Monday, October 23, 2017

Intentionalty

Like many people, I really don’t enjoy meetings.  In my opinion most of them are not very productive and I often leave them feeling as if nothing substantial had been accomplished.  Occasionally I will attend a meeting that proves to be the exception to the rule.  We will really accomplish something or (if I’m lucky) someone will say something truly profound.  Such was the case in one of our executive team meetings.  The guest speaker posed a question that really hit me. “What is the key element that is missing in the disciple making process today?” The answer, while short, was profound – “Intentionality.”

            The church isn’t intentional in its mission to make disciples.  We plan, promote and execute events without ever giving much thought to what we want to accomplish and hope that somehow something good will happen. I call this “ministry by accident.”  We continue aimlessly doing church the same way we always have and every now and then ministry occurs.  We rarely take the time to analyze what we are doing to determine if it is effective or not.  This is probably why one of the most familiar phrases uttered in a Baptist church is, “that’s how we’ve always done it before.”

            Baptists are, for the most part, great event planners, but we are ineffective disciple makers.  Every year Baptist put together some pretty impressive Vacation bible Schools, we send our youth on exciting mission trips and hold inspiring conventions.  Yet, for all our efforts, we see very few lives changed.  We see minimal spiritual growth.  We don’t see much discipleship.  Despite this uncomfortable reality, we continue to do the same thing, the same way, over and over again.  Given that we are steadily loosing ground, maybe it’s time to reevaluate our procedures.  Maybe it’s time to become intentional about making disciples.

            Being intentional about making disciples means asking questions.  It means setting objectives and goals.  It means doing things purposefully.  It means evaluating what was done to see how well it worked.  Admittedly, these are not things we are accustomed to or comfortable doing.  It is much easier to just put together really well planned events and let the chips fall where they may.

Our speaker said that he had recently visited a church that was celebrating the fact that they had eighty-five men registered for a Promise Keepers event.  He said, “That’s Great” and asked what they had planned as a follow up to the event.  Their response was, as often is the case, “Nothing.”  It seems their primary focus was on creating a great event experience and not necessarily on creating disciples.  No doubt they hoped that the event would serve in the disciple making process but with no follow up, with no reinforcement there would be no way to know.

It might be time for us to stop doing things simply because we have always done it that way before and start doing things purposefully. It might be time for us to be intentional.  It might be time for us to critically examine what we are doing and ask the tough questions.  What do we hope to accomplish?  How are we going to do it?  Is this the most effective and God honoring way?  Are we, as our Lord commanded, making disciples?

In His Service,

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The God of Our Own Choosing

            One of the highest grossing movies of 2006 was the Will Ferrell comedy, Talladega Nights.  It is a farcical look at the world of stock car racing and the fictional NASCAR sensation Ricky Bobby.  In one memorable scene Ricky’s family and his racing teammate have gathered around the table for dinner and are discussing their opinions about Jesus.

Cal: I like to picture Jesus in a tuxedo t-shirt cuz it says like I wanna be formal but I’m here to party too, cuz I like to party so I like my Jesus to party.
Walker: I like to picture Jesus as a ninja fighting off evil samurai. 
Cal: I like to think of Jesus with like giant eagle’s wings and singing lead vocals for Lynyrd Skynyrd with like an angel band and I’m in the front row…

            It is doubtful that the movie’s writers intended to spark a theological discussion with this scene, but this dialogue does highlight a couple significant characteristics of modern spirituality that should not be overlooked.

            In a world of personalization and customization it should not be surprising that many people assume God can be adapted to fit their own individual desires.  The question is no longer “Who is God?”  but “Who is God to me?”  It seems as if, for many people, God is not an actual being but a theoretical concept that can be adapted to fit into the life and worldview of the individual.  He exists only to fill in the blanks.

            One of the problems with a god who is defined by the believer is that the entire idea is internally inconsistent.  The idea that Jesus can be the Son of God for some people and not for others is impossible.  Either He is or He isn’t.  If He is not then Christians are deluding themselves.  If He is, then He is the Son of God for everyone.

            This type of tailor-made theology even exists in the evangelical Christian church.  Jesus is quite often thought of as an unassuming shepherd who loves unconditionally and expects little from His followers.  Seldom is He portrayed as the Righteous Judge who expects His followers to “pick up their cross daily.”  Like the characters in Talladega Nights, we create a god that is in accordance with our own desire, one who fits our need.  Quite often in the contemporary church the emphasis is not on discovering the truth but on developing a personal system of beliefs that conforms to our lifestyle.

