Monthly Archives: March 2008

“Inoculated Against Jesus” (part 2)

If “believers” in our Western culture have truly been “inoculated against Jesus” how did it happen? Was it an intentional plot or was it the result of neglect?

 

The Panhandle Poet made an intriguing observation about the development of the vaccines used to fight the flu. He noted that the researchers “kill” part of the virus so it infects the person vaccinated with just enough of the virus to create the antibodies but not enough to develop the full blown disease. Using this as an illustration, what about the life and message of Jesus has been “killed” in order for so many Western believers to have such a “mild” case of faith.

Steve Dominy suggested that what has happened is that our people have been raised on the the milk of “cheap grace” as Bonhoeffer described it. This “cheap grace” set the stage in Germany for the established church of Germany to embrace and accept a psychopathic killer like Adolf Hitler. Liberal theology had so weakened the resolve of the church that it chose to play the part of the priest and Levite in Jesus’ story of the “good Samaritan” and simply walk by on the other side of the road when they saw the “Jew” between and left naked beside the road. “Cheap grace” robs the church of its back bone and reduces Jesus to a moral teacher or principle, but not the Son of God sent into the world with a sword. The Jesus of “cheap grace” loves and plays with sinners, but never stalks injustice like the Lion of Judah.

Has “cheap grace” inoculated the Western Church to the point that the Jesus we preach does not even look like Jesus of Nazareth. If Jesus stepped into the pulpit in the average church in America and preached his “Sermon on the Mount” would we simply dismiss him as an effective teacher needs to get out into the real world more. If Jesus proclaimed himself as “the way, the truth, and the life—the only way to the Father” would the average worshiper in the pew dismiss Him as narrow minded and simply out of touch. The Jesus of the West has become a “nice guy” much like Mr. Rodgers of my childhood. He sits down puts on his sweater and white tennis shoes, and wishes you a “good day”. Let’s face it, no one would ever crucify Mr. Rodgers—Jesus was nice but far from a nice guy—Jesus is God.

The ancient church sought to protect itself from “cheap grace” and a fake Jesus by nailing down the Apostles Creed the basics:

I.I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

II. And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord;

III. Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary;

IV. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell;

V. The third day He rose again from the dead;

  1. He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;

  2. From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

In the Nicene Creed the church father were even more direct in confronting threats to the gospel and the historicity of Jesus Christ when they declared:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.

Sadly even in churches where these creeds have been memorized and quoted week in and week out Jesus has been painted in pastel colors and robbed of the bold, striking colors that stir the heart and create a movement that would shake the very foundations of hell itself.

Paul warned the Galatians in on uncertain terms:

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! Gal 1:6-9 (NIV)

Paul understood full well what was at stake and he saw absolutely no room for compromise when it came to Jesus and His gospel of the cross. Jesus came to start a revolution that would establish the Kingdom of God on earth in the hearts and lives of His fully devoted followers.

In our efforts to appease the crowds and keep our churches alive have we lost the very genius of the movement of Jesus. Have we forgotten the fundamental principle of Jesus that He stated simply to His disciples saying:

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?

Matt 16:24-26 (NIV)

In our efforts to “save” our lives I am afraid we have lost our “souls”.

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Inoculated Against Jesus?

I am not one of those guys that passes out in the presence of needles, but I am not a but fan of shots. I guess this is my excuse for not taking the flu shot each fall. However, let’s just say, I am planning to roll up my sleeve next year and to wait with anticipate to hear those tender words, “You are going to feel a stick”–ouch!

Two long weeks of battling the flu made a believer out of me. The low point of my battle came after spending three hours hugging the “throne” to the point of dehydration. In the middle of the night I got up only to do a face plant into the wood floor in the living room. I woke up to my wife calling my name as I laid there in a little puddle of blood—let’s just say I have a hard head either way you want to look at it.

As I did a little research on the flu vaccine I discovered that the principle of the vaccine is rather simple. In simple non-scientific terms, the vaccine injects the patient will a tiny dose of the flu virus which causes the body to react by creating anti-bodies to fight off the virus. In other words, to protect you from the virus doctors give you a small dose of the virus.

