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Posts from December 2011

When Sportianity & Christianity Collide

The largest religion in our culture is being challenged. People who adhere to this religion are having their faith questioned. 

This religion is known as Sportianity. Adherants gather weekly, and sometimes more than once a week, to celebrate and fellowship together. Some meet in large open-air facilities. Others meet in smaller venues. Others are proponents of the "house church" movement and gather with a small group of friends in homes. The more missional of the followers meet in public places known as Sports Bars, to engage with others in the community. 

Just as with all religions, different denominations have developed.

There are the Footballists and Basketballists. These two denominations, like many other mainstream ones, are divided. There are the College and Pro sect within each denomination. Sometimes they can fellowship together, but often they stay in their own arenas.

There is also the Baseballians. There is a small offshoot group here called the Collegians, but the vast majority are Major Leaguians. 

For the most part a follower of a certain sect is very faithful, but there are those - we call them "stadium hoppers" - who tend to just go where the biggest crowd is at the time. 

Meeting places for these denominational groups can be found throughout the nation. However, there are some pretty strong regional groupings. Where I live, the SECers dominate. I must say that recently, the SECers have expanded their mission program into Texas and most likely will continue to grow in that region.

In the north, there are some unique religious groups. These are known as Hockeyists. They're a uniquely northern denomination, but with snowbirds and the retirement of many, there have recently been more of these people spotted in the southern parts of the nation.

We can laugh about this, well at least I can, but at the same time it brings to mind some questions. As a follower of Jesus Christ, where does this sports world fit? I'm a proud member of the Y-chromosome club. I enjoy sporting events. I have my favorite teams. I have the hats, the shirts and the jackets with logos embroidered upon them. I enjoy going to the games. I like cheering for these athletes who do amazing things on the field of play.

So, does God care?

Does God have a favorite team?

TebowingThere are a number of teams with religious names. Does that mean God likes them more? Is God a fan of the Saints, the Angels, the Padres or for my Catholic friends - the Cardinals? Or, as some have stated, is God a fan of the Denver Broncos because Tim Tebow is the quarterback?

I'm not a Tebow-basher. Neither am I big-time Tebow fan. I like him. I respect him. As a brother in Christ, I admire his willingness to verbally give glory to Jesus Christ. The Tebow story has pushed Christianity to the forefront of the sports page. This is why it's so interesting. Two of the nation's top religions are meeting - the religion of Christianity and the religion of sports. 

I think this is why so many people have a problem with Tebow. Much has been said about "Tebowing" and his camera ready prayer poses. Tebow even reached a pinnacle in pop culture. He was parodied on Saturday Night Live.

Does God show favor to certain athletes or teams?

NO - God doesn't show favor as many would define it. God doesn't care that Team A beats Team B so that a person's Fantasy numbers will go up. God doesn't show favor so those who have bet on games can beat the spread. God doesn't love the Christian on Team A more than he loves the Christian on Team B

YES - God does show favor on His children at times. This word "favor" has been used by some who teach a false prosperity gospel. This is not the biblical definition. A good biblical example of one in whom favor was shown is Daniel. There are others like Moses, John the Baptist, etc. 

Whether God is showing favor on Tim Tebow or any other athlete can be debated at length. Regardless of the influence of God in a football game, there is only one reason He would show favor on anyone - that is to bring Himself glory.

I don't believe God cares if the Broncos win. I do believe God cares about Tim Tebow just as he cares and loves all His children (regardless what team they're on, or even if they never even make the team.)

Even the fictional coach in the film "Facing the Giants" understood this. Win or lose, God receives glory. He said this over and over.

I like this quote former University of Texas quarterback Colt McCoy made after his team was beat soundly by the University of Alabama in the 2009-2010 BCS National Championship Game. ABC reporter Lisa Salters interviewed McCoy and McCoy responded to a difficult question about how it felt watching the game from the sidelines, with the question alluding to how difficult it must have been that his college career ended so abruptly in the biggest game of his life.

Said McCoy: “I always give God the glory. I never question why things happen the way they do. God is in control of my life. And I know that if nothing else, I’m standing on the Rock.”

Win or lose - this is right response. To God be the glory.


Staff Christmas Party

Great time today with the staff and family of First Baptist Church. These are great folks.

So blessed to be able to serve God with such a great team.

Merry Christmas!

(The food and fellowship was wonderful!)

DSCN1063

Not all staffers were able to attend, unfortunately. Von, Kenzie, Jordan, and Caleb - we missed you.


The Salvation Army's Internal Battle Over Abortion

The Salvation Army is most known for their red kettles and programs that help the underprivileged and those facing natural disasters. I have discovered that many do not realize that The Salvation Army is actually a Christian denomination founded in 1865 by one time Methodist minister William  Booth and his wife Catherine. The movement was founded in London's East End and has grown through the years to become one of the world's foremost ministries focused on charity work.

111220salvationarmyI have often wondered if the NFL and the Dallas Cowboys have ever connected that their annual Thanksgiving game featuring large red kettles and promoting The Salvation Army's "Doing the Most Good" message is actually an endorsement of a Christian ministry (and you thought Tebow was the only Christian-NFL story)?