            Consider for a moment – if God is God, (and I believe He is) then He is God regardless what we may personally think about Him.  He is who He is whether we worship Him, believe in Him, or ever even acknowledge Him.  His existence is in no way dependant on our opinions of Him.  In fact, a god who was dependant on our opinions for his existence would be no god at all.  We are free to form our own opinions about Him, but if our opinions about Him disagree with who He actually is, then we must accept the possibility that we are wrong.

            Our goal should be to know the truth, to know God.  We should seek to adapt to Him, not to try to make Him adapt to us.  He is, after all – God (and we’re not).

In His Service,

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Time to Empty the Junk Drawer

     In Paul’s first letter to Timothy he tells us that we come into this world with nothing and that we can take nothing out of it (1Tim. 6:7).  However, this doesn’t stop us from accumulating a bunch of stuff in between.  One of the defining marks of our society seems to be the accumulation of things. Some of the stuff we accumulate is functional and makes life a little easier; other stuff is more personal and serves to remind us of special moments or people in our lives.  Then there’s the stuff that seems to serve no purpose at all; the stuff that just seems to mysteriously appear.  Even though this stuff just seems to clutter things up, we can’t seem to get rid of it.  It takes up space in junk drawers, on the top shelves in our closets and in our garages.  It just seems easier to hide it in some out of the way corner than to actually throw it out.  While superfluous clutter is annoying, it usually isn’t harmful.  The same thing can’t be said about the emotional and spiritual clutter we allow to accumulate in our lives. 

     Let’s face it, life can take its toll.  Long gone is the blissful ignorance of youth.  As we grow we learn quickly that life is not always fair.  Solomon wrote, “there are righteous people who get what the actions of the wicked deserve, and there are wicked people who get what the actions of the righteous deserve” (Ecc. 8:14).  Almost everyone who has lived any time at all has firsthand experience with this truth.  In addition to the injustice of this world, we all deal with pain, death, betrayal and disappointment.  Each can add one more unwanted item to the junk drawer.  Over time we begin to feel the weight of this clutter that accumulated in the dark corners of our lives.  It begins to slow us down and prevents us from fulfilling God’s plan for our lives.  It can make us bitter, apprehensive, hesitant or just plain scared.  It weakens our faith.

     The writer of Hebrews tells us that we must “lay aside every weight and sin that so easily ensnares us, and run with endurance  the race that lies before us…”(Heb.12:1).  The idea of laying aside sin is pretty straightforward.  We cannot pursue sin and God simultaneously – we cannot serve two masters.  The “weight” to which he refers is a little less obvious.  It’s the drawer full of hurts and resentments that have accumulated over the years.  It’s that box of skepticism and disbelief that is stored on the top shelf in the closet.  It’s the distrust that was swept under the bed.  Sure this clutter has been hidden away, but it is still there.  It is still weighing us down.   Some of us have had this clutter so long that we’ve forgotten that it was there or even where it came from, but it is there none the less.

     Thankfully, the next verse tells us how we can lay down these weights.  It says that we need to keep “our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of or faith... (12:2).  Keeping our eyes on Jesus helps keep things in perspective.  It reminds us that no matter the situation, He is sufficient.  Keeping our eyes on Jesus reminds us of who He is and who we are in relation to Him.  It reminds us of what He did on our behalf and of His words on the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  Remember, those words were spoken while He was hanging by nails in His hands and feet.  How’s that for perspective?


     Through His death He affected forgiveness for us and made it truly possible for us to forgive others.  He conquered death and freed us from the fear that invades our lives.  He has given us a reason to believe and through Him our faith can be made perfect.  Can we even dare to imagine life without all of the resentment, fear and faithlessness that clutters it up?  Can we dare to live and love free of the weights that ensnare us?  Can we dare to clean out the junk drawer and accept the ‘abundant life” He offers?

In His Service,

Sunday, May 7, 2017

"Spiritual Doesn't Pay the Bills"

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…Well, it really wasn’t far, far away – but it was a long time ago.  When I was serving as a youth minister in my first staff position, my pastor asked me a question.

            “What comes out of a lemon when you squeeze it?”
            “Lemon Juice.”
            “No, what comes out of a lemon when you squeeze it is whatever is inside.”

