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Posts from May 2011

The End of the World As We Know It. . .So What Do We Do?

You can just hear Michael Stipe and R.E.M. singing it now. . .

It's the end of the world as we know it.

It's the end of the world as we know it.

It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.

It seems that the global disasters are increasing. Just look at this partial list of global events.

JANUARY

  • Queensland, Australia -  severe flooding. Three quarters of the state was declared a disaster zone. Over 30 people were killed and 200,000 were affected.
  • Brazil -  severe flooding. Nearly 500 people killed in the Rio de Janeiro region. Fear that many more were dead and many others missing.

FEBRUARY

  • Flooding in NW MSxm Queensland, Australia - Powerful cyclone hits area.
  • New Zealand - A 6.3 magnitude earthquake ripped through Christchurch causing multiple fatalities.

MARCH

  • Japan - Massive earthquake and tsunami hit the island nation, followed by ongoing nuclear threat from power plant.
  • Georgia - Wildfires grow in sothern Georgia as firefighters work to contain burn.

APRIL

  • Japan - Another earthquake hits the area causing great fear and caution and triggers tsunami warning.
  • North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama - Hundreds dead as tornadoes tear through Southern states.

MAY

  • Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana - flooding of the Mississippi River continues.
  • Texas - Wildfires cover hundreds of acres of Texas.
  • Joplin, Missouri - Hundreds dead and town faces great destruction as tornadoes wreak havoc.
  • Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas - Hundreds dead and tons of damage as storms and tornadoes hit.

There are more, but these are depressing enough. For those of us in Florida, we look at this list and then we think . . ."and hurricane season hasn't even started, yet."

"What is going on?"

2d7c4452cf884d2eafbb37acf6730507-bdff852b0b654d64bde98f10fe46abd6-12_t615 I hear that asked by a number of people. The same people who joked about the false prophet Harold Camping's prediction of Judgment Day (now moved to October 21) are still wondering if we're not really closing in on the end.

So, are we getting close? I believe so. Romans 8:22 speaks of the earth "groaning" in anticipation of the end. Perhaps this is what we're experiencing? Regardless, as Christians, we should continually be prepared. Scripture is clear on this. I wrote about this at the end of the post here.

However, as I hope you can tell, Christ has not yet come back. Therefore, there are still things God has for us to do in order to bring Him glory.

Can God get glory through disasters such as we are experiencing now?

These tragic disaster stories seem to come daily now. Some are wondering how much more can we take. Yet, I find that God's church, especially, but not exclusively, Southern Baptists are readily available to help in times like these.

There was a report on one of the major news stations following the Alabama tornadoes that the American Red Cross and Salvation Army had arrived and were distributing goods and offering aid to victims. However, when the camera panned the volunteers, they all were wearing bright yellow T-shirts and caps. While most of the viewing audience may not have caught this, those of us who understand realized quickly that these were not Red Cross or Salvation Army volunteers (Don't get me wrong, I'm sure they were there as well as other groups like Samaritan's Purse, and working and they do well. It's just that the images shown weren't of them.) The yellow shirts and caps are the distinctive emblems of the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams.

250036_224675404224831_221421797883525_972710_4417227_n In these last days, God will draw even more people to Himself. His church will serve and I believe that for Southern Baptists, the Disaster Relief efforts may result in the greatest harvest of souls in generations.

This is not to discount the Great Awakenings of the past or the evangelistic revivals of previous generations. God definitely used those and many souls were saved as a result.

It's just my opinion that God is raising up an army of missional (yes - disaster relief is missional) believers who are ready to love and serve their neighbors in the name of Jesus Christ.

We pray for the families of victims. 

AL_tornado_0533 We do not desire more disasters, by any stretch of the imagination.

We do, however, believe that God has and will use His church in these days to bring the nations, the people groups, throughout the world to the  saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

R.E.M. may be singing a politically left-leaning statement in their song, but in truth, this may be the "end of the world as we know it" but you know what?  "I feel fine," not because of who I am, but because of whose I am.

So what do we do?

We prepare. 

We realize that we are here for a reason. . .and that reason is not about us.

We double check that which is truly valuable in our lives (not the homes or cars or "stuff" we accumulate - looking at the images following the tornadoes reminds me how temporary those things are) and live from our hearts for God's glory.

It may not be that you can serve on a disaster relief team. You may never have a yellow T-shirt or cap, but you probably know someone in your family, school, work or community that is facing a personal "disaster." Be ready to "be the church" to those God puts in your path.

BTW - to read current updates from SBC Disaster Relief with info on how you can help or donate, go to http://www.namb.net/dr/.

 


Saying "I'll Be Back" May Not Be Enough This Time

Once again, a high profile marriage is falling apart in the public eye. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife Maria Shriver have called it quits. At first, it seemed strange, but many just chalked it up to another Hollywood marriage going down the tubes. Then, the story took a strange twist when it was revealed that Schwarzenegger had fathered a child with the family's former maid. 

Schwarzenegger-and-Shriver-1 By now, you've heard all this. The purpose of this posting is not to become another TMZ or Extra site, but to bring to light the continual attacks on marriage that are occuring in our world.

I wish I could say that these types of marital failures and the high rates of separation and divorce are relegated to the celebrity crowd, but that's just not the case. Stories of separation, infidelity, extra-marital affairs. . .and if you want to get biblical and call it what it is - adultery and fornication (i.e. sin) abound throughout our culture and even our own community.

The reality is that ever since Eden, marriage has been under attack.

Why does the Enemy hate marriage so?

