Friday, March 14, 2014

Overlooking Deeper Rationale

I haven't pushed my last three blogs on FB, Twitter, etc, because I know that they have potential to offend, but maybe we can all be mature about it.

I had a discussion the other day with a man who had been the pastor at a church that was wrought with power brokers who desired to keep it just the way it was forever. He related to me the situation that led the church to a brighter future, even though it led to his departure from that ministry.

So I asked him how the church was doing now. He said it was doing really well. Then he continued with a big "although the current pastor and I would disagree on some things." The old saying goes, curiosity killed the cat, but now mine was aroused and I had to asked him "in what way?" Having only met him briefly one other time, and not knowing where I stood on any of this stuff, he commented about the way this young guy came out of seminary and follows guys like John Piper down to the "T". I just nodded, and continued asking about the church.

Ten years ago, Voddie Baucham once said how he had three beliefs that he held to which were not completely in line with typical SBC churches. The family integrated church model and his absolute advocacy for homeschooling did not cause him any true rejection in Southern Baptist life. However, he said, when he "came out" as a Calvinist, it cost him any respect and opportunity for service to the SBC.

"No… I’m not gay. It’s far worse than that.  I’m a Calvinist!  That’s right, I’m a fire-breathing, TULIP believing, five-point Calvinist.  That, my friends, is the unpardonable sin in contemporary Southern Baptist life (unless your name is Al Mohler and you've been President of the flagship Southern Baptist Theological Seminary since you were in your early thirties and happen to be the most intelligent, articulate, winsome public face the Convention has)."

But that was ten years ago. Even though there are no true Calvinists among Southern Baptists (those who would hold to infant baptism or the marriage of the church and the state), there has been a trend among Southern Baptists to lean that way, some further than others. In fact, there has been talk of a growing rift between those among us who are more reformed in our doctrine of salvation, and those who cling to a more General Baptist position (both of which are part of the heritage of baptists going back to the 1600's). And I am thankful for the ministry of wonderful presidents of the SBC and EC who have in the last few years been successful (in my opinion) at avoiding the rift and helping to keep extremism and name-calling and arrogance minimal. Seems like both groups have really refocused upon the gospel and the calling to spread it, rather than on us.

I do want to take a second and speak toward an often overlooked reason that SBC churches and pastors, seminary students, missionaries, etc, are moving to be more Calvinistic. And let me preview this: I am not a five-point Calvinist. Sorry to my five-point friends. But I only have a problem with a limited atonement, all the other points are good with me. Sorry to my non-Calvinistic friends. Obviously, I don't have time to get into an overview of the differences. On one side we be careful not to equate Calvinism with the gospel, and on the other side not to become anti-Calvinists. But I do think a reason that there is reason under the surface, not just in simple exegesis. It is the fact of the great big God that the Calvinistic baptists present.

It's not that the general baptists don't believe in that same big God, they do, it's just that they don't seem to express it as much or as well or as often. I think that people are drawn by the glory that they are helped to see by current more reformed speakers and writers, and only confirmed by the text of scripture. As far as the scripture goes, we all come with different preconceived notions which are hard to separate in our exegetical work.  But there is in all of us a longing for greatness, gloriousness, wonder, and awe in our God.

Maybe I am just completely wrong. Maybe it's just that the current Calvinistic Baptist speakers are the most persuasive. Maybe is the passion they exude. Maybe the pendulum will swing the other way in a few years. I don't claim to have all the answers, but this conversation the other day just made me think, because he was down on the pastor who followed him, not ever asking his story. I, for one, was very anti-Calvinistic all through seminary and into my first pastorate. I read several books by Piper and had a MacArthur study bible that I recommended people to get, but to be on guard against his Calvinism. But one book (The Pleasures of God by Piper) described God in such a way, expanded my brain and soul on His being, that I was overcome.  And he also, in the footnotes (praise the Lord, I HATE end notes, they are of the devil), and rationale for a more reformed understanding of God. It was strange. I wanted to embrace more of a position that I had warned against. It was (and is) a journey of understanding, and I definitely leave room for my error, but that's why I argue, not just to argue. I know that I don't have God figured out. None of us do. If we did, He wouldn't be much of a God, and we definitely couldn't speak of His immensity, His limitlessness, or His incomprehensibility. Don't think that simple exegesis, simple experience, or even simple logic is the end all, or the winning reason. Ask.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Best Laid Plans

"The best laid plans of mice and men..." was one of the last lines in Scotsman Robert Byrnes' poem from 1785. Now we use it, as he did, to speak of things of great dreams and meticulous planning going awry. And so it is with us.

