Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Reflections

I subscribe to the blog of several people (I.E. Thom Rainer, Paul Powell, Chuck Lawless, Josh Hunt) the purpose of reminding me of the important things, instruction about things I’ve missed over a lifetime of ministry, and reflections of life.  Today I received the following from Josh Hunt.  Admittedly, Josh’s calling is to lead the way into Sunday School & Discipleship by using various methods.  Truly, I believe this is God’s ministry for Him.  He can take a written work of someone else and make it a truly teaching tool which leads the participants toward becoming a Disciple of our Lord Christ. 
What you will read below is a combinations of Josh and Francis Chan.  I still remember the first time I heard Francis speak.  He was giving his famous “Rope Illustration” and it was so impactful that I used the video in a message at the church I was serving.  I confess my wrong attitude about the book he released entitled “Erasing Hell” because I misunderstood the message of the book.  In fact, from that experience, I have learned that, as a general rule, my first impression needs to be measured until I gain a better view of the truth.  This is a lesson that many could and should learn.
I have NOT READ (yet) his latest book entitled, “Letters to the Church,” though I have just purchased it on my Kindle and will read it in short order.  What is written below is written by Francis and should serve as a cause for us to reflect on our inner attitudes.  He has been and continues to be a man with a heart on fire for God. 

I encourage to read his words and then (below the line) read what Josh has to offer.  It may be a life changing moment.
FRANCIS:
Imagine you find yourself stranded on a deserted island with nothing but a copy of the Bible. You have no experience with Christianity whatsoever, and all you know about the Church will come from your reading of the Bible. How would you imagine a church to function? Seriously. Close your eyes for two minutes and try to picture “Church” as you would know it.
Now think about your current church experience. Is it even close?
Can you live with that?

SOME BACKGROUND

Eight years have passed since I left Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California, yet people are still asking me the same question: Why?
Why did you leave a church that was doing great things? Why would you leave all those people you loved?
Why did you leave the country when you seemed to be gaining influence? Did your beliefs change? Do you still love the Church?
You built a megachurch, started a college, wrote bestselling books, had a huge podcast following, and then you suddenly walked away from it all and moved your family to Asia. It just doesn’t make sense!
While I am anxious to share what God has been teaching me recently, it’s probably helpful to share about how God led me in the past. I want to clear up any confusion and give some insight on why I am writing this book.
First let me say that my years in Simi Valley were so good. I am literally smiling as I type this. I spent over sixteen years as pastor of Cornerstone, so my mind is filled with both hilarious and meaningful memories. So many faces come to mind, deep friendships, spiritual moments, and periods of awe over the things God was doing. I believe I will be spending eternity with many people who fell in love with Jesus during those years. Nothing can ever take that away.

WHY I LEFT MY MEGACHURCH

In 1994, when I was twenty-six years old, I decided to plant a church. It wasn’t something I planned on doing. After all, I had been married for less than a month. Lisa and I were having a rough time at our church. The elders and the lead pastor had been fighting, which eventually led to the pastor’s removal. The members were also fighting as they were divided on who was more wrong: the elders or the pastor. Everyone was discouraged by all the division. Sundays were far from uplifting, and I couldn’t see how any of this could be pleasing to God. It was at that time I told my new bride I had a crazy idea: What if we started a church out of our house?
Even if there were only a dozen people in our living room, wouldn’t it be better than what we had been experiencing? Lisa agreed, and so began Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley.
I was determined to create something different from what I had experienced before. This was my chance to build exactly the kind of church I wanted to be part of. I basically had three goals in mind. First, I wanted all of us to sing directly to God. And I mean really sing. I’m not talking about going through the motions of singing out of routine or guilt. Have you ever been part of a group of people actually singing directly to God? Singing with reverence and emotion? Singing as though God is really listening to their voices? That is a powerful experience, and I wanted it to be central to our new church.
Second, I wanted all of us to really hear the Word of God. We weren’t going to be those people who gather together to listen to some self-help nonsense, nor were we going to ignore half the Bible. I wanted us to dig deeply into Scripture—even the passages that contradicted our logic and desires. I wanted the presentation of God’s truth to be powerful, and I wanted us to take it seriously. So I began to preach week after week, verse by verse through the Bible. We all set out to truly hear everything the Word of God was saying to us.
And finally, I wanted all of us to live holy lives. I had seen too many Christians packed into too many churches who seemed to have no interest in actually doing what the Bible said. I couldn’t get past the tragic irony of this. These people would come back week after week to hear from a Book that demands that they “be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22), but they never seemed to do anything. Not that I was perfect or expected anyone else to be, but I wanted our church to be a group of people who pushed one another toward action. It didn’t make sense to teach the Scriptures without expecting change. So from the very beginning, we challenged one another to action.
And that was basically it. If we could move toward these three goals, I would be happy.
Francis Chan, Letters to the Church (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2018).

