Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Free Ministry - January 2010

I was just challenged by an old friend to trust God. This is not an issue of desperation, but determination. The Gospel MUST NOT be hindered by economic hardships and I am determined to be about my calling, even though times are tough. Therefore, I will speak at any event for FREE in the month of January. If it is out of state, then I might need some help getting there, but other than that, if there is a need, I will be there.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Writing and ADD

I've been working on my first book and I am reminded how annoying ADD can be. I'll be writing along, nailing a point, and then boom, a paragraph is injected in the midst of a very focused chapter that was a spin-off of a sentence above. Quite frustrating, oh and did I tell you about what happened at the mall today? <-- See!

Overall, today was a productive day. I am working on a book dealing with apathy in the church: the reality, some causes, and biblical solutions. It's in the early stages, but the last few days on this writing retreat have been very fruitful. I have a lot more organized outline(s) and thoughts to move forward with. Lord willing, the book will be ready to publish Spring 2010, but we'll see how it goes. Thanks for your prayers and I will be keeping you updated.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Who Cares?

I can't tell you how often I hear students and adults alike use the phrase,"Who Cares?" or "I don't care." There are other, more colorful ways that this is said at times, but this expression is far more revealing than one might understand. The fact is, the church is dying a slow death from misplaced passions about things that don't matter and apathy towards things that do really matter.

Now, it is NOT my intent to suggest that ALL arguments about the style of church music, the manner in which we facilitate communion, pre-mid-post-a, whether one is a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 27 point whatever, etc. are irrelevant. There are issues like this that must be considered and explored biblically. However, I do propose that these vigorous fights, debates, and splits are robbing us from caring about things that really matter. The two primary things that come to mind in this assessment are the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.

To be honest, an increasing amount of American Churches (or American Christians for that matter) don't seem to care so much about these two things. Sure, these 'Greats' are in the majority of our mission/vision statements, but how much is this really being lived out? Are we as vigorous about caring about the 'widows and orphans' as we are about making sure that people are using the appropriate translation of the Bible or are refraining from whatever we perceive to be sinful? I wonder what would happen if we were more about the Great Commission of seeing the whole person transformed, and not just managing sin and changing behaviors?

Behaviorism as a measure of success for 'biblical discipleship' shows that the charge of the prophet Isaiah, and also Jesus' charge against the Pharisee's continues to be true today, “And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me...” (Isaiah 29:13, Matthew 15:8 ESV) This indictment directly confronts the prevalent belief that as long as we look like we are godly and give an appearance of being 'nice and well-behaved' then we are making an impact on culture. While external transformation should truly be a part of sanctification, it is not the end nor should it be our final goal.

If God does not revive the church in our land, it will continue to decline. The apparent attitude today is, "Who cares?" Well, I do and hope that you do too.

More to come on this issue in the weeks and months to come...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

'Why' Series: Part 2 - Brenham

We have lived in Brenham for over 2 1/2 years now and are grateful for everything the Lord has been teaching us. However, I am still often asked "Why Brenham?" by friends and new acquaintances I meet on the road. I'm sure that different people have varying reasons for their inquisition, and there is no doubt that Steph and I have asked ourselves that on more than one occasion. So, I thought it appropriate to pose this question and offer some answers in the midst of my 'Why' Series. In order to organize my thoughts, I'm going to address the various reasons in a numbered list.

  1. We believe that the Lord called us to move here. No cliche intended. However, if you have known us for any amount of time, you would know that it would have to be the Lord to move us outside of our 'comfort zone' (Please forgive the overused phrase...) into a context that neither of us have ever known prior to moving here. While we do have a Starbucks here, we moved from Sugar Land, TX where we had 4 Starbucks in a 1/2 mile radius. We left a new home built in 2003 for a home built in 1936. This raises another question: Why would the Lord move us here? Which leads me to my second reason.

  2. To sanctify us. Sanctification is the process of becoming holy or more like Christ. We have experienced some of the most fruitful and wonderful times in our family and ministry and some of the darkest times as well since we have been here. There have been several occasions when all we had left was the Lord, His calling on our lives, and one another. We have struggled with sin, both that we have committed, and with sins committed against us. We have wrestled to understand why certain things happen the way that they did. However, through all the ups and downs, we have grown in the Lord and closer as a family. My wife has always been a huge encouragement to me, but over the past 2 1/2 years I have seen her experience a deeper intimacy with the Lord, and extremely consequential ministry in the lives of others. Our marriage has been stretched, yet strengthened through it all.

  3. To help plant Christ Church. Our good friend's Pastor Justin and Brandi Hyde moved out here from Houston to let their roots go deep and Justin had a strong calling to plant a church. To be honest, I thought he was nuts at first. After all, why would anyone choose to leave the city to live in the country (no offense to all my country friends!)? Also, church planting is tough enough in booming suburbs, so how in the world would we be able to plant a healthy church in a small town, especially coming in as outsiders? We have certainly faced our share of challenges, but we have received such hospitality from a few of the churches in town, and have seen God grow His church from 7 to 50-60 every Sunday in just 2 short years!