Reflecting on this thought, It struck me that our America society has been “inoculated against Jesus”. When just celebrated Easter Sunday across the land—churches from north to south, east to west were filled with worshipers. Many of these believers filling the pews are active members of the CE crowd (Christmas and Easter). Jesus is part of their world view, but has limited impact on their day to day lives. Jesus may be their Savior but He still longs to their LORD.

Could it be the modern church has simply “inoculated” these followers with a tiny dose of Jesus…just enough to keep them from coming down completely with a full blown infection of His Spirit and His presence in their hearts and lives. Paul wrote to Timothy about people who “had a form of godliness but denying its power”.

I am afraid in our effort to present the gospel in a “PC” way we have robbed the good news of the Kingdom of its power and influence. We would be wise to follow Jesus’ example. Jesus cut through the fog and demanded all from His followers by saying “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me”. The cross leads to “resurrection life” and power. Don’t be afraid to lay it all on the line. Jesus deserves more than followers who are “inoculated” with a tiny stick. Jesus deserves and demands followers willing to die so He can live in them.

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Good News, Bad News

After twenty-five years in ministry I am beginning to learn the ups and downs and the twists and turns of the journey. If you are going to survive for very long you must learn to be a “half-full” person. You must hold on to the reality—“the joy of the Lord is your strength” and wipe away your tears with hope.

 I stumbled across a few “good news—bad news” jokes that reminded me that it could be worst!

GOOD NEWS: You baptized seven people today in the river.

BAD NEWS: You lost two of them in the swift current.

GOOD NEWS: The Women’s Missionary Society voted to send you a get-well card.
BAD NEWS: The vote passed by 31-30.

GOOD NEWS: Your women’s softball team finally won a game.
BAD NEWS: They beat your men’s softball team.
GOOD NEWS: Church attendance rose dramatically the last three weeks.
BAD NEWS: You were on vacation.

 I heard it said confession is good for the soul—“I was the pitcher on the softball team”, but the good news is the Texas Rangers are always looking for pitching! Remember never lose hope!

 The Baptist General Convention of Texas released this week their Cooperative Program giving report for January 2008. It was a classic good news/bad news report. Let’s get the bad news out of the way, our churches only gave 90% of our budget needs for this year after we significantly cut our budget and a number of professional positions. We are over $800,000 behind in our giving toward our ministry budget. We must do better.

 Now for the good news, we have given over $600,000 or 1.1% more than last year at this time. I see this as a promising trend. I believe it is a hopeful sign about our future. $600,000 is a great deal of money and can make a big difference as we seek to fulfill our mission.

 A number of years ago, when I was a young pup in the ministry and thought I knew all the answers! I was at a conference that Rick Warren was leading. I will never forget what he said that day. Warren said, “We usually over estimate what we can do in one year, and underestimate what we can do in ten years.” Unfortunately since most of us in ministry rarely stay around for ten years we tend to take a short view on times. We want quick “micro-wave” answers. Our version of praying for patience is “Lord, give me patience, and I want it RIGHT NOW”.  I don’t think it is an accident the Lord used agricultural illustrations when he spoke of His Kingdom. The harvest is not right now—it comes after planting, weeding, sunshine & rain. It comes after months not minutes.

 I believe this February report is something to build on. We still have hundreds of churches holding the ropes. Let’s encourage Dr. Everett, the Executive Board, and our staff to take the long view and dream about where we will be ten years from now!

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The Cross of St. Patrick

The legend of St. Patrick continues to be bigger than life today. This week our nation sported green in honor of a Christian missionary (possibly the first to leave the safety of the Roman Empire) who transform a pagan Ireland into a Christian nation. Often lost in the partying that has become the stable of St. Patrick’s Day with its corned beef and green beer is the story of a fully devoted follower of Jesus.

 The story of Patrick is an amazing story of the hand of God at work in the life of a common ordinary man. As a teen Patrick was captured by slave traders and taken to Ireland to live under the bondage of slavery. By the grace of God he escaped only to return many years later as a missionary. Since Patrick knew very well the customs and the ways of the Irish he was able to translate the gospel of Jesus Christ into their customs and ways.

 One example of Patrick’s evangelistic strategy is the Celtic cross. This distinctive cross can be seen all across Ireland, Scotland and English. The Celtic cross combines the straight lines of the Roman cross with a circle. There is much debate about the meaning of the circle. Some suggest it represent the sun god worshipped by the Irish, or even the moon. Others suggest it represents endless life—or eternal life.

