Monthly Archives: June 2011

Not Your Grandmother’s VBS

This week our church like many churches across the nation is hosting a Vacation Bible School for the children of our church and community. There is nothing like the feeling of having a church facility over run with children.

During the course of the week my mind raced back to my days in Vacation Bible School. I can remember the honor of being chosen to carry in the flag. I can remember when the pianist gave the students the cue to stand up and to sit down by playing a couple of distinct notes. High tech in those days was a new flannel board complete with Jesus and his twelve disciples.

This week our children have taken a road trip to the Big Apple–New York City.  The Lifeway materials strikes me with its creative and innovation. Personally I have enjoyed the music. I must admit I am challenged by choreography (or dancing), but of course I suspect anyone who can really dances must have Methodist roots!

Martin Luther knew the genius and power of music in the realm of transformation. He turned the religious world upside down by putting the truth in the language of the people and one of the key ways he did this was by putting this truth to music. Music has a way of bonding truth to the heart.

Of course the key to the effective of Vacation Bible School revolves around the volunteers. In our case, we have 72 volunteers working with our children. The volunteers range from the young and old, but one thing true of each one of them is their love for the Lord and their love for children. Much like Jesus, these volunteers understand the significance of investing in children. Children hold the future of our land in their hands, and their lives are dramatically shaped by what happens in the early days of their lives. We can innovate and entertain but if we are serious about life transformation–the volunteers are the key.

I thank God for people who make Vacation Bible School a success.

 

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Playing Catch Up: SBC Style

This morning during the Southern Baptist Convention gathering in Phoenix, the Executive Committee of the SBC challenged the messengers of the convention to move forward in their commitment to ethnic diversity in leadership and ministry. This is a bold courageous step for the SBC. It has been too long in coming. The United States has changed significantly over the past twenty-five years and more is to come. Soon our nation will be a nation of minorities.

As a member of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, I invite the SBC leaders to learn from our example. The BGCT truly practices heaven on earth. On any given Sunday BGCT churches worship in over fifty languages.

Clearly quotas will not set the tone for embracing the future. In some ways becoming color blind will be the first step toward changing the face of the SBC. I have found it to be a matter of the heart–a matter of learning and listening–and a ministry of presence.

First true change begins in the heart. We need to learn to see each others as Jesus sees us. As Paul wrote so clearly:

Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Colossians 3:11 NIV)

Where Christ reigns as LORD barriers fall.

Second, we tear down barriers by learning from each other and listening to each other. When you humble yourself and ask for help barriers fall. Without question many of our ethnic leaders know more about embracing and advancing diversity than we do. In addition, they often know more about how to share the gospel in their context than we do. Learn from them. Listening remains one of the best ways to learn. Is it any wonder God gave you two ears and one mouth!

Third, presence speaks as loud or louder than words. If we want to be more diverse then we need to reach out. We need to take the first step. I have found leaders in ethnic churches to be incredibly hospitable and open. They gladly open the doors, but more importantly open their hearts. Spending time together makes all the difference. It moves our theology from the head to the heart.

I affirm the SBC leadership for this intentional bold move into the future. I also invite them to First Baptist Church El Paso if they want to see this reality fleshed out in person.

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Dark Lessons in the Light: Virtual Reality is Reality

The political and media world rocked this week by yet another scandal out of Washington. Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York confessed under pressure for his inappropriate actions in cyberspace. Apparently, Weiner sent lewd pictures of himself to several women along with a flood of sexually charges texts. His behavior has deeply marred his reputation, deeply wounded his wife, and made his name a laughing-stock around the nation. Once a shinning star in the Democratic party with his eyes set toward a possible run for the office of mayor of New York, Weiner now must wrestle with how to get up and move on with his life.

Weiner has learned a difficult lesson the hard way. We would be wise to learn from his example. The world-wide web can lure you into making some horrible mistakes. It gives the allusion of privacy, yet it is far more public can one might imagine.

In the parable of the soils, Jesus pointed out the significance of what happens below the surface. Roots bring forth life. Roots run deep and rarely can be seen, yet they hold the secret to everything that happens above the surface.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus pointed out how what is done in secret counts. The real test of spirituality emerges in secret. Who we are when no one is looking tells the real story.

