Are we there yet?

KIds in car 2Are we there yet? The very question from the back seat brings a smile to a dad’s face. Some things are so difficult to wait for. If you’re in the car on your way to grandma’s house, you should be there like…yesterday.

Any child knows that!

 

We all hate to wait.

Because of that, there is an entire industry of “fast food.” Why else would you eat something that can be prepared in 4 minutes and has enough preservatives to keep it safe for hours without refrigeration! We have 10-minute oil changes, call-ahead orders at restaurants, and (my latest find) apps for my favorite gospel bird restaurant where I can send my order in and walk to the counter to pick it up when I arrive!

Waiting is part of life, but we hate to do it.

Yesterday, in the opening message to our new Christmas Series, “Miracles of Christmas,” I shared from Galatians 4 about the Miracle of the Moment. One of the references I made was that the people had come through 400 years of prophetic silence…waiting on the Lord’s deliverance through His Messiah. I am still “chewing on” prayer going unanswered for centuries. We struggle to hold it together if our doctor’s appointment is delayed 15 minutes!

“But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son… Galatians 4:4.

Waiting is not always bad. (Ok, don’t stop reading because you saw that. Keep going…you’re almost there.)

Could you imagine asking for a piece of pie and then refusing to wait for it to fully cook? Tell the chef to bring it to me now in whatever condition it is in! Or, perhaps, a pregnant mom saying at the end of the first trimester, “I cannot wait six more months, give me my baby right now!” Or, opening a cocoon so you can see the butterfly today! These ridiculous examples are only ridiculous because we know that if you interfere with the process you don’t get what was designed.

If we trust the wisdom of design for a dessert recipe, or a pregnancy, or the metamorphosis of a butterfly, should we trust a Sovereign God less?

Don’t stop praying.

He hears, knows, and cares. (Exodus 3).

Don’t stop pressing forward.

That longing in your heart is by His design to keep you moving.

Don’t shortcut the process.

You ruin a pie when you don’t let it cook.

Don’t despise the process.

The Lord is working on a glorious plan if you’ll trust Him.

400 years was a long time to pray for deliverance to a seemingly silent God…but man…was Jesus worth the wait!

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My Top 9 and a bonus Takeaway from the FBC Annual Meeting

At the risk of missing someone else’s favorite quote, let me say that I did not write down everything. In fact, I was in such awe at Dr. Robert Smith (for instance) that I don’t remember one single note I wrote down.

Still, these quotes resonated with me…in no particular order of importance:

  1. “Don’t try to run someone else’s race.” Rocky Purvis
  2. When things are tough for a prolonged time…”Sometimes you want to quit or coast…but it’s not how you begin the race or even where you are at the halfway point. It’s how you finish.” Rocky Purvis
  3. “Prayer moves the hand of God.” Dr. Steve Gaines
  4. The heavens aren’t opened until someone prays.” Dr. Steve Gaines
  5. “Faithfulness will always lead to fruitfulness.” Dr. Stephen Rummage
  6. “A servant who never serves is by definition, not a servant.” Dr. Stephen Rummage
  7. The gospel must first change us before it can change the world- H.B. Charles Jr.
  8. “The gospel is for those who believe, not those who behave.” -H.B. Charles Jr.
  9. “If your hope is tied to things you can lose, you will eventually lose hope.” Dr. Rick Blackwood
  10. Georgia will probably still be #1, since they beat Notre Dame.” (What time does Georgia play?) Tim Coleman.

A Veteran’s Day Reflection

013923fce5d7501d412e51b996f17f8f050b0b80b6The Armistice, or cease-fire, of World War I was initiated on November 11, 1918. The “war to end all wars” had taken a heavy toll on America. “In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: ‘To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…’ .” (va.gov).

So, Veteran’s day exists to recognize the bravery and selfless service of servicemembers that risked life and sacrificed freedom, comfort, and security in pursuit of a higher ideal.

