Are You a… (part 2)

Church.Image1In the last post, I observed that many in the local church have lost the sense of what it means to be a member of a church. Partial responsibility rests on leaders who have failed to teach on this in an understandable way. To some degree, we may cast blame toward the culture which helps establish the norms of our lives. Still, some responsibility must rest on an audience that “tunes out” uncomfortable or contrary information…regardless of its source. Today I want to expand on the idea that having the different “classes/types” of people (Examiners, Consumers, Participants, and Partners) in the assembly of saints (the church) is actually helpful.

Perhaps you’re asking, “How can unbelievers amid the church be helpful?”

  • First, we must recognize that Paul observed the presence of unbelievers in the church and even argued that some consideration should be given to their presence (1 Corinthians 14). You don’t include such considerations unless their presence is a reality and somehow consistent with godly design. Part of the “helpfulness” is mission. When missionaries engage new people groups, they first seek to learn culture and then establish bridges between the gospel and the new culture so that the gospel can be communicated contextually. If unbelievers are present among the assembled church, a bridge has been identified that facilitates gospel communication.
  • Second, the presence of unbelievers serves to sharpen and equip believers in their missional skillset. Again, a bridge exists and if it is appropriately used, believers gain valuable insight and even empathy toward those who are far from God.
  • Third, the presence of unbelievers makes for a more natural engagement with a gospel witness. If an unbeliever is at a church service, it is not unusual to ask (or be asked) about spiritual condition. In fact, it is expected.

As for believers, having participants in the church is part of the discipleship process. There will be believers who grow in relationship and growth is a process, not an event. One doesn’t become a Christian and suddenly become a “Paul” or “Peter” type instantly. There must be “room” in the church for spiritual immaturity to grow toward maturity. As church planters, Jodi and I recognized years ago that we should engage new people quickly in the life of the church. Some were spiritually immature and others weren’t disciples, but how much spiritual growth is required to open a door, hand out a worship program, adjust sound levels, or set up chairs? Often, the “thin threads” of relationship were strengthened through service, paving the way for more depth of discipleship to occur. This last statement must be an intentional pursuit. It is wrong to reinforce that “you’re ok” to an immature believer or a lost person by giving them a place of service without challenging them to grow as disciples. How tragic it would be for a man to have confidence in his unchallenged spiritual condition simply because he fulfills a role in church life and assumes that since no one has challenged him to grow, he must be “ok.”

There are more “comfortable” scenarios than worshipping in a mixed-company room with unbelievers, the spiritually immature, and those who are growing in faith. What the church is called to though, is not comfort but a mission of making disciples. This is our ONE JOB.

Advertisements

One Day…and Lasting Impact

GCSONovember 5, 1995.

22 years ago yesterday. One of the significant milestone days in my life. I was working as a Deputy Sheriff on second shift when I was instructed to serve a warrant. I contacted backup, per department procedure, and proceeded to “set up” on the house where the man would be.

He was early.

Backup was delayed.

The situation unfolded rapidly, and I ended up in the fight of my life. There is little more arresting in life than hearing the “Officer Down” tones and knowing that you are the officer in peril. It was a life-changing day.

I learned through the experience how very little control I have in life. I learned that even if you do everything correctly, you still cannot control all the variables. I learned that even if you do everything correctly, someone will still question and critique what you did. I learned that even if you do everything correctly, you are still mortal.

I saw the face of evil. I saw the sacrifice of brothers and sisters in uniform that placed themselves in jeopardy for a fellow officer. I saw the need to take inventory of my life and examine priorities. What was it that I truly valued? How did I want my life story recorded? What did I need for my children and wife to know that only I could help them understand?

The events of that fateful day resulted in a suspect’s death. A parent lost a son. Siblings lost a brother. That day brought lawsuits and mandatory counseling, review boards and state police investigations, all of which cleared me and the other deputies involved of any wrongdoing, but it brought something else…

God used that day to cause a self-assured and self-sufficient young man to ask some important questions about faith. Within months, Jodi and I returned to church (from which I had complacently allowed…or maybe caused…our family to drift). I had a pastor teach me to read the Bible for myself. I had strong men invest in my life to disciple me…some formally and even more informally through their example and gracious truth-speaking into my life. Men like Sam League, Shane Alexander, Terry Wedgewood, George Wyatt, Greg Dixon, Steve Ellis, Johnny Condrey, Jack Givens, Michael Cloer, Don Dunavant, and countless other influences.