There are a number of reasons. Here are some that come to mind, in no particular order:

  • Marriage was designed by God and ordained by Him. He hates everything about God.
  • Marriage is built on a love relationship and Satan cannot love. Love is not his nature.
  • Marriage is a picture, an illustration, of the relationship between Christ and His church. That's why we're called the "bride of Christ." Therefore, every time the Enemy sees a marriage (even if it's a marriage between lost people) it reminds him of Christ and the church.
  • Marriage is about relationship. The Enemy cannot have true relationships.

There are other reasons, but it becomes pretty obvious that all marriages are vulnerable to attack. Therefore, we, as believers, must protect our marriage and stand firm against the attacks. 

The Schwarzenegger story just brings all this back to the forefront. We've seen these types of stories before. When Elizabeth Taylor died, her marital and relational escapades made the news again (it still amazes me that she and Debbie Reynolds were able to work together later in life following the Eddie Fisher story.) The Brad and Angelina mess continues to keep Jennifer Aniston on the front of supermarket tabloids since the public continually feels sorry for her. The stories of politicians who have been unfaithful (Gingrich is in the news again due to his presidential announcement) also seem to be more common. 

There's even a popular television series (I've never watched it, but I gather from the commercials what it is about) focusing on what happens when a famous couple is split over the issue of infidelity. The show is called The Good Wife and seems to have been developed after numerous politicians admitted to marital infidelity while their wives stood by their sides at the press conferences.

These high-profile stories are just added to the ones we all know of friends, neighbors, co-workers, fellow church members and Christians who are facing their own marital issues, albeit without the paparazzi.

So, what can be done?

This question has been asked over and over by friends and church members.

Michael Hyatt, Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, on his blog, states his personal strategy for not becoming a casualty of broken vows. Here are his guidelines (click here for the full posting)

  1. I invest in my relationship with Gail (obviously, Gail is Michael's wife). It is amazing to me that so many men are willing to invest such enormous spiritual, emotional, and financial resources in relationships other than the one they have. This doesn’t make economic sense. If you want your marriage to grow and flourish, you must invest in it. This means investingtime—dreaming, laughing, listening, and crying together.
  2. I set specific boundaries. This may sound old-fashioned, perhaps even legalistic. So be it. I think our world could use a little old-fashioned common sense. Therefore:
    • I will not go out to eat alone with someone of the opposite sex.
    • I will not travel alone with someone of the opposite sex.
    • I will not flirt with someone of the opposite sex.
    • I will speak often and lovingly of my wife. (This is the best adultery repellant known to man.)
  3. I consider what is at stake. What story do I want my grandchildren to tell? This puts it all in perspective for me. Do I want them to be proud of my life’s story or embarrassed? Do I want to be remembered as a person who loves his wife and is faithful to her? Or do I want to be the one who squandered his legacy in a moment of indiscretion?

Another thing that I believe will help strengthen our marriages is the development of mentor couples. Every marriage book and counselor I have read and listened to references the need for mentor couples. These mentor couples are those who have been married for some time and are winning. They aren't perfect. Many have had serious issues in the past, but they have covenanted to remain together and their marriages are strong. My desire is to partner mentor couples with newly married couples initially. The agenda is loose, but based on relationship. It's not so much a curriculum, but two couples praying together and communicating about what really matters in life and marriage.

Perhaps, through the ministry of mentor couples, more marriages can be stronger for the long-term and avoid the potholes and pitfalls the Enemy throws at marriage.

The goal is that husbands and wives remain faithful to each other, loving and serving God together. How crazy would that be in this fallen, sinful world?

It is possible. However, it just doesn't happen automatically. Remember, we're in a war. We have to be strategic. We have to fight for this.

BTW - I pray that all marriages survive and thrive. . .even the celebrity ones. So often, these celebrities are reduced to caricatures. The reality is they are people with real hurts, real pains, and real loved ones. The Schwarzenegger-Shrivers are suffering. As are others. It's good that Arnold has "taken full responsibility" but that alone does not heal the relationship. Remember, God is for marriage. 


Can War Be Justified for Christians?

01 19 - Peace & War

While men and women are wearing the uniforms of the American military in war zones even now, questions come up among Christians regarding our stance on war. Can war ever be justified? As Christians, who are called to seek peace, can we ever justify armed conflict? If so, what guidelines do we have to determine if it is a "just war?" What about if a draft is reinstituted? Should Christians respond to the draft or run and hide (or burn draft cards?) Is it lawful for Christians to defend themselves, their families and their homes?

As you read this, you may have immediate answers to each of these questions, but we must go back to the entirity of the Word of God for our understanding.

We must avoid having an answer and then seeking to find a verse that supports that answer. That is done all too often by many people, and not just in the case of the subject of this post.

Article 16 of the Baptist Faith and Message (2000) states this. . .

It is the duty of Christians to seek peace with all men on principles of righteousness. In accordance with the spirit and teachings of Christ they should do all in their power to put an end to war.

The true remedy for the war spirit is the gospel of our Lord. The supreme need of the world is the acceptance of His teachings in all the affairs of men and nations, and the practical application of His law of love. Christian people throughout the world should pray for the reign of the Prince of Peace.

What does Scripture teach about this subject?

Christians, undoubtedly are called to peace. Peace must be our priority. The teachings of Jesus call us to be peacemakers.  There is much emphasis throughout Scripture on making peace. Note that there is no call to be peacekeepers. Peacekeeping is a passive response to disharmony. It is ineffective and most often just covers issues of conflict without resolving them. I find it interesting that the UN sends peacekeeping forces globally.  Well, I digress. That's a subject for another day.

Romans 12:18 states "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." 

There aren't that many verses with such qualifiers as this one - "if possible" and "so far as it depends on you." This reminds us that peace and peaceable livingis the goal, but the reality is that it is not always possible and it isn't always dependent on you. Hmmm. So, how we flesh this out?

