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Posts from July 2012

Change or Become Irrelevant. Your Choice.

I have just spent the last two days in Woodstock, Georgia with over two thousand missionaries, pastors, denominational servants and church planters. This is the North American Mission Board's Send>>North America Conference.

It's a new day at NAMB and for the Southern Baptist Convention. I know this to be true because that phrase was stated from the stage over and over again. The thing is. . .it really is a new day and it's looking bright.

This conference feels less like a typical SBC event where programming and church-focused iniatives are promoted. Rather, this gathering is more vocally and practically focused on that which many of us as members of the SBC have been saying must be paramount - the Kingdom.

It's refreshing and deeply challenging.

As I listened to God speak through many people this weekend (some on the stage, others at the meal table with me and some riding in the van with me) here's what we know to be true:

  • Churches that are inwardly focused are or soon will be dead.
  • Some churches need to die. 
  • Churches that believe the answer to life's problems is anything but Jesus are or soon will be dead.
  • People do not start churches. Jesus already started THE church. Called out people plant churches. However, the truth is that Jesus does the planting as well. Those we call church planters just follow in obedience in this great story of multiplication and Gospel outreach.
  • We like the idea of evangelism a lot more than we like the work of evangelism.
  • Evanglism and discipleship are partners. We cannot have one without the other.
  • Change is necessary.
  • Here's a quote I love that was shared this week. "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less." - General Eric Shinseki, Chief of Staff, US Army
  • The focus of the church is the Gospel.
  • Cultural relevancy is vital.
  • Cultural relevancy does not mean moral or Scriptural compromise.
  • Skinny jeans do not work for all men (in fact, they don't work for many.)
  • Goatees and diptick beards are essential to plant churches in certain urban settings apparently.
  • Any size church can and should be involved in church planting.
  • Do the hard things.

Images (1)These weekends are vital for guys like me. As a pastor, it's essential that I remain laser focused on what my role is as a shepherd/lead servant. I must remain focused upon the Gospel which compels us to love God and others. Otherwise, I get distracted.

I hear for two days straight what really matters. I agree and know it to be true.

Then, I check my email and Facebook and see the latest things happening in my community and beyond and I am saddened and shocked. I'm not shocked that those who do not know Christ live like they do not. I'm not shocked with much of anything in the news relating to the status of the Middle East, the latest polling and news regarding current elections, the hijinks of celebrities or even the latest sports upsets. What does shock and sadden me is  when Christ-followers use so much time and energy on endeavors that will not matter for eternity and in most cases for the current time either.

We are wasting time.

We are missing the opportunity.

It is almost too late. . .but not yet. There's still time. We can still pull this diving plane back up and fly even highter. 

What will it take?

Here are some things, in no particular order, and not a complete list.

Repentance. We're going to have to repent as Christians for pretending that we're doing the full job of the Gospel and Great Commission. We're going to have to repent for putting other idols up equal to or above Christ (and this means anything from tangible items like cars, money, homes to ideals like patriotism, political parties, pride and personal rights.) Our God is a jealous God and when anything is placed as equal or above him in our lives. . .well, it's sin.

Kingdom Shift. We are going to have to break out of the Church-Focused Framework we have all been taught and even our culture has accepted, to a Kingdom-Focused Framework that the Gospel of Christ espouses as our only model. Read more here.

Prayer. It's simply key to this. Apart from God, our efforts are fruitless.

Strategic Engagement. As Christ-followers and churches we must do more than vicarious missions by dropping some change in a plate. We must connect. We must relate. We must break out of the bubble we are in to embrace the cities and the people in our nation and beyond.

This is hard.

It's time to do the hard things.

I don't want to be irrelevant (and I don't have to be.)

Functional Idolatry and the Crown Victoria

Friday is my "day off" but as most pastors can attest, that's term means little. Last Friday, I had to pick something up from the church office. I drove over to the church, stayed a little while and then headed home. I hopped back into my red Ford F-150 pickup truck. I've had this truck since 2005 and most everyone in the church and around town know this is my truck. When I purchased it new in 2005, it was . . . my dream "car."

