Monthly Archives: September 2008

777

The number 666 stands out in Scriptures as possibly the darkest number of all time. This dreaded number represents the “Beast” who stands in opposition to all that God stands for and loves. On September 29th in an election year like none other in recent decades the stock market dropped 777 points as investors watched in shock as lawmakers struggled to come up with a $700 billion dollar bail out plan. The fact the investors were surprised with the inability of lawmakers to make a positive difference is as shocking as the drop in the market. Few of us on Main Street have much confidence in our political system right now, especially as election year politics seems to color every decision in deep shades of red and blue. In a world where everyone seems to be looking out for themselves and greed has become the “god” in whom we have chosen to trust. Is it any wonder we have painted ourselves into the corner!

I am so thankful I am a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ during turbulent times like these. If you take your economic cues from Jesus you have positioned yourself well for the days ahead. Jesus said:

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matt 6:19-21 (NIV)

 

Jesus’ economic plan does not run along the same tracks as the American Dream, but it’s destination and principles have the backing of Heaven. In these uncertain times from the perspective of planet earth, I would encourage all of us to take to heart these directions from our Lord.

 

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life ?

     28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matt 6:25-33 (NIV)

 

To borrow from the lyrics of the old Bob Marley song to the tropical beat, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”—be happy you are a child of the King!

 

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SBC/BGCT: Hard Look in the Mirror (part 3)

As the saying goes “ignorance is bliss”, but it can also be deadly, so it is critical for leaders to come to grips with the realities of their situations. As I reflect on the challenges facing the Southern Baptist Convention and the Baptist General Convention of Texas I am concerned that our basic challenge is not ignorance but rather denial. All we have to do is look at the hard numbers from our annual church profiles, listen closely to the reports from the field, and check our balance sheets and the message is clear. We either change or we will simply find ourselves rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as the band plays in the background “Nearer My God to Thee”.

The world has changed and flattened while we argued over theological fundamentals. While we were drawing lines in the sand between each other the world around us changed even in the beloved “Bible Belt”. At one time with our chests puffed up with “righteous arrogance” we pointed at the old mainline denominations decline and blamed it on their theology and liberalism, but now as we decline after our “Conservative Resurgence” we either to have to admit the basic problems we face are not theological or we must invent a theology of the “holy remnant” that explains our decline.

In Loren Mead’s book The Once and Future Church, he noted the three primary responses of denominations to the sea change around them. He wrote:

“Frantic effort to recapture the initiative, to get ‘ahead of the curve’ and to develop a NEW PROGRAM so compelling that it will attract all the eroded support”.

Like a faded camp tee-shirt with scripted letter on it, we must admit “we have been there and done that”. In fact, we continue to look for the secret. How many leaders do you know that have been on holy pilgrimages around the county to our versions of Mecca (like Saddleback, Fellowship Church, Willow Creek, Prestonwood). In many ways, the mega-church has replaced the denomination as the innovator, but when these quick fixes were tried at home by amateurs who read the books, and listened to the tapes, but did not fully comprehend the principles, splintered churches and broken pastors were the primary results. In fact, I have heard Rick Warren say time and time again, like a TV announcer on a thrill show, saying please don’t try these things at your home church, go home and start a new church.

The BGCT has tried reorganizations, new structures, new innovations, and new leaders and yet the results continue to decline. Mead noted, “In almost every case the result is that the clock is not turned back, the resources continue to decline—with an occasional hiccup of growth—and those leaders end up with larger tasks, promises, and commitments but even fewer resources and staff”. This prophetic word sounds all too familiar.

A second approach Mead observed he described as follows:

“Holding steady and hoping for the best”…

I suspect this describes well why many of our churches have continued to give to the Cooperative Program. The tradition of sending your money to Dallas or Nashville to reach the world runs deep. As long as there is a small vocal minority of senior adults who attend business meetings we will continue to pay our dues to Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong, even though many of our younger members don’t even know who they are and often wonder when are we ever going to get those ladies paid off? Playing it safe in times of seismic change can be very risky at best. On of the reasons Ed Jackson of Garland called on the BGCT to form “The Future Focus” study taskforce goes back to the looming threat. As the GI Generation passes the baton and their resources on, who is going to make up the slack? We need to look no further than a demographic study of the messengers of BGCT annual meetings to realize our window of opportunity is rapidly closing. “Holding steady” hoping for a miracle or a miracle worker may be fool hardy at best.