JOSH:
I have just completed a nine-session Bible study based on Francis Chan’s new book, Letters to the Church. It is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription plan. The idea is to invite each participant to purchase their own book. Sessions include:
Chapter 1: The Departure
Chapter 2: Sacred
Chapter 3: The Order
Chapter 4: The Gang
Chapter 5: Servants
Chapter 6: Good Shepherds
Chapter 7: Crucified
Chapter 8: Unleashed
Chapter 9: Church Again


















Thursday, July 05, 2018

Did You Read?

Since the June 28, 2018, edition of the “Baptist Record”, I have received an unusually large number of questions, comments, and statements over the article written about Dr. Thom Rainer, President of LifeWay Resources.  Candidly, I read so many of Dr. Rainer’s blogs that I couldn’t actually remember which topic was in the article.  However, I found the copy on our counter and now understand the many questions and comments.  The title of the article obviously caught the attention of many.  It read:
“Rainer: SBC must change course to survive”
Questions and comments that have come my way have been many and varied. Things like; “Did you see” or “Did you read this article?” “What do you think of this article?” And even, “Do you believe this article?”  My immediate answer to all these questions is ‘Yes’.  Yes, I did see it.  Yes, I did receive it.  And Yes, I do believe it.  Anyone who looks at the SBC with any kind of open mind, in other words-without any prejudice or having defensive nature, must come to the same conclusion because all the signs (and even symptoms) are evident and visible. Furthermore, this is not a recent development, it has been coming for many years.
Most know the story of the “Frog in the Kettle.” In the early 1990’s, George Barna released a book by that name. It was the first book that I devoured when God called me to preach. My mentor, Dr. Ted Traylor, recommended it and I read it. The picture of the “Frog in the Kettle” vividly remains in my psyche until today. For anyone who may not know, here is the picture; If you place a frog in a pot of hot water, he will immediately jump out of the water because he senses the danger. However, if you place a frog in a pot of room temperature water and SLOWLY raise the temperature, he will sit there until he dies in boiling water. The reason he will do this is because his environment is changing so gradually that he is unaware of the change. It creeps up on him until it is too late to change.
For me, this perfectly describes the SBC. Having said this and knowing all that I will say, I should qualify myself for the uninformed. I am ‘Southern Baptists Born, Southern Baptist Bred, and one day when I die, I’ll be Southern Baptists Dead. If you cut me, I bleed the Cooperative Program.” Southern Baptists, as I have known them for over 45 years of ministry, view the Bible as being God’s Holy Inspired word. It is our source of authority (at least that is what we say) for life, eternity, hope, help, and even governance. We believe in Advancing the Gospel at all cost. Our clarion call has been “Cooperation,” because we have known (past tense) that we were stronger together than separate. The Cooperative Program (while not perfect) has been and is the greatest missions sending and serving process to have ever been developed and has been the centerpiece for the strongest mission and ministry support ever conceived.
This said, why do I join Thom Rainer in believing that SBC must ‘Change or Die’? This is neither simple, easy to hear, nor is it easy to fix, because there are many levels of ‘why’ and undoubtably, it will be impossible to fully expand on all the issues which face us, so let me offer just one.
FOCUS:
The average church spends about 80% of their resources (I.E. time, planning, events, money, etc) internally. In other words, we plan for ourselves, and most of the time our plans take place on “OUR CAMPUS.” Whoever we plan for and spend our energies for is likely who we will reach. Most plans are laid with the idea of ‘how many of our people will attend’ as opposed to the thought of ‘how many unchurched or unsaved people can we touch.’ Focus.
Next, comes the lack of focus and energy on Evangelism and Discipleship. In recent years (as Dr. Rainer) stated, we have “jettisoned a programmatic approach to evangelism and replaced it with nothing.” Candidly, of the 10%-30% of churches that are increasing in attendance, the majority are not baptizing new converts but rather are getting their new members from other churches. While some call this “Sheep-stealing” or “Swapping Sheep”, one thing is sure, “If a Christ-follower is growing in his/her faith within their church context, then they would not consider moving to another church family.” In this, we discover the void which is created in a church that has no systematic approach to Discipleship. By the way, a systematic approach discipleship has, of necessity, a call to evangelism within it. Many of the people my age and older have never been discipled ‘one on one’. We basically (through the strong evangelistic years), put them under the water, sent them to a Sunday School class, and called it good. While there is much more to be said about this, two things come to the forefront; We must change (or rediscover) our approach to Evangelism (Leading People To Christ) and Discipleship (teaching people out to follow Christ) if we are to survive. Focus.
