Monthly Archives: May 2008

New World Order

As we have tamed Jesus to fit into our western orthodoxy, I am afraid we have lost much of the passion and fervor that marked the early followers of Jesus. Recently, our church staff has been doing some strategic planning under the direction of a strategy coordinator trained by the International Mission Board, and sharpened by four years in the fields of East Asia. One of our assignments was reading the book of Acts with fresh eyes looking for church planting and life principles. As I read pages I had studied and preached from in the past, I was struck by the boldness and abandonment of the early followers of Jesus. They were constantly on the march. They were literally turning the ancient world upside down.

It appears the early followers of Jesus believed He came to establish a new world order. No longer was Caesar Lord, but Jesus was Lord, and Christ. Dying on crosses as revolutionaries was to be expected since they were literally trying to change the world one heart at a time, one family at a time, one city at a time. What began as a flicker in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost became a raging wildfire fanned by passion and persecution that swept the first century world.

The gospel of the Kingdom preached well among people on the margins of life. The poor, the outcast, the sinner, and tax collector became prime targets and messengers of the Way. It appears the disciples actually took Jesus seriously. They did not simply ascend to a “knowing” the truth. They settled for nothing less than “living” the truth.

In the sermon on the plain Jesus shocked his audience of common ordinary people on the margins of life by turning the world systems upside down. In Luke 6 Jesus said:

“Blessed are the poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God”

Note there was no spiritualizing of the message here. Jesus literally said, “Blessed are the poor”—not the “poor in spirit” nor humble, but poor. Jesus was not glorifying poverty as a mark of spirituality. He was simply stating the obvious—the King came to bless the poor, in other words, the Kingdom of God can touch anyone, any where, no matter who you are, what you have done. There are no margins in the Kingdom of God everyone is invited to the table.

To amplify the point, later Jesus declares:

“Woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.”

Jesus confronts the wealthy power brokers of the world systems. It is a wake up call. Stop living by the standards of this world, and take up the values of the Kingdom of God. This was not a popular message then. It is the kind of message that can get you crucified, and it is not a popular message today.

Tony Campolo, professor at Eastern College says:

“Jesus never says to the poor, ‘Come find the church,’ but he says to those of us in the church. ‘Go into the world and find the poor, hungry, homeless, imprisoned,’ Jesus in his disguises”.

I am afraid we have gotten things backwards. Shane Claiborne in The Irresistible Revolution wrote:

“Jesus doesn’t exclude rich people; he just lets them know their rebirth will cost them everything they have. The story (the rich young rule added) is not so much about whether rich folks are welcome as it is about the nature of the kingdom of God, which has an ethic and economy diametrically opposed to those of the world. Rather than accumulating stuff for oneself, followers of Jesus abandon everything, trusting in God alone for providence.”

I must admit what Shane describes is much closer to the church on the pages of the book of Acts, than the churches of the West. As we dream new dreams about how to embrace this rapidly changing world we live in. I pray we will return to some of the basic Kingdom values of Jesus. It would be a great place to start.

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Not Against Us

The churches and leaders of the Baptist General Convention of Texas find themselves charting a course through uncharted waters. In a world that seems to be turning upside down with changes within and without. The leadership of the convention and the local church must look toward heaven for guidance and direction.

Randel Everett, our new chosen leader, has set a course for the future anchored on timeless principles of the Kingdom: Present the gospel to everyone in Texas in their “heart” language by Resurrection Day 2010, and make sure all Texans know where their next meal is coming from, especially the children. This vision strikes us at our point of strength and weakness at the same time. As Texans we often live under the illusion that we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and do anything. Well, I think we have proved this “urban legend” to be wrong.

Marv Knox spoke to the issue well saying:

“The wonderful thing about the impossibility of Texas Hope 2010 is that it kicks our pride in the head. Let’s just admit we’re a prideful people. And we come by all that pride quite naturally.”

In a day when our fellowship appears to be fractured and there is strife in our ranks, the Lord has challenged us to come together around these Kingdom tasks. Bold daring vision inspires unity in the ranks.

