Previous month:
September 2010
Next month:
November 2010

Posts from October 2010

It's Better to Die

This morning one of our ladies in the church shared with me about her experience delivering backpacks full of food to one of our local elementary schools.  A woman in the parking lot saw her carrying the backpacks (part of our Team Backpack ministry) to the school office.  She offered to help and then began sharing how she had seen the news report on First Coast News and was so proud that First Baptist Church was doing this.  

Yesterday, I wrote about how our student ministry raised funds for a local homeless man named Larry so that he could get false teeth.

I was given pictures from our Heart 2 Heart preteen girls ministry of their Shoebox Party where they packed shoebox gifts for underprivileged children throughout the world for Operation Christmas Child.

There are the updates from our small groups who have helped rebuild and renovate homes in the community for those who are unable.

Today, we provided vouchers for families to receive food and aid from the Orange Park Clothes Closet.

Men in our group are sacrificing their Friday mornings to mentor junior high boys at Lakeside Junior High.

Hmmm, remember that question "If First Baptist Church ceased to exist, would anyone other than attenders notice?"  Apparently, some would notice.  Now, I'm not patting ourselves on the back.  We have a long way to go.  However, I am seeing the evidences of a church living missionally in our community and am so proud of the church we are becoming.

You know what?  It all comes down to denial.  This makes it so difficult for many.  Among all the great stories we see and are a part of, there are still frustrations among those in our fellowship.  Sometimes those frustrations manifest themselves as complaints or "concerns."  It's understandable.  It's difficult to grasp that living out our faith requires sacrifice of self.

Now, we all know this because we have heard it in Bible study or in sermons, but we are moving from just hearing to, as James states in his letter, living it out.

In our men's group on Wednesdays we have discussed the "Paradox Principle."  This paradox that states what sounds crazy is actually normal.  The fact that to gain life, we must die to self.  This smacks the face of the American Dream and all that we are told to believe by the world.

Many of our church family are reading David Platt's book Radical.  I encourage everyone of you get a copy and read it.  I continue to hear from friends within our family here about how this book is really rocking them regarding their perspective of what it means to be a Christian and the church in this world.  Makes for fun discussions.

Anyway, this concept of denial.  Again, it sounds good, but living it out is dangerous.  

What does this mean for us as members of First Baptist?  As parents?  As children?  As teenagers?

It means that we have to understand that church, at it's core, does not exist for us.  I struggled with that concept for years.  I believed that church existed for the people within it.  According to Scripture, that is not true.  The church exists for God. 

We keep saying, and it's true, that if we claim to love God we must love people.  All people.  Do you realize that to really love people requires we deny ourselves in so many areas?  It's not possible or even authentic love if it's just a word.  It requires action.

Reggie McNeal and others have shared how the church that doesn't get this becomes a club.  The club mentality is epidemic in churches today. It's not even intentional, but it happens.  The club mentality can be recognized when we get comfortable with our small group, whether that be as children, teenagers or adults, to the degree there is no desire, intent, passion, or urgency to reach others outside the group.  The club mentality grows when church is seen as an organization that offers goods to its customers.  The club mentality exists when the Gospel is forsaken for just experiencing good times together with friends.  The club mentality is sinful.  

I like what Elisabeth Elliot wrote as a summary of her husband, Jim's life in his biography.  (Jim Elliot was one of the missionaries killed by the South American tribe he was striving to reach with the gospel.)

Jim's aim was to know God.  His course, obedience - the only course that could lead to the fulfillment of his aim.  His end was what some would call an extraordinary death, although in facing death he had quietly pointed out that many have died because of obedience to God.

He and the other men with whom he died were hailed as heroes, "martyrs."  I do not approve.  Nor would they have approved.

Is the distinction between living for Christ and dying for Him, after all, so great?  Is not the second the logical conclusion of the first?  Furthermore, to live for God is to die, "daily," as the apostle Paul put it.  It is to lose everything that we may gain Christ.  It is in thus laying down our lives that we find them."

You may say, "I don't want to die for Christ."  I'm sure Elliot's story would scare most people.  Many still don't understand that you will never live until you're ready to die.

Parents, we have to teach our children this.  We have to help them understand that we are part of a larger story and that it's worth it to sacrifice for Christ.  The comfortable, convenient Christianity that we have packaged and purchased is not healthy.  

We are a church with many failings, led by a totally imperfect pastor who makes many mistakes, yet following a completely perfect and holy Lord.  He is working within and through us.  These are exciting days.  

Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, an in the age to come eternal life.  Mark 10:29-30 (ESV)

A hard passage, but the Paradox Principle all wrapped up here.  You cannot have this world and Christ. 

Wow! The Church Is A Powerful Force!

