Sunday, January 29, 2017

Our Home Was Burglarized

This past Friday someone broke into our house and stole several different things. I don't have much time to write about it now since we're dealing with various issues related to getting our home back in shape. The thief or thieves kicked in our front door even though we have a dead bolt (see top photo). They took a couple of laptops, a phone, and cash. They may have departed somewhat frustrated since we don't have much expensive stuff. I praise the Lord that the bad guys didn't trash our house just for the sake of doing so. I also praise Him because a few of our friends have already helped us get a new door in place. We need to do some cosmetic stuff, but we are secure.

The police have no real leads right now; I highly doubt we will ever see the laptops again. We are ordering a security system today for our house. The worst part of all this is feeling like we have been violated. Additionally, it is very difficult to not hate the thugs who did this. I'm relying on God's grace to keep me from despising them.

I appreciate your prayers as we go through this. Our home used to be the place I felt the most secure and stress-free. For now that has been taken away. It is a difficult time. Christ will carry us through it, but quite honestly this is not a road I want to travel. I'll post in the days ahead if anything of interest happens. For now we are just trying to get life back to normal.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Be Gone You Divisive Person!

"As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned" (Titus 3:10-11).

If you ask hard questions within the context of the institutional church, expect to face opposition. If you ask hard questions about leadership within the institution, expect to be unwanted. If you challenge pastoral authority and especially salaries, expect to be labeled a divisive person and be asked/told to not come back.

The above may seem like hyperbole to some of you, but my guess is that for others of you this is what has really happened. I have a good friend, for example, who after asking some tough questions was instructed to leave a local body because he was no longer welcome.

The institutional church exists in part due to extremely poor and inconsistent biblical interpretation. When you challenge these particular interpretations, those who benefit from said interpretations are going to be none too happy. They will likely at first feel uncomfortable. Then they will provide you with some sort of unsatisfactory, shallow, and/or condescending answer. If you challenge that answer you will be asked to meet with the pastor in private. That is when, unless you surrender, you will be labeled divisive and asked to leave.

This is, of course, a perversion of the real meaning of Titus 3:10-11. Paul writes to Titus on Crete to exhort him to put the churches there in order. One of the problems is divisive people. In the verse just prior to 3:10-11, Paul says, "But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless." The apostle doesn't want Titus or anyone else on Crete to be wasting their time discussing pointless things. He also doesn't want anyone present in church gatherings who is going to stir up dissension. Paul is referring to people who cause division for the sake of division. He is not talking about Christians who ask hard questions based on sound biblical interpretation.

Let it be known that if you do challenge institutional pastoral authority and especially salaries, you will be seen as a threat. When you threaten paychecks, you will be shown the door. No matter how nicely, sincerely, and appropriately you ask, you will be given the dreaded label "divisive." At that point, they will want nothing more to do with you.

Know that it could happen to you.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Running with George Whitefield

One of the things I love most about living in Savannah is the history. For example, in 1740 George Whitefield (well-known for preaching at Jonathan Edwards' church during the Great Awakening) founded an orphanage in Savannah. Today that orphanage has been transformed into Bethesda Academy, a private Christian school for boys. A few weeks ago I ran in a fundraiser 5K at Bethesda called the Resolution Run.

The photo above was taken during the playing of the National Anthem right before the start. I'm standing just to the left of center, a few rows back in a gray shirt. I'm happy to say that the race went well considering the conditions. The Resolution Run is a trail run that meanders through a cow pasture. The footing can be a bit tricky, especially when it rains. Well, it was raining during this race, which meant running through several puddles along the way. Regardless, it was a blast. Not only was the racing fun, but I finished first in my age group. My time was 19 minutes, 30 seconds; however, we think the course was short so that time is somewhat misleading.

In the photo to the left I'm standing with my awesome wife Alice. She volunteered during the race (and also taught a Spanish class at Bethesda this past fall). I'm holding my bling - a cowbell medal, the most appropriate medal I've ever received.

