Nov 17, 2015

Isis, Refugees, Starbucks And You

It doesn’t matter how hard I concentrate or how many times I watch, I can never figure out where the ball is in the shell game. You know the game, right? The swindler shows you a ball under a cup or shell, moves the shells around and then has you guess where it is. I can with certainty tell which shell it should be under, except it isn’t an honest game. The swindler always moves your attention away from the ball so that you miss the true placement. 

Satan has been playing the shell game with the modern church. With great intensity we have tried to keep our eye on the ball, but the devil’s hand distracts our eyes away. With great certainty we believe that our eyes are focused on following God but we have been duped to desire secondary things. 

Every week its a new subject. Starbucks cups, Merry Christmas greetings , christian statues, gay rights, black lives matters and most recently refugees grab our attention. Like trained soldiers we all take our posts. The left begins to yell and scream about how intolerant the right is. The right tells the left that they are ruining a once great country. Like Pavlov’s dog we react predictably every single week. I know, I get  sucked in just like you. 

Did you keep your eye on the ball?

As the shell game continues to move our certainty grows stronger and stronger. We are certain that if we don’t stand up against the Starbucks Cup, keep the Ten Commandment at the city courthouse and force that poor underpaid girl at Macy’s to say Merry Christmas then America will cease to be a Christian nation. We are certain that if we do not yell (or post in all caps) right back at the black lives matter then our country will fall apart. We are scared that if we do not forward every article about Isis and frankly lump all Muslims in with them then we will see mass murders in our streets. Just for safety we need to forward that creepy picture of Jesus. 

We have been fooled. The shells are up and the ball is gone. With great passion we lost the passion of God. 

Many people say that America is no longer a christian nation. I think they are right.The grand swindler has moved our passion to see our common man as an enemy. How many baristas were turned off to Jesus because we demanded our Merry Christmas? The American culture war has duped christians into thinking that people who disagree with them are people to be defeated.  America ceased to be a christian nation when Christians stopped acting like Christ. 

The only way to win the shell game is to refuse to play it. 

God never called us to win a culture war. Disagree? Please find it in the Bible. God’s call was never to see our fellow man as an enemy. Our call is to love our enemies. It is to pray for those who hate us. Our call is not to see men a causes to defeat but instead people for whom Jesus died. We don’t dumb down what we believe, but we also don’t use our beliefs as a battering ram. 

The only way for us to beat the game is to build relationships with muslims, illegal immigrants, members of black lives matter, homosexuals, transexuals and atheists. We build relationships with people we disagree with so as to show them the love of Jesus Christ. When we show them love, it may not come back in return. If we loved others to be loved in return, it wouldn’t be love anyways. 

We can be apart of God’s big plan to change the world. Here is the rub. God’s plan doesn’t include making enemies out of sinners. God’s plan is loving people who hate you enough that you would lay down your life for them. That's what Jesus did.

Oct 19, 2015

My Greatest Ministry Failure

I remember the day I toured the facility of my previous church. They had just built a new extension, and this young idealistic preacher saw a dream. He saw what the church could become. He saw the possibilities of ministry. 

I remember walking though sanctuary looking at the 70’s era paneling and thinking that if I removed the paneling the church would be one step closer to my dream. 

I remember looking over the worship style and programs and thinking that they could easily be changed. 

As I began to know the church and implement changes I was met with resistance. The church did not change as quickly as I thought it should. 

As the resistance mounted in the church, my heart was hardened to my opponents. Every time I saw them I unknowingly ground my teeth. Deep in my heart I asked, “Why don’t these people love Jesus?”, “Don’t they want to see this church grow?” and stated “These people just don’t want young adults in their church.”

My greatest ministry failure (so far) was not leading the church to change, but it was my heart's condition about the changes. 

My greatest ministry failure is that I loved my dream for the church more than I loved the church (people) itself. 

As I led, I was more concerned with building my dreams than loving my people. My dreams were not driven out of a love for the church, they were driven out of a well intentioned desire for success. 

I cared more about the church building and church show than I did for the church body. 

That was my greatest ministry failure. 

In church it is important to thoughtfully and skillfully put together a worship time for every person. It is important for the church to continually update its building so that It doesn’t become stuck in a bygone era. It is important for a church to have a dream to chase after. With all of that said, If you do not love the church all of the other things will be in vain. If you do not genuinely care for the membership, you are just spinning your wheels. 

When any person, whether pastor or member, cares more about their dream than they do their church, they will inevitably hurt their church. Been there done that. 

Let me go out on a limb here and say that a prerequisite for leading a church must be that you love the church for who it is first.  

God has been good to send me to Memorial Baptist Church. I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that I love Memorial Baptist Church. I know that I will make many mistakes as the pastor here, but I am confident that every decision I make will be rooted in a love for this body. 

Sep 24, 2015

Does Catholicism Lead You To Christ?