A few months back I asked the hard question to the church.  The question was "If our church ceased to exist, would anyone outside of those on the membership rolls notice?"  That's a pretty serious question for any church.  Why is it such a big deal? It's the missional test.  If the church is content with meeting for meeting's sake, for coming together for personal reasons or just because it's the thing to do, then we have missed a major reason for our existence.  When we don't live out our reason for existence, we move from being a church to a club.  You know what?  God never set apart a club to be his ambassadors to the world.  Christ didn't die for a club. 

I'll be honest with you, not everyone gets this.  Some are really struggling with the reality that the church does not exist for them, but for God.  Sometimes, as we dig into the Word of God and the Truth of what it means to be a follower of Christ, we are shaken from what we have been taught all our lives. That makes it hard.  We have difficultly admitting that maybe, just maybe, we haven't been seeing church as God would desire us.  Our purpose here is not to bring attention to ourselves, glory to our works, or praise for our practices.  We exist for one thing - the glory of God.

I think about the church all the time.  Some would say I should because it's my job.  That's not the reason.  I think about the church all the time because I love the church.  That may sound strange, but it's true.  I think I'm in good company.  Jesus loves the church, too.  Anyway, because I think about the church, our mission, our role in this world and our relationship with God all the time, I am constantly seeking His will regarding what we are to do, how we are to live, and what our expressions of worship are to look like.  

I am so proud of our student ministry, under the leadership of Ryan Rouse.  He has been leading the students to answer the question regarding our existence.  He has come up with a theme "Worship + Justice = An End to Poverty."  I"ll be honest, at first I didn't understand what that meant.  Then, over time, I have begun to get it.  Our students are getting it and living it out.  Larry gets it now, too.  Watch the clip below for the full story.


Hard Decisions

As pastor, there are numerous times that I have to make hard decisions.  Decisions that, after much prayer and seeking the face of God, still do not come easy.  These decisions always involve people and people matter.

As I shared last week and as many of you saw Sunday evening on our year-to-date financial report, we have had a very difficult month financially.  While all of the pastors have cut spending greatly and no ministry is spending up to budget, we had a September where offerings did not cover necessary expenses.  As our finance/stewardship committee shared Sunday evening "We do not have a spending problem.  We continue to have a giving problem."  I guess that's an issue with every church.

I hear that some folks, after reading last week's e-news, fear that we are going to let some employees go.  I don't believe I ever said that.  In fact, we are doing everything we can to keep from ever having to do that.  Remember, people matter.  They matter more than programs.  We have a great team of employees here, from our paid child-care workers, to custodians, maintenance, administrative staff and of course your pastoral staff.  I truly believe God has brought this team together for His glory.  So, make sure you're reading the entire email and not "hearing what I'm not saying."


So, what am I saying?



I met with our entire staff last Monday morning and shared the realities of our situation.  I believe we must be open about our finances to employees and church members.  That has always been our practice and we are blessed with a wonderful financial team (Bert Gates & the Stewardship/Finance Committee) who are men and women of integrity who truly seek God's will regarding our finances.  The understanding is that we are just stewards of His resources and are held responsible for how we manage it.  I shared with the staff that we are experiencing a $30,000+ deficit this year.  In the past we have experienced this as well.  In fact, counting this year, three of the last four we have faced similar deficits.  The reality is that we cannot continue to pull from reserves and manage our house this way.  While the 2011 budget we will be voting on this coming Sunday is smaller than years past, it still requires approximately $43,000 each week.  Currently, we bring in approximately $40,000 weekly on average.


What does this mean for our employees?  Simply put, I have prepared our staff to be ready to forfeit their last paycheck of the year.  This is across the board - pastors, admin staff, custodians, child-care workers, etc.  That means if we do not see an increase to cover our deficit, the church office will close the last two weeks of the year and all employees will not take a paycheck for that period.  Of course, if giving increases and we are making up the deficit, we will not have to do this.  I hope we do not have to do this, for personal reasons and for the families represented by all our paid staff.



We have also looked at current and future expenses and have decided that with a better understanding of our Missional Expressions (click here to read what I mean about this term) we are better served by moving our contemporary worship service from Swimming Pen Creek Elementary School back to the main campus.  This will save us approximately $3000 this year.  Our plan is to have a 9am service in the Worship Center featuring Brandon Phillips and the praise band.  It is a casual service and set up a little differently than our 8am and 10:30am.  The message presented is the same. 


Does this mean the satellite campus model is a failure?  Well, honestly, some will say it is.  I do not and that's not "spin."  I believe by stepping out with Bel Air and The Creek as satellite campuses, members of First Baptist were able to experience ministry in a way we haven't in years.  Risks were taken.  Challenges were faced.  A new perspective of what it means to be the church developed.  You see, we are on a journey of discovery.  God is moving us still from a club model to a church model.  He's renewing within the hearts of our people a more complete understanding of what it means to live on mission for Him.  He is moving us from the comfortable to the challenging.  And He is being glorified in this maturation process.  So, while we are pulling back from the satellite model at this time, we are growing our understanding of Missional Expressions. 


