Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hypocrisy Exposed

Jesus said, "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven" (Matthew 6:1 niv).

Do you know people whose lives are full of religious acts? They appear to be doing the right things, good things. And maybe they are. Any help given to an orphan is a good thing. It's always right to give to meet needs of the poor.

But a religious act is more than the act. Anybody can do the acts but only a Christian can do a religious act. By that, I mean actions that align with "true religion." James wrote that true religion is displayed in actions that help the helpless (James 1:27). Yet in the same breath he says that hypocritical religion is worthless (James 1:26). So why we do what we do makes a difference.

Christians must do helpful acts in the name of Jesus. Let's call that "religious heroism." The attitude with which we do religious heroism matters; let's call this attitude "godly humility." When the two are together, we get a beautiful picture of the body of Christ in action. Absent of godly humility, religious heroism is hypocritical.

Religious heroism without godly humility leads to self-righteous hypocrisy.

Is it possible for religion to be bad? When the action is not coupled with the right attitude, it stinks like soured mile or a junior high boy's gym locker! Paul challenges believers to "live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Ephesians 5:2).

Most of the time when I walk through the fresh meat section of the grocery store I move quickly because the smell of the fresh meat...well, it stinks. I can't imagine being a butcher! But take a piece of that fresh meat and put it on the grill, add a little seasoning and the aroma is delightful! I can stand over the grill and breathe it in.

Our acts of righteousness have a stench when not coupled with humility. Hypocrisy morphs the best acts into something that God will not tolerate.

Christians honor God by serving others with no expectation of personal gain. People in your community need God-honoring believers to help them. Orphans need God-honoring believers to love them. The broken ones, the hurting ones, the forgotten ones need God-honoring believers to touch their lives. Will that be you? Will that be your church?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Information Overload

On my desk is a stack of magazines that most preachers probably see each month. All of them have articles claiming to hold the key to revitalizing the church, reaching the community, or increasing offerings. You can't implement every idea for every facet of ministry, so what do you do?

On the counter at home is a stack of sales flyers that most of you probably see each month. All of them claim to have unbeatable prices on stuff I have to buy in order to have fashion in my closet, safety in my garage, or comfort in my living room. I can't afford all of it. I don't want much of it. So what's a guy to do?

On the table next to my chair is a Bible similar to one most of you have read. The Bible claims to have answers to problems I have with relationships, troubles I perceive in our culture, and forgiveness for  the sins I've committed that weigh me down and strip life away from me. Unlike the magazines and sales flyers, it IS possible to apply everything the Bible says. I can't implement everything the magazines suggest for my church. I can't purchase everything the flyers say I need. But I can apply biblical teachings without conflicting one another or overloading my life.

And I should. So should you.

Dr. Al Mohler recently spoke at a conference in Conway, Arkansas. His topic was "The Battle for the Christian Mind" and he said that the Christian mind can only be developed with scripture. The Bible must be central to our lives if we hope to think and act like faithful followers of Christ.

I kinda hate to comment about dust on Bibles because I have stacks on my bookshelves that don't get opened very often. I have some that were given as gifts. I have others that I now also have in digital form. I have a few that I go to for the great study notes in them.

So I won't ask if your Bible has dust on it because I might be guilty. Better questions are these: Is the Bible central in your life? Do you read it every day? Do you study the Bible to learn what God says about your situation? Do you try to apply biblical principles on a regular basis?

Better than "dusty" we might use the word "rusty." I visited my grandmother last week. While there I strolled around the barns that have sat empty and unused for years. My grandfather passed away years ago. My uncle who worked with him passed away just a few years later.

I found some pieces of farm equipment that had sat idle for a long time. The lack of use has given rise to rust on the moving parts. Some of those parts wouldn't move even if you took a sledge hammer to them.

Some of us  have Bible skills that are rusty from lack of use. The best lubricant for rusty Bible skills is simply using the Bible. Pick it up. Read it. Think on it. Share ideas with others. Put it into practice.

If you need a faith-community in which to do this, check out Cross Road Baptist Church. We'd love to have you join us as we try to live faithfully with God's Word in the center of our lives. We're finding that life has meaning and purpose when we live like this.

Monday, September 15, 2014

What's A Follower To Do?

The more I study the Bible the more I've become aware of God's mission in the world and my place - the church's place - in the mission. I believe God is a sending God and that believers are sent just as Jesus was sent.

Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you!
As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."
(John 20:21)

Our Lord spoke these words to his followers, his disciples. Often Jesus addressed a specific group but a larger group also heard. It was as if Jesus wanted the others to hear what he said. (In fact, he did!) But these words were spoken to the disciples, not the crowds, not the opposers.

Jesus was sending his disciples on the same mission the Father had sent him to accomplish. So what was Jesus' mission? He came to redeem lost people by taking the punishment for their sins through his death on the cross.

He came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).