I run because I love it, and it keeps me healthy. I highly recommend it. Racing is not needed, but it is fun!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Reformation Still Matters 500 Years Later Because the Gospel Still Matters 500 Years Later

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the unofficial beginning of the Protestant Reformation. October 31st, 1517 is the date of Martin Luther's nailing his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Although the Reformation had its faults, it still matters. It matters all these years later because the Gospel of Jesus Christ still matters.

It's popular today within many Christian circles in the USA to act as if the differences between Catholicism and Biblical Christianity aren't that significant. Excuse me, but they are still extremely significant. That's because Rome has not changed its dogma since the time of the Reformation. The reality is that Rome doesn't change. In the Middle Ages it offered a works-based salvation, and it still does today.

God used the Protestant Reformation to rescue the Gospel from the clutches of Rome. The Reformers did something that was novel at the time: they looked in the Bible to see what it had to say about salvation. What they found was justification by grace alone through faith alone. Let me repeat: they found grace in the Biblical Jesus Christ.

Today many of us have multiple copies of the Bible that we can read whenever we want. The situation was far different 500 years ago. Most folks couldn't read, and they certainly didn't have Bibles. They relied on Roman-bought priests to tell them what to believe. What the common man received was a bunch of Latin hogwash dressed up in hocus pocus. It was tradition wrapped in ceremony dressed up in, to quote that famous theologian Han Solo, "simple tricks and nonsense."

The Reformation is not about Martin Luther. The Reformation is about Jesus Christ. God has revealed His Son, the God-Man Jesus Christ, to us in the pages of scripture. What we know about Jesus we know from the Bible. Frankly, everything we know about Christ comes from scripture. Additionally, the best way to abide with Jesus is through the Bible.

The Gospel matters because Jesus Christ matters. The Reformation will not stop mattering until the Gospel stops mattering. That, of course, will never happen because Jesus is the One and only who offers true salvation: by grace alone through faith alone.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Kevin's Story

I hope more and more of you who read this blog send your stories to me. If you are interested in sharing your church journey with the rest of us please just let me know in the comments section of any post. I will reply, and we will go from there.

Today I'm linking to Kevin's story. Click on over to see what you can learn from his journey. If you have words of wisdom or encouragement please send those his way, too.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Greatest Among You Will Be Your Servant

"But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher and you are all brothers. 9 And call no one your ‘father’ on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one teacher, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (Matthew 23:8-12, NET)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

They Don't Know Where You Are

One struggle we simple church folks have is that we often don't know where other like-minded Christians are. We may as well be asking one another, "Excuse me, but where are you?"

I live in Savannah, Georgia. Our fair city has only one mega(ish)-church. This facility happens to sit less than ten minutes from where I live. Because it is so big, just about every Christian in Savannah knows where it is located.

My wife Alice and I don't have a sign outside our home. We don't have a website. We don't put on shows. We don't require police officers to direct traffic. The fact is that we don't "have a church." Rather, we simply gather with friends in our home a few times per month (other times we meet in friends' homes). Nothing about what we do stands out as unique. Therefore, nobody really knows where we are.

I find this predicament sort of sad. I believe there are other Christ-followers in Savannah who desire to gather simply, following the biblical model as faithfully (if imperfectly) as we can. However, I don't know where they are, and they don't know where we are. I don't have an easy answer for this.

When I look in the New Testament it appears that the believers who received Paul's letters knew each other. For example, when we read the epistle to the Christians in Rome the context implies familiarity among believers in that city. How did they all know each other? Were there so few that it was no problem? I do not know.

God has a mysterious way of bringing His people together. Alice and I have prayed about meeting others, and God has often delivered. Prayer is certainly critical, which almost goes without saying. Beyond that, however, what sorts of things do you do to meet others?

This post is not a lament, a complaint, or a temper tantrum. Rather, I'm simply curious and a bit confused. If you have any ideas I'd love to hear them. Thanks.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Tim's Story

I'd like to share more and more of your church stories/journeys with one another. We all have much to learn from both what we have experienced and what we are currently experiencing. Today I'm sharing Tim's story with you. Enjoy!