Will we ever plant another satellite campus?  I believe so.  When?  I do not know.  It may be back at Creek.  It may be somewhere else.  It may even be out of our city, state or nation.  Think of it as church planting and that is what we are called to as well.  That's Kingdom-mindedness.


We plan to have our first 9am service here at the main campus on Sunday, November 7.  Initially, we will offer one small group at 10:30am following the service, but plan to look at more offerings beginning in January.



Does this mean we are forfeiting our relationship with Swimming Pen Creek Elementary School and The Creek community?  Absolutely not.  We have met with the school leadership and have assured them that we will continue to serve them and minister to them as we have in the past.  That means, our Creek Missional Expression will continue with family movie nights, craft days, teacher helps, school supply drives, and more.  They (the school leadership) desire we stay connected.  That is our desire as well.  The Creek continues to be a Missional Expression for us just as Grove Park Elementary and Montclair Elementary and other schools in our community.



Yes, these are hard decisions, but needed ones.  Let me just share some concerns I have at this point regarding all that I have written about:

  • Will everyone who is connected at The Creek make the move to the main campus?

  • Will the church grasp the concept of Missional Expressions and live them out?

  • Will people read the e-mail understanding the realities we face and seriously pray for these opportunities and challenges, expecting God to come through?

  • Will believers come to understand that God desires we live generously and that it begins with the tithe?
  • Will the morale of church employees suffer?
  • Will we recognize the tests God is offering, understanding He desires we pass and gives us every opportunity to do so?

  • Will we trust God?

I am praying, believing.  That's key.  I believe God has led us to this place.  He is not facing a deficit.  How reassuring that the economy does not affect Him.  I believe He is priming us for ministry unlike anything we have ever experienced.  In discussions with many church members, of all ages, I am hearing similar things.  Many are reading along with me the David Platt book Radical.  Let me encourage you to get a copy and read it over the next few weeks.  Let God stretch you and challenge you.  You can get a copy here for just over $5.  It's worth every penny.  Oh yeah, don't let it replace your study of the Bible, please.


What Is a Missional Expression?

It's sometimes difficult using words that find their way into "buzzword" status.  When a phrase becomes a buzzword it seems to often lose effectiveness, if not meaning.  The word "missional" is one that we have added to our lexicon over the past few years and believe it is a key element in how we are to be the church throughout our community and the world.

Let's start with a baseline definition of missional.  "Missional is a way of living, not an affiliation or activity. To think and live missionally means seeing all life as a way to be engaged with the mission of God in the world."  (McNeal, Missional Renaissance, Jossey-Bass, 2009)  It's not so much a new way of doing church, but a movement back to the original foundations of how the church expresses itself.

Ed Stetzer and David Putman, in their book Breaking the Missional Code (Broadman & Holman, 2006) state that missional is a shift in thinking for the believer.  It is a shift in the following areas:

  • from programs to processes
  • from demographics to discernment
  • from models to missions
  • from attractional to incarnational
  • from uniformity to diversity
  • from professional to passionate
  • from seating to sending
  • from decisions to disciples
  • from additional to exponential
  • from monuments to movements

I agree with each of these shifts and believe there are more.  Sometimes making the shift to a new way of thinking is difficult, especially if you have been taught for decades a certain way of thinking.  I bet it was very hard to believe the earth was round for those who had been told their entire lives it was flat.  Good thing Columbus and others figured that one out for us.

It is often easier to explain the missional church by identifying what it is NOT.  

  • The missional church is not a dispenser of religious goods and services or a place where people come for their weekly spiritual fix.
  • The missional church is not a place where mature Christians come to be fed and have their needs met.
  • The missional church is not a place where "professionals" are hired to do all the work of the church.
  • The missional church is not a place where the "professionals" teach the children and youth about God to the exclusion of parental responsibility.
  • The missional church is not a church with a "good missions program."  The people are the missions program and this includes going to "Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth" with the gospel.
  • The missional church is not about a new strategy for evangelism.
  • The missional church is not missional just because it is contemporary, young, hip, postmodern-sensitive, seeker-sensitive or even traditional.  In fact, missional is not about style of worship at all.
  • The missional church is not about big programs and organizations designed to accomplish God's missionary purpose.  This does not imply there will be no church programs or organizations.  Rather, it reminds us that the programs and organizations exist to support the people on mission instead of driving the mission.

