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???

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Southern Baptists – A Missional Minded People

One of my great joys in life is to be known  as a Southern Baptist who is a follower of Jesus Christ. Southern Baptists, while not perfect, are an outstanding group of people who love the Lord Jesus, His gospel, and the people who desperately need His grace.

What makes this group of Christ followers so unique is our doctrine, our independence, and our unending focus on missions. We have cooperated in missions for so many years that some take for granted who we are, what we do, and what our focus is.

Our belief is that the Church, the Lord’s church, the Church Christ died for, is the absolute front line of reaching the lost world for Christ. Early in our history, we discovered or realized that we were much stronger working together than working separate. It seems that this realization exposed our need to cooperate so individual churches connected together in the spirit of cooperation and, over the years, this cooperation has matured into what some call the greatest mission sending denomination to ever exist. That’s pretty big stuff.

Missions among Southern Baptist begins with the Association. An association is a group of local churches who commit to one another for the purpose of fulfilling missions LOCALLY. Said another way, we join together to fulfill the Great Commandment and Great Commission as given by our Lord Christ. Each church makes a commitment of manpower, finances, and other resources to expand the reach of the gospel in a local setting. The Association is the oldest MISSION organization known to Southern Baptist. Over the years, the Association has facilitated the cooperation between churches in ministries, missions, logistics, training, resourcing and much more. The bond of the association through the churches speaks to the community about the unity in the body of Christ. This is an organization (an association) of churches, for churches, and by churches. Pastors, staffs, and church members, only have status in the association by their membership in member churches. The Association has long been considered by Southern Baptists as the ‘First Line of Mission Investment’ for the churches.

The next levels of missions among Southern Baptists are separate, yet tied together. This level is Missions Nationally and Internationally. Southern Baptists have a unique and yet effective way to accomplish this great work together, we call it “The Cooperative Program”. The name says it all. As Independent Churches, we “Cooperate” by giving an amount of money (normally a percentage of undesignated receipts) through the Cooperative Program. Through these gifts we are able to send missionaries to all parts of the world and are able to respond to the needs of people in underserved countries as well as those in pagan cultures. Our Cooperation makes it possible to send more Missionaries to more places, train them adequately (I.E. culture, language, etc.) and take care of them and their families better than we ever could individually.

We also support seminaries, schools, mission boards, as well as serve many other gospel causes. What could be said about the work of the Cooperative Program could not be contained without pages and pages of words and writing, but the point is made.

While over the past several years some among us seem to have made a decision that there is no more need for the Association or the Cooperative Program, it would seem the better plan might be to get on board with the MISSION PLAN that has worked well for years making sure we evaluate and update when the need arises because we really know that when we do it together we do it better.

It is true that some churches take mission trips and do missions in many other ways besides these two and that is OUTSTANDING. May their tribe increase. However, the church that gives to the Association and Cooperative Program has a reach beyond their imagination. God seems to have blessed this SBC endeavor.

In the final analysis, Southern Baptist are a missional people who have developed a way for even the newest mission or the rural church who has only 4 members to be involved in missions. And a GREAT MISSION it is.

Bemoaning The Wrong Things

 

 

A few years ago many were amused or irritated by teenager Ethan Couch’s legal defense of ‘affluenza’ in a deadly drunken car crash.  They were certainly not amused by the damage and death he cause, but by the seemingly preposterous defense he offered.  Affluenza, while laughed at by many, seems to be a modern day affliction that has, arguably, grown into an epidemic.

According the online dictionary known as Merriam-Webster (well that is familiar), one of the definitions for affluence is the “extreme materialism and consumerism associated with the pursuit of wealth and success and resulting in a life of chronic dissatisfaction, debt, overwork, stress, and impaired relationships.”  All of this brings me to my definition (according to “Watts” dictionary that I’ve written in my heart), “Being so accustomed to getting one’s own way that one feels they deserve all the best things in life to the exclusion of the interest of others.”  This definition is confirmed by the number of publicity ads which include the two words, “You Deserve”.  You can get the computer you deserve, the car you deserve, the spouse you deserve, and the money you deserve, if only you will do it OUR way.  Truthfully, this attitude plays to the basic instinct and desires of all human-kind so this should not be a surprise about how powerful this approach is to people at large.

