Sunday, August 31, 2014

Home Safely From India


I've made it home to Savannah with no problems. I thank God for that. Because jet lag is already setting in this will be a short post (and probably not well written).

It takes a looooooooooong time to get from India back here to the USA. My flight from Delhi to New York non-stop lasted fifteen (15!) hours. Yuck. As life has it, a small child with clueless parents kicked the back of my seat for much of the flight. Anyway, my second flight (New York to Savannah) only lasted two hours. Easy.

Although this trip was long, I didn't have any hassles along the way. I passed through security, customs, and immigration without any hiccups. Traveling for business purposes seems to make those situations easier for some reason.

It is wonderful to be home. I'm finishing here to go spend time with my family.

Friday, August 29, 2014

David Platt as the New IMB President: Two Positives and Two Negatives

Although I'm no longer a Southern Baptist, I still care very much for the convention. In particular, I love the International Mission Board (IMB). My wife Alice and I briefly served with the IMB in 2006-2007, before cancer hit our family. Throughout our ordeal various members of the IMB showed us great care and concern. I will always be grateful.

I try to keep up with the happenings at the mission board. The recent big announcement is that David Platt has been elected as the new president of the IMB. Platt is the now former pastor of The Church at Brook Hills. He is also the author of several books, the most well-known being Radical.

I see two positives and two negatives about David Platt being the new president of the IMB. The first positive is that Platt clearly has a heart for missions. Almost everything I've ever heard him say shows this to be the case. He has been personally involved with various missions activities in the church where he pastored. The book Radical discusses multiple ways The Church at Brook Hills cares about missions. The second positive is that David Platt seems to be a genuinely humble individual. I write "seems" simply because I do not know him. From what I have both seen and read, Platt shows quite a bit of humility despite the notoriety he has gained through Radical.

This brings me to the two negatives. First, David Platt is one in the growing long line of evangelical superstar pastors. I do not believe Platt desired this, but it occurred nonetheless. He has been invited to speak at various conferences with other famous pastors and seminary presidents. This stems directly from Radical. The obvious irony is that becoming an evangelical superstar is about as far from radical as you can get. Again, I do not think Platt had any intention in this happening. However, it did. Being a superstar should not automatically exclude someone from a leadership position, but it is tiring to see the same faces in lights over and over. It would be nice to occasionally see someone unknown elected to a significant leadership position. Maybe some day.

The second negative is that David Platt has not served overseas with the IMB. I could be wrong about this, but I do not think he has served overseas for any significant length of time (please correct me in the comments section if I am incorrect about this). Platt is going to have to make some extremely important decisions; if he had served overseas he would be far more prepared to do that.

Let me be clear on one further point: I believe the positives in this situation outweigh the negatives.

I hope David Platt is a good choice for the IMB. I hope he does very well and that more and more people around the world come to Christ while Platt is IMB president. I will continue to support the IMB however I can. I will also pray for David Platt in this new venture. I ask you to pray for him and the entire IMB as well.

Wait For It

Please wait for the end of this video. It's worth watching the whole thing.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Man, I Am Really White!

As you can see, I am white.

This is not a shock to anyone who knows me. Nothing about my appearance stands out. Back in the USA I sort of blend in with the crowd. I'm not unique in this. When you are part of the majority population anywhere, you tend not to think a whole lot about the color of your skin.

Since you read this blog you know that I've been in India for over a week now. Over 99% of the people I see here are not white. Sometimes I catch locals staring at me. I can only assume that it is because of my skin color. This causes me to occasionally think, "Man, I am really white!"

I suppose this has some implication for missions. I'm too tired to write anything deep about that right now. It's just that skin color does matter. We are foolish to pretend it doesn't. We can look to the recent situation in Ferguson, MO to remind us that skin color will always play a part in decisions we make.

While skin color is important, it is not the most important thing. Every person is an individual. I'm trying while in India to see people as individuals instead of just part of the teeming masses. Every one of these people needs Christ. Bridging the cultural gap, which in this case includes skin color, is one of the challenges.

One other thing: life is easier when you are part of the skin color majority. Again, I'm not sure about the missions-impact of this, but it is the case. Back in 'Merica I'm part of that majority. Because I'm part of that numerical group that makes up over 50% of the population, people tend to not notice my skin. I wonder how I would feel if my skin was a different color.

