Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Orlando and Its Aftermath: It's Spiritual

It takes an unspeakable evil to murder.

There's a phenomenon that happens during deer season called "buck fever." This is when a first-time hunter has a buck in his sights for the first time. The adrenaline of bagging your first trophy buck, combined with the focus to keep the deer in your cross-hairs while squeezing the trigger without flinching and missing the shot can wreak havoc on a hunter's steady hand. Many a hunter missed their first shot at a buck as a result.

Recently where I live, a gunman grabbed a rifle, went to his neighbors house, killing them and their dogs for no other reason than one of the dogs had "used" his yard. Police responded, and immediately came under fire from this deranged individual. As the responding officer was pinned down by the gunman's rapid fire, another neighbor retrieved a pistol, and "neutralized" the shooter, killing him with about three shots fired. The good neighbor, later dubbed "the Good Samaritan Shooter" was honored by the local Sheriff's Office, the County Commissioners and the Governor of Texas.

During one of the ceremonies, a war veteran approached me, and said, "His hand must have been shaking something fierce. Buck fever doesn't even begin to describe what you go through when it's another man in your sights." The veteran then shared with me his first combat experience.

Here you have two men, the Good Samaritan Shooter and the War Veteran, placed in a position where they had no choice but to take the life of someone to either (a) end a murderous rampage, or (b) survive combat and defend the country. Both expressed the anguish and intensity of having to make that choice. In situations where the shooting was completely justified, it troubled these men to have to do it. This is the natural reaction for most people.

However, for the hundreds, if not thousands of people who commit murder each year, and those who have perpetrated terrorist attacks, that anguish seems absent. The idea of taking human life is no big deal to them. In fact, it becomes their means to an end. It's the vehicle they use to achieve their goals.

The Orlando shooter was evil. Plain and simple. There are those who say I shouldn't judge. If you cannot call someone who takes 50 lives and wounds 53 others, who carried out this attack for three hours evil, then what can you call it? Whereas most people shutter to think they could take another person's life, and whereas most hunters shutter before they bag their first deer, the Orlando shooter placed another person in his sights and pulled the trigger no less than 103 times. This is evil personified.

The tragic part about this is that we've seen this evil manifest itself many times, in America and around the world. Whether it's the San Bernadino shooting, Aurora, Newtown, Virginia Tech, or Charleston, the root cause of these tragedies is evil. The motives are different, but the root cause is evil.

From where does evil originate? Satan. Satan was the one who entered into Judas' heart, prompting him to betray Jesus. Isaiah 14:16 says Satan has made the earth tremble and has shaken kingdoms. On three different occasions, Jesus referred to him as the "prince of this world." Satan is evil, and he influences men, and human events.

Why are we experiencing so many mass shootings and terror attacks? Simple. Evil. And Satan is the one influencing that evil. If it seems like all of this is part of some well-coordinated conspiracy, well, it is. However, it's not the so-called Illuminati coordinating these events... it's Satan.

Which brings me to the coordinated response to these shootings, particularly the one in Orlando. In the aftermath of the Orlando shooting, there was the predictable call to enact more gun control. There was the predictable outcry about the persecution of homosexuals. And, I'd be remiss if I didn't include the predictable call to "not judge all Muslims by the actions of this one."

While there was outcry that we shouldn't judge all Muslims, suddenly there was a backlash against Christians. While there are extremists all over the internet who post insanity on Twitter, I was shocked to find that a high-profile cable news commentator decided to lash out at Christianity.

In a series of tweets following the Orlando shooting, CNN's Sally Kohn called Christians who offered prayers and comfort to the victims of the shooting as "hypocrites" whose "guilt was showing." In the aftermath of a massive terrorist attack on homosexuals perpetrated by an Islamic extremist, Kohn said that Christians value the humanity of homosexuals less than moderate Muslims do. That must be why homosexuality is a crime punishable by death in many Middle Eastern countries, but I digress.

Meanwhile, according to the Washington Examiner, an ACLU attorney tweeted that the Orlando shooting was caused by a homophobic atmosphere cultivated by Christians.

Somehow, these commentators, as well as a number of others not worth mentioning, have found a way to blame Christians for a terrorist attack committed by a man who pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State, who professed Islam, who claimed to represent a religion that dominates the Middle Eastern countries that execute homosexuals. An Islamic extremist representing a religion that bans homosexuality kills homosexuals, and Christianity is blamed. How can any reasonable person follow that logic? Simple. It's not logic. It's evil.

The same spiritual force that influenced the attack is influencing the reactions.

Satan opposes Christ. He opposes Christianity. His name literally means "opponent." So, it should make sense that, given the opportunity, he would try to steer the rage of a nation against Christians. So, he puts it in the mind of political influencers that Christianity bred the homophobic atmosphere that led to the attack. If people don't believe that argument, simply state that Christians are no better than the Orlando shooter. The only way to prove that they are better is to reverse Bible doctrine and accept homosexuality as a righteous behavior. Many Christians are following that path today.

Stephen Colbert said it best. He said it is as if we have adopted a national script, and we follow that script every time. If it all seems collaborated and coordinated, it is. Where there is a script, there is a screen writer. In this case, that screen writer is Satan.

We are in a Spiritual battle. Satan, his demons and his followers are seeking to turn the world away from God and toward destruction. God, and His followers, seek to lead the world to repentance and restoration. The battlefield is the heart and minds of all people. The battle will continue until Christ returns and wins the final victory.

Our role as Christians is to wage that battle by speaking the truth in love, and spreading the Gospel of salvation. As we do this, we recognize the Spiritual battle for what it is, and look forward to the return of Christ.

My heart, and prayers go out to the victims of the Orlando shooting, and their families. The last thing I wanted for them was what happened this past weekend. May God comfort them, may God help the rest of us to know how to minister to them, and may God forgive us where we fall short.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Mother of all What-If's....

Several weeks ago, around Easter time, I was preaching on the Triumphal Entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. The text was from the book of Luke. During that sermon, one of the points I made was that Jesus had entered Jerusalem, just as the Old Testament foretold. The people who said they wanted Messiah to come were now witnessing the arrival of the Messiah, but they didn't recognize it because they were Spiritually blind. Because Jerusalem had failed to receive the Messiah, electing rather to turn Him over to the Romans to be crucified, the city was condemned to total destruction, which happened some 35 years later in AD 70. The city could have received its promised Messiah, but instead rejected Him and chose destruction.

Following church that day, my wife asked me, "What would have happened had they received Him? What about His death for our sins on the cross?"

The simple answer to that would be that God knew that Jerusalem would reject Christ, so He worked it into His perfect plan of redemption. That's the answer I gave, and that's how we left it.

Still, does that mean that Jerusalem was doomed from the start? Was there a way they could've received the Messiah, and for the plan of Redemption to go forward? I mean after all, Jesus Himself said in Luke 19:42, "If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes."

Jesus said "If thou hadst known," indicating possibility. If Jerusalem would've been worshiping and serving God, and thus would have recognized Jesus as the Messiah, things would've turned out different for Jerusalem. AD 70 would've never happened, and the Temple would still stand today because the Messiah would've defeated the Romans. But, what about redemption? Salvation was purchased by the death of Christ on the cross. So, if the Jewish leaders didn't turn Him over to the Romans to be crucified, how would we have salvation today?

Granted, this is a big what-if scenario, and this is all conjecture, but it could be that God would've worked the plan of redemption into Jerusalem's acceptance and obedience. Consider the following possibility:

Jesus enters Jerusalem to the cheer of the crowd. The religious leaders open their Bibles, read the scriptures that Jesus was in the process of fulfilling, and realize that the Messiah has arrived. They proudly and victoriously announce that Christ has indeed come, as God promised in the scriptures, and proclaim that God's Kingdom has once again been restored. Christ arrives in Jerusalem, where a coronation ceremony is held and He is crowned King.
The Romans would not have just accepted that. The Roman army would've marched on Jerusalem, just as they had in previous insurrections, taken the leadership, and crucified them. The result: Christ would've been crucified anyway, and still would've paid for the sins of the world. Once He rose again on the third day, He would've destroyed the Roman army and restored the Kingdom once and for all. Salvation would then have been extended to the Gentiles based on whether they accepted Him or rejected Him. 