I lived in Texas for ten years beginning in tenth grade and in Texas, it seems that everyone has a truck. One dealership touts the pickup as the "National Truck of Texas." That statement has so many meanings, but I won't get into it here. It's a Texas thing.

Nevertheless, this red F-150 was perfect.

My wife even jokingly (I think) called it the "holy truck" at first. This was based on some things I had said about the truck and some rules I had instituted for riding in it.

Honestly, and this is hard to say, the big red truck became a functional idol for me.

Now, I'm a good Christian. I'm even a pastor. I know the Ten Commandments. I know that idol worship is wrong and in our culture, rarely do we have idols of stone or wood to worship. However, we do often have functional idols. John Calvin stated that the human mind is basically a "perpetual factory of idols." 

In our culture the idols take different forms than in biblical times. Idols are created from things like money, sports, politics, power, clothing, prestige and red pickup trucks.

Last Friday as I was driving home from the office and crossing the Doctors Lake Bridge, the truck refused to go into gear. At the peak of the bridge, the engine was still running, and I was gunning it, the shift lever was still in DRIVE, but nothing was happening. 

I coasted down the bridge and pulled over by the marina. 

I called my friend John Burmeister at Tires Plus (it always pays to know someone you trust to work on your cars) and had the truck towed to his shop.

My fears were confirmed later that day. The transmission was shot.

There was a fix. However, the fix would be about $3,000.

For some people $3,000 is no big deal. For our family, it's a big deal.

You see, we're systematically paying off some debt we've accumulated over the years. We have a plan and strategy and while our debt is not overwhelming, it is hanging over us. We believe that God desires us to be debt-free and has made a way for us to reach that goal.

So, what do we do about the truck? You know, the "holy truck?"

Tracy and I prayed that evening. I asked God to show us the way and provide an answer. I confessed to him that the truck had become a functional idol for me. I was not asking for another idol. If He did not provide funding or transportation, we would use what He had already provided. He has been so very good to us.

It's really hard to say "We have no car!" when we actually have four (my wife's 1998 minivan, the "holy truck" and the kids' two vehicles.) Even with the truck in the shop, we were not stranded. God had already provided more than we need.

I simply asked God to show me how He was answering this and trusting Him.

The next day we went to a couple of local car dealerships. I was wondering if anyone would trade a broken pickup truck with a blown transmission for another vehicle? I figured it didn't hurt to ask. I actually, and you may not understand this, felt God leading me to test these waters to see what He had already done.  The second dealership (Mike Shad Ford) is where we have purchased three of our four vehicles. We have always had a good experience there, so that was my final stop.

I explained the situation and was asked "Well, how much do you want to spend?" 

I answered, "Nothing."

That met with a stare.

I figured that was when we'd be leaving.

After a few minutes, recognizing the salesperson would get no commission on a "zero" sale, I was told "Let's see what type of trucks we have."

I stated, "I don't need a truck (just so you know, this was a big deal for me to say). I am just looking for a vehicle that can get me from point A to point B and hopefully have better gas mileage than the truck. Oh, I'd like to be able to fit into it (I am 6'7".)"

In a short amount of time, the salesperson said "I think I have something for you."

Crown vicThen, he drove a 2003 Ford Crown Victoria around to the front. I thought my wife was going to laugh out loud. She had that look on her face that has been perfected after many years of being married to me that simply said "Seriously?" 

You see, I need to explain something. Back when I was younger and what I drove really mattered, I had said some things about cars and vehicles. In fact, it started when I was 16 and first received my license.

  • At 16 I said "I'll never own a Ford Pinto." Guess what my parents blessed me with at 16. Yep, a white Ford Pinto. It was a standard transmission and for the first few weeks, I stalled it every time I tried to go anywhere. I remember sitting through a red light as it cycled through a few times. The drivers behind me were not happy. My mom was in the car. She was laughing.
  • At 17 or 18 I said, "I'll never own a four door car." Yeah, that's a dumb statement, but believe me, four door cars were not cool at all when I was in high school. 
  • I then said, "I'll never own a mini-van." Amazing how kids change things. We've had a mini-van since 1998.
  • I also said, after driving my parent's Ford LTD to prom, "I'll never have a big sedan like my parents do." Well. . .here we go.