To sum up, let's just remember that skin color is an important thing, but it is not the most important thing.

Monday, August 25, 2014

My Red Fort Photos

Along with the India Gate, I also had the chance to visit the Red Fort in Delhi. Constructed in the 1600's, the Red Fort is best known for its huge red sandstone walls. It was commissioned by Shah Jahan, one of the Mughal emperors of India. Jahan also ordered the construction of the more famous Taj Mahal, thus the resemblance to the Red Fort. I love this type of architecture.



















Sunday, August 24, 2014

Photos From My Visit to the India Gate Today

This morning I had the opportunity to do a little sightseeing. One of my stops was the India Gate, which is a large monument dedicated to the Indian soldiers who died in World War I. Frankly, I didn't even know Indians fought in WWI, but I suppose it was in support of England's military.

The final photo has a dull finish because it's actually a photo I took of a photo someone took of me at the gate.










Thursday, August 21, 2014

False Gods, False Gods Everywhere

India is a fascinating land because the worship of false gods is so blatant.

During my two weeks here I’m staying in a hotel that is about a forty minute drive from where I’m working. As I make that exciting and frenetic voyage back and forth each day I pass many, many Hindu temples. While they vary somewhat in the details, the architecture is essentially the same. Just as a Baptist church building sits on every street corner in Texas, there’s a Hindu temple in every neighborhood in India. Additionally, Islamic mosques – easy to spot because of their distinctive minarets – are sprinkled here and there between the temples.

The facility where I’m working is similar to the JCB plant back home in Savannah. The heavy equipment, tools, machines, offices, and even building color schemes are the same. The one main difference is that small Hindu shrines sit inside each assembly area. If I want to cross from one side of the skid steer building to the other I have to walk past pictures of Krishna, Vishnu, and Shiva to do so.

Last night I had the privilege of visiting with a co-worker’s family. He is a very friendly Indian man who I just met two day ago. To use an expression from the American South, his family “put on the dog.” Not literally mind you. This means that they prepared much nice food. I was stuffed with all sorts of wonderful Indian cuisine by the time I left. The only sad part is the false god worship. Not long after I first entered his home, my co-worker pointed to a picture up on a wall and said, “This is our family god Krishna.”

India has 800 million Hindus and 200 million Muslims (other religions, including Christianity, make up small percentages). For comparison, the entire United States only has 300 million people. The Indian religious scene is refreshing in a sense in that the people are at least honest and up front about the false gods they worship. There’s no hiding it. Of course they do not think of it as idolatry, but that’s what it is nonetheless.

We residents of the United States know that the worship of false gods is alive and well in our country. Just as numerous false gods exist in India, there are many others in the USA. The difference is that those in America are a little more subtle. What are they? Let’s name a few: money, power, status, privilege, comfort, food, sports, sex, cars, clothing, technology in general, Facebook, smart phones, exercise, politics, vacations, movies, houses, and even pets. You could probably add many more to this list. The American false god smorgasbord is as thriving as it is varied. I’m not sure which is sadder: Indians intentionally worshiping false gods or Americans cluelessly doing the same.

I realize that I’m painting with broad strokes here. There are doubtlessly many Indians who worship from the American list above. Also, some Americans do worship the more traditional false gods; I can think of a Hindu temple, Islamic mosque, and Buddhist place of worship in our relatively small city of Savannah.

My primary point in this post is that false gods take many forms. They are everywhere. We must all be vigilant to rid these from our own lives. Also, these realities should spur us to share the gospel widely and abundantly. While India has a vast population that needs the good news of Christ, let’s not forget about the need back in the USA.

As I write this post I can hear what sounds like some sort of Hindu chanting in the background. I’m not sure if it is coming from inside or outside the hotel. Regardless, someone is doing his morning puja (worship). We live in a world in desperate need of the only good news. Let’s be liberal sharers of the one message that can combat everpresent false gods.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

"Seven Marks of a New Testament Church"

I had more than a little time to read on my fifteen hour flight from Newark to Delhi. This provided an opportunity to read a book that I've been looking forward to for some time: Seven Marks of a New Testament Church.

