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!

The Proceeds of Diligence

open-bible 2“The hand of the diligent will rule, but the slack hand will be put to forced labor…A lazy man does not roast his prey but the precious possession of a man is diligence.” Proverbs 12:24, 27.

One of the qualities that seems to be waning in our culture today is diligence. The perseverance of character that marked a generation not too many years ago seems to be lost on most in the current one.

The writer of Proverbs in this short section focuses on the wisdom of diligence. One who is diligent will have the responsibility to lead and rule, whereas the man lacking diligence will find himself a slave. In verse 27 we see the contrast of the conduct of the lazy and diligent man…the lazy man hunts and kills but does not see the task through to its intended reward…by cooking that which he hunted for so that he may eat. In contrast, the wise man sticks with the task to completion so as to enjoy the rewards of diligence.

The Hebrew word for diligence has a wide semantic domain (range of meanings based on context) but the picture formed in looking at them is consistent. Diligence is like one who keeps his blades sharpened and is precise in his labor. Diligence is the man who avoids distraction and who refuses to quit. The lazy man wastes all of his efforts in hunting by neglecting to finish the task of cooking the meat; whereas, the diligent man presses on to completion and is therefore rewarded by his efforts.

The analogies abound but what if Edison had quit one experiment before inventing the light bulb? What if Ford had backed away with only a set of drawings on a napkin of what a mass production assembly line process could look like? What if Ray Kroc had allowed his vision of franchised restaurants and systematized food preparation to die when rebuffed by the McDonald brothers?

The reason we have commercially produced incandescent light bulbs, an automobile or three in every driveway and can get a Big Mac in every major city in America (and throughout most of the developed world) is because of diligence.

  • What were you led to begin that is not yet finished? Resolve to complete the task.
  • What did you start that you let drift into oblivion that may need to be restored?
  • What commitment do you need to “shore up” in your heart in order to complete it?

Be diligent, and in so doing, fulfill the destiny for which you were created as a son or daughter of the King!

The Draft, the Bench, and the Will of God

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Two years. That’s almost how long I “rode the pine” in ministry. God had spoken and moved in my life. I surrendered to the call to ministry and began to preach immediately, and often…most months as often as three times per month. But no church called me.

Have you ever “known” the will of God and were certain that God was sending you in a particular direction…only to get passed over?

How did it feel? Did the enemy whisper in YOUR EAR as he does mine?

  • You’re not good enough.
  • You’re not ready.
  • You’re not qualified.

We have recently gone through another season of college football players being examined and selected in the NFL Draft…

The players in the draft represented the best of the talent from their college football squads. They were the guys who made the amazing plays caught on the ESPN highlight reel, and they were the guys making the block that made the plays on the reel possible.

One of the familiar refrains among many of the observers related to why “their player” did not go sooner or did not go to a particular team. Certainly, the “Monday morning quarterbacking” (pun intended) is evident as people like me try to second guess those involved in the process. We might not approve of the message it sends when our favorite University standout doesn’t go until the second or third round. We may even carry a burden of offense for the message of “value” attributed to our player if he goes later in the draft. After all, aren’t all the good players going in the top ten of the first round?

What we may miss now and again is the underlying message. The draft picks are based on the quality of the player AND the needs of the drafting team. It is important to remember that a team with a great quarterback and significant depth on the bench is not making a value judgment of our favorite quarterback when they choose to select a defensive player first. Their selection is about the needs of their team first, and the caliber of your player second.

In our lives and assignments, it is tough at times to watch God draft others for assignments ahead of us. Sometimes He selects people that we should have beaten out for a job. But doesn’t such assessment lack insight? Is God not also able to consider the needs of the team as well as the talent of the player?

Monday comes every week. Every week we look back on Sunday and ask the question about our usefulness in our assignment. If we have a good understanding of God’s will and God’s ways…we must consider that He is working on a larger vision than we cannot often fully grasp. We look at our areas of awareness but God is infinitely more aware of the needs that exist everywhere and at every time…including those that won’t even be revealed for months or years to come. So, rest easy dear friend. Trust the process of the Draft and war against the desire to accept the implicit value judgments. You are valuable. You were drafted. You are exactly where He assigned you and your next assignment, whatever it is, is already known. It is perfect…not only for you but for Him who called you as well.

A blessing that provokes a curse…

Open Bible 1“He who blesses his friend with a loud voice early in the morning, it will be reckoned a curse to him.” Proverbs 27:14

Blessing a friend is good. Blessing a friend first thing in the morning is good. Blessing a friend in a loud voice is often good. Put them together and you may become the subject of your friend’s disdain.

There is a right time and a right context for everything. Standing to shout out your school’s “fight song” is good in the stadium after winning the game. It is generally frowned upon in class during a midterm exam.

Many “good” messages have been lost because the messenger did not consider the context from the recipient’s perspective. As one who speaks to groups multiple times per week and without a manuscript, I can tell you that I miss the mark here far too often. Sometimes my “filter” doesn’t catch a thought before it crosses my lips. (That’s not an excuse…just a fact of my present reality).

