Give Us Back Our Church!

A few years ago, Gordon MacDonald wrote a fictional account, based in fact, of a church that was changing.

The book's title says it clearly, Who Stole My Church? What to Do When the Church You Loves Tries to Enter the 21st Century.

510UvyGYxELI purchased the book and began reading it a few years ago.

Here's how the Preface (non-fiction) begins. . .

The title of this book, Who Stole My Church?, springs from a conversation a few years ago with a distraught man who felt betrayed by the church he had invested in for most of his adult years. From his perpective everything had changed - overnight, he said - into something that made him feel like a stranger in the place he'd always thought of as his spiritual home.

I listened to him describe what sounded like ecclesiastical carnage. Programs had been dumped, traditional music trashed, preaching styles and topics revolutionized, symbols of reverence (appropriate clothing, crosses, communion tables, and pulpits come to mind) thrust aside.

His anguish (and his anger) began with a young pastor who had been appointed with a challenge from the church's leadership to "stir things up with a new vision." His mandate: make the church grow like the Willow Creeks, the Saddlebacks, the Mars Hills, and all the other megachurches that have appeared during the last decade.

According to my friend, most of the church members - in particular, the older generation - had no idea what they were getting themselves into when all the growth talk began. Who would protest against, he asked, the idea of finding fresh ways to evangelize the unchurched? But what people expected was merely a fresh voice in the pulpit and a program or two imported from more successful churches. 

Here's what I heard him saying. What he and his fellow church members had not anticipated was a total shift in the church's culture, a reinvention (a favorite word of mine) of ways to love God and serve people. What they did not see coming was a reshuffling of the church's priorities, so that lost and broken people rather than found and supposedly fixed people became the primary target audience. In summary: virtually everything in the life of their church under new leadership became focused on reaching people who were not yet there.

It was during this part of the conversation that my lunch partner finally said, "Our church has been stolen out form under us. It's been hijacked." His solution to the problem? To leave and search for another church that "appreciated" the older and better church ways his generation was familiar and comfortable with.

As I recall the conversation, my friend was less than delighted when he discovered that I wasn't completely sympathetic to his cause. I tried to find a kind way to say, "Get used to it," but I wasn't very successful."

My parting comment that day was something like this: "You need to think about the fact that any church that has not turned its face toward the younger generation and the new challenges of reaching unchurched people in this world will simply cease to exist. We're not talking about decades - we're talking about years."

What is unfortunate is that the account shared by MacDonald in the Preface to his book is not fiction and has been replicated over and again in churches throughout our nation.

There are numerous churches in the city where I serve that have experienced the very same challenges. Some have called pastors, over and again, seeking to find the right fit. Unfortunately, some of these churches have now been tagged "Pastor Killers" based on the reality that they have left many wounded shepherds in their wake. Many of these wounded warriors have either stepped out of ministry or strongly contemplated it. 

Ship-turning1Granted, there are some pastors (and friends of mine) who have sought to lead their church through needed change too quickly. You just cannot turn a ship on a dime. Therefore, incremental change is needed with continued vision-casting by the pastor and leaders reminding the church of the bigger picture. All change must be done not based on a model of the latest megachurch, but solely on the discerned will of God for said congregation.

Pastors easily slide toward egotism. It's the nature of the calling, I guess, partnered with personality traits, most often High "D" or "I" categorizations on the DISC profile along with the stress of the role. No excuses here, just an acknowledgement of reality. Therefore, let me be clear that God does not honor prideful egos, whether from the pulpit or the pew (or in today's vernacular - from the tall table or the cushioned chairs).

I have yet to meet a pastor called to lead an established, or legacy, church through transition who has not been accused of wrong-doing. In most cases, the accusations stem from the loss of perceived sacred cows within the church.

Often the frustrations come from a perceived shift of focus from self, a specific demographic, or program or even worship style.

The church I have been called to serve is a wonderful one because of the godly people here and a clear focus on Jesus Christ. As I think back over the previous twenty-one years, I am encouraged by all that God has done. In fact, just contemplating the miracles of new life, Kingdom focus and celebrations of victory lead to a personal worship service themed by "Thank You" to our God.