Granted, there are holes in that theory. But instead of going into deep theological debates as to how God would've completed the plan of redemption if Jerusalem would have accepted Jesus, let's just be glad we have an all-powerful God who completes His plan no matter what man does, and that His plan called for our redemption, salvation, and inclusion into His Kingdom. Praise the Lord!

Friday, April 1, 2016

From Pulpit To Pundit: When Pastors Enter The Political Fray

Pastor Robert Jeffress has been a lightning rod since becoming pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas. He has consistently weighed in on the issues of the day, often promoting Biblically correct, yet politically incorrect positions. The first time I saw Dr. Jeffress on television, he was giving a statement from the pulpit of First Baptist Church in Dallas, addressing negative press he had received from the Dallas Morning News. He was not explaining his comment, nor was he apologizing. He was doubling down, and giving new information to back up his position, concluding his remarks that his position was the result of research, and that he was not "ignorant on this topic."

Initially, I was skeptical of his ministry, but after hearing one of his sermons via KCBI in Dallas, I began to appreciate his ministry a little more. (Ironically, his sermon was on the role of being a culture warrior AND a representative of Christ.)

Typically, when a pastor enters the fray of political discourse, he angers many, and people leave the church. Meanwhile, at First Baptist Church of Dallas, the congregation grows and efforts to build a new campus are currently underway.

While I can't say I endorse everything Dr. Jeffress has said (I haven't researched his positions on every topic on which he has weighed in,) I do appreciate his boldness in speaking out. In the above-posted video, Dr. Jeffress highlights the differences between Christianity and Islam.

Faith is not just something we feel on Sundays. Our faith is what shapes our lives, and drives our decisions. Which means our faith involves every single aspect of our lives, from how we behave at work, to how we vote, to whether or not we truly represent Christ. Indeed, our faith affects how we interpret the news and issues of the day. For that reason, pastors such as Dr. Jeffress weigh in, providing Biblical perspective to the events of our day.

Perhaps I should say that more strongly. Pastors such as Dr. Jeffress tell us what God says about the events of our day.

The goal here is not to deliver votes to the Republican Party, neither is it to force views onto others. It is an attempt to give Spiritual guidance to those who follow Christ, and to influence others into seeing the Christian point of view. Ultimately, we (Christians) all want a nation that pleases God, a nation that He blesses.

For that reason, it is incumbent upon pastors to give Biblical insight into the issues of the day, and a Godly perspective into the news of the day. All too often, pastors avoid this in order to avoid controversy which could impact the church. There are a few, however, that are willing to take on the controversy if it means that the truth gets spoken. And that's why pastors like Dr. Jeffress should be congratulated, even if we don't always agree with them. Pastors like Dr. Jefffress actually have core beliefs and convictions, and act out on them, and that is something that we call can appreciate.

But those are just my thoughts... what are yours? Should pastors use their platform to weigh in on the issues of the day?

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

I Destroyed The World, But The Apple Was Great!

Anyone who has known me for any length of time knows that I have a spotted past. While I was never an "addict," a convicted felon, nor have I any tattoos to show for my wild oats, my younger years were full of sin, decadence and all-round bad decisions. The fact that I didn't wind in prison has more to do with the grace of God than it does with my character.

My testimony is such that, even my boss will discuss my turnaround when he presents me with my Christmas bonus at the company party. There are some things from my college years that I hope everyone has forgotten. Good thing social media didn't exist back then.

On occasion, however, we'll all get to swapping stories at the office, and on occasion, I'll share one from my wilder days. One day, in my office, I shared such a story, to which my boss replied, "I don't think I'd share that one again if I were you."

Driving home that evening, I thought about the day's conversations, the story I shared, and my boss's advice. Indeed he was right. That story was just plain awful and stupid. Sharing a story like that doesn't help my testimony, it hinders it. I'm going to follow my boss's advice, and not share the story. What I will tell you is that no one got hurt, and no laws were broken.

However, on my drive home, the thought occurred to me how silly it is that, as a Christian, I look back on some of the decadence of my youth with a certain sense of humor, and in some weird way, a little nostalgia. The decisions I made back then could have killed me, some destroyed parts of my life, and some consequences I still live with. Yet, here I am, acting like a fool, looking back on it as if it were something by which to be entertained.

Why do we as Christians look back on our lost days as "the good ole days?" Sure, we'd never return to them, but sometimes we find ourselves looking back on them with a certain nostalgia. When you think about it, that makes absolutely no sense.

Think about Adam. He and Eve made the conscious decision to rebel against God by eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. That one decision brought the sin curse upon all men, so that we all face death, and God's wrath if we're not saved, because we are all now sinners. Adam's decision to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was the single event that sentenced Jesus Christ to die on the cross. Adam's decision to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was not merely to eat something God said not to, but it was an attempt to get out from beneath God's authority.

That one decision thrust mankind into the darkness that we experience today. Because of that one decision, we have crime, violence, war, starvation, death, disease, cancer. Every bad thing in this world can be traced back to Adam's original sin.

Adam lived several hundred years after God evicted him and Eve from the Garden of Eden. He had several hundred years to look back on that decision, and to see the devastating effects that sin had on the world, namely his descendants.

I wonder if, during those several hundred years, Adam didn't occasionally tell his grandchildren about life in the Garden. I wonder if he explained why they could no longer live in the Garden. What a difficult story that must have been to tell. "Hey kids, we could be living in paradise, but I blew it."

One thing I can almost guarantee Adam never did was describe that fruit, how good it must have tasted, how great the texture must have been, and how juicy it was. For some reason, I cannot imagine Adam sitting back on a Saturday evening, telling the story of eating the forbidden fruit with glee, and punctuating his story with, "I destroyed the world, but hey! The apple was great!"

When we get to looking back on the lost days with nostalgia, and telling stories of our previous decadence with glee, we have forgotten what sin really is, and the effects that it has on our lives, and on those around us. Let us never be guilty of missing this point, and celebrating things from which we seek God's forgiveness. God bless you on your journey.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

When I Struggle With Sin...

... I feel like a hypocrite.

Every week, I speak no fewer than five times about the Lord. There's my Sunday School class, the Sunday morning sermon at Grace Pointe, two small group Bible studies, and a radio show. Then, every other Sunday, I preach at the Market Place apartments.

Each sermon includes warnings against sin, encouragement to have faith in the Lord, exhortation to center one's life around the Lord, and a commission to serve the Lord. I am sincere in my belief of these things. I honestly believe that God blesses those who live their lives for Him. But preaching the Word, and practicing what I preach are two completely different things.

Monday rolls around, and I tend to fall back into the same routines as everyone else. My life becomes about making a living, paying bills, and being frustrated that my wildest dreams have yet to come true. When your focus drifts from the Lord and into the day-to-day routine, you lose that Spiritual connection to the Lord, and He begins to seem distant. When this happens, we become susceptible to temptation. Such is the case with me.

I'm not going into a confessional here, but there are times that I misrepresent Christ. There are times that I fall short of the Biblical mandate to let my light shine. There are times that I betray my faith, and my Lord. And when my eyes are opened to my fall, I begin to wonder if all this is a facade, and if I am really a rotten human being. You may have experienced the same.

How can we reconcile our salvation and our lives in Christ with the sin that "so easily besets us?" (Hebrews 12:1).

We begin by recognizing that we are not alone in this struggle. Romans 3:23 says "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God." We are all sinners, we all fall short. We all fail. Romans 3:9 says we are all under sin.

Scripture also lists examples of the great heroes of the faith who fell short of God's glory. From the depiction of David's adultery with Bathsheba, to the acknowledgement in James 5:17 that "Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are." Yet, David and Elijah did great things for the Lord. Romans 7:15-17 describes the same struggle that the Apostle Paul had.

