Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Cultural Relevance

Cultural relevance is a common desire among many churches today. The old saying that the methodology may change but our theology never changes has become a battle cry for many pastors and church leaders over the years. This attitude is very beneficial for the church. It is important for us to seek to present the gospel in a manner that is relevant to the people in our communities.

However, there is more to it than just using a praise band for worship and using up-to-date media. For many churches cultural relevance actually means being relevant to only one particular group of people. As a result these churches tailor their styles to that particular group. But what if your community has different types of people? What if being culturally relevant requires different methodologies for the same church?

Could it be that we are currently in the process of raising up another generation that views the church and worship as something that must be tailored specifically to them? We have already been through this once before with the “worship wars” of the last two decades. During this times churches would try to be more “culturally relevant” by adding various instruments in worship or using power point for songs instead of hymnals. As a result some were pleased by the changes while others felt like the church was going in the wrong direction. Why the disagreement? I think it stems from people who are more focused on their selfish desires than on worshipping God.

My fear is that churches who seek to be culturally relevant to only one specific community will raise up more people who are focused on themselves. I am afraid we are catering to the mentality that says, “I can only go to a church that seeks to reach my specific niche in life.”

Instead of continuing to build churches that only reach one segment of the population we need to teach people to be culturally relevant and not just churches as a whole. We must get individuals to adopt Paul’s mindset that we are to be “all things to all people.” By doing so we can allow the church to be what we see in the New Testament, a collection of different people from different cultures. Not one homogeneous unit of cultural relevance.

So what does this look like? I see a church full of people who understand that things such as worship styles, dress codes, building design, etc. are not as important as reaching people. These church members are willing to not have everything in the church exactly as they might prefer. They understand that these methodologies are preferences that vary from person to person. Instead of bickering over non-essentials they are more concerned about making sure their theology is sound and the message is presented in a manner that is culturally relevant to multiple groups of people. In order to do this, they must be willing to sacrifice their own personal preferences from time to time.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Why Church Planting? Why Seattle?

So why have we decided to start a church? After all aren’t there enough churches out there already? Surely I should just go find one of the many churches that need a pastor and settle in there. These may be the thoughts of some when the subject of church planting is discussed but these thoughts are not based on facts.

It is true that there are many churches already in existence. However, if you take a moment to drive around on a Sunday morning you will see that there are still many more people who are not involved in church. In Tennessee, where I currently serve, there are about 6 million people. We currently have about 3000 Baptist churches for these 6 million people. Obviously there is still a need for more churches in order to effectively reach the current population.

As a result we must continue the process of planting new churches to reach our communities. I have become convinced that church planting is the main way in which God will spread His Kingdom. Although things like short term mission trips and parachurch ministries are effective they cannot replace the ongoing ministry of the local church. Therefore, if we are going to see the gospel impact society we must be willing to invest in the practice of starting more churches.

Which brings me to another question some may ask. Why Seattle? Although there is still a need for more churches to be planted in the South there is an even greater need in the Northwest. Recently I visited my home state of Texas and toured around the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. As I drove around on a Sunday morning I was amazed at the large amount of churches that were literally everywhere. Each of these churches had parking lots full of cars. Each of these churches were filled with people in their pews.

Seattle on the other hand is a totally different scene. If you drive around the area you will see very few churches and consequently very few people in church on a Sunday morning. In the Seattle/Tacoma area there are between 4 and 5 million people. Only 4% of this population claims to be Christian. There are only 150 Baptist churches for this vast population. So, as you can see there is a definite need for churches in the Pacific Northwest.

So, that is a large reason why I feel called to start a church in the Seattle area. The need is there and I believe God is calling more and more people to respond to this need and take the gospel to every part of our nation.

Accepting God's Call

Well, it has definitely been a long while since I have posted on the ol’ blog. A lot has been going on in my life and the life of my family since my last post. For the past several months Tina and I have been contemplating the decision to start a church in Seattle, WA. A few weeks ago we officially decided to head to the Pacific Northwest to plant a church.

This has been one of, if not the most difficult decisions Tina and I have made. Seattle is one of the more difficult places to plant a church. It is very far from all of our family and close friends. However, Tina and I cannot escape the call of God we see in Scripture. As I read through God’s Word I read of a God that calls us out. He calls us to take the gospel to places where people have not heard of the saving grace offered in Jesus Christ. He calls us to surrender our life to His lordship and control. We have been reminded over the last several months that this life is not our own. It is not our goal to be comfortable and to build up treasures here on earth.