A third approach Mead observed and advocated is:

“A third strategy, the one I obviously prefer, requires moving ahead into a new paradigm of mission, rebuilding and reinventing the church as we go. This choice would be simple to make if two things were clear—what the new paradigm really is, and how we determine which parts of the collapsing system we need to keep to make it in the new era”.

As you can see this strategy is easy to choice, but rather trying to implement. If we had a “word” from heaven that spoke to the specifics of what to do it would make things much easier, but we lack or fail to listen to the futurists in our midst much like the people of old ignored the gloom and doom prophets. Like a doctor who is gifted in diagnosis but lack the medical expertise to heal, I find myself scratching my head, reading widely, praying, talking, dreaming, and in the end wondering which way to turn and what to do.

However, I want to end on a positive note. The mission of the Kingdom of God is too great for God to leave it to us and our bumbling attempts alone. Jesus knew that apart from Him we could do “nothing”. So I am confident we are edging our way into exciting times. As our feet splash in puddles of “new” wine spilled on the floor from the rupture of the old wineskins of our denominational systems, I believe God is already retooling His church and pouring new wine into new wineskins. I am claiming the words of Isaiah for the generations to come as he wrote:

18 “Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert
and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV)

Forgetting the “former things” is job one for many of us steeped in the old systems, but the call is clear “see, I am doing a new thing!” I believe God is going to bring “streams” to the desert. He is answering our prayers with Himself rather than another innovative program. May we all look to Him in faith as our young men and women “see visions” and our old men “dream dreams”.

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Jesus Walking

Note: This blog is based on an email article I sent to the members of my church this week. As part of our Texas Hope 2010 participation, we challenged our people to begin prayer walking their neighborhoods. Last Sunday we took pages from the Canyon Telephone book and asked our people to pray name by name for the individuals, families and business listed.

“Jesus Walking”

18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him. Matt 4:18-20 (NIV)

In the modern world of horseless carriages most of us rarely ever walk anywhere, except when we speed walk for exercise with earplugs and mp3 players creating background music to our huffing and puffing. Walking has become old fashioned. We circle the Wal-mart parking lot or the lot outside the Activity Center six times looking for the nearest parking place so we don’t have to walk too far. I fear driving has robbed us of more than cash in our wallets when we pull up to the pump. I fear driving has robbed us of the gift of community and wonder.

Jesus walked most everywhere he traveled. His annual treks from Nazareth to Jerusalem were more than walks around the block, they were closer to pilgrimages. On these journeys of the heart Jesus had time to stop and smell the sweet smells of the country side. He saw the poor, blind, and lame lining the streets of the cities and villages. He overhead the sights and sounds of the city, and took time to stop and talk to people along the trail. His paths were much too slow for those calibrated to the modern speed of life, but his paths were in step with the ebb and flow of a life in the Spirit.

Next time you read through the gospels, notice how many times Jesus “stumbles” into a ministry opportunity by “accident” as He is walking along. Notice how he was willing to change plans, and meet people in the streets. How what was urgent to some could be delayed for the opportunity of the moment and the life that could be changed with a word or a gentle touch.

This week many of us took up the challenge of prayer walking our neighborhoods. As you walk the streets and lanes around your house. Pay attention to what you see around you. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with the neighbor you “accidentally” bumped into on the street. Buy lemonade from a child, and listen to his or her story about what they are going to do with their treasure, and don’t be afraid to pay concession stand prices for your paper cup of watery lemonade. It will be an investment in a child worth making. Look for boats, motorcycles, old cars, and toys in the yard. Each item will tell a story and will help you pray more effectively for those who call this house their home.

Prayer walking is really “Jesus walking”. It is learning from the Master the importance of slowing down and noticing the people all around you. It also gives your friends and neighbors a good chance to get a look at you, so you will no longer be the stranger that magically appears pulling his or her car out of the garage only to go back into your box when you get home in the evening.

I fear the modern small town is still small, but it is no longer the village of friends and neighbors it once was. Our front porches have been replaced with backyard decks and our closest confidants email or text us but rarely speak to us face to face. Jesus did ministry in a “face to face” world, and I believe the best ministry is still done that way.

Enjoy your walk, and don’t be surprised if you return home more changed than your neighbors.