Solomon had it right when he wrote years ago:

13 Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the whole duty of man.
14 For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 NIV

In reality there are no hidden things–especially in the eyes of God. The cyber-world reflects eternity. Once you hit the enter key the whole world can know what you did.

As I pray for Rep. Weiner and his wife during this trial of his own making, I pray God will protect my heart from the lure of secret sins. I must remind myself daily the warning the Lord gave to Cain in the earliest days of the human race:

7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:7 NIV)

The next time you go to your secret place meet God there and slam the door to sin crouching there to destroy you.

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Filed under Devotion, World Events

Confessions of a Scared Leader

El Paso: Last week I had the opportunity to spend the day in Juarez working with various Christian ministries. My plan was to cross the border around 8:00 a.m. and to cross back into the U.S. at 10:30 p.m. Even though I had been into Juarez on a couple of other occasions this was going to be my first full day in the city.

Since I live in El Paso, I know all too well the stories about the violence in Juarez.  Sadly the reports of the grisly murders and abductions have become commonplace. That is until you plan to enter the city. It is much like the old adage, “A minor surgery is always a surgery on someone else!”

I must confess the night before going into the city I tossed and turned. I knew I was going to go. I was confident the Lord was going to take care of me. I knew it was very important for me to join with my brothers and sisters in their struggles to advance the Kingdom against all odds, but in my flesh I struggled.

I was reminded of a big lesson last week–face your fears and trust the Lord. For years one of my fall back verses is the prayer of the psalmist:

“When I am afraid, I will trust in you!”

There is nothing wrong with being afraid. We are all human and frail. Acknowledging your fears is healthy. However, as a leader it is critical that you face your fears in faith. The kingdom of God is advance by those who learn to put their trust in God!

I enjoyed an amazing day of ministry. Even though I went to Juarez to be a blessing I returned with the greater blessing. I was blessed by the faith and courage of the seminary students who stepped into the fire to be trained and tempered for service. I was blessed by the teenage boys and girls at the orphanage where I shared a meal and spent the afternoon. I was blessed by the pastors and people of all denominations who gathered to worship and to plan on how to take back their city.

The next day after my return I was reading these words of Peter, who knew far better than I the high cost of following Jesus. Peter wrote:

12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed……

19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

(I Peter 4:12-13, 19 NIV)

Simply put during times of testing and trial, our “faithful Creator” has called us to “commit” ourselves to Him, and to “continue to DO GOOD.” In a world filled with violence and evil, it is critical that we step up and do good–even when we are afraid.

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Filed under Border Journal, El Paso Journal

Good News, Bad News from the Bloody Streets of Juarez

The El Paso Times reported this week that the number of murders in Juarez has dropped for the last three months.

There were 152 homicides last month in Juárez compared with 171 in April and 183 in March, according to unofficial numbers reported Wednesday by the Chihuahua attorney general’s office.

Without doubt for those of us who live along the border this is welcomed news. However, the harsh reality is that 506 people lost their lives in the last three months. The ripple effect of these deaths continue to send shock waves of grief and loss over a city that has had more than its share of suffering.

In response to these declines, the mayor of Juarez declared recently that Juarez is no longer the most dangerous city in Mexico. Statistically this may or may not be true, but the troubling truth is that the city is still in the grip of fear and evil.

Hundreds and thousands of people have prayed for justice to roll over this city like a river. In recent days in conversations with pastors in Juarez I sensed an urgency for the Kingdom of God to make a move.

For example, one pastor I met has led his church to plan to present a gospel cd to every household in the city. Another pastor took the gospel to the police stations and shared hope with those on the front lines fighting evil. Another pastor went to the city officials and received permission to preach the gospel in the community centers across the city. (At first the city leaders wanted to church leader to simply teach the children about living better lives, but the pastors responded “NO,  what the children need is Jesus.”  So they were given permission to preach as long as they did not tell the children where to go to church!)

So what is changing? Without doubt there are more boots on the ground with the police, federal police and army working the streets, but the real hope of the city rests with the people of God  who are speaking up and speaking out. Pray for these men and women to be empowered by the Spirit of God as they seek to take back their city for the Kingdom of God.

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Filed under Border Journal, El Paso Journal