Monthly Archives: December 2007

Nothing!?!

During this Christmas season my mind has been drawn toward the incredible humility displayed by Jesus. None of us can fathom what Jesus gave up to become a man, better yet an infant born in a messy stable. Imagine closing your eyes in the throne room of the Kingdom of heaven and opening your eyes to the stark reality of living on planet earth.

Paul shared with the Phillipians that Jesus “became nothing” or others have translated “emptied himself” and took on the flesh and blood of a servant ( a common ordinary bond slave). What stirred in the heart of Jesus that enabled him to humble himself and “become nothing” for the glory of God, and for our salvation.

Most of us aspire to become “someone” while Jesus chose the path to become “nothing”. Did He know something about life that we fail to see. In a our pursuit of significance and importance do we lose living in His image while we grasp making a name for ourselves.

As I enter my 48th year I have to admit I am struggling with my midlife crazies. I am spending too much time concerned about measuring up and keeping up. I need a good dose of reality from Jesus’ perspective. True spiritual power rests upon those who learn to be “nothing” so the purposes of God can be accomplished serving the Lrod with great abandonment.

Sunday my family and I had the opportunity to worship with First Baptist Church of Dallas. (My wife Robyn grew up in this great church and was baptized by W.A. Criswell, so this was a trip back down memory lane for her). What Texas Baptist pastor has not dreamed of preaching from the pulipit that great heroes like George Truitt and W.A. Criswell preached from? Joel Gregory chased this dream to his own demise. As I looked around at the trappings and the grandeour of this great house of worship I looked back over my ministry with suspect. Where did I go wrong? Ego often distracts worship. Then O.S. Hawkins turned to the text of Revelation 1, and took us to the rocky island of Patmos with John who was in the “Spirit” on the Lord’s Day. At the close of his journey this “disciple that Jesus loved” found himself in exile, but not alone. The One who claimed “nothingness” as His own met John in all His power and glory. Simple lesson: Pay attention David–it is about me not you. It’s about my Kingdom not yours. Joy comes to those who learn to bow down and worship the King.

I am be a slower learner, but at least I am paying attention!

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The Dawn of a New Day

This afternoon the Executive Board announced the selection of Jan Daehnert as the interim Executive Director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. This selection is good news for those seeking change and progress in the life of the convention. Daehnert is a good, honest, hard-working leader who knows how to build bridges and bring people together around the same table.

This move also gives time to the Executive Director Search Committee to continue to do their work in seeking the right leader for tomorrow. It is critically important that the right leader be found to lead us into the future. I am still holding out for a “constructive conservative” who can live in the tension of the extremes, and yet move us forward with a bold, daring vision.

 For those seeking change we are witnessing what I hope is the dawn of a new day. Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.” I am thankful to John Petty and our Executive Board for helping us to take a step forward.

When Daehnert takes the helm in a few weeks a fresh breeze of hope and anticipation should fill the halls of the Baptist Building. This fresh wind of the Spirit will enable our staff to keep their shoulders to the plow during this time of transition. Political maneuvering will be left to those with too little to do, and the real work of the Kingdom will be put on the front burner.

 C.S. Lewis made a keen observation about progress when he wrote:

 “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.

 It is my prayer that we have begun the “about-turn” that we need to unite our churches and people around a common, compelling vision of tomorrow. I don’t believe we are completely on the wrong road, but we do need a course adjustment if we hope to arrive together on the other side.

 At the appointed time, our Lord “set his face resolutely to go to Jerusalem”. This decisive action of our Savior set the course of history, and laid the foundation of our salvation. Dramatic change in the Kingdom demands one “set” his or her face toward the will of God on the horizon. I pray God will cause us as one people to “set” our faces toward the advance of the Kingdom of God in Texas and around the world in our day.

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The Best Christmas Gift of All

For children the celebration of Christmas often revolves around presents under the lights of the tree. Those brightly wrapped boxes hold the wonderful mystery of Christmas.  Will they find deep inside the box the toy they have stayed awake at night dreaming about?

