Thursday, September 11, 2008

My Hero

Today is a landmark day in America. Every 365 days, this day is always a landmark day. Today, I will take part in a service that where God's people will pray for the safety, security, and Spiritual health of our nation. I'm all too glad to do it.

In my absence from blogging, I've had some rough patches, some good times, and I've cried twice, which is two more times than I cried in the past two years - once for an overwhelmingly tender moment with my daughter, once for my deep regret for poorly I've treated my wife lately. That happened Monday. I'm the pastor of a growing church, and I think we're starting to see that the road to effectiveness is much different than we thought. Our church has some real demons, which probably makes it like your church. Over the past week, we've identified some and missed others, but we're growing stronger. In an episode of The Office, Michael talks about a special Japaneese massage that is so painful, it makes some people throw up, but leaves the patient feeling great. We're going through one of those massages.

But, since it's 9/11, I should get back to something that hasn't happened since I last blogged - a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. An Ann Coulter column this morning talked about the effectiveness of President Bush in keeping Americans out of harm's way. Coulter commented that we don't even think about Islamic terrorism too much anymore. Who would have thunk (sic) it on 9/12/01?

President Bush is hated by those in the media because he doesn't care what they think. He doesn't cave in to protesters. He doesn't worry about his reputation. At the end of the Clinton presidency, he pardoned a very shady man by the name of Mark Rich. The left, suddenly aware that Clinton was a shifty guy (where were they during the Ken Starr investigation?) dogged Clinton for the pardon. Clinton said that looking back, he wouldn't have pardoned Rich because it wasn't worth the damage to his reputation. Huh? I promise you, President Bush will say no such thing.

So this is the last 9/11 in the Bush presidency. Things are notably different since the first one. We've won a war in Afghanistan. We've won a war in Iraq and have begun the process of troop withdraw. Terrorist networks are so discombobulated that they are unable to function. Even their fallback plan, which is setting IEDs by the roadside in Iraq, is now doomed to failure. Terrorism has been defeated. This is not to say we can end the fight or stop being vigilant, but we can carry with us the fact that real security is possible.

So Bush is a true national hero. He's hated, he's unpopular, but he's kept us safe. He did everything the left said not to do and it worked like a charm. It was harder than we all thought, but he stayed the course. He's fought two wars against vicious enemies while the majority of his fellow Americans dreamed of publicly spitting in his face.

Mr. President, you probably already know that liberals will write the history books. You will be ballyhooed as an idiot, a clueless dolt, and a worthless warmonger. But sir, I'd like you to know that the fact that Americans are still alive to criticize you is a success on your part, and I'd like to thank you for all that you did for our country. Real Americans will always know that you were truly one of our greatest presidents.

On a side note, my new hero is rising up into the national spotlight. Sarah Palin, you are awesome! You are a godly woman who will help John McCain fight for what we believe in.

I'm back

Sorry for the hiatus. My blog has become like the Guess Who - "No Time Left for You."

Monday, March 24, 2008

How To Become A Bad Parent

The answer is fairly simple - have kids.

My daughter has a habit of making me look like a terrible father. She is like the ocean; if you turn your back on her, she knocks you over.

Today, I was attempting to play tennis on my new Wii console. I'm able to keep a pretty good eye on her, even when I'm whacking around a virtual tennis ball. I notice when she's trying to get the camcorder out of our end table. I am aware of when she's trying to put those smooth stones from our coffee table's centerpiece (now relocated to the other end table) in her mouth. I can figure out when she's going into the bathroom to read, er, I mean rip apart our stash of Reader's Digest magazines. This morning, I had my eye off of her for two seconds and I knew that since she wasn't in my sight, she was doing something forbidden, possibly life-threatening. To my dismay, I found her pulling yet another cover off of the electrical socket so that she could figure out how to put it back in.

On Thursday, I was doing something fairly routine. Every morning, like clockwork, she soils her diaper in the most smelly fashion, minutes before we are ready to go see Mrs. Judy, her child-care provider. I've developed a bit of a strong stomach, but one day, her morning offering caused me to run to the bathroom to make an offering of my own. This morning, her present to me was especially smelly. I was horrified to find out that there were no wipes in her little box. It is a simple motion to reach down to grab another bag of wipes. They are in the dresser upon which her changing pad rests. Upon grabbing the wipes and beginning the process of opening the bag, she reached for the bag, falling off the table and onto the floor, landing squarely on her back. I was more hurt than she was.