Ammun_all3 Some state that the only Christian response is to be a pacifist. This teaching has been propagated for centuries. Some claim to be "conscientious objectors." Pacifism is the total rejection of all armed conflict. To truly be a pacifist, one must object to all offensive wars, but also the defensive use of force as well.

Dr. Al Mohler says "Pacifists claim that war can never be justified, whatever the cause or conditions. The moral failure of pacifism is found in its deadly naivete', not in its abhorance of violence. In reality, the world is a violent place where humans with evil intent will make war on others...Pacifism fails to keep the peace against those who would take it."

While naive pacifism is one end of the spectrum, the other end would be seeking to justify war under the banner of heaven. This is the theme of the ancient crusades where many atrocities were done under the name of God, and the mandate of the Pope. Both extremes are wrong and have no answers for the believer.

Augustine of Hippo, in the mid fourth and early fifth centuries, developed a teaching that come to be known as the guidelines for a "just war." As Augustine thought through the teachings of Scripture and placed them over and against the practical realities of living in a fallen world, he came up with his guidelines. First, he says that war must occur for a good and just purpose rather than for self-gain or as an exercise of power. Second, just war must be waged by a properly instituted authority such as the state. Third, love must be central to the motive even in the midst of violence.

There are numerous debates as to whether our current wars are just. Most of these debates tend to fall down political lines. As believers, we must seek to follow the whole of Scripture when understanding and living out these difficult issues.

Calvin Wittman, a Southern Baptist pastor and leader has shared seven principles of a just war. I'll list them here:

  1. The cause of initiating war must be just. That it, it cannot be for aggressive purposes, but rather for the defense and protection of the innocent.
  2. War cannot be initiated justly except by those who hold the proper authority and responsibility (i.e. governments, not terrorist organizations, etc.)
  3. The moral merit on our side must clearly outweigh the moral merit on the other.
  4. War can only be declared with the right intention, which is to obtain or restore a just peace. The desire to punish or humiliate are not justifiable intentions.
  5. War must be the last resort.
  6. War cannot be justified if the prospect of success is hopeless. (Now, this one concerns me. It can be read different ways. I'm not sure I fully agree with this statement as made. Who determines a war is hopeless? Some would have said fighting the Nazis was hopeless. Hmmm. This point needs to be clarified more, I believe. Perhaps, the point is to not "fight hard and die quickly" but to be prepared so that the best hope for victory remains.)
  7. War should be seen as a tragic necessity, not an agressive opportunity.

It's challenging because by showing and sharing all these points for justification of war, one would think Christians are advocating war. That is not the case. We seek peace and to be peacemakers. Our desire is that others may come to know the Prince of Peace and we look forward to the day of His coming.

However, we live in an evil land (I'm speaking of the world, not our nation) and the Enemy reigns. Therefore, wars and battles take place. They have since the beginning of time. We do not have the right to run away and hide. The Lord, He is a warrior. We have been called to battle as well. We must remember, though, that our primary battle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers of spiritual evil.

 


When "Our" Plans Get Derailed. . .Or Get a Flat

Today I received an email from some friends and church members. The subject line stated this: It's not about us. . .It's about God. Our plan may not be HIS plan.

Well, that sounded familiar. I think I said it last Sunday or the Sunday before. It's one of those common Christian phrases that we say, but I'm not sure we really comprehend. Apparently, we are beginning to get it. Unfortunately, it's not always fun.

So, after asking permission from Steve and Diane Toney, I am sharing their email here. I thinnk it is pretty clear and doesn't need any commentary from me. Diane is writing.

 

Toney Our desire for many years was to travel out west. We planned and saved, set a target date and focused on “our” plan. As the time got closer, we kept saying we were excited but nervous. We ran into some things that we “fixed” so we could make “our” planned trip the first of May. In March, I hurt my back. So I hurried to the doctor to get it taken care of so we could stay with “our” plan. Even though it delayed us by a couple of weeks…that was okay because “we” had a plan. A few weeks before the trip, we were called by the Florida Baptist Disaster Relief team to go to Alabama, but we declined because we had too much to do to stay on target with “our” plan. Then the week before our trip, we took our truck in for regular servicing (oil change, etc.). It was something that should have cost a few hundred dollars…but turned out to be over $700. But, that was okay because we were taking our trip…it was “our” plan.

Toney tires

Monday we got up, finished packing, said our prayers for safe travel and headed out. About 1:00pm, we had a tire blow out on the RV. It wasn’t bad, Steve replaced it, and we were on our way; staying with “our” plan. Approximately 25 miles up the road, we had another tire blow out, this time with damage to the RV. We immediately called the road service so they could bring us a tire and we could keep moving with “our” plan. At 7:30pm we were still sitting on I-10 with no new tire. During that time we questioned if our trip was God’s will. Surely it was…we had planned it for years, right? We ended up having to unhook our RV and leave it on the side of the interstate for the night. We found a hotel and tried to get some rest. But that night rest didn’t come easy. God revealed to us that we had never asked Him if he wanted us to make this trip. He said He had been trying to tell us but we just refused to listen. He said He was disappointed in us and He said we needed to come home. Wow…what a humbling experience. Today we are heading home.

 God never ceases to amaze me. We may never make the trip “we” planned and that’s okay. I know He will reveal His will in our lives but we have to open up to Him and be willing to accept that our wants and desires may not be His. God continues to be an awesome God and I’m thankful every day that He is my Lord and Savior.

 


We Were All POWs

I am currently in Americus, Georgia. I am leading a group of our senior adults on a trip to some sites up here nearby. Yesterday, we left early from Orange Park and arrived a little after lunchtime at Andersonville. While some in our group have been here before, the vast majority have not.