 

The legend goes that Patrick traced the cross over the sun to show how the cross gives life. He took a symbol the Irish worshipped and revered and transformed it into a symbol of Jesus—the savior of their souls. Patrick mastered the art of making the gospel relevant and yet true to its eternal message. The key to reaching a pagan culture is often getting a hearing and helping the people to understand the significant of Jesus.

 We would do well to learn from Patrick in our day. Instead of forcing the world to file into our stained glassed sanctuaries we need to take the gospel to the street and meet people where they are. As our society moves steadily away from its Christian roots it is essential we lay aside our “come and hear” strategy of waiting for seekers to darken our doors, and we need to take up the “go and tell” strategy of Patrick and become the “seekers” of the souls of men and women, boys and girls.

 The next time you see a Celtic cross I pray it will inspire you to share the message of the cross with those around you.

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Paying the Bills

News of change continues to flow out of the Baptist building in Dallas. This week CFO David Nabors resigned. When I heard the news I was saddened because I have found David to be a good honest reliable man who found himself in a very difficult pinch. The press release about this move read as follows:

Daehnert said Nabors was not involved in any “illegal, unethical or immoral activity,” but acknowledged some leaders around the state lost “confidence” in his judgment in the use of funds. Expenditure of investment funds has been of particular concern.

“We needed a change as it relates to the coming of a new executive director and moving forward to greater hope and possibilities,” Daehnert said. “We want to look forward to reaching people for Christ in effective and fiscally-responsible ways.”

I am much better and more highly trained at interpreting scripture than I am reading between the lines of a press release, but it appears the message coming out of Dallas boils down to this: Nabors did not do anything “illegal, unethical, or immoral”, but his financial decisions and judgments have been questionable. It was particularly noted concerns about the expenditure of investment funds.

Before we throw too much blame on Nabors, we need to take a hard look in the mirror. I would suggest there is plenty of responsibility to go around. Why did we have to even touch the investment funds? You know the answer, we lost hundreds of churches in our struggle against fundamentalism, and many of our churches have diverted their funds to other worthwhile causes.

Nabors may have written or released the checks, but he did not create the “white elephant” in the living room we did. Our inability to find ways to stay focused on Kingdom values and relationships created this “no win” situation for anyone holding the purse strings. Granted, Roger Hall probably would have raised a red flag during the Valleygate scandal, but Nabors did not make the decisions to release the funds he simply followed his instructions and the wishes of those on the front lines.

We can get a new CFO, but until we face the “white elephant” in the living room, we are simply looking for another scapegoat. I believe Nabors stepped aside for the good of our convention and to give Dr. Everett an opportunity to surround himself with a team of leaders commissioned to restore our trust. The task will be daunting but not impossible. I believe Dr. Everett is off to a good start by calling us back to our mission of taking Jesus to our friends and neighbors across the state.

I deeply appreciate David Nabors’ willingness to step aside at this time. I pray the Lord will open a new door of opportunity for him and his family in the days ahead. Now it is up to all of us to make the most of this opportunity and to move forward together for the sake of the Kingdom.

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Easter Conspiracy

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ of Nazareth stands as the pivotal point of history for His followers. To understand who Jesus was and why He came to earth one must come to grips with the significance of the cross and the empty tomb.

 Modern liberal theologians steep in the higher criticism of Scripture and often with an unholy alliance with science and modern reason have scoffed at the claims of the empty tomb. Theories and theologies have arisen to explain in nature terms what I believe to be a supernatural event.

 
One such theory was the “swoon theory” which suggested that Jesus did not really die on the cross he simply passed out or went into a coma only to be revived in the coolness of the tomb and was nursed by to health by His band of followers. Yes again, radio Bible teacher had a lady recount to him how her pastor believed and preached this theory. I love his reply, Dr. McGee said:

 “Dear Sister, beat your preacher with a leather whip for thirty-nine heavy strokes. Nail him to a cross. Hang him in the sun for six hours Run a spear through his heart. Embalm him. Put him in an airless tomb for three days. Then see what happens.”