Being from the Wesleyan tradition, The Salvation Army holds to certain doctrinal beliefs, as do all churches. Unfortunately, as is the case in many denominations over time, the biblical foundations tend to be ignored or excused as liberal theology overtakes churches. The Salvation Army seems to be facing an internal battle over theology and the biblical stance on life and the sanctity of it.

A few days ago a friend forwarded an article to me from WorldNetDaily titled "Salvation Army Marching Toward Abortion Suppot." The title struck me as unfortunate. While as Baptists, we would differ on some of the theological beliefs of our brothers and sisters in the Army, the foundational doctrines have allowed us to serve together in the past. 

Would The Salvation Army's acceptance of abortion as OK be a deal breaker? It would be for me. While some would say that abortion and abortion-rights are not theological, I disagree. Pro-life and pro-choice (i.e. pro-abortion) advocates have been battling for decades and have turned the battle into political fodder, the fact of the matter is that we cannot pretend that the life issue is irrlevant.

In the Baptist Faith and Message (2000), our doctrinal statement as Southern Baptists, article XVIII states. . .

Children, from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord. Parents are to demonstrate to their children God's pattern for marriage. Parents are to teach their children spiritual and moral values and to lead them, through consistent lifestyle example and loving discipline, to make choices based on biblical truth. Children are to honor and obey their parents.

That phrase "from the moment of conception" is intentional. Life matters.

The article on The Salvation Army and their abortion stance stated this. . .

"The Salvation Army believes in the sanctity of human life. Humankind was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). All people – without exception – are of value to him, holding a special place in his creation (Psalm 8:5), irrespective of age, gender, race, religion, health or social status, or their potential for achievement."

But it also states, "A serious commitment to the protection and care of the unborn calls us to a commitment to the prevention of unwanted pregnancy through means such as access to reliable birth control, safety in relationships, and societal respect of women."

Specifically, it says the Salvation Army "believes that termination [abortion] can occur only when carrying the pregnancy further seriously threatens the life of the mother; or reliable diagnostic procedures have identified a foetal abnormality considered incompatible with survival for more than a very brief post natal period."

This open door for denominationally approved abortion, even in the case of rape or incest, provides a slipperly slope to full-blown abortion support. Being from a Christian denomination, some will see this as a biblical affirmation.

While some argue that there are certain instances where abortion should be affirmed, I disagree. There's always the catch-phrase "when the life of the mother is at stake" that is thrown out there, but as former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop stated long ago "Protection of the life of the mother as an excuse for an abortion is a smoke screen. In my thirty-six years in pediatric surgery I have never known of one instance where the child had to be be aborted to save the mother's life."

Koop makes some very pointed remarks about the tragedy of abortion here.

I understand my position on abortion will put off many, but then again, my stance is not devised to get votes or the approval of man. I am anti-abortion. I am pro-adoption. I am pro-life. Unapologetically.

Back to The Salvation Army predicament. Many, after reading the article cited above have determined to no longer place any of their change in the red buckets or shop at the thrift shops. While that is certainly a person's right, I want to point out that The Salvation Army here in the United States has taken exception to the denominational stance on abortion.

"That statement is not the Salvation Army USA's position on abortion," said Jeff Stanger, development director of the Salvation Army, Indiana Division.

Stanger said the commission's website is connected with the Army'sinternationalheadquarters and directed WND to the Salvation Army USA's position statement instead, which, indeed, makes no exceptions in asserting the sanctity of life.

"When I read [the international group's position] I was stunned," confirmed Major George Hood, chief communications officer for Salvation Army USA. "It appears that the International Social Justice Commission worked on a position statement through the London office that does not reflect the position we've taken in the U.S. on abortion.

"When I saw the language," Hood continued, "there was smoke coming out of both my ears."

You can read the entire article here.

The "life" issue is one that is not going away. It will continue to rear its head among Christians. We must remember that life matters. While protesting may not be the best way to promote life (pro-adoption and Christian foster care are better options) Christians must come to grips with this issue personally. 

I fear that too many read of these things and immediately go into protest or boycott mode. I'm just not convinced this is the best response. However, don't hear what I'm not saying. This is a big issue and must be addressed.

Pray for leadership of The Salvation Army. They must address this. They know it. It appears they are.


A Divine Appointment

02 Divine Appointment


Bigstockphoto_Appointment_Time_253097.161194519_stdThe phrase "divine appointment" has possibly been overused in some venues, but the fact of the matter is God sets up these meetings all the time.

This message is "part 2" of the encounter of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well.

Like most of us, when questioned about the real heart issues, this woman deflects. This happens all the time. Listen to the recording and see how Jesus responds.


"Yes, Virginia, There Is a God." - A Christmas Miracle?

From an editorial appearing in the September 21, 1897 edition of The (New York) Sun titled "Is There a Santa Claus?" the famous line was penned at the close "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." This statement has become an often repeated phrase this time of year. Virginia was the an 8 year old girl who questioned the existence of Santa Claus and was encouraged by her parents to write the newspaper.