The real surprise is how easily this attitude has made its way into the modern-day church.  For the life of me, I cannot imagine Paul, Peter, John, James, or any of the rest of those first-century believers taking a stand on ‘what I deserve’, because they were keenly aware that, without Jesus, they were deserving of a place designed for the devil and his demons.

When a people gets consumed by an ‘I deserve’ mentality and then ‘when they don’t get what they ‘think’ they deserve,’ a problem develops that, in the words of a really OLD children’s song, is both ‘deep and wide.’  Complaining, bemoaning, and (as David Ring loves to say) belly-aching follows.  For instance, we have long enjoyed the luxuries and amenities of the modern day church building such as heat, air, and padded pews.  So today, this generation has come to believe that we ‘deserve’ to have heating & air to be comfortable.  So, they church must provide that OR, the attitude is, “we will have to do something else.”  While you may think this is a somewhat trite illustration, it begins the downward fall.

For many years, Southern Baptist churches were generally ‘cookie cutter’ type of churches.  The programs and schedules were very similar, no matter where you lived (well – at least in the south – GRIN).  Sunday schedules went like this: 9:45 SS, 11am worship, 6pm – Discipleship Training (I.E. Training Union, Church Training, etc), 7pm – Evening Worship.  Renegade churches began to ‘dare’ to change their schedules 9 or 9:30am and the church world begin to come apart, more accurately, the ‘programmatic church’ began to unravel.  

I said all of that to say this:  Sunday School and the “Training” (no matter what it is named) are both really good ‘tools’ if they are used correctly.  However, the purpose or goal of God’s church or God’s people has never been to promote, maintain, or build a program or establish a tradition, but rather, it is to make disciples.  These words were the ‘marching orders’ of Jesus when He left Planet Earth.  It is not to make sure each church has a comfortable building (which most churches in America do), technology (which many, if not most, do), a Sunday night large group worship time (which fewer and fewer do), or even Sunday School (which – well you know).  Making disciples, ‘people who act like, live like, talk like, and care like’ Jesus, is our prime directive.  

Add to these truths the fact that most churches (we all know the numbers – 70% to 90% plateaued or declining) are struggling and in trouble.  Additionally, many of the church that are in trouble are unaware of just how vulnerable they are.  Yet, the things which are ‘bemoaned’ the most by many are NOT lack of disciples being made or people saved by the changing power of Christ.

The number one complaint or regret seems to be (and I quote), “Nobody is having “Discipleship Training” any more” or “No one is having Sunday evening service any longer.”  Now it is true that training disciples is exactly what Jesus commanded us to do when He left the earth, however, the regret has little to do with the abandoned process, rather, it is the loss of a program which they are bemoaning.  Additionally, while we should never “Forsake the assembling or the assembly”, the rub about Sunday night has little to do with authentically meeting God is a corporate time of worship as it is the loss of yet another programmed time.

Years ago, I heard a pastor say, “People aren’t afraid of change, they are afraid of loss.”  If God could and would bless anyone because of ‘programs’, it would have to be Southern Baptist because we have programs for everything.  Programs, in and of themselves, are not bad.  They make great tools (as long as they work, but a program makes a horrible god.  

Maintaining a program is hard work, making disciples is hard work, but one produces man walking with man while the other produces man walking with God.  I pray that we are not so far ‘down the road’ that our ship of motivation, perception, and commitment can’t be turned around.   

Let me illustrate what I am trying to say:  My wife and I seem to do more traveling (mostly for ministry) today than ever before.  Inevitably, we leave home and one of us forgets something.  It may be something we wanted to carry or something we wanted to do, but we forget it.  Candidly, it depends on how far we have made it on our trip as to whether or not we will, ‘turn around and go back.’  I see this as a picture of where we are in the church today.  Have we gone down the program road so far that to return to a process and lifestyle is beyond our thoughts or thinking?  Have we bought into the “Institutional church’ and given into the “gravity” or “pull” of the institutional church that to change the direction is seemingly impossible?  

Today I began writing another article entitled, “Let Stop doing the business of being a church”.  My fear that is we are so far down the road of making the local church and her ‘programs’ our focal point that to turn around and make the ‘manifest presence of God’ our priority, to see Him work powerfully, and to expect Him to do what only He can do, is beyond belief.  The work of God’s church, by God’s church, in God’s church, and through God’s church is not something that should one should be able to explain, but rather something that is only explained by God.  The only way someone can be saved is if God does the ‘heavy lifting.’  