I see the day as a remembrance of something else as well…the beauty of peace and the high cost paid to secure it. The early celebrations of this day evoked pride from a nation. It was a pride in our strength but also pride in our ideals. In a real and tangible way, whether through observing a parade (which was the common observance in the early years) or listening to the stories of those who grew to love peace more while risking their lives to secure it, our nation came to believe the best of itself.

DSCN0155Today, parades are sparsely attended, even in military communities like mine. The celebration of freedom and honoring of sacrifice are often subordinated behind politicized agendas. Some even use the day to lecture those who’ve served on the dangers of military might to a peaceful world. Still others offer respectful greetings and kind words to those who have worn the uniform of our nation.

I hope that the day perpetually reminds us of a couple of valuable lessons, that if forgotten, may do great damage to the heart and soul of a nation. Remember that those we honor are worthy of honor…not because they gave their lives in battle, but because they committed their lives to the protection of liberty. Veteran’s day provides a necessary pause for a nation to simply say thank you as it enjoys the freedom that endures, not secured by the politician’s promise, or the press’s pen, but from the soldier’s service. I hope the day reminds us to prioritize gratitude and to weigh the worth of a free society. Finally, I hope the day serves as an example…as soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coastguardsmen demonstrate a unity of purpose that transcends, branch of service, race, creed, religion, and socio-economic realities. Our nation is not perfect, but on this day we encounter a glimmer of hope of what is possible.

01b39a7bb66084d168221b57ccf0cc70823daa9cf2I am honored to be part of a line of men (my father and grandfather before me, a younger brother with me, as well as a son after me) who have strapped up through more than four generations of national service. Furthermore, I consider it a high privilege to call my fellow servicemembers across the branches my brothers and sisters. May we continue to live the example of the ideal that challenges the status quo and promotes pursuit of a higher calling. Freedom depends upon it. To all my brothers and sisters, Happy Veteran’s Day 2018.

Are you a… (part 1)

Church.Image1.jpgI have observed for some time now that many believers, even many of those close to me as part of the church I serve, have misunderstood or are ignoring the fundamental nature of the church. Sure…the discussion of “going to church,” “being” the church, or “joining” the church has caused many tempers to flare…but what is the church?

Theologically (and therefore practically) the church is AT LEAST the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, and the image of Christ. This means that the church was sought and purchased by our gracious Lord (Acts 20:28) and that it functions as the physical instrument for fulfilling the mission/mandate of Christ. As we do that, we manifest in a measurable way how the Kingdom of Christ works.

Stated a little differently, the church is the place where people become like Christ through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit as the Word and the Body/community work together to fulfill a specific mission. Therefore, there should be observable change, growth, and glory among the saints.

What I have observed is that many don’t “get” the fundamental nature of the church, so they fail to find and fulfill their role in it. Many of these people have bought into the line that the church is an organization or a service provider…a commodity for consideration and consumption. This view has led to an individualistic perspective on church and sometimes…individualism within the scope of the larger Body itself.

It seems to me (while others may use different designations for the classes I am identifying here) that there are four groups/classes of people participating in a local church setting on any given Sunday:

  • Examiners. These people are not part of the church and are “examining” the claims of Christ as they measure them against what they observe as the outworking of those claims through the local expression of Christianity through the church. Some call these seekers.
  • Consumers. These folks evaluate church based on a narrow definition of individualistic intent and primarily choose participation if there is a real or anticipated benefit to themselves. They may or may not be believers. For these folks, the first and primary concern is “what does this experience do for me?”
  • Participants. These are people who are part of the church (so they must be believers) and choose to serve in elements of church but have not embraced the church’s mission as their own. They are not evil or against the mission; but, they are also not owners. They are at different stages of Christian development and are growing as they serve (which is the distinction between participants and consumers).
  • Partners. These people get it. They are believers who are growing in grace and sanctification in Christ and understand the mission of the church. Further, they embrace it. It is their mission.