The story has been republished ever since and has been featured in movies, television specials and books.

I doubt young Virginia or her parents ever thought they'd go down as part of the American Christmas cultural tradition.

Personally, I have no problem with the mythos of Santa Claus. I know some believers who do and they definitely have valid reasons. I am always reminded about the original St. Nicholas that the jolly old elf is modeled from and his story is pretty remarkable.

Nonetheless, this posting really nothing to do with Santa Claus.

In fact, this is not another rant, as we often see from believers this time of year, to "keep Christ in Christmas."

I wanted to share with you a story of what some may call a miracle. I readily admit the term "miracle" gets overused and misused often. True miracles stem from the hand of God as evidenced of Jesus' actions in the gospels. However, to say that miracles no longer happen would be a fallacy.

Just like with the old "Dragnet" show. . .the story you are about to read is true. Only the names have been changed.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine who works as an administrator in a local public school told me about a young man at his school. This young man was described as one of those boys that teachers like. He's polite. He's considerate. He does his school work and does well. You know, an all around good kid.

This young man was facing a pretty intense and difficult situation at home.

He is being raised by his mother. Apparently, dad is not in the picture. His mother has been diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. She is dying. Due to her health and inability to work, a great financial strain has come upon them.

Their home is in foreclosure. It' in a very nice neighborhood, but the fact of the matter is they have not been able to pay the mortgage for a few months due to medical bills and lack of funds.

The young man has been doing everything possible to raise money. He's been mowing lawns, raking leaves, etc. He's been offering to do anything for his neighbor just to make a little money to go toward expenses. In fact, even though he's in junior high school, this young boy is stepping into authentic manhood by necessity.

Well, the story could go on and on about their circumstances. It doesn't get much better. The mother is a believer in Christ and apparently a number of churches in the community know of her circumstances and are trying to help.

Oh, by the way, there is this. I heard of one group of church ladies who went by see if they could help her. When they went into her home, seeing how nice a home it is, they said "Well, you apparently don't need our help," and left. Apparently, they equated a nice home with "everything is alright," not realizing the true nature of the circumstances.

But I digress. . .

A couple of weeks ago the air conditioning unit in their home went out. That may not be a big deal in some areas, but here in Florida it is. Even in December, we're still mowing our lawns and wearing shorts. My friend at the school was trying to find funds to cover the repair of the air conditioning unit and after praying about it, was led to call a local company (knowing no one at the company) to see if they could help.

This air conditioning company heard the story and agreed to send someone out to repair the unit. They did so without charging a penny. There's more to this story as well. It appears the technician sent to the home was having a very bad day. In other words, he wasn't very nice. The lady (you know, the one with Stage IV cancer) asked him if he was ok and if she could pray for him. He said "Yes," so she did. With tears running down his cheeks, he thanked her. Needless to say, his attitude changed.

Then, two weeks ago, during our weekly prayer meeting I briefly shared that there was a lady in our community battling Stage IV cancer. I don't know her name, nor do I know her son, but I had heard of her situation through a friend. I shared that a number of teachers at this local school were trying to raise some funds to help. All I asked our church to do was pray for the woman, her son and the situation.

Two days ago, I received this email from the friend at the local school:

It is not every day one gets to be witness to a miracle, and that term tends to be overused, but we were able to see a real one this morning. Yesterday, a stranger came to see me here at school. He said he needed to talk to me. He was very serious and closed the door behind us. He immediately asked if we were helping a mother of a student who has cancer. He had heard at church (this was during our Wednesday prayer time - DT) that she needed some help with daily living expenses. I said "Yes." He then slid an envelope across the desk and asked if I would make sure she received it. I assured him I would.

Envelope-system-budgetThis morning I arrived at school and the mother was here. This was unusual and unplanned because she is very sick and does not leave home often. She had baked a huge basket of goodies for my family so I told her I had something for her's. I handed her the envelope and said there was some money from a stranger to help her out. She opened the envelope and it was like one of those Extreme Makeover: Home Edition moments—she absolutely started bawling! One of the ladies in the office brought in tissues. I was doing the tough guy thing trying not to cry myself, but she just kept on crying. 

I knew it was a big gesture on this stranger's part but I underestimated just how big. When she finally regained her composure she told me she had received approval to have her cancer treated at St. Vincent's Hospital (here in Jacksonville - DT) which then makes her eligible to go to the Cancer Center of America in Chicago. There was only one problem. St. Vincent’s required a down payment of $2,000 to begin treatment. This lady has lost her home, lost her job, almost lost her car, and has trouble just putting food on the table. Well, can you guess how much the stranger gave me yesterday? Exactly $2,000! He thought he was helping pay for some groceries. Little does he know he may have literally saved her life or at least extended her time with her son.

God is active and involved today, just as He always has been. 

Sometimes, even we Christians can miss the miracle. While Christians throughout our culture become known for what we're against as we fight and protest and sometimes even play the victim, all the while God is still at work. As some fight with little love evident to "keep Christ in Christmas" God reminds us, He's active every day of the year - not just a redeemed pagan holiday. 

