the students, Brett Kavanaugh, attempted to sexually violate her. 

Once her story was made public, it spread like wildfire. It became the political weapon for the opposition to Brett Kavanaugh's nomination. 

If We Could Get Beyond the Politics

I won't go through all the machinations that have taken place over the past week regarding Dr. Ford's accusations and Judge Kavanaugh's denials. Those stories are provided in depth in various places.

Yet, on Thursday of last week both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh were given time to present their respective cases and answer questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee. Since this is 2018, the events were televised and livestreamed so that all who wished to be in the room, could be. 

I watched the spectacle on Thursday as did many Americans. I read the trending tweets and updates throughout the day and it became clear that many were not to be swayed in their opinions of either Dr. Ford or Judge Kavanaugh. In fact, some were clearly stating that regardless what may or may not have come from the questioning, their minds were made up.

Interesting. But, that's politics in a divided nation.

These two professionals were placed before the nation to discuss incidents that allegedly had occurred over 35 years ago. The events in question are terrible, traumatic, and not to be ignored nor taken lightly. Suddenly the mystery accuser was more than a blurry two-dimensional image copied from a social media page. At the same time, the smiling father and husband was presented as an accused man trying to clear his name. 

While these two individuals and their families were basically on trial for the nation, political posturing, preparation for future elections, and attempts to win in the "sound-bite" wars by the Senators at the dais. It was nasty. It was disturbing. It was embarrassing.

Who was credible?

Regarding Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh, I agree with Dr. Albert Mohler's take on this from Friday's "The Briefing" podcast:

There are objective criteria, but the judgments that we make about whom we consider to be credible, that turns out to be very subjective. It's subjective when we think about buying a car from an individual. it's subjective when we think about calling someone as pastor of a church. It's subjective when we think about the entire process of courtship and marriage. There are objective realities, but sometimes the most fundamental disposition of the heart is nothing that can be stipulated or measured in objective terms.

That doesn't mean, however, that it is not important that we face these kinds of questions, even running the risk of that kind of subjective interpretation.

Now, what was the interpretation made by the American people? It's going to be virtually impossible to come to know that except in general terms. But even in the immediate aftermath of the hearings, it became very clear that to most keen observers looking fairly at the process, both of these individuals came across as credible.

As I have talked with others, and from the mouths of Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh themselves, I believe that Dr. Ford did face a sexual attack that has scarred her since age 15. I have no idea if it was Brett Kavanaugh. He denies that vehemently. I believe that, under oath, each of these individuals have sought to tell the truth. I only believe that because they do come across as credible and because of the severity of punishment if found to be lying under oath. 

Can There Be Two Truths?

In the postmodern era of truthiness, we often hear of "your truth" and "my truth" and there is an acceptance of this. Yet, there is no such thing as individual truths that contradict. You cannot have your truth where 2+2=4 and then I have my truth where 2+2=8 and both be true. One will be true. The other will not. Or, in many cases, both will be untrue.

So, in the case of the high school party in question, there are two accounts where each individual affirms with 100% accuracy that their version is true. It cannot be. 

Does that mean someone is lying? Well, that's always a possibility. People lie all the time. It's part of the sin nature of humanity and has been documented since the days of Adam (Genesis 3). It could mean that someone is mistaken, unintentionally. Maybe that's my offering of the "benefit of the doubt?"

The Real Results of This Hearing

Regardless how this Supreme Court appointment plays out, I could not help but think of how this spectacle has played out and what this means for people in our communities, our families, and our churches. 

  • The #MeToo movement is real. We've seen the takedown of such notables in society as movie producers, actors, religious leaders, and politicians. This is actually good and has needed to occur. Based on how Dr. Ford has been utilized in this story by political power players, my concern is that women who have been attacked, molested, and traumatized will hear a message that unintentionally come across. That message is that their accounts are not valid and are best kept quiet. Sure, there are cases where women (and men) make up stories to draw attention to themselves. I'm not saying Dr. Ford has done so. Her testimony was credible. There's no reason to think that she had not experienced such an attack. 
  • An accusation is all it takes to take out someone. This is an unfortunate result of the fast-growing #MeToo movement. In this moment, an accusation of misconduct can and has resulted in men (mostly, but women as well) being judged in the court of public opinion, regardless of verifiable proof of wrong actions. In some cases, jobs have been lost, positions of influence abandoned, and a public trust forsaken.
  • Politics is dirty. It always has been, but these hearings have presented a posturing for future power along with a "civil" debate from false friends who are at times more concerned with holding onto their positions of influence rather than seeking what is best for the nation (regardless how many times they state that they are doing what they're doing for the good of the nation.) Though this is a generalized statement and it is easy to pick on politicians at times, there were and are some on the dais and serving in our state and nation who rise above the rest. The discerning eye and ear can find the outliers.
  • There is no condemnation for those in Christ (Romans 8:1) but there are consequences. If you were to have watched the hearings and could possibly set aside the sexual misconduct accusations (you cannot, but for the sake of this point, work with me here) you see a man who has had a thriving and successful career. For over 30 years in public life, he has been lauded and affirmed. He has received many accolades and awards. By all accounts, he has been a model husband, father, and citizen. But, then his teenage self is presented. His yearbook photo is presented for all to see with a paragraph of personal account next to it. This is in his own words, printed in his high school yearbook. There are inside jokes, likely innuendo, and references to what many would say are "typical American high school antics" from the 1980s. He testified that he drank beer as a teenager and that he and his friends would attend parties. He used language back in high school that would be inappropriate to put on this blog post (by his own admission) and was defending his honor while his 18-year-old self stared back at him in a blown up photo from his yearbook. I could not help but think how each of the Senators questioning him were praying that no one dug up their old yearbooks or brought stories to the forefront of things they had done decades prior. Yet, that's not the point. The point is that the sins of the past remain sins of the past. While forgiveness is complete in Christ and there is no condemnation for us in Christ Jesus, there is still this reality that consequences this side of heaven remain. As an 18-year-old I didn't get that. In fact, I likely didn't care. As a 50-year-old, now sounding like the old guy imparting words of wisdom to the younger generation, now more than ever the message is to live holy. The culture celebrates youth and hands out permission to misbehave and "sow one's wild oats" or whatever the modern term may be, but sin remains sin and there are always consequences. So, whether or not Kavanaugh did what Dr. Ford has accused him of in this case does not eliminate the reality that he is now defending the acts of his 18-year-old self in areas that likely are indefensible (maybe personally excusable or justifiable, but that's different.)
  • The collateral damage is severe. In each individual's case (Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh) there are others who are hurt due to the alleged actions and the subsequent televised accounts. I'm not speaking of the public in general, but of family members, dear friends, and even children. 
  • Half the nation will be happy. The other half will be angry. Whether Judge Kavanaugh becomes Justice Kavanaugh or not, there will be no unity in our nation. We really didn't expect there to be anyway, but this story will remain in the annals of our nation for decades to come. If we're still talking about Robert Bork and Justice Clarence Thomas based on their appointment hearings, rest assured that people will be talking about Kavanaugh for years to come.

The Church in the #MeToo Era

The church cannot remain silent on issues of sexual misconduct and morality. In an age where Catholic bishops have become the sick punchlines for inappropriate jokes regarding sexual abuse of children, the world sees all churches and Christians in the same vein. This is not unlike in the past, but regarding sexual misconduct (i.e. rape, sexual abuse, ignoring "no", adultery, etc.) the church often remains on the sideline refusing to enter the fray. Perhaps this is due to the inability to talk biblically on subjects without devolving into political banter? Maybe it is fear-based, knowing that stories within the local church that have been ignored will come to light? Regardless, to ignore this darkness in our world is to essentially refuse to shine light where it's needed. <TWEET THIS>

Regarding Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh - these people need God's people praying for them. The church must remove the robe of political partisanship and pray for these two image-bearers of Christ. Pray for them individually and for their families. In the meantime, trust God that ultimately, truth will set us all free.


Nothing's Going As Planned...That's Normal

I began preaching through Paul's letter to the church at Philippi in September. The overarching theme of this incredible, God-breathed book is joy. I knew this. I have read the book prior (a few times) and it should come as no surprise that the theme of the book is the same it always has been. In case you didn't know, there is no revision to the book - it's always been about joy. Nevertheless, as I read through this book now, studying it for personal edification in addition to seeking God's lead in preaching through it, I am struck by the fact that joy sometimes seems so elusive in my life.

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Now, you may have no problem with your joy quotient. You may be that person who always sees the glass half-full. Maybe your glass is overflowing (sounds like Psalm 23) and you have this holy perspective that is right and wonderful. I envy you. Wait...that's probably a sin. Hmmm...I'm excited for you and want to be like that. There, that's better.

God is so very good and gracious, and as just since beginning this series, I am awestruck at how joy remains my choice.

Yep - it's on me.

Joy is not something that just happens. It's not what we drift toward. Joy is intentional. It's a choice. It's a response, not to circumstances, but to God. And joy is not defined as a giddy happiness that pretends everything is okay. That's more of a Pollyanna perspective. Joy is a contentedness that keeps us focused on the one who is truly in control.

Paul, while writing this letter to a church that he dearly loved should have been on their prayer list (he probably was) but he makes it known that they are on his prayer list. He's praying for them, for his friends, his brothers and sisters in Christ, this new church that he helped launch and was instrumental in growing and leading...all while he is in prison. It's likely a prison in Rome. Some have declared that it may have been more like house arrest, as if that lessens the severity of what he is experiencing. Paul is chained to a guard. He is imprisoned. His freedoms are gone. His rights...well, what rights? This was the first century, not America so rights are not highly regarded.

This morning as I was reading from Paul David Tripp's excellent devotional book New Morning Mercies, I could not help but see how God was once more getting my attention on a subject that apparently I need constant reminding of.

Some thoughts from Tripp...

What captures your mind controls your thoughts and dominates the desires of your heart.

That which dominates your meditation shapes the way you view yourself, life, and God, and your view of those things shapes the choices you make and the actions you take.

It is not biblical faith to try to convince yourself that things are better than they actually are. It is not biblical faith to work to make yourself feel good about what is not good. Biblical faith looks reality in the face and does not flinch.

On the other hand, there is a crucial difference between facing hard realities and allowing those realities to dominate the meditation of your heart (see God's counsel to Joshua, Josh 1:1-9). Here's what biblical faith does: it examines reality, but it makes the Lord its meditation. It is only when you look at life through the window of the glory of the One who has been the source of your meditation that you see reality accurately. The more you meditate on your problems, the bigger and more insurmountable they seem to be. Meditating on God in the midst of your trouble reminds you once again that the God to whom grace has connected you is magnificent in his grandeur and glory. He is infinitely greater than any problem you could ever experience. Then your responses are shaped by his glory and not by the seeming size of your problems.1

Have you ever read a Scripture passage or devotional and thought "Wow! It's like that was written just for me." Yeah, me too. That's what this was like and as I continue to pray and study the book of Philippians I am reminded that my joy is not contingent on my circumstances. This is because so often things do not go as planned (by me.) Paul (the Bible guy, not Tripp in this case) didn't plan to go to prison, I am sure. He didn't plan to be shipwrecked, run out of town, stoned, or even have that "thorn in the flesh" but he did. And despite all that, he had a a faith, a biblical faith as Tripp calls it, that gave him proper perspective. 

That's the Christian life. That's normal.

It doesn't necessarily fill up stadiums or sell books, but it does allow for a joy that is indescribable and a lasting faith.

So choose joy today (and tomorrow and the next day). It's your choice. 

______________

        1Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2014). September 25.

 


The Blessing of Qualified Deacons Who Serve

It is the time of year once more in our church where the members will prayerfully nominate biblically qualified, faithful men to serve in the office of deacon. We recognize two offices within the church - pastors (elders) and deacons. 

It is at this time of the year I sometimes feel like Bill Murray in the movie "Groundhog Day." We have been nominating deacons to serve in our church for decades. This is something that has occurred every single year that I have been here (the past 25 years) and for many years prior. Yet, every year the same questions come up regarding qualifications, expectations, and responsibilities of the men who serve.

Each year, the answers remain the same. At least the core answers do, for those are based on the only passage in Scripture where qualifications of deacons is given (1 Timothy 3.)

So, as we prepare for this time once more, we must go back to Scripture to ensure we understand what is required for men who answer this high calling for the lowly position.

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Often when looking at the qualifications for deacons, we begin reading in verse 8 of chapter 3 while ignoring the qualifications for pastors (elders) listed in the first portion of the chapter. While these are two distinct offices, there is a connecting phrase in verse 8 that leads the reader to see that which is required of pastors is true for deacons as well. That phrase is "Deacons likewise must be..."

While the offices of pastor/elder and deacon have been affirmed in the modern church, the roles of the offices have often been misunderstood, if not fully modified. Based on the New Testament, the pastor/elders are the primary spiritual leaders of the local church. Pastors are to teach or preach the Word and shepherd the souls of those under their care (Eph. 4:11; 1 Tim. 3:2; 5:17; Titus 1:9; Heb. 13:17).

Deacons are to serve. The church needs deacons to offer practical, logistical support and service to the pastors and the church body so that the pastors may focus on the study of the Word of God and prayer. 

The Similarities of Offices

It is clear as one reads through the passage that character counts. Men who serve as pastors and men who serve as deacons are held to high standards of character. They are to be proven, Christian men who are dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy, holding to sound faith and doctrine, and blameless. They are expected to lead their families well and, if married, to have wives who are above reproach as well. Clearly, if a moral character qualification is listed for elders, it is expected of deacons as well. 

The Differences of Offices

The character qualifications are similar, but the roles and expectations of the offices do differ in some significant ways. The most distinguishing difference in the passage is found in 1 Timothy 3:2 where pastors are required to be "apt to teach." 