In part 2, I will unpack some of the implications of these classifications and examine them for biblical warrant…but based on what you see:

Where would you fit?

Do you know your church’s mission?

Do you see yourself as somewhat responsible for that mission?

If the church failed to fulfill that mission, would you feel as if you personally failed as well?

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.

Where Does Bad Theology Come From?

Bible, study (2)Yesterday, I listened to a video broadcast from a former pastor apologizing to gay and transgendered people on behalf of evangelicals because of the “Nashville Statement.” He went on to chastise the authors of the statement for building walls instead of bridges to lost people and even went as far as to register disagreement with the “statement” itself. He went as far as to say that these leaders had no right to cast judgment on the sexual sins they spoke to. How does a pastor get to that place?

Where does bad theology come from?

I wish this was the only occasion I had heard such foolishness. Unfortunately, it is pretty prevalent in a world where a person has the ability to publish every weird thought they have ever had on a wall or blog site. In fact, if they have a graphics design or marketing background, they’ll even look credible in their presentation. It does lead one to ask, “How can people believe that?” and further, “Where does this crazy thinking come from?”

Lack of training:

For some, the error is in a lack of training. They are self-educated and have never sat under formal teaching or worse, they have limited training…enough exposure to be “dangerous.” While formal teaching is not always required, it is helpful. If you don’t know the difference between genres, you might attribute the authority of the ten commandments to a parable taught by Jesus or the poetry of the Old Testament. Doing so can lead one down a scary path. If you can’t understand biblical languages, you are at the mercy of the translators of your version of the Bible. If you’ve never been guided to think on things like biblical theology, systematic theology, and their role in theological understanding, you are as equipped to interpret Scripture as a man navigating the woods without a compass. If you get where you needed to be, its only by luck.

Lack of humility:

This may be related to the training but it doesn’t have to be. You can be WELL TRAINED and choose to ignore every rational thought your teachers ever offered. Further, self-directed studies are not bad. I encourage them. I also caution people to read a good diet of scholars. If you are the first person to think the thoughts you have, be careful. It may be that someone thought them before and they were wrong then too, so they were abandoned. If getting to your position means ignoring or abandoning sound exegetical principles, you’re likely headed the way of charlatans and heretics. This doesn’t mean that if the majority of scholars disagree with your views, that you’re wrong, but a humble man will pause and ask why others disagree and seek to understand their position.

Lack of peace:

Unfortunately, this is a major source. A man’s son declares he is gay, so the man’s theology shifts toward inclusivity because his heart is wrenched over the son’s eternal prospects, and cannot bear the thoughts of the judgment of his son. A Christian’s child professes Christ as a small child but has no fruit of a repentant life, and dies. The Christian cannot bear the thought that their child may be lost, so they create a theology to give their child another chance in hopes that it gives them peace in the dark hours of life. False peace never begets genuine godly peace.

Lack of holiness:

Sometimes our own sins reign in our hearts and we develop a theological viewpoint where we are “ok” and traditional understandings of theology must be wrong. The examples of this are too plentiful to mention.

Spiritual opposition:

Let’s not forget that the enemy is alive, active, prowling about, and looking for people to destroy. Genesis 3 records the first temptation of man where the enemy introduced a false understanding of God and man “bought it.” Yes…the first book and the first section following the Creation Account. Yep! The enemy’s planting of false theological understandings leads us off as the source of all sin!

Are there protections?

Of course! God gives us Scripture which is our most reliable source of revelation. God gives us the Holy Spirit to bring truth to mind. He gives us accountability through the local church community that serves to keep us in check while we also help others keep from straying into error. God gives us wisdom…to think about the motives of our own wicked hearts and grace to run to Him for help and hope.

Will these protections always guard us? No. We are industrious and resourceful people that can blow it even with a thousand protections in place. But, a life of humility before God and constant pursuit of Him as He reveals Himself to be in His Word and within the community of faith, we will find a pathway to truth and a gracious Guide for the journey.