Yes, Virginia, there is a God. In the era of the "new atheism" and the "secularization of our society" God still reigns supremely. The gospel is still truth. Lives are still being changed. Man-defined "coincidences" still happen as God smiles and says "I don't believe in coincidences."


Who's Your Jesus?

A few weeks back a friend of mine shared a book on Nook (nice app - you can share books for up to 14 days.) The book is titled Imaginary Jesus and is written by Matt Mikalatos. It's hard to classify the book. It's not really non-fiction. It's not a novel. One reviewer said it was C.S. Lewis meets Monty Python. Perhaps.

The book description on Amazon states this:

Imaginary Jesus is an hilarious, fast-paced, not-quite-fictional story that’s unlike anything you’ve ever read before. When Matt Mikalatos realizes that his longtime buddy in the robe and sandals isn’t the real Jesus at all, but an imaginary one, he embarks on a mission to find the real thing. On his wild ride through time, space, and Portland, Oregon, he encounters hundreds of other Imaginary Jesuses determined to stand in his way (like Legalistic Jesus, Perpetually Angry Jesus, and Magic 8 Ball Jesus). But Matt won’t stop until he finds the real Jesus—and finally gets an answer to the question that’s haunted him for years. Be warned: Imaginary Jesus may bring you face-to-face with an imposter in your own life.

 

Since I haven't had the time to sit and read this book for hours on end, I'll probably end up purchasing it because the free 14-day borrow will end soon. I am about halfway through and I must say the concept of the imaginary Jesus is intriguing. It echoes things I have thought and said for years. I even find myself guilty of creating my own imaginary Jesuses at times.

As a believer, I stand firmly on the Word of God believing that it is inerrant and that the Jesus described within those pages is the authentic man (Son of God & God the Son.) Yet, culture has a way of leading us to re-create Jesus in our own image.

This has been the case for years. That's why the short Jewish man from Nazareth is depicted as a tall, very white, European man, sometimes with blue eyes, in many classic works of art. While it's easy for us to identify these depictions of Jesus to be wrong, it become more difficult to clearly see how the Jesuses we create are just as wrong.

Mikalatos introduces and describes many imaginary Jesuses in his book. You may recognize some of them. 

  • KJJ "King James Jesus" - This Jesus speaks only in King James English. There are many "thees" and "thous" coming from the mouth of this one. 
  • Harley Jesus - This one wears a leather vest and has a tattoo or two. He's not just a biker, he's a "holy roller."
  • Liberal Social Services Jesus - This one has arms and legs and works hard to clean up areas and serve the community, but has no mouth. That's because he never says anything about why he does this. He just lives in the social gospel. There's also a Jesus on the other end that has no arms, but has a really big mouth. All he does is talk down to people, but never serves them.
  • 8 Ball Jesus - This one is like the Magic 8 Ball toy that has been around for years. Ask this Jesus anything and he'll answer like the 8 Ball. It's all chance with fortune like answers.
  • Patriotic Jesus - This Jesus is "red, white and blue" and loves America (more than any other nation) and basically wraps the flag around everything.
  • Political Jesus - Yes, he's exactly what he sounds like. This Jesus is intent on changing the world by electing the "right" people into office. 
  • Testosterone Jesus - This is my favorite. This is the "men's retreat Jesus" who talks grunts like Tim Allen on Home Improvement and spouts lines from Braveheart whenever he gets the chance. "Free-e-e-e-e-e-e-dom!!!!" He also cries alot and tells men to be better husbands and fathers all the time (when he's not quoting Braveheart.)
  • The Secret Society of Imaginary Jesuses - These guys are basically like the Jesus Seminar, only imaginary.
Buddy christThere are others scattered throughout the book like CEO Jesus, Hippie Jesus, Legalist Jesus, Health Nut Jesus, iPod Jesus, and others. This reminds me of the Buddy Christ from the film Dogma (no I didn't see the film, but I have seen the "Buddy Christ" figure - pictured to the right.) It's funny how Christians were so upset about the "Buddy Christ" imagery and the film (and rightfully so) but many continue to create their own personal caricatures of Jesus.

 

As I read (the portion I had the chance to) this book, I couldn't help but  do a little self-evaluation. What Jesus have I created in my own image? Am I guilty of this? 

Unfortunately, I believe I have been at times, and to be honest, so is just about every believer I have ever met. I guess since we are image-bearers of the Creator, we tend to create. It's just in this case, we create what we feel is right, but it's, oh, so wrong.

The authentic, biblical Jesus does not need to be recreated into our image or for our cultural acceptance. While we lament that many unbelievers truly do not know who Jesus is, the reality is that many church-attenders and "Christians" tend to see a Jesus who is not truly the real deal. Even true believers can slide into this.

While this is not really a review of Imaginary Jesus (I can't review a book I haven't finished,) the subject matter did cause me to question. Questioning is not a bad thing. Isn't it the Truth that sets us free?

So. . .who's your Jesus?

Is he one listed above? Is he the Patriotic Jesus, the Political one, or maybe the Liberal Social Services one? Maybe he's a mixture of some or a creation yet to be listed.