Missional is about life change.  It's about the people of God seeing their lives as a mission.  Being a missional church is more than being "mission-minded," though that is a good thing.  Missional leads to action.  It leads away from convenience and comfort to living out our faith.  So many in our fellowship are living missionally now.  Whether it be in one of our local elementary school ministries, a nursing home, coaching a youth sports team or something they're doing in their own neighborhood for others.  We call these missional expressions and we desire to celebrate them.

That phrase "missional expression" is going to be used more and more at First Baptist.  Missional expressions are the vehicle by which we as a church live out the vision and mission of God in our community and world.  

In the near future our website ( will feature our church's missional expressions.  The list of options truly is endless.  Our desire is to create an environment where the people of God are free to live out these missional expression through their lives.  All for the glory of God.

Missional expressions copy

Looks Like a Leno "Headline"

We have our homeowner's insurance through the Florida Farm Bureau.  That means that even though I am not a farmer, I'm a member of the Farm Bureau and receive their newspaper each month.  In each month's issue of Florida Agriculture they have a photo of a famous or semi-famous Floridian reading the newspaper.  Most of the time, I have no idea who the individual is, but sometimes I can figure it out.  Below is the image from the November issue.  I'm not sure, but I think the image is of Pam Bondi.  What do you think?


The Problem with Sin Management

I think it was Dallas Willard that first brought the phrase "gospel of sin management" into the vocabulary, though many Christians have struggled with this for ages.  I was faced with this belief again today as I talked with a friend, who happens to be a new believer.

He, like all of us, has a story.  Because he came to Christ as an adult, there are many chapters in his "pre-Christian" story.  Much of his past, by his own account, is embarrassing, shameful and sinful.  I won't get into his particular issues, but I think we can all relate at some level here. 

His biggest struggle now is Monday.  Let me explain.  When he's here at church on Sunday, sitting in the worship center, singing worship songs, praying with others and studying the Word of God with other believers, he feels safe.  He feels strong.  Then. . . Monday comes.

He shared that he goes back to work each Monday in an area surrounded by people who are living like he used to.  The "lostness" of his co-workers is glaring and the temptations to fall back into previous sinful behaviors seems overwhelming at times.

I discovered today as we talked that he was so focused on past sin and potential future sin, that he was missing a key element of the Christian life - you know that joy and abundance and life that Christ offers.

Dallas Willard states it this way in his book Divine Conspiracy. . .

A leading American pastor laments, "Why is today's church so weak?  Why are we able to claim many conversions and enroll many church members but have less and less impact on our culture?  Why are Christians indistinguishable from the world?"

Should we not at least consider the possibility that this poor result is not in spite of what we teach and how we teach, but precisely because of it?  Might that not lead to our discerning why the power of Jesus and his gospel has been cut off from ordinary human existence, leaving it adrift from the flow of his eternal kind of life?

Once we understand the disconnection between the current message and ordinary life, the failures noted at least makes a certain sense.  They should be expected.  When we examine the broad spectrum of Christian proclamation and practice, we see that the only thing made essential on the right wing of theology is forgiveness of the individual's sins.  On the left, it is the removal of social or structural evils.  The current gospel then becomes a "gospel of sin management."  Transformation of life and character is no part of the redemptive message.  Moment-to-moment human reality in its depths is not the arena of faith and eternal living.

When you fall into the trap of "sin management" you slide quickly into a legalistic mindset that looks far too much like the New Testament Pharisaical way of life.  

Don't get me wrong.  Sin is sin.  Call it what it is.  Don't live your lives unaware or haphazardly.  Be discerning and avoid temptation.  Run from it.  It's just that when all you see is the sin of your past or the potential sin of your future, you end up running blind.

Look at it this way.  You're driving a car and a bug splats right in the middle of your front windshield.  You can see it.  It's right there in front of you.  However, if you stop focusing on the road in front of you through the windshield and focus on the bug on the windshield, you will end up wrecking the car.  That's how it is in life.  

Now, you must recognize sin for what it is, absolutely.  Repent of that and let God remove it (or in this case, spray the windshield with cleaner and turn on the wipers to remove the bug innards.)  Then, keep your focus and move forward.

In life, that means keeping your focus on God Himself.  He really is offering life, abundant and full.

If you focus on the sin, God is relegated to someone you call only when you blow it.  When you focus on God and totally surrender to Him, you begin to see Him for who He really is and life is the result.

One Year Ago Today: A Family & Community Changed Forever - Remembering Somer Thompson

Has it really been one year?  It seems surreal.  It was one year ago today that one of the greatest tragedies and crimes in our community took place.  I remember my wife getting a phone call from a volunteer at Grove Park Elementary School.  My wife is a substitute teacher there.  They were trying to get in touch with the Assistant Principal of the school.  It seemed that one of the Grove Park students never made it home.