The results of that day, looking back on 22 years…is that I have two sons that love and serve God. I have a precious wife whom God uses to equip and encourage women in the faith. I have a ministry of shepherding people, some of whom I have seen God do amazing things in and through. I have an appreciation for life, faith, and God’s sovereign care for rebellious young men that I don’t think would be true apart from the drama of that fateful day. I have a passion for men who “strap up” every day and stand a post between evil and its potential victims.

Today I am grateful for God who gloriously works to recall rebels and restores them to service for His glory.

Grateful.

Grateful.

Don’t despise what you do not fully understand. Put your faith in God who never is caught off-guard and never is found lacking in ability or compassionate concern. The moment you question that…return to the cross and see how far He has gone to rescue you and choose to trust Him.

Don’t Miss the Dolphins

Paddleboarding-in-Sarasota-County_MilesArticleOptRecently, Jodi and I rented a paddleboard while spending a week together at the beach.

I must say that as someone who has never surfed or even successfully waterskied, my first try on the board was not very impressive. I had no idea what I was doing so those first rides lasted between 10-60 seconds. (Jodi, of course, owned it like a boss from the beginning). Honestly, it took me a couple of YouTube videos to get the basics down and day two was pretty good. Jodi and I both paddled a bit and had a good time. We also met some folks who seemed to have interest in our paddleboard “sea stories.” We thought they might want to give it a shot themselves so we offered up the use of the paddleboard for them to try.

Their responses:

Husband, “No I’d probably break something.”

Wife, “I can’t since I have a terrible fear of sharks.”

They were very interested in what it was like for us, but their fear of injury or “Jaws” kept them from even trying the board for themselves. This encounter made me think: I wonder how often we forsake “what could be” because of fear?

  • Afraid of what they might say, we refuse to ask that special someone on a date.
  • Afraid of getting lost we never leave the guided tour to experience the heart of a City.
  • Afraid of what “might happen,” we never travel beyond our own country or even our state.
  • Afraid of being “turned down” we simply don’t apply for a new job.
  • Afraid of failure, we choose never to return to school and complete a degree.
  • Afraid of rejection, we never share the gospel with others.

When we choose to allow fear to drive our actions, we acknowledge a (little g) god in our lives. It may be safety, security, control, or some other form of that false god, but, in our fear, we choose to serve it ahead of our goals, dreams, or even calling.

Fear is a non-negotiable in life. Everyone is afraid of something, sometimes. If you have no fear, you have a rare genetic condition called Urbach-Wiethe disease; or, you could be a run-of-the-mill psychopath who experiences fear but doesn’t recognize it. Otherwise…everyone experiences fear. Fear, though, is not the problem. What we do with fear determines our destiny and indicates Who or what we serve as our god/God.

Peter tells us to take our anxiousness/fear to Jesus (1 Peter 5:7). Paul says to seek God rather than serve anxiety (Philippians 4:6-7). Jesus tells us to believe (have faith)…because faith conquers fear.

Now, certainly Jesus did not direct me to go paddle boarding; however, the board serves as a good analogy to understand how to find victory over our fears. We pursue our objective with passion and refuse to quit.

Dolphins JumpingHonestly, paddling was cool but what I really wanted was to get up close to some dolphins. On day 3… I did. The water was choppy but I had mastered how to use it like a kayak so when we saw them beginning to play about a half-mile out, I looked to Jodi for approval, grabbed the board and took off for the open water. It took a bit to get out there (since they did not exactly wait on me). I had to plot an intercept course on the open water, but it paid off. I came to within about 15 feet of three dolphins playing as they surfaced near me. It was amazing! (In fact, it is what I had prayed for earlier that morning when I sat a few hundred yards offshore scanning the horizon. I told the Lord that He was all I needed but that I would love to see some dolphins up close if He’d let me.

When the dolphins submerged again (not to return), I looked down and was well beyond the emerald green water we are known for on the Gulf coast. In fact, I could barely make out the spot of beach I had departed from…but I did it! I saw the dolphins up close, simply by getting on the board, paddling hard and not stopping until I go there.