The reality in the USA these days is that churches are all over the place in how they function. There's what amounts to an idea that "anything goes." This idea has led to the church in America being in a heap of trouble. While there is much good happening, there is also plenty of far-less-than-good. In light of this confusion, what can be done?

Dave Black provides a suggestion in Seven Marks. In looking specifically at the early chapters of the book of Acts, the author calls us back to seven specific attributes of the early church. In particular, Black points to Acts 2:37-47. The seven marks he discusses are:

1. Evangelistic Preaching
2. Christian Baptism
3. Apostolic Teaching
4. Genuine Relationships
5. Christ-Centered Gatherings
6. Fervent Prayer
7. Sacrificial Living

While Black does not tell us to be a New Testament church, he does strongly suggest that we can and must learn a great deal from the church we read about in Acts. He does an excellent job of both explaining how the church functioned and arguing for our doing the same.

The subtitle tells a great deal about this book: A Guide for Christians of All Ages. Black writes in a basic, straightforward manner that anyone can understand. Also, the book is only fifty pages long, which is ideal for even those who do not enjoy reading.

I agree with almost everything the author writes in this book. For example, he correctly shows that preaching is evangelistic in nature and occurs in the public sphere. He also states that gatherings should be for the purpose of mutual edification within the context of genuine relationships. Black also makes strong cases for prayer and sacrificial living being non-negotiable parts of the Christian life.

The one place where I disagree with the author is that I believe he overstates the importance of the Great Commission. Now, if you've read this blog for a while you know that I'm greatly in favor of evangelistic living. It is something sorely lacking in the church in this country. However, I do not believe it is more important than some other aspects of church life. It appears that the author of this book does in fact think the Great Commission is the most important thing. However, in light of what we read in the bulk of the New Testament epistles, I just do not see this being the case.

Regardless, this is an excellent little book. I encourage all Christians to read it and to purchase a few copies. It would be excellent to give to friends to generate discussion. We can all benefit from looking back to the scriptures to reorient us where we have deviated off course. This book helps with that process.


I also want to recommend the following books by Dave Black (and, yes, I've read them all): The Jesus Paradigm, The Myth of Adolescence (buy it used), and Why Four Gospels?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

India and Lostness

Please click on this link and then look at India on the map.

I'm not suggesting that any lost person in India is somehow more important than others apart from Christ around the globe. What I am suggesting is that India's need for the gospel is statistically speaking quite possibly the greatest in the world.

The Great Commission is something that we believers in Christ should be able to unite around. Yes, we likely have differences over other issues. Let's put those aside for the great cause of taking the gospel where it isn't - whether that be in India or elsewhere.

It Requires Everybody's Involvement, Simple Methods, and Perseverence


The above map clearly shows both where the people live and who's heard the good news. India has almost as many residents as China (at the current rate it will pass China later this century). Also, India is far less evangelized than China is. As someone once said, "India is the Mount Everest of the Great Commission."

How can we possibly tell all these people in India about Jesus? Three things come to mind:

First, this will require everybody being involved. Christians from around the globe must come together to make this happen. It CANNOT be left up to salaried missionaries. Not enough exist. Although the church within India probably needs to take the lead, we must all work together, putting aside denominational boundaries, and labor together to get the gospel out.

Second, this task must be attacked with simple methods. Too many people need to hear for us to spend time on complicated issues. For example, there is not enough money or space available to build special church buildings for all those in need of Christ. Therefore, believers need to gather simply, wherever they can. Additionally, leadership (servanthood) should come from the elders within the local bodies. While robust theology is important, specialized theological training is not.

Third, we must persevere in this endeavor. Spreading the gospel to hundreds of millions of people is not quick nor easy. It will require much effort, a decent amount of money, a significant amount of suffering, and a commitment to never give up.

My prayer is that we, Christ's church, will in fact commit and persevere to the end.

Monday, August 18, 2014

I Am Greatly Blessed

We all occasionally fall into the trap of feeling sorry for ourselves. I do this sometimes because my job usually requires me to work 60-65 hours per week. If I don't push back against it, these types of feelings can consume me.

I was reminded today just how blessed I am. This morning I spent a total of close to two hours being driven around Delhi. I saw numerous people living in wretched conditions. The poverty extends far beyond anything in the United States. Frankly, words can't accurately describe it. You literally have to be here to understand it.