The work done prior to my leadership was ground-breaking for a church solidly and proudly (unfortunately) inwardly-focused. As we moved through the early years of the 21st century, it became clear a shift was needed. Not everyone understood or believed this, but I applaud and thank previous leadership for not being satisfied with status quo.

It is clear today that if the shift from inward-only ministry had not occured, or at least begun to occur in the early 2000s, this church would be seeking a merger with a church on more solid ground financially and likely would be seeking ways to keep the doors open here. This is not a dystopian, doom and gloom statement, but one based on what we have seen occur in our own county and in churches in Jacksonville.

Thankfully, we are a church who became like the men of Issachar, who "knew the times" and sought to impact the world God has placed us for His glory.

This has meant change. It's not been dramatic. It's been slow. As best we could, we have sought to keep everyone on the boat while making the turn. Perhaps we have not always been successful in that, and for that I am sorry. However, I cannot and will not apologize for leading a church into the culture of lostness so that we may fulfill our Great Commission, push back the darkness, engage the lost and make disciples. 

Yes, I've been accused of hijacking this church. It hurts when the accusations come, because. . .well, I'm human and those arrows always seem to penetrate areas thought impervious to pain.

While I didn't eat lunch with the same friend that Gordon MacDonald did, I too have had a discourse with a friend as well. This statement was then shared, "If you want to dedicate your life to church planting, and missional work, that is very commendable, but if that is your choice, go to work with the Convention and let us have our church back."

I responded that my life is dedicated not to the church, not church planting, not a program or event, but to God alone. He rescued me. He gave me life through Jesus Christ. He called me. Therefore, He's the center and main character in my story. In fact, "my" story is not about me. It's His story and I'm blessed to be invited into it.

Regarding missional work, that's a misnomer, I fear. The reality is that it is impossible for a true church or follower of Christ to be anything but missional. It's not a fad or descriptor of process, but a characteristic of a disciple.

As for the Convention. I've not been called by God to serve in that capacity at this time in my life. Therefore, to go work for the Convention (either SBC or Florida Baptist Convention) apart from a calling would do a disservice to this church, my family and all churches within our denomination.

Then, the kicker "Let us have our church back." I found it interesting that this came from a friend who has been a member of this church about ten years less than I have. Most likely, he's echoing others. I pray it's a quiet minority. Here's why - when a church slips into believing it's "my church" or "our church" God may just allow that to happen.

Believe me, you don't want a church to own. You don't want a church that is identified as "yours." Christians do not own a church. Christians are the church. The ownership is based solely on the one who has paid the price - God alone.

So, be careful to ask for "your church back." Back from whom, God? We do not wish God to remove his lampstand from our presence.

Though my answer was thought out and carefully worded, I'm not sure it swayed him. For that reason, I grieve.

My Recommendations for Other Pastors

For other pastors who face these situations, seek counsel and pray intently. Be prepared to admit poor leadership and vision casting when it's apparent. No one is perfect and leadership is a tenuous thing. Be holy. Be humble. Be caring. Be loving. 

Pastor the full church (yes, I'm using the word "pastor" as a verb) from preschool to senior adult and every demographic within. Develop lead teams, deacons and ministers to come along side to aid in this. Keep the vision clear. Stay focused and remember the big picture. 

But, don't ever apologize for doing the will of God.

How appropriate that Joe McKeever (a 74 year old pastor) wrote this blog post this past week. Take a moment and read this and respect the wisdom of the ages from a seasoned man of God - "Neckties and Drum Sets: Things We Should Get Over." 

Pressing on!

 


Wisdom from Coach Wooden

There are many celebrities in this world. Our culture loves creating them. Often, we like to create them just so we can enjoy picking them apart to watch them crumble. It is a sad state of being that we have created, or at least enabled.

Sometimes you come across a celebrity who does not put on airs. What you see on television, on the stage or in the magazines is actually an accurate depiction of the real person. Unfortunately, this is often true about those celebrities that are anything but role models and quality people. In other words, they are just as bad as their image portrays them.