Our new friends…they never broke anything and they were certainly not eaten by sharks…but they also didn’t see the dolphins.

Here is the question…do you want to see the dolphins the Lord has in store for you?

Common Ground and the National Anthem

US FlagThis article will not address all of the nuances of the “kneeling” debate. The matter is far too complex for a single, simple article. I do want, however, to drill down on why the protest over standing at the National Anthem actually undermines the potential conversation because it eliminates a vital piece of common ground.

Let’s cover the bullet points that I won’t elaborate on so you can determine bias. Consequently,  everyone has some bias and is dangerous if you cannot recognize it.

  • I stand at the playing of the National Anthem. I will continue to do so. That has nothing to do with a camera or the current debate. It is an ethical issue.
  • I want others to stand and render courtesy toward the symbols of our nation (the flag and the National Anthem). I also recognize that what I want is not the standard. In fact, as a soldier, I took an oath to protect the very freedom secured in the Bill of Rights of our Constitution for you not to do so if you so choose. If you choose to kneel, it frustrates me and is offensive, but you knew that which is why you chose that manner of protest. It is intended to agitate me.
  • I don’t care how political NFL games get. I stopped watching them when this started. The entire NFL system codifies rules of what is considered sportsmanlike and by NOT calling this protest “unsportsmanlike,” they made a statement. So, I did too…in my home…by myself. If you watch pro ball, I am not offended.
  • The President spoke un-presidentially at a campaign-like rally in Alabama. Shame on you sir. When you stepped up and declared you are a Christian, you accepted a higher calling. Live up to it! Please. Jesus’ name is attached to your diction and rancorous tone. And, while it is not as significant as your status as a Christian, your role as President demands that you choose words more carefully. You’re supposed to be a role model. If my kids said what you said, I’d wear their hind parts out.

Now, to why I think it is counter-productive to kneel during the national anthem.

When I share the gospel with someone, the process begins with determining common ground. If a person does not acknowledge God, the biblical explanation of sin, redemption, invitation, and sanctified living lacks foundation. If there is no God, who is then offended by our sin? In fact, who gets to determine what IS sin and what is simply sinful in someone else’s eyes? The fact is until we can agree that there is a higher authority, there is no basis for further discussion.

A similar principle applies to the symbols of the nation. The very plea for justice implies that there is a standard that we are appealing to. If our claim is that God (and our creation in the imago dei) is the standard, we have created a distraction by wrongly pointing to the symbols of an ungodly nation. (Yes, I know that sounds offensive, but the nation we live in today does not reflect the principles or purposes of God). Our arguments are akin to the time Jesus took a knee when told to pay taxes to a nation whose leader was viewed as a god. Actually, the Roman Empire was polytheistic and enslaved Jesus’ people group. That’s why He formed the protests as a community activist. Wait…the story went differently in the Bible. He did not protest but kept pointing to a higher standard in an eternal Kingdom, not of this world.

If the standard we are pointing to for justice is found in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the nation including the Bill of Rights, the laws of the nation, etc., then by protesting the symbols of the nation, we surrender the ability to agree on them in our appeal. In other words, we disavow the symbols of our nation and thus the very laws we are appealing to. That leads us back to the unsustainable standard of “what is right in our own eyes.”

There are white leaders like myself that want to move the conversation forward. We do not agree with the incidents of injustice that occur in our nation, whether those are circumstantial or systemic. We want to address them and see them changed, now and not later. No one that I know supports or advocates police brutality. Professional police officers don’t want to be saddled with that imagery any more than a faithful pastor wants to be saddled with the likes of some of the health and wealth preachers on the airwaves. However, we cannot support a protest movement that immediately disavows in its actions the standard that we would otherwise appeal to. In other words, the movement is dead on arrival because we cannot agree to a starting point.

It seems to me that until we can agree on the standard we are appealing to and lock arms there, we cannot move forward together. That means there will be a lot more Freedom of Speech with far too little discipline to listen. If I were making a suggestion that anyone listened to. I’d walk out, thankfully render courtesy to the authority I was appealing to, then ask my brothers to the left and right to join me in rooting out injustice in our midst. I think that appealing to the standard we all can agree to (Liberty and Justice for ALL) is a great starting point for our conversation, even if we are not all Christians at the table. At least we can agree that we are all Americans and have benefitted in our lives from that status…

As always, Comments are welcome, but be respectful if you want to see them published.