The lesson we take here is that our struggle neither defines us, nor limits us.

We continue by recognizing what this struggle reveals in us. There are times that you overcome, and there are times that you fail. Through each time of temptation, you learn more about your Spiritual maturity, and where you stand with the Lord. However, failure is not as devastating as you think.

Romans 7:15-17 says:
For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. 16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.  17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
In Romans 7, the Apostle Paul confessed that he knew what he should be doing, and what he shouldn't be doing. He then confessed that he found himself doing the things he shouldn't (For that which I do I allow not.) He found himself doing the very things he preached against. He also confessed that he found himself not doing the things he should. (For what I would, that do I not).

Despite the disconnect between what he believed and what he preached, and what he actually did, Paul steered the conversation back to God's word. He didn't justify what he did. Rather, he promoted God's law, and declared its truth despite his failure. (I consent unto the law that it is good.)

So, if Paul knew God's law, agreed with God's law, and promoted God's law, why was he sinning? Simple. Paul understood that he was still infected with the sin nature. (Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.) This is not an excuse. He's not saying that he can continue in sin, as it's just in his nature. He is merely explaining his failure.

When we struggle with sin, we are reminded that we still have the sin nature. It's the flesh within us that desires sin, that desires the things that are forbidden. It's the same nature that wants to abdicate personal responsibility and live for the pleasure of the moment.

When we recognize the role that the sin nature plays in our struggle, we are able to move away from the notion that somehow we are just flawed, and not as good as everyone else, and we see our struggle as part of the human experience. When we understand this is a struggle everyone faces, this helps us see the struggle that others endure, and it helps us to be graceful to others when they sin.

The other thing that recognizing the role of the sin nature accomplishes is that it reminds us that conquering sin is not something we can do on our own. We need the Lord. Which brings us to our next point.

We return to our roots of faith in Christ.  In Romans 7:24-25, Paul exclaimed, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord."

In verse 24, Paul declares his inability to overcome sin, and turns to the Lord for deliverance. In verse 25, Paul trusts the Lord for that deliverance.

If you know Jesus Christ as your savior, there was a time that you surrendered, and called out to Him for salvation. At that point, you were exactly where Christ wanted you. In the days and weeks that followed, the Lord was able to lead you through a time of exponential Spiritual growth because you had total faith in Him. But, as time moves along, we drift away, and we wind up in the boat we're in today.

When you struggle with sin, and you recognize that it's part of life, and that you cannot overcome it yourself, the proper course of action is to surrender, ask God for deliverance, and trust the Lord to deliver you from that struggle. When you reach that point of surrender and faith, you are right where Christ wants you. When you reach that point of surrender and faith, God is then able to do great things in your life.

When I struggle with sin, I feel like a hypocrite, but I am not. I am a child of God, redeemed by the blood of Christ, who has not finished his race here on earth. I remember that I stand on the shoulders of giants, that others have faced these same struggles, and that the struggle with sin comes as a result of my sin nature.

The only answer is to ask God for forgiveness, and trust Him to deliver me from these temptations. When I reach that point, God brings a revival in my life. He will yours as well. Keep the faith, God is on your side.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Worlds Aren't Changed By Radical Crusaders, But By Those Who Quietly Live Their Lives

Before the beard... Jessica and I enjoying a day our with family
This morning, immediately following my radio show, I was asked, "What have you done today to make the world a better place?" My answer, "I woke up!" (Actually, God allowed me to wake up. I did get out of bed, though). 

Now, my answer may sound entirely arrogant, self-centered and curt. However, it comes from the realization that at the end of the day, there is actually very little I can do to make the world a better place. This realization comes after pastoring a new church plant for 8 years, which, despite my best efforts and the support of my state and local associations, continues to struggle to build attendance. It comes as I have invested countless hours, tears and prayers into seeing lives changed, only to see those people that I care for continue to make self-destructive life decisions. 

It comes as I look back on a life advocating for pro-liberty, pro-life, and pro-America policies, only for our elected leaders to continue to expand the influence government has in our lives, continue to see abortion-limiting legislation die in committee or in the federal courts, and continue to see our leaders surrender our national sovereignty while abandoning our troops on the battlefield. (We send them to fight, they come back wounded, and then we drag our feet on their medical care and benefits). I'm sorry, I drifted back into politics. 

My realization of how little I can actually do to make the world a better place comes as I watch those who once stood for truth surrender in resignation, discouraged because they haven't made a big impact either. Or at least they think they haven't. They inspired me. But, I guess that makes me all the more self-centered. And yet, I don't think it really does. 

When we talk about making the world a better place, I think we should have a better perspective of how that works. I am really blessed right now. I get to do a morning talk show. I get to pastor a great group of people at Grace Pointe MBC. Both of those opportunities provide for my family's needs... my family which includes 3 biological kids, and 4 adoptive kids, which, if I could have negotiated with God in the beginning, I would have taken as biological. I have an understanding of the world around me, which, regardless of my circumstances, gives me a feeling of freedom. And these blessings, while poured out upon me by God, were given through the self-less efforts of those who raised me. 

My grandfather did not set out in life to be a world changer. He wanted to educate, and he wanted to support his family. The only time he was the talk of the town is when he corrected injustice, and he was criticized, not praised, for doing so. He desegregated Dawson ISD in Dawson, TX, and he enlisted the help of drug dogs to halt the drug trafficking in Latexo ISD. I grew up during the latter part of his career, where he served as an administrator at the Windham School District, the school system which serves the Texas prison system. As I grew up, my grandfather never ceased to remind me of the need to get an education, to make something of myself, and to support my family. He instilled in me the notion that it is my responsibility to provide for my family, and mine alone. 

Where my grandfather taught me book smarts and responsibility, my father taught me street smarts. He was the one who taught me how, once I get a job, to keep the job, to advance in the job, and how to interact with co-workers. My father was a business manager, so he also taught me about how to manage expenses and income. Both of those men taught me. On occasion, they'd teach me these lessons verbally, but mostly, they taught by example. 

Which brings me to how I am making the world a better place. God has blessed me with 7 wonderful children. My goal is to give them the same upbringing that I had, so that when they are grown and have families, they will pass that upbringing down to their children. I believe if we all did this, the world would be a better place. 

I also teach and encourage my church, and hopefully my friends, extended family, and Facebook friends. I plan on keeping my ministry public, so I can encourage as many people as possible. Ecclesiastes 12:13 says, "Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man." Live your life the way God designed it. Raise your family, teach them about the Lord, worship at church on Sunday, represent God well when you go to work or conduct business. That's all God requires. If you feel led to do more, GREAT! I'll pray for you and help, if I can. But don't ever let anyone denigrate you because you don't do missions in the Congo. May God bless you.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Religion is not the Enemy

The historic sanctuary of Ebenezer Baptist Church,
where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached. It is now
part of the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic
Site, owned and operated by the National Park Service.
The 20th century saw the rise and fall of many evangelical leaders, men of renown who preached the Gospel to worldwide prominence, then were destroyed by personal sin and moral failures. Those instances damaged the brand of Christianity, and the church. That damage was also furthered by the personal hypocrisy of many church going Americans. The rubble of 20th century Christianity's failures has given rise to a new breed of Christian, the post-modern Christian.

The post-modern Christian's favorite slogan is "It's about relationship, not religion." The post-modern Christian sees his disdain for traditional Christianity, and in particular, the traditional church, as the same disdain Christ had for the Pharisees and the Sadducees. In post-modern Christianity, the church is de-emphasized, and the individual's feeling of connection toward God is over-emphasized. That dynamic makes discipleship almost impossible, because loving correction is all but forbidden. One is no longer allowed to warn a brother who is drifting into a lifestyle of sin. One is no longer allowed to take firm stances for, or against, anything, for doing so is seen as being judgmental, which is the post-modern's only unforgivable sin. 