Then, there are those who seem to be pretty nice people. People with integrity who are honest. These are the ones of whom you could say, "I'd like to spend some time with them." 

Coach John Wooden (1910 - 2010) was one such man. 

John Wooden largeI had the great privilege of meeting Coach in 1987 at a basketball coaches clinic in Arlington, Texas. My team, the Texas Wesleyan Rams, had been chosen to be the "conference team" for Coach as he talked to area coaches about life principles and then showed how he ran a practice back in the days of Walton, Alcinder and Wilkes at UCLA. So, I now get to tell people that I played basketball for Coach John Wooden (and I do tell them this!) even if just for a few hours long after his days at UCLA.

As I have read biographies and leadership books on Coach Wooden, it becomes clear that here was a man of integrity who was very successful as a player and a coach (Hall of Famer as both,) but moreso as a husband, father, and man of God. His "pyramid of success" hangs in my office as a reminder of much that he had learned and taught (and continues to teach even four years after his death) to many.

Here are some quotes and words of wisdom from Coach that sometimes make me smile and often make me go "Oh. . .yeah. Hmmm."

  • I wanted my players to know I truly cared about them. I loved them all. I didn't like them all. And some of them didn't like me all the time. But today I'm closer to many of my players than I was when they played for me.
  • You can lose when you outscore somebody in a game, and you can win when you are outscored.
  • Make your effort to do the very best you can. That's what I wanted from my teams more than anything else.
  • Leadership from a base of hypocrisy undermines respect, and if people don't respect you, they won't willingly follow you.
  • Be slow to correct and quick to commend.
  • I never yelled at my players much. That would have been articificial stimulation, which doesn't last very long. I think it's like love and passion. Passion won't last as long as love.
  • As a coach, there were a few rules I pretty much stuck to: Never be late. Be neat and clean. I was a stickler for that. At practice, we started on time and we closed on time. And not one word of profanity. If I see it in a game, you're coming out.
  • One time, Bill Walton showed up for practice, looking unkempt. "It's my right," he told me. "That's good, Bill," I replied. "I admire people who have strong beliefs and stick by them. We're going to miss you."
  • Once, one of my players was asked if I ever used profanity. "Absolutely, he replied, "Goodness, gracious, sakes alive" is profanity for Coach."
  • Ability may get you to the top, but you need character to keep you there.
  • What you are as a person is far more important than what you are as a basketball player.
  • I don't want to be like the guy in church who coughs loudly just before putting money into the offering plate.
  • Talent is God-given; be humble. Fame is man-given; be thankful. Conceit is self-given; be careful.
  • Truth will always stand the test of scrutiny.
  • There is no substitute for hard work. If you are looking for the easy way, the shortcut. . . you'll not be developing your talents.
  • Failure to act is often the biggest failure of all.
  • Discipline yourself and others won't need to.
  • Kindness makes for much better teamwork.
  • A player who makes a team great is more valuable than a great player.
  • Players today are better than ever; I don't think the teams are.
  • You have to be a friend to have a friendship. It isn't one-way.
  • The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.
  • Concentrate on what you do have, not on what you don't.
  • Time spent getting even would be better spent getting ahead.
  • My father gave me a two-dollar bill for my grade school graduation. He said, "Hold on to this, and you'll never go broke." I still have it. A lot of times, that's all I've had. But I've never been broke.
  • Don't let making a living prevent you from making a life.
  • If I were ever prosecuted for my religion, I truly hope there would be enough evidence to convict.
  • The most I made coaching was $32,500. Maybe I didn't have a multi-million-dollar contract like Shaquille O'Neal, but he'll never know what it was like to get a good meal for twenty-five cents.
  • Ability is a poor man's wealth.
  • There is nothing stronger than gentleness.
  • To achieve significance, it's a good idea to select an activity for which God has given us at least a measure of skill.
  • Don't call me Wizard [of Westwood]. I'm no wizard!
  • Be quick, but don't hurry.
  • Young people need role models, not critics.
  • Pick up your own orange peels.
  • Never mistake activity for achievement.
  • I don't believe in praying to win a game.
  • It's what you learn after you know it all that counts.
  • If you don't have time to do it right, when will you do it over?
  • Consider the rights of others before your own feelings and the feelings of others before your own rights.
  • We can give without loving, but we can't love without giving. In fact, love is nothing unless we give it to someone.
  • God can be trusted, even when life seems at its darkest. From the cross, God declares, "I love you. I know the heartaches and the sorrows and the pains you feel, but I love you."