Build a Bridge to the Gospel

Busy MomRecently, I received a precious note from a mom. I have been preaching on the subject of evangelism lately noting that ALL of God’s people are, by design, proclaimers of the gospel. In fact, I have been encouraging the church I lead to embrace a challenge to identify one person (#MyOne) and share the gospel with them using the “3 Circles” Conversation Guide. Sharing the gospel is more than a statement or conversation about Jesus; which necessarily makes it more than a Christian greeting (God bless you) or a Christian truth (Jesus loves you) but that it connects the brokenness of man with God’s redemptive story and points to the restoration that is possible when we repent and believe the gospel.

This mom shared the challenge of this. In essence, she wanted to know how her sharing with her children fit into this challenge. It is a GREAT QUESTION and, with her permission, I wanted to pass along some of my response because I imagine there are others who are in a similar situation. So, “does sharing the gospel with my children, who have my nearly complete attention every day, fulfill the great commission mandate?”

In short, my answer is Yes, this is the Great Commission, but, ALONE, it is incomplete. This mom is intentional about consistently connecting the gospel to her kids’ lives. This is the premier method of discipleship. In fact, I don’t know of any better outworking of Deuteronomy 6 than what this mom described.

At the same time, Jesus expressed a “going” aspect of the gospel enterprise. He called us to make disciples as we go (Matt 28:19) and to go and preach the gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15).

These truths are not opposed to but complimentary of one another. We are to constantly rehearse, train and teach the gospel to those who are redeemed and exist within our circles of influence while at the same time, expanding the scope of our circle by building bridges to new people. Here is my response to this mom, in part:

My hope, and I think the biblical admonition, with the #MyOne promotion is to treat honestly the intent of the Lord in evangelizing. Jesus did this in every conversation. Sometimes more overt in some than others…but He always pointed to God’s redemption and man’s required response. The other NT writers did as well. I can hardly think of a teaching in the NT that is not focused on evangelizing or on living out the Gospel. They are never really separated from each other. 

If we are to treat the Scriptures with honesty, we must also see that there is a “going” aspect of the gospel enterprise as well. It is never the intent that we would simply work within our “constant” circles of influence; rather, that we would be continually building bridges to reach new people INTENTIONALLY seeking to see how the Lord is working in those relationships so that we can join Him in His gospel work. Just as with your child, God loves our neighbors and desires their redemption even more than we do. He has, in these cases, commissioned us as instruments of redemption both in telling and applying the gospel in the lives of others. 

So, reach your child and your neighbor. Praise God for that. Encourage other moms with the Gospel. Praise God for that. AND…intentionally grab that wife who is a HOT MESS and have her and her rowdy kid over for a play date…and get to know her and her crazy world. Then, prayerfully, build a gospel bridge. Then do it again! 

There isn’t enough time to do it all, but we must continually press the limits of the circle outward…for Jesus’ sake. 

So, what do you think? Can you relate to this mom? What would you add to what I shared?

Response to Charlottesville, VA

SwasticaThis Sunday, in response to the deplorable actions of white supremacists and according to the necessity of the calling on my life as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I spoke to my church family in a public manner to register my disgust with the racism on display in Charlottesville. It seems odd that a minister of the Gospel would have to speak up and articulate a position which should be assumed as it is the ONLY position that can be held by any follower of Jesus and student of the Holy Scriptures of God. In the very public age in which we live, it seems necessary to also make my comments available as they were given extemporaneously during the first 12 minutes of the service this weekend. The clip is available HERE.

There is no Christian justification for any of the racist actions of what is known as the alt-right movement and the display of hatred at the weekend’s protests is categorically and completed indefensible. The position of our church and my position personally is that of the Word of God: That all men are created in the Imago Dei (Image of God) and therefore possess equal and inherent worth in the sight of God. Any different view discounts and disagrees with Holy Scripture and is cause for man to repent and seek forgiveness from God and his fellow man.