Tim and Judy's Journey Towards Greater Obedience

I was born in the Philippines to Baptist missionary parents. Except for 3 years of "furlough" living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I lived in the Philippines, attending mostly Filipino churches which are formed just like American churches. My parents were in Bible school administration and teaching, training Filipinos to lead the school and church. My father taught the men how to use the original languages and my mother taught music. Since the 1950's, the evangelical church has been exploding with growth into more remote barrios, in greater ways than most countries in Asia or in the world.

When I was seven, I realized I was a sinner and could receive forgiveness by placing faith in Christ's death and resurrection. At 13 I was baptized during one of our furlough years. After graduating from high school in the Philippines, I attended a Christian college in Oregon. For the first time in my Christian experience I engaged in Bible teaching that included extra reading, writing papers that were graded, interaction with teachers, and testing to determine if I had learned what I was taught. I had never experienced this quality of teaching in church life. The strict one way communication with no other response on my part but to listen seemed odd. I was also taught to test what I was taught to see if it was really true. I was confused by my church life in general. I knew it was important because God was involved. In my second year I was listening to a radio preacher who talked a lot about the importance of being a shepherd/pastor for God's people. I had a deep emotional experience, complete with tears, where I concluded God was calling me to become a "pastor". So I joined the Pastoral Education Major. Immediately I began to learn about contradictions between what God's word said a Pastor did and what I was told a pastor should do. The first was when a nationwide preacher came to the school for special meetings. They gathered us budding "pastors" into a leadership meeting. He told us that as a pastor, we must maintain a professional distance from the people. We were the shepherd and the people were the sheep. The two don't connect with mutuality or intimacy. I knew from reading Paul's relationship with the churches that this was bogus. I determined I would not be that kind of pastor. The second issue was sitting in homiletics class learning to lecture the Bible every week to "teach" God's people. I wondered, does "preach the word, in season and out of season" really mean lecture the word by only one man for the whole time with zero participation from any other believer for their whole life? I realized there was no way you could "exposit" this text or any other text to strictly mean lecture by one man in perpetual dependency.

I graduated and was called to be a youth pastor. I knew I was thinking outside the box and that might cause trouble. I was going to be a member of the local family of God, not just a hireling to keep the programs running smoothly. As a youth pastor I realized I was primarily a program developer for different youth age groups so they would "grow spiritually". Making disciples was not included. In a year the Sr. Pastor took a different job, and the Associate Pastor left to be a missionary. Things did not go well from then on. I was "asked to resign" which means I was told to write a letter telling the people God was calling me somewhere else. That meant I was being asked to lie to make it look like my leaving was my choice. I lied, but decided I would never tell that lie again. I realized I could be a more faithful pastor serving for free as a businessman so I would not be forced by a church management board to do things that were not making disciples. I also realized my "call to the ministry" came from men, not God. There is no call to never work a job and lecture the Bible to believers every week of their life so they never say one word to their fellow believers during the "worship service". There is a call to the opposite of that. When I say this I'm not questioning anyone else's sincerity. I am questioning the accuracy and source of their experience and their willingness to test what they have been told with the scriptures. I have seen every scripture used to justify this, and they are all twisted. Example: Romans 1:1 "Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,..." This is used to mean "set apart from working in business so you can devote all your time to 'gospel' things." This is corrupted exegesis at many points. 1. The term "set apart" is a locational movement. He is leaving to bring the gospel to "all the nations" verse 5, including Rome. Verse 6. 2. The rest of the NT tells us Paul always combined marketplace work with his spiritual leadership no matter where he was. Any time he received financial help was temporary and always from saints in another town, never from where he was currently working. (Big distinctions ignored by hired experts.) 3. This "calling" creates a false dichotomy between "secular work" and "sacred work". Col. 3:23 says "whatever we do" is to be "serving Christ". Every second I am doing filthy, smelly, despised tasks, I am serving Christ. Employees are watching and see my example of joy in this work. My marketplace work is "full time ministry."