Andersonville, Georgia is the home of the National POW Museum and a National Cemetery. If you travel on I-75 in Georgia, you may have seen the brown sign showing an exit leading toward Andersonville. If you're like most, you just drive by. Click here for the National Park Service info regarding this site.

Andersonville is not close to the interstate. It's a bit of a drive.

So, why did the federal government put the National POW Museum so far off the beaten path? 

DSCN0070 Andersonville is the home of formerly named Camp Sumter - the largest Civil War era POW facility in the nation. In this Confederate camp, that existed for only 14 months, over 43,000 Union soldiers were confined. Of these, almost 13,000 died from disease, poor sanitation, malnutrition, overcrowding, and exposure to the elements. The camp was not a prison as many would imagine, but an open air 26 1/2 acre stockade with a 16 foot log wall surrounding. While the walls no longer exist, a portion of the stockade has been recreated to help visitors imagine the setting. Today, it's a grassy hill with a few large trees growing in one corner, complete with monuments from northern states commemorating their war dead. At the time the prison was active, there was no grass, just red clay and sandy ground with a trickling stream running through the middle (which was the only source of water, and also served as the public toilets.) 

In 1970 the legislature established Andersonville as a National Historic Site. The goal was to create at the park a museum that would "interpret the role of prisoners-of-war camps in history" and "to commemorate the sacrifice of Americans who lost their lives in such camps." This museum is wonderfully designed and takes the visitor through the plight of POWs in various wars, from the Revolutionary War to Operation Desert Storm (expansion to cover stories from current wars is in the works.) The features of this museum are interactive and very emotional. 

DSCN0045 As we walked through the museum, toured the prison grounds and the National Cemetery, the sobering reality of the depravity of man is very clear. I heard some of our seniors saying things like "It's hard to believe that man can do this to other men." 

We discussed how this relates to the larger story. In a sense, every person on the planet is a POW, being held by the Enemy in a prison of sin as the great spiritual battle continues. The sad thing is that most do not even realize they're being held prisoner. Once a person surrenders to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and accepts Him and his substitutionary atonement, he/she is rescued from prison and set free (see Galatians 1.) This is true liberty.

In the museum, there are a couple of short films shown. One titled "Echoes of Captivity" we have shown at our church in the past. Yet, every time I view it, I tear up. The personal stories of men (and one woman) who have served in the American military and have been held captive (some for almost a decade) as prisoners-of-war are incredibly moving. Perhaps the most moving portion of the film is when the former POWs describe the day they were liberated. Some are sharing of an event that took place decades earliers, but the tears start flowing. 

These reunion stories of former prisoners and family are incredible. The joy that is described is overwhelming. The images of these men (and woman) stepping out of planes to be greeted by spouses and children will bring a tear to one's eye. 

DSCN0088 We are reminded as believers that heaven rejoices when one soul is saved. I think perhaps this rejoicing resembles these images somewhat (but on a much larger scale.) The rejoicing that takes place when a child who has been held, unknowingly, as a POW in the real battle is liberated and set free. Now, that will bring a tear of joy to your eye. . .or at least it should.

So, this started as a trip to a historic site and has become a great illustration of God's great love for us. I guess it's true. . . everything's spiritual.

He who has ears to hear. . . listen.


Welcome to the Table. . .Just Don't Talk

 01 18 - The Christian and Social Ord

There's been much debate regarding the role of Christians in the public forum when it comes to what is deemed as "social issues" (i.e. abortion, euthanasia, etc.) Some take the stance that Christians should remain neutral in the realm of politics and societal discussions. That sounds very tolerant and accepting, but in actuality is the very opposite.

In June 2006, then Senator Barack Obama made this statement. . .

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. What do I mean by this? It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons. . .but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I can't simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all. (Senator Barack Obama's "Call to Renewal" speech - YouTube - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DOwzy-vKaFI)

This quote and link from President (then Senator) Obama is not meant as an attack, but to illustrate a point. Believe me, President Obama is not the only American holding to the beliefs that religious (i.e. mostly Christian) beliefs can be divorced from the public forum. 

Don't talk Yes, I do realize that our nation is a melting pot of cultures and has people with a wide variety of religious beliefs. I understand that our elected officials are set there to govern over all people in the nation. The issue isn't political. The issue has to do with the divorcing of one's deeply held beliefs with one's actions or inaction. Wrap it in the guise of tolerance if you will, but the truth of the matter is that one's beliefs determines ones actions and, in truth, one's beliefs cannot be fully ignored or set aside, even in the sense of "fairness." 

Dr. Al Mohler calls this "secularism with a smile" and Democrats, Republicans, Tea Partiers and every other political flavor fall prey to it at some level. Mohler says "This is secularism with a smile - offered in the form of an invitation for believers to show up, but then only to be allowed to make arguments that are not based in their deepest beliefs." (AlbertMohler.com - June 30, 2006)

The question that must be answered is "What role should we as Christians play in society, and do we have a responsibility to stand for what we believe, even though it may be at odds with others in our society?"

Our confessional statement, The Baptist Faith and Message (2000) speaks on it this way in Article 15 - The Christian and Social Order. . .

All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society. Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love. In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth.

The attached audio session goes into greater detail regarding social issues and the role of Christians. Using the Sermon on the Mount as our text and focusing on "salt and light" we are able to see that as believers, we truly do not get a pass on this. There's no sitting on the side-lines.

Here are some things to ponder, especially in our culturally saturated Christian experience. . .