He came to give his life to set sinners free from sin (Mark 10:45.)

Obviously, his disciples can die on a cross to absorb the penalty of sins for someone else. We aren't even an acceptable sacrifice for our own sins. We are sinners in need of a Savior and that's who Jesus is and that's why Jesus did what he did.

So what is our role in the mission of God? We are sent just as Jesus was sent but we can't do what Jesus has done. But we can point people to Jesus. We can show others who are lost in and bound by sin that Jesus has died to reclaim them and set them free.

The details of the disciples' mission is not just the same as Jesus' mission but the purpose and desired result is the same. Jesus died for sinners' sins; we proclaim this truth to them. Jesus died and rose again to gain victory over sin and death; we proclaim this truth.

The last words of Jesus that Matthew recorded in the Gospel are these:

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them
in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the earth."

This Great Commission, like the sending passage in John 20, is intended for Jesus' followers. Whether that numbers in the dozens, hundreds, or millions, followers of Jesus are to make disciples - or other followers of Jesus.

We do that by joining the mission of God.

We do that by proclaiming Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection.

We do that by proclaiming truths found in Scripture that guide the way we are to live.

And really, aren't disciples supposed to live out their beliefs? Shouldn't what's in our mind be exposed in our actions? I think that is true. I think it does happen. Our actions do reveal what we really believe. I can't really judge if a person has trusted Jesus for salvation but often it's obvious whether or not that person is truly a follower or disciple of Jesus.

Professing believers ought to live by the instructions of the one they claim to follow. The Bible has plenty of passages that describe how a disciple ought to live, but just read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7. Our worship, our relationships, our finances, our priorities all fall under the authority of Jesus Christ. Our entire lives are to reflect him.

I don't measure up to well with these passages, do you? What's a follower to do when you realize you aren't following very well?
  1. Repent or turn away from your sins and seek forgiveness.
  2. Turn toward God's word for help knowing how to live.
  3. Yield to the Holy Spirit as He guides you.
  4. Huddle with other believers to encourage and equip each other to live for Christ's glory.
  5. Go and make disciples of all nations because that's God's mission.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Facing Mistakes

I'm excited about heading to Pottsville tonight for Riley's first Junior High football game. The Arkansas Baptist Eagles face the Pottsville Apaches at 7:00. I have no idea what to expect!

Heading to Pottsville brings to mind a couple or three mistakes I've made. Pottsville itself is not a mistake. We lived there for a couple of years. Riley's first home was in Pottsville. A couple of different decisions and, who knows, Riley could be on the Pottsville sideline tonight.

Without going into detail about the mistakes, I'll just say that one had to do with relationships, one had to do with stewardship, and one had to do with calling.

I believe God has a plan for each of us. If we are able to seek and understand and follow the Holy Spirit's guidance in every situation we would follow that plan without deviation. The truth is that we sometimes follow our own guidance or the guidance of others who may not be speaking on behalf of the Lord.

So we get of the path the Lord has planned for us.

I do not believe that even our mistakes are God's will or plan for us. My mistakes have led me into sin and that certainly cannot be God's desire. God's desire will bring me away from sinfulness and toward Christ-likeness.

My desires often lead me the other way. "Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart" (Psalm 37:4). The key to this verse unfolding in my life is to delight myself in the Lord. Then my desires will match his desires and he'll give me those things. I really don't think God will give me the desires of my heart if my heart doesn't match his heart - especially when those desires are result in sin and straying.

I want to do better. I want to honor God with my relationships, stewardship, and calling. A friend recently taught me that most of us want to do better, we just don't have the courage or faith to carry out that desire. The first few verses of the Book of Joshua remind me to be courageous based on God's promises and his word. My courage doesn't come from within me but from God and my faith in him to do what only he can do and to help me do what he wants me to do.

By grace God had a plan for me. He handed it to me. I messed it up and handed it back. He took it and, in grace, worked all things for good. He handed a revised plan back to me. That cycle has occurred several times in my life but grace has always answered failure. I praise God for that!

There are some reminders in Pottsville. They don't serve to keep me regretting the past. They challenge me to be courageous today and in the future so I can better achieve God's desires (which are becoming my desires, too).

...but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

Go Eagles!

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

I'm Learning to Be Less Selfish

Deana and I (I'm not accusing her of being selfish, she's just part of the story) spent a few hours this weekend cleaning out closets. We both have way too much stuff so we are donating clothes to the Little Rock Compassion Center.

I filled two big black trash bags and stopped bcause I was tired of doing it. I'll finish some other time.

Have you ever put on a jacket you had not worn since last winter and found money in the pocket? That's a pleasant surprise. It can be a blessing, if you know what I mean.

We decided not to have a garage sale because we just wanted to bless others without a price tag. I'm not saying that is how everyone should do it. That's just our decision this time. Maybe we'll have a garage sale next time, who knows?