Is He the One revealed to us through Scripture or some other version?

Stick with the real one. You can read Mikalatos' book. It's fun, but I recommend you spend more time in The Book. Read the Gospel accounts of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.) The truth is there. It's evident who He is, what He came to do and what He is doing now. Don't settle for a cheap imitation.

John 14:6(ESV) 

 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." 


Bitterness Can Kill You

I think we all know someone who deals with bitterness. It's a dangerous thing, but often we just brush it off with "they need to just get happy" or other such counsel. Unfortunately, there are many who claim to be followers of Christ who at one time or another suffer from this ailment. I say ailment because it truly is a spiritual sickness.

I was told a story today of a brother in Christ who just reeks with negativity, bitterness and anger. I won't use his name, because many of you probably know him. He has transformed over the years, according to those who know him best. The transformation has not been good. Now, people avoid him. Some have come to complain about him to me. The account I heard today didn't surprise me, unfortunately, but does sadden me. The reality is that his name isn't important because all of us can easily find ourselves in this situation. By the way, pray for him, but take a moment to read the rest of this posting for your own spiritual health.

Avoiding-bitternessIn just about every case where a person is bitter, some event has taken place in the person's life that has caused resentment to develop and grow. 

The writer of Hebrews addresses this. . .

Hebrews 12:15(ESV)
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.

The "root of bitterness" is a spiritual issue and cannot be ignored.

One bitter believer will not only miss out on all that God has for him, he will infect others. It's amazing how bitterness and negativity spread like cancer.

A few years ago a friend of mine gave me a study titled "Evidences of Bitterness in Your Life." I'm not sure if he was trying to tell me something or not. Regardless, I read over this and yes, even became convicted in certain areas.

I do not know who wrote this. I would cite it if I did. Perhaps, you do and could send me the details. Nevertheless, the information is powerful, so I thought I'd share it.

Perhaps this can help you, or maybe a friend.

Here are some attitudes which may reflect bitterness (or the "bitter root" as described in Hebrews. Below the attitude, I list some examples of how this is visible in a person's life as well as  insights from a biblical perspective.

DEPRESSION

  • His bitternness uses up his emotional energy and then he tends to become depressed. 
  • This is illustrated in the life of Jonah (Jonah 4)

MISTRUST

  • He is fearful of being hurt again so he is cautious in trusting those around him. 
  • This is illustrated in Judges 11:7 in the life of Jepththah.

CRITICISM

  • If he is hurt by one in authority his bitterness causes him to be critical of all that his offender stands for, yet he is incapable of helping his offender improve.
  • Matthew 7:1-5 speaks of removing the board in one's own eye then being able to remove the speck from another's.

INSENSITIVITY

  • He is insensitive to the needs and feelings of those around him because he has built up a wall to protect himself, resulting in others treating him the way he treats his offender.
  • Matthew 7:2 lets us know that our judgment will be placed upon us.

PRIDE

  • His pride is at its height as he seeks to exalt himself, as well as get revenge on his offender. This focus makes him incapable of serving others.
  • It is hard to be a servant when trying to be the greatest for Jesus said in Matthew 23:11 that the servant is the greatest.

TENSION

  • His muscles become tense and stiff whenever he thinks about those who hurt him. 
  • This tension and accompanying stubbornness produces the term "stiff necked."
  • Numerous passages: Exodus 32:9, Jeremiah 17:23, Acts 7:51, etc.

UNGRATEFULNESS

  • He looks at the good things that happen to him as compensation for the hurts he has suffered.
  • He feels things are owed to him.
  • 2 Timothy 3:2 speaks of loving oneself wrongly.

FLATTERY

  • If he tried to cover up his bitterness toward the one who hurt him, it may show itself as flattery.
  • Proverbs 28:23

OBSESSION FOR REVENGE

  • His desire to get revenge continues to grow and he takes every opportunity to hurt the one that offended him through gossip, slander, physical attacks, etc.
  • Romans 12:19

Recognizing there is a bitter root growing is the first step, but what can be done to remove this?

Prayer is paramount, and I mean real prayer. I'm not referring to the "prayer list" prayer here. Don't get me wrong, those prayers of intercession are important, but not what's needed here. This is real, conviction, repentance, seeking God, on your face prayers.

Begin your prayer time this way. . .

  • Praise God for who He is and all that He has done.
  • Let the Enemy know that he has no right to interfere in your time with the Father and in Jesus' name instruct him to leave. You need intimacy with the Father with no distractions.
  • Praise God for who He is once again. Be specific. Focus on Him. Thank Him for the freedom (Galatians 5) He has given you in Jesus.