It is good for Christians to inspect themselves to see if they are living as Christ wants them to live. It is good for churches to examine themselves to see if they are operating within the will and mission of the Lord. If all Christians and churches did this, Christianity in America would go through a very healthy introspection. Such would be a good thing, given the failures we've seen over the past century. Still, to discard traditional Christianity, and the church, in favor of a more isolated, socially open and acceptable creed is a grievous error. The church is still God's institution, organized on the shores of Galilee, and commissioned on the Mount of Olives to represent the Lord and spread the Gospel throughout the entire world. Jesus made it clear in Matthew 28:20 that this would be the case until He returned. So, let's not fall for the error of turning our backs on the church.

None-the-less, post-modern objections to the church need to be addressed. The church is still a key part of the Christian faith. The failures of its leaders and members do not change that. The church has been a light in the world, despite those failures, and God wants us to be a part of a church.

The failures of the leaders and the members of the church do not discredit it's role in God's mission. Indeed, it is easy to take anecdotal evidence of the failures of an evangelical leader, a pastor, a church member, or even the stance of some churches, and say that the church has lost its purpose and is therefore no longer relevant. This approach to discrediting one's opponents is not new. If you want to discredit liberalism, find the craziest self-described liberal and parade them in public. Breitbart does this on a daily basis. If you want to discredit conservatism, find the most redneck'ed racist individual out there, and parade him around in public. The Huffington Post does that quite often. And, if you want to discredit traditional Christianity, make sure to draw as much attention as possible to the most hypocritical leaders and followers of the Christian faith. 

However, just as political liberalism and conservatism cannot be defined by the most extreme individuals in their camps, Christianity is not defined by the failures of a few. In fact, it's not defined by the failures of the majority. It's not even defined by the failures of the greatest missionary in history. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 3:7, "For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?"

The Apostle Paul knew he was a sinner. He failed God often, and he chronicled that in Romans 7:15-25. Following Romans 3:7, he made the case that we are all sinners, and we all fall short of God's glory. Those failures did not discredit God, they proved His point. We, as Christians, are human, and therefore we sin. We fall short. We make bad decisions, and we do bad things. So does everyone else.

Yet the message of Christianity is that in spite of that sin, in spite of those failures, God loves us, and redeemed us anyway. So, if one thinks that he is going to be able to discard the church and traditional Christianity in favor of a more perfect, holy and righteous system, he is going to be disappointed. The purity of the religion goes out the window as soon as people become involved. So, if we're going to deal with sinful people, we might as well do so in the context of the local church, which is the way God designed it.

Another charge often leveled against traditional Christianity is that the church has failed in its role to be a light in the world. After all, Jesus said in Matthew 5:14-16, "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. 15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." A post-modern looks at these verses, and complains that the church has failed to be a light. It has failed to make the world a better place. It has failed to help the poor.

Those who say the church has failed to be a light in the world evidently missed the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The civil disobedience that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act was not born of the efforts of community organizers, socialists, or liberal politicians. It was executed by African American pastors in the south, who, knowing God's demand for justice, sought to put an end to the racial injustices of the day.

The Freedom Riders, and the Congress on Racial Equality, were born out of Wiley College in Marshall, TX, a Methodist college which served African American students in East Texas. Wiley College was home to a national champion debate team in 1935, a member of which was a young James Farmer, Jr,, who co-founded the Congress on Racial Equality. Farmer's father was a Methodist minister who served as president of Wiley College. During his study at Wiley, the younger farmer learned about civil disobedience from his debate coach.

The face of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a Baptist pastor, serving at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, and Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. King worked with other ministers in carrying out his demonstrations to bring not only racial justice, but also racial reconciliation and healing.

As a result, racial segregation was outlawed, and the Civil Rights Movement was successful. That's not to say that racism no longer exists, but the institutional hurdles that African Americans faced have been removed. There are still hurdles, but they tend to be social and economic.

Those who claim the church has failed to be a light in the world have also overlooked the many charitable organizations that have been founded for the sole purpose of helping the poor, needy, and those affected by tragedy. These organizations were founded by churches and Christians. Samaritan's Purse, the American Red Cross, and the Salvation Army are all well known charitable organizations whose roots are embedded in the American church. Additionally, there are the numerous missionary efforts to preach the Gospel and offer relief to the poor worldwide.

So, despite the failures of many of its leaders and followers, the Christian church has been a light in the world.

Finally, we should not abandon the church because God wants us to be a part of a church. In Hebrews 10:25, the Bible says, "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching."

The purpose of church involvement is three-old.

(1) It is to encourage you as you walk with the Lord. As Christians, we should be encouraging each other as we face life's challenges, and we should remind each other to have faith in the Lord, even when we are going through the dark valleys of life.

(2) It is to build your faith and knowledge. Discipleship is a key part of the Christian life. God wants us to study His word, learn more about Him, and apply that knowledge to our lives. In order to do that, we need mentors. We need to be taught by those who are more mature in the faith, who have been where we are, and have seen God work. Church membership is key to our Spiritual growth, and to our being grounded in the truth. Without it, we tend to drift, without learning, and we tend to develop our own beliefs apart from the Bible. We need church involvement to keep us grounded.

And finally, (3) church involvement gives us an avenue to serve the Lord. Churches are supposed to be in the business of spreading the Gospel. It's a team effort. God never intended on us serving alone. He wants us serving in teams, with groups, our Christian brothers and sisters who encourage us on our way. Sure, there were men in the Bible who served alone, but remember, Elijah suffered from severe depression.

I understand that people in the church have fallen short. I also understand that you may have been betrayed or hurt by people in the church. My plea to you is that you do not let the sins of others deter you from living in God's will. Find a church that preaches the truth, and that loves you, and get involved. You will find the Christian walk is a whole lot more meaningful if you do. May God bless you and keep you will be my prayer. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Saga of Lee Harvey Oswald

He was a madman, a nut job, or a patsy. Those are the three most popular explanations on why Lee Harvey Oswald shot (or attempted to shoot according to conspiracy theorists) President John F. Kennedy. Indeed, Oswald's behavior indicated some degree of mental instability, but why? What was it that drove him to attempt to assassinate General Walker, and then to assassinate John F. Kennedy?

And, just to clarify my position, I believe Oswald acted alone, more on that some other time.

Lee Harvey Oswald's issues likely began in early childhood as he was being raised by a single mother who was devastated after the death of his father. (Oswald's father died before he was born.) In an interview with PBS, Oswald's brother, Robert Oswald, said that their mother felt that she had been dealt a bad hand, and that the world owed her a living. He said some of this attitude was passed down to Lee. Robert went on to say that Oswald had a vivid imagination, and believed he could do anything he wanted. He was also a loner. Robert said Lee "planned by himself, executed by himself, and failed by himself." He also dreamed of being a writer, and writing about his experiences of serving in the Marine Corp., defecting to Russia, and then returning to America.

In a New York Times column, Paul Gregory (to whom Marina Oswald taught Russian,) said that Lee felt under-estimated by the world, and longed for a celebrity status, which he sort of enjoyed while living in Russia.

That side of Oswald was depicted in two episodes of the TV show "Quantum Leap" and in Stephen King's 11.22.63. Oswald was depicted as a frustrated individual, who wanted to make a huge impact in the world. He wanted to be a celebrity, a leader, a revolutionary, a philosopher, or a champion. He felt he was awesome, and couldn't understand why the rest of the world didn't see it. Given my recent research, I believe those depictions were accurate.

What you have in Lee Harvey Oswald is the tragedy of self-worship. He felt he was God's gift to anyone with whom he came into contact. He thought he was helping the Russians by defecting, and was shocked when they denied him university admission, relegating him to a common-man's job. He was surprised that he got no media attention when he returned home. He was dejected after a failed attempt to defect to Cuba. He looked for, and failed to find, any way to be significant. Even his failed assassination attempt on General Edwin Walker went virtually unnoticed. This self-worship and lack of self-actualization consumed Oswald, until it culminated in the tragic events of November 22, 1963. When things built to a head, and then blew, the whole world felt it.