 Many have traced the tradition of giving Christmas presents back to the Wise Men who brought to the newborn King gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. This traditional is alive and well in North America where the fate of retailers rests on the excessive spending of shoppers during this season. Christmas has come a long way from an infant King sleeping wrapped in blankets in a stable.

In 1957 Dr. Seuss released his latest children’s book entitled How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Not since Charles Dickens’ Scrooge had there been a Christmas character as dark and mean spirited as the Grinch, who swept into Whoville in the dark of the night and stole all the Christmas presents. To his amazement on Christmas morn he heard the sounds of Christmas below in the village.

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.

The ol’ Grinch that fateful day discovered the mysterious secret of Christmas. You cannot buy it in a store, or receive it wrapped in bright paper with a big bow. No Christmas happens in the heart.

The first Christmas gift was not gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The first Christmas gift was wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. It was God himself taking on flesh and blood and giving Himself to us. The secret of giving the best Christmas present of all is not where you shop or what you buy. The secret is giving yourself to those you love just like Jesus!

This Christmas love others like Jesus loved you and discover the true meaning of Christmas deep in your heart.

 Merry Christmas!

 

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Baptist General Convention of Texas: Embrace Our Future Together (Part 7 System-Sensitive Decision Making)

Systems-Sensitive Decision Making

Recently Charles Wade wrote a blog calling attention to the fact the church was a “body not a bunch”. He called attention to the vast difference between an “organism” versus an “organization”. To understand the dynamics of the local church on a small scale or the inner workings of the Baptist General Convention of Texas on a large scale one must take into account that both of these organizations are “alive” and exhibit the characteristics of a “living being”.

Paul noted this in his astute description of the church as the “body of Christ”. He pointed out the interdependence of every part of the body. He called for the church members to value each other deeply even though there were dramatic differences in their functions and perceptions. A simple lesson from his teaching is “unity is a given”. When disunity is present there is something fundamentally wrong with the relationships or connections between the people of God.

In light of our interdependence it is critical that when decisions are made that those empowered to make these decisions take into account the ripple effect through out the system of their actions. Just like when a hammer hits a thumb the entire body reacts with a jerk, and a few choice words. Every decision impacts the whole system whether we want it to or not. Good leaders must take a “big picture” view of things are dire consequences can occur.

A few years ago I led our staff to address a worship problem. Our contemporary worship service was consistently lasting until 12:15 p.m. (Obviously I was preaching too long!) In an effort to end our service closer to noon, and to prevent a mutiny among our nursery workers we discussed what to do. Our staff under my “keen” leadership decided to move the 11:00 a.m. service to 10:50 a.m. Therefore we would have ten extra minutes for me to preach! There was only one major problem with our decision. We solved the getting out of church late problem but we robbed our Sunday School of ten minutes to accomplish their vital mission. The leaders of the Sunday School responded to our solution in two ways. One group cut back on their ministry, and the other group kept on doing what they had always done and just showed up ten minutes late for worship. We were short-sighted on our solution to a problem and in my estimation created a bigger one. What were we thinking? The simple answer we were not thinking like a “system” or an “organism”, we were thinking like mechanics tinkering with the parts of an engine.

Recently I have been reading an interesting book by Malcolm Gladwell entitled The Tipping Point. This book notes how many times epidemic movements start when the system reaching “a tipping point” and everything changes. Jim Collins notes in his book Good to Great that often great companies don’t have one brilliant idea that launches the move toward greatness but rather it is like the build up of a flywheel that suddenly is released into action.

In The Tipping Point Gladwell tells the story of the dramatic drop in the crime rate in New York City after the 1980’s. From his perspective this change can be traced back into the bowels of the city and into a couple of basic changes in the subway system. Before these changes entering a NYC subway was like going into “Dante’s Inferno”. Under the guidance of a new director who applied the “Broken Window” Theory to the situation, the management of the system began to crack down on graffiti and fare jumping. Simply by painting and maintaining the cleanliness of the subway cars and by arresting people for jumping a fare of $1.25 the whole atmosphere in the system changed. This “sea change” flowed into the streets of the city and soon the crime rate in the whole city took a dramatic plunge. Who would have ever believed paint and arresting a few petty criminals would have unleashed such a dramatic change. The simple truth is these changes transformed the “context” and the “system”.