Perhaps what we should be ‘bemoaning’ is that too much of what we do is easily explainable by man and not attributed enough to a divine, supernatural, and all-powerful God in heaven.  Perhaps we should be ‘bemoaning’ that we have little expectation of God showing up.  Perhaps we should be ‘bemoaning’ that the reason these things are true is because we are living in Mark 6.   Mark 6, to this preacher, is one of the saddest passages of the entire Bible.

Jesus went home to Nazareth to help those people who had helped Him when He was growing up.  Verse 5 and 6 intimates that, “Jesus could do NO MIGHTY WORK there….because of their unbelief.”  If that wasn’t bad enough, verse 6 follows with (the famous Watts translation) “so He went someplace else to do what He WANTED to do in His hometown.”  

My prayer is that we will relearn or rediscover what is important and what is not and reclaim the mission, ministry, and mandate to which our Lord has called us.

We Need To Learn

These past couple of days have been difficult.  Couple of days ago a friend missed an important meeting because of assisting with a church in crisis which, it was suggested, that we would hear about in the days to come and then today I did.  Then, the news broke about Coach Freeze.  I am heart-sick and I am heart-sick on so many levels that to put it into words is almost impossible.
For those who know me, I have been (and still am) proud to call the “Freeze family” personal friends.  They are a family of love, faith, and conviction and the Coach is no exception.  One of my godly pastors put it this way, “Most men, if not all people, are one dumb decision away from complete and total disaster. Some just have a bigger platform.”  Sadly, Hugh’s platform was huge, the fallout large, his enemies and fair weather friends are having a field day, and the entire saga is sad.  My love and prayers continue for this family.  
Please don’t get me wrong, I am not defending his actions (whatever they ALL were and no one outside a small circle really knows) and I know that stepping down and moving out of the spotlight was needed. We cannot condone what he did or dismiss the consequences that follow, but here’s my hope: that we learn a better way to handle the ‘fallen-ness’  of man as well as the ‘fallen man’.  We tend to throw the fallen man under the bus, berate, and forget him.  It seems that this culture gloats when a person of notoriety falls or fails, and yet it is made worse when the fallen person attempted to live life in a way that pointed people toward the Lord.  Coach Freeze impacted a large number of people in the right way.  Today he suffers, because of a bad decision, embarrassment and humiliation, the likes of which most of us will never know .  That said, my prayer is that he will not leave his spiritual foundation, repent before the Lord, give attention to self and his family (which I have little doubt – has already happened), and allow some of his believing friends to assist him in restoration. Galatians 6:1 expresses it something like this, “If anyone of you finds one who has fallen into sin, let you who are spiritual restore the fallen brother, keeping watch on yourself lest you are tempted.”  The following verse is sobering, “If anyone thinks he is something, he is nothing, deceiving himself.”  Christian friends should come to the rescue and assist one who is fallen.  
A friend of mind who lives less than an hour from me went through a difficult time many years ago.  In one of our conversations which followed this soul-wrenching time, he said to me, “When you get in the middle of a struggle, you quickly discover who your friends REALLY are.”  The principle of scripture is, ‘if you want a friend, be a friend’. A true friend walks in when everyone else walks out, he/she doesn’t ‘throw you under the bus’ when you mess up, but perhaps goes under the bus and drags you out.  
In the 1980’s a well know evangelist fell into sin and shame, ultimately going to jail.  I shall never forget the day of this announcement because another evangelist felt it ‘his duty’ to go on the night shows to condemn the fallen man.  Ironically, 6 months later the judge because the judged as the second evangelist fell in a sexual crisis..  
My prayer is this: Through this crisis in the life of one we have admired and marveled at these past years and now find ourselves saddened, disappointed, and even confused, I pray that we begin to ‘learn’ a new way to deal with the ‘fallen brother.’  I have already heard the sad statements about the Coach, but for me, if I can help I will.  I believe that helping the fallen brother is our call, while it may not be the popular thing, it is the right thing.