Thanks Coach!

_________________

Coach John Wooden Winning With Principle. N.p.: B & H, 2013. Print.


The Church According to Winnie the Pooh

Have you ever noticed the decidedly unique personalities of the characters in the "Winnie the Pooh" stories? Okay, maybe you're like most people and just watched the cartoons as a child, or with your child, simply for entertainment purposes. Perhaps it bothers you when people analyze simple childhood characters to discover deeper meaning. If that's the case. . .sorry, stop reading now and go watch an episode of Spongebob Squarepants (did you ever notice how each character in Spongebob represents a unique personality trait. . .oh, never mind.)

Psychologists have written about the residents of the Hundred Acre Wood for years.  You may not be aware of this, but Google it, you'll see.

As I look at the characters in the world of Pooh (that phrase makes me cringe just typing it) I think it's fair to say that the members of the Hundred Acre Wood and members of most churches have much in common.

Now, if this offends you. . . well, it shouldn't. If you get angry, just look at the picture of Winnie the Pooh and friends below. That should make you smile and enable you to get through the rest of your day in good spirits.

258px-Winnie-the-pooh2011

Winnie the Pooh - Some say Pooh has an eating disorder, but we know he just loves potluck fellowships, as long as the pots are filled with "hunny." The joke for years is that we will know we are Baptists by our doctrines and casseroles. Winnie is also a very nice guy and a friend to all. He would be on the "First Impressions" team, but we'd probably opt to not allow him to wear a name tag that said "Winnie." That's just a . . . well, interesting name for a man.

Piglet_2011

Piglet - This little piggy suffers from panaphobia. This is the fear of everything. He's afraid to join a small group, leave a small group, change his small group, volunteer to serve, shake hands during the greeting, drink out of the water fountain, fill out a "Welcome" card, ride in the parking lot golf cart, talk to people, pray out loud, read Scripture out loud, etc.

Tigger

Tigger - This ball of energy is everywhere! He volunteers to serve, "amens" loudly during the services (at the wrong time, mostly,) signs up for every trip, event, mission, project, etc. He's a bundle of energy that starts many good things. However, he rarely finishes them and you just can't count on him to be where he says he will be. His ADHD is real or at least appears to be. He can't help that he's all over the place, but the good thing is that even though he's loud, sometimes obnoxious, draws attention and what not, he's still fun to be around. He has charisma, some would say.

Rabbit 1

Rabbit - This wonderful church member is the resident OCD example. He would say it's just the spiritual gift of administration, and that may be true, but you can rest assured that if he is teaching a class, every poster, video clip, handout, illustration, etc. will be perfect. If the schedule says a service should start at 9:15am, then it had better not begin at 9:16am. He's a stickler for details and is needed. It's just that sometimes he can get so caught up in the details that he misses the bigger picture. That's why God always bounces a Tigger into Rabbit's world.

Owl_new

Owl - This is the person who has it all together. He's probably the most theologically sound and wisest person in the church. . .just ask him. Yeah, he's kind of his own greatest fan. He's a spiritual narcissist. The fact is, he is pretty smart and he does know much, but he's not much of a team player because. . . well, when you're perfect, you don't need anyone else. Eventually, these owls burn out and sometimes disappear for a season. Owl has much to offer the Kingdom, but needs a good dose of humility.

Kanga

Kanga - She is a loving parent and cares greatly for her child. This is admirable and honorable. Kanga would be serving in the preschool or children's ministry and most likely would be ensuring the safety and security of the children. She is the type of person who would willingly settle for less within the church so that the children could have more. She is selfless. You know, she's a Proverbs 31 kangaroo.

Roo

Roo - I love Roo. Just talked to a couple of "roos" a few minutes ago. These kids are not the future of the church. They're the present church. God fills growing churches with roos and gives us the joy of seeing them come to know Him. There's energy here. They'll break things, say dumb things, be where they're not supposed to be at times, but they're learning and growing. We raise them in the way they should go, you know. 

