Monthly Archives: December 2008

Christmas Invasion

Christmas rings with the sounds of “peace on earth, goodwill toward men”, yet the first Christmas was much closer to a covert operation as Jesus infiltrated planet earth on a quest to change the world from the inside out. Jesus knew all too well we could not be left to our own devices. We had proven time and time again we could not be trusted. Sin and selfish reigns in hearts separated from God’s life force. The Kingdom of God preached by Jesus and His followers created peace within and without as men and women, boys and girls, rich and poor, powerful and weak, slave and free yield to the reign of God over their hearts and lives. Jesus took on flesh and blood to declare war on the forces of darkness and death.

Erwin McManus captures well this spirit of Christmas in his book The Barbarian Way:

“Jesus is being lost in a religion bearing His name. People are being lost because they cannot reconcile Jesus’ association with Christianity. Christianity has become docile, domesticated, civilized. We have forgotten that there is a kingdom of darkness stealing the hopes and dreams and souls of a humanity without God. It is time to hear the call barbarian call, to form a barbarian tribe, and to unleash the barbarian revolt. Let the invasion begin….”

Jesus stated this call in a direct way saying:

“Do not suppose I came to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” Matthew 10:35 NIV

Jesus cuts to the chase and calls all of us to lives of abandonment to His Kingdom and His vision of tomorrow.

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Christmas!

There’s nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child.

Erma Bombeck

 

From the very first Christmas celebrated in a stable hidden behind an overcrowded inn, Christmas has revolved around children. The wonder of the birth of Jesus may only be fully realized by imagination and simple faith of a child. It is sad how the years rob us of the wonder of Christmas.

 

It does not have to be that way. We don’t have to be willing victims of the cynicism and logic of the aged. We can see the world through the eyes of a child. We can still experience wonder and innocent joy complete with an occasional giggle. In fact, the Kingdom of God and Christmas belong to such as these.

 

Remember Jesus had an amazing ability to connect with children. Whether He was bouncing them on His knee or blessing them in His arms, Jesus loved the children that crossed His path from the little boy with five loaves and two fish to the little girl who heard His voice calling her back from the gates of heaven to the embrace of her mom and dad. Jesus loves the child in you.

 

Jesus made his point rather clear when He said:

 

I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. (Mark 10:15 NIV)

 

This Christmas enjoy the wonder and miracle of Emmanuel –”God with us”—through the eyes of a child, and just try to keep from smiling!

 

Merry Christmas!

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Christmas Cuts

Most of the financial news out of Baptist institutions these days is bad news. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary have slashed their budgets due to the bad national economic conditions. The WMU came up with a creative leave rotation to try to keep full employment by asking their employees to go without pay for a few weeks at a time. The Baptist General Convention of Texas reported a 3.46% drop in their offering compared to the previous year. The BGCT received $34, 599,404.00 which is $5.2 million dollars below the approved ministry budget. Much like families across the land the family of God has to tighten their belts to make ends meet.

In light of these trying financial situations what is a ministry leader to do or to think? Last night I was drawn to the words of Jesus as He sent out the Twelve to do ministry in His name. Jesus instructed His disciples to “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. “Mark 6:8-9 NIV

Simply put, go and trust GOD for what you need. Few of our ministries operate totally by faith. Having “no money” in the account rarely happens. I tend to be a conservative leader by nature. I feel it is prudent to have some reserves to meet the financial obligations of the church I lead especially for the sake of the staff. Pay day comes all too often. However, I fear that too often I look to the reserves rather than to the LORD for provision.

When I was a church planter I learned one of the lessons of the harvest. Simply put, “the resources are IN the harvest.” In essence that is what Jesus is teaching His disciples. He challenged them to go and do what they had seen Him do, and trust the LORD to provide what they need as they extend the work of His Kingdom. I remember one month in the struggling new church I started that we finished the month with less than $50.00 in the bank. As the church leadership met to discuss the situation, I must admit I was a bit nervous, if not in a self-inflicted panic. We read the report and one of our members blurted out “Praise the LORD”, then turning to us he said, “God promised to give us what we need, and He has given us $50.00 extra.” I could almost hear Jesus whispering to me “Oh, ye of little faith.”

Granted times are tough, but as followers of the Lord Jesus we need to keep our shoulders to the plow without looking back knowing God will be faithful to provide what we need as we do what He has called us to do.

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Still a Good Investment: Christian Higher Education

A university graduation offers a glimpse into the future of a nation. Saturday I had the privilege to be an honored guest at the commencement ceremonies of East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, Texas. It had been twenty-four years since I had been on the campus, the last time being when my brother Stephen graduated in 1984. The campus had changed dramatically, and the graduates look like children to me through my bi-focal glasses, but the spirit of the campus was still rooted in the Christ-centered values of Christian higher education.

The graduation ceremony was filled with the pomp and circumstance you would expect at such a significant rite of passage. The large crowd was filled with proud parents, grateful grandparents, excited brothers and sisters, and a pleased faculty. Since I really did not know any of the graduates personally I could take in the moment with an open heart and mind. Of course the graduation had its class clown moments as one young beaming graduate strutted across the stage in large light blue clown shoes! What a proud moment for mom and dad! I suspect one day he will be a bank president, or a member of the board of trustees. There were a number of touching moments like when one young man graduated with honors instead of walking the stage he rolled to President Riley seated in his motorized wheel chair, or when a young man graduated and it was clear from his family’s celebration that he was the first college graduate from his long family history—one cycle ended and a new exiting chapter has begun.