So, with fear and trembling, we continue forward towards what we believe God is calling us to do. I must note that although we are nervous about this endeavor we are also excited about what God is going to do in and through our ministry in the Northwest. We are excited about the possibility of impacting the lives of people who do not know about Jesus and impacting a culture for the kingdom of God.

If you would like more information on the specifics of our church plant and how you can partner with us go to

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Abundance of the American Church

Recently my wife and I finally rented the movie, The Pursuit of Happiness. After hearing so many good reviews of this movie I was not disappointed. As you probably know, the movie is based on the true story of the trials endured by a man and his son as he tries to pull himself out of poverty and homelessness. This movie was able to do something that few movies are able to do anymore. It actually made me think about life.

After watching the struggles of the character played by Will Smith Tina and I were reminded of the many blessings in our lives. This was also a reminder to me of how ungrateful I can be at times. I complain when we don’t have enough money for me to eat out more than once or go to the movies more frequently. Yet we sit in a house we own, we have two nice cars, clothes, and most importantly two beautiful, healthy little girls.

This movie also reminded me of a recent sermon I heard from Dr. David Platt at our youth camp. He noted how much of the world is in desperate financial shape. He discussed the plight of many young children in foreign countries who do not have food to eat. And here I sit complaining that my steak was not cooked to perfection in a nice restaurant.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying that it is bad to enjoy nice things or the blessings of this wonderful nation. I am just confessing my need to be more thankful for the many blessings I enjoy and often take for granted.

However, I do not think it is enough to just express gratitude. All of this also makes me think of the state of the American church. As I drive through different cities I see large church buildings costing millions of dollars. I am aware of the enormous amount of money spent on many frivolous aspects of ministry. Is this right? Could it be that we are spending too much money on our own creature comforts? Could it be that while we sit in our nice multi-million dollar buildings we are turning a deaf ear to the suffering of many other people?

I am not saying that it is sinful to have a nice building. However, Jesus’ statement in Luke 12 comes to mind, “for everyone who has been given much, much will be required.” The American church has been given enormous freedom and resources. And to the credit of many godly men and women much good has been done. The SBC alone has sponsored thousands of missionaries all over the world. I have seen the graciousness of many men and women from churches across the nation reach out to people in need during times of crisis such as Hurricane Katrina. But can we do more? I think the answer is an emphatic yes. I believe our churches need to have more of a desire to reach out and help those in need. We need to focus more energy on spreading the gospel and less on building comfortable buildings. We need to spend less on temporary structures and more on things that are eternal.

I do believe that God has blessed this nation. However, these blessings are not to be kept to ourselves. The American church has the ability to make a huge difference in the lives of millions across the world. We have the resources to help expand the gospel into all the nations. Ultimately, we have been blessed so that we can be a blessing to others. We have been given much, I think much will be required.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Advice to Young Men (Age 20 - 30)

This year I officially left my twenties and entered my thirties. This of course entitles me to give some needed advice to young men in their twenties. The longer I serve in ministry the more I see that the following basic principles are needed among young men. These recommendations are best followed in order.

First, get a job. There are many young men out there who are still too dependant on their parents for their livelihood. Furthermore, it seems that some young men still do not know what they want to do with their lives. As a result they bounce around from job to job. Or worse, they do nothing, waiting for God to miraculously drop their career path in their lap. These young men need to decide what to do with their lives and go after it. Until then, at least get busy doing something. Earn some money and establish something in the work force so that when God does reveal a career path you will have a foundation to build upon.

Second, get married. Outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ this is the most important relationship you can enter into. Being married makes you think of someone other than yourself. It causes you to focus on the needs, wants, and desires of another person, thereby causing you to realize how selfish you are and seek to change. Some young men seem to enjoy sitting around with other young men contemplating their own lives too much and the deeper meaning of life in general. This would be fine if they actually made a significant impact on the world as a result. Most do not. Getting married causes a huge reality check in a person’s life. It forces them to quit living in a dream world and focus on a person other than themselves.

Third, have sex with your wife. Although this seems like the obvious result of the second recommendation it is not. Many young married men are still involved in pornography, and even adulterous relationships. One of the contributors is they are not experiencing the sexual satisfaction God intended for a married man and woman. Young men need to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5) and seek to find fulfillment with that woman God has blessed them with and not a fake relationship over the internet.

Fourth, have kids. I used to think I was busy. I used to think I was tired. Then I had children. Now I know what it means to be busy and tired. Having children matures you in a way I never thought possible. It forces you to prioritize your life. It forces you to live a life that glorifies God at all times. It forces you to be more of a spiritual leader. It forces you to be purposeful in how you lead your family. It also makes you less sympathetic to younger people who are single who say they are busy and tired.

