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

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Marathon

I've never run a marathon but I ate plenty of the candy bars that had that name when I was a kid. Do you remember the long, twisted, chocolate-coated caramel? It was about a foot long! If they had just found a way to put nuts in it, it would have been the most awesome-est candy bar ever. As it was, it was pretty good.

My interest in candy bars probably explains why I've never run a marathon.

I browse through a few blogs each week to glean nuggets of news, perspective, and ideas. Michael Lewis (@Pastor4pastors) works for the North American Mission Board (@NAMB_SBC) with responsibility for encouraging pastors. He does a good job. His post from last Friday says, "Ministry is not a hundred yard dash, but it is a marathon to be run with endurance."

I can run a hundred yards. Takes me about a minute but I can do it. But the 26.2 miles of a marathon course takes more than a dash. More training. More stamina. More energy. More determination. More.

Ministry takes more than I thought it would when I started. Preachers just work two days a week, right? And those are half-days.

We may preach for a total of 2 hours or so a week but that doesn't include the preparation time. And most pastors do more than preach. We make hospital visits, we visit shut-ins, we meet with committees, we're on the phone with members who complain, we counsel those with life issues, we write notes or send email to encourage members, we update church's social media and website, we prepare and print the bulletins for Sunday's service. And we have a family.

Some ministers have jobs away from the church.

THIS WEEK (the dash) is tough for a minister, much less the entire lifetime of ministry (the marathon). Too many men and women who start in ministry quit before too long. They get tired of it, distracted from it, bored with it. There are probably dozens of reasons a person is willing to run a dash rather the marathon of ministry.

Runners in a marathon don't do it alone. They have people who train with them and run the race with them. They have people along the route encouraging them. They have event personnel at intervals on the route providing nutrition. Maybe a man can train for and run a marathon all alone but surely it's better to do it with these others I've mentioned.

Pastors need the influence of others as they run the marathon of ministry. Someone to train with. Someone to run with. Someone to encourage them. Someone to support and refresh them. Yes, God does all that but God also uses people to do all that.

I'll be honest with you: I've not been the best at surrounding myself with that kind of support. And I'm reluctant to jump in and support others - I blame it on being an introvert. That's not good for any of us.

If you are a minister, you need folks around you to help you. Do you have them? Are these good and beneficial relationships? Are they mutually beneficial relationships? Iron sharpens iron. Three strands are better than one or two. Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs for a reason: they needed each other to be most effective. I guess that's the same for us, don't you?

If you aren't a minister, you can (and should) be part of the support system every minister needs. He needs friends and accountability partners and golf buddies. He needs to talk about current events while drinking coffee and the local cafe. He needs to coach third-graders in soccer. He'll be a better pastor with you alongside him. He'll be much more likely to finish the ministry marathon.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


This was a brisk, clear morning for a jog. It felt more like October than August. As I walked from the house to the church parking lot, I thought that maybe I should have worn sweat pants.

I like cool mornings and can't wait for the temps to range between 40 and 70. As far as summers go, this one has been much more to my liking.

Not a cloud in the sky at 5:00 A.M. The moon was big and high overhead. I'm writing this at 7:50 and it's not much brighter outside than it was then.

Our exercise takes us down Colonel Glenn Road onto Rushing Road. There aren't many street lights but we didn't need them. Sometimes when it's cloudy or the moon is low on the horizon or visiting another hemisphere, the pavement disappears beneath my feet. That used to bother me but I've learned to trust that the road will be there.

No such worries today. In fact, as we passed the last street light I noticed two shadows on the road. One was stronger right at the light but grew fainter as we ran on. And it grew longer and more fuzzy.

The other shadow disappeared while I was closest to the street light but grew stronger as I moved away. Its length remained constant and its clarity never changed.

The shadow from the light of the moon was stronger than the shadow from the street light. It was more consistent. It was there even when there were no lights around, only one above.

You can divide the influences in your life into two groups: those of this world and those of a heavenly world.

The influences of this world originate from people and things around you. Some are better than others. Your closeness to them varies. Their influence on you strengthens and weakens. The shadow they cast in your life is inconsistent though sometimes overshadows the influences from above.

But the influences of the heavenly realm never change. Even when the rest of the lights go out, you can still experience their impact. These influences are consistent so you can count on them. You can trust them.