Eeyore

Eeyore - This guy is depressing. We love him, but don't want to hang out with him. He's like an emotional cancer that brings everyone else down. He needs help. Perhaps there was a light of joy in his past, but due to some personal pain or being let down by others, he has a hard time seeing anything positively. To Eeyore the church is a mess. Nothing is working. "Woe is me" is his theme. Some of what he sees is real. There are always problems. No one wants a Pollyanna view, but to always be down is a problem too. Eeyore has lost his first love. He needs to be on the prayer list.

Christopher Robin

Christopher Robin - Here's your dreamer. He sometimes sees things that others cannot. Sometimes he imagines things to be true that aren't as well. Seriously, this kid imagined his stuffed animals were real. Yet, there's a need for a Christopher Robin in the church. Dreamers see that which others can't and can be vision casters. The downside is the vision casters sometimes can't see the reality of now and miss what God is doing today. 

So. . . do you recognize any of these characters? Are you any of these? Truth be told, we all have probably been like one of these at some point or another. The church is made of God's people, not cartoon or children's book characters, but it's interesting to note how easily we see ourselves in these caricatures. 

No, we're not changing the name of the church to "Hundred Acre Church" and please don't call me Pastor Pooh. That's just wrong.

Heffalump-winnie-the-pooh-6512166-385-426

P.S. I never saw the Heffalump movie, so I'm not sure what that thing is or his/her character traits. Maybe the heffalump represents those outside the church we're called to go find and bring into God's church? Or, maybe it's an imaginary purple elephant? I'm not sure.


Going to College After High School? Be Intentional and Connect with the BCM at Your School Now!

In just a five months our local high school seniors will be graduating. Many will walk across a stage, be handed a diploma, shake hands with a respresentative from the school or school board, then go to a party, either with friends or family and celebrate their newfound status as high school graduates.

Even now, as many seniors are enjoying their last year in high school, there is a coming reality of life that will be upon them before they know it. For some, this means entering the work force, which is not as easy as it sounds with the lack of jobs available. For others, an oath and some time at boot camp is coming as they enter the US military ready to serve our country. Still others have plans to attend college or university.

For many of those entering the college world, degree plans and housing options as well as the opportunity to wear school logos from schools they actually attend, rather than just as a fan of a sports team, are in the future. Many qualified seniors have been receiving letters and postcards from colleges and universities from throughout the Unites States. Schools that have heretofore never been heard of by the students are now doing all they can to entice the young person to visit and enroll.

The questions loom regarding the validity of a college degree in today's society. A good read is Is College Worth It? by Dr. William J. Bennett and David Wilezol. If student loans can be avoided, it is preferred. Wise fiduciary choices partnered with quality degrees is a good match.

MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE DEGREE

I believe in the value of higher education. My years in college, university and seminary were some of the most valuable and life-changing times in my life. However, as a parent, pastor and follower of Christ, I believe ther is a more important issue for those attending college and univsersity, especially in our culture nowadays.

While no generational group can truly be homogenized, studies do indicate a quickening drift from faith for those aged 18-25. Often students move away from home or begin attending university and land on campus totally unprepared. Their borrowed faith that was sufficient for Sunday School and leading seven year olds in Backyard Bible Clubs and Vacation Bible School seems to melt for many once exposed to the intellectualism prominent in the world of higher education.

EVEN SMART PEOPLE CAN BE CHRIST-FOLLOWERS

Young men and women can have both high intellect, superb decision-making abilities and a deep, sincere faith in Jesus Christ. This seems to be ignored by many who have discounted those with a relationship with Christ.

As Josh McDowell stated years ago, "You don't have to check your brain at the door to follow Christ."

COLLEGE & UNIVERSITY STUDENTS NEED SOLID, UNASHAMED, GOSPEL-CENTRIC CHURCHES & MINISTRIES

There are many churches in college towns. There are also numerous ministries available on most campuses. Some are great. Others are churches and ministries in name only and present a tepid, weak, Christianity that feels good and holds no convictions. 