Before some of you get angry with my recommendations let me qualify the preceding statements. I understand that there are exceptions to the rules. I realize that God does not call everyone to get married or have children. I know of incredibly godly and productive single people and married adults who do not have children. However, these ideas do apply to the vast majority of young men. It seems that many young men are afraid to grow up. For whatever reason, it seems that many men between 20 and 30 years of age are maturing at a slower rate. All of this poses a problem for the future. Especially in the area that I focus much of my energy, the church. We need young men in this age range to step up, mature, and become the leaders that God has called them to be.

Worship Wars

Unfortunately there is still a conflict in the church today that divides many congregations. It is not over the doctrine of the Trinity or the inerrancy of Scripture. It is actually something much more secondary. It involves worship in a congregational setting, specifically the songs we sing in worship. This conflict does not revolve around the content of the songs but the manner in which they are sung. The reason I know this is there are some who are not satisfied when a favorite hymn is sung using a more modern musical style. Apparently songs must be sung in a certain style in order to be pleasing to God.

The purpose of this article is not to necessarily reopen this debate about worship style that has gone on for far too long. Instead I just want to briefly add a couple of perspectives that may need to be considered when trying to decide what worship is pleasing to God.

First, we need to consider the author of music. Despite the opinions of a few, Satan did not invent rock music. God is the creator of all music. Therefore, what are we saying if we refuse to worship to a style or genre of music? Are we not in effect saying that God did not do a good job of creating that form? I realize that there are many genres of music that have been used to convey messages that are in radical opposition to the truths conveyed in the gospel. However, I do not think this means we must abandon those forms in a church worship service.

Second, we need to be reminded of the other forms of worship in the world. When people declare that worship must only consist of hymns or contemporary music they forget about worship in other cultures. There are many cultures that have received the gospel which do not worship to our form of music. They do not worship with hymns or contemporary choruses. They may use different styles altogether. Does this mean that they are not worshipping God correctly? I think not. This reminds us of the simple truth that God loves a variety of different styles. Maybe we should be open to them as well.

I believe the church in America needs to focus on the proper aspect of worship. The content of what we sing to God. I know of hymns and modern songs that are shallow and even theologically incorrect. This does not mean that all hymns or contemporary songs are bad. As believers I think our focus must be on the God we worship and the words we sing to Him, not on the form in which we sing. When we focus on the form we are not focusing on the content or the One to whom we sing.

Scripture Memory

Growing up in the church I must confess that Scripture memory was not a priority in my life. I knew many of the standard verses such as John 3:16 but I did not have a disciplined approach to Scripture memory. In college I came across a system for Scripture memory that really caught my attention. It was written by a pastor from North Carolina (I think). It takes the approach of memorizing actual books or long sections of Scripture. The advantage is that this allows you to really get an understanding of the flow and structure of a passage. It also allows you to understand the context in a way that you may not get from memorizing individual verses. I have included a summary of this method of memorization. I encourage the reader to give it a shot. Although memorizing an entire book of the Bible may seem intimidating it is definitely possible and worth the effort.

1. Day One: Read Ephesians 1:1 out loud ten times, looking at each word as if photographing it with your eyes. Be sure to include the verse number. Then cover the page and recite it ten times. You’re done for the day.

2. Day Two: Yesterday’s verse first!! Recite yesterday’s verse, Ephesians 1:1 ten times, being sure to include the verse number. Look in the Bible if you need to, just to refresh your memory. Now, do your new verse. Read Ephesians 1:2 out loud ten times, looking at each word as if photographing it with your eyes. Be sure to include the verse number. Then cover the page and recite it ten times. Your done for the day.

3. Day Three: Yesterday’s verse first!! Recite yesterday’s verse, Ephesians 1:2 ten times, being sure to include the verse number. Again, you should look in the Bible if you need to, just to refresh your memory. Old verse next, altogether: Recite Ephesians 1:1-2 together once, being sure to include the verse numbers. Now, do your new verse. Read Ephesians 1:3 out loud ten times, looking at each word as if photographing it with your eyes. Be sure to include the verse number. Then cover the page and recite it ten times. You’re done for the day.

4. Day Four: Yesterday’s verse first!! Recite yesterday’s verse, Ephesians 1:3 ten times, being sure to include the verse number. Again, you should look in the Bible if you need to, just to refresh your memory. Old verses next, altogether. Recite Ephesians 1:1-3 together once, being sure to include the verse numbers. Now, do your new verse. Read Ephesians 1:4 out loud ten times, looking at each word as if photographing it with your eyes. Be sure to include the verse number. Then cover the page and recite it ten times. Your done for the day.