It's easy to think "conspiracy theory." It's easy to dismiss Oswald as a patsy. It's easy to imagine that the real gunman was a sophisticated marksman who fired from any one of the other 100 prime locations to pull off the shot that killed Kennedy. Imagining a CIA plot, or a Russian plot, or a mob hit, is easier to deal with psychologically than to come to grips that one man's demons can create such devastation. The truth is, pride and self worship are just that destructive.

Throughout the history of the world, 99 percent of man's problems have been caused by pride and self-worship. It was pride and self-worship that led Adam and Eve to sin in the Garden of Eden. They believed they could throw off God's authority and be gods to themselves by eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The result has been a sin curse on man from that time forward.

You see pride and self-worship in all the kings and emperors who went on world conquests. Those qualities were present with the Roman Caesars (who actually regarded themselves as sons of the gods), Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini, and Adolf Hitler. Pride and self-worship has killed millions, and destroyed nations. But that's all ancient history, so it's not to be worried about, Right? Wrong!

Pride and self-worship are seeds planted in one's heart, that, if allowed to grow, can develop such destructive behavior that any individual is capable of imploding. Oswald's pride cost him his life. If that pride and self-worship can grow to that level of destruction in him, how far can it grow in us? That is a frightening question. That's why we'd rather believe that Kennedy's death was the result of a vast, sophisticated conspiracy rather than the result of one man's personal implosion. We don't want to think that we could ever find ourselves in a sixth-floor window. And, in 99.9 percent of cases, we won't. However, that does not mean that pride doesn't cause destruction.

The Bible says "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)" Pride and self-worship will destroy you, whether it makes the news or not. So, don't be destroyed. The Bible also says "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up (James 4:10)."

The best way to avoid the pride and self-worship that destroys is to keep your focus on the Lord, and worship directed toward God. This means to spend time in God's word, in prayer, and to seek God's will in your life. It means to put yourself second, to put God first, and to be aware of the plight of others as well as yourself. If you live a God-focused life, you will not live a self-centered life. That recipe will prevent a self-inflicted implosion that will destroy your life.

Trust the Lord, and obey Him. The answer is really that simple. May God bless you as you follow Him.

Friday, February 12, 2016

In Times of Tragedy

Anytime a tragedy occurs, ranging from personal tragedies to national tragedies, the question will arise, "Why did God let this happen?"

This is not a bad question. It's natural to wonder why the Creator of the universe who holds us in our hands would allow something so terrible to come into our lives. This is a question, I will admit, that I cannot answer. I do believe God has a reason, but any attempt to explain the reason does both a disservice to God, and to the one who is suffering. So, with that in mind, I can only offer the following...

In times of tragedy, we need to have faith in the place, in the plan, and most of all, in the Man.

We need to have faith in the place. In John 14, Jesus said, "I go to prepare a place for you." The fact is that God has prepared a place for us in His Kingdom where we will live forever, in His presence, without pain, without suffering, and without so much as the fear of pain and suffering. It will be a place of eternal peace and prosperity, where we can walk with our Lord, and be reunited with loved ones.

1 Timothy 4:17 tells us that "We which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." The "them" with whom we get caught up together are those who have passed on before us, and we will all be with the Lord forever. Better days are ahead.

We need to have faith in the plan. Often during times of tragedy and hardship, someone will quote Romans 8:28, "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." These words can ring hollow without eternity in mind. After all, none of us want a bigger house, car, better job, or more luxuries. We want back what the tragedy took from us, whether it's our ability to walk, or the close presence of a loved one.

All things work together for our good because all things are working together to bring about God's plan. God's plan is our reunion with Him in His Kingdom. God is working His plan to get us all into His Kingdom together. Anything that comes into our lives comes for that purpose. Anytime tragedy enters our lives, we need to remember that God is still on His throne, and God is still bringing us into His Kingdom.

I cannot explain how or why, but I can affirm that God's plan is perfect, and is designed to bring us to that place of eternal blessing. We don't have to understand it, and we are not prohibited from grief. All God asks of us is that we trust Him through the process. As one of my church members often sings, "The God of the mountain, is the God of the valley. The God of the day, is still God in the night. The God of the good times, is still God in the hard times, the God of the day, is still God in the night."

We need to have faith in the Man. The man is Jesus Christ. John 3:16 tells us that "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." The way to access God's Kingdom and plan is by faith in Jesus Christ. He died on the cross, removing the stain of sin, so that we can enter His Kingdom, if we know Him as Savior.

Furthermore, having trusted the Lord to save us based on His death, burial and resurrection, we can trust that the Lord, who now lives and sits at the right hand of the throne of God, pleads on our behalf daily before God the Father. Hebrews 7:25 says Jesus "is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them." Christ is your advocate before God, and you have no greater advocate than Jesus Christ.

Because of Jesus, we can trust that God hears our prayers, and that He takes our situations into consideration as He executes His plan. We are not just pawns on His chess board.

On top of that, we can trust Jesus to be more than fair to us and our loved ones. The Bible says that God is not willing that any should perish, but that all would come to the knowledge of the truth. This means that the Lord pulls out all the stops when it comes to reaching folks with the Gospel. Furthermore, when it comes to our loved ones who have passed on before us, the Bible says "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." It's precious, because it represents the physical reunion of God with His people. He gets to bring us back into His presence.

In all things, God is good. Things are not always good, but God is always good. God is good all the time, and in all times God is good.

If you are suffering right now, these words may seem hollow. That's okay. Grief was never banned in scripture, in fact, it was encouraged, as the Old Testament saints took 10 full days to grieve (that's 10 days where they did nothing but grieve, no work, no commitments, just mourning.)

My only hope is that as that dark cloud passes, you can be brought back into God's presence by remembering to trust in His place, His plan, and in His Son, Jesus Christ. May God bless you in all things.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Setting New Year's Resolutions That Stick

Getting ready to drive Grace Pointe's float
 in the Christmas Parade
Fitness fans, beware. In about one week, you are going to be invaded by throngs of people who think they are fat, who wish to chisel their bodies into something along the lines of Dwayne Johnson or Jillian Michaels. Good luck finding an open treadmill, but expect high turnover on the ellipticals.

I wouldn't worry about it, though. By the end of January, half of the invaders will be gone. Almost all will be gone by the end of February. All will fall victim to the errant "New Year's Resolution."

New Year's Resolutions like, "To lose weight," "To be healthy," or to "advance my career" often sound good at the time, but with no real goal, and no real plan, they are doomed to fail. There's no concise vision, no plan of action, and no measure of success. Faced with un-measurable progress, and no endgame, the average person gives up on their New Year's resolutions before the ice begins to melt in Southern Colorado.

The key to setting New Year's Resolutions that stick, resolutions that you can successfully keep, is to have a vision for the future. Who do you want to be? Where do you want to be? Granted, your vision may take longer than the next calendar year to realize, but having that vision is key to setting benchmarks for the coming year.

Once your vision has been set, then evaluate how much progress you believe you can achieve toward that vision over the coming year. This is your goal.

Finally, devise a plan to reach that goal. Goals without plans are nothing more than wishes.

With those concepts in mind, let's use the ever-so-popular "lose weight" resolution as an example. Bill weighs 300 pounds. The doctor says he has to reach 180 in order to be healthy. Bill is really concerned about his health, and desires to restore his health back to where it should be. Bill has set a vision to lose 120 pounds, and live life as a healthy, muscular 180 pound man. That is his vision.

Bill understands that in order to reach this weight in a way that restores his health, he must be willing to lose the weight in a way that is slow, yet sustained. He realizes he cannot lose 120 pounds in one year. He has the vision, but the 120-pound goal cannot be met in one year. So, Bill sets a goal to lose 70 pounds over the next year. His goal is to weigh in next New Year's at 230 pounds.

Bill has the vision and the goal, but still no plan. Without the plan, he will drift without making any real progress. So, Bill devises the following plan... (1) No fried foods, (2) Don't drink your calories, and (3) walk a mile a day.