It is the challenge for parents, students and churches to be proactive and engaged during these years in college. In fact, most life-affecting decisions will be made during these years, so it's vital to have a firm foundation.

FLORIDA COLLEGIATE MINISTRIES

BcmFlorida has over 886,000 college and university students enrolled right now. This includes over 30,000 international students from over 150 countries. These numbers alone should lead churches and Christ-followers to see the great mission before us.

If you are a high school senior or a parent of a senior planning to attend college or university here in Florida, let me strongly encourage you to be proactive and get connected now with the Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) leader at the school of your choice. 

I hear from students in our church who have left home to attend school. Some connect in a local church near their campus. Others connect in a campus ministry. Unfortunately, I hear from some who either connect in a church or ministry that is far from theologically sound and Gospel-centric (though they may have great parties and good music) or disconnect totally from a community of faith. 

Don't "graduate" from church or your faith when you go away to school. That would be perhaps the most immature thing you could do. I recommend you connect and engage with a strong church and the BCM at your campus.

To help you, here are the names and contacts for the BCM leaders in our state currently:

JACKSONVILLE AREA:

  • UNF, JU & FSCJ - Lauren Bumgarner (lauren@jaxbcm.com)

TALLAHASSEE AREA:

  • FAMU - Larry Hunt (larry.hunt@flbaptist.org)
  • FSU & TCC - Lance Beauchamp (lance.beauchamp@flbaptist.org)
  • Baptist College of Florida - Ashley Fredryk (ashley.fredryk@baptistcollege.edu)

MIAMI AREA:

  • UM & FIU - Matt Wofford (wofford13@gmail.com)

ORLANDO AREA:

  • UCF - Brad Crawford (brad.crawford@flbaptist.org)

PENSACOLA AREA:

  • UWF, PSC - Tony Olesky (tony.olesky@flbaptist.org)

GAINESVILLE AREA:

  • UF, SFSC - Eddie Gilley (eddie.gilley@flbaptist.org)

TAMPA AREA:

  • USF - Rahul Agarwal (rahul.agarwal@flbaptist.org)

MELBOURNE AREA:

  • Florida Tech - Nathan Smith (ndsmith1208@gmail.com)

PANAMA CITY AREA:

  • GCSC - Phyllis Poland (phyllis@nwcbap.org)

Simply put - get involved. If you or your student is attending college or university that is not listed, contact Connie Ricks at the Florida Baptist Convention office (connie.ricks@flbaptist.org) and she will connect you with a BCM leader connected to that school or a local church nearby. Also, check out the Florida BCM website here - www.floridabcm.com.

These are vital times. Don't miss this key element in planning for your future.

 


You Are What You Read

Some people don't like to read. I love to read. In fact, I have a stack of books that I've purchased and have been given to me over the years still in the "to read" pile. Time becomes an issue.

Nevertheless, you will know a person by what they read, right?

So, here are some pictures of bookshelves in my office and in our Associate Pastors' offices. A little insight into what we're thinking on, perhaps?

My office:

IMG_0936
And. . .another shelf in my office:

IMG_0937

Stanley Puckett's office:

IMG_0939

Dave Paxton's office:

IMG_0938

Shelvin Lamb's office:

IMG_0941

Skipper Rodgers' office:

IMG_0942


Redemption Stories: Christopher, Angela & Leon Yuan

092913_1045_Redemption Stories 4

Redemption christopher family emailWhat many would consider their worst nightmare has become a reality for Christopher Yuan. While attending dental school, he began living promiscuously as a gay man and experimenting with illicit drugs. Within a few years, he was expelled from dental school, imprisoned for drug dealing and discovered that he was HIV positive.

But God has turned his nightmare into an exciting and inspiring story of redemption, grace and transformation. Christopher has an understanding heart for and a desire to minister to those working through issues of sexuality and to those living with HIV/AIDS. He speaks locally and internationally to youth, on college campuses, in churches and in prisons.