Any movement or action of a person or people that treat others as “lesser beings” based on race is evil, despicable, indefensible, ungodly, unholy, and is the antithesis of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A racist is no worse a sinner than any other sinner. All sin is offensive to God and damaging toward others. Our heart is for the reconciliation of all men to God, knowing that all who come to Him are made acceptable as one people known not by the deeds of our hands or the color of our skin but by the name of our Savior, Lord, and King.

We grieve with those who are hurt, frightened, or justifiably angered by the reprehensible conduct of those who advocate for all forms of racism and for any superiority of person on the basis of race.

We call on sinful men, including those protesting and advocating for white supremacy to repent and turn to God begging His forgiveness and pleading with Him for mercy. Further, we call on sinful men of all ethnicities to turn to God and from self, to trust in Christ alone who is the avenger of the weak and the judge of all mankind, and to seek reconciliation with God in consideration of God’s gospel work in our lives.

I do not know of one evangelical Christian who affirms or tolerates the sinful position of racists of any stripe. Racism is categorically wrong. That said, I wanted to add my voice to the chorus of those who have publicly denounced the actions of racists in Charlottesville in recent days so as to remove any perceived ambiguity as to my position.

From “Po-Po” to Pastor: A Tale of One Journey

2015-05-09 13.19.57Recently, I was engaged in a casual conversation with some guys and I mentioned that I had once served as a police sharpshooter. The comment was just in passing but it resonated with one of the new guys in our group. He was taken back to some degree and stopped me to confirm what he had heard. At the heart of his mental disconnect (of how a pastor could once be a policeman) was the underlying question of “how does God call people to vocational ministry?”

First, I don’t claim to be the “village expert” on God’s calling of preachers. There are great resources out there to explore the question including an incredible book by the President of Midwestern Seminary, Dr. Jason K. Allen, called Discerning Your Call to Ministry (which you can learn more about and purchase from Amazon HERE.) What I DO CLAIM though is a call to ministry. I have talked with many men who have also experienced this calling and there are some consistent traits in the calling. Though my list is by no means exhaustive, here are four things that are true of a calling to ministry:

  1. There is a distinct stirring in one’s spirit that is often confirmed by a personal sense of God’s confirmation through His Word. Some discount the “Word/Scripture validation” and argue that a sense of God’s voice in prayer was it for them. Others claim that the affirmation from others (parents, respected elders, etc.) was the affirmation they needed. While I don’t discount these, my experience was an affirmation in the Word (Romans 10:13-15 to be precise).
  2. There is a recurring dissatisfaction with NOT being “in ministry.” My pastor said to me in the counseling process leading up to my surrender to the calling to preach, “As long as you can do anything else and be satisfied, then do that.” [That’s good advice].
  3. There is a desire for the calling that exceeds the cost of pursuing the calling. A call to ministry is a call to prepare. Don’t even think about it if you won’t submit yourself to higher theological education. (I know…I have heard that “with all of the information on the internet, you can get everything you need—for free—and, after all, Moses never went to Seminary”). In response, I’d simply state that if I needed to have my spleen removed or a diagnosis of my heart, I’d want to have a practitioner who had been to medical school do it. It’s great that some kid watched 300 hours of YouTube videos of the Surgery Channel but he can keep his scalpel away from me, no matter how sincere his sense of calling to medicine is. (If one agrees with me about this and our physical well-being, how could we even consider diminishing the view of a spiritual doctor, shepherd, leader to guide us in our relationship with God. After all, your spirit is eternal!)
  4. Finally, there should not be any significant protest by those who love and care most for you. If your spouse thinks you’re nuts…perhaps you are, or perhaps she is…but in either case, you need to wait long enough for God to change her heart or for this yearning within you to pass. If your church leaders don’t sense an affirmation of calling is in order, perhaps you need to revisit and ask why godly people don’t see what you sense in your spirit.

The pathway of ministering to God’s people is littered with guys who once were. The ditches along the road are filled with degrees from Bible Colleges and Seminaries, cassette tapes of “best sermons ever” and clerical robes, stoles, or coat and tie “get-ups” discarded as a man turned away from his place of service forever.

Again, the list is not universal or exhaustive, but I hope it is helpful. If I can help you think through any of these things more in depth, feel free to give me a shout at my contact page. Blessings!