You know the rest of the story.  The news crews announced that a little girl who was walking home from school never made it home and foul play was being considered.  The Clay County Sheriff's Office and Orange Park Police Department were alerted.  The community came out in droves.  A group of us from the church met in the front foyer that evening for prayer and then took our flashlights and began combing the area with the hundreds of neighbors.

The following day the search intensified as FBI and other agencies joined the search.  Texas Equusearch was called in to assist.  Men and women from Naval Air Station - Jacksonville volunteered to add manpower to the search.  Hundreds continued to systematically search the wooded areas and homes in the Orange Park area.

We all had one thing in mind - find Somer Renee' Thompson.

Our prayers went up for Somer and her mother Diena, as well as her siblings and other family members.  Prayer vigils were organized.  The news crews were so good to get information out to the community.  The Sheriff's office welcomed tips and searchers.  Then, the news came that deflated the hopes of our community.  Somer's body had been found.

Why would I bring all this up today?  Isn't this hard for Diena and family?  Of course it is.  Diena has even said that "Mondays are the worst day of the week for her."  Yet, we must not forget what happened one year ago.  Somer's name has become synonymous with child-safety and protection.  Diena has been a strong icon for many and has continually shared how she desires to become an advocate for missing children and a help for family members. Diena's faith has grown and God has given her strength through this journey and will continue to do so.

I was honored to be asked by the family to preach at Somer's funeral service.  The opportunity to offer hope at such a difficult time is daunting, and yet Christ is that hope.  We continue to pray for the family and that God will bring peace.

The Orange Park community, especially the Grove Park and surrounding neighborhoods, has unified in the past year for the sake of safety and our children.  There are Neighborhood Watch signs everywhere.  Neighbors know each other now.  People look out for each other's children.  We all watch our kids a little closer and all of us treasure each day a little more, I think.

While these things will never bring Somer back, my prayer is that a renewed sense of community and family and a heightened awareness will prevent a tragedy, such as this, from every occurring again.  That's why Somer's "Stop Sign" stickers and purple ribbons can still be seen throughout the community.  That and a desire that justice come for her in the case that is pending trial.

Today, Tuesday - October 19, there will be a gathering of neighbors and friends in our community at Orange Park Junior High School.  Bobby Ingram and the guys from Molly Hatchet will be singing their tribute song in memory of Somer - "Fly On Wings of Angels" with help from folks from UNF, OPHS and First Baptist.  This memorial vigil will begin at 6pm and then, we will walk together, unified, through the neighborhood to Diena's home for a closing word.  Everyone is welcome to attend.

Please keep Diena and family in your prayers.


Real Men Run Away Sometimes

What does it mean to be a real man?  We work through the definition in our Men's Church and other meetings.  We have a definition of what it means to be real.

R- reject passivity

E - expect the greater reward

A - accept responsibility

L - lead courageously (Thanks to Robert Lewis and Men's Fraternity for the clear definition.)

I was talking to one of our men today in preparation for the junior high boys' mentoring program we're involved in.  This Friday we are discussing the issue of temptation.  I shared that when dealing with temptation, this is when a real man runs away.

It seems strange to use that phraseology, but it's true.  As a man, I often want to take on the challenges of life and run full bore into the battle.  However, there are some things that, as a real man, it is best for me to run away.  

Do you struggle with any secret sins or consistent temptations?  Let me rephrase that "I know you struggle with some sort of secret sin or constant temptation."  I believe we all do.  We tend to categorize sin.  I think that is to make us feel better.  We put serious sins in one category and little ones in another.  The truth is that in God's eyes, and I know you've heard this, a sin is a sin.

OK, so here's the deal.  We all face temptation.  By the way, to be tempted is not a sin.  How do you respond when temptation comes.  I face temptation.  There are a few areas, one especially, that I know is a weak spot in my armor.  I know when the Enemy will tempt me in this area.  I know how he's going to do it.  I know the lies that he says.  I know all this.  But. . .you know what?  I still find myself at times falling.

Yep, alert the media - I still blow it!

The frustrating thing is I know I'm blowing it.  I know the strategies the Enemy uses, yet I sometimes walk right into his trap.  You may be just like me.

So, what's a man to do?  RUN!

There are areas in each of our lives where bowing up and jumping in is just not the smart, or right thing to do.

Here's a good example.  Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers is an MVP candidate this season.  He is one of the major reasons the Rangers are preparing to play in the American League Championship Series.  With all the negative things we hear about professional athletes nowadays, Hamilton is a breath of fresh air.  Oh, don't get me wrong.  Hamilton is far from perfect.  He would tell you that.  Yet, as a Christian, he is a transformed man.  He is a child of God. . .with weaknesses.  He story is exciting now, but a few years ago, it was anything but.  He was considered a bust as a baseball player.  This was not because he didn't have talent.  It was because he was continually falling into problems with his drug and alcohol addiction.

