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?

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Across the Aisle…

Handshake ImageThere have been several key figures in my life and development as a man and as a follower of Christ. Each one has his own story, but this is the story of a man named George Wyatt.

He stepped across the aisle. Back in that day, we were a church of hundreds. I was a 20-something cop. He was an engineer. I was a high school graduate. He wore a ring from Clemson. Jodi and I were new in the church with a small kid. He had been in the church for a while and was connected, serving, and demonstrating a genuine, fruitful existence. And, he stepped across the aisle.

My new friend, George, invited Jodi and me to join him and his wife, as well as some friends for a new bible study at his house. It was a study on parenting. It was a good study by the way, but the real value of the invite in my life was leadership and love. George and I became friends. His family became special to us. Perhaps most significant…because George took the initiative, I BECAME a better man. He invested in me. Told me tough things while we stood shoulder to shoulder working on a project. He invited me into his world and gave me the “Barnabas gift,” meaning that he affirmed me to his sphere of influence so that I could join in.

George believed in me when I was still trying to figure out who I was. He helped me get into politics. He invited me to join the school board with him for the Christian school our kids attended. He talked about his own life struggles in a transparent manner so I would know that he wasn’t perfect. He made me part of his life. When I sensed the calling to plant a church, he helped us. When I was discouraged, he spoke tough encouragement.

Why do I tell you this? Because there was no manual. No training program. No curriculum. But there was discipleship. George helped me become a disciple, by stepping across the aisle. He made me better by stepping across the aisle. He made me better by inviting me into his world.

As I read the Scriptures and grow in my understanding of the purpose Christ has for his people…this is a big part of what making disciples is all about.

So, look around…

Who is across the aisle from you?

Who is on the outside of your circle of healthy Christian relationships that you can bring in?

Who has God placed in your path to love and lead…to invest in and serve…to speak to and speak for?

Thanks, George. Jodi and I love you, Karen, and your precious girls. Most significantly…I love Jesus more because of you stepping across the aisle.

If you are a George to someone…keep going. Obedience to Christ’s command pays off. If there’s a kid across the aisle…don’t just be available…be intentional. It matters.

Public Speaking v. Preaching

IMG_1123I am a preacher. It is what God called me to do. In my surrender to ministry, He confirmed this calling in the propositional questions Paul asks in Romans 10:13-15 when he makes the definitive statement, “All those who call upon the Lord shall be saved.” He asks, “How shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? How will they hear unless someone preaches to them? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news (gospel) of good things!”

Honestly though…most non-Christians struggle to grasp the concept. How can they? Understanding such a calling requires a reference point in the gospel itself.

For this reason, when I am speaking to a non-believer, I often explain what I do in some version of public speaking. Most of them have had to give a book report or have taken a public speaking class in college so they can relate to that aspect of speaking; however, in truth, preaching and public speaking are miles apart. Here are a few ways:

  • Public speakers prepare “talks” or speeches to give. In preaching, the man of God is prepared by the message that the Lord gives Him. God works me over in a process of refining and purifying as He prepares me and the message in my heart.
  • Public speakers employ rhetorical devices to manipulate audiences. (Please hear “manipulate” in the most charitable of ways, since my point is that they seek to have their words move the audience.) In preaching, it is not the skill of the preacher that is responsible for moving a congregation. We convictionally believe that God moves His people through the Word but not by the words.
  • Public speakers want to be liked/appreciated/lauded/invited back. This is not wrong…since if you are a speaker, this is how you make a living. Preachers often speak in such a way that if you did not love them, you could never like them. They apply God’s Word as a chisel to hearts of stone and pry into areas of behavior that are barely, at times, socially acceptable. Preachers are like surgeons that use a scalpel to remove a tumor and then tell you the recovery will be painful but necessary.
  • Public speakers choose their own topics based, often times, on some sense of mastery of the subject. While a preacher should demonstrate expertise in handling the Word, He is most typically not one who has mastered the subject or its implications. He is a beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.
  • Public speakers can walk away. Like any profession, one can choose to retire or semi-retire. Preachers are terminated. The prophet Jeremiah says that the Word of God implanted in a preacher is like a fire in his bones that burdens the man until he lets it out. One day, God terminates his position. Until then, he must preach.
  • Finally, public speakers need skillful rhetoric to accomplish a task; whereas, a preacher has no such need. The object of preaching, that is the Word of God…always accomplishes that for which it was intended. God uses His Word despite (or perhaps through) the preacher’s limitations.