So I'm stuffing these bags through the small hole in the "donation hut" in the KMart parking lot. And I'm thinking, "Did I check the pockets?"

I do a lot of laundry at the house because we have a rule: Money found in the laundry belongs to the person doing the laundry. So you can imagine my dilema knowing that as soon as the bag goes through the hole I'll never have another chance to check the pockets because I'm too big to fit though that hole!

I didn't check the pockets. I figure that the next hand that reaches in those pockets belongs to a person who needs the blessing. God has blessed me in abundance. The least I can do is not be so selfish.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Vision Talk

Last night I talked about vision with our church family. We've spent each Wednesday night in August talking about "Who Are We?" This led us through an exercise of memory as we updated a timeline chart of Cross Road's history. Nobody who attended was there in 1971 when the church was founded. Only one person in our congregation was part of that original group and she was a pre-schooler then.

The memories were more like looking through somebody else's shoebox of pictures. But we still learned quite a bit about our church. The timeline exposed the highs and lows the church experienced. Some would prefer that the timeline was not as honest as it was, but we are where we are because of where we've been. And that course allows us to project a trajectory into the future.

Doing what you've always done will get you what you've always got, right? Let me nuance that statement. Because the church's purpose is to reach people who are lost so they may choose to follow Jesus, our target is moving. The people in our community and throughout the world are different than they were in 1971. Even five years makes a difference. So doing what we've always done - even if we do it better - will probably result in getting less than we've always got.

So it's time (past time) to cast vision for Cross Road Baptist Church. I've recently stopped pursuing a Doctor of Ministry degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Had I continued, this would likely be the backbone of the project: leading the church to celebrate the past, assess the present, and prepare for the future.

I spent my time with our church last night preparing for the future. It was just an introduction. I don't want to dump on them what I've studied and digested for 6 years. That wouldn't be fair to them and I would get discouraged. My desire is to place the vision in front of the people frequently. I've heard it said that the people don't know what the vision is until they can finish your sentences when you talk about it. Repetition is the key!

So after considering the current state of our church (and most churches, I believe) I feel the Lord has placed this on my heart and in my mind as the direction Cross Road Baptist Church should go.

The basic underpinnings are these:
  • The church must accept her role in God's mission. "The church doesn't have a mission; God's mission has a church." We must be about the Lord's mission. In John's gospel, Jesus said, "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you" (Jn 20:21).
  • The church must be outwardly focused. Too often Christians and the churches they comprise are looking for ways to tend to themselves. Yes, taking care of the body is necessary but it cannot be the only thing the church does. We must look out into the community and the world and minister to them. I believe this is what Jesus meant in Matthew 26 when he talked about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc. "Love your neighbor as yourself" must surely point to this kind of outward focus.
  • The church must be an active participant in reaching people. I tell the church, "You are the missionary and where you are is the mission field." I get the idea behind the signs on the way out of church parking lots that say something like, "Now you are entering the mission field." My pastoral ministries professor Dr. Steve Lyon said, "We have to keep our eye on the ball. And the ball is winning people to Jesus and building them up in the Lord." Not too many lost people wander onto a church campus these days but there are lots of saved people there who need to be built up. I don't see how we can draw lines to separate what is or is not the mission field.

I will take space later to flesh out this vision but let me take time now to give you the six elements I presented to Cross Road last night.
  1. Every member in discipleship
  2. Every member in ministry
  3. The church in on-going community ministry
  4. The church in on-going church planting
  5. The church in 3-yr "Send North America" partnerships (perpetual)
  6. The church in 3-yr international partnerships (perpetual)
If you are a member of Cross Road I want you to come to church often to hear more about our path into the future. You can check this blog weekly to learn more about each element. With the Lord's help and our courage to stay on course we'll change the trajectory of our church to make a greater impact on eternity.

Cross Road Baptist Church is a great group of people who love each other and love Jesus. I'm glad to be part of the church. And I can't wait to see you again this weekend!

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Response to the Crisis in Iraq

In his recent blog post, SBC President Ronnie Floyd clearly outlines the issue in Iraq and our response to it. If you can give, please do. Please pray.

Dr Floyd writes:

"The Middle East Crisis is a new phase in a larger crisis that has been intensifying over the past two years. The current crisis in Iraq is driving Christians and other non-Muslim minorities — as well as Muslims who won’t submit to Islamist rule — from their homes. About 1.5 million Iraqis have been forcibly displaced. This Iraq crisis compounds the Syrian refugee situation, in which more than 9 million people have been driven from their homes. Jihadists have ruthlessly martyred Christians who did not flee.
"Many of these families are very much like our own. They owned businesses and took care of their families, but the violence has forced them to leave with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Right now, they are enduring excruciating summer heat, and in a few months they will be facing bitter winter conditions without adequate shelter."
Please read the entire article at the here... Baptist Global Response and the Iraq Crisis