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3/13/15

GOOD PRACTICES...BAD THEOLOGY

As a member of a Bible-believing, conservative, uncompromising church, we think of ourselves as having pretty much nailed it theologically.  I think we would agree that we are God-pleasers rather than man-pleasers.  We take some politically incorrect stances because we want to be true to God and his Word rather then being palatable to the world.  

For instance, just a few of our beliefs include:
*The inerrancy of Scripture
*The virgin birth of Christ
*The reality of Heaven and life eternal
*That salvation is by grace through faith
*That Jesus is the only way to God

However, there's one essential belief that is strangely missing from our list.  The belief in a literal Hell.

I see I've got you a little ticked off.  Well, just hang in there, partner.

Have you seen the accounts of the news when a fire breaks out and someone, possibly even a total stranger, goes running INTO the burning house, simply because they believe there may be someone alive inside that home?  They risk life and limb in the simple hope that they might save one. Amazing!

So, what's that got to do with my theory that we no longer believe in a literal Hell?  Because, if we really believed in a literal, burning, place of eternal destruction and suffering, we'd be running into burning buildings right and left, just to possibly save one.  Yet, sadly, the reality is that we seldom even walk across the street and sit down in an air conditioned living room over a cup of coffee and tell people we claim to know and love the message that can save them from an eternal torture chamber.  

So, are we that calloused?  Are we that shallow?  Are we that uncaring of anyone other than ourselves?  We do just not give a rip if our friends and family spend an eternity in Hell?

Or do we just not believe what we claim to believe?  It's worth a thought.

3/12/15

AIRPORT SITTING

If you are a people-watcher, it really doesn't get any better than this.  You've got the captive audience of those sitting around you, acting busy, trying to look important (seriously, I'm writing this blog just so I'll have a reason to have my laptop out so people will think I'm necessary.  I'm hoping they're thinking I'm swinging some multi-million dollar deal, when in reality, I'm just writing a blog.  I assume my secret's safe with you.)  

Then, there's the never-ending stream of people arriving and departing, so there's a constant supply of humans going east and west down the center of the terminal.  And, they're all different.  There goes a guy with shorts, dress shoes and black socks.  I feel it's important to add he's in his 20's.  Admit it, that's not where you were going in your mind. 

Some are dressed-up like they're meeting with the president.  Some have obviously mistaken this place for a gym.  They're either ready for a spin class, or were told they have to pedal hard to get this plane off the ground.  

Every plug that has the capacity to provide any electricity into anything is in the highest of demand.  Lord, help us all if anything electronic should go dead.  Life as we know it would cease.  

There is every shape, size, style and brand of human being imaginable represented here.  So, I'm letting you in on what I do when I'm truly bored.  I write their stories.  Where they're coming from.  Where they're headed.  Why they're going there.  (I'm bored.  Give me a break.  I bore easily.  ADD.  SQUIRREL!!! I digress.)

So different.  No duplicates.  They all have absolutely nothing in common.  Well, one thing.  They were created by God, desired by God, purchased back by God and loved by God.  Most of them probably don't even know it.  Totally clueless.  

I guess that's where we enter the story.  We know it.  We've been commanded and commissioned to tell them.  Let me state that one more time...We've been COMMANDED & COMMISSIONED BY GOD TO TELL THEM.  Not SOME of us...ALL of us.  Not SOME of them...ALL of them.  Not SOME  of the time...ALL of the time.  

So many people.  So very different.  So little time.  Such high stakes.  We better get started.

3/11/15

WE....because ME doesn't work so well

I was recently given a course of action to take by an authority figure.  In my generation, authority figures are important.  Doctors and lawyers and police officers...you don't question them...you just follow them.  Period.  So, I did.  And, at least in my eyes, it wasn't working so well.  So, I did what any red-blooded, 21st Century man would do...I consulted the Internet. Wow, everyone has an opinion and the Internet is where most people go to share them.  Many of them sound very qualified, but seldom list their qualifications.  

Here's what I discovered: Opinions are like buttocks.  Everyone has one, and most of them stink.  Hope that wasn't offensive.  Just an observation.

So, I asked my wife.  (Smart) But, I soon realized she likes me.  Not that that's a bad thing.  It's a GREAT thing.  I hope she keeps up the good work. (GO WIFE!)  However, when looking for a truly objective opinion, sometimes the person who loves you most and only wants the best for you and certainly doesn't want you to experience any discomfort can be a little too close to the situation to be totally objective.  So, here I am, with an authority figure saying, "Go this way" and a wife saying, "Go that way", and me, in the middle going nowhere fast.  

That's when I thought of a couple of dear friends.  They had experience.  They had expertise.  They were objective.  Heck, they even liked me.  So, I took a chance, asked if I could visit with them, laid out my case and said, "What would you do if you were me?"  Then, I sat back and listened.  They were objective, wise, compassionate, thorough and and unbelievably helpful.  I had walked in with all kinds of confusion and mixed emotions.  I walked out confident and clear.  I knew the course of action I needed to take and was completely at ease with taking it.  I had walked in paralyzed with fear of making a wrong decision and taking a wrong course of action.  I walked out in peace and confidence and with a clear-cut plan of action.

