Friday, September 20, 2013

The Changing Tapestry of the Church

Church is changing. No longer is it a part of the cultural fabric of society. Less and less people are attending church and even many of those that attend do not hold to the foundations of Scripture. There is a great pressure on the church to conform to a changing society if it wishes to survive and churches are looking for a “balance”, if a balance can be found. The younger 20-something generation has all but abandoned the traditional teachings and practices of the church in favor of an alignment with the new “tolerance culture”, that to them, just feels right. John Dickerson writes in his book The Great Evangelical recession, that culture is shifting faster than it ever has. If we look back to the 70’s or 80’s or even early 2000’s we will see the most rapid cultural shift our nation has ever seen. In the last 15-20 years, culture has shifted more than it had in the previous 100 years.

In a society that is marked with its doctrine of tolerance that’s lived out in its embracing of any behavior or activity that feels right to a person, it is amazing how intolerant it is of the church. I would go as far as to say our society has moved past just a distaste for church and has settled on a disdain for it. The voice of the church has been tuned out and there is no room for its teachings or practices. Churches are left with either conforming to the culture or becoming obsolete.

Paul said:

Romans 12:2 (NLT)
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. 

I am not fearful. Truth is still truth. Jesus is still the only way to the Father. The Church is still the hope of the world. If this is true, then it is up to the church to infect the culture and stop allowing the culture to infect the church. It is time to show love…real love, a love that is sacrificial. It’s time that the church becomes a positive presence in times of suffering. It’s time that the church open its doors to the morally decayed in order to offer the cure they so desperately need. In fact if we do conform to the behavior and customs of this world we will only succeed in diluting or withholding the only thing that can bring healing.

Pray for the church. Stand firm in what you believe. Love the world like Christ does. This is our calling!

Thursday, August 22, 2013


Selfy Bobble Head gift for 15 years of ministry!

This month I had the privilege of celebrating my 15th year at Hillcrest Church. It’s hard to believe that at 43-years-old I started there at age 28 (just a kid)! The national average that pastors stay at their church is 3.6 years, so to surpass that by 400% is exciting and humbling. It takes a commitment from a both the church and the pastor to experience and benefit from that kind of longevity. The 3.6 year average is nothing to celebrate for the church or for the pastor. Ministry can be messy but when the church and the pastor commit to being there for each other even when there are bad times, you have an illustration of the kind of love Christ has for the church and for people. It’s easy to get mad and frustrated with each other and part ways, but to stick in there and love each other through each other’s sin, failures and shortcomings is a beautiful picture of grace. It’s by God’s grace that I have put up with Hillcrest and it is by God’s grace that they have put up with me. This grace has blossomed a love that you can’t experience or foster in 3.6 years. Thank you, Hillcrest, for loving my family and for loving me. We are fortunate to have you and look forward to every moment God has us together. May he receive all the glory that comes from the love of the saints!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Why I'm Glad To Have Malaria

In April, 2012, I was bitten by a mosquito in South Sudan that carried with it a little parasite called Malaria. That little parasite multiplied and found its way into my red blood cells. Over time it exploded the red blood cell and the broken red blood cells started clogging up my arterial plumbing and my body became anemic as I did not have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to my body. If the disease had been allowed to go unchecked for another week, I would have died...the end.

During my trip to South Sudan I visited the hospital in Lui. We were allowed to go into the infirmary and witness first hand the suffering and death as a result of Malaria and other diseases. To be honest, I tried to understand their plight but I had no context for their suffering. I had no idea what we could do or how we could help the situation. But of course...I ended up with Malaria.

I believe I contracted Malaria so I would go back to South Sudan and help. I believe God gave me Malaria so I would do something about the suffering in the villages of Kalalayi and Buagyi. So go I will. My hope is to return to South Sudan with 1000 mosquito nets, the best deterrent for Malaria. I would like to provide training and medication for the local clinic and hospital.

I now have a context for this disease and the suffering that goes along with it. I now have a role to play in the corner of the earth that God has given us to serve. It may be a bit scary to go back to a place that just about killed me, but I have full confidence in my God, who gave me the disease, to see his ministry to fulfillment.

Galatians 6:2
Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Race Perspective

Racism is alive and well in America if the recent polls are correct. A new AP poll claims that racial prejudice against blacks has increased since the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Racism is a real issue in America and electing our first black president has not helped bridge the gap. Now I have no business to assume I know what racism is because I am part of the majority. Not only am I part of the majority race but I am in the upper socioeconomic tier of that race. Poverty and oppression are not part of my heritage. I can’t relate. But I can say I don’t like racism and that I find it offensive and ignorant.

Basic logic will tell you that the amount of pigment in someone’s skin does not institute a value of that person. Last I checked the Bible still says that we were all created in God’s image…equal in all ways. But in the same spirit we are all different and unique persons. We all have different skills, talents and abilities. Some of us are smarter than others and some of us are physically stronger and more able to catch or throw a ball. Just as it is with our pigmentation, these differences do not equate value…they are just differences.

