Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Testimony of a Friend

Today, I will not post my own thought. Instead, I will give the floor to a good friend of mine named Matt Thorne. We were together in the trenches of youth ministry for three years, and in that time, I saw the Lord use him over and over again to touch the lives of teenagers. He sent me e-mail today, and I can't help but share it. Matt writes:

"In the midst of a retail job that seems to have no end, I at times have been blessed by a few customers that, in one way or another, help me make it through the day. Wayne Anderson was one of those customers. Wayne came in every evening around seven to play the lottery. I don’t mean buy a few scratch off tickets, I mean play $30-$50 worth of tickets every day. During the interactions, which sometimes would take a while, Wayne and I would get to share stories or I’d tell him a stupid joke or we would talk politics (he hated Bush). It usually ended with Wayne laughing and telling me something like, “Man you aint right.” I miss Wayne.

When they moved me to Hartford City, it happened so fast that I didn’t get to tell a lot of people good-bye. Wayne was one of those people. In addition to not telling him good-bye, I also never got to tell Wayne about my personal relationship with Jesus. He knew I was a Christian from our talks, but I never got to tell him what Christ meant to me and what he did for us on the cross. You can imagine the overwhelming guilt and anguish that came over me this morning when I read his obituary sent to me from a faithful friend at Marsh #94.

I saw his picture and began to tear up. I started reading through the life of Wayne Anderson and as I read, I kept thinking to myself, why didn’t I say something? Why is this man burning in hell right now when I had the chance to stop it? And then suddenly, I got to the middle of the obituary and read six little words that made me cry like a baby. It read, 'Wayne received Christ in July 2006.' Praise the Lord!

I’m not sure how Wayne came to the best decision he ever made. I don’t know if someone led him or if the Holy Spirit just moved upon him so much that he had no other desire than to know Jesus. Whatever the case, I get to see Wayne again someday. Thank you for taking the time to read this and please, remember what Paul wrote in II Cor. 4:13. 'I believed, therefore I spoke.' God bless you all and have a great day!"

Isn't that an amazing word for all of us? I believe this testimony carries two lessons for all of us. (1) We should be reminded of the urgency to be vocal about our faith, and (2) we should be reminded that even when we get tongue-tied or afraid or lose an opportunity, God continues to seek and save those that are lost. What a wonderful, gracious God we serve!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Books and Conferences and Frustration (oh my)

One of the things that is incredibly obvious but has become very comforting to me in recent days is the truth that not every church can do everything. Though we are all commanded to care for the poor, the oppressed, the widow, and the orphan, the First Church of Big City has been compelled and equipped by God to open an orphanage. Though many may know that, in our culture, recreation can be a front door to introducing someone to the Gospel, the Second Church of Somewhere-Else has twenty godly men gifted in coaching and has started using Upward Basketball to get kids off the street and teach them about Christ. You get the idea...some churches have especially gifted carpenters and can do more construction missions...some churches have technological gurus in every pew and can use technology to its fullest extent for the cause of the Gospel. Think of your church...is there anything that stands out as a particular gift like this? Are you using those gifts to advance and build the kingdom?

Watch out...here comes frustration. Enter church growth and church health books...enter conferences. Well-meaning pastors, professors, and authors seek to equip churches to be as effective as possible. There is certainly nothing wrong with evaluating and improving our ministry methods. However, the frustration begins to take over when "the plan" is laid out. It looks great, it runs great, it sounds great...it's even got that "new program smell." Excitement grows over the two or three days that you listen to the various dimensions of "the plan" to take you to the "next level." Then, many pastors and lay leaders get on a plane, heading back to a land we all like to call reality. Sure, the program needed 50 volunteers, and we've only got 50 people in worship on Sunday morning...but we can do it. Sure, the program will cost us about $7,500 a year and we have trouble keeping our staff paid and the lights on...but we can do it.