This may be a record -- 2 blogs in one week! 

I have been surprised and even shocked by how much attention the evangelical world has given the visit of the Pope. In many ways, we are embracing him as the leader of the global church and listening to his voice as the final moral authority. 

The moment I realized all of this is when a friend remarked how “Christ-like” the Pope was. 

I also have had several evangelical friends using the Pope's words as if they carried weight in the modern evangelical worldview. 

Ok… so I know this post won't be popular because we are living in a more pluralistic world every day. In a world that claims many ways to heaven at least the Catholics have Jesus, right? They believe in Jesus, don’t they? If you will humor me for a few moments, I am going to try to explain  where Catholics have turned away from true faith and become a false religion. 

The key and fundamental difference between Catholics and Protestants is how God gives us grace. 

Both Catholics and Protestants believe in an idea called original sin. This means that man is born in this world a sinner condemned. On his own, there is no way for him to know God or be with God eternally.  He is destined for death. 

Picture man as a cup. We are born into this world empty of the grace we need to enter heaven. 

Where Catholics and Protestants differ is the source of grace. 

Let me explain Protestants first. Protestants believe that when you trust Jesus by grace through faith you are saved once for all time. We believe that our salvation is not based on works, but instead, it is a gift of God. God alone gives grace and gives us more than we will ever need to have a right relationship with Him. Our works, confession, baptism, and communion are in response to God’s grace. 

As we are an empty glass, we are filled overflowing with God’s grace. 

Catholicism is different. Where Protestants believe they receive grace free from God Himself, Catholics believe that the Holy Roman Church dispenses grace. This is called the sacramental system. They believe you gain grace through 7 sacraments: 1. Baptism 2. Communion 3. Penance 4. Conformation 5. Marriage 6. Ordination and 7. Last Rites. With each one of these, the Church dispenses a little grace, filling your empty cup up. 

As you participate in the sacramental system, your cup is slowly filled until death. What happens when you die without enough grace is that you enter a place in between Heaven and Hell called  Purgatory. Think of it as the waiting room of eternity. Purgatory is the place for those who have attained some grace from the sacramental system but not enough. 

The hope of those in Purgatory lies in the prayers of those left behind and the extra grace of the saints. This is why Catholic followers pray to saints. They believe that Mary and many others lived such extraordinary lives that they have extra grace to give to those who don’t have enough. Most Catholic followers won’t have enough grace so they depend on the faith of the saints to fill them up. 

Imagine you sit at the bottom of a pyramid of glasses. Eventually some of the grace being poured out on top will overflow out of those higher than you to you. 

Let’s go back to the question.  If Catholics believe in Jesus they are saved, right? I think the answer is whether their faith is in the system, the saints, the virgin Mary, the Pope or in Jesus Christ. 

In the early Reformation, the church coined the phrase by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. 

Faith in Jesus plus works, sacraments, the church, saints, or the pope leads to Hell. I know this is harsh, but so is the doctor who tells you about your cancer. Truth, even harsh truth, that leads you away from death is life saving. 

The reason that Catholicism is a false religion is that it leads people to trust in a system for grace. It leads people to trust in dead saints for grace. It leads people to lift up a man to a place where he “speaks for God.” 

Are there some who trust in Christ alone despite the system? Yes. That said, it is despite the system, not because of it. The system, religion, of Catholicism leads people away from grace, not to the author of grace, because it leads them to trust false forms of grace. 

Sep 22, 2015

Our New Experience

I will admit when I was first invited this weekend I was a bit intimidated. It was my first time going to a place like this. It was a new experience for me. Jenn, the girls and I finally decided to go after our friends had asked us for months. We had legitimate excuses in the past, but after a year of putting it off we finally went. 

The day started early. I mean EARLY. We had to wake up early on a weekend. Who are these crazy people who wake up this early on weekends. Our friends were kind. So as not to inconvenience us they not only picked us up, they also bought us donuts. 

Pulling in the parking lot I could tell that most everyone was dressed alike. I am glad we went to the store this past week so that we wouldn't stick out to much. Parking was crazy. We had to park pretty far from the entrance. 

Approaching our destination we were met by a large number of men all dressed with ironed slacks and buttoned down shirts. Compared to these guys I felt underdressed. 

As we walked in I could tell that the usher at our door didn’t quite know what he was doing. After a bit of fumbling around we finally got in. 

We sat down in our seats and were taken back by the size of the facility. The video screen was crystal clear, the band was outstanding and everyone really wanted to be there. My only real complaint about this place was that the air conditioner was broke. 

The band began to play a song that everyone knew. All of a sudden without any prompting, everyone there began to sing. I didn’t know the words to the song, and to tell you the truth most of the words seemed pretty out of date. I mean, I think I’ve heard my grandparents use some of those words. 