  4. To minister to students at Blinn College. This small Jr. College boasts of over 2,500 students enrolled annually. By and large, there is not one church here in Brenham that can minister to, disciple, etc. that many people. I certainly don't think that we have all this figured out, but I do know that we have seen several Blinn students come to faith, be discipled, and even become involved in ministry.

  5. To be blessed with great friends. We have great friends back in the Sugar Land area still today, so this is not to say that we needed friends due to the lack of friends. However, we have been blessed with some great friends that we would have otherwise never had if we weren't here. It is humbling to think about how we knew one couple when we moved here and then forced our Realtor and his wife to be our friends when we moved here. Since then we have made so many great friends!

  6. To help us learn to slow down. We did not realize how hectic our lives were back in Sugar Land. We were ALWAYS busy! While we were blessed with so many friends we all were so busy that it was tough to get good time together. Since we have been here in Brenham, we have really learned to value of being able to slow down, enjoy each other, spend plenty of time fellowshiping with our community, and flexibility to serve those who are in need. In a way, it has helped us to be a little less self-focused out of necessity (i.e. so busy that we didn't have time to be self-less). Also, being an itinerant (traveling) preacher, my life is often hectic enough, so it is nice to come back home and slow down.

  7. Because it was the hard thing to do. At the time when we sensed God calling us here we were also considering other planting options in Los Angeles, in town, or staying put at a thriving church-plant. Plus, I was still going to seminary in Houston, so it would make sense to stay put until I was done. However, I remember what Dr. Woo used to say (and I'm certain he still does), "When you have several options in front of you, God is usually calling you to the hardest one." This season has been a tough one in many regards, but we have been forced to be dependent on Christ in so many ways that I am grateful for the good and the bad. Blessed be His name, anyone?

  8. To be a nobody. As most of you know, I have the privilege of speaking to thousands upon thousands of people each year sharing the Good News of the Gospel. It is very humbling how God chooses to use people like us to do His work. However, being in front of so many people so often it is tempting to think higher of yourself than you ought to. This is a constant temptation for me, but being in Brenham has helped to balance that out. No one really knows who I am, or at least really knows me well, so they don't care who I am or what I do (I'm not saying this in a negative way at all). The people in our church and friends in other churches who know me and are my friends love me for me and aren't wrapped up in what I do or who I know. They just like me (or dislike me) because of who I am. This is definitely a blessing, because I'm not a big deal, but sometimes when you are entrusted with authority and a platform, you can become deceived. I really see how God has used this season to keep me in my place.

  9. To gain valuable ministry experience. There are many universal truths regarding church planting that transcend time, space, and culture. However, there are also many things you won't learn about ministry in a smaller town unless you are in this context. What I have learned is too much to put down in this post, but let's just say that through failures and successes I have learned things about God, forgiveness, grace, judgment, trials, and victories that I do not believe I would have learned in my previous context. I have learned how to love people, to serve them, to speak truth in love, and to let them love me in return.

  10. The Question is the Answer. Ultimately, the question, "Why Brenham?" is exactly the reason. This is not a strategic ministry location for my 'career' in ministry. This doesn't make practical sense in a lot of ways. Thus, God HAS to move and if He doesn't, then we will sink. The very fact that my family and I are here right now is a God thing that requires God to move, to bless, to provide for, to rebuke, to restore, and to bring His Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven.
We don't have a strategic reason as to why we are here. In some ways, moving here has likely closed some ministry doors. However, we have opted to value faithfulness and obedience as our standard for 'success' instead of salary, position, busyness, number of people in church, etc. Perhaps we are in error, and if so, I pray that God would be gracious to us and correct us. Yet, if we are growing and maturing in faithfulness and obedience, then we rejoice in Him!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

'Why' Series: Pt. 1 - Programming Evangelism

As I continue to read through the Bible, God is always kind to illuminate the Scriptures in a fresh way. I occasionally make the mistake of reading through Acts (sarcasm implied) and I start questioning things. If you don't know me very well, then you might not know that I have a lot of questions. One of my favorite questions to ask is, "Why?"

Thinking about church today, I begin wondering about why such intense programming is necessary? Of course people are busy, but I think the problem lies much deeper than just that. It seems in many places that the church is either expected, or assumes the responsibility to program sanctification. This is so normal that it doesn't seem that many people even think much about it, but when you compare it to the teachings of the New Testament, there is definitely a disconnect.

One of the primary areas that I am baffled is about are evangelism programs. Now I am not questioning at all the validity of training people on various ways to share the Gospel, to live missionally, or to help them understand the biblical commission all believers have to make disciples. I think that is to be expected and encouraged. However, I think it is odd that if churches don't provide evangelism 'programs' then by and large, evangelism doesn't normally happen.

This observation is not an attempt for me to point the finger. I'm just as guilty at times of not being aware of the great privilege we have as believers to share the best news with people from all backgrounds. However, being a minister, I wonder what has happened from the times of the New Testament, the Great Awakenings, etc., to this seemingly sterile approach to evangelism.