This has caused confusion for some in that some churches have required their deacons to be serving in a teaching capacity in the church. What deacons are called to do is "hold" to the faith (1 Tim. 3:9).  The office requirement is clear on holding strongly to the doctrines and mysteries of the faith. The passage clearly suggest that deacons do not have an official teaching role in the church.

Nevertheless, while a deacon may not actually be leading a small group or Bible study in the church, he must have the capacity to answer questions regarding biblical truth and doctrine. He must be able to share this truth with others. He should also be willing to serve where needed in the local church...and that may be in a teaching capacity (for various age groups.) 

Character & Doctrine Matters

The deacon is an office of necessity so that the members of the church are served well. The pastor ensures they are taught well. God has positioned these offices in his church for his glory and the good of the church. 

So, as the questions come, the answers remain consistent. There are interpretative variances on some of the qualifications. For example, while "husband of one wife" literally means "a one-woman man" some churches have read this to mean that a divorced man is not qualified for the office (this is our church's understanding.) Other churches have held this to mean a man should be married to only one woman at a time, which was an issue in the day it was written and will likely be again as marriage laws and redefinitions of acceptable relations continue to occur. Some hold that if a man became a believer after a remarriage, he qualifies. 

Our church also has chosen to refrain from the drinking of alcoholic beverages for all pastors and deacons. While we concur that drinking alcoholic beverages is not a sin, we acknowledge that in our culture the command to ensure we not be stumbling blocks to newer believers has led to the continuation of this guideline. 

While the "Groundhog Day" feeling continues, there are things that come up during this season of "deacon nomination" that causes me to reevaluate our guidelines, processes, and roles in our church.

Things We Need To Reconsider

  • GET RID OF THE TERM LIMIT - We have "inactive deacons" and I keep looking in Scripture to see where that is validated. Our practice, as with many legacy churches, is to call a man to serve for a "term" as a deacon. In our case, it's for three years.  It seems to me the concept of "inactive" is wrong. Now, there are cases where a man should step down from service. Obviously, the abandonment of solid doctrine, immorality, divisiveness, or opposition to pastors (who are leading biblically) would be reasons for a removal from office. However, a year off after three years on seems to be nothing more than a passive way to remove men from office without having to address personality conflicts or more importantly, issues such as those listed above.
  • STOP NOMINATING THE UNQUALIFIED - The process of nomination is challenging. Yet, there are men nominated by well-meaning church members each year who are not qualified for the office. 
  • STOP TRYING TO FILL A QUOTA - We have abandoned this, but many churches still are focused on having the right number of men as deacons a required by their by-laws. The church is better off having the right men, even if it's a smaller number, than a large group of men who do not qualify.
  • SELECT QUALIFIED DEACONS WHO ALREADY SERVE IN THE CHURCH - Calling a man who does nothing in the church with the hopes he will once he is called as a deacon is akin to giving a person who never attends small group a teaching position in hopes that he/she will start attending regularly. It's futile. It's wrong. It lowers the bar. 
  • CALL TO REPENTANCE THOSE THOSE WHO HAVE SERVED, BUT WON'T NOW - There are some who do not serve actively due to health or serious familial reasons. Then there are the men who refuse to serve for reasons that are less than godly. A deacon who has served in the past but won't currently due to differences with pastoral leadership, anger, laziness, or simply a desire to not serve within the church, must be called to repentance. Why? Because this is sin. If the man has disqualified himself from the office, that too must be addressed. However, it seems that at times, certain men are begged by other church members to serve again as they did prior to their refusal to be "active" once more, but to do so without calling them to repentance is to affirm the sin keeping them out of the office. 

The Bible charges pastors with the tasks of teaching and leading the church. The deacons role is more service-oriented. By handling such issues within the church, the pastors are freed up to focus on shepherding the spiritual needs of the church. Deacons are a blessing. They honor God through their service to him and his church.


When Everything Offends

We are now living in an era of offense. It seems that everyone is just one tweet or Facebook post from being totally offended at … well, everything. This age of offense seems to be leaving us with an inability to have discourse. It’s not that humanity had ever mastered this in the past, but the immediacy of posts with responses typed in anger and frustration now has seemingly become the norm.

Last week it was In-N-Out Burger that offended some, so a boycott was called (then quickly recounted when it became clear that not eating an “Animal Style” In-N-Out Burger when you have the opportunity (I live in Florida, so I only get these when I travel) was not worth boycotting. The boycott was called by the head of the California Democratic Party through a tweet because the restaurant chain had made donations to the state’s Republican party. However, it was soon disclosed that that the restaurant chain had also donated to the state’s Democratic party. Dakota Smith and Melissa Etehad wrote in their Los Angeles Times article [Read Here] about the politicization of hamburgers. They shared the quote from In-N-Out Executive Vice President Arnie Wensinger.

“For years, In-N-Out Burger has supported lawmakers who, regardless of political affiliation, promote policies that strengthen California and allow us to continue operating with the values of providing strong pay and great benefits for our associates.”

So much for just being able to enjoy a burger.

Calls for boycotts are not new. They’ve been going on for generations. These, in my opinion, were needed and valuable.

  • Back in 1769 Philadelphia merchants began boycotting Great Britain over a little thing known as “taxation without representation.” You may have heard of that.
  • In 1933 the American Jewish Congress boycotted Nazi Germany for what should be obvious reasons.
  • Throughout the 1950s and 1960s black Americans launched and participated in various boycotts due to the racial segregation issues in the United States. African-Americans were not the only ones participating, but definitely were prominent in turning a boycott of Montgomery busses into a movement.
  • In South Africa a boycott of South African universities was launched in the 1950s and lasted until the 1990s.

There are many others. Some were connected to sporting events such as the 1980 Olympic games when the US boycotted the Moscow games. Payback came in 1984 when the Soviet Union stayed away from the Los Angeles Games.

The list of historical and current boycotts is long. Just Google it or check out the Wikipedia page.

In Southern Baptist life, there have been boycotts. The most prominent one to come to mind was against the Walt Disney Company in 1997. The national news presented it as a mandated boycott, not understanding the autonomy of local churches and the role of resolutions. Eight years later the boycott was ended, but I’m not really certain of its effect. In fact, I don't believe it was effective at all. For SBC churches in Florida, we never really saw a decline in Disney annual passes or weekends at the park. Perhaps Universal Studios benefitted when Night of Joy (the Christian concert event at Disney) began losing attendees while Rock the Universe grew in popularity. Who knows?

Believe

Burning Nikes

Now we have another boycott happening. This one has to do with Nike and their recent decision to feature former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick as the face of their “Just Do It” campaign.

Boy, has this one blown up.

As I watch the vitriol flow online, I see a number of camps developing. These groups are dividing politically, racially, regionally, and in various other ways. Some are angry at  the NFL based on the league’s inability to address the anthem kneeling. Others are angry at Nike because they are paying Kaepernick. Some are stating the Nike promo is disrespectful (that’s the nicest way to put it) of those who have served our country in the military. Others are angry because of the disrespect from some to those who serve our communities in law enforcement. Still others are angry due to the accounts of police brutality that have occurred in our nation. Others are simply stating the reality of the dissolution of community and growing violence in our neighborhoods.

The lists of the angry are long, varied, and at some level are all valid.

Pastors are trying to find ways to address these issues. As varied as the responses above are the responses from pastors and spiritual leaders. Some are wrapping themselves in flags (figuratively.) Others are wearing their Nike shoes as a way to protest (or support.) Some are ignoring the issues. Others are ignoring the Scriptures (unfortunately, but not just due to the current newsfeeds.) Some sound more like political pundits for the party of choice than as proclaimers of the Word.

What are we to do?

The answer to that question is as varied as the personalities in our nation.

We can get angry and stay angry. That’s the easy thing to do.

We can ignore the problems in our society, hide in our church buildings, and talk (or post) about those “out there” who are the problems.

We can remain silent when wrongs occur, believing that it’s not our problem or our issue. However, here’s what happens when this is the response. When the church is silent, someone else will speak into the void. This is always the case and unfortunately, we (the church) have allowed this many times in the past.

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TWEET THIS

Maybe, these options would be better …  

We can pray for wisdom.

We can speak truth.

We can love our neighbors.

We can love our enemies.

We can engage the world for the sake of the Gospel.

We can be the church we must be.

Here’s the problem when we choose well – the world won’t like it. In fact, some in your church won’t like it. There will be pushback from all sides. Some will claim you’re being too political (even when you are seeking strongly to stand only on the truth of the gospel) while others will declare you’re not political enough. Some will call you a political conservative and align you with an agenda or person you did not choose. Others will state you are a political liberal and put you in a camp that you would not wish be in.

Outside of politics, you’ll be chastised for the shoes you wear or don’t wear, the games you watch or don’t watch, and perhaps even the fast-food restaurant you choose to eat at, or not.

Should Christians Boycott?

That’s a good question and rather than re-hash the subject, I recommend you click the link here and read Joe Carter’s post from a number of years ago on The Gospel Coalition’s website.

Does This Help?

Does this post fix everything? Does it fix anything? Well, probably not really.

Yet, it’s forcing me to have a conversation (at least a contemplation) about what we, as Christians must be doing, or at a minimum talking about. Consider this self-counsel.

At some point the concept of living missionally means we must actually be “in the world” while seeking to be not of it. Sadly, many seemingly have so strongly lamented being in the world that they have sought and accomplished the creating of  safe places that effectively leave them sequestered somewhere in a “Christian” version of everything while not being truly Christian in anything.

In the meantime, I would say that we as Christians, to change the Nike slogan just a bit, must truly believe in Someone (Jesus) who sacrificed everything so that we may have life. Then, we must live that life for the glory of God, knowing that will be for the good of His church and others.


If "PRAY" Is Simply a Trending Hashtag, We Are Doing This Wrong

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

It is at times like this when community leaders, news agencies, and even those with no belief in God call for things to be done. The word “pray” becomes a hashtag that trends for a few days as many use social media to state we must #PrayForJacksonville. I believe that and am even sharing that statement, but the church of Jesus Christ must not fall into the trap of seeing prayer as a weak, viral response to tragedy. While city leaders and national politicians seek to piggyback on the tragedies of Friday’s shooting at the Raines-Lee high school football game and the terrible act of violence Sunday at The Jacksonville Landing, the call for the church is to do more than declare the world as dark and sin as bad.

Pray for jax

One Jacksonville city leader stated “We really need to talk about God. I’m asking the faith-based community to step up.” I cannot disagree with that, but the church must understand that to “step up” means we must first kneel before God together, seeking His face, His will, while confessing our sins of complacency and self-promotion.

This is not a political issue. These issues are not solely about safety and seemingly random acts of violence.  This is about sin. For some the sad reality is that sin affects not just the one committing it, but others (family, friends, and sometimes bystanders with no connection to the individual.)  

The Christian community should not be surprised when evil things occur. This is how it has always been. Yet, the church cannot remain sequestered in our buildings from the community we have been called to engage for the Gospel. Church, it is time to step up. It begins with prayer (real, repentant, convictional, worshipful prayer) and follows with stepping outside our buildings to engage, in love, the community we have been called and placed within to serve.

This is for the glory of God alone.

This is for the good of our city, our families, our friends. 

Pray for Jacksonville please. Pray. Step up. Kneel down. Step outside and be the light in the darkness.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." Matthew 5:14-16 (ESV)


Why I Quit Men's Ministry

About fifteen years ago I was reading one of the popular men’s books available and selling well in Christian bookstores at the time. I was challenged and encouraged and even traveled out west to attend a retreat hosted by the author. At that point in my life, I needed this message and God used it to affirm his calling upon my life.

Prior to that, like many Christian men, I read a few books about living as a godly man that had become popular.  This was during the growth of the men’s ministry movement that was grew due to ministries like Promise Keepers and other conference events. The focus on biblical manhood was needed then. It still is. Pastors like Robert Lewis and his Men’s Fraternity material proved very valuable. I began leading Men’s Fraternity groups at our church and launched a men’s ministry called “Battle Ready” through our church. This led to retreats, outings, conferences, and small group studies over the years.

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One of the annual highlights for our men was Battle Ready Weekend. We would gather in Tennessee for three days of solid, no-holds-barred biblical teaching, personal reflection, along with some fun experiences like paintball, white water rafting, zip lines, and more.

The themes of the teachings were the same every year. In fact, most of the biblically-based books and resources for men’s ministry tend to be similar. There’s a focus on living out one’s identity in Christ, refusing to be passive, delving into spiritual wounds, being a godly husband, and leaving a legacy as a godly father.

I have fond memories of these days. The gospel was proclaimed. Biblical teaching on being the man God intends was offered. Wives started signing their husbands up stating the benefits to their marriages were clear. Children had conversations that previously had gone left unsaid.

We began inviting our sons to join us on these weekends. The shift was needed and those with sons were provided opportunity to speak into their lives in ways that they often desired, but were unable or unwilling to do so. In retrospect, the moments between fathers and sons proved to be powerful and impactful.

Then things began to shift.

Preparing for the weekend trips became an administrative headache. I was the keynote speaker, but also the schedule developer, the rooming reservationist, the event planner, and over every little detail of the weekend events. This was due to my own immaturity and weaknesses in leadership. I was “leading” but not leading well. I had created a retreat for me and ended up inviting other guys along. It was good. It was not best.

Then, I invited my son. This became the father-son weekend I desired. Those things I had challenged other fathers to do was now to be modeled by me – the pastor, the men’s ministry leader, the founder of Battle Ready.

My son was in elementary school. He would soon be in junior high and would attend with me annually until his senior year in high school.

We did have some good times. There were a couple of years when he and I would leave early and arrive at the campground a few days before the bus full of friends from church arrived. It was just the two of us. I tried to make it a memorable week. Maybe I was trying to create something that I felt was missing in our lives? Perhaps I was trying to connect with him before it was too late. Hindsight is 20/20, but it also leads me to over analyze in ways that are often not helpful. So there's that.