I write this time under personal conviction.  Maybe it is too soon to write them. Maybe I am overstating. Maybe I shouldn't. I am definitely not singling out any particular person, except for me. And this could definitely apply to many groups. But here is where I have failed:

My hope and plan was to make disciples. To make disciples differently. To use my time differently, with more of a kingdom intentionallity. After seeing writing on the wall, I abandoned hope in a group. And here is the convicting part for me: I could have gone out and started doing exactly what I said I wanted to do. And this is not to say that I never will, but I have moved to a neighborhood...tons of people. I can hit their houses with rocks. I can't even practice hitting softballs with my daughter, because we can't find a place to hit where we won't hit a house or a car. But I haven't invited my new neighbors into my home. We have spoken to a few, but never extended hospitality to any other than the ones we already knew. I know of others who have been in the same boat, and not been able to connect, but it's no excuse for my lack of trying.

Time escapes us. Doors isolate us. TV and cell phones entertain us. "Going to church" soothes us. But our great plans have gone awry. May this only be a short diversion, then a fresh beginning into a new life of making disciples everywhere we go.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Thank You For Moms

I love the Olympics! Certain events grab my attention more than others, but there are only a few that are totally a bore.  I love to watch the snowboarding, and the downhill skiing.  Can't imagine flying so high and turning flips or flying down hills at 80 mph covering 2500 of elevation. It's a little like NASCAR (which I don't watch), I like to see the crashes, as long as they don't get hurt.  The slow motion is cool. I also love figure skating! Don't like the falls in this one. In fact, my heart skips a beat, I hold my breath, and I worry every time everyone jumps on the ice. Watching that 15 yr-old phenom from Russia skate by herself, wow. She was awesome, and made it look so effortless. The pairs is my favorite, though.  I love it when it looks like they are in love; guess I'm a romantic. And I read a post the other day about how the pairs figure skating is such a display of God's design for roles in marriage.

If you have been watching, you have surely seen the ads sponsored by Proctor and Gamble about the investments of moms into the lives of Olympians. Nothing wrong with thanking moms and giving them the praise they deserve. And they do deserve it! But along with the culture, the liberal media intentionally choose to avoid the role of fathers.  Even in the camera pictures, they always show the moms anxiously waiting outcomes, and watching their precious children compete.

Just a couple of thoughts from my soapbox. 1) I have been watching with my children.  And I wonder if the subtle message is being injected into their minds.  I know I sound like a conspiracy theorist, but the culture affects our worldviews.  Do our kids think: Mom is a hero, and dad is there too, somewhere. What a great picture of the biblical family for them to see. Whatever. Even if it is not your children, the major network choices reinforce this concept in a way that does women no favors (nor their families). Other media outlets do the same, sitcoms and dramas for instance.  Most feature bumbling fathers, or absentee dads whose lives are in trouble because the are stupid, or because they are out with their buds or other women. News shows and documentary types are always highlighting the new intentionally stay-at-home dads or so-called (and oxymoronic) gay marriage. OK, now I am being a sexist, right?  Equality before God, yes.  Role distinction, yes! Where are the ads about dads?

2) I do think that men have contributed to our own portrayal. What is manhood?  When does it begin? The Jews knew. But our culture has created a time called "adolescence" which gives our sons the time to "sow their wild oats" and be irresponsible till they graduate college.  And some go on past that living in the basement till their 30's. We have not taken our place as leaders and role models. We need to stand up and be the heroes and the protectors. We need to be the spiritual leaders of our homes. How many men I've seen led by their wives and children to go to church here, or lead the family in making them go at all.  We don't disciple our children and we don't lay down our lives for our wives as Christ did for His.  In the church, most of the workers are women, with men standing idly by.