He came to know Christ and his life was changed forever.  He's married and has children and is playing a game for a living.  What could be better?  However, he knows where his weaknesses are.

Back in 2009 photos hit the internet showing Hamilton drunk and partying with a couple of ladies in a bar.  Neither of the women was his wife.  This was another athlete in scandal.  He had been very vocal about his faith and his recovery, and yet here were the pictures showing him in very compromising positions.  Hamilton didn't deny the photos were of him.  In fact, according to reports he had immediately confessed this indiscretion to his wife and to the Rangers organization.  It was months later the pictures hit the web.  Yet, he still needed to comment.  Here's what he said:

"I'm embarrassed about it. For the Rangers, I'm embarrassed about it. For my wife, my kids," Hamilton said. "It's one of those things that just reinforces about alcohol. Unfortunately, it happened. It just reinforces to me that if I'm out there getting ready for a season and taking my focus off the most important thing in my recovery, which is my relationship with Christ, it's amazing how those things creep back in.

"Honestly, I hate that this happened. But it is what it is. You deal with it. I realized that, obviously, I'm not perfect, in this ongoing struggle, battle, that is very real. A lot of people don't understand how real it is.

"As soon as it happened, I called my support system -- my wife, the Rangers, and told them what had happened. I was absolutely open and honest about it.

"I went to get something to eat. Obviously, I eat at restaurants that have bars in them all the time. I wasn't mentally fit to go in there, spiritually fit, and it just crossed my mind, 'Can I have a drink?' Obviously, I can't."

He owned up to it.  He wasn't proud of his sin, but there was no excusing it.  Repentance and forgiveness are the healing elements.  Consequently, there was no story anymore.

So, here we are a year later.  The Rangers have clinched the AL West and the celebration is going to begin.  How do professional sports teams celebrate these types of victories?  With champagne, of course.  So, how's Josh going to deal with this?

(From Josh Hamilton, whose bouts with alcohol and drug abuse nearly ruined his career, avoided the Texas Rangers' locker room celebration -- and the beer and champagne showers that followed -- as the team celebrated its first Western Division title in more than a decade.

Instead, Hamilton opted to speak at church not far from where the Rangers were playing in Oakland on Saturday.

"So it would be kind of hypocritical of me to come in here and douse myself with alcohol and smoke cigars and then go out there and talk about Jesus," Hamilton told The Dallas Morning News.

Some teammates wanted to pour bottles of water on Hamilton and he told the newspaper several days ago that he thought about wearing goggles along with a wetsuit and or raincoat to avoid making contact with the alcohol.

"I'm excited and what happened yesterday as far as the guys celebrating in here, that's part of it,"Hamilton told on Sunday. "It's not for me. I'm not saying that I wouldn't have liked to have been in here with them. I just felt like it was in my best interest if I didn't participate. But it's amazing that it just so happened to work out that we clinched the same day they are having Faith Day and I'm speaking out there."

That is a real man.  A man who knows his weaknesses.  He knows who he is and who he is not.  He decides the only thing he can do is to not put himself in the situation where the temptation will overpower him.  As the Bible says, God always provides a way out.  

This is true for all of us.  Whether your temptation is alcohol or drugs like Hamilton's or maybe the most prevalent temptation among Christian men - pornography, or maybe something else like gluttony, gossip, greed, etc.  Joseph is our example from Scripture.  When Potiphar's wife was tempting him sexually, he did not go to her and "play with fire" thinking he could handle it.  He ran away.  He was still accused, but he knew and God knew that he had done nothing wrong.

Integrity - "without wax" - that's what God is calling from men and women today.

Back to Hamilton.  Last night the Rangers defeated the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS.  It was time for another celebration.  What was Hamilton to do?  This actually made Yahoo! News today.

This time, the Texas Rangers’ celebration started with Josh Hamilton(notes).

Left out of the party when the club clinched the American League West title in late September, Hamilton on Tuesday night dashed into the visitors’ clubhouse and into a torrent of ginger ale after the Rangers beat theTampa Bay Rays in the AL division series.

Rangers ginger ale
“The guys really doused me good,” he said later, having slipped out of the clubhouse when the ginger ale ran dry. “They gave me a lot of hugs and congratulations.”

He smiled and raised a green plastic bottle of soda. He’d pushed a pair of ski goggles to the top of his forehead.

“You know,” he said, “this stuff burns your eyes just like that other stuff does.” 

Hamilton’s life and baseball career were nearly ruined by years of drug and alcohol abuse. Still fighting that fight, Hamilton led the Rangers to their first AL West title in 11 years, won the AL batting title and is a leading MVP candidate.

