March 29, 2007

Our Chicken Children

Here's picture of some of our girls. They are so good to us - eggs everyday! This has really been a fun project for us and I must admit that I thought my wife had truly lost her mind when she suggested that we raise chickens! I have probably enjoyed it more than she has. Something in my blood. I can still hear my Papaw talking to the animals. I find myself doing it now.

Pictured here (for the uninitiated) are Aunt Tammy (a Buff Orpington - the yellow chicken), 5 of the 6 "Spice Girls" (Rhode Island Reds - the red ones - duh!) and one of "Wild Girls" (a Silver Laced Wyandotte - the black and white one). They are lining up for a little free time in the yard. I'm sure at some point I will share some other pics and stories with you but right now it's time to gather some eggs!

March 28, 2007

In Praise of the Bi-Vocational Pastor

I had the opportunity to spend some time with a bi-vocational pastor from our association yesterday and was reminded what a unique and special creature people like him are. Work one job Monday thru Friday, visit folks in hospitals and homes after hours, plan a prepare a sermon at some point in the week and then still find time to be a family man. I struggle to get all of these things done in a full-time capacity. For the life of me, I cannot imagine how these guys do it all. There is a part of me that wants to ask, "Why?" but I quickly answer my own question. I assure you it is not because the money is irresistibly good! Men like these are men who are living under a clear call from God. Certainly there are exceptions to this. However, the bulk of these men would have no other discernible reason to put themselves in such a position except that they are called to shepherd a local gathering of believers.

I thank God for men like these. If you happen to be the member of a church blessed with a bi-vocational pastor be sure you let him know of your appreciation for the work he does. Spend some time praying for him each day. Pray that God will keep him clean and keep him close. Pray that he will find time to rest. Even as you pray for your bi-vocational pastor listen for ways you can serve him.

When our state convention reports that fully 53% of churches are led by bi-vocational pastors it is time for all the "big dogs" to realize that much of the work is not happening in the big places. It's happening in little communities with little churches doing little things and placing them in the hands of a BIG God. I personally plan to find one bi-vocational pastor each week for the next 4 weeks and take them to lunch (on me!). Maybe you can do something for one of these marvels of the church.

March 27, 2007

What to do with a Titus 3:10-11 man?

"As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned." Titus 3:10-11 (ESV)

Let's call him Bob. Arrogant. Loud. Knows the lingo of spiritual matters. Is all too happy to apply one edge of the two-edged sword to the lives of others. Described by one as, "A bull in a china shop...what he doesn't break he craps all over." You've probably met Bob at some point in your life. Well, to make a real long story short, Bob was reprimanded by our church leadership (in love and with the objective of reconciliation) and left our church family with the fellowship broken. It remains un-restored to this day.

Fast forward. We received notice that Bob has joined a sister church in another community. I am truly glad that Bob found another fellowship to belong to but I am wondering about my responsibility. Do I call the pastor and let him know about the difficulties we experienced with Bob or do I simply let them find out on their own? This is not a personal vendetta, my desire remains to be reconciled to Bob, he's just unwilling.

I feel an obligation to call the pastor with a gentle warning, because based on Titus 3:10-11 Bob has given ample evidence of being a warped and sinful man. Sounds good and godly but carries spiritual death and disease with him. I certainly don't want that disease spreading. But then there is the "have nothing to do with him" part of this passage. Does that mean that I simply wash my hands of this and say good riddance?

Ah, this work of shepherding would be so much easier if the sheep would simply behave!

March 26, 2007

Leadership and Purity

What do the pastor of a "mega-minstry" and the leader of a ministry team in a rural church have in common? There may be many parallels but for today the common factor is personal moral failing co-terminus with great success in their ministry assignment. Does personal integrity really matter when the results are so good? I seem to recall that one of the many reasons the reformation found traction with so many was the moral corruption of much of the church's leadership. Could be a timely lesson for us in the here and now.