Come on, men! The gauntlet is laid before us through the life of Jesus and through the lives of the saints and martyrs who have gone before.  Strong and powerful at times.  Willing to die at times. Willing to comfort and still broken hearts at times. Willing to confront sin within and mortify it without. Walking closely and humbly with their God all the time.  We need men to be men, not men like our culture defines it, but real men, who love Jesus, and strive with all their heart not to waste their lives, but demonstrating Christ to the world.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Valentine's Day

No, I'm not going to give you the "real" history of St. Valentine, or just argue why we should or shouldn't celebrate or enjoy the day. I just want to think about something that I heard this morning related to it.

I was listening to the radio and they were talking about V-D.  They gave a statistic that said the average person spends $100 on V-D cards, gifts, or dinners. I guess I'm not average at my house.  So anyway, one of the female hosts asked the male hosts: other than gifts, what is the number thing that a spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend can say to them feel special" (I think some research had be done, missed the very first of the conversation).

So the guys thought a little, and decided it had to be some words of affirmation, but they never really gave any guesses that were specific. So, she revealed that according to the study, the words, "You make me happy," were the best and highest on the list. So, then they began to analyze why that would make their wives feel special. "Do I so certain things to make her happy?" Or "do I say things that make her happy."  Or, "is it just being there." And the female host said that they were getting closer with the last one.  But the deepest answer is not simply being there, but just being.  Telling your wife that she makes you happy just because she is, and she is in your life. She exists. God made her. She is special all on her own. She just is.

Then I thought, we should be like that with God. Usually we aren't. We say that we enjoy Him because He has done so much for us. Or we say we enjoy Him because He loves us, or because He listens to us or answers prayer or saves us from sin or hell. But again, the deepest level is that He just is! We enjoy God because He is. He exists, has always and will always. He is faithful, just, true, sovereign, holy, infinite, zealous, glorious, immeasurable, eternal, wonderful, satisfying, awesome, marvelous, independent, loving, merciful, righteous, all-knowing, omnipotent, and the list could go on. He is, and He is in our lives, for those who are born again to the living hope He provides.

So, this V-D, and every day for that matter, tell your spouse they make you happy (if you really mean it); it will bless them. And more importantly, tell your God that you love Him with passion affection because He is!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


"For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice..." -Zechariah 4:10

In the last couple of weeks I have been reminded of how small I think. When I think of success, I think about winning. When I think about church growth, I think about adding people and baptisms. When I think about ministry, I think about maintaining what we've got, and maybe adding a couple of more good ideas sprinkled in the mix. When I think about missions, I think about one place or a few mission trips to an area.  When I think about devotional life, I think about sitting down and once a day and having a few moments of prayer, and checking off my bible reading for the day. When I think about discipling my family, I think about reading the bible and having a 5-10 minute discussion with my girls at night before they go to sleep and praying over meals.

So minimal. So small. I used to pray that God would not let me be sucked into complacency and a maintenance mindset. God has not failed, but I am sure that I have failed Him. So three times now challenged, and I want to summarize those challenges to you, so that your vision may increase in size and depth and length (and so I can write it down, lest I forget myself).

1) This first time was in a meeting with the president, CEO, and founder of a global milti-million dollar business that I was meeting with that day. He has invented a process of production of agricultural products never known before. And now that he has the warehouse, he is expanding the products that they make, and moving into completely new inventions and innovations on existing products totally unrelated to the current line. He is investing in our Pregnancy Care Center in a spectacular way by giving us 20% of any online order that is made; right out of his pocket, off the top, not added to the price! So I was there to update him on how the project is going. He wanted things to be marked with excellence, and some of the things we were doing to make the video part of this deal work (which by the way, he is paying for the production of), he wanted to be redone because it wasn't just right. Then he began to talk about his passion for ending abortion and saving the lives of unborn children with great zeal. He said that if he had to build a store in every shopping center in every town across the nation, he would do that. What ever it takes. I was just thinking about funding our center, he was thinking about funding all the centers in the US, and beginning PCCs all over the world. If it worked with us, he said, we can duplicate it all around the country and the world. I was embarrassed that my thinking was so small, and challenged to think bigger.