Yet when they laughed and sprayed each other with champagne after clinching the division in Oakland, Hamilton stayed dry and sober in the trainer’s room. His teammates brought him along this time, laying in wait, armed with Canada Dry bottles, and together they carried on for 10 minutes after their 5-1 victory at Tropicana Field. 

“It meant a lot,” he said. “It just says a lot about my teammates, them understanding the sensitivity of my situation.”

Not far away, in the hallway outside the clubhouse, Hamilton’s wife, Katie, and various friends, including his pastor from North Carolina, beamed.

“I think that’s precious,” Katie said. “It’s so wonderful that they’re sensitive to him.”

Hamilton wore a broad smile as he passed team president Nolan Ryan.

“Nolan!” he shouted, and held aloft his bottle. “Ginger ale!”

Ryan laughed.

“Hey,” he answered. “Nice going!”

A couple of last thoughts.  Run from temptation.  It's the only way to win.  Also, it's good to have a band of brothers who understand where you're weak so they can watch out for you.  That's what the Rangers teammates did for Hamilton with the Ginger Ale.

American-Made Christianity and the Problem with the American Dream

As many of you know from my Tweets and recent conversations, I've been reading David Platt's book Radical.  Platt is the pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham.  He became pastor of Brooks Hils a few years ago at a very difficult time for the church.  The church was struggling with issues related to their previous pastor and like any church without a shepherd, challenges and difficulties arose.  When David Platt was named pastor I was surprised.  I had never heard of Platt, but that was not what surprised me.  There are many great leaders and pastors I have never heard of.  What surprised me was his age.  He was not yet thirty, I believe, and was called to lead this Deep South megachurch.  

Apparently, he was a little surprised as well as he states in the first chapter of his book.

One of our former staff members here at Orange Park was serving on staff at Brook Hills during this time, so I kept up (as much as you can keep up by just checking out the church website every now and then.)  I was curious to see how Brook Hills would move forward under Platt's leadership.

It's been a few years and it seems that a new identity for what it means to be the church has landed in Birmingham.  I am impressed with Platt's candor and all that he shares in his book.  Understand, I have never met Platt, nor have I ever talked with him.  My understanding is based solely on his writings and what Brook Hills is promoting via their website and other venues.  From this perspective, it seems that Platt is leading Brook Hills and others back to the basics of biblical Christianity.  That has been needed for years.

The subtitle of Platt's book is "Taking back your faith from the American Dream."  That subject resonated with me when I first read it.  I wasn't sure exactly where he would go with this concept, but after reading the majority of the book (I'm reading it slowly - highlighting and thinking deeply about the concepts) it is clear that David is able to say things clearly that have been in my mind for years.

What is being taken to task is "American-made" Christianity.  It's not an issue with the faith of our fathers or the Great Awakenings of the past.  The sad reality is that most Christians in America today are clueless when it comes to church history and the sacrifices made so that we have the freedoms to worship as we do.  Revisionist historians love removing any semblance of Christianity from our nation's history.  Yet, even deeper than that are the stories of individual men and women who loved Jesus Christ so deeply to sacrifice everything for Him.

Those stories are powerful, yet. . .often forgotten.

Platt makes his case that the American Dream that we have been sold is totally at odds with the gospel of Christ.  This causes a crisis of belief for many American Christians.  It's difficult to separate these two.  

"The American Dream" first expressed by James Truslow Adams in 1931 has become a national ethos in which freedom includes a promise of prosperity and success.  In a recent Town Hall meeting with President Barack Obama a woman asked him if the way America is today (relating to the economy and the reality that jobs are not as prevalent as in the past) was her "new reality."

Similarly, a 30-year-old law graduate, having trouble paying interest on his student loans and still looking for a job, expressed this, "Like a lot of people in my generation, I was really inspired by you and by your campaign and the message that you brought, and that inspiration is dying away.  It feels like the American dream is not attainable to a lot of us.  Is the American dream dead for me?"  President Obama answered with optimism, but the point I'm making here is not political and has nothing to do with the current state of the economy or your political leanings.

The point is that deeply seeded in the hearts of many Americans is the concept that the "American dream" is a right and must be attainable.

That quote continues to run through my mind.

The problem for Christians is when you try to balance the American Dream with the gospel.  Platt says this "We desperately need to explore how much of our understanding of the gospel is American and how much is biblical."  Platt is not saying, nor am I that being American is a bad thing.  Make sure you read this - I am proud to be an American.  I am grateful for those who have gone before so that I may experience the freedoms that I do.  I would desire to call no other place on this planet home. I have to say those things clearly, once again, because some are reading what I'm saying and immediately think "He's unAmerican."  How wrong and totally misguided.

The gospel is not about accumulating more "stuff" for me.  It's about total surrender.  It's about abandonment.  It's not about adding Jesus to my list of interests or just clicking the "Like" button on the Facebook page for God (which, I'm pretty sure God did not create.)  