This cycle would continue through the entire book. Obviously, the “old verses altogether” stage will soon swell to take the most time of all. That’s exactly the way it should be. The entire book of Ephesians can be read at a reasonable rate in less than fifteen minutes. Therefore, the “old verses altogether” stage of your review should not take longer than that on any given day. Do it with the Bible ready at hand, in case you draw a blank or get stuck … there’s no shame in looking, and it actually helps to nail down troublesome verses so they will never be trouble again.

Top Twenty Things a Minister Should Know

In a recent discussion with a student called to ministry I came up with a list of the top 20 subjects I think all ministers should know what he or she believes. This list is not in any particular order of importance.

1. Calvinsim vs. Arminiasm
2. Roles of women in ministry
3. Dispensationalism (right or wrong?)
4. View on Spiritual gifts (cessationist or still in effect?)
5. View on End Times
6. What happens to infants who die?
7. Can you lose your salvation?
8. View of baptism and Lord’s Supper
9. Leadership in the church (Deacons, elders, etc.)
10. Tithing
11. Abortion – Is it wrong? Why or why not? Are there exceptions?
12. Emerging Church
13. Alcohol (Can Christians drink? What about ministers?)
14. Scripture (inerrancy, hermeneutics, authority, open or closed cannon)
15. Trinity
16. Salvation (how is a person saved, more than one way, people who never hear)
17. Evolution vs. Creation (also age of earth)
18. Church History
19. Difference in Protestant and Catholic Theology
20. Role of Christianity in Culture

I am sure there are more things that could be added to the list. The point of this list is to get young ministers thinking about some of the core elements of the Christian faith and some of the key questions facing the next generation of church leaders. It is important that young ministers know early on where they stand on these issues in order to minister more effectively to the culture.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Spider-Man 3 & Forgiveness

Recently I along with thousands of others flocked to the newest Spider Man movie. Don’t worry I won’t spoil any of it for those who have not seen it. Nor will I provide any critique of the film.

While watching the movie I was prompted to think about one of the recurring themes. The subject of forgiveness. A character in the film makes the statement to young Peter Parker about restoring a relationship which has been damaged. She says that Peter must first do the hardest thing, forgive himself.

I began to wonder. Could it be that many people have a hard time forgiving because they cannot forgive themselves? Or could it be that many people have a hard time forgiving because they have not experienced true forgiveness?

Check out Ephesians 4:32. Paul tells us that Christ models for us how to forgive. We are to then extend that same forgiveness to others. I believe that this is an amazing command. It is impossible to live out on our own. We are not capable of this type of forgiveness. Unless, we have experienced it first hand. Unless we have known this type of forgiveness from God as we confessed our sins and witnessed the miracle of God declaring us forgiven. When we experience this type of grace and mercy we are then able to extend it to others through the power of the Holy Spirit working in us.

Someone who does not feel forgiven will have a hard time forgiving others. After all, if they have to suffer so should every one else. This type of person holds on to their anger or hurt. They are unable to comprehend letting go and forgiving someone else. They do not want to give to others what they have been deprived. Unfortunately I think many Christians live this way. Even though they have experienced the greatest pardon they hold on to their bitterness.

What is needed is a reminder of the grace and forgiveness that God offers to sinners deserving eternal separation from Him. When we realize we have been forgiven. When we realize that God has canceled out our massive debt of sin. We can then extend same forgiveness to others. We can then forgive as Christ has forgiven us.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Politically Correct Mexican Food

As I walked down the isles recently at a grocery store I noticed an unusual sight. The isle that contained food items such as taco shells, salsa mix, and jalepeno peppers was labeled Hispanic. Usually I would expect a sign describing this section as Mexican. Is that right? Doesn’t the word Mexican label food that is primarily found in Mexico? Isn’t Hispanic a more generalized description of people from countries such as Mexico, Spain, Brazil, etc.? Growing up in Texas I never referred to my favorite restaurants as Hispanic. They were always Mexican restaurants. So why the change here? I just wonder if this is another attempt to be politically correct. Could it be that some grocery store owner has changed the signs on a type of food in order to keep from offending someone? Which raises the question. Is the phrase Mexican food becoming politically incorrect?

Regardless of this particular situation it reminds me of a more global problem in our society today. It seems that we live in a culture of fear. We are so afraid of offending someone with the words we speak. I am well aware of the command in Ephesians 4:29. We are to be careful with what we say. We are to encourage people and not use language in an offensive manner. However, it seems that in many areas we have taken this too far. As a result it becomes difficult to say anything at all.

