Previous month:
May 2012
Next month:
July 2012

Posts from June 2012

Insights from the Fishing Hole

I am no fisherman. I readily admit that. 

However, while writing this post, I am sitting in a rented RV parked in Bull Shoals State Park in Arkansas. It's beautiful here and apparently, this park and the White River that runs around it are popular destinations for vacationers, fishermen and women and retired people who tour the country in their RVs. 

It's a beautiful place.

My wife has been desiring to come back here for a weekend just like this for years. As a girl, her family would come here regularly and this place holds many fond memories for her. So, for the first time in a long time, we were able to join her parents and other family members for the annual camping trip at Bull Shoals.

Though I am not a fisherman, my father-in-law is and we have spent some time this weekend on the river. It's been fun fishing with my wife and children and in-laws. We have even caught our share of rainbow trout.

Jesus said to Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, the professional fishermen, when He called them to follow Him. . .

Matthew 4:19(ESV)
And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 

Jesus used their profession as a way of introducing them to a higher calling. 

Jesus called men from many different professions, but you don't hear him telling Matthew, "Follow me and I will make you tax collectors of men." So there must be an intentionality about this fish analogy.

After a full couple of days of fishing, with at least one more ahead of me, here are some simple observations about fishing for fish and how it relates to fishing for men. I'm sure none of this is original, but it's what's coming to mind right now.

  • I DON'T HAVE THE GIFT OF FISHING. Being a non-fisherman is not a good excuse for not fishing. I could have stayed in the RV while everyone else fished, but then I would have missed out on the fun and the stories of the day. I've heard many believers say "I don't have the gift of evangelism." Interesting how that one line can keep many believers from ever sharing the Gospel.
  • I'M NOT SURE WHAT TO DO NEXT. It's good to go fishing with someone who has done it before. The value of a mentor is clear here. My father-in-law is a great fisherman, but he's a better teacher. He is patient and allows for mistakes, but if you listen well, you can learn to fish. A new believer can fish for men immediately, but it is good to have a mentor as well. God always seems to provide an older, wiser believer to walk along side us on our journey.
  • THE RETURN ON INVESTMENT SEEMS SMALL. I cast the line many, many times and only had two bites (well, two that stayed on the hook.) Since the daily limit is five, it appears that very few fishermen catch a fish every time they cast the line. Perspective shows us the value of every casting of the line. I had no idea which casting would result in a fish. However, if I had not cast the line I am certain I would have caught nothing. It's amazing how valueable those two fish seem right now. When sharing the Gospel, all too often we become discouraged. Many stop. The truth is if you stop sharing, you will lead no one to Christ.
  • JUST ONE CATCH ENERGIZES YOU TO KEEP FISHING. It's amazing how catching one fish can energize you to try to catch more. I caught one early this morning. Before catching that trout, I had convinced myself that if I didn't catch any, it would be OK. Then, I had convinced myself that if I could just catch one, that would be enough. Once I caught one. . .well, I wanted another.
  • 06-30-2012 - Ashley fishing Bull ShoalsTHERE IS GREAT JOY IN SEEING OTHERS CATCH AS WELL. Unless you're in a competition (and many times, especially with family and siblings, it is a competetion) there is joy when others catch fish. My wife, Tracy caught four today. My daughter, Ashley caught three. My son, Daniel caught two. Each time, we celebrated. I also noticed something else. Whenever another boat would come by or another fishermen would arrive on the bank, the question "How many have you caught?" would come up. There are apparently enough fish in this river for every fisherman and then some. Therefore, we weren't jealous when others were successful catching fish and we even celebrated when others found success. 
  • THERE IS MUCH WORKING AGAINST US. There are forces that work against the fisherman easily catching a fish. The flow of the river, the tangling of hooks on the bottom, the continual distractions from other boats on the river, and the fish seemingly not wanting to be caught all work against us. Consequently, fishing, though worth it, is not easy.
  • RESULTS VARY. Some days you will catch the limit. Other days, you won't have a nibble. It will seem that nothing has changed, but apparently things have. There is value in using what works as bait, but there are times the bait needs to be upgraded, the timing must be different and the seasons must be observed. In other words, what works one day in catching fish may not work the next.
  • THE LAW STILL MATTERS. As we were on our boat bringing in the trout a couple of nice guys boated up to us. They were congenial and easy to talk with. However, they each had badges on and were visiting with us on official business. The Fish & Wildlife Game Wardens (or Water Police as my wife called them) came to check our licenses and to see if we were over our limit. Everything was good. They went along their way. We live under grace, but the law was not thrown out. In fact, Christ said he came to fulfill, not abolish the law. So. . .we learned today there was a right (legal) way to fish and a wrong (illegal) way to fish. 
  • IT'S BETTER WHEN WE WORK TOGETHER. I caught my first fish while on the shore alone this morning. The rest of the family had taken the boat to the other side of the river. However, being the non-fisherman, I had no tools but my rod and reel. That was enough to hook the fish, but he (the fish) had swallowed the hook and my fat fingers couldn't fit in his mouth deep enough to get the hook out. I needed some pliers or trout scissors to remove this hook. I worked on him for about fifteen minutes to no avail. My father-in-law and nephews with tools were on the other side of the river, so I just sat there wondering how I could fix this. I tried using the stringer to no avail. Finally, I asked the dear lady fishing downstream from me if she had any trout scissors I could borrow. She did and of course, we began to talk. I met a new friend, removed the hook from my fish and was able to continue fishing. 
  • 06-30-2012 - David Bull ShoalsOTHERS MAY NOT UNDERSTAND HOW BIG OF A DEAL YOUR FISH IS. Not everyone may be as excited about your catch as you are. Don't worry about other's perceptions. That fish is a big deal. Believe me, that fish realizes how big a deal it was that he was hooked. The Bible states that angels rejoice in heaven each time a soul is saved. Sometimes Christians dumb down salvations to just numbers. Remember, each number is a person. Each person is a soul. Each soul is a big deal.