Christopher graduated from Moody Bible Institute in 2005 and Wheaton College Graduate School in 2007 with a Master of Arts in Biblical Exegesis and is currently pursuing a doctorate of ministry at Bethel Seminary. He now teaches at Moody while continuing his speaking ministry which has reached four continents around the world. (biography information taken from www.christopheryuan.com)

Christopher, along with his parents Leon and Angela, shared their story with our church on Sunday, September 29. It's a powerfully, moving story. Click the audio link at the top of this post to listen to their account.

We also encourage you to read the Yuans' story in their book Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son's Journey to God, A Broken Mother's Search for Hope.


The Most Important Scene in "Les Miserables"

Last night, our family sat in a sold out theater enjoying the opening day of the newest incarnation of Les Miserables. The story of Jean Valjean and his journey from prisoner, to mayor, to rescuer, to father and hero has captivated audiences for decades.

The original story by Victor Hugo was first published in the mid-1800s and was considered by many to be the greatest novel of the nineteenth century. The story is set in the midst of the French Revolution and introduces numerous memorable characters such as Valjean, Inspector Javert (the officer who is bent on re-capturing the escaped convict Valjean), Fantine, Cosette, and Marius.

The novel holds its place in history as one of the greatest written. However, it is the musical adaptation, first presented on stage in 1980, that has captivated audiences worldwide.

My wife and I first experienced the musical in London in 2002. Having never read the book nor seen the musical before, we were taken in by the beautiful music and the production quality.

Perhaps the most famous musical numbers is "I Dreamed a Dream" as sung by the character Fontaine. The story of the desperate mother who has been pushed into prostitution in order to provide for her daughter is heart-wrenching and powerful. Many remember Susan Boyle's performance of this song on the British talent show "Britain's Got Talent" that propelled her to international fame.

There have been a few film adaptations of Les Miserables. In 1998 Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush starred in a quality film version. Though not a musical version, the retelling of Valjean's story was done well.

Les_miserables_ver11Yesterday, a star-studded film adaptation of the musical hit theaters. With such names as Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman headlining, this version was set to be a hit. It does not disappoint.

As my family and I were leaving the theater, we were talking about the film. I said to my daughter, "There's one scene in the film that is the most important. It is the key. Without it, the rest of the film and story does not work."

While there are many memorable scenes, this one, though early in the story, is vital.

It is the scene where Valjean is arrested for stealing silver from the priest who has offered him sanctuary. The priest's response is vital. It is a scene that shows what grace and mercy truly are.

This is the scene where we can all relate.

Deserving nothing, we are shown grace by our Heavenly Father.

That's our story.

The priest echoes that to Valjean and it changes the man.

As I think of the crowded theater, all caught up in the musical numbers and the story of adventure, love and rescue, I pray that those in the crowd, and the millions others who will see this film over the next few weeks will "have ears to hear" how God so deeply loves them and reaches out to each of them with love and grace.

Hugo was wise to include this scene. It's elemental to the heart of man.

Ephesians 2:8-9(ESV)
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

 


"Meat and Gravy". . .Don't Read Devotional Guides and Forsake the Bible

I have numerous devotional books in my office. I have even read some of them. There are those by deep thinkers like Oswald Chambers. Others by noted Christian leaders and teachers like Max Lucado and Billy Graham. In fact, as a church family, we are using a "Daily Guide" provided by Worktalk for the forty days of learning leading up to Easter.

 

Steak

While each of these guides offers something of value, I fear that sometimes we (and I mean all of us) sometimes substitute these devotional guides and inspirational thoughts "of the day" for actual time reading the Word of God.

 

It's like settling for the gravy, but neglecting the steak. I like both, but I'm not ordering a cup of gravy. I want the meat.

One that that must be remembered is that only the Word of God is inerrant. The daily guides and devotional books cannot claim that. While offering insight into Scripture and often stories to help make a point, the Word of God alone is infallible. 

In fact, there are some sections in our current daily devotional books that I take exception to. Oh, it's not so much the thought of the day and certainly not the Scripture passage. It's the "Quote to Note." Some of these quotes placed in the book to give it a sense of modernity and heft are taken from individuals whose lives are far from Christlike and their stated religious beliefs at the opposite extreme of orthodox Christianity and evangelicalism. While the quotes are good (mainly because they're taken out of context and seem to affirm the day's thought) the fact of the matter is they do little more than clutter the page.