The commencement speaker was President Bob Riley who will be retiring in June after seventeen faithful years of service. Without doubt one of the most difficult jobs in the Kingdom is the heavy responsibility of being a college president. Dr. Riley has helped make our world a much better place by pouring his life and energy into the lives of the next generation. Only God knows how many long hours he has put in, how many times he has gone hat in hand asking for financial support, how many times he has struggled to keep the life and mission of ETBU alive and well. All Texas Baptists owe him a debt of gratitude for all he has done to extend the work of the Kingdom through ETBU.

Dr. Paul Sorrels, the university provost, gave me a quick tour of the campus. As we walked the hallways, and drove from one end of the campus to another, I could hear in his voice his love for the students, the faculty, and the mission of the school. We are so rich as Texas Baptists to have an able leader like Dr. Sorrels at the helm of the education endeavors of our ETBU.

As I drove away from the campus, I was so thankful that as a Texas Baptist I have had a small part in the life and mission of this great school. I was also reminded that our investment in Christian higher education has little to do with brick and mortar, but rather around changed lives. We invest in students. Anyone who invests in the next generation is like the man who plants a tree that he will never sit under—but his grandchildren will!

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Give Presence

Christmas captures in a short bluster season the best and too often the worst of life in America. Christmas reminds us in softer tones of the priceless value of “peace and goodwill toward men,” but it also reveals in harsh tones the greed and selfishness of the human heart as people are trampled under in the rush to get more and more stuff that will soon collect dust in our overcrowded garages.

 

Most of us have long Christmas lists of the naughty and nice like a junior Santa in training and we rush off to buy unique personal gifts for those who practically have everything, while rushing by and being served by those who have practically nothing. Humorist Garrison Keillor quipped:

 

“Once again we come to the Holiday season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his own way, by going to the mall of his choice.”

 

I wonder if the Wise Men might have taken another approach of worship, or secretly slipped the gifts to Jesus if they could have seen where their simple act of worship would take a consumer and consumption driven world.

 

Chris Seay, pastor of Ecclesia church in Houston, along with three other pastors decided two years ago that something had to give in the way the followers of Jesus observed this wonderful time of the year. So they launched a movement they called “The Advent Conspiracy.” You can check out this website by going to the link www.adventconspiracy.org. One of their challenges to the followers of Jesus encapsulates in simple terms and images the spirit of Christ. Their challenge simple says “Give Presence.” Give yourself. Give your time. Give your love. Give your attention. Be aware. Be attentive. Be fully present with those you love.

 

In essence this depicts the heart of Christmas so well. Eugene Peterson translated the words of John written to describe the “presence” of Jesus on planet earth among His people like this:

 

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish. John 1:14 (MSG)

 

I resonate with the line, “We saw the glory with our own eyes.” This Christmas our world needs to once again see His glory with their own eyes, so let’s be “the presence of Christ” within the four walls of our homes, in our busy offices and classrooms, on the streets and in the malls, in our houses of worship as the carols of Christmas ring out and especially to those who struggle to know the true meaning of Christmas. This Christmas—”give presence.”

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Advent Conspiracy

I would encourage you to check out the Advent Conspiracy website: www.adventconspiracy.org. I stumbled onto it somewhat accidently (yea right!) and the LORD used it to remind me what Christmas is really all about. It also inspired me by what can happen when the Spirit breathes new life and creativity into just a handful of churches.

Cooperation still lives and works miracles. It is time for us to be reminded of this.

The words of the Christmas angel still ring true today:

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:10-11 (NIV)

It’s my prayer that “Jesus in me and you” will continue to bring “great joy” to all people.

Worship fully, Spend less, Give more, Love all…..

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Trust: Responsive Systems

Cooperation among churches and followers of Jesus in the 21st century will look and function much more like a living organism than a large bulky bureaucracy. Loren B. Mead in The Once and Future Church: Reinventing the Congregation for a New Mission Frontier noted how denominations and convention must adapt and change to face the mission frontier and realities. He writes:

“In the long run, the judicatories and denominations have been slow to recognize how mission frontier has shifted. That may be because to do so is to raise serious questions about how and where the church spends its money. And until the churches begin seriously to make their structures accountable to the new missionary boundaries, they will face continuing declines.”

I believe Mead is on target that denominations have been “slow” to change and face the new realities. The local church lives on the front lines, and its lay leaders live much more in the world than most of us who hold positions in the ministry. Too often we can so isolate ourselves that we lose touch with what is happening all around us. In addition, large denominations are hard to change because the cost of significant change demands sacrifice and hard choices. Mead notes:

“Those who work to build the future church will need to put energy into developing systems that promote clear accountability between those in congregations and those who assist in mission.”

If the denomination is going to be more responsive to its environment I believe it must have higher accountability and connect to the local church. Those who serve on leadership boards and committees must challenge our leaders to continually adapt to the changes in our culture and mission field. As we look to the future, I believe we need an organization that functions much more like a body that is totally interconnected and interdependent. In reality we are interdependent even if we don’t acknowledge it. For this body to work well trust, communication, feedback, system-sensitive decision making and embracing and learning from conflict will be essential values to help us rally around a bold compelling vision of the future.

I think Paul had it right when he wrote:

15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Eph 4:15-16 (NIV)


 

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