It's been a good day. Everyone is tired right now and very thankful the RV has air conditioning. It's only 106 degrees outside.

Oh, and the picture of my fish. . .well, in real life, it was larger than it appears here. You believe that, don't you?


Time for a Reboot?

Sometimes, it's just better to reboot.

SpidermenThis summer the film "The Amazing Spider-Man" opens starring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. The trailer has been out for months and it appears the film will be good. At a minimum, it will make millions on merchandising. However, it appears this film is confusing for some fans.

For those who watched and were fans of the previous Spider-Man films with Tobey Maguire as the web slinger, this film is creating some questions, especially for the casual fan. Questions such as:

  • Is this a prequel?
  • What happened to Mary Jane?
  • How does this fit into the other three movies?
  • What about Harry Osborn?

The same type of questions were asked by movie fans when "X-Men: First Class" came out. Most fanboys are so frustrated with all X-Men sequels and spin-offs since X-2, they're hoping for another reboot.

I'm sure similar questions and frustrations will come when "Man of Steel" opens in 2013. The new Superman film is the latest attempt to reclaim some of the excitement of the original "Superman: The Movie" starring Christopher Reeve.

It's just a matter of time before most of the superhero movies being made will be rebooted. There are varied reasons for rebotting such as poor initial outing (anyone remember Hulk?) or weak writing (Fantastic Four), or less than stellar sequels (Batman & Robin). Most often, the decisions to reboot have to do with money. Go figure. In the case of some, it's related to ownership of the characters and the forfeiture of such if new projects were to cease. 

Sometimes, the reboot is a great idea. In the best case scenerio, the reboot doesn't take away from the original at all.

Take the Batman series for example. I'm not referencing the campy Batman film starring Adam West of the 1960s, but the Michael Keaton/Tim Burton film of 1989. While at the time, many were wondering if this Burton vehicle would be watchable, mainly because of the Keaton casting at the Caped Crusader, the box office results were incredible. It's artistic noir take was a hit and Jack Nicholson's Joker stole the show. The first sequel "Batman Returns" was successful as well. The remaining ones were. . .well, not up to par, but when Christopher Nolan rebooted the stories with "Batman Begins" in 2005, it proved that rebooting popular franchises, when done well, are worth the effort.

SO WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH CHURCH?

I tend to see everything through the lens of the church. That even includes superhero movies. Maybe that's a holdover from my childhood love of comic books.

Nevertheless, as I see how the film studios continue to reboot classic characters and stories, I begin asking questions about rebooting and new beginnings as it relates to the local church.

Businesses understand the need for change. Those who do not, soon find themselves fighting for survival and market share. 