Then. . .begin the process of removing the bitter root:

  1. Examine yourself spritually (1 Corinthians 11:28)
  2. Confess your hurts to God as the Holy Spirit reveals them. This will no doubt be painful. You are going deep into the wound here. Acknowledge your wrong responses toward the hurts.
  3. Do not rationalize. Do not rationalize your responses or the offender's hurts.
  4. Repent (Acts 8:22; 3:19). Focus on your responses to the hurt, not what was done to you. Ask God to forgive you for wrong responses. You may think "I didn't respond wrongly!" Well, yes you did or the bitter root would not be growing. Remember, this does not absolve the offender for what he has done to you. This does not say "What he did was OK." This is about your response.
  5. Release the one who hurt you and the debt owed to you. This is probably the most difficult. Everything in your being, supported by the culture and your friends would say not to do this. God says to do this. You have to make a choice here.
  6. Break any cords of judgment and agreements with the Enemy you have made (Matthew 16:19).
  7. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill the place the bitterness occupied (1 Peter 2:14).
  8. Ask God for his grace and power for every need and to reveal any other roots you may need to have removed (Hebrews 4:16).
  9. Bless the offender (1 Peter 3:9). If number 5 wasn't the hardest, this will be. You can do it.

Remember why Jesus came. He said so himself. . .

Luke 4:18-19(ESV)
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

It's time to be set free.


It Was Like Looking Into the Future

My trip to Wales last month was a wonderful experience. I had first visited Wales as a youth pastor in 2002. We took a group of teenagers to the southern Wales city, Carmarthen, to help with a sports camp hosted at the university.

This time my journey was for another reason and took me to North Wales, primarily in the city of Caernarfen. Partnering with a group of five from the States, plus a friend from Wales, we set about engaging the people in the community and visiting different towns and villages throughout the region in order to better understand the culture.

Wales is a beautiful country, but seems to be suffering from an identity crisis. While those in Great Britain understand the uniqueness of Wales as a country, including the prominence of the Welsh language and the strong nationalistic beliefs that many have, I discovered that many of my friends back here in the States falsely believe that Wales is part of England.

Welsh churchApparently, this is very common. The Welsh people were quick to let me know that Wales is not part of England. They are very proud of their country and rightly so.

I knew that Wales was not part of England, but came away with a better understanding of the great pride the Welsh have in their national heritage.

There is so much about Wales that could be written here, but I wish to focus on one area that drew my attention, and according to my friend in country is what many from the States notice.

One hundred years ago, the majority of the Welsh speakers in Wales (Cymry Cymraeg) were considered evangelical and born again. At least 90 percent were actively attending church regularly. In the early 20th century, a revival swept Wales. Pastors such as Evan Roberts were on the forefront of this movement of God's Spirit.

Edwin J. Orr writes of this movement in his book The Flaming Tongue (Moody Press, 1973)

The movement kept the churches of Wales filled for many years to come, seats being places in the aisles in Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Swansea for twenty years or so, for example. Meanwhile, the Awakening swept the rest of Britain, Scandinavia, parts of Europe, North America, the mission fields of India and the Orient, Africa and Latin America.

Christian pastors and ministers were being used by God years prior to the revival, throughout all of Wales. Christmas Evans is one such pastor whose influence among evangelicals is still revered among many today.

While the history of the church is strong and there remain many church buildings (called chapels unless affiliated with the Church in Wales, the Anglican Church in Wales) in the country, the sad reality is that many of these facilities are mostly empty each weekend and a good number are either up for sale or have been sold and converted for other uses. I saw a number that were for sale, one that had been turned into a restaurant/pub and one that had been converted to a children's play area (kind of a Chuck E. Cheese's, Welsh-style.)

What is interesting is that when most American believers visit Wales and see this, they are immediately affected. A sense of sadness becomes apparent. Questions as to how this could have happened are asked.

Then, the fact that now, in 2011, it is estimated that approximately 1 percent of the Welsh attend church regularly and would be considered evangelical and born again. That's right, in just under one hundred years, the percentage of evangelical, born again church (chapel) attenders has gone from over 90 to 1.

DSCN0989While the Spirit of God is still at work globally, it appears the people of Wales and other post-Christian cultures (most of Western Europe, for example) are now disenchanted with Christianity and do not see the value in attending church or holding onto a personal faith. Consequently, many do not know Jesus Christ personally.

After speaking with a number of people in the community I noticed some themes that do not sound foreign to what I hear in the States. We all know that latest statistics show a growing disenchantment with "organized" religion and denominatins. In fact, a recent survey by LifeWay Research shows that even in the deep South, the home-base for the Southern Baptist Convention, that 40 percent have a highly unfavorable view of the SBC.

I shared this statistic with people in my church and the shock on their faces was evident.

My friend in Wales told me that many who visit from the United States have very similar feelings as I was having. I told him, "This is like looking into the future for the US. We are going down the very same path that led Wales from 90 percent to 1 percent in just one century."

If nothing else, this should wake us up as believers here in the States. To rest on our laurels and believe we are doing well enough will result, not just in the closure of church buildings (which in some cases may be a blessing rather than a curse) but the continued evacuation of the younger generations from a faith in Jesus Christ.

The encouraging this is that we know God is not finished with His people. While it may seem He is not at work as in the past, the fact that a remnant remains is encouraging. I believe that God will bring renewal to the people of Wales. Wouldn't that be just like Him? To use a people group that many in the world do not even know about (the Cymry Cymraeg) to spark a renewal among the culture.