We have to guard our hearts to make sure we aren't negatively influenced by inconsistent sources. Fixing our gaze upon Jesus assures us of a trustworthy source of guidance and protection.

Jesus uses godly people to positively impact the lives of others. I want to be around people like that. And I want to be that person for others.

Godly people help each other as we follow Jesus. That's the "iron sharpens iron" principle. So find godly people and get to work growing in Christ together.

Godly people also help people who are following other influences turn to Christ for love, forgiveness, and redemption. So today look for someone you can point to Jesus.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Sometimes God...

Sometimes God surprises me with a subtle change that helps my perspective. Deana's sister is moving and is not taking much furniture with her. So she's giving stuff away. Deana was excited when she told me about a tall dining/breakfast table and chairs. I've talked about those for a while but we have a dining room table and don't have space in the kitchen. Actually, we rarely eat in the dining room; mostly in our laps in the living room.

But we thought about getting the table and where we might put it. Deana suggested at the window in the living room. I could see it becoming the place where we eat and I didn't really like that. Plus, we would have to rearrange the living room to make room for it. Deana and Riley kept offering suggestions on how to rearrange and next thing you know...

Now I have a great work-at-home space with an AC vent at my feet. Here's the "Sometimes God..." part of all this. The serenity of the view into the backyard from my tall chair (trying not to call it a high chair) helps me focus. Somehow I feel like I'm sitting in a library with a view of a wooded landscape.

We have small group Bible study in our home from time to time. The new arrangement of the living room is going to be good for that. Maybe a few more seats but much more space. So God worked out something my family likes, I like, and the Bible study group will like.

How 'bout that!

Think about how many times you are reluctant to change like I was with the living room furniture. We - Christians, church people - resist change as much as anybody. We ought to start new Bible study classes but we like the "feel" of the one we have. We ought to update the facilities but we don't want to spend the money. We don't like it when someone messes with the look or sound of the services. We want to grow or reach more people but we don't want to lose the quaint coziness of our church just like it is.

Sometimes God wants us to change. When we dig in our heels and resist, not much good will happen. But when we roll up our sleeves and get to work at whatever it is God wants us to do, watch out!

How 'bout that!

Saturday, August 09, 2014

A, B, or C

Pick one. If I asked you, "Discussion of which of these topics do you think I have enjoyed more this morning? A. Baseball B. Golf C. Egg Plant

You'd guess A. Baseball, wouldn't you? I love baseball but that's not the right answer.

So you'd guess B. Golf next, wouldn't you? I like golf. I'm no good at it but I like to play every once in a while and I'll watch it some. But golf is not the most enjoyable conversation topic this morning.

Egg plant? Really? I've eaten egg plant just a few times in my entire life! I didn't hate it but I just don't order it and nobody I've ever lived with fixes it.

My first memory of egg plant is from Wyatt's Cafeteria in Central Mall in Fort Smith, Arkansas. I didn't eat it or even order it but I saw it as I hurried from the hamburger steak to the yeast rolls to the chocolate pie. There it was hiding among the other vegetables. It is a vegetable, isn't it? As a 6-year old boy I avoided vegetables so my skill at recognizing them is not up to par. Pie? I can recognize pie! But not vegetables.

Egg plant is purple. My favorite purple food is a grape sno-cone. You can't tell a kid that egg plant tastes like grape sno-cones because both are purple. Not with a clear conscience. If you ever try that you should have to live a long, long time with heavy guilt. It's not right.

So I'm as surprised as you are that the most enjoyable topic of my morning was egg plant. I drove from our home ten miles west of Little Rock into Argenta in North Little Rock. I needed a cup of Mugs Cafe coffee. And I needed to go to the Argenta Farmers Market. But not to buy egg plant. Not even to talk about egg plant.

On the drive to Argenta I had the radio tuned to a sports talk show. For ten minutes - which is a lifetime on the radio - the two hosts went on and on about the rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox. I like the Yankees and would love to have been around when some of the greats played at the Stadium. My Dad was a Yankees fan - still is?- and I heard him talk some about Mickey Mantle.

I never saw or heard a game that "The Mick" played in. My Yankees memories begin with Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson, Thurmon Munson, Goose Gossage, and a handful of others. I didn't like them much because they were Cincinnati's opponent for the 1976 World Series. The Reds swept the Yankees. The Reds had beaten the Red Sox in 1975 even though Carlton Fisk waved a ball to the fair side of the foul pole for a home run to push the series to Game 7.