We came home and my wife asked “How was your time together?” I said “Okay. It was good.”

I meant it. Truly. But she was expecting something profound to happen. When I failed to reveal the “moment” that connected us well, she seemed disappointed. In truth, I was too.

There was a gap. It wasn’t my son’s fault at that time. I really don’t think it was mine either. I’m not sure what the problem was. Well, looking back, it was something I had created with my overly busy schedule likely (I’ve been told that numerous times) and was trying to make up for lost time.

Words from Robert Lewis would resonate with me. He would say “An involved dad is not a strategic dad.” Boom. That was me. I was definitely involved. I coached his team. Went to school events (I did miss that one story time in elementary school that leaves a scar in our story) sponsored him and traveled with him on school field trips, would adjust my schedule to his, and took him with me on occasion when I could. But…that wasn’t necessarily strategic.

Then something happened.

THE WORST MOMENT IN MY LIFE (SO FAR)

Up to this point, it would be categorized as the worst moment in my life. For my son, it wasn’t good either.

There was a divide between us. He was in high school.

He made choices that fell outside our (my wife and I) understanding of biblical fidelity. There were many things that we never saw coming. Our family was under spiritual attack. A trap was sprung. It was an incredibly effective one as well. We were in a battle and while it manifested as being between my son and I at times, the true battle was deeper, more sinister, and spiritual.

Many in our community and even some in our church didn’t (and do not) understand this. I’ve discovered there is a two-dimensional narrative that some believe to be true. Based on the portions of our story known by some, opinions were developed. Judgments were made. Depending on who you talk with, varying characters in this storyline were the wrong ones and the bad guys. That’s always the case. Since living through this journey I’ve been convicted of times when I have made the same false judgments on others based simply on one version of a story, or perhaps only what I have observed.

I have learned. I hope I now know better. Looking back, confirmation has been given by God regarding our rightness to stand firmly on his Word and truth. Sin does not live in grey areas and of that we have been affirmed. We also have this amazing ability to see how we could have responded better (not by affirming sin) at times. That remains a continual struggle, since as you may know our story continues (just as everyone reading this is living in a continual story.)

Our son eventually graduated from high school. He went to university and excelled. He continues in graduate studies and I have no doubt that he will continue to do well. He may actually be the most intelligent young man I have ever met. He is gifted and talented. He is also perhaps the best friend an individual could have.

Yet, the fellowship between father and son is absent. I don’t say those words lightly or with animosity. It’s just a reality. It’s not a finality, but today it remains.

MEN'S EVENTS

I continued to plan men’s weekends even after my son went away to school and was beyond wanting (or pretending to want) to attend. I remember the last one I planned. It was in eastern Tennessee at Doe River Gorge. This is a beautiful location with many amenities. The cabins are perfect. I stayed in an old train caboose that had been converted into a hotel-type room. I had other men teaching sessions so it was not all on me. We had a good group attend and it was not unlike previous gatherings.

But…something was wrong.

I was tired. I was no longer being renewed through these weekends. I was burning out. And I felt like a hypocrite.

I was teaching the Word and as our men know, was always pretty transparent in my sessions. I would share weaknesses and mistakes and where I saw my needs for grace. Yet, in this story as a father, I felt like a failure. I was seeking to model the “how to” of being a godly husband and father and lo and behold, there was this monkey wrench thrown into the machinery.

“Where’s your son?” was asked by a few of the men. It was asked by some whom I thought knew what had happening and the journey we were on. However, these are men. I’m guilty as well. Sometimes we just don’t catch the obvious or hear the details.

Battle Ready Weekend ended and I began my drive home. I didn’t ride the bus. I drove alone. I arrived early to Tennessee and spent three days alone in prayer and just trying to gather my thoughts or anything else that would help. I actually found myself ready to end my weekend and head home about a day before all the men arrived. NOTE – if you want to leave before everyone arrives, that’s not a good sign.

Overall the weekend went well.

But, I was done.

I just could not do it again.

That was 2015.

I am still way too busy it seems. While things aren’t exactly as I desire them to be, God has done a work upon and within me. I went back to school and am almost finished. I’m older and hopefully a bit wiser. The crisis of life pushed me even deeper into God’s Word. I still have some men’s ministry books. Actually I have a shelf full of them, but have found greater insight into living for Christ directly from the Bible rather than from books about the Bible. Go figure. As a pastor, you’d think this would be obvious.

I still read these books and others. I have read biographies of great men of the faith. I have discovered once more what I have already known. The doubts and fears I have faced, the inadequacies that seem to be more and more obvious, the spiritual attacks, and more are not unique to my story. The perfect pastor’s family does not exist. It’s a façade. There is only one who is perfect, and His perfection is my strength. His grace is my sufficiency.

BACK AT IT

I’m not hosting another men’s weekend. We may never do those again like we did in the past. In fact, most of the men who were key to making it happen have left the church or moved elsewhere. Some have clearly followed God’s lead elsewhere to serve. Others have just been taken out of the story through moral failure or the abandonment of biblical truth. For those I grieve.

While I’m not hosting, I have agreed to speak at a men’s weekend. A portion of our annual attendees lived in North Carolina and under the leadership of my friend Travis Bowman, Battle Ready NC was created. I am so excited for what he has been able to do through this ministry. This year I will be speaking at the opening session for the men attending. It takes time to get from Florida to North Carolina. I will once again take a long drive alone for prayer and reflection. Yet, this time I believe God is calling me to do this for His glory and for the good of the men in attendance. Maybe it’s for the good of my family as well. I hope so.

I quit men’s ministry. Maybe I don’t need “men’s ministry” but I know what I do need, and I know the men in our church and community need this too. I need to walk humbly with God as a man with a strong faith, a biblical worldview, with gospel-soundness and a graceful love of others.

It’s kind of funny, in a sick way. I was telling men to be “Battle Ready” and was blindsided by the enemy who proved I was not. Yet in my weakness He is strong and where I have no capacity to be battle ready, I know he is.

The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent. Exodus 14:14 (ESV) [1]

_______________

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ex 14:14). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.


The Private-Public Divide May Be Killing Your Church

In America, the debate has raged for decades over the separation of church and state. I know that phrase is not in the US Constitution and it has become a tool for divisiveness and used out of sorts in many ways. However, this post is not about the separation (or presumed separation) of the church and state. This is about the private-public divide within the church or better yet within individual Christians.

Public Life

Speaking of local church members specifically, each of us has a public life, a persona that is known by others in the community, at work, or school. This may be due to volunteering at the elementary school, coaching youth soccer, serving on the homeowner association, being in the Rotary, or numerous other options.

These roles are not bad. In fact, they're wonderful. Christians should be seen and known in these venues throughout the community. 

Private Life

This is where it gets really personal. This is the life within our family, hopefully our church, alongside our friends and loved ones, etc. This is where our faith resides, since it is a personal walk with Christ. This is where viewpoints, convictions, struggles, and even sins live. They're private.

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Photo credit: pea. on Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Encouragement vs. Enablement

Bishop Lesslie Newbigin, educated at Cambridge and commissioned for missionary service by the Church of Scotland in 1936 to India for the following four decades had written much about what is now termed missional living and church/community engagement. When he returned from India to England in 1974 he wrote numerous articles and books over the subsequent two decades. The focus of his writing dealt with the question of how an authentic encounter between the gospel and western culture could take place.

He surmised that one of the fundamental issues plaguing modern western culture was the separation of public and private domains of life. Corresponding with this was the separation of values.1 He argues that this concept is a holdover from the age of the Enlightenment and is rooted in classical Greek thought. I have read some of what he has asserted and it makes much sense. Yet, I won't get into that here.

This very western concept of segmented lives is cultural and common. In fact, it is considered normal. The problem is that this normal life often leads to Christians having a "church life" and a, well, "real life" for lack of a better term.

The problem in the church is that while church leaders and pastors continue to encourage church members to "be light in dark places" and engage their world with the message of the gospel (rightly so, by the way), our systems of ministry often enable the continued separation from the world, thus creating a private-public dichotomy.

While we encourage missional living, we often enable sequestered huddling.

There is no easy remedy to this. We are pushing not only against human nature, but also centuries of cultural norms. 

The private-public divide often leads to a Kingdom-church divide. While we desire to see God's Kingdom grow and we know the "fields are white unto harvest" sometimes the church practices ministry that reveals a desire to see God's Kingdom within the church walls, while ignoring the commission to go, or better yet to live missionally as we go. The relationship between the kingdom and church must be sorted. Otherwise, churches will continue practicing a church-centered Christianity that ultimately remains detrimental to the kingdom of God.2

Even Within the Church Privacy Is Expected

While the evangelistic, missional living aspect of the Christian life is often negatively affected by the prominence of the private-public dichotomy, an equally dangerous aspect is the fear that fuels superficiality among church family members.

Scripture references unity in the body of Christ numerous times. It is not just a western, cultural aspect that celebrates guarded living. Fear of trust and often a desire to not let others in keeps many relationships, even among brothers and sisters at places that not only ignores unity, but may fuel division.

Paul David Tripp stated this reality so well in his devotional book New Morning Mercies...

Your walk with God is designed by God to be a community project. Anonymous, consumerist, isolated, independent, self-sufficient, "Jesus and me" Christianity is a distant an distorted facsimile of the faith of the New Testament. You and I simply were not created (Gen 2:18) or re-created in Jesus Christ (1 Cor 2:14) to live all by ourselves. The biblical word pictures of temple (stones joined together to be a place where God dwells) and body (each member dependent on the function of the other) decimate any idea that healthy Christianity can live outside essential community.

Yet many, many believers live their lives with a huge separation between their public church personas and the details of their private existence. We are skilled at brief, nonpersonal conversations about the weather, sports, and politics. We are learned at giving nonanswers or spiritually platitudinous answers to people's questions. We live in long-term networks of terminally casual relationships. No one really knows us beneath the well-crafted public display, and because they don't know us, they cannot minister to us, because no one can minister to that which he does not know.3

While more programs, emphases, and challenges are developed to "get people out of the church building and into the field" we see that perhaps the first hurdle is a barrier we have erected, and continue to add bricks upon, that separates our private lives from our public ones (even within the church.) 

Once we remove these sinful barriers through repentance and dangerous openness, the church may grow healthy and recognize that its members who already are engaged in life outside the church structure can also remove the private-public barriers there as well. This may just result in the largest engaged mission force the church has ever experienced. Christians will realize they are validated by God to live holy and wholly for Him privately and publicly. 

In other words, as Christians continue coaching youth soccer (not creating a church version of it), serving on homeowners associations, volunteering at schools, spending time at Rotary meetings, etc., their Christianity is not practically shoved to the back burner. They are freed to live missionally, engaging their communities for the sake of the Gospel. 

Dangerous, perhaps, but worth it.

____________

1Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986), 14.

2Reggie McNeal, Kingdom Come: Why We Must Give Up Our Obsession with Fixing the Church – and What We Should Do Instead (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 2015), 62.

3Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), July 12 devotion.


Should You Tell Your Pastor When You're Leaving the Church?

The question in the title of this article came up in a lecture today by one of my professors at seminary. However, he just mentioned it in passing as he was speaking about churches and covenant membership. His point really had nothing to do with the need or responsibility of church members to communicate with their pastor regarding God's calling to move elsewhere, yet, it was mentioned. It caused me to think about this more deeply.

Any pastor who has stayed at one local church for any length of time (let's just say, five years or more) knows of the inevitable church member exodus that occurs at times (hopefully not all at once.) Members choose to leave the church for various reasons. Sometimes, these reasons are biblical, godly, and right. Sometimes...well, they fall in another category.

Does God Call Church Members to Leave?

The answer to the above question is "absolutely." God often calls his children to places of service in other churches. We have seen this in our church as individuals or families have moved to help launch new church plants, help revitalize dying churches, join a community church where they live and work, and even to join a church near their home following a work transfer or relocation.

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However, God sometimes gets blamed for church transitions that have little to do with his calling. This may be due to building frustration within the church body, personal embarrassment, disunity, disappointment regarding certain ministries, not feeling one's needs are met, not being fed spiritually, or just a desire for change for the sake of change.

When It's Right to Leave

Yes, there are times when leadership in the local church goes off course doctrinally and biblical fidelity has been forsaken. Sometimes leaders have been revealed as unrepentantly immoral. When there is no shifting or righting of these wrongs, I believe God does release his sheep at times to a new under shepherd (pastor) and flock (church.)

The reasons people leave the local church are as unique as the individuals who make up the local church. Sometimes, unrepentant, found sin becomes the catalyst for the pending good-bye. Paul's address to the Corinthian church addresses this, so it's not just a modern issue.

Things to Think Through Before Good-Bye

As I think through the process of seeing church members leave, much comes to mind. At this point, here are some things I've gleaned regarding this inevitable reality:

  • God calls His children to serve where He wants them, without seeking their vote for approval (this goes for pastors and church members.)
  • There is no perfect church. If you find it, don't join it. You'll ruin it's perfect record.
  • There is no perfect pastor. Believe me, they're as flawed as anyone and need much grace and mercy.
  • Your pastors are not omniscient. They do not know what you're feeling unless you tell them. Yet, the way you tell them may not be heard if done without grace.
  • Church is supposed to be family. It grieves me when new members never fully engage or become part of the family story. It also grieves me when family members seemingly disappear, or walk away angry.
  • Disunity is easy. In church. In family. In life.
  • Changing churches in search of the perfect youth ministry, children's ministry, men's ministry, women's ministry, missions ministry, coffee, music, etc. will leave you always on the move.
  • Abandonment of the gospel and ignoring biblical truth, doctrine, and orthodoxy by pastors and church leaders disqualifies them from leadership. If they refuse to repent, God will likely release you from that fellowship (unless he wishes to use you for a revival of biblical fidelity in that house.)
  • Seeking a church that matches your current political ideology will likely leave you with theological gaps in your life.
  • You may not be remembered for how you came into the church, but you will be remembered how you leave it, if done so with vitriol and anger. (from Carey Nieuwhof.)
  • "I'm not being fed" may be the most overused reason excuse given. Take my advice, don't say it. If it's true, it's perhaps the most non-constructive thing you can say. On the other hand, it may just reveal that you desire being spoon-fed biblical milk rather than served spiritual meat, complete with your own knife and fork. 