  • Some people are very religious about their politics. Others are very political about their religion. Both are wrong. Amazing and unbelievable as it may seem to some, God is not registered as Republican or Democrat (or Green Party, Libertarian or any other party.) This is not to say don't register as a specific party. I'm registered. My party affiliation was determined after prayer and consideration of platform issues. If platform issues change or the pendulum swings further away from my deeply held biblical beliefs, then party affiliations will change as well.
  • President Richard Nixon coined the term "silent majority." His circumstances for coining this phrase was different than my point here. As Christians, we are not to be a silent majority (or even minority in some cases) when it comes to moral and righteous issues.
  • The issues laid out in our statement of faith cause some consternation among many believers. Some believe these are "social issues" that the church should avoid. The thing is, while the BF&M is a man-made document, it is based on the Truth of the infallible Word of God (Scripture references are given under each article. Check them out online here.) The points brought to light in this Article: racism (which we as Southern Baptists have ashamedly admitted and since repented of the great role this played in our founding and for many years) greed, selfishness, vice, sexual immorality, adultery, homosexuality, pornography, etc. all are biblically named as sin. We should note that they're not graded as "worse sins than others" . . . just sin. 
  • We must remember that we are citizens of heaven (and as I said last night, "We're just here on a work visa.")Our prayer is that "Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" and therefore, we come to understand that in many cases God has chosen us as His vessels to work His will "on earth." This also means that we had better spend more time in the Word of God and in prayer to be able to discern His will. Believe it or not, His will is not a secret.

There's more here to cover, but you're better served listening to the audo file or downloading to your iPod as a free podcast.


Lying Pastors and the Cult of Self

There's a lead artile on Yahoo! News today titled "Local pastor made up elaborate Navy SEAL tale." Once I saw the headline, I thought "Oh great. . .here we go again."

Pastorseals Apparently, Pastor Jim Moats of Christian Bible Fellowship Church in Newville, Pennsylvania created a pretty amazing personal testimony of his time as a Navy SEAL. With the stories headlining now about SEAL Team 6 and the killing of Osama bin Laden, Pastor Moats was considered a newsworthy local story for the Pennsylvania Patriot-News. The only thing was his story continued to develop elements that resembled the Steven Seagal movie "Under Siege" a little too much.

His story was copied from the exploits of Seagal's SEAL character in the movie. This began to raise suspicions among actual SEAL veterans.

In reading this story, I found two statements most troubling. . .

This time the exposed fabricator was a preacher - though people who monitor this brand of public lie note that members of the clergy are often tempted into such misrepresentations.

and

"We deal with these guys all the time, especially the clergy. It's amazing how many of the clergy are involved in those lies to build that flock up," said retired SEAL Don Shipley.

I wish I could stand on my soap box and state that these statements just weren't true. I wish it could be said that all believers, especially pastors, understand the power of words and truth and that lies were not told.

I cannot.

Unfortunately, there have been many embelished testimonies among pastors, evangelists, and other believers throughout the years.

  • Darrell Gilyard, former pastor of a Shiloh Baptist Church in Jacksonville made the news in 2009 and ended up pleading guilty to counts of lewd molestation. However, this was not the first time Gilyard made national news. It was back in the early 1990s when he was making the rounds to numerous large Baptist churches sharing his story of growing up homeless and sleeping under a bridge in Palatka. He was featured on national television and became another "celebrity preacher." His story of being homeless was later discovered to be untrue. As most of you know Gilyard's lying was just the tip of the iceberg. I pray for those affected by Gilyard's story and his actions and for Shiloh Baptist. They're recovering from this story, but it will continue to be difficult. 
  • In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Christian evangelist and comedian Mike Warnke was very popular among evangelicals. His personal story of being a former Satanic high priest was incredible. Well, it was until Cornerstone Magazine revealed in 1991 that Warnke's story was bogus. I remember seeing all the books and videos being immediately removed from local Christian bookstores shortly after this story ran. 
  • Australian pastor, Michael Guglielmucci of Planetshakers Church in Melbourne, Australia told family, friends and church members that he was dying of cancer. He wrote a wonderful worship song titled Healer, which is included on mega-church Hillsong's  This Is Our God album. The only problem is that Guglielmucci didn't have cancer.

Unfortunately, there are many examples. Lest, you think I'm throwing stones, I am not claiming to be perfect. I am not sin-free, but I am set free from sin. Some say this is judgmental. I disagree. All Christians have a high calling, but especially pastors (no, we're not better than anyone else.) Scripture speaks of pastors (or overseers) being men above reproach and not double tongued. There are also dire warnings for any leader who leads the young ones astray. Something about it being better to have a millstone tied around one's neck and thrown in the sea than to lead one astray. Apparently, God expects His children to speak truth.

While each of the examples above are unique, they have a common theme. Why would a pastor or Christian leader feel the need to embellish his testimony? I'm sure in each case, the story began small - it was just a little "white lie" most likely (not that that is an excuse) but then that little "white lie" became THE story. They were asked to "share their testimony" over and over. People were impressed. There were probably some "oohs" and "aahs" from the congregation and maybe people even waited to shake their hands at the close of services. All this feeds the cult of self.

I'm not saying these men aren't Christians. I am saying that they have sinned publicly and greatly and must repent. The culture around us sees "lying pastors" as the norm, as evidenced in the quotes above. Just Google "lying pastors" and you will see site after site of stories and blogs by people who now call themselves "Ex-Christians" and are angry at all who claim Jesus Christ. Why? Because they feel betrayed.

I started thinking about my testimony a little more after reading the article about Moats. I've shared it here often. I don't believe I've embellished it, but I must be sure not to "get caught up in the moment" of sharing my story so that it becomes nothing more than a "fish story." 

Lies hurt.

Really.

As Christians we believe in the Truth. Jesus is the Way, Truth and the Life. Truth matters. Therefore, little "white lies" have to be called what they truly are . . . .sin.

One writer explained the reason believers lie about their testimonies this way. . .