Unfortunately this mentality has also entered the world of Christianity and theology. Over the years there have been many attempts to make Scripture gender inclusive. Some have tried to make the Bible less offensive by taking out any reference to men. I understand the desire to replace the universal “man” with words such as “humanity” or “people”. However, this is not good enough for some. There is also a desire to remove the masculine nature of the Father and even Jesus. Although, as my old seminary professor pointed out, no one wants to make Satan a woman! Another politically correct aspect is sin. It is no longer acceptable to discuss this aspect. For some it is too discouraging. For others it is too offensive. Furthermore, certain particular sins such as homosexuality are being targeted. It is becoming more and more taboo to label sins such as homosexuality as sinful.

We must be very careful in how we allow politically correct language to affect our theology. Although I do not have a problem with saying “humanity” instead of “mankind”, I do have a problem with making God into a female or not mentioning sin. As Christians we must not be ashamed of the content of Scripture. Furthermore, we must not become obsessed with trying to make it inoffensive. In truth, the Gospel is extremely offensive. It calls all of us sinners deserving hell. Furthermore, we cannot do anything to change our situation. Our only hope is found in a Savior named Jesus.

In the end I believe many more attacks will come against Christianity and the truths found in Scripture. Christians must be on the alert. I do not think the attacks will be as obvious as they were in church history. I believe the attack will be more subtle as people slowly try to make different aspects of our faith taboo or even illegal to talk about.

Thou Shalt Not Judge Me

“You can’t judge me.” How often have you heard this phrase? Many times it is used as a defense mechanism for people who have been confronted on conduct that many would deem inappropriate. The Bible is often used as proof for this viewpoint. Many will quote Matthew 7 and say that Jesus prohibits us from judging one another. But is that really what the Bible says?

Look at Matthew 7:1-5 more closely. In this passage the prohibition in verse 1 is not a prohibition on judging but on judgmental attitudes. This is proven in the following verses. Jesus encourages us to examine our own lives before judging others. We are called to first confess and deal with our own sins. Once we have done this we are allowed to confront other believers in sin.

Paul continues this theme of judging in 1 Corinthians 5. In verse 11 Paul tells the Corinthians not to associate with a believer that is involved in a sinful lifestyle. Paul gives authority to believers to judge other believers within the church. What areas are up for judgment? It is not such things as clothing or music preferences. Although this is what some in the church have the most disagreement over. It is over areas such as morality and theology.

It is important to note that Christians are not allowed to judge non Christians. Why? Because that is God’s responsibility. We cannot judge them for being immoral since they have not been saved by God’s grace and given the power of the Holy Spirit.

But how are we supposed to judge someone? Paul also provides the answer in Galatians 6:1. He notes that we are to judge someone for the purpose of restoration. We are to seek to point out their faults for the purpose of helping them grow closer to Jesus Christ. This is to be done in a gentle manner with grace. Paul also warns those who seek to restore someone in sin to be careful. They too can fall into temptation if they are not alert.

Can anyone else judge Christians? According to 2 Corinthians 5 all Christians will be judged based on our lives here on earth. This is not to determine admission to heaven. Instead it is an evaluation of our lives. It is a reminder that we are saved for good works (Eph. 2:10) and not to live out our own sinful pleasures.

Furthermore, according it seems that in John 17:23 Jesus notes that the world will judge Christians. They will judge us based on our love for each other and unity. The world will know that Jesus Christ is real based on how we as Christians relate to one another. These two judgments provide a serious reminder to live our lives in a manner worthy of our calling (Eph. 4:1).


The First Epistle to the Corinthians NICNT Fee, Gordon.

The Second Epistle to the Corinthians NICNT Barnett, Paul

The Gospel of John PNTC Carson, D.A.

Matthew NAC Blomberg, Craig

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Student Nutrition

John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, St. Augustine. These are names that are normally reserved for seminary courses much less a youth minister’s sermon. Some student ministries often focus on relevant issues such as friendships, dating, and lifestyle evangelism.

These are important things to emphasize. However, could it be that youth could handle much more? Could it be that some churches are selling students short by only giving them baby food when they desire steak? In school, students are tackling calculus, advanced history, and chemistry. They are writing 10 page papers and taking college level courses. But when they get to church they are often exposed them to light and fluffy sermons on dating.

Maybe it is time that we raise the bar on what students are taught.