Everyone Eventually Leaves 

This is truth. There is no one who remains for eternity as a member of their local church. You will either leave your church because you have been relocated due to work, school, or circumstance, because you are called by God to serve Him elsewhere, because you just desire a new church for whatever reason, or because you have died. 

Thabiti Anyabwile wrote an article a number of years ago titled "5 Things to Do Before Leaving Your Church." The five things are:

  1. Share Your Thinking/Reasoning with the Leaders
  2. Resolve Any Outstanding Conflicts
  3. Express Your Appreciation for the Church's Ministry in Your Life
  4. Say "Goodbye" to Friends and Family
  5. Be Honest with Yourself about Your Own Efforts, Motives, and Failings

These are just the points. I recommend you read the entire article available at The Gospel Coalition here. Remember, the church is family ... and family life is not easy.

"Parting is such sweet sorrow." - William Shakespeare


Freedom and Dependence

Independence Day in America is a time for the red, white, and blue apparel to arrive, complete with vintage Old Navy t-shirts and clothing that looks like it was made from a flag (BTW - according to extensive research ... a five-second search on Google ... it is not illegal to wear clothing that has stars and stripes on it, but it is not appropriate to wear clothing made from an actual flag. There you go.) However if you do wear your 4th of July inspired, patriotic shirt, don't be like this grandma featured on Twitter who thought she was honoring America by wearing this shirt for the past twenty-five years on the 4th, but apparently was actually wearing a shirt that looked like the Panamanian flag.

 

 

This day is often a time to celebrate our freedoms as Americans with family get-togethers, cookouts, ball games, parades, and of course fireworks.

The United States is far from perfect, but even with our imperfections and challenges, we find ourselves blessed in ways others throughout history and in other parts of the world today long for. Our freedoms, however are often taken for granted. Friends who grew up in other parts of the world, under heavy oppression and great difficulty, remind me regularly how much we presume regarding personal freedoms. 

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Yet, as stated earlier, we still have far to go. Many in our own nation face oppression and injustices in ways that others cannot imagine. These are due to a variety of circumstances.

This past weekend many Christians were debating aloud and online about the veracity of holding patriotic services in their churches on Sunday. This debate comes every year at this time. What had been viewed as normative for evangelical churches in past decades (the shelving of hymns and sacred songs for patriotic anthems, coupled with overtly America-themed testimonies and messages) now causes many to wonder. From my perspective, anything that is allowed to supersede Christ and the gospel in a service of worship runs the risk at best of passively confusing attenders regarding the focus of worship. Therefore, while we may at times add a song or two speaking of God's blessings upon us, we will not intentionally shift our focus from Christ by allowing anything (or anyone) stand in his place. 

Ultimately, if your worship service looks just like the community Independence Day rally, you may be doing it wrong.

Believe me ... I know how to do things wrong. I have much practice at it.

Nevertheless, to ignore that which God has blessed us with would be insulting, in my opinion. So for the freedoms this experiment of a republic has allowed for us, continues to allow us, and hopefully will offer in the future, we thank God. 

Freedom

I'm reminded of a deeper freedom, however, than those listed in the Bill of Rights. This freedom is expressed throughout the New Testament, but most clearly in Galatians 5. 

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1 (ESV)

It sounds obvious. Almost, too simple. It is for freedom we have been set free. Of course. Yet, the freedom we have in Christ is often ignored as the old nature continues to rise up within us, leaving us living as slaves to sin. Sin that has already been defeated. Sin that has already been covered.

Dependence

As Americans we often speak with pride of our independence. That's what the holiday we're celebrating this week focuses upon. I love this holiday. Yet, as Christians sometimes the prideful statements of individual independence overwhelm the fact that as free children of God we are not independent, but fully dependent. Our dependence on Christ is what gives us freedom. 

While we may tout our rights in this nation, we must remember that we have sacrificed our individual rights on the altar in order to live as fully-devoted disciples of Jesus Christ. It is in this dependence upon God we are free indeed.

That is why we declare our dependence. In Christ alone. Today and every day.

Here's a good reminder of this by the Mississippi Mass Choir...

 

 


J.D. Greear Doesn't Need Me To Speak For Him...But, This Is Slanderous

Just last week the Southern Baptist Convention elected J.D. Greear as president. I was in attendance in Dallas for our annual meeting. The workings of the SBC can be confusing for some, especially those who are not Southern Baptists. While this one-page synopsis of our denominational structure and leadership is correct, it still may prove confusing. Nevertheless, for those who wonder, I recommend you click this link for A Closer Look.

President Greear

J.D. Greear was elected as the SBC president this year with approximately 70% of the vote. Some have portrayed this as a major shift in the Southern Baptist Convention, stating that it as a shift from wing tips to Air Jordans. Greear is the second youngest SBC president to be elected in our history.

Greear

Some declare this election positively as our denomination seeks to engage the world we live in with the Gospel, reaching all peoples, all generations, and varying cultures with the unchanging message of hope from Jesus Christ.

Others lament Greear's election, fearing that the elements of biblical fidelity and denominational integrity will be lost now that a "youth movement" has occurred.

While I wish I could say this amazes me, unfortunately, it does not.

To declare Greear as some "young buck" intent on watering down the Scriptures in order to be relevant to a changing culture is to discount who he is, what he has preached, where he has led his church, and the affirmations from senior leaders throughout the SBC who have voiced their support of his election prior to the vote in Dallas. 

While serving as the SBC president, J.D. Greear continues to pastor his flock at Summit Church in North Carolina. The responsibilities he has now been given do not erase those from his local church, but are added to them. In other words, this is a heavy task given him, not just by the messengers (voting representatives of SBC churches in Dallas) but primarily from God. J.D. Greear, his family, and his church need our prayers.

I have talked to J.D. in the past and through mutual friends, partnerships, and associations in Baptist life and church planting, we have been privileged to come alongside some from Summit Church and the Summit Network who have planted new churches in North Carolina and Florida.

I am confident in Greear's leadership skills, but mostly in his heart for the Lord, his doctrinal integrity, his hold to biblical inerrancy, and affirmations of our confessions of faith as Baptists. Therefore, in no way do I fear that Greear has or will lead his church or our denomination down a path of liberalism or cultural acquiescence. That is why I was shocked and appalled to read the recent article published by the American Family Association (AFA) by Bryan Fischer.

The American Family Association

For many years, conservative evangelicals have aligned with the AFA on social issues. This non-profit was founded by Reverend Donald Wildmon in Mississippi back in 1977 as an "organization promoting the biblical ethic of decency in American society with primary emphasis on television or other media." Later the shift was toward a broader emphasis on moral issues as related to families. Many conservatives appreciated the work of the AFA, as did I. Some even supported the group financially. The AFA has been known for years as promoting and leading boycotts of corporations and companies they determined were promoting immoral and anti-family material. Whether boycotts were effective remains debatable, but nevertheless, issues of cultural shift were brought to the front-burner through them.

You may or may not like the AFA or the work they have done. The point of this post is not to debate the existence and work of the AFA, but the trending article published on their site by Bryan Fischer. 

Fischer's article makes for good click-bait, especially for those who love reading about divisive things and who declare the end of evangelicalism and especially the SBC being imminent. 

Slanderous?

Some would say that slander is too harsh a word. Yet, as I read Fischer's words, that was what came to mind. In his article he quotes Greear, then dissects his words in such a way to lead the reader down a path far from the intent of J.D.'s statements. Fischer quotes a sermon Greear preached when he spoke of loving our neighbors as Christ commanded, even those who are homosexual. Greear clearly states that our love for people as God's image-bearers is mandated. As you read the sermon transcript, it is clear that in no way does Greear state that homosexuality is not sin. In fact, he states the opposite as Scripture affirms. That taken with other postings, interviews, and especially the sermon Greear preached on Monday evening in Dallas at this year's SBC Pastor's Conference clearly affirms that Greear stands firmly on Scripture in calling sin what it is, but also calling Christians to fulfill the Great Commandment.

Yet, Fischer apparently reads this differently. He quotes:

But Greear is saying, it appears to me, that if it comes down to a choice between loving my neighbor or loving my position on homosexuality, I’m going to have to ditch my position on homosexuality. If my position on sexuality comes between me and my neighbor, then I’ve got to jettison the thing that’s in the way, my position on sexuality.

I would say the key phrase here is "it appears to me." To which I say to Mr. Fischer, you're wrong. What you deem as appearing to you is not what Greear has said, not only here in this message, but in the myriad of other statements and sermons.

If you have the time, go ahead and watch this message that Greear preached at the 2014 ERLC Conference on "The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage." It seems to clear up what has been presented as contradictory by Mr. Fischer. I would post the sermon J.D. preached at this year's Pastors' Conference, but it is not available online at this time.

In case you wish to read Fischer's full article, it is available here. I sincerely hope the AFA will remove it. Nevertheless, I link it so you can read it for yourself. I don't want to be accused of pulling one paragraph out of context. 

I may be accused of simply standing up for someone I know. I am okay with that. I hope other brothers and sisters in our convention stand up as well. There will likely be many (there already have been some) who will write, preach, and speak against the leadership of J.D. Greear. J.D. is not perfect. He has, and will, make mistakes. However, I believe God has called him to this task for now. He is our convention president and many will be listening more closely to what he says and doesn't say over the next twelve months. 

To my friends who continue to listen to AFA Radio, support the work of this organization, and line up with all that is produced from them, please encourage them to remove the slanderous article that contradicts what Greear has declared historically. I'm not calling for a boycott of an organization that leads in boycotts, but maybe removing support should be considered. Would that be a boycott? Maybe.

J.D. Greear doesn't need me to make these statements on his behalf. Yet, as a brother in Christ, a fellow pastor and servant to our Lord, these statements need to be made. I hope others will agree, stand alongside J.D., praying for him and refuse to be caught in this tangle of misinformation, deceit, and untruths. 


Can We Get a Do Over? Thoughts on SBC 2018 in Dallas

Once more, we as Southern Baptists have had our convention. Yes, the actual Southern Baptist Convention only exists for two days each year. For the rest of the time, the SBC exists, but denominational details are covered by our Executive Committee. But, most people don't care about that.

We have just completed our two-day convention in Dallas, Texas. You may have noticed it trending on social media or things said about it on television or radio. Even in years when we think there will be no controversial aspect...there always tends to be one that pops up.

Hurricane Dallas

For those of us who live in Florida and other coastal states, we understand how a forming hurricane in the Atlantic affects us. We get notified on the local news or Weather Channel days before any storm makes landfall. We watch the swirling graphics online for days as anxiety builds up, wondering if the storm will hit near home and if so, how much damage it will bring. In the literal sense, we have experienced these storms in our state (Florida) and in neighboring areas all too often.

In a way, this year's SBC meeting felt like a hurricane. We knew there would be divisive issues. We knew going in with the situation at our Executive Committee with Dr. Frank Page having to resign and the most recent issues leading to Dr. Paige Patterson's dismissal at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary that once the microphones were turned on, varying views would be expressed and those on stage would be put on the spot to answer well. 

Other things were brewing as well, especially issues regarding racial unity and abuse. 

So, like a hurricane, we have been waiting and watching for weeks, until this week. We prayed that the storm that seemed inevitable would dissipate and our meeting would be healthy, peaceful, and lead us forward.

God answered that prayer. There were great moments at our gathering. There were significant moves forward regarding race relations, gender issues, abuse issues, etc. Of course, there was not enough done for everyone to be satisfied, but steps forward in these areas did take place.

Steps Backward

Yet, the storm did hit. This Texas two-step allowed us to take a step forward, but in some ways, a couple backward as well.

The change in agenda that provided a venue for Vice-President Mike Pence seems to have done more to harm our convention than many realize. I believe we're resilient and will be okay in the days to come, but the fact remains, in my opinion, this was a bad idea. Damage was done and it prayerfully, will not be lasting.

In years past other sitting elected officials have spoken at SBC meetings. Those were divisive as well I am sure, but that was then. This is now. Just a short journey down a Twitter feed with #SBCAM18 and you will discover quickly that Southern Baptists were far from unified in viewing the appearance of the VP in a positive way. All the sudden a gathering for worship and denominational business turned into something most did not desire. Vice-President Pence is a brother in Christ. His message began with a word regarding his conversion and powerful words of personal surrender to Christ. For that, great applause for the greatness of our God. (I am not against Mr. Pence. So don't read what I'm not typing.)

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Yet, despite a handful of comments that were worthy of applause and uniting as Christians, the sad reality is that his speech turned quickly into little more than a "look what we have done for you in Washington" focus. While totally appropriate as a stump-speech for any political party, this was not appropriate or healthy for the stage upon which he stood.

Personally, I do not believe a sitting elected official should speak at the Southern Baptist Convention (and probably not in your local church either.) The pulpit (whether you use one or a table or just walk around) is reserved for the preaching of the Word of God. To stray from that causes confusion and waters down the gospel. As has been said many times, "When you mix politics and religion, you get politics." I'm not anti-politics. I believe Christians should be civic-minded and active. I wish we'd be more active sharing Christ than sharing our info on donkeys and elephants. Some Christians are greatly evangelistic about their political views, yet seem strangely silent about the gospel.