Recently David Currie, the able and committed leader and voice of the Texas Baptist Committed, wrote in his column “A Rancher’s Rumblings” about entering a new day in the selection of our leaders. Historically since the onset of the “Conservative Resurgance” born out of a discussion between Paige Patterson and Judge Pressler at Café Du Monde in New Orleans, the TBC has fought for “religious freedom” in Texas against the controlling “spirit” of Fundamentalism with a capital “F”. The first salvo of this struggle was fired in Houston 1979 when I was a sophomore at Baylor as Pressler using his skills as a politician and political strategist launched a campaign to wrestle the control of the Southern Baptist Convention into the hands of his faithful foot soldiers. These foot soldiers would over ten years take voting control of all the boards of trustee positions and then would oust the leaders for new “Fundamentalist” leaders. One of the darkest days in Texas Baptist life was when Dr. Russell Dilday was fired and locked out of his office in an ultimate act of power politics. This “spirit” of control and political maneuvering has seeped its way into our life as a denomination and even into the spirits of our local churches. To be honest, I learned Roberts Rules of Order and how to handle a business meetings by watching the wrangling and the maneuvering at our annual SBC meetings. It was not a pretty sight, and often embarrassing.

Currie realizes change is in the air in the BGCT and communicated some of the FEARS of those who braved this battle in Texas and maintained our freedom against this “spirit” of Fundamentalism. He wrote:

“There seem to be two very powerful fears in play here. Persons who have worked closely with TBC over the past 20 years – and given time, energy, prayers, money, and faithful attendance to the BGCT annual meeting each year – FEAR that, if TBC is not actively involved in endorsing officers for the convention, the convention might elect SBC supporters who would lead the BGCT down the path to Fundamentalist control. They FEAR, too, the election of those who – while not overtly supporting the SBC – might attempt to “work with” the SBC’s Fundamentalist leadership, blindly trusting them while ignoring the historic Fundamentalist commitment to control, not cooperation.”

It would appear that these would be real fears for those who have struggled to get us to this point. I remember last year when it was announced that I was going to be nominated for president of the BGCT, that Dr. Dilday my seminary president and long time friend of my family wrote me in essence reminding me to “not forget” the challenges and the issues of the past. I believe if we do not learn the hard lessons of the past, we are prone to repeat them, and worse of all waste the sacrifice and courage of so many. There is no place for the “spirit of control” in our ranks from either side. We must make it clear we are entering a new day when political strategies will not be the marching orders for our people and churches. We need to care less about who is in control and more about accomplishing our Kingdom mission.

Currie’s stated his solution to this dilemma this way:

“I recommend that anyone who runs for office in the Baptist General Convention of Texas begin by making clear to Texas Baptists first, that he or she loves and supports the mission, ministry, and institutions of the BGCT; and second, that he or she opposes SBC-style Fundamentalist control. They can give their mission money where they want to give it, but they must publicly commit to firmly opposing Fundamentalism in any form. That is only fair and right. People have a right to know where these candidates stand on Fundamentalism.”

I am not exactly sure how this request will be implemented, but I think we all understand the concerns and fears that motivate this plea. I am not afraid to make such a declaration with these stipulations. I oppose the “spirit” of Fundamentalism and control on all fronts. I believe we need a new day of openness and trust. I believe we can no longer afford to set our course based on fear, but we must embrace the future with faith in the Lord and the workings of His Kingdom. Let me go on record, I am tired of labels, I want us to learn to go by first names and to get to know each other better. Most of us cannot be put into a box or label very well. We all are complex unique creations of God. Our best leaders for tomorrow will not be those who get their marching orders from a handful of chosen leaders but rather those who move by the winds of the Spirit of God. We face challenges that will demand creativity, risk, trust, and daring. We need to “re-invent” the whole concept of cooperation and networking among followers of Jesus. The “spirit of control” will destroy us. We need to “lose control” and learn to trust again.

One day Jesus’ disciples returned from a day of Kingdom work to report that they found others working the fields that were not from their number (or camp). They bragged about stopping them I suspect expecting Jesus to commend them for their devotion and orthodoxy. To their shock and amazement Jesus said:

“Do not stop him, no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. 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

The truth that strikes me from this statement  is the comment “about me”, I need to be reminded from start to finish, it is all about Jesus. This is His Kingdom. This is His work. Jesus is in control.