Why do we have to schedule something that should be a natural response to the grace of God given to us in Christ? Why are we placing the responsibility of our own sanctification in the hands of the church to schedule it for us? Why are we so content to view church through consumeristic lenses and to make our selection of where we will do life based upon the music program, youth program, kids program, singles program, college program, discipleship program, missions program, etc?

Look, I understand that we are ministering in a fallen world, and our people are busy. Also, I understand in a post-Christian nation that it is becoming less and less acceptable to share the Gospel openly. However, if we get so bogged down into the programming of evangelism, discipleship, etc, then at what point do we expect believers to do these things because they are, well, they are believers?

If you have an evangelism program at your church, praise God! I'm grateful that the Gospel is being preached, regardless of the means or motivation. However, I do believe that our brothers and sisters who have gone before us have modeled for us how to BE Christian and not just DO Christian things. Something to think about...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Bible Study Prep

I've had the privilege of walking through Galatians for the church-wide Bible Study at Christ Church here in Brenham. There is a special place in my heart for Paul's letter to the Galatians as this was the book I was teaching through (feebly at that!) in the fall of 1999 when God called me into full time vocational ministry. This small letter confronts major issues dealing with legalism, the Law, and liberty that are still prevalent in the modern church of today.

As I am preparing to teach through Galatians 2:1-14 tomorrow evening, I am encouraged by Paul's fidelity to the Gospel, and his passion for the freedom of Christ to be realized in the lives of believers, both Jew and Gentile. Martin Luther's Commentary on Galatians has been a very helpful resource in preparing for this study. He provides great insight into the confrontation of legalism and the healthy expression of liberty as it pertains to the Church.

This is the first time in quite a while that I have had the privilege of leading a more in-depth Bible Study, and I had forgotten how much I love to teach the Bible! Don't get me wrong, when I preach, I teach the Bible, but this is different. With true Bible study prep, I have the opportunity to slow down and ask some harder questions. Less time is spent on developing illustrations, and more time is spent wrestling with the text for understanding, insight, and by God's grace, revelation and illumination.

So, for all of the brethren out there leading Bible Studies, be encouraged! God is faithful to continually reveal to us more of Himself. This is not for our own selfish consumption, but for the sake of His Kingdom and His people. What a privilege we have in rightly dividing the Word of God!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A long day...

God is very good to us, no cliche intended. He just is. I had a wonderful time with family this past weekend and some fruitful time of ministry. I've driven more this weekend than I have in quite some time, but I feel that even the time on the road was fruitful. The next few months slow down as far as traveling goes, so I hope to use that time to be productive writing some new sermons/talks, curriculum, blogging, and working on a book.

For those tracking along with me on the writing project, Steph doesn't like the title 'The Church's Silent Killer', and that alone is enough for me to re-think that. So, I'm open to suggestions. We will be heading to a friends lake house next week to spend a few days writing and doing some speaking near by. Please pray for that time to be fruitful.

Well, I'm tired, so I will go for now. More blogging to come this week.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What to Write?

As I mentioned in my previous post, it is time for me to start writing my first book. The hang-up is no lacking content, but lacking some direction. I have been and continue to be praying and seeking the Lord as to what would best serve His work and trust that He will lead.

Here are some of the ideas that I have been thinking about. They are in various stages of development, but I thought I'd share with those of you who would be willing to pray with me and perhaps offer some insight. These are working titles:

  1. Consequential Faith: A study of Matthew 6 (and various cross references) on pursuing a faith that matters.
  2. The Church's Silent Killer: Confronting the apathy in the American church, the problem, the challenges, and some biblical solutions.
  3. Living Biblically: Topical books discussing issues facing today's teens: Relationships, Discipleship, Campus Ministry, Family stuff, Purity, etc.
  4. The Whole Naked Truth: Confronting issues of purity pertaining to students. Not only dealing with abstinence, but also re-casting a vision for biblical marriage as something to look forward to and actively pursue.
There a few more ideas, but they are more chaotic thoughts that are not organized, so I will spare my readers from them for now... I'm just glad that I already have a publisher to work with. That relieves some of the initial pressure.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Writing Life

I will breeze past the whole "I know I haven't blogged in a while..." shenanigans and just leave it at "I have been busy." I had believed this fallacious idea that I would be far less busy once I had finished seminary. False. However, I do find myself spending far more time doing things I like than before (nothing against seminary) and feel great!

A lot has been going on, but what I feel like blogging about right now is that I am hoping to start writing more frequently (blogs, articles, books, etc) in the near future. I had been saying that I wasn't going to focus on writing a book until I was 30. Well, I am 31 now and not getting any younger. The problem I am facing right now is that I am not sure which project to start on. I have a few projects with preliminary outlines, sketches for introductions, and even several sermons transcribed, but still don't know where to begin.

However, I am committed to blogging more frequently here. I will be sharing some exciting developments in the coming days.

Check back often to see what is going on and to join me on my journey to writing something worth publishing.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

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