My wife and I bought a brand new minivan on Friday. On Wednesday, we were at the dealership negotiating a price for the vehicle. Natalie had the time of her life. She romped around the dealership, talking to everybody who would make eye contact with her. She made a friend in one of the female members of the sales staff. She even tried to play with another customer's baby. On the test drive, our salesman was talking about his son who is two days younger than Natalie. He told us how he taught his son to say, "Touchdown!" to which Natalie reached up her arms and exclaimed, "Touchdown!" Later, when we were in his office, Cheryl set Natalie down to reach for a notepad. Natalie, seeing that the gates were wide open for an escape, charged out of the office and onto the showroom floor. She nearly ran right into a car that was backing up. The operator was clearly oblivious to the oncoming two-foot tall toddler, the likes of which generally don't escape on the showroom floor. My wife screamed. People immediately took notice. It was quite embarrassing.

If my eyes are off Natalie for a second, she is off doing something forbidden. Since she has no clue about the dangers that this world contains, she can find herself in real trouble.

Faith is the same way. It cannot be neglected. It cannot be ignored. If you turn your back on God for even a second, you will find yourself wandering into dangerous areas where you need not be. Further, the road to safety is a narrow one. Jesus said that the path to righteousness is a narrow one. If I may be so bold as to add to what our Lord said, but it is also full of wonderful looking treasures to get our attention off goal at the end of the road. Keep your eyes on God.

p.s. As I was writing this, Natalie decided to stick one of her blocks in the blower for our wood stove. Arrrggg.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Why Me?

I've had the opportunity to read a lot of books, recently. Thus, I've had a lot of people engage me with a lot of different ideas. One thing that I have found is that it is fun to read books that make you think. In our ReFocus meetings, Genetta has us read some crazy stuff, not necessarily because the authors are correct in their thesis, but because they challenge you to think. Those types of books are great.

One interesting idea that has come up in a few of the books is the narcissistic view of many Christians. Thus, people say that, "Jesus died for me." People thank God "for all that you have done for me." We sing songs like, "I'll Fly Away" that talk about us blowing this joint the moment that we pass on. We talk about what the pastor does for me. We talk about how church meets my needs.

This post is simply question begging. It's more of an exercise in free-thinking than providing timeless truths of God's Word. Perhaps you'll dialogue with my thoughts. Perhaps you won't. Regardless, I'm thinking out loud and I hope you find something that engages you.

I know there are many narcissistic Christians. I know there are many selfless Christians. One name that immediately comes to mind in the latter category is Dr. Bob Black over at Southern Wesleyan University. We used to joke on campus that he was the definition of Wesleyan holiness. If you're going to be the butt of a few jokes, that's a good one. I remember when my first semester was complete, he called me a few days into my break (and his!). He had written out my entire plan for the next four semesters to ensure my graduation. My wife and I were very impressed. I did not have one professor at SWU that I couldn't stand. On the contrary, I dearly loved every one of them, but Dr. Black had a sort of compassion that I never had seen in somebody else. He was tough, but in a loving sort of way.

On the other hand, I've seen churches who have been rendered useless by the constant bickering and unwillingness to cooperate with others who have different opinions on how church should be done. I've seen an entire movement built on the idea that being a Christian means having access to God's material blessing. Lakewood Church in Houston, pastored by Joel Osteen, has 40,000+ members. His theology is that God blesses abundantly, meaning you will have all the material possessions that you want. This form of narcissism is at the extreme end of the spectrum.

The more moderate narcissist is found in many normal churches. This individual comes because they like the pastor's preaching, the worship team's music, the aesthetics of the sanctuary, the children's ministry, and the people that they worship with. If one or more of these things go away, then the person becomes disinterested and goes away.

This problem is not generational. The younger generation accuses the older generation of being too set in their ways, but the younger generation is not nearly as flexible as they would have you think. Thus, we are focused on what blesses me, what helps me grow, and what makes me happy. We gravitate to churches that are our style. We come to the Lord so that we may go to Heaven. Now, I'm not saying we should go to a church that is totally dysfunctional, but perhaps we should select a church that can use us for mission. Perhaps we should select a church where we can bless others, not where we can be blessed.

And in terms of our faith in God, let me ask you this: If there was no eternal life, would you still worship God? If you were to receive no reward from God for service to Him, would you work for Him? If you got nothing out of your pastor's sermons but were used in effective Kingdom building, would you still go? If you loved contemporary music, but the church really loved the hymns, would you still attend? These questions are not easy to answer, and I cannot pretend that I would respond in the affirmative to them. My prayer is, however, that God would allow me to. I don't want to serve God for me. I want Him to have all the glory, but I don't know if I want it badly enough, yet.