 Let me go on record, I don’t recommending the beating of pastors, but I think Dr. McGee rightly made the point. If the biblical record is remotely cost to the truth of what happened to Jesus it was remarkable he lived as long as he did on the cross. Some liberal scholar may have trouble with the resurrection, but we must all come to grips with His death.

I believe German Theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg captured well the essence of the struggle of many in the post-modern and modern world when he declared:

The evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is so strong that nobody would question it except for two things: First, it is a very unusual event. And second, if you believe it happened, you have to change the way you live.

I was particularly struck by his second powerful observation, “if you believe it happened—you have to change the way you live.” I think Pannenberg has gone to meddling and stepping on toes as we say in Baptist life. Too many of us dress up in our Easter best, and join with the throngs of “believers” who gather to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus for a day or season yet our lives show no evidence we really believe He is alive.

My Easter Prayer: Lord, may our daily lives reflect the power and the glory of your resurrection in everything we do and say.

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The Next Generation of Baptists

This year I turned the ripe old age of forty-eight years old. I am a bit passed middle aged unless I happen to live to be ninety-six years old and if I do I hope I don’t need to wear diapers! Sadly and suddenly I have become one of those gray heads that line the hallways of BGCT gatherings with circles of old friends catching up on old times.

 One of the great threats to the future of the BGCT continues to be the attraction and retention of the next generation. Many of this generation exhibit the characteristics of what some have called “the emerging church” movement. Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones published a number of essays by the leaders and thinkers of this movement in a book entitled The Emergent Manifesto of Hope. I have found these essays insightful and helpful in critiquing the challenged faced by churches today. The church I serve is well over one hundred years old and yet hundreds of youth and young adults fill our pew each week. One question I wrestle with is how can I effectively meet their needs and not lose touch with the changing realities around me?

 One of the essays that caught my attention was written by Adam Walker. He entitled his observations “Prysbymergent: The Story of One Mainliner’s Quest to Be a Loyal Radical”. I was drawn to how Walker described how he became a Presbyterian, he recounted:

 
“Before I begin to explain how I became involved with Emergent, it’s important to understand one thing about my denominational heritage it’s a mixed bag. In his early twenties my father became a Christian through a Plymouth Brethren gathering in
Kentucky, and my mother grew up in a large Mennonite family on an Illinois farm. I was dedicated (not baptized) as an infant in a Presbyterian Church (PC USA), and I went to a Nazarene church youth group in junior high, an Assemblies of God youth group in high school, and a variety of mainline, evangelical and nondenominational churches in college. To say I’m a denominational mutt is probably an understatement.”

 
Walker’s journey is a far cry from the narrow Baptist path I have taken, and many of those who have gone before me took. Denominational lines are blurred for the generations following me. Many choose churches by how they “feel” rather than what they believe. They follow friendships rather than doctrine and traditions. So how do Baptist churches attract these young leaders and stay true to our heritage and foundational beliefs?

 

If you listen closely to what Walker is trying to tell us, it is clear we need to create and environment that invites them to join us on a journey rather than to a destination. The day we proclaim we have all the answers is the day that many of them will write us off as being irrelevant. I am not suggesting we throw out all of our values and biblical principles I am speaking more to an attitude and smugness that often comes with experience and gray hair.

 

Note how Walker describes what “loyal radicals” (a term coined by Bob Hopkins of the Anglican Church in the United Kingdom) long for in their fellowships of faith. Walker writes:

 

“One of the things I appreciate most about these friendships is the unspoken understanding that it is acceptable to question, critique, and deconstruct much of what we think and believe. Many today have more questions than answers, and the church has not always done a good job creating safe places for people to ask questions and share concerns.”

 

How can we create this “safe place” for “loyal radicals” to gather and think outside the box about the future and still hold true to our Baptist heritage? A good starting point will be learning to live by faith and not in fear. Luther started the Reformation with the stirring statement from the ancient prophet “the just shall live by faith.” Faith means not knowing all the answers but trusting the One who does. It means learning to live in the tension of the mysteries of life. In means coming to the Word of God with an open mind and open heart and allowing the Spirit to teach you with insights from within and from  the community around you.

 It’s my prayer we will make the BGCT (its universities and congregations) a “safe place” for the “loyal radicals” to gather so we can join forces (young and old) to change the world.

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