I was dating a woman I met at college. She managed her parents business. In 6 months a position opened up, and I moved to that town to learn business. This was an amazing provision of God as he was completely redirecting me out of professionalized church leadership. I am amazed as I look back. We began serving together as volunteer leaders in a large church youth ministry where one of my classmates was on staff. Finally we were making disciples. We were married in that church and over the course of 15 years served in almost every area of ministry as our two boys were born and grew up. At this time I was learning about more corruptions in this corporation oriented form of Church. I realized that it was considered normal for churches to consume 84% of their "giving" to buy services for those who gave the money. Only 16% on average went outside the church door. I was shocked to realize I was consuming most of my "giving." I asked God, "Is there a way to do all of church and send 100% of my giving beyond my own "needs"? God began answering that question immediately with scripture, very clear scripture I had been blind to. I, every preacher, and every pew sitter were blind to these truths. Example: Hebrews 10: 24 "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." The "meeting" believers are not to "neglect" was "stirring up one another" and "encouraging one another." I had heard this preached all my life, and the meeting was strict one way communication by one man, the exact opposite of every believer participating in "one another" oriented communication. Wow! There it is. This does not require a hired pastor or a special building, the two things that force the consuming of 84% of the "giving," or it should really be called pooling. God did not stop with just this one scripture. He added more and more.

I began sharing these scriptures and many others with the saints in this fellowship, including the staff. I was on the church board so I had an "open door" with the Sr. Pastor. That door quickly shut, and the saints had no interest in talking further about these things. Soon there after the Administration Pastor and the Chairman of the Board asked to have lunch with my wife and me. We all know what that means - the official warning of being "unruly" or "out of step" from 2 Thes. 3. My wife and I realized it was time to exit and begin practicing obedience to God's instructions regardless if anyone we knew was interested. That was about 20 years ago. This journey has been completely unpredictable from one year to the next. I have stories to tell of people God connected us to and then separated, and then connected again, and so on. We have seen the power of what I call 100% church.

1. 100% of the giving goes out the door. NO pooling any money to bless ourselves. We received the truth without paying so we distribute it without anyone paying (Matthew 10:8b).
2. 100% mutual relationships . No power pyramid. No honorific titles. No offices for reserving ministry for a few experts. We are all brothers, all servants and slaves.
3. 100% two way communication. There are 58 one another instructions and no lecture instructions unless you want to assume into the text.
4. 100% reproducing leadership. Everything a leader does is "entrusted" (2 Tim. 2:1-2) to those who are "fully trained" (Luke 6:40).
5. 100% intergenerational gatherings. Never send the children away. Children can pray, read the scriptures, talk about the scriptures, ask questions, select songs they love, pass out hugs and love on people, etc. They are never considered a nuisance.

Last year in July, my wife was diagnosed with Leukemia. On December 5th God took her home. The grief for this loss is great, but I know God is working everything out for His purposes, including Judy enjoying heaven. As I share God's call to greater obedience, to further reformation with believers in traditional churches, I am finishing a free book called "When Men Are Paid To Lead". I go through most of the texts where Paul specifically teaches by word and example that spiritual leadership should always be connected with marketplace work. I have been shocked at what I have found. I am not surprised at how every professional commentator or preacher trashes their principles of exposition and explain away 8 texts on the basis of their twisting 3 texts to say the opposite of what it says. My book isn't professionally edited yet so maybe that will get done at some point. It's in PDF format so anyone who wants it can have it.

These things are not the end of transformations and clean up God wants for his church. There are many more. I'm watching out for what's next. I want to be ready.

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Babylon Bee Does It Again

The Babylon Bee puts out an impressive amount of religious satire each week. As with any site, some of the posts are better than others. Every couple of weeks they publish a piece that is flat out excellent. This one fits that category: Culture In Which All Truth Is Relative Suddenly Concerned About Fake News. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

"Come Be Our Pastor Even Though We Don't Know You and You Don't Know Us!"

Shortly after I resigned from being an institutional pastor, the church where I had been employed put together a search committee. After sifting through resumes and conducting interviews, the church hired a man to be their new pastor. He had previously worked as a pastor in another state, but came to Georgia for this new job. I'm glad to say (for both him and the church) that he remains at the church five years later.