I also believe that God is showing evangelicals here in America what  could be in store for us. My opinion is that a renewal among believers here is needed as well. I do not equate a spiritual renewal with a traditional "revival" week of meetings. There's more to write about what all this means, but at this point, watch the clip about the Welsh here. Think and pray for the Welsh people. Ask God what we can learn from this as well.

 

The Celt - Wales (Long Version) from David Tarkington on Vimeo.


Black Or White, But Red All Over - Interracial Marriage In the Church

A number of years ago a couple came to me to discuss a concern they had. It appeared that their adult daughter had begun to friend and hang out with brothers and sisters of the darker hue (i.e. she's a white lady with black friends.) The concern in their mind was the possibility that she might begin dating a man with darker pigmentation than her's. The parents were seeking my opinion and biblical grounds for their concerns. In other words, they wanted me to give them biblical ammunition to use on their daughter regarding this situation.

It seemed that they had done some research before arriving because the first statement was "I think I know what you're going to say, but let me ask this anyway. . ."

They were right. They knew exactly what I was going to say. They didn't like it.

This issue of interracial dating and marriage is trending in the news now due to a decision by a Kentucky church to ban membership and worship participation for interracial couples. So as not to misspeak regarding this church's stand, here's a copy of the recommendation as obtained by television station WYMT:

That the Gulanre Freewill Baptist Church does not condone interracial marriage. Parties of such marriages will not be received as members, nor will they be used in worship services and other church functions, with the exception being funerals. All are welcome to our public worship services. This recommendation is not intended to judge the salvation of anyone, but is intended to promote greater unity among the church body and the community we serve.  (Full story here.)

052810_Interracial_marriageWhile I wish I could say this story surprises me, unfortunately it does not.  I had just hoped that we had grown more from our days of segregation and racial separation. Yet, it appears, we still have far to go.

I have always found it interesting that people tend to grimace when a black person is married to a white person, but any other mix is not seen as such a big deal. You know, if a black or white person is married to a Hispanic or Asian or even Native American, or if any of the said races (and there are more) intermarry, it doesn't seem to cause a problem. Yet, if the two extremes - say, a very dark skinned person marries a very fair skinned person, it's an issue.

I don't get it (Well, I do get it, but I don't like it. It's racism.)

Some may ask what my opinion is regarding interracial dating and marriage. I want to be very clear here. IT IS NOT A SIN.

I even had someone years ago ask "But what if your son or daughter were dating someone of another race?" I responded with "What?" and expressed that my views do not differ in this area and I do not have a NIMBY view of interracial dating or marriage. 

My statement has always been and will be that my approval of my children's dates and future spouses has to do with their faith and not their skin tone. Yes, I will not approve of my children dating or marrying a person who is not a born again child of God.

Many people who wish to use Scripture as their prooftext that interracial marriage is sinful will quote Deuteronomy 7:3 (ESV) which states:

You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons.

Every verse is Holy Spirit inspired and God-breathed. Therefore this passage is absolutely correct and true. However, there is always danger in taking a verse out of context and building a belief system out of it. This is the practice of religious cults. So, with that, what does this passage mean?

This verse is a command to the Israelites, God's chosen people, regarding their relatinship with the inhabitants of the Promised Land. There are also many other Old Testament passages that warned the Israelites not to intermarry with the inhabitants of the land of Canaan. While some see this as a racial issue, I disagree. I believe it was solely a religious and faith issue. The admonition was for God followers not to marry non-God followers, or idolaters. It had nothing to do with skin color. It was fully a matter regarding the people of the land (the Canaanites) and their worship of false gods and practicing immoral and evil reglious acts.

This admonition was echoed in the New Testament, of course, now referencing Christians rather than the Israelites. Paul addresses this with the church in Corinth.

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 2 Corinthians 6:14 (ESV)

It's pretty obvious this verse has nothing to do with race or skin color. It does, however, clearly state what we as believers are to know regarding relationships. Besides numerous biblical passages that affirm that marriage is only to be between one man and one woman, the key understanding is that believers are to marry believers. In fact, I believe that believers should only date (if you believe dating is a viable option) or court other believers and, in fact, only those whom they could envision marrying.

Simply put, our relationships are to honor God. 

Being unequally yoked with non-believers is not solely referring to marriage, but it most certainly includes marriage.

This passage is also not an instruction to sequester oneself from the world. We are still to be fulfilling the Great Commission as we go. But, I digress.

So, whether your skin is black, brown, red, white, tan, yellow, dark, light, etc. is not the point. It's not the determining factor. What should be the determining factor (besides being in love and praying through the relationship) is that both the man and woman are "red all over" meaning each is a child of God (and this is a churchy term, but I hope you understand) covered by the saving blood of Jesus Christ.

Born again children of God may marry born again children of God, regardless of skin color.

Somewhere along the line, many in America have come to believe that biblical characters were all white (and spoke with British accents.) It shocks some to realize that biblical heroes like Moses didn't look like their Hollywood portrayers (even though I still tend to picture Charlton Heston.) What's even more shocking, and was to the couple I referenced at the beginning of this post, was that Moses' wife Zipporah was likely black (or dark brown) skinned.