Now, don't read me wrong...I believe in taking steps of faith. I believe in treading new territory. I believe that God can use a basketball, an iPod, and a coffee shop for His glory. However, I also believe that not every church can do everything. Books and conferences try to convince us of programs rather than principles. They teach us how to develop our methodology rather than trusting our theology...that God has gifted His church and that God will build His church. What we must seek after is faithfulness!

So, the volunteers and their pastor spend one five-hour meeting developing the new ministry, and then they present it to the congregation. There has been no real period of time for prayer or asking the question, "Can we do this?" Why? Because too many books and conferences don't ask that question...that question doesn't sell books or conference tickets. They tell us that we must do whatever it is they are writing, or we will not be a New Testament church. That's what gets many so motivated! We really do want to please the Lord in our ministries, but the path to that divine pleasure is not paved with pep rallies but rather with the pages of Scripture.

What if we spent more time at conferences learning how to deepen our prayer lives as pastors and leaders? What if we read books that excited our hearts about the subject of our teaching and preaching...and the main audience of all ministry...Jesus Christ? What if all of these good things actually led to a better end? Greater faithfulness rather than frustration. Contentment in God's place for us rather than the desire to send out resumes. Passion for Christ rather than pickiness over our congregations. A broken heart for the lost rather than a broken heart over the size of our budgets.

(Step off soap box now) The point is this...not every church is equipped to do every type of ministry. Not every methodology works in every community. So, if you're reading a book or going to attend a conference, glean what is good and right and guides you to more biblical ministry.

The fact is...this is true personally. One of the things I would love is to be a more effective evangelist...to be able to turn conversations to Christ, find in-roads with the lost, see people come running to Jesus because of God's anointing on my efforts in personal evangelism. I know people that are like this...God's hand is just on them, and He has gifted them as evangelists. I still make efforts...I try to make the most of opportunities...but it's just not the same. Maybe you know what I'm talking about. There are two ways we can handle these things...one, bang our heads against the wall and believe that we can never be used of God unless we're like this person or that person. Or two, we can be content with the gifts God has given us, stay faithful to the tasks He has given us, and seek to be good and faithful servants. Let's go with the latter...God didn't gift us or our church so we could sit in a corner and pout about not being like the person or the church down the road. He gifted us for His glory...let's pursue it!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

To Those Left Behind

Wow! As I look up at that title, I wonder what you may be thinking is actually on my mind today. No, I don't have an inside scoop on the second coming...however, two churches that I deeply care about have departing pastors this week. My good friend, Wayne Wilson, should be arriving in North Carolina any time now in his U-Haul. He just had his last Sunday at Sunnycrest Baptist in Marion...my old stomping grounds. Another friend, Wayne Shoemaker, will have his last Sunday with us here at Alta Loma this weekend.

I know the statement has been made here, and I'm sure someone has uttered it there in Northeast Central Indiana... "What are we going to do now?" This pair of Waynes were great men and integral parts of the churches they served. Wayne Wilson, through his incredible heart for the Lord, was used by God to help give that congregation permission to be more expressive and to seek more personal, daily worship of the Lord instead of only thinking of Sunday as "the day of worship." Wayne Shoemaker, with his amazing servant's heart, was used by God to help this church stay the course through some rough waters during his eight years. In all of it, he served as an example of how to meet needs with compassion and how to minister in grace and truth.

So, this question (i.e.- What are we going to do now?) seems to be the logical one to ask. It certainly comes from a good place. It comes from hearts that recognize the work of God through His servants in His church for His glory. It comes from hearts that see the vital roles that certain individuals play in kingdom work. So, the question is understandable...those that are "left behind" will miss the kind of godliness, leadership, and friendship they found in those who served them. What a great testimony of the faithfulness of this "pair of Waynes"! We praise the Lord for their ministries.