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WAKE UP CALL

First of all-a confession. For the last several years I have read Dr. Thom Rainer’s blog off and on for reasons that I don’t care to articulate…but his blog that I received today is SPOT ON!! In fact, this may need to be printed and distributed widely (since many won’t read a blog).   Before I point you toward it and offer a link to it, let me give some perspective.
Churches are closing at a rapid pace today.  churchleadership.org tells us that we plant 1000 churches each year and CLOSE 4000!!  With an exploding population, we are headed in the wrong direction.  Sadly, because of our ‘affluence’ (in other words, ‘money in the bank’) the average church does not recognize and has not come to grips with just how close they could be to closing. 
In the past few weeks I have spoken with several pastors who are scratching their heads about things like ‘finances and attendance.’  These are good and godly men who spend time with God everyday and are attempting to lead their churches to become God’s outpost for gospel witnessing, soul winning, and disciple making.  Yet, when one digs deep in those church fellowships, there exist a spiritual disconnect which is almost like a ‘bad business plan’ (okay, bad analogy – but it will have to do).  God nor His word never changes – ah, that would be never, ever, ever, etc!!  That said, we must speak the language of our culture to offer those wonderful words of life – “IF” we expect the people who make up this culture to respond.  This means the church MUST CHANGE THEIR PHILOSOPHY WITHOUT CHANGING THEIR PURPOSE (or if you like it better – their message).  Let me illustrate.
I live in an agricultural area. A couple of weeks ago I saw “SEVEN TRACTORS” in one large field. WOW!!  I was impressed!!!  SEVEN TRACTORS!! – and they needed every one of them because the field was so big.  The owners of this property made the outlay for these John Deer Tractors with one purpose in mind – TO BRING IN A BIGGER AND BETTER HARVEST!!  This has been the goal of every farmer who has ever broken a piece of ground!  However, the advent of the ‘tractor’ is a relatively new invention.  It’s one of those ‘new-fangled’ things. 
If we could step back in a time machine about 100 or 150 and take a look at how this same field would be broken up, laid by, and planted back then, you would likely see horses, mulls, plows, and the like.  Quite likely, that large acreage could not be handled in such a way.  Those ‘new-fangled’ things allow for more productivity and possibly a better harvest.  (By the way, if we don’t like the farming illustration – how many would like to ditch their washer, dryer, dish washer, ovens (self-cleaning), or how about ‘disposable diapers and return to the old ways?)
At least 2 things seem a little odds to me.  First, why is it that people my age and older are so reluctant to & resistance to this thing of ‘change’.  I heard one preacher say that “People aren’t afraid of change, but are afraid of loss.”  While I get this, I’m not sure I understand how our theology is harmed when we only adjust a philosophy.  Paul said, “I have become ALL THINGS TO ALL PEOPLE that I BY ALL MEANS might save some.”  Secondly, why does change work in every other phase of our lives BUT the church? 
NOW – To Bro. Thom.  Please hit this link and take 3 minutes to read his blog.  He writes it to the “URGENT CHURCH”….Never has there been a time that is more URGENT for the church than today.  We do this for our posterity, our children, our grand-children, and on and on…BUT we do it for the sake of the gospel and the Kingdom of our Lord.


Dr. Thom Rainer

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A Small Observation

This is not a rant or meant in a ‘mean spirited’ way, it is simply an observation.

It was several years ago that I noticed some unusual changes in the way we speak to God.  In a service one night where a friend of mine (who happens to be much younger) was leading and praying, something sounded a little different in his voice.  I could not put my finger on it, but in my mind I knew something was different.  So, I opened my eyes to make sure all was well in the room.  Much to my surprise I discovered that my ‘preacher-friend’ was praying with his ‘eyes-wide-open’ and surveying the crowd as he voiced the pray and spoke to God.  Now I know that you don’t HAVE to close your eyes to pray, but I was literally ‘startled’ because I had never observed a ‘spiritual leader’ who didn’t.  It’s amazing what you remember in moments like this.  

Coach Mangum was our elementary school principle and did double duty as he drove the to high school and taught us in 9th grade civics.  Also, he was our Sunday School Director at First Baptist.  I remember a discussion one day in ‘one of his classes’.  (Yes, Supreme Court forbid, we spoke of spiritual things in school).  Coach was telling us about his praying and he said, “We should bow our heads in reverence to God and “I” close my eyes.”  It was obvious that we didn’t “have to” close our eyes, but he impressed on us (well, at least me) that in closing our eyes, we could close out the world and focus our thoughts on the one to whom we were talking, God.