When Fundamentalism made its march into Texas and sets its eyes on the BGCT our system was changed. Politics became the strategy of our relationships. Fear and suspicion became common place. The spoken and printed word was used to case doubt and suspicion on the motivations of both sides, and a narrow victory in an election meant total control of the seats of power. Peace committees were a waste of time and good will in an environment covered with the graffiti of politics and power brokering. Does this have to be our reality? Can we put politics to bed once and for good, and create a system in which trust replaces suspicion, and first names replace labels?

I believe we can, but we are going to have to start treating our convention like an “organism” rather than a “political organization”. You may think I am crazy but grab a can of paint and let’s go to work.

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Baptist General Convention of Texas: Embrace Our Future Together (Part 6c Creative Conflict Strategies)

A Good Split?

For decades the secret to the growth of the Kingdom has been the starting of new churches. Baptists have perfected this art. One of our strengths has been the good ole fashioned “church split”. You find dotted across the state of Texas stand Baptist churches of all different shades of color. Many of these churches trace their birthright back to a church fight apparently gone wrong.

You know something is up when you drive down a rural highway in Texas and pass Harmony Baptist Church on one side of the road, and then a couple of miles ahead you pass Harmony Baptist Church #2 on the opposite side of the road. I have often liken hearing God’s people fighting among themselves to a child hearing mom and dad fighting in the other room and hearing the “D-word” spoken out loud—“DIVORCE”.

In Acts 15 the reader finds an amazing story of the Church (capital-C) handing a major conflict between two vying factions. The Jewish and Gentile believers faced a critical crossroads, and instead of choosing to part company they found a “win/win” solution that opened the door to Kingdom expansion. However the chapter ends with a dark note in the story. Paul and Barnabas have a “sharp disagreement” or a good ole fashion fight over whether are not to take the coward John Mark on the next missionary journey. These two old comrades in arms went toe to toe over the issue finding no middle ground. In fact the conflict led to a split, and the two longtime friends parted company with heated words.

As you analyze the conflict who was in the wrong? Often in a church split or convention split we assume someone was out of God’s will. Someone had to be in the wrong or this would have never happened. Was hot-tempered Paul in the wrong? Was he too demanding or critical of John Mark? It seems to me that Paul has a legitimate argument about the foolishness of taking John Mark on this trip. The advance of the gospel was not getting easier, but harder. The probability of persecution was sure. He did not want to go to war with someone he could not trust and who could blame him.

On the other hand was Barnabas too soft? Did Barnabas not understand the dangers and challenges of leadership? I would say no. Barnabas, the son of encouragement, was playing to his strengths. Barnabas was notorious for taking chances on people take Paul for instance. When the brothers in Jerusalem shunned Paul, it was Barnabas who came to his side. Can you imagine where the Kingdom would be if it was not for encouragers like Barnabas. Take the New Testament as an example. If you take out the books attributed to those who Barnabas took a chance on you would lose all the letters of Paul and one of the gospels. Even Paul came to value John Mark in the end after he had proven himself faithful.

Could it be Paul and Barnabas were both right? I believe it is very possible. They both played to their strengths, and followed their hearts. In the end their relationship was strained but not permanently destroyed, and the Kingdom advanced with two strategic mission teams rather than one. It amazes me how God can take our conflicts and turn them to His glory and to the advance of His Kingdom.

So what are the lessons from this page out of our history? One, we need to be true to our hearts. Too often compromises hurt more than they help. I am a firm believer in “win/win” solutions and believe these solutions lead to the synergy of the Spirit among us, but the harsh reality is we live in a real world with real people. Two, we need to realize that a “split” does not mean the relationship is over nor does it mean the final chapter is written. Going our separate ways for a few miles in a slightly different direction does not mean we cannot find places of cooperation in the future. Don’t allow a “split” in the past to be the final word about a relationship in the future. People change. Circumstances change. We need to be willing to change and embrace each other down the road when the opportunity arises. Three, we need to realize God can work in the midst of our broken relationships. God did not allow Paul and Barnabas’ “split” to stop His Kingdom.