In newspapers all over Alabama the news of a prominent pastor's 25 year infidelity has created quite a stir. Do all of his good accomplishments now mean nothing? Churches planted. People led to a life-changing relationship with the Lord. Conferences taught (even marriage enrichment events! Go figure!). A very public man with a very private part of his life now exposed. It certainly casts a shadow over all of his accomplishments. What's next for him? I know he's canceled many speaking engagements and he had already moved from a pastoral role, but does he continue in ministry or is he disqualified? This is one which will necessitate some additional space and thought.

To the local front. A leader of a ministry team in our church family is apparently continuing to make poor decisions in their personal life. Decisions which are not consistent with a walk with the Lord. What to do? Turn the blind eye and hope it goes away? Confront in love knowing that this has produced friction in the past (yes - a repeat offender). Or simply remove with a note about getting their life straight first.

I know the correct answer is confront in love. Just needed to air this out. I would sure welcome any comments on this matter.

Job chapter 10 - Can He Say That?

“Shake your fist at Him, spit in His face, scourge Him, and finally crucify Him: what does it matter? My daughter, it’s already been done to Him.”

George Bernanos, Diary of a Country Priest

For many these words of Job may elicit a shocked gasp. I imagine Job’s three “friends” had eyes as large as dinner plates as they heard Job address God so directly. Job’s audacity is shocking! “Does it please you to oppress me?” (v. 3), or “You must search out my faults and probe after my sin—though you know that I am not guilty and no one can rescue me from your hand” (v. 6-7).

Somewhere, sometime, it has crept into our popular theology that it is inappropriate for us to “question” God. Rather than take you on the journey through the saints of scripture who gave free rein to their complaint and spoke out of the bitterness of their souls (and it is a long list including Abraham, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Paul), simply allow me to remind you that Job is consistently considered among the truly righteous ones of scripture. In Ezekiel 14: 14 & 20 God speaks to Ezekiel and says, “Even if these three men—Noah, Daniel and Job—were in it (God’s judgment), they could save only themselves by their righteousness.” God considers Job among the truly righteous. Job’s shocking words in no way change his standing before a holy and righteous God.

Child of God, it is alright for you to honestly ventilate your soul before the Almighty. Remember that nothing you say will surprise Him because He knows what is on your tongue before you speak it. Even as Job’s shocking words did not alter his standing before a holy and righteous God, you can be sure that your equally difficult and bitter words will not change your standing before God if you are standing before Him in Christ.

Get into the habit of speaking openly and honestly with God. See Psalm 51:6 for additional input on this.

March 25, 2007

Defining Our Terms

This is a brief I delivered as part of an assignment from the Eagle Leadership Task Force as part of our discussion concerning young pastors and the perception of denominational work. I post it for your consideration.

I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’ ‘The question is,' said Alice, `whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.'” (Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 6).

Just what do we mean when we say, “We are not trying to preserve an institution but to create a movement to impact the world with the good news of Jesus Christ”? Are we committing the arrogant and foolish error committed by dear old Humpty? Perhaps a perusal of Webster’s collected wisdom will serve us well.

preserve – vb – [f. L. prae+servare to keep, guard, observe] 1 :to keep safe from injury, harm or destruction: PROTECT 2 a : to keep alive, intact, or free from decay b: MAINTAIN 3 a : to keep or save from decomposition

institution – n – 1 : an act of instituting : ESTABLISHMENT 2 archaic: something that serves to instruct; also: INSTRUCTION, TRAINING 3 a : a significant practice, relationship, or organization in a society or culture b : an established organization or corporation (as a college or university)

create – vt – 1 : to bring into existence 2 a : to invest with a new form, office, or rank b : to produce or bring about by a course of action or behavior … 4 a : to produce through imaginative skill b : DESIGN

movement – n – 1 a : the act or process of moving; esp : change of place or position or posture b : MANEUVER 2 a : TENDENCY, TREND…4 a : MOTION …6 a : an act of voiding the bowels b : matter expelled from the bowels at one passage: STOOL

All too often misused words lead to misleading thoughts. The general sense I get when we talk of preserving an institution is that this is somehow a bad thing; something sinister or, at best, a waste of time and effort. But when we talk of creating a movement there is a palpable sense of excitement. Why is this?