So. . .I've been reminded once again that devotional thoughts, devotional books and modern illustrations are good, but the meat has been and always shall be the Word of God.

Read your devotional books, but do not do so to the exception of reading the Bible. The Word of God is living and active. Through it God speaks and affirms. His will is expressed through it.

Enjoy your devotional guides and books. Read them. I do. Use them to unite as a family and small group on a subject.

Remember, though, the devotional books are just the "gravy." The Bible is the "meat." 


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." 


Follow Me. . .Then What?

There are tons of books on leadership available. Just check out Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and Amazon to see the numbers. Some are really incredible and greatly helpful. Others, not so much. Just looking up "Leadership" on Amazon.com results in 68,736 possibilities.

Years ago I was in the Loy Reed's office at the Florida Baptist Convention. This was during a time where Loy and I were seeking to know if God was calling me to serve our state convention as a BCM (Baptist Collegiate Ministries) Director for one of our regions. Well, God didn't lead that way and with 20/20 hindsight, I can now see how God was leading me into pastoring a local church. Nevertheless, Loy is one of those guys who has the latest and greatest resources available when it comes to leadership and leadership training. He has since retired from the state convention, but I will always treasure that time when we were "seeking" together.

So, I'm standing in his office one day. We had just finished up a class on "Who Moved My Cheese?" He stepped out for a moment and I began looking at the books on his shelves. There were so many Blanchard and Maxwell books as well as numerous business stories and resources on leadership. One that caught my eye was titled Make It So: Leadership Lessons fro Star Trek: The Next Generation. I thought that it had to be the best of the books available. Just think, if I had read that book, I would now be leading this church where no man had gone before. We would be moving ahead, not on impulse engines, oh no. Warp factor 8 at least. Of course, there is always the issues with the Borg, but I'm sure that was covered in the book.

There are many good leadership books out there, but there really aren't any new ideas, even from Captain Picard. They're all repackaged ideas. One writer will resonate with a reader while another will connect with a different audience.

The thing about leadership is that unless someone is following, it's not really leadership. 

The question that was raised by some pastor friends of mine last week was "Where are you leading people to?" Now, I know that's a terrible question. Not so much because of the content of it, but the grammar. My ninth grade English teacher would be rolling over in her grave (presuming she's dead. She was about 90 when I was in her class years ago) because the sentence ended with the worth "to." Maybe I should school some of my pastor friends? Nevertheless, the point of the question was understood. . .and it's easier to say than "To where are you leading your people?"

When you look to the Gospels, you see Jesus (the ultimate leader of men) calling out his disciples. 

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

There is a distinct and real destination. Jesus told his disciples, at least the group in this particular story, to turn from where they were headed, leave their families, professions and lifestyles to follow him. In turn, he would transform them and create in them a new identity. No longer would they be fishers of fish, but they would be fishers of men.

Have you ever wondered how this challenge even worked? These guys were hard at work and were probably in a culture where what they were doing that day was just like what their fathers and grandfathers had done for years. Was this what they were created to be? No. Christ saw in them what they could not see in themselves.

That's why the calling was so appealing. 

Follow me and I will make you into what you were intended to be. This will be an incredible journey, not without pain, but in the end, you will be the men God desires, for His glory. 

Now, that's appealing.

Cross As pastors and Christian leaders we too have been called by God. In turn, we are given the great opportunity to lead and call others into the great story. 

The question, as my friends stated earlier, that must be asked is "What are you leading people to?"

Unfonuately, I think often we (the collective "we" as pastors and church leaders) lead people to a story that is not God's, or at least not the complete story and therefore, life change and total transformation is omitted. We often lead people to. . .

  • Be a really nice guy or lady
  • Be really good church members
  • Have really good citizenship
  • Be really patriotic
  • Be involved in all church programs
  • Etc.

You get the picture?

Christ led these men to fullness, through adventure. We cannot afford to sell the message short for the purpose of the kingdom (note the small "k" - designates a personal kingdom) rather than the Kingdom.