Change is not an option when it comes to the message. The Gospel is the message and not up for change. The methods of sharing this message, however, have changed numerous times throughout the years.

The way churches are organized, staffed, scheduled, etc. often have more to do with tradition and historical expectations rather than biblical instruction or cultural impact. Consequently, we hire pastors to fill positions based upon task or people group. We staff small groups based on a structure that has worked well for years. In some cases we continue to replicate a strategy that was successful decades ago.

I have heard church strategists and godly missional thinkers speak on this for years. It's strange. I go to conferences where "Change the methods but not the message" is proclaimed and the crowd says "AMEN!" but when back home, nothing happens.

We continue to just do what has been done for years, even when the results (i.e. salvations, community impact, mission engagement) show that it's time to reevaluate.  

And the world we have been called to reach for the Gospel continues to be unreached.

I heard one leader say (I think it was Ed Stetzer) that most Baptist churches are perfectly structured to reach the culture of the 1950s. Wow!

We wonder why churches are not as effective in impacting our communities for the Gospel.

We are perfectly organized to get the results we are getting.

Maybe it's time for a reboot. Not a reboot of the message. Never. But a reboot of the things that we have added and created over the decades that may be keeping the message from being communicated and the mission field from being engaged.

Have you ever noticed how churches tend to add more and more things that are seemingly "good ideas" and over time become so fully calendared with "events" and "good things" that sometimes the "God things" aren't being done.

More is not always better. Just look at those superhero movies. In the original Batman and Spider-Man series of films the writers kept adding more and more characters. By the end run, there were so many costumed people on the screen, the story was muddied. Of course, I said more is not always better. Sometimes more works well ("The Avengers") but it's rare.

Rather than just hire staff for functions that have existed for decades, maybe it's time to relook at how we're organized to impact and engage the culture for the sake of Gospel and staff accordingly?

Rather than just fill a calendar with events that are "just like last year's" we need to look once again at how and when we do things through the church.

It's not so much that we need something new. In fact, there's nothing new under the sun anyway, so it's not about new.

It's about the Gospel. 

It's a constant challenge, but I'm just wondering. . .is it time for a reboot?


Historic Day for Southern Baptists

Today will go down in Southern Baptist history as one of the most important in our history. Believe me, it has nothing to do with removing DVDs from our Lifeway bookstores. Today, Dr. Fred Luter, Jr., Pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans was elected as President of the Southern Baptist Convention. What makes this historic is that Dr. Luter is the first African-American to ever hold the position. 

LuterIt's an important day for Southern Baptists. Our denomination, which was founded 167 years ago for the purpose of furthering the Gospel, but with an overt commitment to segregation, made a long overdue shift. Some in our tribe bristled at the 1995 public apology for our historic race stances. I heard from some who wondered why we would need to apologize for the sins of our fathers, especially when many in the founding generations never realized nor acknowledged their stance on race to be sinful. 

The fact of the matter is that over the years believers are still realizing how to view and live in community with others. When sinful behaviors and beliefs are exposed, it is then the child of God's responsibility to "own" that sin, take responsibility and deal with it rightly (i.e. through repentance.) A public apology for the sins of our fathers allowed us to collectively state that we affirm equality under God for all people, regardless of skin tone, race or cultural heritage.

If not for that statment in 1995, in my opinion, today's election may not have happened.

This year Dr. Luter ran unopposed. His election was not a statement about race, but he is who he is -  an African-American pastor placed by God as the face of the Southern Baptist Convention for such a time as this. When his election was announced, he was greeted with a standing ovation. 

Dr. Luter is going to be a great  president. This is not due to the color of his skin (wasn't this part of Dr. Martin Luther King's dream?) but due to his character and his heart for God and desire to see the Gospel proclaimed throughout the world. God has used him to grow a community impacting church in New Orleans (B.K. and A.K - Before Katrina and After Katrina.) He has led his church to increase giving to the Cooperative Program as well as other Great Commission missions endeavors. 

Perhaps Dr. Luter's election, just as with Dr. Johnny Hunt's a few years ago (Dr. Hunt is of Native American heritage) will be used by God to express to the church and the world alike that in His eyes, skin tone is irrelevant (1 Samuel 16:7).