Now, to those left behind, I want you to know that you have not been left "high and dry". You are not stranded in a sea of hopelessness because God has moved His servants to new assignments. In Acts 13, Saul and Barnabas were sent out from the church at Antioch because of what "the Holy Spirit said." Because I know Wayne and Wayne, I believe their moves have been prompted by the Spirit as well. That's where most of the focus usually is...on the ones leaving. However, the Spirit that called them to go is the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead, and He is the same Spirit that abides with the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. So, we are not abandoned to hopelessness when a friend/pastor leaves our congregation to serve the Lord somewhere else. We may experience a sense of loss because our fellowship changes, but it would be a different story if we lost the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. That would be the real tragedy!

So, be encouraged if you are left behind. God has not left nor forsaken you. He has not stopped building His church because His ministers have been moved. Stay steady in the times of transition...it is in these times that you and I will be most tempted toward discouragement, fear, and unbelief. King Solomon wrote, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6) To those who are left behind, follow the royal advice.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Christian Freedom and Alcohol

This past June, the SBC passed a resolution on alcohol use in America. I don't know if you noticed it or not, but here was part of that resolution: "Resolved, that we urge that no one be elected to serve as a trustee or member of any entity or committee of the Southern Baptist Convention that is a user of alcoholic beverages."

Here's part of a recent article by Richard Land, president of the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission:

"Just hours before Southern Baptists opened their annual meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina, and just a few miles from Durham, J.J. Redick, star basketball player for the Duke Blue Devils...was arrested on charges of drunken driving after he made an illegal U-turn to avoid a police check point.

The incident probably won't affect the player's future. He was drafted eleventh by the Orlando Magic in the NBA draft a few weeks later. But what about his witness?

On November 10, 2005, Redick gave an interview to the Charlotte Observer. The basketball standout, who has two tattoos, both Bible verses (Isa. 40:31 and Josh. 1:9), said the most important person in his life was Jesus Christ. 'When I die,' Redick said, 'I'd like people to look back on my life and say, "He was a man of God."'

J.J. Redick's moral lapse is well covered by the atoning work of his Lord and Savior, and his legal transgression will probably be well covered by a well-paid legal defense. But what does his decision to drink signal to a youngster who admires him?"

What do these two things do in your mind? Well, let's think about "both hands" for a moment. On one, you have a distinct command about avoiding drunkenness without a command for complete avoidance. Even the medicinal purposes of wine are pointed out and our Savior turned water into wine for consumption at a wedding. On the other, you have the witness to the world and the cultural perception that "Christians do not smoke or drink." If we had three hands, we would add that there is a certain amount of freedom of conscience given to Christians when it comes to eating and drinking and the celebration of days (Colossians 3, Romans 14). By the way, if you have three hands, get that checked out.

Anyway, I think the bigger question is not about Christian freedom and alcohol. It actually concerns the SBC dictating what freedoms their trustees and committee members will take in their personal walks with the Lord. I understand the "what about our witness?" argument. In fact, that's why I will not touch alcohol...it's because I genuinely believe that a glass of wine with dinner or the occasional cold beer is not worth putting a stumbling block in someone else's path...the non-Christian who believes wrongly that Christians are commanded not to drink, the teenager who faces temptation almost every weekend, the believer who is a recovering alcoholic who doesn't need a reason to drink again, and I'm sure the list could go on.

Though I hold this "T-total" position, I'm not sure about dictating the position to everyone in my congregation or community. I can encourage it, I can show the merits of the position, but I believe that in this arena, each man's conscience must be convicted of it. If not, it can easily become an external, legalistic standard that becomes an "add on" to the Gospel. This kind of requirement is reminiscent of the Judaizers, who claimed that you had to be circumcised in order to be a "real" Christian. These are dangerous waters we are treading, so let us avoid, at all cost, adding to the precious, complete Gospel of justification by faith alone in Christ alone.

So, for those who use your Christian freedom to have a drink occasionally, consider the "T-total" position. For those who are hard-nosed in holding the "T-total" position, don't be a jerk about it.