Next, we must change our lack of focus, our attitude about, and our approach to Prayer. And this means both Corporate and Personal prayer. An entire book could be written about this topic because many books have been written about prayer. But until prayer becomes a central focus in our church-life, we will see little of significance change. Michal Catt says, “Let’s not be known as a church that prays, rather, let’s be known as a praying church.” By the way, for prayer to become the central focus of our church life, there must be a return to prayer for the individual. Prayer is the ‘powerline’ for the individual and the church. The words are simple, the effect is stark, & the Focus is everything.
Next, we must focus on worship. This is not about a style of music. As a professional musician for over 45 years, I am keenly aware that music is only a vehicle or tool – there is not one note of music written in scripture. Our focus on worship is about an attitude of the heart. Yes, I have my ‘musical preferences’ or what I ‘prefer’ and honestly what I prefer is generally not in line with others of my age. That’s okay, until… we made the decision that our preferences about music is the ONLY TRUE WAY. When this happens, we have missed the point of worship. Worship has less to do with the style of the song (I.E. new or old, familiar or unfamiliar, fast or slow, hymn or praise song) than it does with the status of our heart. For many, to enter a room (I.E. Sanctuary, Worship Center, Store Front, etc) where people are gathering to worship with an attitude which focuses on ‘self’ and what “I’m going to get” is not only counterproductive but will always short-circuit any true worship experience. Whoever or whatever we focus on is, in fact, our god!!! Which song we sing, what instruments are used, how many times we stand, whether we have a children’s sermon or not, or any of a hundred things which occupy our minds are only distractions. We must return to a Biblical focus of worship where we give HIM our attention, our heart, & our focus. Admittedly, the problem of focus doesn’t always originate in the pew. At times, it starts on the platform by well-meaning worship leaders who miss the mark of simply pointing people to Jesus and experiencing Him. Here is the killer: Music is not the only way to worship. Sometimes, we may need a little corporate silence to hear from God. The lessons which I have learned over the passed couple of years by attending many different churches have been many and invaluable in my heart. But it is about FOCUS.
Additionally (AND I HAVE LEARNED, MOST IMPORTANTLY), our focus has been on things of man, not things of God. While we may take exception to this, I challenge us to be honest; how many times do we enter our weekly worship time with the idea of meeting or catching a vision of our Heavenly Father. It is indeed a matter of focus. I pray that we can turn our focus back to HIM. Then perhaps, the church can experience an Isaiah 6 moment which will ultimately lead to an Acts 2 moment. But don’t miss this; before Isaiah saw the Lord, King Uzziah died! Sometimes before a new chapter with the Lord can begin, something has to die. For us as Southern Baptist, we may need to ‘get over’ the idea that we have it all ‘right.’ It could be that our concepts must die so we can ‘See the Lord’ again. Focus.
Dr. Rainer’s clarion call is “Change or Die.” In that light, consider two thoughts from the business world.
The first is from Peter Drucker, known as the Father of American business, he offers two questions which can sober us: (I’ll let them speak for themselves)
“What business are you in”
“How’s Business”
Finally – the following quote should convict us when we consider all of the available statistics which tell us that we, the SBC, are on a death spiral. Depending on who you read, without a change - we have 10-40 years of life left as the SBC. This is stark. I pray that my kids and grandkids know & find their place within this great association of churches. The following statement is one from business which, I believe, should be embraced for the “King’s Business” and motivate us to make the necessary course correction. May God bless us that we will have the clarity of thought to make the needed changes – today.
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Monday, January 29, 2018