2) Second time was with a spiritual mentor of mine who had been on a recent trip to central America. He was a part of a team that helped work at an independent (not affiliated with a denomination) mission ministry. This ministry had a hospital and a school, so the team went for a week and helped out. Both ministries (hospital and school) were non-profit, pay if you can, but nobody turned away. While there, the head of the ministry told them that his goal was to be fully self-sustaining in five years. This was a ministry that had been established twenty years ago. But it had recently acquired some property, and was in the process of gaining income from agriculture and cutting expenses, to be self-sufficient. For example, he said that he currently pays $5000/mo ($60,000/year) in electricity costs. But for $120,000, he could install solar panels and eliminate that expense from there on out. Non-profit ministries usually totally rely on individual donors and churches for donations. But he says we don't always want to rely on "hand outs." Novel thought, not continually, eternally dependent on donations. Again, I am an advancement manager for a non-profit, and have never thought of being self-sustaining.

3) Third time was at a training for directors of missions of association of local baptist churches. One of the speakers gave a bunch of statistics about all the unchurched in our towns and projection to future stats. Blah, blah, blah, they always do that; and they are always depressing. But then he talked about evaluating our town and aiming to reach entire segments, or having large goals that wouldn't have been considered attainable. Specifically, he talked about prayer networking to undergird these goals. He talked about cross-denominational partnerships and prayer meetings (shhh, don't tell other baptists), and he talked about experiencing results to the level of history books that write about us as having the Third Great Awakening coming in our day. Taking our whole city! Involving all the churches.  My goal would be to have been that my churches growing (which is actually not a good indicator of church vitality) and not dying. Guess I never have dreamed to reach the city. I have thought of getting all my churches together; most recently of getting at lest 2/3 of our pastors to the retreat this weekend, rather than the normal 1/3 or less.  But gathering the whole city of churches for prayer and ministry! Again, embarrassed for having such small-minded thoughts.

As I went to the conference again yesterday, I was praying and thinking, WHY? Why do we get caught up in such small-mindedness? I believe that our thoughts about God are small--His incomprehensibility, infinitude, magnitude, power, His immeasurability, independence, holiness, and we could never stop. Tozer said it like this:  

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.
For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God.” -The Knowledge of the Holy 

I also believe the culture, both within and without the church has dulled our capacity to dream about the kingdom's victories and expanse. We are focused on earthly, temporary things that are small in God's sight. Television, the Super Bowl, fashion, cooking, cars, guns, even the upcoming Olympics consume and cloud our spiritual acumen. Within the church preferences, buildings, budgets, fights, quarrels, broken relationships, comfort, apathy, routine, and maintenance ruin our ability to dream big, all-encompassing dreams
God, help us to despise the days of small things, throw off the cultural influences and our capitulation to them, and fix our gaze on You, thinking thoughts that are worthy of you. Give us disciples that would explode the norm for Christianity in the south, in America, and in the world with giant impact for the kingdom because of giant dreams!

Indeed He says,
‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
To raise up the tribes of Jacob,
And to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles,

That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ”  -Isaiah 49:6

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Concern for Unbelievers

I don't write too often about hell. In fact, I can't remember ever writing on it, although a fully believe in it, and have preached directly or indirectly about it often. I do remember one time, very early after my conversion that I did have a t-shirt that said, "Turn or Burn" with some cool artwork. Probably not the best way to communicate the gospel. Among evangelical circles today, same thing. We believe it, we are just a little more sensitive about how we speak of it. Unfortunately when the culture thinks about our mentioning of hell, it's in the context of the quote, "hell, fire and brimstone" preaching. This picture is the best google image had to offer about hell and evangelism. Although not the best, it represents the other half of what we were talking about the other night.

As is our pattern, the girls and I are reading through the bible at night before bed. We have read the NT together in 2013. We are now into the book of Revelation, and they are seeing and taking in the destruction that will one day be. And we talked about how different people view the book in different ways, because my 8-year-old says she "doesn't get it." But obviously any way you view the book, what will take place at the end is not going to be fun.