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The Box: In “Our” Image

Culture has a way of coloring the world around us much like wearing rose colored sun-glasses. Too often we see Jesus through the lenses of Western culture. George Bernard Shaw said, “God created us in his image, and we decided to return the favor.” It could be if we are serious about tracing back our struggles to their core the trail may lead back to one basic reality—our view of Jesus. To test this reality this weekend read one of the gospels from beginning to end, and ask yourself does my life and my church reflect the values the gospel writers recorded about Jesus.

Let’s just start with a few simple leaps of faith to start: Healing, demons, the Kingdom, money, hell, and crosses. Are you comfortable with a healing Jesus? Do you really believe in spiritual warfare and struggles against principalities of darkness in the heavenly realms? What is your church building—the Kingdom of God or “Six Flags over Jesus”? Was Jesus serious when He said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of heaven? (This should scary Americans spit-less since we represent the richest of the rich in the world today consuming more on ourselves in a day than most people on this planet have to exist on for a whole week, and in some cases a month). Do you believe in hell—eternal separation from God? Jesus did. What about the cross? Do you believe in a cross to die on or one simply to decorate a sanctuary or your neck?

In Matthew 10, Jesus said, “Do you suppose I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but to bring a sword.” For many in the western church this statement rings foreign and out of context to the world in which we live and the Christianity we promote. Jesus was much more confrontation than most of us want to admit. He was a revolutionary that could only be stop by force as far as the establishment was concerned. The Jesus of the gospels did not come to set up stagnant institutions, but rather to launch a movement that would bring the reality of the Kingdom of God to the doorsteps of the masses.

Shane Claiborne wrote in his book The Irresistible Revolution:

“We can admire and worship Jesus without doing what he did. We can applaud what he preached and stood for without caring about the same things. We can adore his cross without taking up ours. I had come to see the great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor”.

It appears the break down may go back to our marching orders. Jesus commanded His followers to “make disciples of all nations”…. “teaching them to obey everything.” Our Sunday School and ministries have been masters at teaching knowledge by lecture, quarterlies, and videos. We must remember followers of Jesus were not called to be “students” but to be “disciples” who “obey” everything not know everything. If we would just do what we know to do it would make a world of difference, but sadly we don’t.

If we are going to reach out world and keep our kids in church, we are going to have to move past lip-service to the values of the Kingdom and start living them out on a daily basis. It is time for Jesus to mold us into His image rather than the other way around.

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Boring in the Box

High school graduation marks a right of passage for most teenagers. Yesterday our church recognized 23 high school seniors graduating from area high school. After six years of active participation in our youth ministry it is time to give them their wings, and wish them goodbye. You see the harsh reality is that the vast majority of these seniors are likely to leave the church and rarely return. Oh the occasional wedding or funeral may draw them back to a pew. Like good little boys and girls they will take their places with mom and dad for Easter and Christmas, especially when grandkids are in tow, but regular church attendance is probably not in their future.

The Barna research team projects 20% of teenagers who attend church will be active when they are 29 years old. That means 80% of our teenagers will leave the church or were never reached. This does not bode well for the future of the church. Shane Claiborne in his book The Irresistable Revolution recounts a story from his student ministry days. A young man in his youth group professed his faith only to be picked up on drugs charges weeks later. When Shane confronted him asking “What’s up bro?” he shrugged and said, “I got bored”.

In response Shane wrote:

“Bored! God forgive us for all those we have lost because we made the gospel boring. I am convinced that if we lose kids to the culture of drugs and materialism, of violence and war, it’s because we don’t dare them, not because we don’t entertain them. It’s because we make the gospel too easy, not because we make it too difficult. Kids want to do something heroic with their lives….”

Following Jesus was anything but boring. Danger awaited the disciples not potluck dinners. Has God heard all our prayers for safety and put us on the bench so we won’t get hurt!

Those of us in leadership of the church today may need to take a hard look in the mirror. Have we tamed the gospel, and trimmed the claws of the Lion of Judah? Recently I have been reading about the Church Planting Movements that have been sweeping the continents of Asia, Africa, and South America. One common denominator for these movements of God is the boldness and the bravery of those who have taken up the banner of the cross. In the face of persecution and even death, believers are planting churches by the thousands in their homes.