So, Bill's New Year's Resolution is to get healthier by losing 70 pounds by cutting out the fried foods and sugary drinks, and by walking a mile a day. If Bill minds the plan, the goal will be reached, and the resolution will have stuck.

This concept can apply to anything, not just weight loss. You can apply this to your career, relationships, and personal enrichment.

Personally, my vision for what my life will be like New Year's Eve 2016 is as follows... I want to influence people to have faith in the Lord, and I want to preach a watch-night service in what will be Grace Pointe's new worship facility. Those are the vision. The goals and the plan... well, they're being developed.

What's your vision for where you want to be a year from now? Would you like to share your goals and plan?

Monday, September 14, 2015

Let's Forge Faith

Forging is the process of shaping metal using heat and hammering. It also means to create something with great effort. Both terms can be used to describe how God builds our faith. He forges it by allowing us to go through trials and tribulations. He builds it within us with great effort.

On that note, I thought I would change the format of this blog to reflect how God is growing my faith, and how we can pass the faith along to others. This blog will accomplish those two things with devotional thoughts, commentary on current events, and anecdotes from my personal life. I hope you are blessed by it.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Format change

Today, I changed the name of my blog to "God's Foundry," to chronicle the ways that God forms us into the people He wants us to be. More details to be added soon.

Monday, June 16, 2014

I may never sit beneath the shade of the trees that I plant...

An ancient proverb says "A society grows great when old men plant trees under whose shade they know they'll never sit."

Indeed, the planting of a tree is an investment in time. It takes a pecan tree 10 years to produce pecans, 20 years to produce large pecans that could be commercially viable. It takes just as long for trees to mature to the age where one can legitimately sit beneath their shade, and cool off on a hot summer day to a glass of sweet iced tea.

I remember when I was a kid, my grandfather planted trees in his front yard, hoping for the day that he would be able to walk in his front yard in the cool of the breeze during the hottest days of summer. Though I was in junior high when he planted those trees (some 20 years ago,) I must report that those trees have yet to produce a suitable canopy for shade from the summer sun. Yet, my grandfather planted those trees, because he had faith and hope in the future.

It takes faith and hope to plant a tree. It takes faith that the tree will grow, and that God will provide the rain, and protect it from any disease that might kill it before it matures. It takes a hope, a confident expectation that one day, you or your descendants will sit beneath the shade of that tree. Planting trees requires a long view, the ability to see beyond today, or tomorrow, and see what can be in the distant future.

I makes sense for a 30-something to plant trees, for those trees will provide him shade when he retires. However, a 50-60 year old man has little to gain from planting trees. The only satisfaction he receives is the knowledge that he made life better for the generation that will follow him. When old men have that long of a view, a vision for a good, quality life for their descendants long after they are gone, then the society has taken on a new level of greatness.

Of course, if the proverb were merely about horticulture, it wouldn't carry much meaning for us today, now would it. The actual meaning of the proverb is that a society grows great when fathers and grandfathers build a legacy that will benefit their children and grandchildren, even if they know they'll never see it for themselves. The American dream isn't really about a new house, three car garage, a big screen TV, and vacation property. The American dream was originally about ascending the economic ladder, rising up out of poverty into the middle class, so that your children would have better opportunities than you. It was about rising from the middle class to the upper class, so that your children would never be threatened with want. All the afore mentioned things (homes, cars, etc) are just toys collected along the way.

With that in mind, I think about my own life. My family comes from humble beginnings. As far as social status, financial status, or political connections, I have no pedigree of which to boast. Yet, I have been blessed.

When I was in school, I dreamed of getting elected to Congress in my 20s, the Senate in my 30s, and making a run for President in my 40s. It's pretty safe to say, I'll never achieve those dreams, but that is okay. Those who are successful in politics usually have a family background that preps them for such achievements.

Today, my dream has been redefined. I no longer dream of achieving greatness, fame, power, or even riches. My dream today is to groom my children, and prepare them for the world that lay ahead, so that they may be able to successfully pursue their dreams, whatever they may be. My dream today is to plant trees. I may be able to rest in their shade someday, or I may not. Nevertheless, I know that my children and grandchildren will be able to rest in the shade of the trees that I plant today... so planting I will do.

Then, I'll trust God for the rain, and to keep the tree healthy so those dreams can be realized.

What about you? Are you planting any trees in your life?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Still Frozen

Since the release of "Frozen" last November, the theological world has been abuzz with the film's depiction of true love being a commitment of self-sacrifice, rather than the fulfillment of self-centered emotions. Much of this discussion comes from the surprise of many that the film broke from the traditional plot-line of a princess in search of a handsome prince to whisk her away into the sunset. Instead, Frozen's climax took place when the princess Anna gives her life to save her sister, Queen Elsa. The theme of self-sacrificial love is repeated several times in the movie.

Such a definition of love from a secular movie (from Disney, no less), fired up the Christian world, whose writers then pointed to Frozen's definition and illustration of love to show the agape love Christ showed for us when He died on the cross for our sins.

Typically, I don't look for meaning or theological truth when I watch movies... especially if I went to the theater to watch them. If I go to the theater, I am going to escape reality for a couple of hours... that, and I'm going to eat popcorn and drink coke. For two hours, there are no phone calls, no texts, no Facebook messages, and no responsibilities. No breaking news, no strains of the pastoral ministry, no sermons to write, no bills to pay, and no taxes to file... it's just me, my kids, and talking snowmen, cars, planes, or minions. It's a good time.

However, Frozen was different. For you to understand why, I must first confess that I struggle with depression. No matter how much God blesses me, I find myself going through times of hopelessness and fear, doubt, and even sadness. I have a tendency to allow myself to become overwhelmed.

So, when the movie depicted two sisters who were separated by a large door... the one being kept from the other for her safety, I could relate. All the young Princess Anna wanted to do was play with her sister, Elsa, and enjoy the freedom and fun they had enjoyed before. For safety reasons, however, Elsa had to be kept from Anna. I could only think of how I wanted to go back to a time when I could freely enjoy my family. I also thought of how I would love to go back to a time when Jessica and I could spend hours together without the responsibility that come with being a missionary couple who have to work full-time to make ends meet.

At Elsa's coronation, things broke loose, the kingdom was frozen by Elsa's reaction to Anna's newfound boyfriend, and the newly crowned queen retreated to the mountains, her secret power of being able to create snow and ice having been revealed to the kingdom.

As she approached the mountain top, she broke into song... "Let It Go," an anthem of breaking free of unrealistic expectations, self-isolation, and living life on one's own terms. That song hit me, as well, because it captured the young princess' struggle with containing and concealing her power in order to maintain order in the kingdom, and to spare the fears or opinions of others. To sum it up, she basically had been living in a self-imposed prison, her every move subject to scrutiny, and the ever burdensome responsibilities of the kingdom on her shoulders.

This song is resonating with pre-teen and teenage girls, for a variety of reasons. Whether it is the increasing pressures we place on our school children, to the ever increasing social pressure being placed on tweens. You get to a point where you just want to say, "forget it!" and retreat to your own world. In an article from The Gospel Coalition, the dangers of this song are spelled out. The Gospel Coalition writes:
Thousands of little girls across the country are singing this song – a manifesto of sorts, a call to cast off restraint, rebel against unrealistic expectations and instead be true to whatever you feel most deeply inside. What’s ironic is that the movie’s storyline goes against the message of this song. When the princess decides to “let it go,” she brings terrible evil into the world. The fallout from her actions is devastating. “No right, no wrong, no rules for me” is the sin that isolates the princess and freezes her kingdom.
While Elsa's retreat into her self-made ice castle was self-centered and brought about destruction in the kingdom, the Gospel Coalition ignores the factors that led into that "meltdown," for lack of a better word. Elsa was under a lot of pressure to perform and be perfect. That is the pressure that teenagers face today, which is why the song resonates with them. While I see the danger in the lyrics being translated into a "rebel at all cost, disregard the consequences, and make yourself happy," the fact is that the song can help us better teach our kids how to deal with such emotions.