His point was that all it takes is a little pressure to find out what people really are on the inside.  We can all play the game when times are good and things are going our way, but when life gets tough and a little pressure is applied – we all instinctively run to our safe place.  We turn to whomever or whatever we truly trust.  What’s on the inside comes out.

A few years ago, some church members were having an “after-meeting” meeting in the parking lot to discuss some of the issues facing their church.  Most of the discussion seemed to be focused on cost-cutting measures, since the immediate crisis seemed to be that expenditures exceeded giving.  In the midst of the conversation another member was asked to give his opinion.  He explained that the problems facing the church were not financial in nature, but were spiritual.  He further explained (rather emphatically) how the Bible gives clear answers to the problems that were being faced and how they were addressed spiritually.  To which he was rebuffed, “Spiritual doesn’t pay the bills.”

I don’t think I have heard a more revealing statement – “Spiritual doesn’t pay the bills.”  It reveals a heart that limits God’s province to areas of vague mysticism; a belief that God isn’t able to overcome real world problems.  It reveals the belief that through effort and ability man can accomplish anything he desires apart from God.  It reveals a faith that is nothing more than empty platitudes, devoid of conviction or genuine commitment. 

While few church members would ever dare to utter such a blatantly non-Christian statement, I fear that it is representative of a significant number of people in the church.  We loudly proclaim our belief in God on Sunday, but quietly live our lives as if He does not exist.  When we have to “pay the bills” we don’t submit to God and depend on His providential care, we lean on our own understanding.  We formulate our own schemes, we enact our own plans and we give only casual tribute to God.

That same pastor that asked me the question about lemons also taught me that every problem is a spiritual problem and has a spiritual solution.  He reminded me that we are engaged in a spiritual war that is often manifest in physical situations.  The danger is in failing to see the spiritual dimension and focusing solely on the physical manifestation; like treating the symptom without addressing the disease.


In every situation, we should stop and ask ourselves, “What is really going on here?”  We need to prayerfully look beyond the immediate dilemma and try to see the spiritual struggle.  “What spiritual condition has led us here?”  Paul reminds us that, “…our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.” (Eph 6:12 HCSB)  We cannot be fully engaged in the battle if we are not mindful of where it is being waged.

In His Service,


Monday, April 10, 2017

"What's Good Friday?"

     Yesterday afternoon Ronda was working with the Boys & Girls Club at her school and one of the girls asked her why they were out of school on Friday.   She replied, “It’s Good Friday.”  To which the girl queried, “What’s Good Friday?”  Of course, Ronda saw this as an invitation to share the Gospel.  She then spent the next few minutes explaining the significance of Good Friday and God’s plan for redemption to a group of middle school students.  Rarely are we afforded such obvious opportunities to share the Gospel, so when they come around we must take advantage of the moment.

     What is truly significant to me is the fact that a group of middle school students in central Florida did not understand the meaning of Good Friday.  They did not understand the necessity of Christ’s death for our sins and how it is related to His resurrection.  I wish I could believe that this was an anomaly; that they were the exception, but that’s not the reality in which we live.  The inconvenient truth is that we have allowed multiple generations to come of age without ever hearing an accurate presentation of the Gospel.

     How is it that in Florida, a state with over 2,300 Southern Baptist Churches reporting almost 1 million members, there could be entire segments of society that do not have an accurate understanding of the Gospel?  Well, the simple answer is that we as Christians do not feel compelled to share Christ with others.  When it comes to evangelistic responsibility, we have lost any sense of urgency.  We no longer seemed to be burdened about the lostness around us.

     Some of the first instructions we have from the resurrected Christ were evangelistic.  He told Mary Magdalene not to cling to Him, but to go and tell His brothers…and she did (John 20:17).  That seems to be a recurring theme on the day of His resurrection, people going and telling others.  They couldn’t help themselves, they had to share what they had seen.  They had to share their experience with the risen Christ.

     Imagine what would happen if we felt that same compulsion; that same need to tell others about our experiences with the risen Christ.  What kind of impact would the church have if we would seek out those who were lost and hurting; those without hope and we told them about Jesus.

     Instead of bunnies and eggs, maybe we should consider celebrating His resurrection the same way His disciples did, by going and telling.  Before Jesus ascended to heaven He said to His disciples…you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” (Acts 1:8) until no child has to ask “What’s Good Friday?”

In His Service,