This will require youth ministers to raise the bar on sermon preparation. Less time may need to be spent on creative manners to present the message and more spent on the content of the message. I have often been guilty of spending more time preparing how I say something instead of what I say. Don’t get me wrong, presentation is important. But maybe youth sometimes need less flash in preaching and more content.

So what does this look like? Here are a few suggestions for those who work with youth. First, preach through biblical books or major passages. This will give students a more complete exposure to God’s Word. Second, tackle some deeper issues. Look into topics such as the Trinity, the purpose of God, or the three phases of salvation. These are topics that may not have an easily discovered application but are vital to our Christian faith. Finally, spend more time in preparation. Crack open those commentaries, refer to some of the previously mentioned great theologians in our church history, or reference the wealth of sermons online at places such as Finally, challenge students to take steps to grow in their faith outside of church. Encourage them to memorize Scripture, develop a bible reading plan, and read some challenging books.

Our churches today are full of adults who are immature in their faith. One way to solve this problem is to provide our teenagers now with a faith that is deep, intellectual and authentic. This will enable the next generation of leaders in the church to possess a more mature and solid faith.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

American Idol and Joy in God

Surprisingly in a recent episode of American Idol I was prompted to think about why I strive to do what is right. This particular episode had a theme of giving back to the needs of various organizations around the world. Throughout the show they showed clips of the various needs in places such as Africa and urban areas in LA. The highlight of the night was a particular company agreed to donate to charity .10 for every person who called to vote for their favorite performer up to 50 million calls. This would total a maximum donation of 5 million dollars.

My jaded nature came out as my first reaction was one of cynicism. I thought this company is getting a great deal. True they are donating up to 5 million dollars to charity but they are getting major advertising throughout the show and a great public relations spin. This company isn’t doing just to help needy people. They are doing this to benefit themselves! This was just a selfish media spin to promote their name and get a lot of advertising.

Or was it? I was assuming that just because this company benefited from the act of kindness that it was therefore not virtuous or sincere. Is that true? Is the amount of virtue in an action determined by the lack of benefit to the person performing the action? In other words is a good deed only good if it does not benefit the one performing the good deed? If the deed is done in a totally selfless and non-beneficial manner does that make it better? Philosophers such as Kant would seem to think so.

All of this forces me to ask, “why do I do good things?” And to take it one step further, “why do I sometimes not do the right thing?” Why do I try to help those in need? Why am I faithful to my wife? Why do I try to be a good father? I think ultimately it is because I will benefit from it. I believe there is great joy to be found in being obedient to God. This is because God is our Creator. He has designed us to live and work a certain way. When we are obedient to His will we are happy. When we are disobedient we experience hardship and frustration. So why am I not always obedient? Because I often forget this truth. I buy into the lie that doing things my way will make me happier.

John Piper notes that our obedience to God is for our satisfaction. God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him. When we obey God we are doing so in order to be satisfied. Therefore, our Christian obedience is done out of a desire to gain something, joy in God. When I read my bible, share my faith, or help a person in need I do so knowing these things will bring me a true sense of joy and satisfaction. As a result the person whom I have helped has their needs met and I have the joy of serving and being obedient to Christ.

One example that Piper often uses highlights this idea. Suppose my wife asks, “why do you love me?” “Because when I am with you I am full of joy. You make me feel good. I enjoy being around you. You bring such happiness to my life.” If I respond in this way my wife is not going to call me selfish. She is not going to say that I am only around her because she makes me feel good. The reason for this is my desire to be around her brings glory and honor to her. In this relationship my wife’s need to be loved is met and my desire to be happy is met by being around her.

So, I guess I owe an apology to the company donating millions of dollars to charity. You can in fact do a good deed and benefit from it yourself.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Jesus: A Leadership Failure?

Go to any bookstore and you will find a host of books on leadership. Many promoting ideas on how to be an effective leader. However, no matter what type of leader you are, you will still experience some forms of failure. In today’s society failure is considered a sign of weakness. Only the incompetent experience failure. Truly good leaders will never experience problems with those they lead. However, Scripture seems to disagree with this.

Don’t believe me look at the life of Jesus. In Matthew 26 Jesus is betrayed. After pouring 3 years of His life into the twelve disciples Jesus is handed over by Judas. In Mark 10 we see division within the disciples. They experienced inner turmoil as they fought amongst themselves for a better position of power and importance. And finally Jesus was abandoned by His followers. During His darkest hour Jesus was totally abandoned by those whom He discipled. One of which promised to die with Him if necessary.