I now am the proud owner of a 2003 Ford Crown Victoria. Mike Shad took the broken truck (which, yes, I know they will repair and re-sell) in an even swap for the Crown Vic. The Crown Vic is older than my truck, but gets better gas mileage and has 40,000 less miles.

This all happened last Saturday. Since that day, I have heard many comments. . .

  • I look like an undercover cop.
  • I can get the senior discount in drive thrus now.
  • If I get some cool rims, really thin tires and jack it up some, I'll be ready for inner city missions.
  • I need a blue light on top (which, by the way, was recommended by a couple of police officer friends. They then said, they're legal as long as you don't turn them on. Right. I'm sure that will go over well when talking to the officer outside the driver side window.)
  • I can't haul things like I did with the truck, but as the salesperson at Mike Shad told me "You can get five bodies in that trunk." I think he was kidding. He is a retired cop, though so I'm not sure. I just laughed and changed the subject.

Even though the car smells funny (I think the previous owner was a smoker. Either that or he just smelled funny.) I love it. It's a smooth ride and the air conditioner works. Someone asked what we're going to call this one since the truck was the "holy truck." I think "God provides" is a good answer.

The functional idol has been sacrificed. 

Marriage, Muppets, Chick-fil-A & the Church

It has become the litmus test for loving and considerate people. The question is asked to actors, singers, politicians, community leaders, businesspeople and pastors. If the answer is not the culturally approved one, you fail the test. 

When you fail this test, you are labeled. You are a bigot. You are uncaring. You are closed-minded. You are stupid. You are a hate monger.

The question has been in the news before, but it's taken off this last week at an alarming rate when a successful businessman answered incorrectly (at least by cultural standards.) 

Dan-Cathy-Chick-Fil-A-300x273Dan Cathy, Chief Operating Officer for Chick-fil-A, stated in a July interview with the Biblical Recorder (the news source for North Carolina Baptists) when asked if he and Chick-fil-A as a business support the traditional definition of marriage of being between one man and one woman for life.

"Well guilty as charged," is how Cathy responded to the question after the reporter pointed out some were critical of Chick-fil-A's support of traditional values. "We are very much supportive of the family. . .the biblical definition of the family unit. . .We are a family owned business, a family led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that."

This answer was wrong according to many and has resulted in many news items for Chick-fil-A and has caused the restaurant to trend highly on Google and Twitter.

  • Boston's and Chicago's mayors have stated they will do all in their power to keep Chick-fil-A restaurants from opening in their respective cities. 
  • The Jim Henson Company (owned by Disney) has stated their displeasure and plans to remove all Muppet toys from future partnerships. 
  • Someone created a fake Facebook page using a stock photo as their profile pic to defend Chick-fil-A's stance. Many are claiming the corporation has done this. I don't believe so, but it could be a restaurant employee or fan. I guess the truth about "Abby Farle" will come out.
  • Mike Huckabee has been promoting "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" on August 1.
  • Southwestern Seminary is purchasing Chick-fil-A sandwiches for all students on August 1 in support of the restaurant.
  • Boycotts of Chick-fil-A have been called for by many in the gay and lesbian community.

There's much debate on the subject and comments are being requested from everyone who has ever eaten a chicken sandwich or waffle fries. 

Yet, is the debate really about Chick-fil-A? Is it really about American rights to free speech? Is it about discrimination on the level of racial bigotry? Is it about the definition of marriage?

Well, yes, but it's also about something much deeper. This deeper question is one that the church must answer.

I know some Christians state that sexual orientation is God-created and therefore those with same sex attractions are just made that way by God. That debate will remain. Whether a "gay gene" is discovered or orientation is developed will continue to be argued about.

What Christians must determine is whether or not the Word of God is true. This hearkens back to the debate over innerancy and the battle some denominations split over in the past and others struggle with today. The moment we begin to pick and choose which portions of Scripture to adhere to is the moment we disavow the Word in its entirety.