I guess for some getting the "right" person in Washington is more important than getting the "lost" person in heaven. <Tweet This>

I was warned by one of my deacons earlier in the month to be very careful what I say, tweet, post regarding our denomination, ministry foci, and politics. His wisdom is clear. I must be careful. I'm trying to be careful. I understand why he said this. He is older and wiser than me and knows that a person with good intentions can be left standing without a chair when the music stops in this sinful world. 

He's right.

As I reflect on this week, as I stated earlier, there are many things worth celebrating. There are also some things that must be called what they are - sin. I'm on no high horse. I have not arrived. I know this. Yet, as a pastor of an SBC church and as a messenger representing our church, I know we must make some changes. I don't know all the changes that must be made, but prayerfully, as God leads, our leaders will have ears to hear and follow His lead.

Some Great News

We heard stories of new church plants, like Kesavan Balasingham in Toronto. He's a friend of ours and part of the Send Toronto initiative. It's an incredible story. You should watch this video below:

 

We saw numerous new missionaries commissioned for service through our International Mission Board. Some had to keep their identities hidden due to safety precautions in the field.

We heard how God has raised up a church from the ashes of tragedy as Pastor Frank Pomeroy and his wife Sherri shared what God is doing in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Let's just say, the reality of what this brother and sister have gone through, the loss of their friends, the devastation of their church, and the murder of their daughter in the shooting last year reminds all of us that much of what we get frustrated about in church doesn't matter at all. Pastor Pomeroy brings perspective. 

College campus church plants are growing and we heard how planters are doing this work on the universities and colleges in our nation as true church plants for the nations, built to send, especially since the congregation is only there for four or five years (or more for that one guy working on the bachelors degree on the ten-year plan.)

We heard detailed information, that wasn't desired but needed, regarding our denominational statistics. This bores some people, but cannot be ignored. CP giving is down, baptisms are down, disciple-making is down. The good news is that more than a resolution or a vote, there seems to be a real, concerted effort for churches to first, get real numbers, and second, do the work of an evangelist and be disciple-makers who make disciple-makers. No program will fix this, but to ignore the reality is to continue to pretend that everything is okay when it is not.

A nine-year old boy made a motion during the business portion. It was likely written up with help from his parents, but when this boy asked that the SBC put on the official emphasis calendar a focus on Children's Ministry, the place erupted. Why? Well, because the redhead boy did a great job reading that motion and we were all cheering him on. Also, we need to remember that kids aren't just the group that we put in the back room and show a Veggie Tales video. To be churches that equip families and lead parents to be their children's lead disciple-makers, this emphasis is needed. And...a child making the motion means he was an official messenger from his church. He was in the room (then at throughout the sessions) and was engaged. Yay mom and dad! What a message.

We elected J.D. Greear as our president and A.B. Vines and Felix Cabrera as vice-presidents. These are one-year terms. I believe these men were not just elected by SBC messengers, but called by God for such a time as this. They need our prayers. They need our support.

Sbc leaders

There's more, but then you can read those updates elsewhere.

So, Why Do I Want a Do Over?

I don't want a re-do on the good things, but the other things seem to be all that is reported and remembered. Negativity sells and negativity trends. The title of this blog may be negative as well. I hope not.

I perceive a sense of "Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time" pervaded in some of the planning. Yet, when 40% of an almost 9,000 member crowd of Christian brothers and sisters say "NO," I would say it is worth revisiting the original plan. That's my congregationalism showing.

There were some hateful things said to others in the room. Some were said at microphones on the floor. Some were said in the room, but just loud enough for those around to hear. Word is a SWBTS trustee was verbally chastised by a messenger (which they have the right to do) in front of his son and it left the boy in tears. 

Sometimes Christians just don't act Christ-like. And, all of us have been guilty of that.

What would I do differently? Oh, it's easy to say "don't do that" and "do this" but that's like Monday morning quarterbacking. I know we can't get a do-over, but we can move forward. We don't need to forget the missteps of this year's meeting. We need to remember and learn. 

We also don't need to forget the good and great things either. Sometimes, I fear we don't celebrate well. These things need to be taken home to our local churches and shared. In spite of the very real negative, there are very real positives as well. The news and the tweets often don't share those, but we as pastors must. 

Truly, many in our churches have no idea, and do not care really, about what happens at our annual meetings. Yet, we must remember that as a cooperating group of Baptists (even with our crazy uncles and cousins) God has placed us together for His glory and our good and the good of our communities.  


A Motion Regarding the Southern Baptist Convention Sermon Needs to be Made

Well...we're still in the news. The Southern Baptist Convention remains a somewhat trending topic among Baptists, evangelicals, and even those outside the church.

We are now experiencing an internal tragedy of our own making. Left to our own devices, pride, self-preservation, ego-driven decisions, and more things less than positive, we find ourselves in dire straits.

What's Next?

In the sermon I preached Sunday from Matthew 24 (which has nothing to do particularly with our current SBC issues) a truth was revealed as Christ addressed the religious leaders and crowds. He reminded them that tough days were coming and it would get worse before it would get better. I understand that the passage is not contextual to our current denominational situation, so will not err by trying to force that, but the thoughts that things likely will get worse before they get better continues to resonate with me.

I don't like that.

But, that makes it no less true.

Sbc motion

Even now, positioning is happening among some SBC leaders and potential messengers. There is likely an orchestrated plan in the works regarding Dr. Paige Patterson's potential convention sermon. As of this writing, from what I know, Dr. Patterson has yet to recuse himself from the sermon. Yet, I hope that he does. 

Furthermore, I hope that no other pastor is given the position of bringing the convention sermon.

I agree with Pastor Sam Rainer, who stated this in a recent tweet...

 

A silent assembly - a true silent assembly calling for prayer and repentance would not simply be an amazing statement to those watching, but if truly repentant and heart-felt, would, in my opinion be a step in the right direction for our convention. Ultimately, it could be the only step for the One watching and calling us to repentance.

What The Potential Silent Assembly Must Not Be

  • This must not be designed to give the SBC a public relations win (It wouldn't work anyway.)
  • This must not be designed to create a moment that will trend for half a day on Twitter or other social media platforms.
  • This must not be akin to the "moments of silence" at ballgames and other public events used in lieu of prayer.
  • This must not be political (SBC or otherwise).
  • This must not be believed to be enough to heal the very real wounds of women and others who have been abused by misplaced counsel.
  • This must not be a "top-down" mandate with a prepared graphic, video intro, or specially designed hashtag like #SBCSilentAssembly, otherwise it will not only seem, but be less authentic, regardless how heartfelt and intentional.

What The Potential Silent Assembly Must Be

  • This must be authentic.
  • This must be prayer.
  • This must be repentance.
  • This must be humbling.

I have church members and friends who are asking what is going on. I have some who question our continued participation in this machine known as the SBC. Some have declared their disdain for the entire denomination at this point. There truly is a problem. It goes beyond (or deeper) than simply what has occurred at Southwestern the past month. This must be acknowledged.

Maybe Sam will make the motion. He should.

I'll vote in affirmation.

It is clear that there's more going on in the world than our annual meeting in Dallas this year. Nevertheless, in this little corner of what is happening, we, the messengers of the SBC and members of cooperating churches have been put on notice - we cannot ignore what God is doing. In case you misread that and thought I was referring to a great awakening moment, I am not. I am referring to that which precedes great awakenings - repentance (authentic, humble, maybe humiliating, repentance), prayer, and restoration.

I have no idea how our SBC Annual Meeting will end this year. I do believe it must begin well. And, that starts now. <TWEET THIS>

 

BTW -  If this motion is made and this silent assembly happens, I also think (and this is radical, I know) we should shut down the convention booths, the CP stage, and all the other things that happen as well for that time. Otherwise, those who wish to not join in prayer will just go over to one of many booths, pick up free books, pens, candy, T-shirts, and other specialty marketing stuff.

 

 


Why Our Jacksonville Statement on Gospel Unity & Racial Reconciliation Is Needed

Approximately three months ago, I was asked to co-chair a team of pastors in our city (Jacksonville, Florida) by our Lead Missional Strategist of the Jacksonville Baptist Association. Along with Pastor Elijah Simmons of Mt. Horeb Baptist Church in Jacksonville, we agreed to serve with these brothers in order to put together a document we hoped would never be needed, but clearly is. 

The team of pastors who agreed to serve on this Gospel Unity Team, in addition to Pastor Simmons and me, include:

Why The Need?

Clearly racial tension in America is high. You would think that we would be beyond this by now, right? While division among many based on race continues within the world, the grievous reality is that the church falls prey to the enemy's divisive tactics as well. The landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 was necessary and an answer to prayer for many. Yet, we are reminded that while needed, right political action does not change the heart. Only God does that. 

Sadly, many (not all) churches and church leaders remained silent during the 1950s and 1960s and beyond as racial equality was debated in the public forum (and sadly, many of those "debates" were one-sided and sinfully devised, especially when "separate but equal" was considered normal and fire hoses and dogs were on the debate teams.)

"But this is 2018, things are better now." I'm sure that's true comparatively. I would never wish to insult those who lived through the most terrible times most only now read about his history books or at memorials. While things may be better, for some, we are far from a place where we can sit back and say "done." There's much work yet to accomplish and as Christians, the church must never again find itself muzzled when the fullness of the gospel must be proclaimed.

Much has been said, more eloquently and from stronger perspectives than I can offer, but when churches and pastors serving side-by-side in a city like ours begin to question even being in the same network due to what others (pastors and Christians) have posted on social media, shared, or commented upon that does nothing for the work of God's Kingdom and actually elevates division, it is no longer an option to remain silent.

That's why this statement on gospel unity is needed.

The SBC Statements

As Southern Baptists, we own a rich, but also troubling legacy. Much has been written about our founding. Repentant statements and resolutions have been made over the years. All needed, but as we all know, resolutions without action leave us empty. At this coming Southern Baptist Convention in June, another resolution will be presented. The statement to be presented is available here in its entirety.  If brought to the floor for a vote, I plan to affirm this statement. 

Yet, for many local church members, national statements may remain unheard.

What about our city?

What about our churches?

What do we believe regarding the racial tensions that exist?

More than that, what does the Bible reveal that we must hold to as truth?

Our statement gives clear, brief, and biblical answers to these questions. Our prayer is that this helps the local church stay on mission and that biblical unity in Christ not only occurs but remains. 

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

The Jacksonville Statement

Our statement was comprised following two months of meetings that included much prayer, conversation, "word-smithing," and considerations of how others would receive the message. The statement is now available at the Jacksonville Baptist Association website. We hope to soon offer a way for pastors and church members to sign their names to the statement as well. Our desire is to remove anything that promotes unclarity and to have this statement, rooted in God's inerrant Word, as our clear beliefs regarding needed gospel unity and racial reconciliation.

 

JACKSONVILLE STATEMENT ON GOSPEL UNITY 

RACIAL RECONCILIATION & THE JACKSONVILLE BAPTIST ASSOCIATION

“Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to live worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope at your calling—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”

- Ephesians 4:1-6 (CSB) -

Preamble

As evangelical Christians we acknowledge the reality that division and disunity are tools of the Enemy against the proliferation and spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Whether in families, local church bodies, neighboring churches, or even denominational entities, division has unfortunately been far too normative throughout church history.

Race, as commonly defined, refers to the various ethnicities, skin colors, and cultural heritages of human beings.  As evangelical Christians, we acknowledge the sinful divides among those of differing races that, at times, have been ignored or worse, excused within the church.

Reconciliation refers to the acknowledgement of human brokenness and the need for restoration to God through Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:20-23). In that he has reconciled humanity to himself, Christians are to be reconciled one to another, as children of God (2 Corinthians 5:18).

Great strides toward reconciliation occurred in the United States throughout the second half of the twentieth century. Yet, many continue to experience great division and painful separation due to ethnicity, cultural heritage, and/or race. While acknowledging much has been done to reconcile over recent decades, it is clear we have far to go.

Racial reconciliation for Christians is not solely, or even primarily, a political issue. Racial reconciliation for Christians is not merely a social justice issue. Racial reconciliation for Christians is not a public relations issue. Racial division is a sin issue. Therefore, racial reconciliation for Christians is a gospel unity issue.

To ignore sin is to affirm sin. Therefore, the pastors and leaders serving together in local churches and denominational entities have deemed it right, timely, and proper to present a clear, concise, biblically-founded, gospel-centered statement on gospel unity and racial reconciliation.

We believe that God has created all humanity in His image, male and female, with diverse skin tones and ethnic histories. As image-bearers we exist for the glory of God knowing that brings us the greatest good. We believe that salvation is found in Jesus Christ alone and that he died so that all may be saved (John 3:16). This offer is for all people and therefore, believing clarity on the issues of unity and racial reconciliation among believers, we offer the following affirmations and denials.

Article 1

WE AFFIRM that racial reconciliation is a gospel issue.

WE DENY that racial reconciliation is solely a social issue.

Matthew 15:21-28; Romans 1:16-17; Galatians 2:11-14; Ephesians 1:9-10, 13; 2:1-10, 13, 14-22; 3:3-5

Article 2

WE AFFIRM that the gospel alone offers hope and celebrates what the world fears.[1]

WE DENY that anything other than God and the full message of the gospel provide the hope and answers needed for humanity.

Psalm 28:7; 46:2-3; Lamentations 3:18; Matthew 12:21; Romans 8:24-25; 12:12; 1 Corinthians 13:13; Galatians 5:5; Hebrews 11:1, 7; Titus 2:11-14; 1 Peter 1:3, 1 John 3:3

Article 3

WE AFFIRM the biblical teaching of race references the differences between Jewish and non-Jewish peoples.

