Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Nativity Story

The Christmas season is always a challenge for me. I have so many different things going on in my life; husband, father, papaw, and pastor! Each of these perspectives on Dec. 25 have their pros and cons as most of us earthlings are aware.

This season had a real surprise and thrill as Sandy and I took some time away to go see a movie. We took a Sunday night and went to watch "The Nativity Story." I wasn't sure what to expect, it certainly wasn't hyped as much as "The Passion of The Christ" was but at the same time there had been some good publicity on how well done it was for a film with a "Christian" theme.

One of my "pastor" perspectives has always been the crazy time-line that has stuck to the Christmas story in regard to the wisemen. I do mean stuck, just try and rearrange the plot on that one some time and see how hard it is for most folks to understand the little "two year" pause between the birth of the child and the visit of the Magi!

This story treats this timeline as most folks would have it in their hearts. The wisemen are an integral part of the story and do show up right at the birth-----but I must say it was a wonderful depiction and really got you into the moment quite deeply.

I was thrilled with how the film got me to see the harshness of life at the time of this little one's entrance into humanity. The toughness of the times for families, and for Jews and for adventurers was very very well done. You certainly experienced it all. I was especially impressed with the portrayal of Joseph; he came alive to me.

The reality of Herod and his obsession with killing this coming king was horrifying. His evil intent came through in graphic detail. The death of little boys in Bethlehem exploded on the screen. The birth scenes in the movie were quite amazing and certainly didn't candy coat any of it! This was a real moment with real pain and real hardship.

For me, during this season of Advent, it took me to the center of the message of the Angel; "Do not be afraid!" Both Joseph and Mary were very real in their conversation about their angelic experiences. They both admitted that while the Angel said "Do not be afraid", they were afraid! Boy if that didn't hit home to me. They are just like me!

I honestly believe the "heavenly voice" but my reality has to be walked out in fearful faith. I am encouraged and motivated by the message, but I still tremble as I walk in this hard life. Although God worked powerfully in the life of Joseph and Mary, they still lived real lives with real problems. Our situations in December 2006 are the same!

My challenge to myself is to courageously go forward, not retreating out of fear, but constantly trusting that the same God who worked it out for Joseph and Mary will work it out for me! Wow, a God who would visit us this personally is to be adored! He really really cares! He traded a perfect pain free life for a life of flesh filled struggle. Thank you Jesus! I love you for getting dirty here on earth with me and showing me God, your father, in a truly real way I can understand.

Have a blessed, Christ filled Holy Day!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Free Moral Choice

A local columnist in Terre Haute once again took on the conservative evangelical right in regard to their view of life, sin and politics. As is always the case with criticism, some of it usually is valid. In this case some of it was, but not all. The columnist joked about our "Flip Wilson" mentality at times concerning sin; "The Devil made me do it." The writer would rather opt for Sigmund Freud.

I for one want to weigh in on a much needed view that sometimes goes amiss at times like this. Each of us in my understaning are "free moreal agents." Meaning that in the very complicated understanding of spirit and flesh, each of us as humans is free to choose our behavior. Even Chirstians! Paul in Romans 7 is a good snapshot of a righteous man struggling with personal sin. I always find it easier to talk about Paul than someone like Ted Haggard.

For my liberal friends, yes I believe someone like Bill Clinton sinned. Inspite of that, I hold a high regard for the office of President of the United States and would not destroy that office or its integrity because of the sin of one president. Can we not do the same with Ted Haggard? I hope so. I get so tired of people generalizing personal sin; it is exactly that. Now I am not saying we are not to speak about sin, I am just saying we ought to be a whole lot more like Jesus than the media.

It is always true that with leadership comes higher expectations and greater exposure to failure. Lot's of pastors unfortunately have made the same ethical mistakes that Ted has made. But their leadership is of a much smaller followership. It is true, "the bigger they are, the harder they fall."

Ted's sin doesn't justify homosexualty or infidelity. Don't go there. We do have a very hard lesson in hypocrisy and deception for sure. It is a stern warning to pastors, church lay leaders, denominational leaders and members of God's family. We are all capable of moral duplexity. Just like Paul. Evil is powerful and can control, if you will, to the degree we as free moral agents allow it to.

I am not saying that addiction in any form isn't controling, it demands strong intervention on the part of humans and God. We cooperate as part of our failure or recovery. I am so very pleased that Ted is now being open honest and cooperating in the process of getting his behavior back in line with biblical ethics.

I apologize if as a conservative evangelical I have not been compassionate and fair in dealing with immoral behavior evenly or fairly. I believe in a world where Jehovah God has given a moral code of behavior that all people are accountable to it. The only means of ever being forgiven for breaking that code is found in the person of Jesus of Nazereth.