IMG_0313Some may wonder, “Why would anyone be a preacher?” Simply put…because God calls a man to the task and uses the preacher’s efforts, however wondrous or feeble, to confound the wisdom of the world (1 Cor 1:20-25), and to bring glory to Himself! God chose preaching as His instrument…not a dialogue, a debate, or a lecture, but preaching. God directed that those who desire to serve God as an elder/pastor, always be ready to preach “the Word,” in every season and circumstance (2 Tim 4:2).

Thus, I am a preacher. Nothing more. Nothing less. Without compromise. I lack perfection and I often fail…but I am being fitted and shaped as an instrument of revelation and reconciliation by the One who called me out of darkness and enlisted me in the ranks of the those bearing the calling—to preach.

Trained at the breast

BF art“You are He who brought me forth from the womb; You made me trust when upon my mother’s breasts. Upon You I was cast from birth; You have been my God from my mother’s womb.” Psalm 22:9-10 (NASB)

“Just a little bit more.” This was the response of J. Paul Getty (1892-1976) when asked: “how much money do you want?” In modern dollars, Mr. Getty died with a net worth north of 8 billion dollars.

Now before you jump on the “1%” train and start to indignantly define Getty as a greedy miser, consider this: Perhaps everything is an economy of scale and his issue was not greed but fear. Amassing wealth, for many, is not so much about the number of zeroes on a bank statement, but the sense of security that a large nest egg brings. It is about how one can weather the storms of life and still come out on top.

In Psalm 22, a messianic psalm, David writes from a low point in his life. He cries out to God because of his circumstances and immediately answers his own cry with a call for praise. It is, as if, the difficulties of David’s life are instruments of God to train him to trust God in all things.

David reminds us in verses 9-10 that our training to trust God is both natural and intentional. It is natural for us as beings because we do not cause our own birth. No person wills himself into being. We cannot choose any part of our beginning. We exist WHOLLY as the result of another person’s choice. (This is a picture of grace). David goes a step further and declares that the ultimate One who makes the choice is God who brought him forth from his mother’s womb.

Not just in origin, but in sustainment, even as an infant, the lessons of trust are inherent. No infant prepares his own breakfast. If the child is to eat, he is to do so at his mother’s breast, by her initiative, and at her pleasure. The infant has no control yet there is rarely a more peaceful picture of trust and contentment than that of a nursing child.

David’s training was also intentional. His mother “cast him” upon the Lord even from birth. (Think of casting him as releasing him wholly to the Lord). She learned to trust the Lord with her child and thus taught her child to look to God rather than her for his daily needs.

Perhaps, the great enemy of our growth in faith is not the difficulties of life, but its excesses. Perhaps our self-sufficiency (or pursuit of it) actually moves us from peace to anxiousness, from potential comfort to perpetual longing.

Is there hope? YES!

Jesus, in the “model prayer,” to His followers to pray in this way: “…give us THIS DAY our DAILY bread.” (Matt 6:11, NASB. eEmphasis added.)

We find peace in the Person of God and in His provision, not in our ability to provide or store up for ourselves that which we anticipate needing. Further, in one of the most arresting proverbs in my life, we are told that this is the way toward true wisdom:

Proverbs 30:8-9 states: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is my portion, that I not be full and deny You and say, “Who is the Lord?” or that I not be in want and steal, and profane the name of my God.”

Today, do not seek security but God’s sufficiency. He can be trusted. You can trust Him. Don’t let the wisdom of the world draw you away from the peace that surpasses understanding. Return to a daily dependence. This is more than ATTITUDE. It requires ACTION. If there is a point of security for you, a place you turn to for hope and comfort other than God…remember that no man can serve two masters. He must choose today whom he is to serve. As for me and my house…we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15).

child

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?