The reason we embellish our stories is because we cannot embrace the reality of our nothingness. But it is our nothingness that makes God's grace so amazing. The brother (Pastor Moats) who is publicly embarrassed right now was caught in a story that he let develop and then ultimately promoted because it met a deep personal need in his life. He needed to feel like he was somebody.  (Bob Bixby)

I think Bixby has it right in this case. The cult of self draws us to create stories that are exciting. The sad reality is that our stories are small. The adventure, the exciting thing is that we have been rescued and invited into a Greater Story - God's Story. He's the main character, not us. Any embellishments to our small stories pale in comparison to the Truth of the Greater Story.

Maybe this is a good litmus test. If your personal testimony (or anyone else's) is more about you than God. . .you'd better reevaluate.

With all this hitting the news today, remember, it's not just pastors who fall prey to these temptations. Pray for the pastor (and others mentioned) and for the church in Pennsylvania. Don't pray that everything will be swept away. Rather pray for repentant hearts and new life that focuses on the glory of God, rather than on the glory of self.

 


"Can't We All Just Get Along?" - Cooperation As Christians

01 17 - Cooperation

Southern Baptists are proud of the heritage of cooperation among churches and yet, there are times in our history where cooperation was strained or even ended between churches and ministries. Our Baptist Faith & Message (2000) states clearly in Article 14 that cooperation is valuable and vital in our work for the Kingdom of God.

Christ's people should, as occasion requires, organize such associations and conventions as may best secure cooperation for the great objects of the Kingdom of God. Such organizations have no authority over one another or over the churches. They are voluntary and advisory bodies designed to elicit, combine, and direct the energies of our people in the most effective manner. Members of New Testament churches should cooperate with one another in carrying forward the missionary, educational, and benevolent ministries for the extension of Christ's Kingdom. Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ's people. Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament.

It's pretty clear and yet. . .it sounds like it was written by a committee, doesn't it?

Rodney+king1296149617 Do you remember back in 1992 when riots and looting and even deaths resulted in Los Angeles all surrounding the Rodney King case? Rodney held a mini-press conference and his question became the meme of the day. . . "Pepole, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along?"

A similar question comes up within the church at times.  Perhaps, you've even asked this question? It goes something like this, "Can't we (all Christians and churches) work together? After all, don't we all love Jesus? Don't we all want to do His will on this earth? Aren't we all His children? Why can't we all just get along?"

Good questions, and on the surface they are valid. While this is not a teaching or a posting to defend division or to advocate the greatness of denominationalism, there are some things. . .some very serious things that divide Christians and those who claim to be Christians.

We are living in a day of religious pluralism. Perhaps, this is more evident today than any time in church history, except the first century. Tolerance and acceptance are the most highly touted virtues of the day. 

That's why when we decide there are groups or even churches we cannot lock arms with for service, we are called intolerant, narrow minded and elitist.

The reality is that we are bound, not by what seems right to us, not by what the world would dictate as being tolerant, but by Scripture itself.

Pastor and author A.W. Tozer, in his book God Tells the Man Who Cares, writes the following in a chapter titled "Divisions Are Not Always Bad."

To divide what should be divided and unite what should be united is the part of wisdom. The first divder was god who at the createion divided the light from the darkness. This division set the direction for all God's dealings in nature and in grace. Light and darkness are incompatible; to try to have both in the same place at once is to try the impossible and end by having neither the one nor the other, but dimness rather, and obscurity. In a fallen world like ours, unity is no treasure to be purchased at the price of compromise. Loyalty to God, faithfulness to truth and the preservation of a good conscience are jewels more precious than gold or diamonds. Power lies in the union of things similar and the division of things dissimilar. maybe what we need in religious circles today is not more union but some wise and courageous division.

With all this talk of division, I'll close with three areas where Christians can and should unite and cooperate.

  1. We are to be united in the truth we believe about Jesus.
  2. We are to be united in the love of Jesus Christ and how we show this love to one another.
  3. We are to be united in the work of Jesus Christ for the Kingdom of God.

All to be done for the glory of God without compromise to the elements of sound doctrine given to us in His Word.


Membership Has It's Privileges. . . . .Really?

I found a link on a friend's blog (Ricky Powell's "Life Matters" blog) that linked to a story about membership in Southern Baptist churches.

The original article "Meaningless Membership: A Southern Baptist Perspective" is found on the 9Marks site and is written by Al Jackson, Pastor of Lakeview Baptist church in Auburn, Alabama. 

Jackson has stated well that membership in Southern Baptist churches has lost meaning over time. In our Newcomers Class last Sunday I addressed the fact that many times people do not see a need to become a member of the church. There are many who attend here at First Baptist regularly, as with many churches in our denomination, who are not officially members. Then, there are many whose names are on roll books but haven't participated actively (and I'm not referring to those who are home-bound due to physical ailments) in years.

One of the questions I'm asked by people visiting our church from a non-church background is "Why would I need to join?" or "What's the benefit of joining?"  

These are good questions.

We live in an age where people are asked to join different organizations or social media sites all the time. The confusion is when membership in a local church is seen as no different than joining the YMCA or the country club or any number of organizations. I think of those "Welcome To. . ." signs that are posted as you enter small towns. Often they have emblems on the sign showing all the fraternal organizations and clubs in the town. These are such groups as the Lions Club, the Rotary or even the Masonic Lodge. The natural question, therefore, is "Why join the church if it's just like these other groups?"

What's interesting is that in many of these non-Christian groups and clubs, the membership expectations are higher than in most churches.

So, what has caused this membership problem among Southern Baptist churches? (I'm sure other churches face this, but I don't know about that personally, so I'll write only about the SBC.)