I wonder if that's the reason the Bible uses the term "one-another" over and over and over again?  You can't fulfill all the "one-anothers" and live in a vacuum.  God, I believe, is trying to make one thing perfectly clear:  WE WERE NEVER INTENDED TO DO LIFE ALONE.  However, our tendency is to do just that.  I know, some of you are thinking, "I like people.  I like to hang out with my friends.  I love a party".  That's great...but, I think you may be missing the point.  It's not about how many people are in your contact list or are Facebook friends.  It's about how many people you are actually, honestly and openly sharing the depths of your life with.  That's a totally different animal.

The average American's relationships are basically a mile wide and an inch deep.  We go for quantity rather than quality.  We keep things pretty much at the surface level.  To go a mile deep, you can't go very wide.  It's impossible to have 100's of deep, meaningful intimate relationships.  But, you can have a few.  In fact, you must have a few.  

Can you name them?  People that you can share any and every part of your life?  People that you actively DO share the parts of your life that you share with no one else?  Not just the good stuff...but, the messes as well.  People that know who you really are and love you IN SPITE  of who you are and not BECAUSE of who you are?  Can you call their names?  These are the inch-wide and mile-deep relationships.  If you have them, you're in the minority.  But, if you have them, you are truly blessed.  

Maybe you should tell them that today.  And, if you don't have them, maybe it's time to start digging.

3/5/15

Mixing the M&Ms

My middle son played football at the University of Oklahoma.  When two things collide, it makes for a very intense situation.  In this case the two factors were 1) A tremendous history of football success over decades & 2) There's really not a lot to do in Oklahoma.  Factor those two criterion together and that makes for serious football fans (fan is the abbreviated version of fanatic).  

On one particular away game, (That's important because, even though this may have happened at a home game, it would gone unnoticed.  Those days there were usually 90,000 fans in a stadium that would comfortably seat 75,000.  Away games...OK, I'll admit it, it was a Baylor game...there was plenty of room.) I noticed two ladies sitting behind us enjoying a bag of M&Ms.  However, they would eat a few and then throw one on the ground and crush it with their feet. This was peculiar even for OU fans, and being the "stick your nose into everyone's business" (or as I like to refer to myself, "sociologically curious"), I asked what exactly they were doing and why.  THE ANSWER: "We don't eat the orange ones"  My first thoughts were a) The coating on the outside is flavorless & b) Then can I have them?  But, I listened to the logic that drove their somewhat peculiar behavior. "Everybody we hate is orange, so we just throw them down and "crush 'em!".  

So, a pre-game ritual that they didn't inform us of at Parent's Orientation.  The Sooners biggest rivals (in those days) were the University of Texas and Oklahoma State University.  Both orange.  I get it...sort of. I would have just left them in the bag a clandestinely eaten them at a later date in the privacy of my home.  But, a true fan uses them to effect the outcome of the game...to call down football mojo from on high...to make a statement of their loyalty.  To "crush" the competition.  I had so much to learn and so far to go.  I realized in that moment what a neophite Sooner fan I was and just how much I had to learn.  (All I have to say is...they should have been crushing the Green Ones!  Just saying' Sic 'em!)

Interesting story.  Some of you may be thinking right now, "Those people are weird.  Those people are fanatics.  Those people need to get a life!  But, before you react, let me say it is my observation that we all play with our M&Ms.  Every organization and entity alive that is.  Every marriage, every business, and in my case, especially, every church is constant playing with their M&Ms.  Not the "Melts in your mouth, not in your hand" variety.  I'm talking about these M&Ms.

MISSION
METHODS
MESSAGE

Every living entity has these.  They have that in common.  But, what sets them apart is the order they come in...and they ALWAYS come in an order.  Since I'm a pastor, let's talk about one organism that is near and dear to my heart...the LOCAL CHURCH.  We have a tendency to mess with ours more than most.  And as a result, here's what happens:

Many churches say, "The MESSAGE is sacred" (Which is true).  The truth about Jesus is absolutely sacred.  That the Word of God is infallible...that Jesus was born of a virgin...that he was fully God and fully man...that there is no hope for mankind apart from him...all true.  When the MESSAGE becomes Priority #1, then the church becomes the guardian of the gospel.  Doctrine becomes our priority for existence.  We exist to protect the right and guard from the wrong and mainly appoint ourselves to point out any discrepancies that come along on our watch.  The Church basically becomes the DOCTRINAL POLICE.  And, as a result, we become known more for what we are against rather than what we are for.  We have lots of classes and read lots of books and give lots of lectures (that we think are sermons) and although the gospel remains pure (as WE judge pure) it really doesn't have much of an effect on anyone because we're too busy guarding it to share it with anyone.