I believe these simple lessons from a dark note in our history can shed light on our future as Texas Baptists. Whether you march under the BGCT, SBTC, SBC, CBF, TBC, or any other banner of choice you are still my brother and sister. We may not see eye to eye. We may choose to go our separate ways, but we are all in the same Kingdom and will probably need each other one day when the battle gets hot.

Don’t forget the story out of the annals of Jesus and his disciples when one of the “sons of thunder” wanted to shut down a group for casting out demons in the name of Jesus. (John) Mark reports:

39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward. (Mark 9:39-41 NIV)

I believe Jesus knows what He is talking about and we would be wise to listen to Him, especially today!

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Baptist General Convention of Texas: Embrace Our Future Together (Part 6b Creative Conflict Strategies)

Embracing Conflict

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”—Paul

(Ephesians 4:3 NIV)

How can this dream of the BGCT embracing conflict in a positive healthy way become a practical reality? If it was as easy as it sounds why has our convention splintered and over one thousand churches left our ranks? Doesn’t Fundamentalism by its very nature draw lines in the sand that fragment our fellowship? Does fighting Fundamentalism and its advance practically promise two camps in our extended family?

Granted, I have a tendency to have a “Pollyanna” view of tomorrow. I realize this effort is God-sized, but as Paul says “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit.” So what do we need to do in a practical sense to “make every effort” to embrace our conflicts?

  1. Dissect Conflict

In order to understand conflict, one must be willing to dissect it and get to the heart of the matter. Religious conflicts can often be traced according to Robert Dale to “two broad categories, facts and feelings.” These facts and feelings create the tension or “anxiety” the organization experiences in its ranks. This “anxiety” does not have to be harmful in fact if properly channeled these feelings can lead to change and health.

Often facts and feelings lead to what Phillip V. Lewis in Transformational Leadership defines as a “party spirit” which can divide a fellowship into factions. Typically this “divisiveness” can be traced back to a “small core of people” who do not realize they are working to “destroy something rather than build it up” according to Thom Rainer in Eating the Elephant. Often these groups meet in small secret gatherings which according to Peter Steinke(How Your Church Family Works) which seldom seek the “welfare of the whole community.” In fact, he notes it is “the secrecy itself, not the content of the secrets, that is harmful.”

Robert Moeller in Healing Conflict in the Church speaks of these small groups and their agendas noting that what he calls “rump groups” have three basic rules:

a. Share information no one else in the room has any right to know.

b. Discuss details that can’t be immediately verified or denied by anyone else in the room.

c. Reveal just enough facts to leave a questionable impression of another person’s character.

It seems to me Moeller has been reading pages out of our Baptist playbook!

Another key factor to negatively handling conflict is when people talk about each other rather than talking to each other when a problem arises. This is called “triangling” in systems theory, and it goes directly in opposition to Jesus’ challenge to His followers to go to your brother face to face or person to person when a conflict arises.

Too often we make conflict “personal” rather than focusing on the actual “problem” or issue needing to be addressed. When we dissect a conflict we need to focus on the issues and solutions rather than people and parties.

  1. Channel Conflict toward Growth

In times of conflict the response of leadership is critical. If the leaders function responsibly as what Edwin Friedman calls “a non anxious presence” the system will remain relatively calm and will be able to process the conflict toward growth. Norman Shawchuck has noted a wide variety of ways leaders react to conflict. Some leaders avoid conflict like a “turtle” sticking its head in its shell, others accommodate conflict much like a “teddy bear”. Other leaders seek to collaborate much like an “owl”, while others compromise like a “fox”. Aggressive leaders many times compete to win in conflict like a “shark”. How the leadership responds often makes all the difference in the world.

Philip Lewis notes the healthiest way to address conflict is to “approach it head on, face to face, with the individual or individuals involved”. Conflicts must be faced head on and resolved if growth and vitality are to result. When conflicts are proactively address it protects the organization from the dangers of what Robert Dale in To Dream Again calls “gunnysacking” which happens when a group “suppresses conflicts” and stores them up much a stock pile of weapons that could lead to a “major explosion” leaving brokenness and deep division when the smoke clears. Dale notes of churches that stable congregations “have frequent, but smaller conflicts”.