What can we learn from this? Even the Son of God experienced difficulty when leading groups of people. Why? Because He was leading sinful people. We are no different. When leading we must keep in mind that we will encounter our share of hardship and frustrations. This is common to both the experienced and novice leader. What determines our leadership ability is how we handle these difficulties.

Good leaders entrust themselves to God. They realize that their ministry is a gift from God. Any good fruit that results from their leadership is a result of God’s grace working in and through them. Good leaders work hard for the Lord and entrust the results to Him.

Good leaders do not get distracted by traitors in the camp. Every church has people that will seemingly betray us. They will pull away after we have invested time and energy into them. They will suddenly lead attacks against us or try to steer things in a different direction. Some of these people need to be dealt with directly. At other times it is best to simply ignore them and move forward. The key is to not let them get you off course. You are God’s person. You have been given the call to lead your area. Therefore, move forward and don’t be sidetracked.

Good leaders do not allow others to drain their passion and intensity for ministry. Some people are negative. They see only the dark side of things. These people can become a distraction and discouragement. A good leader must continually seek Christ through His Word for encouragement and renewal in order to maintain their passion. They must learn to lovingly ignore those who are by nature negative and focus on the fruit being produced in the lives of others. All the while praying that the Lord would also convict and renew those who may provide the discouragement.

Good leaders persevere. One of the biggest temptations in leadership is to give up. Give up on people, on the ministry, on God, on your own ability to lead. However, good leaders persevere through all of the disappointments, challenges, and failures. In the Christian life perseverance is key to our faith. This is true also of our leadership. When we persevere to the end we are at times allowed to see the benefits of our labor. Take for example Jesus’ own following. If we had left them just after His crucifixion we would be given the impression that they would never amount to anything. But as we know from reading the book of Acts God used those men to change the world by spreading the Gospel.

All Roads Lead to Heaven. Really?

All roads lead to heaven. That seems to be the popular view when discussing the afterlife. From Oprah to the average person on the street all faiths lead to the same destination. This may be partly due to the fact that there are so many faiths in our world. Therefore, no one wants to say that everyone else is wrong and they are right. Instead, it is not so much what you believe that is important, but how you believe. A person goes to heaven not based on a correct belief but in the passion and sincerity with which they believe.

However, this view does not work in other areas of life. For example, 2 + 2 = 4. It does not equal 5 or any other number. Or take money as an example. If you owe a person $100 and you try to pay the debt with a $10 bill you will still owe $90. And finally, directions. If you want to go from Los Angeles to New York City across the US by car you must travel east. You cannot get there by going north or south. In each of these scenarios there is only one possible solution. In practically every area of life people have no problem with only one solution to a situation. No one is saying that 2+2 should also equal 6 so as not to offend others. No one is suggesting that we make $10 equal to $100 to make it easier for people to pay debts. Yet in the area of religion and admission to heaven we swing the door wide open for all to enter as they choose.

As we look at Scripture we see that all are welcome to spend eternity in heaven but not as they choose. The invitation is open to all but only through the one way provided. In John 14:6 Jesus says that He is the only way to be saved. A person can gain access to heaven through Him alone. It is only by accepting Christ as Savior and Lord that a person can spend eternity with God.

To some this may seem offensive. Many will say that people are being excluded from heaven. However, Jesus does not exclude people from eternal life. The invitation is open to all who will call upon Him for salvation. Yes it does require a denial of false beliefs. However, if you were wrong would you not want to know and believe what is true?

On September 11 the tragedy that occurred exposed a major flaw in the belief that all roads lead to heaven as long as the believer is sincere and genuine. The men who crashed planes into buildings were practicing their beliefs with extreme devotion. So if you want to say that all roads lead to heaven then you must also say that what those men did was not wrong. They were simply doing what they believed their faith taught. However, if you believe that heaven can only be accessed through one person, Jesus Christ, then you have the ability to call what they did evil and reprehensible.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Organized Religion

“I believe in God, I just don’t like organized religion.” This seems to be a growing view among many who consider themselves spiritual. As a result some church leaders suggest eliminating much of the structure and organization found in our churches in order to allow people to experience a more fluid relationship with God. Religion has now become the enemy. We must rid ourselves of anything that resembles it.

However, I think caution is needed when examining these issues. Some churches do have too many outdated programs that do not minister effectively. Church has become irrelevant to many people. Sometimes the organization in the church makes it difficult at times to do ministry.

But let’s not throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Maybe organization and structure is not the enemy. Maybe programs are not the reason people are not satisfied with church. Maybe the problem lies with the people creating and implementing the programs and organizations. Organization is a neutral thing that is not inherently evil. What determines if an organization is good or bad is the people running it.