As my friend and fellow pastor Mitchell Landress put it. . .

Biblically speaking, humans are responsible for their actions, despite any genetic inclination toward certain feelings or habits. We alone are responsible for what we do. The much larger question must be: Has God set a standard for living, and one which includes all issues? And we as Christians must affirm with the Bible that the answer is yes.

One of the problems is that many in the church do not know how to express the Truth without sounding hateful and attacking. Truth is absolute. That means it is true for all people, at all times, in all circumstances. There is no such thing as "Well, that may be true for you, but it's not true for me." Truth is, period.

The Bible is Truth. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. While some would debate this, the faith step that a child of God makes when surrenduring to God affirms that Jesus is Truth and the Word is true.

So, what are Christians to do? First, we must know the truth. It's newsworthy when a business (not a local church) and COO (not a pastor) makes a statement that affirms the truth of the Word of God. What's unsettling is that many who sit in church facilities weekly question whether Mr. Cathy was right in what he said. 

Some would say "See, Christians hate gays!" While some who claim to be Christians may hate homosexuals (and I'm thinking of the false church in Kansas that protests everything,) the truth of the matter is that true Christ-followers do not hate and should not hate homosexuals. By the way, not hating does not equate to endorsing or accepting.

We are all born with sinful inclinations. We are all born and natually lean toward sinful actions based on evil desires. This is the story of humanity. However, when a person comes to faith in Christ, the sin is crucified. The old is gone. All is made new. Therefore, we must remember this as Christ-followers, as we speak, listen and minister to those in our community and world. The Apostle Paul spoke of this in his first letter to the church at Corinth.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11(ESV)
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 

Some will read that verse and see only "homosexuality" while ignoring terms like "greedy, adulterers (remember Jesus' definition here), idolators, immoral, drunkards, etc." None is greater than the other or should I say, none is dirtier than the other. So, I'm not throwing a stone at those I believe are worse sinners than me, but am thankful for a loving Savior whose sacrifice covers all such sins. 

The cultural winds are blowing. It's politically incorrect to speak out against what the Bible asserts to be wrong.

However, as Christians we must know the truth, affirm the truth and live by the truth. Guess what? It will not get any easier. 

Just this last week a church plant meeting in a school in Miami came under fire for affirming the biblical definition of marriage. They're being accused of spouting hatred and may lose their meeting space. 

The chasm in our culture will continue to widen between what is acceptable and what is biblically true. How is the church to respond? With love, but never compromising the truth. 

Love God. Love people.

It's a tenous walk and not going to be easy. Then again, when were we ever told living the Christian life would be easy. It's time to do the hard things and do them right and uncompromisingly.

Persecution? Oh yeah, but we haven't seen anything yet. 

2 Timothy 3:12(ESV)
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

So, in the midst of all the news stories and talking heads, the reality is this is not about Chick-fil-A. It's about the conversation that is and has been happening and in most cases the church has ignored. Does the definition of marriage matter? Yes, absolutely. Is it a political hot potato? Yes, but it's not really about politics. It's about people. It's about truth. It's about the Word of God and the church and Christ-followers being salt and light in an unsavory and dark world. 

On a side note, I'm proud of Dan Cathy for stating his beliefs. As a former employee and regular patron, I believe this company is one of the best in our nation. I'm not sure why people are surprised by Cathy's statement. This is the Chick-fil-A that has been up front and open about their Christian and biblical beliefs and basis for business. They're not even open on Sundays.

I feel for the people of Boston and Chicago, not only because this conversation has become a political tool and cultural litmus test, but because they'll not get to enjoy nuggets, waffle fries and peach milkshakes any time soon.

A Dark Night in Colorado

I woke up this morning and began to make my coffee and look at the day's headlines. I was shocked to see stories and Tweets about Aurora, Colorado. People were posting "Praying for Aurora" and other such things. After clicking over to one of the news sites, it became tragically clear why everyone was buzzing about Colorado this morning.