It was here that my surprise, heartbreak, and pleasure came all at the same time. They were concerned about unbelievers. They understood that the seals and the trumpet blasts and the huge parts of the earth that were destroyed, and huge numbers of people that were going to die. This is what we believe, what the bible teaches, and what they understand.  But to have them show deep concern was heartbreaking.  Here's why: they expressed their concern by asking the question like this, "what if we get to heaven and ___________ is not there?" They didn't say "so and so" or the nations that don't have the gospel (although they know and share that passion with their dad), they named names. They said what if my friend _________ is not there?  What if our family member ____________ is not there?  They understood that people who are close to us are not following Christ, and will experience a terrible judgment during the end.

I explained that God's mercy extends to those up to the end. But they said there is no one to tell them, for they don't gather with a church or they live away from churches. I explained that God can open a person's heart from any distance and through many ways and tried to give them hope and comfort that there is still time left, and an ample supply of mercy. I used the testimony of how I believe that God reached out to my dad right before he died to bring him to know Christ without a church to guide him. I tried to hide the tears that rolled down my face because of their concern, not sure if I could. I was sad because of unbelief, but glad because they understood judgment and the need for conversion and evangelism. Again the saddest part was that they understood people close to us may spend eternity in hell. May God continue to fan that flame and not let their hearts be lulled into complacency.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Make No Exceptions

This Sunday was Sanctity of Life Sunday and was used as a reminder of the biblical principal that God holds the keys to life and death; that the image of God is imprinted on every man, woman, and child (born or preborn); and that from the moment of conception, we have a person who's days are numbered out before him/her, and who is known by his Maker.  I hope that it was focused on in gathering with your church at some level, for it is a matter of life and death for 1.5 million people in our country, as well as their mothers and fathers.

I had a woman stop by a booth that we had brought to a festival in a neighboring county. Since the clinic side of our Pregnancy Care Center is known as Women's First Choice Medical, she asked if we were against abortion.  I told her that we believed that children were a gift from God, and did not believe in abortion. She said that she didn't believe in abortion either unless the children were going to be born into a home that they would have single parents who would treat them poorly.  WHAT? I was probably not very sensitive, but I asked her if she preferred murder over a hard life?  "Oh no, that's not what I said," she remarked. I didn't take time to engage with her much more as she seemed to be moving along and rather caught off guard by the implication that abortion was murder.  BUT, that was exactly was she was saying!

In light of our culture's commonly held justifications for abortions (rape, incest, children with birth defects (funny how Jesus would not call it that John 9:3, or poor environments in which to be born), I think it is good that we go back to biblical teaching to deal with it, AND THINK. Now in reality, this only applies to a little over 1% of the number of abortions performed. But if God knits together a meter long strand of 23 paternal chromosomes with another maternal strand (and Job 10:11, David in Psalm 139:13-16, and Jeremiah 1:5 explicitly say, and many other passages imply by granting conception), and makes, at that point, a baby; is there a reason to think that He doesn't knit together babies who are formed under circumstances other than planned and intended within wedlock?

Doesn't He fashion and know those children (the name by which all babies in the womb are called in scripture) set in motion through rape and incest, we see that in the bible in the cases of Lot's daughters, Tamar, and Bathsheba.  Doesn't He oversee the formation of the lame and blind and seeing and deaf--Exodus 4:11. A study was done at a Boston hospital that showed that 92% of women who have a prenatal diagnosis of down syndrome aborted. Why, because they didn't want the child to live with difficulty? Because they didn't want to take care of her? Because the child communicated to them that he didn't want to live? Children of rape, even for all it's terrible consequences are formed by God bringing all things to good (Romans 8:28). Children molded in the womb of unwed mothers cohabiting, "hooking up," fornicating are formed by God using sin to grant the world a new life. Children of incest were formed by God allowing what He called sin to set in motion life, which He alone gives. Children with deformities are formed by God, blessing their families with lifelong heartache and joy that they would not trade for anything, whether that life is long or short-lived. Some of those ones that are predicted by doctors to be short-lived defy the odds and the doctors just to testify that God fashions our bones, organs, and muscles, but also our days, and He says when they begin and when they end.

There are no exceptions. Period. As a christian, do not let the world talk you into "exceptions." Some believers look for wiggle room, but know that biblically, logically, and philosophically, there is none. Be sensitive, loving, but stand up for all the unborn children in every case.