Be Christian instead of being nice

Everybody blames their parents for all their adult struggles.  Have you heard these???---

  • The reason I'm broken is because dad spanked me when I was little.  
  • The reason I'm self-conscious is because my mom loved me too much.
  • The reason I can't play ball real well is because I didn't get my parent's support. 
  • The reason - well, you get the idea.  

And with the idea I am laying forth, I know that some who are reading this are already 'steaming' at the very idea that I would say this and in so doing, "belittle people who have real problems."

First, my heart is clean because I have no desire or interest in belittling anyone, let along someone who has emotional issues.  But we should never lose sight of the fact that ALL of us are broken and all of us have issues - and it is not necessarily the fault of mom and dad.

However, I do blame my mom and and dad for one thing in my life and that is, "THE NEED TO BE NICE."  My parents taught me to always be nice, no matter what someone said, be nice, no matter what someone did, be nice, and no MATTER WHAT, BE NICE!  While some people may say that I did not learn this very well, I can and will testify that for most of my 60+ years, the desire of my heart has been to please my parents and by that, please God, by being nice.  It is ingrained in me.

Now add to this that for the last 40+ years I have enjoyed the privilege of  being a staff person or pastor in a SBC church.  I remember how excited I was when I went to my first position in Florida.  At age 20, green as a gourd, my thinking was that this has to be a 'dream job' because inside the church everyone would be 'nice' and 'kind' to everyone else.  Well, I'm not going to tell you what my dream turned into rather quickly, because there was struggle (and yes, some of it was with me - but most was present when I arrived and was still present when I left.)  Through it all, the admonitions of my parents to 'be nice' controlled my thoughts and desires.  Whether I conveyed that or not, be assured, that was my desire.

After all these years, it occurs to me that being nice is more a southern tradition than it is a biblical principle.  Yes, we should 'be kind to one another' and 'love one another' because these are indeed principles mandates by scripture, but sometimes 'being kind' and 'loving' is not synonymous with being nice.  In fact, sometimes being nice is anything BUT Bible.

You and I both have watched churches who are held back, held hostage if you will, by one or two people who seem to have a strangle-hold on the church.  Yet, everyone tries to be nice.  Sometimes our 'being nice' to church bullies renders us incapable of being 'salt and light' to those who walk in darkness and need the very thing we profess to have, "Jesus, the Light of the World."

While I have thought this for many years, I have not been able to put it down in words until now.  And now, only after I've read the article that I've linked, I'm convinced of how we have crippled the powerful church of the Living God by allowing people to run rough-shod over her.

Please take 3 or 4 minutes and read this insightful article by Bill. It may change your (our) perspective on our mission and ministry.  Be Nice???
GRACE,
Bro. J





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