As the crowd continued to sing, the guy next to me, a stranger, put his arm around my shoulder, he smiled at me, continued singing and then he started swaying. Some dude had his arm around me and was singing and swaying, WITH ME!

I will tell you that the people in charge weren’t afraid to ask for money. We were told where the money went and celebrated those who gave. They talked about money a lot. 

The craziest part was all the odd language, old language that was used that day. There were men, just men, who lead the in the reciting of all kinds of crazy phrases than must have meant something to the regulars.

Do you want to guess where I went this weekend… Saturday?

Church? Nope. 

Our family got to go to see the Texas Aggies at Kyle field. We had so much fun participating the traditions and pride of Aggieland. (Many thanks to the Hills for taking us)

What made our trip unforgettable is experiencing the culture and tradition that can only be found in College Station. I will admit, seeing 100,000 people swaying in a stadium together is pretty cool. For a stranger, seeing these traditions in action was fun. 

Ok make the jump to church with me for a moment. 

It seems in recent days that popular opinion tells the church to jettison everything that makes it unique. Popular opinion teaches us to mold and shape ourselves so that any person walking in could fit right in. 

I am glad that the Aggie game  was a completely new experience for me. Why? What made the game so special was all the things that seemed odd to me. I was included in an experience that was new to me, but historically rooted to them. 

Perhaps instead of hiding what makes us stand out in church, we instead should celebrate it. What if we were ok being odd like the Aggies and took pride in what makes us different? 

When I went to a Texas A&M football game, even though I was an outsider, I was included in the songs and became and Aggie for an afternoon. 

Perhaps through our worship we can introduce people to being apart of our body, putting our arms around them and helping experience the love of Jesus Christ. 

Sep 10, 2015

Why I'm Just A Bit Different

Time flies. 

It only seems like a few short years ago I was in High school. I can’t believe its been 17 years. 

A friend told me recently that young men look forward to what they are going to do while old men look backwards. At a ripe 34 years old I don’t think I can call myself old yet, but recently Jennifer and I spent some time reminiscing about our spiritual walk in High School and how that formed us today. 

What brought our conversation forward was well, Facebook. Yes I know, Facebook is the center spoke of gossip. 

We had been talking about how so many people we knew both in high school and college that had either turned away from faith or hold to a faith that doesn't resemble the orthodox faith that they were raised in. 

Jennifer asked me, why are we different? Why are all our friends changing their views about what the bible teaches or falling away all together. 

I told her that I was raised in a church where the bible was taught. I knew that my pastor would stand up weekly and teach us what Scripture says. I knew that my youth pastor invested in me and challenged me to live for Jesus. 

Why did I end up staying in the faith where many of my friends did not?

For me, my passion for God and love of scripture may have been rooted from my family and church, but it was formed by God’s hand radically working in my life. There was no program, no attraction, no camp or sermon that changed my life. 

My life was changed when God shook me at the age of 15 years old. God stripped me of all that I valued. On my first day of my sophomore year of High School I showed up to find that I did not share a class, a lunch or a free time with anyone that I knew. I remember going home to my parents and crying. For me, friends were my idol and my idol was gone. 

My dad encouraged me that evening to take my bible with me to school and read it during lunch. 

Growing up in church I had lots of bibles, but on my own time it was just a boring old book my parents kept buying me. Truthfully, I loved going to youth events. They were fun. I sat through sermons that I thought were a bit boring. Christianity to me was something that was encouraged, but it was not my own. 

I took my bible to school the next day. Not knowing where to start, I started at the beginning. Genesis 1:1. All of a sudden something radical happened. That boring old book came alive. I soaked up the story like it was water on a hot summer afternoon. Before I knew it the bell rang and lunch was over. Where did the time go? 

Every day I brought my Bible with me. Christianity became more than a label to me, it became a lifestyle. Every chance I got I read scripture. I wore tacky orange stickers that said turn or burn. I became defined not by friends or my hobbies. I was defined by Jesus Christ. I shared with anyone who would listen of what God had done in me. 

When I went to church, those boring sermons came alive. I wanted to hear what God had to say. When my youth pastor invested in me, it was more than some old guy meddling in my life it was a mentor who helped mold me. 

I still have my bible, THAT bible which God used to change EVERYTHING for me. My church didn’t change me. My parents didn’t change me. God changed me. 

As Jennifer and I look forward with our girls, we want more than anything for them to grow up to love Jesus. We know though that unless God works in their life then all our work will be in vain. 

As I lead our church, I ask the same question. What can I do for our kids? What can I do for our youth? What can I do to lead our church to love Jesus whole heartedly? With a great amount of humility I have to admit that it is God who wakens the heart not me. My job is simply to plough and plant truth for our people so that when God works they will have a foundation to build upon. 

When Jennifer asked me why we are different, my response was simple, God worked in our lives. 

Aug 4, 2015

Are You Not Entertained?!?!!