Furthermore, Scripture is full of people who were organized and implemented programs. In the Gospels Jesus organizes the twelve disciples for ministry and sends out seventy disciples to minister to the region.. In Acts we see the formation of the deacon ministry and Paul describes the elder as an organizational leader in 1 Timothy.

So what are we to do? Instead of starting over with how we organize our churches we simply clean them up. Here are some suggestions.

First, always have a specific goal and purpose for your program. Without purpose a church can stay busy but not actually meet any needs. Churches need to know what they want to accomplish and how to accomplish it.

Second, frequently examine your programs and organizations. If they become too complicated and inhibit ministry get rid of them. If they do not fulfill the mission of the church they need to be cut. Too often churches hold on to irrelevant or dead ministries for the sake of tradition.

Third, keep it simple and do it well. Each church has an unlimited number of good things that they can do. As a result many churches end up doing too many things poorly. It is better to say no to some things and do a few things with excellence.

Fourth, minister to real needs. What are the needs of the community? How can the church help? These are questions to ask when deciding on what ministries to initiate. The church must be careful to focus as much on the needs of the community as well as the needs of the congregation.

Finally, keep Christ as the center. Although this seems obvious how often do we become guilty of losing our ultimate reason for ministry. Our goal as the body of Christ is to bring glory and honor to the Savior. We must always remember that all ministry is for the glory of God.

Theme Park Church

Have you ever been to a theme park? Growing up outside of Dallas/Ft. Worth I loved going to Six Flags. It was always fun to ride the newest coaster and eat my fill of funnel cake. As I survey the church landscape in America I believe many churches experience difficulties because they are more like a theme park than a church. Churches that start with a vision and passion for expanding the kingdom of God stall or decline because they follow a theme park vision instead of a Biblical mandate. This can be seen in three areas.

Facilities vs. Ministry A theme park is best known for its facilities. Enormous amounts of money are poured into the newest rides. They have immaculate grounds, nice restaurants, and eye catching shops. And rightly so. After all, who would want to go to a theme park that is trashy and run down? Although this works well for the theme park is it the best philosophy for the church? Some churches spend huge amounts of money on buildings and comparatively little on ministry. We spend a disproportionate amount of our tithe money to pay bills, building notes, or paint. As a result little is left to do the work of ministry. We end up focusing more on maintenance than on ministry. Buildings and facilities are important but they must be kept in proper focus.

In Ephesians 2:21 Paul notes that the building God is concerned with is not a physical building but a spiritual one. He notes that God is in the process of building a new holy temple for Himself and we are the building materials. This is the true building that believers need to focus on. We are called to be more concerned about ministry than maintenance.

Entertainment vs. Service Why does someone go to a theme park? The obvious answer is entertainment. This entertainment mentality has crept into the church, as well. Church should be an exciting and encouraging place to attend. However, it is not a place to be entertained. People attend church expecting to be served and entertained. If the church does not offer instant gratification and excitement it is severely critiqued or abandoned. Churches are filled with people who sit but do not serve. As a result, it becomes easy to negatively critique aspects of the church in which people are not actively serving such as the music, the preaching, or the most recent program.

Scripture offers a better alternative to this. In Ephesians 4:11,12 Paul notes that God gifts His people to serve, not to be served. Every believer is called to serve. We are not to go to church to be entertained. We are to go to serve others and be discipled in the Word of God.

Come and See vs. Go and Tell A theme park has a come and see mentality. They spend their time and resources making their facilities a place that everyone will want to see. The expectation is for people to travel sometimes large distances to come and see what they have to offer. Unfortunately, the church has bought into this line of thinking as its only form of evangelism. Many in our churches operate with the mentality that a lost world will arrive on our doorstep asking for more information on Jesus Christ. This is not the case.

Christianity is no longer a driving influence in culture or thought. We live in a post Christian culture. The majority of Americans are not concerned about what churches are doing on Sunday. Furthermore, we cannot rely simply on church staff to create outreach programs to reach the lost.

In Matthew 28 Jesus provides us with another form of evangelism. We are called to make disciples as we go into the community. It is important that churches train their congregations to be ministers in their work, schools, and families. Evangelism is not just for the church staff it is for every Christian. Christianity is more than come and see, it demands us to go and tell.

It is important to ask a simple question. What is the purpose of the church? If the purpose is to build our own little kingdoms and adopt a theme park mentality for the local body I believe that the church in America will continue to decline and lose influence in our culture. However, if the purpose of the church is to make disciples of all peoples for the glory of God then I believe we are promised success by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.