I've even heard some scholars postulate that Bathsheba and the Queen of Sheba were black.

The Ethiopans mentioned in Scipture were most likely dark skinned.

Simeon, called Niger, in Acts 13:1 may also have been black.

It's pretty safe to say that most likely very few characters in Scripture were light skinned in that most were "Semitic," light or dark brown in complexion. Why this surprises us, I don't know. The stories did take place in the Middle East. Maybe it's because we tend to make God in our image rather than remembering it's the other way around.

It is interesting that the Bible does not speak about skin tone much and when it does, it's not a major point. Perhaps that's the message we have forgotten. God's message of grace and salvation is for all people of all races and skin tones.

To try to build a theology of race based on upon Scripture is nothing more than sinful racism. That, my friend, has no place in the Kingdom of God. 


Are Short Term Mission Trips a Waste of Time and Money?

For those who will not read the entire post, the simple answer is: YES & NO

It's not a simple answer, so I'll break it down.

YES - SHORT TERM MISSION TRIPS ARE A WASTE

For some individuals and even for some churches, the short term trip is a waste of time. This happens when people choose their mission destination based on what looks like a fun trip. When absolutely no prayer is involved and simply choosing a location to visit and "serve" is made based upon what new stamp would look good in my passport, or possibly what really cool sites are nearby, the trip is a waste.

Why would this make it a waste? Because in these cases, the trips are nothing more than vacations with "Jesus" stamped on top of it. The ultimate good that is done is relegated to creating an event for church people to feel spiritual and mission oriented.

I fear that often this is what happens.

It must be noted that even on the very best, God-honoring, Gospel-centered mission trips, the potentional that some in the group shouldn't be there becomes pretty clear.

This is normally identifiable by some of these factors:

  • If the short-term missionary (STM) is constantly asking when he will get to do some souvenir shopping.
  • If the STM seems to view all the people in the area as "foreigners" forgetting that she is the foreigner.
  • If the STM disregarded all the guidelines regarding packing and preparation.
  • If the STM will not engage any of the locals in conversation.
  • If the STM is continually asking when the group will get to go see Big Ben, the Grand Canyon, Broadway, the Biggest Ball of Twine or whatever other local attraction tends to promote for tourists.
  • If the STM team brings in a plan that works well in their own hometown, country or culture and expects it to translate flawlessly to the new area.
  • If the STM does "church" for the missionary or church planter in the area.
  • If the STM is not interested in the long-term strategy for reaching and discipling people where they are visiting.
  • If the STM acts and lives "spiritual" on the mission trip but lives obviously outside the will of God at home.
  • If the STM believes that participating on the trip makes him a "super Christian" or acts like he believes.
  • If the STM only goes on a trip, but never supports through prayer or maybe even financially those who serve full time on the field.

NO - SHORT TERM MISSION TRIPS ARE NOT A WASTE

This is vital to understand. We live in an age where the proclivaty of short-term mission trips is growing. The world is "smaller" and affordable air travel makes it possible for individuals and groups to go on the mission field to support, encourage and help those who serve on the field.

The STM is valuable when:

  • He understands that his role is to come along side of the church planter or missionary on the field.
  • She understands the power of prayer and that prayer is evangelism, not just what you do before a meeting, a meal, or a spiritual event.
  • He knows that he represents many who have supported him financially who are unable to go and therefore, thanks and includes these individuals in the journey either through letters or photos, internet postings or emails, or better yet personal interaction.
  • The team realizes they are not on the field to "do church" for the people there, but to assist the missionary or church planter in the field in any way needed (even if it seems menial and not easily graded.)
  • He realizes that the purpose of the trip is not to accumulate a big number of salvations for the purpose of grading the trip as successful, but is comfortable with the biblical truth that only God draws people to Himself.
  • The work done on the field supports the pre-defined strategies for reaching the culture and people groups there.
  • She understands that visiting some of the local sites are fun and can even be valuable for understanding the culture, but not primarily just for a new photo for the Facebook page.
  • It is a most humbling and gracious privilege to be able to join God on mission.
  • The missionary or church planter on the field doesn't feel the unnecessary pressure to "keep the mission team busy" so they can feel their trip was worthwhile. 
  • The trip is not the point and therefore continued prayer and even financial support is needed for those on the field.

Missions_imageThere are probably more bullet points for both answers, but these are some of the first that come to mind. Of course, these are all based on trips I've been on or that I have heard from other pastors or mission trip leaders.

The short-term mission trip, in my opinion, a very valuable tool for the 21st century church. That is why we have numerous options available for people to go and serve. However, we must, and do, work to ensure that the trip is not a waste. 

I pray that we will eventually have up to 75% of the membership of our church short-term mission trip veterans. Some of these trips are overseas. Others are in the United States. Still others are in our own neighborhood. All are vital. Are are equal in importance. All require the same heart attitude.

The purpose of the trips are doxological - to bring glory to God. How is He glorified? Numerous ways, but in these cases when people come to know Him personally through salvation and with believers grow deeper in their faith. To God be the glory.

Interested in journeying with God on mission? Check out this link for current options and come back regularly for updates.