The above procedure is the norm in our country. When a pastor departs a church - for whatever reason - the church's response is to hire someone else. The person they end up bringing in is almost always someone they did not know prior to the resume/interview process. Essentially, the church is saying to the person they select, "Come be our pastor even though we don't know you and you don't know us."

Frankly, this is an odd arrangement. One of a pastor's primary functions is shepherding. How can a pastor shepherd a flock he doesn't even know?

Also, when we look in the Bible we see that character, not skill, is what is most important for a pastor. How can a church possibly make a judgment call about the character of someone they have only spoken with a few times?

What the church in our country has done is adopt the secular business model. As in so many other ways in church life, institutional Christianity has rejected the model God has given us in scripture. When we look in the Bible we see something stark: elders (a much more common term than pastor) always came from their own churches.

Let me state that again: elders always came from their own churches.

Local churches in the New Testament didn't put together search committees to look through a stack of resumes. Rather, they simply watched the lives of the men in the church. They then recognized men of high character for being what they already were: elders. After they were recognized, they didn't change what they were already doing.

Today's churches have this whole process upside down. It's no wonder that pastors come and go about as frequently as college football coaches do. The hired pastor doesn't know the people and they don't know him. It may work out, but it probably won't. He'll likely stay for 3-4 years, but then move on to "greener pastures."

This mess of a model doesn't work. Churches would be wise to look within. They should be mentoring young men through the years so that when they get older they can take over some of the eldering functions. More important, churches should foster high character from within. Looking outside only leads to the current sad situation we have in our country.

Elders must come from within.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Do You Have 2017 Goals? I've Got Five.

I find goals both healthy and frustrating at the same time. They're healthy in that they motivate us to strive after something that we probably wouldn't otherwise. They're frustrating because sometimes unforeseen factors pop up in our lives that keep us from reaching said goals.

Keeping that in mind, I've decided to set five personal goals for the year 2017. I'm only selecting five because that makes it challenging but attainable. Additionally, these five are both personal and quantifiable. In other words, I have quite a bit of control over the outcome since they are generally self-focused and measurable.

I'm writing about these because I want both a constant reminder and accountability (from you).

Here we go (in general order of importance):

1. Read the entire New Testament. I haven't done this in years. This goal will spur me back into the scriptures. I need to soak in the word much more than I have recently. I haven't decided for sure, but I may use the New American Standard Bible. This version was a favorite of mine in seminary, but I've sort of ignored it for the past decade. I'll give it another go.

2. Pass my second college class and get re-certified as a school psychologist. This past fall I took and passed an online college class from ASU. In a week or so I'll be doing the same. Upon passing the second class and obtaining re-certification in Georgia I can apply in the local schools for psychologist positions. This is a job I had years ago and would like to get back into. Please note that I have not made getting the job as a goal because I cannot control much of what those hiring decide to do. Getting the job is a hope, not a goal.

3. Stay healthy. This involves eating correctly and exercising. My specific goals are to get my weight consistently into the 160's, run at least four times per week, and complete this marathon. I also hope to get 100% off soda (I drink too much diet junk right now).

4. Visit some place new. This is a two-pronged goal. First, I desire to visit somewhere in Savannah that I have yet to see. This will be a bit tricky since we've lived here for years, but there is enough cool stuff around that I think I can make it happen (like maybe here). Second, I'd like to visit some place new for me outside of Savannah. I don't know about this one. If I have time to travel in the summer it will likely happen. If not, then I'm not certain. This spot is a day trip possibility (I've wanted to go there for a while).

5. Blog once per week. I think this is a reasonable goal. I could post all sorts of filler, but I don't want to waste our time. Also, I will probably post links to various articles now and again. The once per week refers to specific posts of my own. Many will focus on church life (the good, the bad, and the ugly) or cultural issues.

I'd like to help other people with what they are hoping to accomplish, but I didn't list those here because I'll only have limited control over the outcome. Also, others' goals may not be quantifiable.

What about you? Do you have any goals for 2017? If you do, what are they? If not, what's holding you back?