I remember back in the 1980s the church we were members of had a huge enrollment push for Sunday School. We went from door-to-door and asked people if they wanted to join our Sunday School. The vast majority didn't even know where our church was, but we were enrolling them. Some said "Yes" just to get us to leave, I'm sure. 

The intent of this was that when we enrolled people, some would actually attend. Seemed strange to me, but I guess it worked in some areas. Now, I have always believed in Sunday School and the "open enrollment" strategy, but this thing just seemed a little fake, or at least like a "quick fix" for attendance problems.

Guess what? We did not see any increase. This was probably due to the fact, we did no follow up and mostly that we were seeking names for a roll, but not relationships with people. We were once again promoting the church, rather than living out our faith. Another "quick fix" church event that used up a lot of energy and resulted in little, if any positive results.

However, over the next few years our Sunday School membership books had many, many names on them.  (I understand in Baptist life, there's a difference in Sunday School, or small group, membership and church membership.)

I have discovered as the writer of the above reference blog has, that many times, we have members on rolls whom no one actively attending the church knows. Then, there are those who are known, maybe they're family members, but they never attend (or they just attend at certain business meetings, as referenced in Jackson's story.) 

Somewhere along the line, we have missed the point.

Could it be that this goes back to the "Million More in '54" campaign? Those were the "good old days," right?

Vance Havner had a pretty stinging comment when he said "We Southern Baptists are many but are not much." 

My concern is that we are either seem overly concerned about the numbers on our membership rolls or totally unconcerned about it. I think either extreme is wrong.  Here's why. . .

TO BE OVERLY CONCERNED ABOUT OUR MEMBERSHIP NUMBERS

Members-only-logojacket-111507-2 This leads to the natural inclination to "get more members" in the church. Motivations may begin purely, but can easily slide into a numbers game. The numbers game leads to desiring more members than the church down the street (which I'm pretty sure God isn't keeping score this way.) Sometimes it's to justify new facilities or programs, or even ministry positions.  

We also can fall into a strategy of "evangelism" that does nothing more than promote our churches and the programs we offer - and never talking about the life-changing message of Jesus Christ.

Regardless, concern over "getting more members" for any motive other than to reach more people for Christ, to grow His kingdom and to make disciples is wrong.

TO BE UNCONCERNED ABOUT OUR MEMBERSHIP NUMBERS

I have to be careful about how I state this. Some people believe it's "unspiritual" to even count membership or to be concerned about these numbers. Numbers of members just for the sake of numbers is wrong. However, each number represents a person - a soul. To be totally unconcerned is to lose sight of our calling to evangelize and disciple. 

This leads to the "Holy Huddle" mentality of church.

Do you remember the old saying "We count people because people count"? Kinda cheesy, but there's truth there.  People do count.

Lives transformed by the saving power of the Gospel and the blood of Christ serve to bring glory to God.

It seems to me we have two distinct issues when it comes to church membership.

First - articulating why church membership is valuable and encouraging believers to join our churches.

Second - standing firmly on what we believe and who we are so that membership is considered valuable and an "anything goes" attitude toward members will cease to exist. 

It's more than a numbers game. There are deeply spiritual issues to deal with here.

I've read some comments on the original blog posting by Jackson and some are lamenting that we do not practice church discipline as we should. That is true. One of my friends, Pastor Herb Young of Jacksonville Heights Baptist Church, posted "Sadly, we often become what we tolerate, and advance the things we refuse to confront." This was in reference to the fact that there are many unregenerate people claiming membership in Baptist churches. He's right.

We say "Membership has it's privileges" in our churches (though that sounds like a bad tag line for a country club or health club) and yet what are those privileges. In the eyes of many it means they can teach a class (which some say "I don't want to teach a class) or serve on a committee (many say "I don't want to serve on any committees") and vote ("Does that mean I have to come to business meetings. No thank you.") Oh yeah, they have to give up their "Visitors Parking Spot" near the front doors. Hmmm, so there are not many intriguing reasons for many to join the church. 

I appreciate Jackson's article and yet, he leaves it where I do. Not so much an answer for the issues, but an acknowledgement that there is one. 

The reality is that the the key is making sure all we do is focused on glorifying God. This is done by loving Him and loving others. 


How Christians Respond to Bin Laden's Death

This weekend's news reports have resulted in some incredible responses throughout the world. I'm referencing, of course, the killing of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. News coverage since Sunday evening has been pretty much non-stop on the bin Laden killing.

Politics and political movements are already being made based on the story. Everyone wants to take credit and state that those from the opposing party had nothing to do with it. I have a feeling that come election time, we will see Osama pictures and images on advertisements with patriotic catch-phrases attached.

Conspiracy theorists are having a great time as well. There are questions related to the burial at sea that bin Laden was given, which leads to questions regarding the validity of his death. Even though the answers being given as to why he was buried at see are legitimate, they will not suffice for many.

Regardless, the story from Sunday night grows.

I was meeting with some pastors and denominational leaders from our area and around the state yesterday. We were discussing many things and then at the close of the meeting one of the pastors asked this - "Would you help with how to respond to this event?"

Osama-bin-Laden2132 That may seem like a strange question, but if you were reading the Tweets and Facebook postings yesterday, you noticed some challenging questions and statements. I'm not referring to statements by celebrities, politicians or even the majority of people in the world. I'm refering to the statements made by professing born-again Christians.

So, what is the issue?

The issue is how to respond. Being glad that justice has been served is one thing. Being glad that someone is in hell for eternity (as some have posted) is another thing altogether.

There is a fear of seeming insensitive to those who have lost loved ones in the September 11 attacks or the following and current "War on Terror." Some also feel that doing anything other than celebrating the death of this madman is unpatriotic or un-American. These are challenging emotions and very, very real.