Batman coloradoFrom what we know now, 24-year-old James Holmes, a former medical student, dressed in military-like battle gear burst into a crowded theater of patrons viewing the new film "The Dark Knight Rises" at the midnight premiere. He apparently released a canister containing a gaseous substance and then began shooting. People first thought the spectacle was a publicity stunt tied with the film, but soon discovered it was all too real. 

Police arrived quickly and Holmes was arrested. However, at last count 12 people were killed (including children) and over as50 more were injured. 

The story continues to unfold and more details are being released by the minute. I would caution people not to believe everything that is reported. It seems many false reports are being spread and the Aurora Police Chief stated in his press conference that someone pretending to be him contacted a national news office with updates.

The inevitable comparisons to other shootings have come (Columbine, Virginia Tech, Kileen, Texas, etc.) and will continue.

When the story broke, the obvious questions came: Who? How? When? What?

The one question that still must be answered is "Why?"

This is always the most difficult.

So, what is the answer?

It's not easy. Most answers do not satisfy. Even the right answer. The fact is that most of the answers given to the "Why" question are based on the cultural understandings of right and wrong, not the biblical ones. This makes it even more challenging, especially since the culture does not fully comprehend the difference between right and wrong. Apart from the Gospel, it is not possible to grasp what some say are "simple" concepts.

As Christ-followers, we know that the human heart is capable of great evil. We see it in this story from Colorado and throughout history. Scripture speaks of this.

Jeremiah 17:9(ESV)
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?  

Since this is the case, that apart from God, the human heart is evil, why aren't stories like this one more commonplace? 

You've heard the statement "There, but for the grace of God go I?" The phrase is attributed to 16th century martyr John Bradford, but has been echoed throughout the years as a statement of man's evil heart and more importantly of God's wonderful grace. 

Dr. Al Mohler puts it well. . .

God restrains human sinfulness. If the fullness of human sin was set loose, humanity would destroy itself. God restrains human evil by several means. First, he has created us in his image, and at least part of this image is what we call conscience. The moral conscience is a powerful restraint on human evil, and for this we must be exceedingly thankful. At the same time, the human conscience is also warped by the Fall and no longer fully trustworthy. We have developed the capacity to ignore the conscience, torture the conscience, and even misdirect the conscience by moral rationalization. Nevertheless, the restraint of the conscience is fundamental, and for that we must be very thankful.

So, the heart of man is evil. The grace of God restrains, and yet evil still seems to win at times. What's the answer? Is there any good news?

That's the Gospel. The good news is that the problem of evil has already been answered. It was answered on the cross. It most likely will not be a satisfying answer for people watching the news and wondering how survivors will heal and justice will be served. I'll share Mohler's statement regarding this as well. . .

Christians know that God is sovereign, and that nothing is outside of his control. We also know that he allows evil to exist, and human beings to commit moral atrocities. We cannot allow the sovereignty of God to be denied and evil allowed its independent existence. Nor can we deny the reality of evil and the horror of its threat to be lessened. We are reminded that evil can be answered only by a cross.

As I watch the news reports and press conferences, numerous emotions come to the surface.

Anger - I understand the evil in the hearts of men, the sin nature and the Enemy's tactics to steal, kill and destroy, but when something like this happens, it angers me. It angers me that the Enemy has seemingly won a battle. It angers me when sin seems to triumph.

Sadness - I grieve because of the loss of life and for many, the seeming loss of innocence. Who hasn't gone to a movie to experience a relaxing night, eat some popcorn and spend some time with friends? Families have lost loved ones. Parents have lost children. They all need our prayers, as do the injured still recovering.

Thankfulness - I thank God that in such a messed up, sinful, fallen world, we still have hope. God's grace is real.

Psalms 46:1(ESV)
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 

Thanks Andy - 1926-2012

Today one of my favorite actors of all time passed away. For most Americans, Andrew Samuel "Andy" Griffith will forever be known as the folksy small town Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry, North Carolina.

However, Andy's career was much more diverse than just his time as the Mayberry sheriff.

His career really took off in 1953 when his comedic monologue "What It Was, Was Football" was first delivered. Griffith told of this thing called football from the point of view of a rural backwoodsman trying to figure out what was going on at a football game. Take a listen. It's hilarious.