For others, the METHODS are paramount.  We wouldn't ever speak those words.  But, just watch us.  We live them out loud and clear.  Don't believe me?  Then just change something.  Anything.  Change the time you meet or the order of the Worship Service, or the songs you sing or the instruments used or the color of the carpet or adopt Small Groups instead of Sunday School or fire the Choir in favor of a band or.....  You get my drift.  DON'T CHANGE THE METHODS!  Why?  Because the METHODS are sacred.  They are Priority #1.  They have become more important than the MESSAGE or the MISSION.  Don't believe me?  OK, many churches are using methods that worked great in the 1960s.  In fact, you walk into many churches and you'd think you'd been transported Back to the Future and had somehow wound up in the 60's.  Are these methods culturally relevant and meaningful to the generation we are purporting to reach with the gospel?  Absolutely not.  Then, why do we keep using them?  Because our METHODS have become more sacred than our MESSAGE or our MISSION.  Point in Case: Do you have a Choir in your Church?  Do you listen to choral music during the week?  How many stations do you have playing choral music in your town?  (Christian radio doesn't count)  If NO ONE is listening to it, then why in the world would we be using it?  Only one answer.  We METHODS are more sacred than the MESSAGE or the MISSION.

Then, there are those Churches that have made the MISSION the top priority.  They never ask, "What have we always done?".  They ask, "What would work to reach a lost and dying generation?"  Rather than asking "what have we done in the past?", they ask, "What do we need to change to be relevant in the future without compromising the MESSAGE?"  Craig Groeschel may have stated it best at Life Church when he says, "We will do anything short of sin to reach as many as we can for Christ".  MISSION.  It's all about the MISSION.  Jesus squarely set us on a MISSION.  A MISSION only we can accomplish.  There is no back-up plan.  We do not have the luxury of worshipping the past or being the Doctrinal Police.  We have a MISSION given us by the guy who came back from the dead and said He was God.  Do that, and your MISSION becomes Priority #1.  

MISSION, METHODS, MESSAGE...all very important.  But, Jesus defined our MISSION.  He said Go.  He said teach, preach, explain, testify, reach...however you want to translate it.  Bottom Line: "I died so people could live.  Let them know this...by all means possible!"  He never said, "Pointing out others doctrinal errors will set you free".  Just that the truth would.  In other words, you, speak the truth...that's all.  Don't waste a lot of time correcting everyone else. Speak the truth.  Speak it.  People are dying.  Open your mouth and speak the truth.  Oh, and if they speak French, tell them in French.  If they speak Spanish, then for Heaven's sake, tell them in Spanish.  If they speak rap, speak it in rap.  Don't expect them to adopt your methods.  That isn't going to happen.  They're lost!  Did you forget that?  Adapt your methods to them.  Yes, I know that sounds like heresy, but it's not.  Jesus isn't impressed you're using outdated METHODS to try to reach people who can't stand them.  To Him, it's obvious that your METHODS are clearly more important to you than the people he hung on a cross and died for.  Ouch!  Truth hurts sometimes.  But, it can also set you free.

Now...go play with your M&Ms.




3/1/15

Through the Eyes of a Visitor

I seldom get to attend any church but my own.  They say if it's your house (church, business, etc.) you can fail to see what's wrong right in front of you.  Recently, I had a broken gate at my house.  That's never good, but, it's really bad when you own a pool.  A solid gate is a must to keep anyone from wondering into your back yard at all times.  It was broken, and even though I noticed it, I didn't.  They say if you can ignore something for 14 days, you can ignore it forever.  It becomes invisible.  I'm pretty sure there's lots of invisible things at Crosspoint 
Church.  My hope was to be a real VISITOR and, hopefully, look at church through VISITOR EYES.  

We did the whole nine yards.  If the church asked visitors to turn on their flashers, we turned them on.  Parked in the Visitor Parking.  Got the tour and took the mug home.  Let me share my experiences at two different churches, as well as my translation into "Visitor-ese".

OBSERVATION:  The auditorium was only 10% full at the start of the Service
TRANSLATION:  "What goes on here isn't very important.  Otherwise people wouldn't be so 
                                  non-chalant about when they drag in.  Why did I get in such a hurry to get
                                  here?"

OBSERVATION:  The guy in the Visitor Parking gave us an umbrella, walked us into the 
                                lobby, introduced us to the lady at the information desk who gave us 
                                information, a free gift and walked us to the auditorium door, showed us
                                where the restrooms were, answered any question we asked and handed us
                                off to the person at the door and handed us our program.  She told us if we 
                                like it loud to sit on the floor, not so loud, to sit in the balcony.
TRANSLATION:  "We were the most important people in the building!"

OBSERVATION:  The pastor talked about how he didn't want to be known as a money-
                                grubbing preacher...then passed the buckets...followed by the Executive 
                                Pastor coming up and and taking up a second offering.
TRANSLATION:  "One of them is a money-grubbing preacher."

OBSERVATION:  One church was predominately white-collar.  One was predominately blue-
                                collar.
TRANSLATION:  "Whichever I'm not, I don't belong there."

OBSERVATION:  People were actively involved as participants in the singing portion of the 
                                service.
TRANSLATION:  "These people really believe this stuff.  They're serious.  It's kind of 
                                   contagious!"