I am proud Dr. Luter will be serving in this role for the next year (and most likely the following.) Since he has stepped into this part of the story, I urge all believers to pray for him on a regular basis. He will be the target of attacks, spiritually as well as physically. The Southern Baptist Convention is a unique denominational expression, so Dr. Luter is not our pastor, bishop, pope or leader in the conventional denominational sense. He is our lead servant and strategist. Oh, and he still is pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church. Pray for him, his family and others who have been elected to serve in vital positions for the SBC during this year's convention.


The Gospel We Choose VS. the Gospel We Need

There's a battle within the western church today. It has little to do with style and function. It has to do with foundational elements of biblical truth.

I preached today from 2 Timothy 3. In the first few verses Paul gives descriptive terms that show characteristics and signs of what we know as the last days. The first few are unfortunately very familiar to anyone living in America today. Paul says that in the last days, people will be. . .

  • Lovers of self
  • Lovers of money
  • Proud 
  • Arrogant

Just these first four descriptors open our eyes to the reality that these are the last days. Of course, all days between the ascension and Christ's return can be considered "last days." It's just that the exponential growth and even celebration of these lifestyle characteristics show that our time is short.

The sad reality is that these four characteristics are the natural reactions and responses to what we have come to know as the "American Dream."

The “American Dream” is the national ethos of our country. It is a set of ideals seemingly built upon freedom and liberty but defined in such a way that freedom means the opportunity for personal prosperity and success and the right of upward social mobility achieved through hard work. Author James Truslow Adams coined the term “American Dream” in his 1931 book The Epic of America.

The root ideas may be good. As Americans, we swell with pride when referencing the "American Dream" and should feel blessed to live in this great experiment of a nation.

The only problem with the concept of the "American Dream" is that it has devolved into a godless mantra and ethos while at first seems righteous, in actuality is the polar opposite of the biblical Gospel. It’s becoming even more clear as we slide into the last days that we have traded the biblical gospel for a cultural one.

We’ve been duped, it seems.

Cross-and-flagThis isn't about patriotism or even Americanism. It's about buying into a philosophy that places self at the center of one's story. The twentieth century "American Dream" philosophy (which, by the way, does not completely equate to our nation's founding Fathers' intentions) leads to self-reliant individuality that focuses so much on self and personal rights that the natural end result can be nothing but prideful, arrogant, self worshipping, greedy individualism.

The tragic thing is that the American church, mostly, has attempted to "marry" this gospel with the biblical truth and has forsaken the latter. We wonder why the church in America is dying and not impacting the culture we have been called to engage? Seriously?

We, the church, have been called to be salt and light to a lost and dying world. Instead, we have sequestered ourselves in "churchy" silos never to fully engage with the people we have been sent as "ambassadors of Christ" to reach. 

When I drive to church on Sunday morning, I pass no less than five other churches. These are groups of varying denominations and worship styles, who claim to be preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Logically, then, with that many churches in my community preaching the Word, my community should be transformed.

Sadly, however, it is not.

This is because we have become vaccinated to Christianity. In other words, we have just enough Christianity in our culture to keep most people from ever getting or experiencing the real thing. 

Unfortunately, many who claim to be Christ followers and disciples have chosen a culturally acceptable "gospel" that affirms that which the culture says is good. Therefore, the church looks less and less like the transformed children of God and more and more like another community group espousing feel good teachings and mantras based upon a failed ethos. 

The sad reality is that many who gather weekly for church are far from God. There are many who have just enough Christianity to keep them from the real thing. The sad thing is that just enough Christianity leaves a person dead.

It's time we choose.

Will we choose the gospel of the culture or the gospel of Scripture?

One serves as a vaccination. The other gives you the fullness of grace.

When the characteristics listed by Paul in 2 Timothy 3 are just as visible within the "church" as in the world, then the reality of the last days are upon us. 

  • LOVERS OF SELF
  • LOVERS OF MONEY
  • PROUD
  • ARROGANT
  • ABUSIVE
  • DISOBEDIENT TO THEIR PARENTS
  • UNGRATEFUL
  • UNHOLY
  • HEARTLESS
  • UNAPPEASABLE
  • SLANDEROUS
  • WITHOUT SELF-CONTROL
  • BRUTAL
  • NOT LOVING GOOD
  • TREACHEROUS
  • RECKLESS
  • SWOLLEN WITH CONCEIT
  • LOVERS OF PLEASURE RATHER THAN LOVERS OF GOD


2 Timothy 3:5(ESV)
Having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.