We have saddled “preserve” and “institution” with a backward looking, out of touch, and out of date connotation when, in fact, an accurate usage of these words is anything but backward looking. Something preserved is available for use in the future and an institution, at its heart, is relational, organized, and significant for the purpose of training: building blocks for those who will follow. In contrast the notion of creation and movements is exciting and “cutting edge”, forward looking and revolutionary. I will readily accede that creating is far more glamorous than preserving, however, I wonder if we are getting dangerously full of ourselves by placing our confidence in what we can create and promote rather than in what we have been instructed to preserve and communicate.

Maybe Mr. Webster’s instruction on using words like refresh, revive, reform, renew, recapture, or redirect is needed lest we fool ourselves into thinking we are something that we are not. We are not creating something new; we are simply attempting to faithfully receive, and ultimately pass on, the torch passed to us; an instruction to make disciples, baptize them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teach them to love and obey everything He has taught us. “The worth of the tradition lies not in the form but in the source and the quality of the content.” (A.T. Robertson, italics added) It may be old, well used, and familiar but it remains revolutionary to this day.

“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions (
teachings, what is handed over to one) that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15)

March 23, 2007

How Many Do You Have?

Vapor. Mist. A passing shadow. Grass that has been cut. Smoke.

These are only a few of the images used in the Bible to describe the tenuous hold we have on life. We tend to think of our lives in terms of years. Long, comfortable periods of time marked by seasons and celebrations. The Bible repeatedly refers to our lives in terms of days. Short, staccato flashes of time that disappear as quickly as they come.

Years are luxurious.

Days are demanding.

Moses, in Psalm 90:12, asks God to "teach us to number our days aright that we may gain a heart of wisdom." Numbering our days. There's a thought. Have you considered how many you have? What if you only had a few remaining? Would you live any differently? I believe Moses understood the idea that the only day he had to live was the present one. To number our days correctly doesn't require the ability to count very high. If you can count to "one" then you have correctly numbered your days.

Are there any relationships in your life needing to be mended? Are there any loved ones to whom you need to say "I love you"? Are there any matters you need to put right with God? If you answered "Yes" to any of these questions (or the thousand others that would be applicable to your life), I challenge you to take action immediately. Sign off the World Wide Web and do it. You can surf later (maybe), but you may not have the opportunity to put these other matters right.

Number your days correctly. You have exactly one day to live.

March 21, 2007

Tripping Over Pebbles

Found a rock in my shoe this morning. Not a large or massive stone, mind you, just an insignificant little rock. Actually, I didn’t even notice it when I picked up my shoes. I don’t think I could have noticed it as the rock was so tiny. Really it’s not even worth mentioning except for my reaction upon putting my foot in that shoe. I immediately knew there was a rock in my shoe and there was no way I would be wearing that shoe with that rock in it. My walk would be affected at every step. Off came the shoe and the search began. Imagine my surprise at finding that something so small had the potential to cause me so much trouble.

Found some sin in my life this morning. Not a large or gross sin, mind you, just an insignificant little sin. Actually, I didn’t even notice it when I got started. I don’t think I could have noticed it as the sin was so tiny. Really it’s not even worth mentioning except for my reaction upon getting my day started. I immediately knew there was sin in my life and there was no way I was going to be living my life to it’s fullest with that sin in it. My walk would be affected at every step. The search began. Imagine my surprise at finding that something so small had the potential to cause me so much trouble.

I’m coming more and more to realize that there is no such thing as small sin. Avoiding the “big sins” is not all that difficult, they are so obvious, it’s those “little sins” that trip me up so often. After my experience with my shoes today I will be shaking them and checking them every morning to make sure there are no rocks in them. I think I’ll do the same with my life.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Psalm 139:23-24