However, it's not just teenage girls that face this kind of pressure. When my family and I watched the movie, I was fresh out of the annual Missionary Baptist Association of Texas meeting, where, for the fifth consecutive year, my request for salary support for Grace Pointe MBC had been approved. We had hoped to ween ourselves off support by year three. We are two years behind schedule.

While the association was understanding of our plight, not all individuals were. Back home, I was facing pressure. The church had plateau'ed, and it was alleged that the lack of growth stemmed from a spiritual stagnation, which "begins at the top and filters down." Translation: The church is not growing, and it's my fault.

My life is lived in a glass house. My spirituality is constantly scrutinized. People can say any abusive or insulting thing they want to me, and any reaction other than "Thank you, God bless you, I'll pray that the Lord heals me of (whatever you're complaining about)" means that I am not spiritual, and am living in rebellion against God. If someone needs money, I am not a Christian unless I give it to them. If I don't witness to 100 people a day, I am not fulfilling my role as missionary. And on those rare times that I have let down my guard, and shared my weaknesses with someone else, I have found myself wishing I hadn't said anything.

So, the lyrics hit home. "Don't let them in, don't let them see, be the good (boy) you always have to be." Until, that is, the breaking point comes. Now I know that the worst thing that could happen is that I reach that breaking point and go running off into the mountains to isolate myself. I'm not justifying the character's actions at all. What I am saying, is that I can relate. (And isn't it the mark of a great writer to create characters with whom the audience can relate.)

So, as I listen to the song, "Let it Go," I don't hear a call to rebellion. I hear a character who struggles with her day to day life... and I can relate to that. I have a feeling that you can relate to it as well. Preachers, pastors and missionaries aren't the only ones who feel under the gun, who struggle with the daily pressures of life. I bet you feel those pressures, too, and if you think it'd help, you can share those struggles by commenting on this post.

I pray daily for God's healing of my heart, and for God's strength and wisdom as we forge ahead in Brownwood. If I need to add you to my prayers, please feel free to let me know. God bless you.

Monday, January 13, 2014

It's Not About Right to Religion, It's About the Right to Connect with God

National Public Radio recently ran a story about the conflict between the law of the land, The Affordable Care Act, and the religious beliefs and practices of the Catholic church, which doesn't believe in the use of birth control. The premise of the story is what happens, and what should happen, when one's religious views run contrary to the law of the land. While I am glad that NPR has chosen to highlight the consequences American Christians are facing for holding to their faith, the piece misses fundamental truths about God, man, and freedom.

The U.S. Constitution prohibits Congress (and by extension, the state governments) from making a law respecting the establishment of religion, or the free exercise thereof. This was the first right listed in the Bill of Rights, and for good reason. Those who colonized America often did so to escape religious persecution in Europe. Further, the founding fathers remembered the days under British rule, when personal liberties had become rare.

So, in the Declaration of Independence, the founding fathers affirmed their belief in a Creator, and that the Creator had endowed all men with the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. At the core of these rights is the freedom to determine who you are, what you believe, and your sense of right and wrong. These freedoms were affirmed and protected, because the founding fathers knew that government could not connect people to their Creator, nor could it coerce the worship of Him. Each man must connect to God on his own.

Their intent, was for you to be able to freely seek out God, and discover His plan for your life. You were then free to pursue that plan as long as you wanted.

Fast forward nearly two and a half centuries, and we have a law passed that requires Catholic ministries to provide coverage for something their doctrine opposes... contraceptives. Meanwhile, we have courts in Colorado and New Mexico forcing business owners to partake in same-sex weddings, which are a violation of their faiths. In its decision against a wedding photographer who refused to photograph a same-sex wedding, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that part of being an American involves doing things that violate your own conscience.

I wonder if those justices have read the founding documents of our country. I wonder if they realize that the Constitution was written in such a way as to protect our right to follow our conscience. You see, many who support the New Mexico Supreme Court's decision to force a wedding photographer to participate in a same-sex wedding, which violates her Christian faith, don't see what the big deal is. After all, the court didn't hinder her going to church or participating in her religion. It merely required her to do something she disagreed with, in the interest of stamping out discrimination. However, in doing so, the requirement was set forth by the government that would force this photographer to do something that would shatter her relationship with God. It's a very serious matter.

You see, faith begins when you repent from your sin and trust Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. That is a change made inside your heart, and no government entity can take it away from you. That faith is then manifest in how you live... which involves participating in God's religion, the Christian church. Any attempt to regulate your involvement in the church, or any attempt to compel you to sin, is a violation of the founding father's affirmation that you have the right to freely connect with God. And that's what the secularist doesn't understand.

Religion is not a social club or a civic organization. It is an expression of  the innermost part of your being. That right, to be who you are, is given by God, and affirmed by the Constitution. So, if you choose to live a secular lifestyle, apart from God, or His influence, you are free to do so. If you choose to follow a lifestyle of homosexuality, you are free to do so. However, you are not free to require that others participate in that lifestyle with you, nor can you require that others accept that lifestyle. To do that, you'd have to regulate the human heart, and that is something that no government can do.

That being said, you will reap the consequences (good or bad) of the decisions you make in this life when you die and face the Lord in judgment. Choose wisely.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: Why Christians Engage the Political Process

1 Corinthians 1:27 says "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;" To put it more plainly, God has chosen the common, everyday man to proclaim His message to the world. With that in mind, it's easy to see why the bearded brothers and patriarch of A&E's Duck Dynasty have been able to influence American culture far and above any other cable reality series.

I normally don't weigh in on Christian celebrities, or major news events surrounding individuals... mainly because my experience is that those placed on pedestals often let us down. Who can forget how Miss California was blasted by Perez Hilton in the Miss America (or was it Miss USA) pageant for not affirming gay marriage. Immediately, we had high-profile Christian leaders rally to her defense, claiming persecution of Christian values. That defense was silenced a few weeks later, when compromising photos of Miss California surfaced, and it became evident she wasn't living up to the values she professed publicly.

Which is why, despite his testimony, and the hours I have spent watching his TV show, I have been slow to weigh in on the controversy surrounding Phil Robertson. Still, there are two things about Robertson that I cannot get away from. (1) His testimony of how God took him from being a wretched sinner, to being a Christian who actually uses his life as a platform to promote the Gospel, and (2) his deep, abiding respect for the American way of life, particularly our founding fathers' commitment to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. How amazing is it that God is allowing these bearded rednecks, who are a laughing stalk among the cultural elite, to re-insert Christianity and Biblical principles into mainstream American life.

While the producers of the Duck Dynasty TV show limit Robertson's ability to proclaim the Gospel over the air, he is repeatedly able to discuss the three unalienable rights granted to us by our Creator... the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, rights to which the founders of our nation committed this country when they drafted the organizational documents and mission statement of our government. They were the guiding values of the American revolution, and the drafting of the U.S. Constitution.

The problem in America today is that the society, and government officials, have either forgotten that our country is built on preserving those three basic rights, or forgotten what they mean altogether. These are rights that every Christian should stand up and defend, not only because they were granted by the Creator, but because without the protection of these basic rights, we are not free to "lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." (1 Timothy 2:2) Basically, without the protection of our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we are not free to worship God in Spirit and truth, and we are not free to seek His will for our lives. For that reason, Christians should be involved in the political process, because every piece of legislation and so-called national defense initiative are eroding those rights.

All that said, let's look at these three unalienable rights, and what they truly mean to us. The first right is basic... the right to life. God created us to live. Life is such a basic right that many take it for granted. However, the Bill of Rights, and due process under the law are designed to protect this most basic right. Both the Bill of Rights and laws governing due legal process prevent a person's life being taken from them without a proper trial, without being proven guilty of a crime, and laws are in place to prevent someone else from taking your life away from you.

Yet today, the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government is slow to speak against using deadly force against Americans who are suspected of being engaged in domestic terroristic activity. While this may seem to some to be a common-sense way to combat terrorism, keep in mind that if one of your fellow Americans can be labeled a national security threat, and terminated without due process, you can be as well.