WE DENY the definition of race that creates a racial hierarchy based on inferred biological inferiority.

Leviticus 19:34; Acts 8:26-40; Romans 10:12; Ephesians 2:11-3:8; 1 Corinthians 12:13

Article 4

WE AFFIRM that Scripture teaches that Canaan was cursed by Noah due to his son Ham’s actions and that Cain was marked by God following the murder of his brother Abel.

WE DENY the curse of Canaan, often called the “Curse of Ham” and the mark of Cain, wrongly defined as a change of his skin color, refers to racial superiority or inferiority or has anything to do with differing skin tones of people.

Genesis 4:15; 9:20-25; 10:6

Article 5

WE AFFIRM that gospel-centered racial reconciliation is a pursuit of love for others flowing from Holy Spirit-empowered obedience of those who repent, believe in the cross and resurrection of Jesus by faith, and are justified by faith in Christ.[2]

WE DENY that ethnic diversity is synonymous with gospel-centered racial reconciliation.

Deuteronomy 10:17-19; Matthew 25; John 13:34; Acts 10:34-35; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 4:32; James 2:8

Article 6

WE AFFIRM that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, lifelong union between one man and one woman, regardless of race or ethnicity, for His glory, signifying the covenant love between Christ and His church.

WE DENY that marriage between a man and woman from differing racial or ethnic backgrounds to be sinful.

Genesis 2:23-24; Matthew 19:6; 2 Corinthians 6:14; Ephesians 5:22-23; 28-29; 31

Article 7

WE AFFIRM that pastors are uniquely called and positioned to shepherd their people toward gospel-centered racial reconciliation understanding that diversity is actually at the heart of the gospel.[3]

WE DENY that racial reconciliation can be forced upon others through human means.

John 21:15-17; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; 1 Peter 5:1-2

Article 8

WE AFFIRM the resolutions approved at Southern Baptist Convention annual meetings repenting of the sins of racism, most notably slave-holding, of past generations, and the need for continued work toward gospel-centered racial and ethnic unity.

WE DENY that the sins of past generations can be ignored and need not be acknowledged.

Nehemiah 9:1-2; Jeremiah 6:16; Daniel 9:16

Article 9

WE AFFIRM that all human beings are image bearers of God.

WE DENY the validity, truthfulness, and right standing of any and all organizations, groups, or individuals claiming racial superiority of any kind.

Genesis 1:26-27; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 2:15; James 3:9; 1 Peter 2:17; Revelation 7:9

Article 10

WE AFFIRM that unity in our churches must be founded in Christ alone.

WE DENY that unity in our churches can be founded in political ideologies or national identity.

Psalm 20:7; 133:1; Daniel 2:21; Matthew 6:33; Romans 8:28; 13:1-8; 1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 4:2; Philippians 2:3; 1 Peter 2:13-15; Jude 3; Revelation 7:9-12

_____

            [1] R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “The Root Cause of the Stain of Racism in the Southern Baptist Convention” in Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention, eds. Kevin M. Jones and Jarvis J. Williams (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2017), 5.

            [2] Jarvis J. Williams, “Biblical Steps Toward Removing the Stains of Racism in the Southern Baptist Convention” in Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention, eds. Kevin M. Jones and Jarvis J. Williams (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2017), 30.

            [3] Jamaal Williams, “Intentionally Cultivating Multicultural Churches,” Light Magazine, Winter 2016, 27.


The One Thing That Will Fix the Southern Baptist Convention

As a child and teenager attending my conservative Southern Baptist church, I knew nothing of the theological and organizational controversies taking place at the upper levels of the Southern Baptist Convention. The only inkling I had that something was not right in SBC-land was when I was living in Ohio as a junior higher and our pastor resigned from our church to attend seminary. At that point, I had to be educated on what seminary was. We lived in Dayton, Ohio and I heard someone in the church ask the pastor if he was going to attend The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in Louisville, Kentucky. That would make sense logistically since Louisville is only about three hours away. Our pastor said there was no way he could attend SBTS and that he would be enrolling in Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) in Fort Worth, Texas. He explained something related to theology and not agreeing with what was happening at SBTS. I really didn't know what he was talking about. (Thankfully, SBTS is now a highly recommended conservative, biblically-grounded SBC seminary. I am currently studying for my doctorate there.)

My family soon moved to Fort Worth as well when my dad was transferred there. Following high school and four years in college, I surrendered to God's pastoral call into full-time vocational ministry and enrolled at SWBTS. 

I had been an active Southern Baptist my entire life, but the denominational politics, the conservative resurgence, and other elements of SBC life were basically unknown to me. I just knew that I loved Jesus. I wanted to serve him. I felt called. I wanted to learn. I wanted to be used by God. And, I knew pastors and leaders who recommended SWBTS as my next step. 

Those years at SWBTS were wonderful for me. My love for SWBTS makes recent events more grievous for me.

My naïveté regarding SBC politics soon melted as a student at SWBTS. I began to understand the need for a conservative resurgence and discovered that much of that process had already happened as this was the early 1990s and the shift was now seemingly inevitable. For that, I remain grateful. 

The conservative resurgence was needed and I am thankful for those who did what must be done in order for it to happen. Yet we know that there was a great cost for this turn. I affirm what Dr. Albert Mohler, President of SBTS has stated...

The American denominational landscape has experienced significant shifts in recent times, but one major story stands out among them all—the massive redirection of the Southern Baptist Convention. America's largest evangelical denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention was reshaped, reformed, and restructured over the last three decades, and at an incredibly high cost.

For years, the SBC made the news. This was due to the conflict within our ranks. Unity was a concept sought, but not experienced. 

Then, after conservatives took leadership, things settled down a bit. Those who would not remain in the SBC left, forming other organizations and networks. The annual meetings were not as divisive and dramatic. The only big surprise at annual meetings for years seemed to center on what Pastor Wiley Drake may say when he found opportunity to speak in the open forum at one of the microphones. 

Sbcpeople

Then, things began to be shaken up.

Political viewpoints partnered with racial statements by some, either in hallways or on the microphones, left many wondering where their place was in the SBC. Presidential elections for the most part were not dramatic. In many cases, we just had two conservatives running against each other. There for years a sense that those who were instrumental in the conservative resurgence would "get their turn" and be nominated with expectation to be elected as SBC president. For the most part, this happened (well, except when Dr. Frank Page was elected in 2005 and 2006.) 

Questions

For the first time in years, I now have church members asking what we are going to do as Southern Baptists.

I have church members and friends asking me who I will vote for as president this year. In the past, if anyone asked anything of me regarding the convention it was "Are you going to the SBC this year?"

I have a number of people asking my take on what just happened this week at my alma mater regarding Dr. Paige Patterson. I'm asked what I would do if a woman came to me after being physically assaulted by her husband (easy answer - call the cops.)

Questions now come regarding racial issues and social justice.

Questions about the news stories regarding the aforementioned Dr. Page have come. 

There are many questions, and as we have already seen earlier this week, Baptist pastors are not immune to letting anger and fear lead to wrong statements and offensive social media posts. 

A Reckoning in the SBC

It is clear there is something wrong in my SBC. It is sad. It is humiliating. It is embarrassing. It is not to be ignored.

Dr. Albert Mohler wrote a poignant article about this earlier this week. Full article is here. Of all that Dr. Mohler said, this stuck out to me:

Judgment has now come to the house of the Southern Baptist Convention. The terrible swift sword of public humiliation has come with a vengeance. There can be no doubt that this story is not over.

Sadly, I agree.

So, Now What?

Here's what I know will NOT fix the SBC...

  • A resolution won't fix our problems.
  • A high-level political strategy won't fix our problems.
  • Meetings with high-ranking politicians won't fix our problems.
  • Finely-crafted press releases won't fix our problems.
  • Ignoring and excusing the sins of others, even those we love, appreciate, and respect, won't fix our problems.
  • Venerating SBC warriors and heroes won't fix our problems.
  • Shifting away from biblical complementarianism won't fix our problems.
  • Bowing to cultural mandates won't fix our problems.
  • Standing proudly as self-righteous American evangelicals won't fix our problems.

This list could go on and on, but this blog post is already too long, so I'll slow down. 

Our problems are not public relations problems.

We know what we need and it's not a tepidly defined revival (though true revival is needed.) We need to submit to God during these days.

We need the right man, his man, as our SBC president and we need SBC messengers to vote for that man, not against another. Each man running for president, as I have stated before, is not only qualified, but godly. One has preached at our church. The other has partnered with our church in helping send a church planter to a nearby city. Qualifications of these men are not questioned. Yet, for such a time as this, I believe we will be well served having J.D. Greear as our SBC president. I was sent this link earlier today by a friend and appreciate Greear's timely and wise words. 

Yet, even J.D. Greear (or Ken Hemphill) won't fix our problems.

We, the SBC, have been humiliated and this has been done by God, I believe. Humbled may be a better word, but it feels humiliating.

God does not need the SBC and we must acknowledge this. <Tweet This>

What embarrassing event will happen next? What will be revealed? I don't know. In all honesty, I don't believe we have dealt well with our most recent embarrassment, so we definitely are not positioned for another.

The One Thing

Yet, God has given us an option. We don't need to ask what God's will is for the SBC. We need to read His Word once more (not that we haven't been) just  to remind ourselves what his will is (it hasn't changed,) then move back "into it."

How does that happen? One repentant heart at a time. Repentance that leads to transformation, to change, to humble service to our Lord, to the mission of Kingdom work.

Friends, brothers, sisters - we have sinned. Since we are the SBC, we are complicit. The wages of sin remain the same as they always have. We must turn from the ways of pride, selfishness, idolatry, and more, and return humbled to the Lord. I don't believe he is through with the SBC, but we must remember that he does not need us. We need him.

That One Thing? Repentance.

 

 


Can Anything Good Come From Dallas This Summer? - The Southern Baptist Convention 2018

Every summer, messengers from Southern Baptist churches throughout the world gather in predetermined cities for our annual meeting. This year it will be in Dallas, Texas in June. For those outside the SBC tribe, this is basically a two-day business meeting where elections for denominational officers take place, reports from denominational entities occur, along with other meetings and some powerful times of worship, preaching, and fellowship. 

The SBC annual meetings often make the news for things done or left undone. Then, the news cycle shifts and for the most part, outside the member churches and denominational entities, others in the culture pay little attention to SBC happenings. I have been to numerous meetings where the consensus going in from many attendees has been "Well, there's nothing controversial on the docket this year, so this should be a pretty low-key gathering." Those sentiments are often shed once business starts. Inevitably, there are some questions asked from the floor or things said from the podium that trend on Twitter and other social media outlets and in today's instant-media world, these get picked up by others to make the SBC newsworthy once more to a culture that varies from not caring to being totally opposed to evangelical Christianity and a biblical worldview.

I am concerned, not worried, at what I am seeing take place in our denomination and member churches and entities leading up to our annual meeting. There are some key decisions to be made this year and some will take place prior to our annual gathering, others at the annual meeting, and still others following.

For decades, a semblance of "controversy" has defined the SBC. Depending on one's perspective, the latest large-scale conflict began in 1979 with what has been termed the Conservative Resurgence. In full disclosure, I am glad this resurgence took place. It was needed. 

There have been other issues over the years, and as we move toward our 2018 meeting in Dallas, there is much stirring in the SBC world.

I remember the good old days (about three months ago) when the only thing being discussed and debated was the SBC presidential election between J.D. Greear and Ken Hemphill. Now, there are other things talked about and discussed (online, in the mainstream press, and among Baptist leaders and church members) that cause many to see 2018 as a potentially conflicted and controversial meeting.

Questions regarding leadership of denominational entities are on the front-burner. Continued (needed) discussion on racial reconciliation and unity moves to the front as well. Questions centered on sexism and abuse have produced petitions and will become discussion topics as well. Trustee meetings for different entities are happening. One friend lamented to me "These are dark days for the SBC." Perhaps, but let us not lose hope. For such a time as this, SBC messengers will gather for the glory of God and the good of the church.

There will be difficult decisions ahead. Some will be made by individuals, others by trustees, still others by the full body of messengers in attendance. 

We often say "The world is watching" as a reminder to ensure we say and do the right things. Yet, I am reminded that we have a more important audience than the world. God is not only watching, but guiding and if these are "dark days" then we need to be sure we walk in the Light. <Tweet This>

Screenshot 2018-05-10 13.19.14
SBC Annual Meeting 2018 - Dallas, Texas

I fully believe that all the issues being discussed must be discussed. Therefore, I call for all SBC church members and messengers to pray now and continually (and strategically) as we move toward our gathering in Dallas this June 12-13 (with the Pastor's Conference on June 11-12).

Presidential Election

Here's a truth that many may struggle to believe. IT IS POSSIBLE to actually like both candidates for SBC president. J.D. Greear and Ken Hemphill are both godly men who will be officially nominated for the one-year term of SBC president by other godly men. I like both of these candidates. I appreciate both men's service to the Lord and his Kingdom and to our denomination. Each will lead well if elected. While some love creating division and seek to utilize ungodly tools to tear down others, I will not.

I have only one vote, I will vote as I believe God has led me to do. I plan to place my vote for J.D. Greear to be SBC president. My vote is NOT a "no vote" for Dr. Hemphill. I believe Dr. Greear is God's man for these days for our denomination. 

Greear-Hemphill
Dr. J.D. Greear (L) and Dr. Ken Hemphill (R)

Denominational Leadership

The trustees of the Executive Committee have been meeting and have a heavy task ahead of them following the departure of Dr. Frank Page. Whether a recommendation for president of the EC is presented in June or not, these men and women need our prayers.  I affirm these recommendations for the next president as written on the Baptist 21 blog - "8 Suggestions for the Next President of the SBC Executive Committee"

The International Mission Board trustees are prayerfully considering new leadership upon the departure of Dr. David Platt back to local church ministry. While this, from my perspective, does not seem controversial, it is a vital decision for one of our major denominational boards. 