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BGCT/SBC: Hard Look in the Mirror (part 2)

I wonder sometimes in our denominational struggles if we are trying to treat a bad case of the measles with bandages. The red whelps all over the face, back and arms are not the primary problem but rather a symptom of a deeper inner condition. Bandages and lotions will never cure the measles, nor will superficial spiritual solutions the fundamental challenges the churches and denominations face today.

Loren Mead, like a minor prophet of old, described our condition today in 1991 as he observed the slow decline and decay of the once vibrant mainline denominations of America. In his book The Once and Future Church, he noted that:

“Three things are happening around us simultaneously: First, our present confusion about mission hides the fact that we are facing a fundamental change in how we understand the mission of the church. Beneath the confusion we are being stretched between a great vision of the past and a new vision that is not yet fully formed.

Second, local congregations are now being challenged to move from a passive, responding role in support of mission to a front-line, active role. The familiar roles of laity, clergy, executive, bishop, church council, and denominational bureaucrat are in profound transition all around us.

Third, institutional structures and forms developed to support one vision of our mission are rapidly collapsing. I argue that we are being called to invent or reinvent structures and forms that will serve the new mission as well as the old structures served the old vision.”

His observations and statements make me wonder if our lack of unity and vision may have as much to do with these fundamental changes in the world and context around us as our theological and philosophical differences. As the world has become increasingly “flatter” and the average believer and local church has more and more access to the world both local and global the pull of the great Cooperative Program has weakened. I remember when a mission trip meant loading onto vans and heading to Juarez for a week on the border, or a choir trip to New England, but now local churches are planting churches in places like Vietnam, Belize, East Asia, France, Niger, and Brazil. For many these hands on trips have more “bang” for the buck for the membership. Now whether these efforts are more effective than career missionaries is debatable, but there is no question the rules are changing.

In addition to the global opportunities, the harsh reality is that we are losing America slowly and surely right before our eyes. The “real mission” field is no across the street, in the cookie cutter suburbs of our major metropolitan areas, and on the mean streets of our inner cities. If we are serious about reaching the world with the gospel we need to create strategies to reach East Dallas, downtown Houston, crowded inner city neighborhoods of San Antonio, and the exploding population centers of the Valley. As local churches answer the call to reach their neighborhoods instead of sending money to denominational headquarters to reach the world, they are looking for help from the denominational leaders to reach their cities and undergird their ministries. However, since more churches are keeping more and more money for mission at home there is less and less to be sent to the front lines from headquarters.

Mead argues “we are being called to invent or reinvent structures and forms that will serve the new mission as well as the old structures served the old vision”. I believe he is right, but the white elephant in the living room is HOW! I don’t suppose to have the answers to all these issues but I am committed to pouring new wine in new wineskins. We have spilled too much on the floor already, and too many of our finest young leaders have written us off as being irrelevant. It is time to dream new dreams and cast new visions.

In closing, I don’t know if denominations are going to die. I suspect they will if they do not change, but I am convinced that the basic values of denominations must live on in the new reality. Values like cooperation, networking, trust, and working together. These values are not old fashioned relics of the past. These values are fundamental principles of our King and His Kingdom. How we cooperate, network, trust, and work together may change in form and function, but I pray they will continue to the linchpins of our future.

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BGCT/SBC: A Hard Look in the Mirror

Recently my wife Robyn brought home a book from her Worldconnex board meeting entitled The Once and Future Church: Reinventing the Congregation for a New Mission Frontier. Loren B. Mead, one of the founders of the Alban Institute, wrote the book back in 1991. He wrote of the slow and sure demise of mainline denominations and congregations across the land, but as I read his analysis I saw too many parallels to the challenges currently being faced by the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Southern Baptist Convention.

Note how Mead describes the slow decline of mainline denominations:

“In one denomination after another, the consensus disappeared. Voices became discordant. Mission, which had once been both central rallying cry and basic assumption, became instead a subject of debate and disagreement. What had been clear simply was not clear any more. Instead of having a shared sense of one crusade in which all were engaged and to which all were committed, we began to be aware of different agendas, conflicting demands, and needs for ministry.”

Mead points out in the complex realities of a changing environment, western denominations were not prepared for the changes in Christendom. As the vision became clouded by competing voices and issues, and as the society no longer supported and at time propped up the churches the church began to decline and panic set in. In our time of confusion and competing voices today, Mead challenges us to come to grips with what really may be happening around us and among us.