So can blacks and whites accept that they have many differences but unite in a bond of equality? It seems this is a difficult if not impossible task for many people. Feelings of anger and fear have clouded some people ability to see differences as just that, differences. Instead they are fighting for value and respect, aspects of the human condition that should be a given and universal among all people.

It reminds me of something Jesus said that I believe would go a long way in healing race relations in our communities and nation.

Matthew 22:36-40 (NLT)
“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”  37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’  38 This is the first and greatest commandment.  39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”  

Any form of racism ignores this command. Might we take this command to heart and give ourselves sacrificially to others as Christ did for us? The Beatles had it right…all we need is love!

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Waning of the Church

In a July 2nd report from the Pew Research Center, they discovered that less than half of all Americans believe that the growth of the nonreligious in America is a bad thing (48%), the rest either thinks it’s a good thing or that it doesn’t matter. It has been obvious over the past decades that there has been a steady decline in religious commitment among Americans. Here’s what Pew Research Center has to say:

For example, there has been a modest uptick over the past decade in the share of U.S. adults who say they seldom or never attend religious services. The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion also has grown in recent years; indeed, about one-fifth of the public overall – and a third of adults under age 30 – are religiously unaffiliated as of 2012. Fully a third of U.S. adults say they do not consider themselves a “religious person.” And two-thirds of Americans – affiliated and unaffiliated alike – say religion is losing its influence in Americans’ lives.

I have suspected that America is heading for a post-Christian era. As a nation, faith in God is becoming a highly combative issue in public life. Faith is being cornered behind the walls of our homes and churches. No longer is there freedom in the public sector to express and celebrate our Christian heritage and beliefs. We are told that in order to allow a Christian expression of faith we will need to accommodate and allow all faiths the same “air time”. Now though this ecumenical approach seems fair and properly tolerant, it is eroding the impact Christianity has had on public life.

Now let me get a bit controversial here…I believe this is good for the church. History shows that the more persecution the church is under, the stronger it becomes (Ex. Coptic Christians in Egypt or the Underground Church in North Korea). Even in a declining Christian culture, here in America, the majority of church goers are lackadaisical in their faith. They are not sharing about Jesus with others, they don’t read their bibles on a regular basis and their Christian faith has little impact on the way they do life on Monday through Saturday basis. We could benefit for a little more pressure.

There’s another piece to this issue that we must realize. The decline of our Christian churches has a lot to do with the crummy sales job we’re doing. Issues like denominationalism, infighting and immorality have created a negative air about the church. When it comes to our communities, we are not the positive change people look to. We have not continued the work of Christ that was so attractive to those he touched. In fact I’m not sure we are touching very many people at all.

It’s time for a change and that change starts with you and with me. The church is God’s people and we should love our communities in ways that are attractive, practical and inviting. What can you do to start this change? How can you be the attractive change the world is looking for and yearning for? We all need to be the change we want to see.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Excommunication of Deen

 If you don’t know who Paula Deen is then this is how I would describe her, she’s a cross between your grandmother, a southern belle and a stick of butter. She is known for her fattening southern comfort food and has been a popular chef on the Food Network. This last week the world of foodies became aware that Paula Deen used the n-word when she stated in a court deposition that she had used the word, but that it had been a very long time. Little did Deen know, but that admission would topple the Deen Empire.

Paula Deen issued an apology video and within an hour, the Food Network dumped her two shows and basically said they don’t want to work with a racist. A few days after that Smithfield Food dumped her, Walmart, Target and it looks like QVC and others will jump on the dump Deen bandwagon. If you stick with Deen now, you’re condoning racism.

Wow! Have you noticed that forgiveness is not on the table for Mrs. Deen? Maybe you feel her actions are unforgiveable. In her video apology, Deen admitted her past wrongs and begged for forgiveness but all she got was canned. I have to wonder, is this issue really about the past mistakes of Paula Deen or could this be a result of politically covering their backside?

Either way, it makes me think of the people within the church that do wrong. The pastor that get caught viewing porn, the affair between the deacon and the secretary, the outburst of anger in the business meeting or other “sinful” actions. Are we to kick them out or is there a place for reconciliation or restoration. God gives us some simple instruction.

1.       Admit your fault (James 5:16)
2.       Be forgiven (Matthew 18:21-22)
3.       Be restored (Galatians 6:1)

Nowhere does it say to kick them out, though there is a provision for this if the person is unrepentant and does not see their actions as sin. So what about Paula? Does she deserve forgiveness and restoration? Is she repentant or is she just sorry she got caught? Does she deserve restoration or amputation? I guess the one without sin should pick up the first stone. For the rest of us, we are all in trouble. None of us can claim that we have any right to righteousness because we all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard.

When in doubt I have to lean toward forgiveness. I need others to lean toward forgiveness for me so I had better do the same for them. Jesus forgave me and I didn’t deserve it so I better freely forgive others. Matthew 6:15 always haunts me when I want to condemn someone:

“But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. “

Chew on that…