In recent days I have thought much about the first experience of observing the ‘eyes-open’ prayer and have made it a point to see if this was a ‘one time’ event and person OR if this was 

and is a modern day movement from the younger sect.  Shockingly, well at least it is to me, I have observed many younger ministers leading in a worship service and talking to – hmmm – God, while staring at us.  In fairness and on balance, I did witness someone almost my my age (old codger age) doing the same thing.  This brings up another part of this observation.  

This part of my observation is that, for the first time in my life, I have some people in my life who cannot seem to look me in the eye when they talk to me.  Have you noticed this in your life?  Is this a growing phenomenon?  Some look over my head so that all I see in the bottom of their chin, which is a big unnerving.  Others will look at the door, out the window, or simply into space, instead of me.  Now they talk to me or at least seem to, but it doesn’t ‘feel’ like it because without the ‘eye-connection’ it seems as if there is NO connection.  This brings me back to the ‘EOP’ (Eye-Opened Praying).

As I have already written, I know one can pray without closing their eyes.  That said, Coach Mangum’s teaching still challenges me to close my eyes that I am not distracted and can focus on HIM.  Conversely, it would seem that IF I am going to do this EOP, that instead of surveying the crowd, I might want to do as King Solomon did, and raise my eyes toward HIM and look at the one to whom I am speaking.   It makes sense to me.

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God’s Prompting

So I haven’t written a blog in quite a while, although I have thought about writing on several topics.  Candidly, there are more topics which need to be addressed than there is time to write. 
Today is “Inauguration Day” which is a topic unto itself.  The protests which have taken place make us seem more like we have become the “United Daycare of America” instead of the “United States of America” as many of these ‘protests’ seem more like children who have just heard the first ‘no’ of their lives.  I understand that many serious challenges face this nation and I further understand that our new president has no track record to be confident in – but as the same time – he has no track record as an elected leader to be wary of.  These are new and uncertain days.

Here is what I know:  This country needs the authentic, healthy, & Biblical church, quite likely, more than ever. Interestingly, I came to the Subway at Walmart this morning for breakfast.  This is not my normal breakfast stop, but I needed an oil change and a tire checked, so this stop allowed me to do several things at one time.  Anyway, I brought my computer for the purpose of reworking and refining the message on “Church Health” that I’m preaching in two days to a congregation very important to me, both professionally and personally.  In 2006 I sat in the Worship Center at Saddleback and heard Pastor Rick Warren say, time and again, “Church growth is not the issue, Church Health is.”  To say he was prophetic is, in my estimation, an gross understatement.
Our country, culture, and communities desperately need God’s church to be healthy and full-functioning.  Sadly today, every statistic assembled and every church we visit reveals that, by and large, the local church is sick.  Some are more diseased than others.  Before you hand me my head on a platter, take note:

  • 70%-90% of churches in America are dying out or about to (plateaued)
  • Each year we start 1000 new churches & close 4000 (churchleadership.org)
  • Discipleship (following Christ daily) is almost untaught–(in word & deed)
  • Divorce rate inside the church equals or exceeds those outside of it
  • There is little difference between the professed believer & non-believer

These are only a few of the modern day characteristics which are given in numerous places as truth and I only quote them for emphasis. 
The fact is; “Houston (or Heaven), we have a problem.”  Years and Years ago I heard O. S. Hawkins deliver a message in Hattiesburg, MS, that has captivated me to the point that, I believe, the essence of his message is the SINGULAR problem in the church today.  He spoke from Acts 19 on “The Fear of the Lord.”  I have a copy of his message and read it regularly (no, I have never preached it – although he told me, “It is fits your pistol, shoot it!”).  So many things seemingly have crept into the church and the lives of the members who make up the body of Christ BECAUSE of the LACK OF THE FEAR OF THE LORD.  And these things (do I really have to  articulate them??) have bred a church which is anemic at best and terminal at worst.  Now I know the church of the living God (the true, invisible church) will endure to the end and be presented as a bride for her groom, but I am keenly aware that the lack of health in many local churches are causing church after church after church (4000 annually according to churchleadership.org) to die.
Then today as I am attempting to pray through, rework, & rewrite this message on church health I receive an email from ThomRainer.com offering us “SIX STATEMENT THAT COULD KILL A CHURCH.”  WHOA!!!  This was God’s prompting to me that this message was of, by, and for Him. 
Click this Link and read these statements.  This is his podcast today – I may tune in.

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