Peter on the day of Pentecost pointed to the words of the prophet Joel who predicted:

17 ‘AND IT SHALL BE IN THE LAST DAYS,’ God says,
‘THAT I WILL POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT ON ALL MANKIND;
AND YOUR SONS AND YOUR DAUGHTERS SHALL PROPHESY,
AND YOUR YOUNG MEN SHALL SEE VISIONS,
AND YOUR OLD MEN SHALL DREAM DREAMS;
18 EVEN ON MY BONDSLAVES, BOTH MEN AND WOMEN,
I WILL IN THOSE DAYS POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT
And they shall prophesy.
19 ‘AND I WILL GRANT WONDERS IN THE SKY ABOVE
AND SIGNS ON THE EARTH BELOW,
BLOOD, AND FIRE, AND VAPOR OF SMOKE.
20 ‘THE SUN WILL BE TURNED INTO DARKNESS
AND THE MOON INTO BLOOD,
BEFORE THE GREAT AND GLORIOUS DAY OF THE LORD SHALL COME.
21 ‘AND IT SHALL BE THAT EVERYONE WHO CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.’ Acts 2:17-21 (NASB)

Not exactly boring stuff I must say. I pray the Lord stir in our hearts dreams and visions that will call your young men and women to give their lives for the sake of the Kingdom.

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Jesus Wrecked My Life

Shane Claiborne in his book The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical tells the story of his conversion to becoming a Christ follower. Shane grew up in East Tennessee near the buckle of the Bible belt. Like most teenagers he attended his Methodist youth group playing the games, checking out the girls, singing the songs, and enduring the Bible studies. Simply put, Shane by his own testimony was simply going through the motions.

Unexpectedly Jesus showed up in Shane’s life through the influence of a couple of high school friends who were sold out to Jesus. As he attended church with them the words of Jesus came alive in his heart. In Shane’s own words he wrote:

“Then I met Jesus and he wrecked my life. The more I read the gospel, the more it messed me up, turning everything I believed in, valued, and hoped for upside down. I am still recovering from my conversion.”

Shane moved from the “boring” life of religion to the “daring” life of being a fully devoted follower of Jesus. He began to take the Words of Jesus seriously. Shane took the radical step of actually believing Jesus really meant what He said. Like Mark Twain said, “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that scare me, but the parts I do understand.”

I am afraid in our attempts to be culturally relevant and non-offensive we have domesticated Jesus, the radical who was crucified because He defied the powers and the values of this world. We have turned Jesus into the “Mr. Rogers” of my childhood complete with his sweater, tennis shoes, and “howdy neighbor.” Don’t get me wrong Jesus defines what love looks like, but love is much stronger and bolder than you would ever imagine.

It’s my prayer Jesus will “wreck” your life and my life and transform us into His image.

If this is your prayer take up your cross today and fall in line behind Jesus.

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The Box

In leadership circles we often hear of “thinking outside the box”, but it is much easier said than done. The first challenge facing many of us in the “establishment” of leadership is admitting that we are “in the box.” Most of us pride ourselves in being creative and responsive, but too often I find myself being much more like “old wineskins” than I want to admit. My 20/20 vision of the future too often is hampered by the 2×4 in my eye. Let’s face it “2×4” vision is not going to help us embrace the new realities of the Kingdom of God unfolding around the world.

When I was a student at Baylor in the 80’s we joked about the “Baylor Bubble.” It was our way of making light of the fact that most of us were very sheltered and isolated from the realities of the world around us, even the immediate neighborhood around the school. We walked the “green and gold” streets of Baylor immune in many ways from the harsh realities many faced. I am afraid I may have actually taken my “bubble” with me, and lived most of my life hiding behind stained-glassed windows.

As most of my readers know, I was chosen to be part of the Baptist General Convention of Texas “Future Focus” committee. We have been assigned the task of looking into the future and charting a course that will help us reverse the recent trends of decline, and open up new pathways for growth and vitality. Since, in many ways we will be working on cities we will not inhabit, I thought I would begin to read outside my usual circles and listen to voices that speak the heart language of a younger, daring generation.