A wise leader embraces conflict head on and works toward “win/win” solutions by helping people find common ground in the midst of conflict, and by helping them discover creative ways to work toward resolution and possibly synergy. Resolved conflicts often become the foundation of a bright future together like you see unfolding on the pages of Acts.

So the next time you read of conflict on the pages of the Baptist Standard or on the scene of your computer as you read a blog don’t throw up your hands in frustration, but embrace conflict as an opportunity for us to get to know each other better and a great chance for us to learn how to work together better in the days ahead. Remember “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit!”

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Baptist General Convention of Texas: Embrace Our Future Together (Part 6a Creative Conflict Strategies)

“Unity by Conflict”

1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to one hope when you were called– 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:1-6 (NIV)

Over the past twenty-five years the Southern Baptist world has been rocked by waves of conflict and division. There was a day when SBC/BGCT meetings resembled “family reunions.” Those “family” gatherings were transformed into the Baptist version of the Civil War as brother waged war against brother in the name of “right.” Fundamentalists fighting for the “Bible” and moderates defending “Baptist” principles drew battle lines in the sand. Our Baptist family split into factions and groups, and from my perspective we limped into the future.

For me this story of my “extended” family is the bad news, but the good news is that we are not alone in our struggles for the “unity of the Spirit.” Conflict has been part of the Christian world since the first disciples of Jesus vied for position and power as the dusk from Jesus’ sandals settled on them. Jesus used these “childish” actions of his disciples as an opportunity to teach them the principles of His Kingdom which values humility and service above position and power.

After the resurrection the early church grew with amazing speed, but it too was rocked by division and conflict as the Greek widows were neglected in the daily distribution of food. This conflict called the church to step back and take a hard look at how it was doing ministry. The ministry team was expanded, and the church began to grow again. The simple lesson from the story from our past is this: Conflicts embraced lead to greater effectiveness.

Later the church faced the huge division between the world views of Jewish believers and the Gentile believers who accepted Jesus out of the pagan pool. The Jews look with great suspicion on these new believers and especially their customs baptized by grace. The Jerusalem council met under the watchful eye of James, and these two historic factions left the table as one movement and the gospel continued its march across the known world. Once again, the church of Acts illustrated that conflict embraced leads to greater unity and effectiveness.

I believe for the BGCT to embrace its future, it must be willing to learn to “embrace conflict.” Embracing conflict seems odd to most people. We have cut our teeth believing “unity” means the absence of conflict, but the crystal truth is that conflict often is a reflection of “unity” at work. Bill Hybels remarked “The mark of community—true biblical unity—is not the absence of conflict. It’s the presence of a reconciling spirit.”

As I look at my life, those I am closest too are often those I have conflict with the most. Family means intimacy and vulnerability. We should not be surprised or disappointment when we have conflict in our ranks. It is the mark of being part of the family of God. Conflict in and off itself is not evil. It is how we deal with conflict that makes all the difference.

We need a fundamental change in how we embrace conflict in our convention if we are going to make strides toward becoming the Kingdom movement we are called to be. Hugh F. Halversadt wrote that in a Christian community conflict may be the road toward “building genuine human community” by the “incorporation of our differences.” Missionary and medical doctor Paul Brand points out that the ultimate design of pain in the body is “directional, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual pain. It hurts not in order to cause discomfort, but to demand change in response to danger.”

Could it be the “pain” and conflict we have experienced in recent years was God’s way of calling us to a much higher dimension of community and cooperation? Have you ever wonder where we would be today as a people if we had been able to embrace our conflicts with a high commitment toward “win/win” solutions rather than the political power plays of a “win/lose” attitude? You see in a family, when someone “wins” everyone “loses.”

I believe it is time for us to take a hard look at how we deal with our conflicts, and work toward transforming our differences into platforms for growth and understanding.

 

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