Back in the day when I was learning about baseball, the Reds appeared in the 1970, 1972, 1975, and 1976 World Series. Baltimore and Oakland beat them in the first two, but the Reds won back-to-back in '75 and '76. It was settled forever for me: the Cincinnati Reds are my favorite team.

So all this talk about the Yankees and Red Sox rivalry gets old in a hurry. Had the hosts said something new, maybe I could have stood it. But ten minutes of rehashing something I don't care for was all I could take. I turned the station and listened to music the rest of the way to Argenta.

I can't make a stop in Argenta without going to Mugs Cafe. You shouldn't either. It's a great place to eat or hang out. I did neither today, though. I was on a mission to find some information about a bluegrass group that played during the farmers market a couple of weeks ago. So I grabbed a cup of coffee to go and headed across the street in the rain to the farmers market.

I didn't expect to find the band playing because it was raining but I went anyway. The lady at the main booth for the farmers market couldn't remember the band I was talking about but she was sure another person at the market today would remember. We caught up with Sarah as she was buying vegetables.

Sarah had two reusable shopping bags over her shoulder. She looked much younger than me but acted like she had grown up in the 60s. Apparently she also played in a bluegrass band so she was the source I needed. The farmers market lady and I waited patiently while Sarah made her purchase - one egg plant.

The neat thing about a farmers market, as compared to a supermarket, is that the vendors and the customers have a relationship based upon the goods being sold. You don't see that at Kroger or Walmart. It reminded me of my days in high school back in Dardanelle when I worked at IGA. Woody Hamilton was the produce guy and he talked with everybody who came down his aisle. It seemed to me that Woody knew them and they knew him. He'd also whistle and sing. Sometimes the songs were popular songs you might hear on the radio; sometimes he sang little ditties that only he knew.

As Sarah talked with the vendors my mind drifted back to IGA and Woody's produce aisle.

Sarah spent about ten minutes talking about how to prepare egg plant. Remember that my only experience with egg plant was the casserole thingy at Wyatt's. You probably already knew most of this but it was news to me. You can boil it, broil it, grill it, fry it. Use it as a filler-kind-of-mixture in all sorts of dishes. You can even make a burger-type patty with it but you have to add some tomato sauce or salsa or something to give it flavor.

I was more interested in Sarah's monologue of the uses of egg plant than I was with the sports guys' endless puffing about a baseball rivalry that matters only to fans of two teams - and probably not all their fans actually would have listened to them go on and on.

Best of all, Sarah knew the bluegrass band I was looking for but she couldn't remember the family's name. So we asked her husband who was buying okra at the next vendor. By the way, their child was eating okra raw. Again, I really only approve of one way to eat okra: breaded and fried like my mother does it. I've heard of other ways to prepare okra but never considered eating it unprepared. But he seemed to like it and Sarah said it was good.

Sarah's husband couldn't recall the name of the band, either, but Sarah would not be denied! Within a few seconds she was on the phone with the host of a radio show that has bluegrass bands play live in the studio. JD and Sarah talked for a couple of minutes and produced the name. I had heard the Davanzo Family Band play at the Argenta Farmers Market two weeks ago. My mission was complete; I could head home.

With that bit of information tucked away in my iPhone, I jumped in the car, beat the River Rail to the intersection, and headed over the river and west on Hwy 10. I hit the button to turn on the radio.

Another sports show was on so I figured the talk of The Great Rivalry was over. It was. These guys were talking about golf since the PGA Championship is this weekend. Rory McIlroy is poised to win his second major in a row, having won the British Open last month. Rory and I both play golf the same way. Well, we hold the club with two hands. Past that, not much in common.

Quickly, the conversation between the hosts turned to Tiger Woods. Really? Tiger used to be the best golfer in the world. Some say he is the best to ever play the game. Maybe so. But he's hardly worth the ten minutes of airtime these guys were giving him. They have bought into the myth that nobody cares about golf if Tiger is not in the conversation. Instead of talking about Rory and the others who actually play the game at a high level this year, they went on and on about Tiger.

As they each gave their opinions about who would win more majors for the remainder of their careers - Rory or Tiger - I turned them off and drove the rest of the way home in silence. Almost complete silence except for the egg plant recipes replaying in my mind.