I wonder how many times we have a “good word” for a person’s situation but it is missed because our timing was off. For instance, a friend’s child is overdue to get home from school and hasn’t answered the phone. Is this a time to comfort your friend or recite recent statistics on child abductions? The answer seems obvious.

Christians mess this up too. “Hey brother, I didn’t tell them anything that wasn’t true! I’m just speaking the truth!” Sure friend, but aren’t we called to speak the truth in love? How is it loving to say what you said, in the way you said it at the time you said it? Did the hearer see your anguish in delivering such a message due to the inherent implications?

Jesus instructed us to be “wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.” Serpents are not powerful but they are hypersensitive to their surroundings. Rarely will a snake dart out from under a bush to attack a person walking by.(Back them into a corner and you may have a different story.) Doves are harmless and pleasant.

So how do I do this? Here are six considerations:

  • Be clean. Check your heart motive. Are you compelled to speak “the truth” because you are aggravated with a person or jealous for God’s glory?
  • Be aware. Play the conversation through as if you were hearing it as the person you are speaking to. How did you receive it?
  • Be humble. You’re not “all that.” But for the grace of God…there go I.
  • Be empathetic. Listen. hear. empathize.
  • Be gracious. If someone says they “get it” and apologize, taken them at their word.
  • Be encouraging. They should feel more emboldened in God’s love after you leave than when you got there.

If you have thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

Just Kill the Snake

grass-snake-379025_960_720Two nights ago I woke up at around 330AM in one of those heart-racing states! A snake was after me! For days I had dealt with the snake. It made its way into a room (presumably in my house) and I had swatted at it. I locked it in the room. I knew where it was and it could not get to me…except for every time I had to go into the room. At some point I tried to kill it…but in true snake fashion, it survived to fight another day. It was still there. Then (fast-forward a few scenes), it escaped from the room and made its way to my bedroom. I saw it but was tired so I tried to forget it was there and just go back to sleep. But I was too focused on what the snake might be up to in order to really rest…so I laid there for a while thinking about the snake.

I lost a good hour of “real time” thinking about the snake in my dream. I never turned on the light. I never looked on the floor or under the covers. I simply thought about what might be. I should have just killed the snake!

Procrastination is a major hindrance for a lot of people. We have a difficult phone call to make. We have a tough meeting to schedule. Those tax receipts need to be gathered. So we push it aside and try not to think about it…knowing that the snake simply looms out there. The snake is still in the room!

Hey…go to the shed, grab the shovel open the door to the room where your snake is hiding. Kill it!

What’s true is that most things do not simply “go away” by ignoring them. They become harder to do. The more difficult they are to do or the more important they are, the more we think about them and the fact that they are left undone.

For me, that list of items can become LONG from time to time. Other days, I prioritize the items on a task list by significance and due date and simply churn through them. Today…identify what the snake is and where you left it. Grab a shovel and go to work. You’ll sleep better tonight.

 

3 Strikes…and I’m Out

strike-3Everyone has one. It may be your wife’s brother who knows you are not good enough for her. It may be the best friend who knew you when you did every goofy thing of questionable legality that you cannot talk about due to a statute of limitations. It may be the neighbor who always wants to remind you that his grass is greener and his truck is newer. I am speaking of the person you want to share the gospel with and he will simply not accept it. You package the gospel story in pretty paper with bows on it and he can find three reasons why it is not true. Perhaps the problem is you. Perhaps they’ve not seen enough life change yet to realize that you really have been changed. Perhaps your change reminds them of their moral ineptness and they are not ready to face it yet. What should you do? Keep sharing with humble and gentle hearts…over and over and over again. This is how God pursued you.

The Scriptures give different counsel about another type of person. This one is a professing believer. He is in your small group. He always speaks up at a business meeting. He comes up after the sermon or lesson and explains what he read on the internet that contradicts you or how Andy Stanley did it better. He attends your discipleship class and pushes back on the truth because he sees it differently. He is not trying to learn or gain understanding, but to keep you “humble.” What do you do with him?

First, a teachable spirit, the lovechild of hunger and humility, is a key characteristic of the disciple. Not everyone who SAYS he is a disciple or who attends your church has one of these teachable spirits. What do you do with this guy? Do you continue to repackage the teaching in paper and bows trying to win him over? Do you chase him down to get his blessing?

Sometimes you do. A shepherd is told to be patient and to correct wrong doctrine. But, as Paul instructs Titus, there is a time when the guy who always resists must be corrected. Titus 1:13 says when his actions bring discredit on Christ, rebuke him severely. When he is a danger to others by drawing them astray, shut him down. See, leadership requires movement and change in people. The man who is factious and refuses to move cannot be waited on indefinitely. You, as a leader, must move past him.

“Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.” Titus 3:10.

“He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself, and he who reproves a wicked man gets insults for himself. Do not reprove a scoffer or he will hate you, reprove a wise man and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser, teach a righteous man and he will increase his learning.” Proverb 9:7-9.

As one old preacher said, “Don’t jump down in the mud to wrestle a pig. Both of you will end up muddy but the pig likes it.” Sometimes you have to simply nod, turn your head, and move forward. Some will follow. Some will not. Let that be God’s business. Know what He called you to do and do it. You may be surprised what happens next.