As you are likely aware, the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary will be gathering at the end of May for a specially-called meeting. It is no small undertaking to call such a meeting and the cost of hosting such is high. Therefore, it is clear that this meeting will result in some decisions surrounding Dr. Paige Patterson and the presidency of SWBTS. I have no insight into the inner-workings of these trustee meetings, but I know that those who serve have a heaviness of responsibility upon them. 

Regardless where you stand on any of the decisions being made or potentially to be made, it is clear that "the times they are a changin'" and we (SBCers) better do well and right.

Racial Reconciliation

It amazes me that in 2018 the issues of racial division seems to be growing, not lessening in our nation. Yet, I shouldn't have been surprised. Sin remains. Latent sin is awakened when others stoke the fires of division. On the heels of the MLK50 Conference (which I gladly attended) and with last year's SBC in Phoenix where we (messengers) stumbled badly on a resolution focused on racial reconciliation, we have another resolution being offered up for vote. My friend Cam Triggs, Pastor of Grace Alive Church in Orlando, is one of the signatories of the resolution. I affirm the wording of this resolution and pray that we will overwhelmingly approve it as SBC messengers. You can read it here.

Flesh crayon

Can Anything Good Come From This?

The question reeks with foreboding. Yet, I believe that great good can result from our gathering this summer in Dallas. For two days, we will be gathering for worship, preaching, teaching, and fellowship at the SBC Pastors Conference led by my friend, Dr. H.B. Charles, Jr. I know he and his planning team have prayed over and prepared for this weekend gathering. The Word will be preached boldly. God will be glorified. The church will be benefited. More than that, I believe we, the attendees will be affirmed in areas, convicted in areas, and renewed for that which is to come (the next days' annual meeting and the weekly gatherings in local churches throughout the SBC.)

Screenshot 2018-05-10 13.24.48
SBC Pastors Conference 2018

I believe that we will unify on that which matters most - the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not that we have ignored this, but in times of trial and controversy, we are thrust back to the basics. Political positioning, polity negotiations, clear talking points, or any other human talent or skill will not unite us for that which we must do. It is in Christ alone we find our unity and solid ground. Will everyone leaving the meetings be in full agreement regarding decisions made? Well, no...we are Baptists, and more than that, we are human. Yet, in the essentials, we must be unified. May we "fulfill our ministry" to "testify" to the world the unchanging, life-saving, message of the gospel. 

We are being watched. Let's just be sure we're focusing on the right audience.


I'm That Kind of White Person

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When Matt Chandler, Pastor of The Village Church, spoke at the MLK50 Conference in Memphis, Tennessee, he asked this question...

"What kind of white people come to a conference like this? That wasn't a joke. I don't know why you all are giggling. Because if you look at Twitter, it looks like there ain't no white people in the fight."

 

Video via The Gospel Coalition

The question was part of Chandler's longer message. It wasn't the key point. It was, however a question that elicited some laughter from some, raised eyebrows from others, and an immediate challenge to one white pastor from the suburbs who traveled to Memphis with friends to attend the conference.

Fifty years ago, on a balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed by an assassin. At age thirty-nine, Dr. King was standing in the crosshairs (tragically, literally) of a divide in our nation between races. He was celebrated by some and vilified by others. Though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 effectively ended segregation, the racial divide in the nation continued. 

Sadly, even Christians were taking sides and fighting over allowing people of color to join or attend churches designated as "white churches" for generations. For a man born the year Dr. King was assassinated, it is impossible for me to understand fully, other than through reading historical accounts, listening to testimony, and watching documentaries of the era, what was happening in our nation.

Yet, here we are, fifty years later. That's five decades of living in an America that proclaims that racial division is a historical story, not a current one. At least that's the narrative. We now understand that while Dr. King's "dream" is celebrated, the division between races, most notably between some blacks and some whites, exists. Not only does it exist, but it seems to be widening as everything is politicized, messages are shortened to be tweetable, and biblically speaking, our enemy still seeks to steal, kill, and destroy.

As is the case with everyone, I tend to view life from a particular set of lenses. These lenses can be defined a number of ways, such as white, male, middle-class, suburban, evangelical, conservative, Christian, Baptist, pastoral, tall, formerly athletic, etc. 

That's not an apology. That's just a reality. In fact, I am not sorry that I am any of those things. Well...I am sorry that I'm formerly athletic. I really need to do something about that (typing as I drink my morning coffee and eat a donut.)

Nevertheless, recognizing that viewpoints are different, based on numerous factors, the truth becomes clear - I do not...no I cannot fully know what it is like to live as a black man today. Even if I attempted to pull off a John Howard Griffin Black Like Me charade, it would not be authentic. It may be insightful, but it would be temporary and fake. 

One of my friends in ministry, an African-American pastor, was speaking in a group around a table and was describing some things unique to his journey. He looked to me and said "You know how it is, right?" I had to answer, "I don't. Why? Because I'm a white man and while we are brothers in Christ, the fact remains that we have different experiences and some of those are based on the color of our skin. So, you're going to have to help me understand."

Unity Not Uniformity

Dr. Eric Mason's message on gospel unity was clear, powerful, and convictional. Unity is needed in the body of Christ. Yet, unity is not uniformity. For some, this is a hard concept to grasp it seems. Uniformity states that everyone must look alike, share the same heart language, culture, and heritage.

It is not the outward accoutrements that unify the Body. It is Christ alone that brings unity. And it is this that the Enemy attacks continually. Doctrine unifies the church. The gospel unifies the church. Skin tone, heart language, cultural heritage, clothing style, economic level, etc. are not the unifying items that allow Christians to call each other brother and sister. It is the cross of Christ that brings unity among those who come from varied backgrounds. This must be declared and lived, and not ignored.

 

Video via The Gospel Coalition

Segregated Sunday Mornings

Its has been said for years that Sunday mornings in our churches in America, remains the most segregated hour still. There are exceptions, but there are many instances in the evangelical world where this still remains true. Dr. Charlie Dates preached on Tuesday evening of the conference. His assigned topic was the continually segregated church. Addressing the crowd, Dr. Dates challenged churches to tear down the remaining walls of segregation, acknowledging that many are not intentionally divided. The address by Dr. Mason the following day chastised rightly, the predominantly white churches seeking to be multi-ethnic by simply hiring a person of color for their staff team, who otherwise was unqualified. Therefore, the call is to gospel living, not just gospel preaching. 

 

Video via The Gospel Coalition 

Not All Christians Celebrate

Using Dr. King's assassination as the backdrop for the conference allowed speakers and attendees to have open and clear dialogue that often does not happens. It has become clear based on blog articles, tweets, and social media postings, that not everyone celebrated the idea of a gospel-centric event connected with Dr. King's legacy. Some even have equated what was said in the MLK50 Conference to other events in the city of Memphis commemorating the 50th anniversary. While all MLK50 events and gatherings held in Memphis (and there were numerous unrelated events) centered on the assassination, not all were focused on ensuring the gospel was proclaimed and biblical fidelity upheld. And, based on some things I have read from Christian writers and pastors, some of those would even declare what was preached and stated at the MLK Conference I attended was not biblical. 

Whenever Christians speak about race, a dividing line develops. The vitriol that is spouted from believers and followers of Christ is done often under the guise of contending for the gospel, but actually comes across as anything but.

Would I agree with every word spoken by every speaker and attendee at the MLK50 Conference? No. Yet, I do agree that the gospel is unchanging, is true, and is vital for the church in all areas of worship, service, and ministry.

There are documented questions about Dr. King's theology. Debates rage about what he truly believed and what he didn't when it comes to orthodoxy. These were not ignored at the conference. There was no sugar-coating of some of the difficult topics. Dr. John Piper addressed his feelings on this well in his sermon.

 

Video via The Gospel Coalition 

For Those Tired of Apologizing

It has been said many times, by many people - even those within the church - that they are tired of apologizing for the sins of the past, especially the sins of our ancestors. I have heard this from white Christians (and being that I'm a white Christian, I'll just speak from this perspective.) As a Southern Baptist pastor, I remember when the SBC adopted a resolution of repentance for the support of and ignoring of slavery as an issue in America. While the resolution passed, it was soon discussed by many that confessing the sins of long dead Southern Baptists seemed for some to be a waste, and for others unbiblical.

Yet, there is biblical precedent for the repentance of corporate sin of those in the past that had led to division and sinful behavior. The sin of ignorance once revealed, must be addressed. I cannot attest to the feelings of my black brothers and sisters who feel personally slighted when reading of the history and founding of the Southern Baptist Convention, but I acknowledge the real pain (even though the pain was felt at first by their ancestors) and hurt experienced. 

I was recently studying the book of Ezra and noticed in chapter 9 that he was compelled and convicted by God to lead the people into a time of repentance and confession of sins that originated with their fore-bearers. In this case, it was the sin of intermarrying non believers of God. It wasn't a racial intermarriage, that was condemned. It was a faith intermarriage that was condemned by God. Yet, the ancestors of these people had done so and it had gone unconfessed for generations. I wrote of that here.

From this, it becomes clear that we are the pastors, leaders, Christians today who must stand for truth, affirm the gospel unapologetically, and humbly repent of sins that continue to divide and work against the unity in the faith that God commands.

Yet, once confessed, the realization that the road ahead remains. Therefore, as we glance and address that which is in the rear view mirror, may we be united in the gospel as we move forward, not simply for a dream articulated by a man in the 1960s, but a message and commission declared by God to His church, for His glory and our good.

Why This White Guy Attended

Simply put - I attended this conference because I know there is a chasm in our nation, and in our churches that can only be healed through the gospel of Jesus Christ. I admire much of what Dr. King stood for, and his bravery exhibited through his ministry. I do not ignore the questions addressed by Dr. Piper and others at the conference. I know, as do pastor friends, that Dr. King was far from perfect, just as we are. I also know that he should not have been assassinated. Yet, as we reflect on an era in our nation where division defined us, we hope that things are better today...only to realize we may not have progressed as far as many think.

I attended because I love my brothers and sisters in Christ.

I attended because to ignore the racial divide in our churches and nation makes me as complicit as those who did so in generations past. 

I did not attend to please anyone in particular or to anger anyone in particular, but I sense that I likely have done both.

I guess I'm the kind of white person who is honestly seeking to live for the sake of the gospel, unapologetically lead others to Christ as God draws them to Himself, and to not be guilty of sinning privately or corporately by remaining silent about the things that matter to God and his church.

_________________

All videos and the complete sermons from the MLK50 Conference are available at The Gospel Coalition's Vimeo page here.


The Danger of the "Hebrew Roots" Movement

After leading five trips to Israel, spending time with and having deeply meaningful conversations with Jewish friends, learned teachers, guides, and theologians, I acknowledge that most Christians (myself included) have much to learn regarding Jewish traditions and the Hebrew roots of Christ and Christianity. Each trip to Israel reveals more that I had not previously known or acknowledged. Yet, the joy of these trips and these conversations is that the message of Scripture and the good news that is the Gospel is affirmed more and more, even as I seek to know more. 

It is true that during the days of the Byzantines especially and following, there was an effort by Christians and some in the church to erase the Jewishness from Jesus' story and the message of the New Testament. A cursory reading of the New Testament makes that assertion implausible.

The Jewish Jesus

Despite the ignorance and racism that precipitated such teaching, the facts remain - Jesus was Jewish. He spoke Hebrew. He likely spoke Hebrew more than has been acknowledged. He did not come to erase Torah (the law) or the teachings of the prophets but to fulfill them. 

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:17-20 (ESV)

To discount the Jewishness of Jesus is ignorant at best, sinfully racist at worst.

What is the Hebrew Roots Movement?

Despite the need to acknowledge and understand the Jewish heritage of Christ and the teachings within scripture that begin with the creation of humanity and celebrate the one true God through his covenant relationship with his chosen ones, there is a dangerous theology emerging (actually not new, just a modern version, albeit wrapped in Hebraisms, of gnosticism) categorized as the Hebrew Roots movement.

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Photo credit: CodyAHoffman on Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC

Here's a good overview of the belief system as taken from gotquestions.org...

Hebrew Roots movement is the belief that the Church has veered far from the true teachings and Hebrew concepts of the Bible. The movement maintains that Christianity has been indoctrinated with the culture and beliefs of Greek and Roman philosophy and that ultimately biblical Christianity, taught in churches today, has been corrupted with a pagan imitation of the New Testament gospels.

Those of the Hebrew Roots belief hold to the teaching that Christ's death on the cross did not end the Mosaic Covenant, but instead renewed it, expanded its message, and wrote it on the hearts of His true followers. They teach that the understanding of the New Testament can only come from a Hebrew perspective and that the teachings of the Apostle Paul are not understood clearly or taught correctly by Christian pastors today. Many affirm the existence of an original Hebrew-language New Testament and, in some cases, denigrate the existing New Testament text written in Greek. This becomes a subtle attack on the reliability of the text of our Bible. If the Greek text is unreliable and has been corrupted, as is charged by some, the Church no longer has a standard of truth.

Benefits of the Hebrew Roots Movement

As with many religious groups that claim their genesis in biblical Christianity, there are beneficial qualities of what many Hebrew Roots teachers proclaim. This is not unlike other groups who promote healthy living and morality, yet hold to biblically unorthodox theology. For Christians, learning details of Jewish life adds insight into many of the biblical stories, especially the parables and teachings of Christ. It is beneficial and good for believers to understand and study the feasts of Israel, the covenant teachings, and other aspects revealed through scripture, and even Jewish celebrations and teachings that are extra-biblical.