Additionally, and more significantly, India is a country consumed with false religions. Today I saw multiple temples to various Hindu gods. I haven't seen many Muslims yet, but I know that over 200 million followers of Allah live in this country (compared to over 800 million Hindus). While there is a Christian presence here, it is extremely small in overall percentage.

Meanwhile, I have a job that pays the bills, no deep financial problems, a fantastic family, and - most importantly - know the Lord. I am blessed.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Safe Arrival

I've landed safely and made it to my hotel in New Delhi. After a very quick night's sleep, it's off to work for JCB. It should make for an interesting day. I don't really know what to expect. I appreciate your prayers for God to use me in some small way while here for two weeks.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Graphic Reminder for Missions


I may have previously shared this map, but because I'm in India for the next two weeks I want to post it again. The stunning amount of people in this part of the world is overwhelming. Let's keep this in mind when we think about global missions priorities.

Friday, August 15, 2014

An Indian Color Theme


India is a country of many vibrant subcultures. The moment you step off the plane you are confronted with sights, sounds, and smells that almost take your breath away (not hyperbole). The other thing you see is people, people, people everywhere; India has more residents than all of North and South America combined.

Since I'll be in India for the next couple of weeks, and in light of India's vibrancy, I'm changing my blog color scheme to match that of the Indian flag. Much more importantly, I'm thankful to God for the opportunity to return to India for the first time in over seven years.

Off the Blogging Grid, On to India

I'm going to be off the grid for the next couple of weeks - off the blogging grid that is.

Tomorrow I fly to New Delhi, India for fourteen days. I'm traveling for work-related reasons. Many of you know that I'm employed in the Quality Department for JCB here in Savannah. The purpose of my trip to India is to assist a factory there with some quality issues.

I hope to have time to do some sightseeing while there. The Red Fort looks like a good choice. As for blogging while in India, that depends on time, work demands and internet connection. If anything interesting happens I'll try to blog about it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

On Being Church Nomads

My family and I are currently in a self-imposed, semi-nomadic stage of church life. A few months ago we sensed God leading us out of the little group we had been gathering with for a few years. We are all still friends. We also see each other occasionally; just this past Sunday I gathered with the group as we said good-bye to one family who is moving due to military duty.

As for our family, we aren't certain what God has for us. It's not as if we're wandering in some sort of spiritual wasteland. I suppose the term "nomads" is exaggerating the situation. Rather, we just don't have a group we are meeting with right now. I don't want to force the issue, but I also don't want to just sit around waiting for something to happen.

What we might do is simply start inviting some people over to our house and see what happens. I'd rather avoid Sunday mornings just because of all the expectations/trappings/traditions that are difficult to avoid on Sundays. Saturday nights sound good. It is fascinating to watch what happens when Christians get together to simply fellowship and eat. I look forward to seeing what the Holy Spirit will do with that.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Being the Church Instead of Doing Church

Christians who depart institutional Christianity usually have very good reasons for doing so. For many of these folks, the problem is that what they see in the life of the church doesn't correspond to what they see in scripture.

After leaving, there's a tendency to want to find a group of believers that have all their biblical ducks-in-a-row. For example, the group needs to gather in homes, have a plurality of elders, eat together frequently, include the children in almost everything, encourage everyone's active involvement, etc., etc.

These are all important things. However, there is also a subtle danger. Some Christians can become so obsessed in doing church the biblical way that they fail to just be the church. I've fallen into this trap in the past myself.

This really becomes a problem when discussions at church gatherings focus more on the way the church should gather/function than on the lives of the people there. This can quickly lead to simple church folks feeling really good about how their little group operates, but at the same time failing to truly edify one another.

I'm not trying to create some sort of false dichotomy. Church families can certainly meet according to biblical principles and edify one another. In fact, this is the best setting for edification to occur. We just need to make sure that when we come together it doesn't turn into some sort of "paralysis by analysis." In theory, a church body could meet exactly according to the New Testament model and still fail to grow spiritually.