One of the books I recently completed was written by Shane Claiborne entitled The Irresistible Revolution. I was totally unfamiliar with Shane and his story when I picked up the book while I was browsing at Barnes & Noble. (In some ways I wish I had never picked up the book, because his writing challenged me in ways I did not want to be challenged in. He forced me to take a hard look in the mirror and see things I did not want to see.)

This book is more of a chapter out of his life than a treatise. Shane simply tells his story of how a young man who grew up in the mountains of East Tennessee ended up being part of a Christian communal church and family in the inner city of Philadelphia. It is the story of how a “prom king” on the path to the American Dream takes a detour on the narrow path of life found in his radical relationship with Jesus Christ. Shane’s journey took him from a desk under the teaching of Tony Campolo at Eastern University, to the slums of India under the tutelage of Mother Teresa, to the suburbs of Chicago as he studied at Wheaton while an intern at Willowcreek. Needless to say, his path was quite an adventure.

Over the next few posts, I am going to explore how his “living as an ordinary radical” has stirred my thinking, and helped me to come to grips with the fact that I have made myself too comfortable in “my Baptist Box”. I am not sure where these ideas will take me, but I am excited about exploring “new” and “ancient” ideas about the Kingdom of God.

Shane wrote:

“Many of us find ourselves estranged from the narrow issues that define conservatives and the shallow spirituality that marks liberals. We are thirsty for social justice and peace but have a hard time finding a faith community that is consistently pro-life or that recognizes that there are ‘moral issues’ other than homosexuality and abortion, moral issues like war and poverty. So some folks just end up trying to save individual souls from their sins, and others end up trying to save the world from ‘the system’. But rarely do we see that the sickness of our world has infected all of us, and that the healing of our world not only begins within us but does not end with us”.

As I read these observations much of it resonated with me. I too have found myself trapped between spiritual forces driven by “either/or” thinking. Could it be the Kingdom thrives in the tension between the extremes and forces us to embrace a “both/and” reality? I am beginning to realize that thinking “outside the box” will not be as comfortable as you might think.

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Deacons: A Pastor’s Best Friend

Last night I had the honor to speak to the Pastor/Deacons Banquet of the Kaufman Baptist Association in Terrell. It was a wonderful night of reunions for me personally. I served in this association a number of years ago, and as I scanned the crowd I saw a sea of familiar faces. To my left were over thirty deacons and their wives from First Baptist Church of Mabank. A church I served for nearly five years. This group of guys helped me in more ways than I could recount. To my right were the deacons from FBC Terrell who serve along side my brother. I recently enjoyed a deacon’s retreat with them around the theme of “One Big Happy Family”. It was a retreat on the basic principles of church unity.

I will never forget one lesson I learned from Deacon Larry Teague. One day he pulled me off to the side and gave me some sage advice. Larry said, “Pastor, preach as long as you want.” I could hardly believe my ears. Here was a deacon that understood my passion for preaching. Instead of giving me a stop watch, he offered me freedom to explore the mysteries of Scripture in power and in depth. Then after a brief pause, Larry smiled and added “I am leaving at noon!” In fairness to Larry a pastor never had a better friend. I remember countless times sitting in his office talking through the complex issues facing our church and finding in Larry the kind of common sense and wisdom that can only come through experience and a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.

God also gave me a best friend there. Ron Day was the president of the local bank and joined our church during my brief tenure. Ron was a spiritual leader, and someone a pastor could look up to. Ron had a colorful way of describing the challenges of leadership. He would often remind me that you “kiss the gorilla as long as she wants to.” In other words, sometimes you just need to “pucker up” and do what needs to be done to get the job done! Enjoying the ride is half the battle. You just hope the gorilla brushes her teeth between pastors.

I commend Kauf-Van Baptist Association for this annual event that brings pastors and their wives together with deacons and their wives. This partnership between leaders is critical for the health and vitality of the local church. I pray DOM Ernie McCoulskey will keep up the good work. Also I hope he can keep my brother John who is a pastor in his association out of trouble from time to time!

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