A study of Torah can enhance believers understanding of the teachings of Christ. Yet, while good for Gentile Christians to identify with Israel, it is not beneficial to identify as Israel. It is disingenuous at best.

Ultimately, the benefits of the Hebrew Roots movement are few and far between, and outnumbered by the dangers.

Grafted Branches

Gentile Christians have been grafted into God's chosen people. This is expressed by Paul in his letter to the Romans.

"But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, 'Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.' That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you." Romans 11:17-21 (ESV)

It should be noted, however, that the grafting in of Gentile believers is not into the Mosaic Covenant, but "they are grafted into the seed and faith of Abraham, which preceded the Law and Jewish customs. They are fellow citizens with the saints (Ephesians 2:19), but they are not Jews."(gotquestions.org)

The Danger of the Hebrew Roots Movement

Over the past few years, an increase of those who hold to the Hebrew Roots theology has occurred. Some Christians are abandoning traditional biblical orthodoxy and orthopraxy (justified by Hebrew Roots believers since they believe the church corrupted beyond repair.) Seminary students, pastors, and self-taught theologians have joined the movement. The dangers are expressed well here...

The Hebrew Roots movement is dangerous in its implication that keeping the Old Covenant law is walking a "higher path" and is the only way to please God and receive His blessings. Nowhere in the Bible do we find Gentile believers being instructed to follow Levitical laws or Jewish customs; in fact, the opposite is taught. Romans 7:6 says, "But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code." Christ, in keeping perfectly every ordinance of the Mosaic Law, completely fulfilled it. Just as making the final payment on a home fulfills that contract and ends one’s obligation to it, so also Christ has made the final payment and has fulfilled the law, bringing it to an end for us all.

Ultimately, the Hebrew Roots followers, though well intentioned I'm sure, have believed in teachings that are not grounded in scripture, nor affirmed in the teachings of Christ, but sound biblical (as opposed to being biblically sound.) Inerrancy of the Word of God is abandoned by those who believe in a "better way" or who have slid into what is also called Yahwism or the Sacred Name Movement.

Can the Hebrew Roots believers line up alongside evangelical Christianity? Apparently not, by their own admission. At this point, Ephesians 4 and other passages are ignored and forsaken and unity in Christ is abandoned, as division grows and falsehood is propagated. This is grievous. 

Some good insight on related issues:

What is Yahwism? What is a Yahwist?

What is the Sacred Name Movement?


Your New Church Has Great Music, a Trendy Logo, and Looks Great On Instagram...But, That's Not Enough

Laura M. Holson recently (March 17, 2018) wrote an article about a young, large, fast-growing church in southern California for The New York Times. Dr. Albert Mohler referenced the article and church in his podcast The Briefing, posted on March 23, 2018.)

As I listened to Dr. Mohler's podcast and then read the article, I could not help but think "I know churches just like the one in the article!"

Pastors serving in a metropolitan or suburban (and perhaps in some rural) areas have noticed an uptick in new church starts intent on reaching the next generation. I am excited to see more churches in our city. I am so glad to see men step up, not just as a career choice, but due to a God calling (BTW - not all who seek to pastor, should. I wrote about that in the past here). That's why I serve in our city network as a church planting assessor, offer our facilities for new works, and seek to help those called into pastoral ministry as best I can.

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Now that I amazingly am an "old-timer" in our community since I've pastored here for over two decades, I often am asked about some of the new starts that pop up from my peers. Normally the question is something like "What's up with XYZ Church?" Sometimes I know the new pastor and have great things to say. Other times, I have yet to meet the new pastor and have no information to offer. Then, there are the other circumstances when I do know the pastor, know of his theology and focus, and seeking not to be negative, will just encourage others to pray for them (while never encouraging anyone to attend their church.)

Referencing the article from the NYT and Dr. Mohler's assessment once more, I noticed some things that stand out and should be addressed by evangelicals (based on a solid definition of the term). I list some of these below, in no particular order:

The Term "Evangelical" Has Become Almost Unusable

In America today, the term evangelical is used by some who understand the meaning to be related to an identified subset of Christianity that holds to biblical authority and the desire to reach out, or evangelize (thus, the name) those who are non-believers. This is a valid definition. It lines up with the explanation of the National Association of Evangelicals on their site:

Evangelicals take the Bible seriously and believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The term “evangelical” comes from the Greek word euangelion, meaning “the good news” or the “gospel.” Thus, the evangelical faith focuses on the “good news” of salvation brought to sinners by Jesus Christ.

However, most recently the term "evangelical" has been muddied. The media uses the term to identify any church or Christian that cannot be categorized as Catholic or Protestant Liberal. More troubling, the term has become an identifier of a perceived political ideology. Christians are likely to blame for this.

Marketing Is Celebrated More Than Message

To be clear, I love specialty marketing stuff. I have no real issues with churches creating attractive logos and plastering them on shirts, hats, or other items. Maybe that's a hold over from my business classes in college. A well-designed logo becomes identifiable in a community. Churches seeking to connect with Millennials often utilize social media (Instagram and Snapchat primarily) to spread the word and create a sense of "coolness" for what they're doing. I'm not opposed to it. Just call it what it is. It is not evangelism. It is not discipleship. It is marketing. While not a bad thing, the church must remember that we have not been called to market well, but to be "salt" and "light" in the world (Matt 5:13-16), commissioned to make disciples of Jesus Christ (Matt 28:19-20).

In some churches, especially the ones referenced in the article, music is incredible, complete with the best sound systems, incredible musicians and smoke machines.

Yet, the message is somewhere an afterthought. The message is toned down into a stream of tweetable thoughts of positive thinking, self-belief, with just enough Jesus sprinkled in to allow the gathering to claim to be Christian. But, it's dangerous.

From Holson's article:

Mr. Veach believes he can save souls by being the hip and happy-go-lucky preacher, the one you want to share a bowl of açaí with at Backyard Bowls on Beverly Boulevard, who declines to publicly discuss politics in the Trump era because it’s hard to minister if no one wants to come to church. Jesus is supposed to be fun, right?

“I want to be loud and dumb,” Mr. Veach said with a wide, toothy grin. “That’s my goal. If we aren’t making people laugh, what are we doing? What is the point?”

Asked about abortion rights, Mr. Veach declined to give a specific answer. “At the end of the day I am a Bible guy,” he said.

Mr. Veach’s father shrugged about his son’s equivocation. “Last thing you want to do is turn off a whole demographic,” he said of today’s pastors. “If you draw lines in the sand, people are going to think God hates them.”

And Mr. Veach wants Zoe to be a refuge for many, against the rhetoric of so many other dogmatic evangelicals.

“From the time I’ve entered, and, maybe, just what we grew up in, it’s, like, you don’t bring politics into church,” he said. “We’re here to preach good news. We’re here to bring hope to humanity. We’re here to talk about God. This is not the place for a political agenda. This is the last place. When I come to church, you know what I need? I need encouragement.”

Dr. Mohler responds:

Now before we dismiss that statement entirely, there's something profoundly true in what he said. People do not come to church in order to talk about politics. That's not what their souls need. But what he said is fundamentally wrong and it ends up being actually, not only allergic to politics but antithetical to the gospel because he reduces what people do need to exactly the wrong word, encouragement. There have been far too many evangelical congregations that have talked more eagerly and more clearly about politics and political issues than they have about the gospel and that is to their shame. But the inescapable fact is that if you are 'a Bible guy" then that means you have to teach the Bible and it means you have to believe the Bible as the inerrant and infallible word of God. It means that you have to preach the parts of the Bible that a contemporary society might find encouraging but it also means you've got to preach the parts of the Bible that a modern, very secular society will find anything but encouraging. Most importantly, if you claim to be committed to human flourishing, you have to be clear about whom the Bible identifies as a human and what flourishing would mean.

"Gospel Lite" with a Good Beat

Now, I do not know Mr. Veach. And, clearly, all I have to go on is what the church promotes online and an article written for The New York Times.

What I do know is that as I read the article about Zoe Church in southern California, as described in this article, I could not help but think of a few churches in our community that seem to have taken the exact blueprint for church launching and growth. They have great music, marketable goods, a trendy logo, an incredible social media presence. This is the Instagram and Snapchat generation and these churches are connecting well.

My concern is the sacrifice of good theology for the propagation of crowd gathering, bent solely on encouragement and good feels.

Many of these music-driven churches are based on others such as Hillsong, described in the NYT article as the "granddaddy of them all." Mohler says, "Hillsong is in many ways an updated millennial prosperity theology packed very well with contemporary music."

Worship Doesn't Have to Be a "No Smoking" Zone

To be clear, having a good band lead worship, complete with lights and even a smoke machine is not bad. Some lambast music styles, but I do not. I am firmly convinced authentic worship can take place through a variety of music styles. To argue otherwise is a waste of breath and ultimately moot.

However, just having good music does not excuse weak preaching. There are some incredible worship songs being written today and many have been sung regularly in churches throughout the world. Yet, the wise pastor would be careful to ensure the worship music (whether old hymns, country gospel, hip hop, modern praise, etc.) has strongly worded lyrics that affirm good theology.  A good rule of thumb is that if a band spends more time explaining why a lyric is biblical after being confronted by solid, biblically sound pastors regarding said lyric, the song should be deleted from the worship set.

I don't care if the band plays contemporary music. I don't care if there are lights and a smoke machine. I don't care that a trendy logo is slapped on various items. I really don't care if a church does that. My warning is to not major on the minors (all that stuff) and miss the main thing - the message of the gospel.

A Higher Standard

I care about these churches because I know some of their pastors and a good number of their members. I pray they will not sacrifice the good news for a good time.

However, if a local church proves to be more icing than cake, I will continue to pray for them and not recommend that anyone attend. 

And for those who counter "Well, they weren't going to church anywhere. At least that church is better than not going, right?" I say - "Probably not."

I care because I want people to come to Christ. I want the unreached reached. I want the lost found. I just don't want a fluffy, weak, watered-down version of Christianity to propagate.

There's too much at stake. 


Live for God and You Will Face a Sanballat & Tobiah

I have been leading our church through a study of Ezra and Nehemiah on Wednesdays recently. We have discussed much about the rebuilding of the Temple and walls of Jerusalem. We looked at the significance of rebuilding these structures and of the gates of the city as well.

As you who have studied these books know, there are a few characters who show up early in the book of Nehemiah that seek to discredit Nehemiah's leadership and put a stop to the work being done in the city. These men are Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem.

The main protagonists are Sanballat and Tobiah. At first, they start hurling insults at Nehemiah and the people. Then, the threats lead to potential physical attacks. They are opposed to the work of God and are doing their best to stop it.

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Photo credit: alvaro tapia hidalgo on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Nehemiah is seeking to lead God's people well and honor God through the work. The enemies seek to place themselves first, not God nor his people. This is clear in the writings. 

Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem were men of influence. They had authority in the community due to their roles as governors and leaders of their regions. They represented people groups that were originally expelled from the Promised Land of God's people centuries prior. 

While it's not necessarily a good thing to ask "Where am I in this story?" when it comes to biblical narratives, primarily because that seems to place self at the center of God's stories. In this case, there are some things that are not only clear historically, but applicable for churches and Christian leaders today.

There are always Sanballats and Tobiahs

Most pastors I know have experienced this reality. When a pastor or Christian leader seeks to do great, impossible, God-sized things for the glory of God, there is always opposition. In other words, there's always a "Sanballat" and "Tobiah" in the midst. These may be community members or neighbors. Sometimes, they are actually members of the church. 

Over time they become easily recognizable. Here are some things that occur within the church that reveal a Sanballat and Tobiah may be in the room:

  • A sense of "me first" or "our group first" rises to the surface when community engagement and mission expansion are presented.
  • A pervasive negativity fills the room and is stoked by the Sanballats and Tobiahs. Negativity is like a cancer and can turn a joyous gathering of Christians into a complain-fest that sees nothing positive happening.
  • Vision dissipates.
  • A desire to go back rather than forward is often expressed.
  • An "us versus them" mentality is expressed, either overtly or covertly. The confusion may come in identifying the "us" and the "them." 
  • New ideas (or even old ones cemented in biblical truth) are opposed.
  • A number of pastors have heard the "We were here before you came here. We'll be here after you're gone." expression regularly.
  • A continued reminder of how big a failure you are as a pastor or leader (i.e. "You didn't visit enough," "Your sermons are negative diatribes," "You love 'them' more than 'us,'" "You're changing things and we don't like it," "Your family is rude/mean/loud/unruly/undisciplined/etc."

Here's the good news - your Sanballats and Tobiahs are just members of a long-lasting club. It's a club no one should want to be a member, yet continues to grow in number, it seems.

Pastor, be encouraged. There's no pastor who has not faced this. You are called to shepherd and serve. You are not perfect. You will make mistakes. Believe me, people will let you know when you make mistakes. Just remember that God called and equipped a king's cupbearer for an impossible task of rebuilding a stone wall with large wooden gates around a city. This task he (Nehemiah) was given was impossible. Then, while continually facing opposition, even from those who were working with him, he was opposed by Sanballat and Tobiah. Yet, he finished the task. The city was restored. God's good hand (Neh 2) was upon him. It is on you as well. Stay focused on the task, grounded in the gospel and respond to the negative attackers as Nehemiah did...

And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” Nehemiah 6:3 (ESV) 

I love that! When Sanballat and Tobiah were working once more to distract and stop the work Nehemiah was called to do, he responds with "Can't talk now. The work of God I am doing now is too important." 

Take heart. You're not the first to face opposition. You' won't be the last. Don't waste time talking about it to those who are direly opposed to God and his work (regardless their position or title) and press on. Yes, this is easier said than done, but then most vital things are.

One other warning: Be careful not to become a Sanballat or Tobiah. It's really easy to slide into that mode, even justifying one's own sin while doing so.