As we come together, let's make sure that our purpose is actually edification. Discussion of church functioning is fine, but let's generally leave it in the background where it belongs.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Why I Resigned From Professional Pastoring - Four Years Later

It's difficult for me to believe that it has been almost four years since I resigned from professional pastoring. Although the past four years have in some ways been difficult, I'm more convinced than ever that I did the right thing in resigning.

All through my time in seminary (2002-2006) I had been taught to look to the bible as our authority in decision making. Sometime late in the year 2009, after I had been a salaried pastor for about a year and a half, I decided that I should apply what I had been taught to my position as a pastor.

I wanted to find out whether or not pastors in the bible received salaries. Well, I found a lot more than I was looking for. Not only did I find no evidence for salaried pastors, I didn't find any evidence for modern pastors at all. Beyond that, what I saw of the church in the New Testament was drastically different from the institutional churches of today. All these findings sent me into a bit of a crisis.

Back to the pastoral salary for a minute. After much research, I came to see that pastors receiving salaries is based in two things: applying Old Covenant ideas to the church and misinterpretation of New Testament passages. First, I'd been told repeatedly that since priests in the Old Testament received support from the people, then pastors should as well. The obvious problem with this is that on this side of the cross we live as part of the New Covenant. Those O.T. practices have no bearing on us. Second, passages such as I Corinthians 9 and I Timothy 5 actually do not indicate that pastors should be paid salaries. I Corinthians 9 deals with traveling evangelists. I Timothy 5 speaks of "double honor," but there is no indication that this means salaries.

The more I studied the New Testament, the more I saw that modern pastors have little in common with biblical elders. The elders we read of in the bible were part of the church body; they were not outsiders. They didn't have formal theological education. They didn't stand out from the body. They were simply mature believers. They were good at serving others. Meanwhile, modern pastors are (usually) brought in from the outside, have theology degrees, and do many things that are different from what most of the rest of the body does. They are the clergy, while the body is the laity. The difference between biblical elders and modern pastors is so stark that they truly are two completely different things.

The more I studied the issue of pastors, the more I began to see what the church in the New Testament looks like. It was simple. It was a family. It was a body. It met for edification. It shared possessions. It gathered (generally) in homes. It ate together. To use a popular term, it was organic. The pages of the New Testament show us a body of Christ that has none of the institutional trappings that have shackled the church today.

After seeing all this, I couldn't remain a salaried pastor. After several months of study, prayer, and struggle, I decided that I simply had to resign. I could not in good conscience continue to either receive a salary or continue to be a modern day pastor. There just isn't any biblical basis for either.

Every believer is a priest to God. This is the beauty of the priesthood of all believers. The modern pastorate stifles this priesthood. Although this is not the intent of the clergy, it nonetheless happens. It is the system that causes the problems. I cannot be a part of it.

I resigned in September 2010 from the Southern Baptist church I had pastored for a little over two years. The folks of the church were wonderful about the whole thing. I still have good relationships with them. They do not agree with me on this issue; not long after I departed they began their search for another professional pastor. I'm not surprised by this. It's what most churches do.

I have no regrets. If the bible is going to drive how we live as Christians, then we cannot pick and choose the passages that we like. The bible gives no indication whatsoever that the modern pastorate should exist in its current form. Therefore, I had to resign. There's no going back.

Five Excellent Church Sites

I haven't linked to any church-specific sites in a while, so here goes. Below are five that I believe are excellent resources for simple church life. I'm sure others exist, but these are five that I'm aware of. They are all unique in their own ways, but touch on many similar issues.

As a quick reminder, simple churches do not have to gather in houses. Houses are just one of many good options. Enjoy!

In alphabetical order:

Housechurch.org

Housechurchresource

House2House

New Testament Reformation Fellowship

SimpleChurch

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Thanks for Praying! / "What We're For" Update

Over the past four days I have finished editing twenty-two chapters for What We're For. I also just completed writing my own two chapters - one on the topic of forgiveness and one on suffering. That makes twenty-four chapters down, and only two to go (I just have to receive them from the authors and finish a little editing).

Thank you so much for praying. I've felt mentally alert this week. Some of that has to do with getting enough sleep, but I'm sure it's also related to your prayers. I appreciate it a great deal.

Fairly soon I'll be sending the finished manuscript off to Jeremy Myers. At that point his work as publisher begins. We hope to have the book completed by sometime this autumn.