I remember seeing Griffith in a replay of No Time for Sergeants on "The United States Steel Hour" on television a few years ago. This was not the film version (which was hilarious - especially when the toilets saluted and when Andy said "Somebody done brung their trumpet" when reveille was played) but a theatrical presentation with little background scenery (similar to Wilder's "Our Town"). This showcased Andy's acting ability. He acted on Broadway for a time as well. 

AGS-Man-in-Hurry1It was in the 1958 film version that Griffith was paired with Don Knotts. This began a life-long association that was seen in "The Andy Griffith Show" and even later in "Matlock."

Griffith was from Mt. Airy, North Carolina, the inspiration for the fictional Mayberry. Small town values and simple life surprisingly captured the nation for years as his television show, and subsequent spin-offs gained large followings.

There have been many stories written about Andy Griffith and his success in television, but also his desire to break away from the character known as Andy Taylor in other projects. He played good, moral characters in most of his films, but occasionally ventured to play the polar opposite of what the audience expected.

I remember watching the made-for-television movie Murder in Coweta County back in 1983. It co-starred Griffith and Johnny Cash. In a creative switch on typecasting, Cash played the heroic sheriff and Griffith the murderous villain. I was a teenager, but this film shocked me.

Andy Griffith was much more than just a comedic actor. He was versatile and creative as seen in his numerous roles and productions throughout the years.

I even liked him in series that were less than successful. One of my favorites was 1979's "Salvage I." What? You don't remember that show. It was great. Andy was the owner of the Jettison Scrap and Salvage Company who built his own rocket to go to the moon. It was a big hit at first, but sadly only lasted about 20 episodes. Still, it was no TAGS.

Andy Griffith was a very talented man, an actor, director, writer and singer. He will forever be tied to his most famous character. I know he was much more than one character, but I do appreciate his creation of the Sheriff from Mayberry.

I know TAGS was just a show, but it was a show that my parents never had to fret me watching as a child. It was a show that was funny, especially during the black and white era, and fun. I don't remember ever being offended by the subject matter. It was something that could be watched with multiple generations. In truth, the humor in the episodes are timeless.

Yeah, I'll miss that.

I know we still have reruns and DVDs of episodes. 

There, however, is a sadness in knowing the actors and actresses on the screen are no longer with us. Our senior adults are planning to go to Mt. Airy, North Carolina this fall for the annual "Mayberry Days." Every year a few actors from the show appear. In truth, these are mostly character actors who played small roles, but are known to die hard fans. I may have to go to "Mayberry" this year. It looks like fun. Maybe I'll go to the Snappy Lunch and get a tomato sandwich in honor of Andy. If I have time, maybe I'll get a haircut at Floyd's.

The Joy of Being Hated

It amazes me how many Christians are surprised when they discover the world doesn't see things their way.

Form_of_godliness_1Why are we surprised?

Perhaps we have forgotten that as children of God, we are in the minority (always have been and always will be.) We have an enemy who not only wants to win, but desires to destroy. I believe the phrase is "steal, kill and destroy." 

Remember what Paul told Timothy. . .

2 Timothy 3:12(ESV)
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 

So, when difficulty comes and you find yourself lamenting that this Christian society is seemingly less and less favorable to Christ and His followers. . . rejoice.

Remember, this is a spiritual war. 

If you're feeling pressure or even a semblance of persecution (BTW - the vast majority of believers in America have never truly faced persecution for their faith) rejoice that you must be doing something right.

Jesus affirmed that His followers have always been persecuted and those who truly become his disciples (those who hear and obey) will be persecuted for their faith as well. However, the persecution is temporary. Joy comes in the morning (and morning comes for the children of God.)

Matthew 5:12(ESV)
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. 

Could it be that we have not faced true persecution for our faith because we have been hiding under a veil of religion and "westernized" Christianity that allows us to sing, gather and even carry Bibles with no pressure to be godly?

The world will hate you if you truly follow Christ.

Matthew 10:22(ESV)
And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.