I heard a father of a victim of the World Trade Center attack  on the radio today being interviewed. He was asked if the death of bin Laden brought closure for him relating the death of his daughter. He stated pretty bluntly that "Closure is cr_p. There's no closure. My daughter is still not alive." There is much pain here and throughout our nation.

We, as believers, are never to be insensitive to the hurt of others. In fact, we know that God alone can bring healing or "closure" if you will.

Someone said that this questioning of how to react sounds like political correctness. I disagree. I don't think it has anything to do with political correctness. It has everything to do with responding and living our lives not as culture or even our emotions tell us or lead us, but solely how God leads us through His indwelling presence and the inerrant Word of God.

I've seen numerous blogs where Scripture passages are cited. Seems that there are verses (often taken out of context) that can be used to support any pre-conceived belief.

So, after praying through this, discussing these things with godly men and reading some reputable postings from pastors and Christian leaders I fully respect, I will attempt, not to re-hash that what has already been said, but to give clear direction on how we, as believers are to be salt and light in a dying world.

Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has a great posting on his blog regarding this issue. It's titled "The Trial that Still Must Come - The Death of Osama bin Laden and the Limits of Human Justice."  Here's an excerpt:

. . .there are two troubling aspects that linger. The first is the open celebration in the streets. While we should all be glad that this significant threat is now removed, death in itself is never to be celebrated. Such celebration points to the danger of revenge as a powerful human emotion. Revenge has no place among those who honor justice. Retributive justice is sober justice. The reason for this is simple — God is capable of vengeance, which is perfectly true to his own righteousness and perfection — but human beings are not. We tend toward the mismeasure of justice when it comes to settling our own claims. All people of good will should be pleased that bin Laden is no longer a personal threat, and that his death may further weaken terrorist plans and aspirations. But revenge is not a worthy motivation for justice, and celebration in the streets is not a worthy response.

Should we be glad that forces of the United States military have the means, the will, and the opportunity to remove this threat? Of course we should. Should we be hopeful that such an action will serve as a warning to others who might plan similar actions? Of course. Should we find some degree of moral satisfaction in the fact that bin Laden did not die a natural death outside the reach of human justice? Yes, of course.

But open patriotic celebration in the streets? That looks far more like revenge in the eyes of a watching world, and it looks far more like we are simply taking satisfaction in the death of an enemy. That kind of revenge just produces greater numbers of enemies.

The second troubling aspect is just part of what it means to live in a world in which true justice is always elusive. Osama bin Laden is dead, but we never had the satisfaction of seeing him arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced. We were robbed of the satisfaction of seeing the evidence against him laid out, and seeing him have to answer the world about his murderous actions and plans. We were robbed of the moral satisfaction that comes by means of a fair and clear verdict, followed by a just and appropriate sentence.

Ben Wallis, Pastor of First Baptist Church of Jacksonville Beach writes in "A Christian's Response to the Death of bin Laden". . .

 

To summarize what our response, as Christ-Followers, should be to this news that is making global headlines: know the Bible, hate Hell, know that justice has been and will be served by God Almighty, and celebrate that, in the end, justice always wins!

Glen Owens, Assistant Executive Director for the Florida Baptist Convention put it plainly yesterday when he said

"Osama has been served justice, but judgment will be served by Someone other than us."

Should we celebrate that a soul is lost for eternity in hell? The obvious answer is "No." Though, we can say he deserves it (but who doesn't?) and that he was an evil man who did evil things (and compared to Christ, aren't we all there?), the reality is that it is God's desire that all would repent and that none would perish. Does Osama deserve to go to heaven? No (sorry, Rob Bell.) However, neither do I.

Yet, I do believe in absolutes. I'm not a pacifist. I'm not anti-military. There is truth that is right for all people, all times and all circumstances. This truth is right and from God, Himself. So, personally, I am fine that the Osama story ended the way it did.

I agree with Ben Wallis as he states "Anyone's happiness over the fact that bin Laden is in Hell, speaks more to their lack of knowledge about the reality of Hell than it does about their patriotism. . .It is always right to celebrate justice! As a matter of fact, God gets angry when we do not celebrate, pursue, and value justice. "

So, for fear of some readers  just not getting it and thinking that I am not sensitive to those who have loved ones killed on September 11 or in the war, or maybe even thinking I'm unpatriotic and aren't proud to be an American (which , if you know me, you know how bogus that statement is) as a pastor and Christian, I celebrate that justice was done, but cannot say, nor celebrate that someone is in Hell (even bin Laden.)

By the way, some would say "Well, you cannot know for sure that bin Laden is in hell." I get what that means, focusing on the individual, personal decision one must make to receive Christ. I'll put this bluntly, in this case, based on the statements made by bin Laden regarding his religious beliefs and what I know to be true regarding how someone comes to know God personally through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, I can be pretty certain when I say, "He's spending eternity separated from God in a very real place called Hell."

My son asked me when this was all going down Sunday if this meant the war would be over. I shared with him that this does not end the war. This does not now move us to immediately bringing our troops home. This war is so different from any we have fought in the past. The enemy was not just one man. Though many seem to not be fans of former Vice President Dick Cheney, I believe his statements made to a news reporter yesterday are so very true. He stated. . .

Al Qaeda remains a dangerous enemy. Though bin Laden is dead, the war goes on. We must remain vigilant, especially now, and we must continue to support our men and women in uniform who are fighting on the front lines of this war every day.

With that being said, celebrate justice. Remember that God hands out judgment. Pray for our nation, our leaders, our military and all impacted by these events (which would be everyone on the planet.) Pray that God will be glorified and that many will come to the saving knowledge and relationship through Jesus Christ.