Furthermore, U.S. law allows for unborn children to be denied the basic right to life, based on the decisions, values or whims of the mother, or medical advice of a physician. Some abortions are performed because the unborn child has Downs Syndrome, or a serious disability. To counter the idea that unborn children should be aborted, and denied their right to life because of a disability, I will quote abortion survivor Gianna Jessen, who suffers from Cerebral Palsy as a result of a botched abortion. Jessen's mother tried to abort her, but she survived, and was later adopted.  Jessen told a crowd of supporters in Brownwood, Texas, recently, that it is arrogant for a healthy person to determine whether a disabled person can enjoy a good quality of life.

The second unalienable right given by our Creator, and recognized by our country's founding documents, is the right to liberty... the right to make your own decisions. While Christians are often accused as being enemies of liberty for opposing homosexuality, same-sex marriage, drug legalization, etc, it is not Christians who are trying to dictate what you feed your children for lunch, or what values are taught to your children through the public school system. Today's government seeks to monitor and control child nutrition, caloric intake, how much water flows through your toilet when you flush, what kind of light bulb you can buy, what options are in your health insurance package, what kind of car you drive, and even mandate with whom you are allowed to do business.

There have been court cases where business people (like a wedding photographer in New Mexico) were compelled by legal penalty to partake in activities that violated their very conscience. In a land of liberty, the individual should have the ability to decide for whom they would like to perform services, and for whom they would not. In a land of liberty, no one should be compelled to engage in religion, neither should one be compelled to engage in what they view as a sinful event. So, liberty is being attacked.

And finally, there is the pursuit of happiness. To properly understand what it means to pursue happiness, you really have to read Thomas Jefferson's writings. Jefferson's view of the pursuit of happiness was to determine what your talents were, and then to live life pursuing those interests, building your talent, and becoming all you could be. It was about self-actualization, rising through the income brackets, accomplishing great things, and breaking barriers. It was about the son of a blacksmith becoming a senator, or the son of a senator becoming a teacher. The pursuit of happiness is about finding your passion, and following it, and maximizing your achievement.

However, today's culture and government penalizes such behavior, and encourages settling for serfdom in low income positions, and mediocrity in ambitions.

Seeing the slow erosion of these freedoms, and the awareness and value placed on these freedoms, Christians should be involved in the political process. The goal should be to defend, protect, and restore those basic rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. For, if we remain silent, one day those rights will be gone, and so will our ability to live peaceably, and holy, and worship in Spirit and truth.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Driving Sideways

I'll admit, when I was a kid, I watched NASCAR races for two reasons, and two reasons only: (1) To watch Richard Petty win, and (2) to see spectacular crashes. You see, stock cars are designed to fly apart during crashes in order to protect the driver. Thus, NASCAR crashes usually are spectacular sights. Since then, however, my NASCAR fascination has become a little more nuanced.

Unlike other forms of racing, stock cars used in NASCAR races are heavily regulated to keep the cars performing at the same level. That way, the contest is not machine vs. machine, but rather racer vs. racer. While there are tweaks that can legally be made to stock cars (wedge, tire pressure, etc), by and large most stock cars perform at the same level.

Therefore, to win in NASCAR, you have to be a skilled driver, and perform consistently on the track. Thus racers log hours on the track, training how to properly drive the car, learning which lines are the best to follow, developing reactionary skills in emergency situations, learning to draft, and learning when to follow the line, and when to make a move.

The problem is, no matter how hard you train, with 39 other stock car drivers on the track, you cannot control everything that happens. All it takes is a simple bump on your inside rear quarter panel to upend your day. When that bump happens, the car is turned sideways on the track. It's a harrowing experience, but the well-trained driver calmly steers into the skid, straightening the car out as if drifts down onto the apron. Heart pounding and heavy breathing ensues as the driver comes to grips with what has happened as the rest of the field speeds past him.

At this point, the driver has two options. He can either head to the pits to compose himself and let the pit crew give his car a once-over, or he can accelerate and get back on the track. The former option will all but take the driver out of the race, as he'll be a lap down. The latter will keep him on the lead lap, even if he has been relegated to the back of the pack. Still, the latter option requires ambition, drive, and nerves of steal.

My point in talking NASCAR with you today is that life is a lot like a NASCAR race. Perhaps you have trained hard through Bible study, secular education, and vocational training. You have a career goal, a solid spiritual life, qualifications, and are building experience that will take you far in life. In that regard, you are like that well-trained NASCAR driver who has read the training manual, and gotten the hands-on experience to run the race.

Regardless of preparation and education, however, no one is ever in full control of their lives. Just as a bump to the rear quarter panel can send a stock car into a spin, a bump in the real world can send your life into a spin as well. It looks different for all of us. Some of our bumps merely put us into a skid that lands us safely on the apron. It's a setback, but we are still on the lead lap, and are still in the race. Others experience a more devastating sequence. Perhaps our metaphorical stock car has been spun into the wall, or perhaps we've collided with another stock car.

These metaphorical bumps, skids, spins and crashes look different for each individual. Whether it be a divorce, terminated employment, a financial crisis, a medical condition, natural disaster, or the death of a loved one, a bump on the track can temporarily knock us out of the running. The question is, whether you are the type of driver that gets back into the race, or heads to the pits.

2013 was a year that saw my life sent into a skid. I'm going to be transparent with you, and tell you that I battle depression. At least, that's what I think it is. I've never had it diagnosed, and I am not interested in medicating it. My emotional problems stem from Spiritual problems in my life, with which I am learning that everyone struggles. Still, 2013 saw some bumps that sent my proverbial stock car into a skid.

Funding for Grace Pointe fell off, as did Sunday offerings. The church has not operated in the black for months. Also, attendance at Grace Pointe has fallen off, due partly to members moving out of town, but also due partly to mission-fatigue. To top all that off, over the summer, I was faced with hostility that forced me to find a different job, and once I was settled into that new job, my grandfather (who raised me) passed away. At least we were able to say good-bye, first.

That's not to say there weren't high points. My new job is co-hosting a morning talk show on KXYL. I mean, really, who wouldn't want to do talk radio for a living? The Southwest Association continues to support Grace Pointe. The Missionary Baptist Association of Texas contributed $15,000 toward Grace Pointe's building fund. The American Baptist Association meeting in Dallas was a blast, and I am getting the blessing of being able to show a group of foster kids a whole new way to live. Oh, and we got a Nintendo Wii for Christmas, and I am enjoying Mario Cart.

Still, human nature is (or at least, my human nature is) to allow the bad to take hold of your mind, and drown out the good. Six years ago, I resigned Denson Springs Missionary Baptist Church to move to Brownwood, and plant a new Missionary Baptist Church here. My goal was for the church to be self-supporting by 2011, and sending out missionaries by 2014. Neither goal is going to materialize, and I have found myself wondering if I have done something wrong.

Enter my wife Jessica, who uses the object lesson of our relationship with our children to illustrate why things seem so distant between me and God lately. The problem is that I allow the trials of life to outshine God's blessings in my life. In short, I have not been thankful. The lesson that God has been teaching me over the course of the past year, that I think I am just now learning, is that my focus needs to come off of the good and the bad, and just be on God. I need to delight in the Lord, joyfully receive His blessings, trust Him during the "bumps," and continue doing what He has called me to do.

With that in mind, my resolve is to be the driver that, once he finds himself on the apron of the track, accelerates and steers back into the race. God has called me to Brownwood-Early. He has called me to launch this church, and He has called this church to publicly proclaim the Word of God. With His help in 2014, we will obey His calling. And with your prayers and encouragement, I am going to learn to rest and delight in the Lord, to trust Him, and then to obey Him.

Have you been bumped into a spin this year? If so, how did you recover? And how are you planning on getting back into your race?

Psalm 37:4-8 Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. 5 Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. 6 And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday. 7 Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass. 8 Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.