Mead points out:

“First, our present confusion about mission hides the fact that we are facing a fundamental change in how we understand the mission of the church. Beneath the confusion we are being stretched between a great vision of the past and a new vision that is not yet fully formed. Second, local congregations are now being challenged to move from a passive, responding role in support of mission to a front-line, active role…Third, institutional structures and forms developed to support one vision of our mission are rapidly collapsing.”

In response to the collapse of the norm in Western Christianity Mead points out that:

“I argue that we are being called to invent or reinvent structures and forms that will serve the new mission as well as the old structures served the old vision. I believe that we are midwives for a new church, working to help our present forms and structures give birth to forms appropriate for the new mission of the church”.

As I read Mead’s observations and insights I was deeply moved, enlightened, saddened and challenged. I find myself caught between two worlds. I was raised, educated, and taught to love the faith (and structures) of our Baptist church fathers. I bleed the Cooperative program, and tear up to the tight harmony of the Gaither vocal band, but I realize God is calling me and those I lead to embrace a new vision bold and creative enough to impact the world of today and tomorrow.

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A Political Opinion

As our nation marches toward the polls for this November election, the issues and personalities launched an open season of political debate and opinion. Strong emotions and sentiment have moved common ordinary Americans to rally behind the chosen leader and cause. Obama and McCain yard signs decorate the front yards of suburban lawns, and decorate the bumpers of all makes and models of cars from Lexus to Fords. As independents and the confused are trying to make up their minds about who to vote for the lure to speak into the noise is palatable for religious leaders.

Pastors and prophets alike feel the need to speak out like the Moral Majority of the recent past. The next generation of red-blooded, flag waving American preachers wants to weigh in on the issues to help point people in the right direction like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson did for their generation. However, this passion to speak out has it costs as a younger brasher Billy Graham learned the hard way years ago. I grew up under the light and example of an older wiser Christian statesman but in his early days Billy Graham stepped into the political world carry his black King James Version of the Bible and deep opinion about how presidents should lead, and even about who should be president. In his early days he was tempted to accept the role of the Popes of the medieval world as a “kingmaker”. One of his greatest temptations came when his close friend Richard Nixon was running against a young upstart politician named John F. Kennedy. The debate about religion and politics was the rage as this young Catholic ran for president. Graham learned the lesson that it is dangerous to confuse which kingdom you ultimately serve. As Ruth kicked him under the table as he spoke about vice president nominees with President Johnson he was learning to put the Kingdom of God first and foremost in his mission. In later generation, he chose to be a pastor to the presidents rather than a political advisor. In my opinion this was a much wiser and much more powerful role for him.

I believe it is highly dangerous for a pastor to dabble in politics. Denominations and conventions need to learn to be “missionary” in their approach to political parties. Being “missionary” to me means that choose to preach the gospel in word and deed, and avoid the lure of making political pronouncements. You will find a yard sign in my yard for neither presidential candidate, nor a bumper sticker on my old Jeep. You will not hear me endorse a political candidate from the pulpit whether he or she is running for president or county judge. You will not find my signature with concerned citizens supporting the incumbent mayor or council man, but you will hear me preach the gospel and call our nation and its leaders to trust the Lord and to follow him in all their ways.

In recent days I have heard preachers waging in on whether Palin should run for vice-president or stay at home and raise her five kids. I have seen pastors side boldly and openly with one political party or another, while running the risk of alienating many in their realm of influence to the gospel they preach. In the ballot box I always vote my conscience, but in the pulpit I preach the gospel.

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Randel Everett: Chapel of Southwestern

On October 15th President Paige Patterson has invited Dr. Randel Everett, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, to speak in chapel at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. As a student at Southwestern rarely did I think of chapel as an historic event, but this one will be in many ways. I commend Everett and Patterson for taking this bold step into our future together. I realize I need to be careful to not make too much out of this event, but I am so grateful to see Christian statesmen working on repairing bridges instead of taking the splintered lumber and constructing walls.

The kind of change we need may have to begin with small steps, but I am thankful to see this step forward. I suspect many in Texas Baptist life look back over the last twenty-five years of our history through different eyes. Some celebrate the “Conservative Resurgence”, while others fought it tooth and nail. However, we are not going to claim our future by looking backwards. We must embrace our conflicts, learn from each other, acknowledge our mistakes, and work together for a better tomorrow.

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