During my sophomore year in college, I saw a movie that quickly became my favorite -- Gladiator.  It's the story of Maximus, a former general in the Roman army who loses everything when Cesar Commodus murders his father, Marcus Aurelius, and takes over the Roman empire. It's a movie where Russell Crow brings to life the struggle, glory, and pain of the gladiator.

My favorite scene in the movie happens when Maximus mutilates the opposing fighters in the stadium. The crowd then reacts to Maximus’ barbaric act in an underwhelming shrug because of how commonplace blood lust was to them. Seeing the apathy of the crowd, Maximus throws his sword toward the box of noble men, screaming, “ARE 
YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!”  Maximus understood at that moment that life and death had become shrug-worthy entertainment to the crowd.

As a pastor, I loathe the feeling of being an entertainer. Week after week, I pour my heart out from the pulpit to our church. I work hard to present Scripture in an intriguing way to both the young and old of our church. In many ways, stepping down from the pulpit on Sunday morning, I measure myself on whether or not I entertained the crowd. I know -- my job is to preach, reprove, rebuke, and train the people of God week in and out. I also know that if I am not interesting, if I do not entertain, then many people will not hear the truth of Scripture.

A few weeks ago, I invited a younger adult to our Wednesday night prayer meeting/Bible study. They responded by telling me that it was an old person’s event.

Our Wednesday night service is a bare bones service. We start by praying for our church, country, church needs, students, children, and many other things. After twenty minutes of prayer, we move to a verse by verse study through a book of the Bible.

There is nothing flashy about this service.  It is a meat and potatoes worship experience.

I guess hearing that a bare bones time of prayer and study of Scripture was an old person’s event brought a bit sadness to my heart.

Deep in my emotions I wanted to take my iPad, toss it across the room, and scream, “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!  IS THIS NOT WHY YOU ARE HERE?!”

When did value of church become about the experience we have? When did the quality of church rest on the entertainment value it provided? When did the meat and potatoes of Scripture and prayer cease to be enough?

Perhaps the powerlessness of the American church is direct result of the fact that we find our power in experience of entertainment over the substance of God’s Spirit.

Here is a challenge for you this week… go to church to pray. Listen to your pastor to hear God’s Word, not just another funny illustration. Attend prayer meeting to join other saints in seeking God’s face.

If simple prayer and Bible study make for an old person’s service, it is done at the shame of the young. It’s time for a new generation to grow up.  My generation, stop seeking to be entertained and start embracing the meat and potatoes of church.

Jun 26, 2015

Homosexuality and Scripture

In case you have been on vacation driving through the Appalachian Mountains and had no contact with the outside world, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that same sex marriage is legal across our country.  

I would say that this case has the power to change the makeup of our society as much if not more than Roe vs. Wade which brought the sexual revolution to main stream culture through legalizing infanticide. 

For the pastors and church leaders watching, we were not surprised. We all braced at the SBC convention expecting this verdict to come down.  

As a citizen of America I have resigned myself to the law of the land. As a believer in Jesus Christ my heart is broken because our country has institutionalized and celebrated what is contrary to God's design for men and women. 

These verses on my heart today: 

1 Corinthians 6:9-11
Or 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. 

As I thought through this passage a few things popped out to me. 1. The bible is clear that Homosexuality is a sin. 2. We as believers are not morally superior people. We are sinners. 3. Jesus Christ died to set us free from our sin. 

I know the moment I post this that my more liberal thinking friends will attempt to explain away homosexuality's sinfulness. I believe if anyone is intellectually honest about scripture and Christianity then you can't explain away the simple truth that scripture describes this practice as contrary to God's nature for man. 

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. - Leviticus 18:22

understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine,in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. - 1 Timothy 1:9-11

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. - Romans 1:26-27

Yep, I know what I just did, I just became one of those judgmental Christians who tells other people about how sinful they are... Back to the 1 Corinthians. 

1 Corinthians teaches us that it's ok to call sin a sin, but it also teaches that you must deal with your own house as well. As a believer in Christ I can in no way claim a moral high ground. On my own I am a sinner who deserves the wrath of God upon me. God has set me free from sin to live for him. 

The mark of a believer is that they are set free from sin. It means we are called away from the lifestyle that brought us death. Look back at that verse... "and such were". To embrace Christ you must leave your sin. 

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. - Romans 6:1-4

Here is the bottom line, when you read the bible for what it says, for what the author intended and what Christian tradition affirms, you cannot ignore that homosexuality is sin. It is not, though, an unforgivable sin. God's call for couples in same sex marriages is his call for any other person struggling in a lifestyle of sin. His call is to turn to Christ who died in order that you might be set free from your sin and experience abundant life following God's call.

As believer and pastor my ethics are always going to be scripture centered, and my hope will be the gospel. I am "such were some of you".