I've been reading a lot of Scripture dealing with the idea of living for others. I'm convinced that the Bible teaches the Christian to forget about self and live solely for others. I'm just not sure how that's done. I'm not that mature. Regardless, I know that it is God's will for me, for you, and for His entire Church.

Spiritual Silence

Doug is a guy in my church. I like to make fun of Doug for being a talker. Truth be told, he is just one of many talkers that our church has. I just single him out because he’s an easy target, and he usually makes fun of me right back. I like it when somebody gives me a hard time. It lets me know they care.

We are told that talking is a healthy thing. It’s no secret that women, who express far more emotion than men, talk much more than men. Women like to pick on men because we don’t know how to communicate. We like to bottle things up, and then when the right (or wrong) moment strikes, we explode. In this sense, talking is a healthy thing.

But when it comes to communicating with God, talking is quite unhealthy. People generally get the impression that prayer is simply talking to God. Therefore, our prayers look a little bit like this:

Lord Jesus, thank you for this lovely day. Thanks that I can talk to You. Please bless me as I try to serve you today, and please help Mary Sue who is sick and Bobby Joe who is having surgery. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.

But that is not genuine communication with God. That’s telling God what you think. If my wife talked to me that way, then ended the conversation and went about her own business, I’d take the tweezers and pull my hair out!

This is one reason why I don’t like to verbalize prayers. Some people don’t get it, my wife being one of them. She likes to hear what I’m saying so she knows what I’m praying for. The problem is that if I’m talking, I cannot hear what God is saying. That’s why I never pray out loud in private. God needs to talk to me, too. Actually, He needs to talk to me more than I need to talk to Him.

This is not a slam against public prayer. It’s a great idea. I’m not saying that praying out loud is bad. It’s not. But God knows what’s on my heart before I ask Him. On the other hand, how many of you have felt that you had no idea where God was in your life? We all feel that way from time to time. God knows my thoughts but I don’t know His. If this is true, then who should be the one talking? Not me!

This week, take some time out and listen. Get quiet before the Lord. You will be amazed at what you’ll hear from the heart of God if only you are willing to listen!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Goodbye, Brett

Brett Favre's first throw as a professional quarterback was a touchdown. On November 10, 1991, the rookie quarterback, then playing for Atlanta, threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown by the Redskins' Andre Collins. The Redskins went on to win the Super Bowl. Brett Favre's final pass was an interception to Corey Webster, a throw that helped send the Giants to their third Super Bowl win. They were two dubious throws that were the moldy bread which encapsulated the sandwich, the meat of which was a Hall of Fame career.

Brett Favre broke many NFL records. Even so, I will not argue that he was the greatest quarterback in NFL history. He deserves to be in the argument, but he doesn't deserve to win it. Despite his numbers, he was not as good as Elway, Brady, Bradshaw, or Montana. However, he was by far the most fun quarterback to watch in NFL history. His improvisational skills were fantastic. He made so many crazy, goofy looking plays that fans simply shook their heads. Further, one never knew if those throws would result in an interception, further adding suspense to every play. He made more good throws than bad ones, but still, his wildman tendencies made for a suspensful football game. The NFL has had many exciting quarterbacks: Daryle Lamonica, Fran Tarkenton, Terry Bradshaw, Steve Young, John Elway, Michael Vick, and Randall Cunningham. Favre was more exciting than any of them.

Still, he had struggles. In 1996, he announced his addiction to Vicodin, a prescription painkiller. That season, he won his only Super Bowl. His father died on December 23, 2003. Brett was able to put that behind him in order to whip the Oakland Raiders on Monday Night Football, one of the most touching games in NFL history. His second to last season was his worst, throwing more interceptions than any year in his career. Despite all of his touchdowns, he made many, many ill-advised passes. With each bad one, he had the uncanny ability to shake it off and move on. When he threw his first NFL pass, he amazed Jerry Glanville, then his head coach, by bragging that his first pass was a touchdown. When Glanville informed him that it went to the wrong team, Favre beamed that nobody would remember that several years down the road. With all of his flaws, he never missed a start, and he is guaranteed to make it into the Hall of Fame five years from now, his first year of eligibility.