As I have been studying through the book of James and preaching these messages on Sunday mornings, I am finding that I am standing centered in a place of total discomfort.  Why?  Because I am rediscovering daily that to claim Christ means a total surrender of all that I desire.  I don't want to stand before God at the end of my life here on earth and hear him say "You missed the point in so many areas."

The journey of life continues.

The Narrower The Place You Stand. . .The Broader Your Influence

A good friend of mine used to share this leadership axiom with me. . ."The narrower the place you stand, the broader your influence."  This pastor was not advocating a belief system akin to the Pharisees that Jesus and the early church dealt with, but a lifestyle that showed an understanding of biblical doctrine and what Christianity is truly about.

Our culture is growing increasingly pluralistic.  This means that more and more people believe that no one religion or religious experience holds sole and specific truth.  Some call this tolerance.  That's why many Christians, Baptists and evangelicals especially are called intolerant.  What makes us intolerant?  The fact that we believe there is only one way available to have a personal relationship with God and that is through Jesus Christ.  

A pluralistic worldview accepts every religious experience as valid truth.  It doesn't matter if you're Christian, Muslim, Buddist, Hindu or any other religion.  It's all good, in this worldview.  You may have heard that "All religions lead to the same place.  They just take different avenues to get there."  Sadly, many believers (i.e. Christians) have bought into this lie.

So, where is this narrow place?  The narrow place is upon the Word of God.  Yes, I'm an inerrantist.  I believe the Bible is completely true, from beginning to end.  I believe it is God-breathed and and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16.)

What is happening in our culture is a confusion of all things spiritual.  Al Mohler is being lambasted for stating that one who practices Yoga is practicing religion outside of Christianity.  The article was presented by the AP and Yahoo! News picked it up, so consequently, all types of responses are coming at Al for this statement.  Some are frustrated that it seems another Baptist is just blasting something else in culture as wrong.  I believe it goes much deeper than that.  It's a study on what Christianity truly is.

Mohler has stated that his email inbox is filling up fast today.  Many who are challenging him are claiming to be Christians and even Southern Baptists.  Yet, if you read Mohler's response to those addressing him, it becomes pretty clear that he said nothing about participating in stretching exercises, but was focusing on the spiritual aspects of yoga, which are inherently Hindu in nature.  I like what Mohler states here. . .

I have heard from a myriad of Christians who insist that their practice of yoga involves absolutely no meditation, no spiritual direction, no inward concentration, and no thought element.  Well, if so, you are simply not practicing yoga.  You may be twisting yourselves into pretzels or grasshoppers, but if there is no meditation or direction of consciousness, you are not practicing yoga, you are simply performing a physical exercise.  Don't call it yoga.  Click here for Mohler's full response.

I posted the story on Facebook and received quite a few responses.  I knew it would cause some "Likes" and dislikes.  Begs the question - what makes something Christian?

Maybe that leads to an even better question, can someTHING be Christian?  Or, can only people be Christian?

We live in a very spiritual culture.  We are definitely not in an era where spirituality lacks.  Just look at the spiritual book section at Barnes & Noble

What about that narrow place?

Just this week a Mormon teenager in one of my son's classes was asked to share what Mormon's believe on a day when world religions were covered briefly.  He stated, "We believe just like Baptists except that we believe the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three individuals, not one."  At least my son recognized that this was not accurate.  The teacher didn't allow for debate.  That would have been interesting. 

This is just one example.  It's all over the place.  Ever hear this one - "Christians and Muslims worship the same god, they just call him different names?"  Really?  Not quite.

Buddhists seek for inner peace.  Sounds good.  I've even heard Christians use this phrase.  Not biblical.  Why?  Because there is no such thing as inner peace.  The only peace we are offered comes from without - from Christ.  Without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit through a relationship with Christ, there is no peace.  You've seen the cheesy bumper sticker "No God, No Peace. Know God, Know Peace."  Well, that one's true.

So, where are you standing?  Upon the truths of the Word of God?  That's the only solid footing.  

The sad truth is that many Christians have blended modern pop-psychology and a mixture of other religious terminology and "feel-good" religion into their personal belief system.  They may call it Christian, but it's anything but.

Standing on a narrow place does not make you a legalist.  That's a fear many have.  "Well, I don't want to be a legalist."  I understand that.  Legalism is a killer.  Standing on the teachings of the Word of God gives you a narrow platform, but a solid one and therefore allows you a broader influence in this world.  Why do you want an broader influence?  So that you will be equipped to fulfill the Great Commission and Great Commandment.

You will then see people as Jesus does.  You can then love people as Jesus does.  Really.  It's possible.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. . .and love your neighbor as yourself.  Solid footing gives you strength to do this.