Brett Favre played one season in Atlanta. When Ron Wolfe hired Favre in Green Bay, the scouting reports said that he had maybe five years in him. Brett started 275 consecutive games over 17 seasons. In his first game in Green Bay, he replaced Don Majkowski, and proceded to stink up the place, fumbling three times. He was able to pull the game together, throwing a touchdown pass to beat Cincinatti 24-23 with 17 seconds left. Even in his first game in Green Bay, he showed that the had the stuff to get up when knocked down.

Humans are flawed. Even the great ones are imperfect. The strongest Christians will sometimes succumb to moments of weakness. What makes all the difference is what comes after the fall. Do we confess, repent, and move on, or do we allow our failures to spin a downward cycle of damnation?

Monday, March 3, 2008

In the Closet

More than likely, this will be my only post this week, as I want to make sure that everybody has a chance to read it without having to scroll down to the bottom of the page. I have a few drafts ready for next week.

We've created a monster...

"The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him." 1 John 2:4 (NIV)

Holiness is a vital part of the Christian faith. Scripture tells us that we must walk as Jesus did. Jesus tells us that only those who do the will of the Father will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Scripture even uses harsh language, calling those who sin "enemies of God." Thus, if I am a serious student of God's Word, I must come to grips with these statements and teach them as Truth.

I'm hard on my fellow preachers. Part of the reason is that I hear a lot of garbage coming from our pulpits. Turn on WTBI in Greenville and you'll hear it. What they are saying, in some cases, is not unbiblical. The problem is that the rhetoric is overly belligerent. From my pulpit, I have no problem calling sin exactly what it is. That is not my issue with much of the preaching that I hear. The problem that I have is that people preach against sin without a greater point.

If I want to hear "amen," all I have to do is find something to rail against and I'll hear it. If I ask people to be introspective, however, you'll hear crickets chirp in the church. Nobody likes to look in the mirror. If I talk about those dastardly homosexuals, drunks, perverts, and liberals, people like that. Pastors, your congregation will LOVE it if you preach about somebody else.

The problem is that we've created a culture where sin is something that somebody else does, not something that I do. Further, we've created a culture in our churches where people are afraid to speak out and get help for their sin. I'll give you an example. I did a little bit of research and found out that about half the men in our churches struggle with viewing pornography, including pastors, whose percentage mirrors laity. You read that correctly; half of all pastors surveyed admitted to viewing a pornographic website in the past year. If this is true, then half of the men in my church are viewing porn. Half of the ministers that I go to conferences with are viewing porn. Do you know how many confessions that I've heard on the issue? None.

Now imagine this: Let's say that one person in your church during the Sunday morning service had the courage to admit that he was viewing porn . Let's say that he asked you to pray for him. How would your church respond? I told my church yesterday that I better never hear gossip from anybody about someone who has confessed their sins. If I hear it, I will deal with it very harshly. In my church, I really believe that it would start a revival. I believe that others would see that courage and begin to confess as well.

We should never treat sin as something somebody else does. If we do, then we're struggling by ourselves. We cannot fight the Devil alone. In this area, the Catholics really have something. In order to receive the Eucharist during a Catholic mass, you must go to confession. To Protestants, this doesn't mean much; however, let's consider the Catholic view of the Eucharist. Catholics believe in transsubstantiation; the elements literally become the body and blood of Jesus. Thus the Catholics are saying that if you don't confess your sins, you cannot have Jesus! While I tend to disagree theologically on several of those points, I cannot argue with the conclusion.

I don't want to hear your sins so that I can judge you. I don't want to hear your sins to examine your dirty laundry. I want you to confess so that you can get sin's filth out of your soul. It's amazing; sin tends to leave our bodies through our mouths!

But the closet is the devil's home turf and we've created a culture of fear. We're afraid to be judged. We're afraid to look weak. We're afraid to be characterized as "that sinner over there." I told our church yesterday morning that our prayer list looks like this:

  1. Mary Jones - surgery
  2. Fred Smith - sick
  3. Bobby Jackson - cancer
  4. Susie Cooper - sick mom.

Imagine if our prayer list looked like this:

  1. Mary Jones - gossip
  2. Fred Smith - pornography
  3. Bobby Jackson - stewardship
  4. Susie Cooper - grudges against Mary Jones

We've created a monster. All of our preaching against sin has taught our people that our preacher and our brothers won't love us if we're a sinner. We need to change this now, or we will continue to have spiritually weak congregations. Pastors, be careful how you preach sin. Stand for holiness, but show grace and love. Encourage confession. Laity, quit gossiping, judging, and shunning those who struggle. You are a stumbling block to revival. Show love. Pray earnestly for those in sin. Confess even the darkest sin in your life. Let's have church be a place of grace and healing.