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:1-4 NIV)

I understand that in any given community of followers of Jesus there are people living hypocritical lives just like Ted. I know that I too must constantly be on guard against my own self deception and allow the Holy Spirit and Word of God to search me and convince me of my personal sin. I can lie and hide from people, I can't do that with God. He will know, He will blow the whistle on me. To all of my fellow hypocrits, let's clean up our act! If you have unconfessed sin in your life, confess it. If you need help, get it.

Let's bring fame, not shame to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Church.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Ted Haggard

I was shocked Friday morning Nov. 3rd as I looked at my news reader and found out about Ted's stepping down from the New Life Church in Colorado Springs and his stepping down from being the leader of the National Association of Evangelicals. He had been accused of a very ugly thing; a homosexual relationship for three years.

This was especially disturbing to me because I have held Ted up in such high esteem as one of the most dynamic leaders within the Evangelical Church and a great spokesman of biblical ethics. I was disturbed at the comments by the new associate pastor who said that "there was truth in some of the allegations." As the day wore on it became apparent from Ted's admission that he had purchased Meth but did not use it and did order a massage from this particulare person who had accused him on the radio.

I am angry! At Ted, at the Devil and at the great shame that was brought on the bride of Christ through the unfaithfulness of a leader. I know that leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ have failed in many differrent ways, many right here in my own city. But when I know someone personally and I see this person as a frontline warrior of great importance it really grieves me. I have a great loss in my heart and soul.

Don't get me wrong, I know the grace of God, and I am sure that when Ted repents he will be forgiven and restored. But he will never be the same. He will have lost moral integrity and gerat moral leadership. His church will suffer great harm and grieve for a long time. Pastors in the church will never quite have the respect and trust they once did. Great damage, the need for some very great healing.

I want to reflect on this crucial moment from my own experience. I know from my study and my previous experience that God's leaders are human and very vulnerable to the attack of the enemy and the giving in to their flesh. Both are so true and so frequently exoperienced by us all. The Devil is after the leaders of the Bride of Christ and the Army of God. He has in this case won another battle------but not the war! We in the church do not shoot our wounded and we know that God can and will heal and restore. As long as repentance comes there will be another day to fight!

God's leaders will fail, just like Moses, just like David, just like Peter; but failure is why Jesus came! Our ability to be forgiven and made holy again can only be accomplished we we connect with the saving blood of Jesus. This connection comes through our repentance.

Heb. 6:4 ¶ It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit,
Heb. 6:5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age,
Heb. 6:6 if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

The key to this passage on "falling away" is the lack of repentance. This lack is like crucifying Christ again!

When God's people repent, they are forgiven, made clean and and holy. They don't lose their place in the family but they may lose their place in leadership. That has always been true with leaders. When you look at passages about leadership it is always important to note the importance of character. When our character and integrity are damages, so is our leadership.

Here is my plea, to myself, and to you. We must be repenting on a regular basis for the enemy to be unable to take advantage of our weakness. We are weak, we will always be, but we don't have to allow the enemy to get a foothold or in some cases a strangle hord on our lives. By our constant confession and repentance we stay humble and useable.

It is always a given that we confess and repent of obvious misbehaviors. But what I am talking about is our deeper problems of moral vices. Behind murder is hate. Behind adultery is lust. Behind addictive behavior is insecurity. Now you may not agree with all of my comparisons here; especially addiction. Put whatever underlying cause you believe is more accurate from your perspective----maybe it is pain, maybe it is grief, maybe it is anger; whatever.

If we are not constantly seeking to be aware of our internal vices, confessing them, and repenting of them, we will become vulnerable. God's leaders are no exception, I am no exception. I know that but for the grace of God and my constant confessiona and repentance I too could be just like Ted.

"Search me O God," don't let my tendency to sin be covered up or trivialized. This is serious business, staying clean before you and before the enemy. I must be the confessor and not the Publican. I cry out to God on behalf of a brother and a sister congregation who are in ashes. God give them a garment of praise! Restore, heal and protect. Do what you have to do to makes us deader to our sin and always aware of how close we all are to being an unfaithflul family member and a traitor to your causes.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Harvest Prayer Ministries Regional Conference

Ever since I began reading some of the books of Dr. Henry Blackaby I have treasured the thought of one day having him come and teach at our church. That dream was realized this week! Dr. Blackaby was here as the main speaker for a prayer conference that we partner with several other ministries to put on each year.

The experience of sitting under his teaching was amazing. The thing about Henry isn't his flashy style or his charismatic personality, it is his authority with which he speaks. He is authentic and real in his teaching on prayer and its value and virtual life giving power to people and congregations. His message is radical and convicting because of the obvious flow from God's Word.

This kind of teaching is as "prophetic" as I have ever experienced. It is so in the true sense of the word. It is the voice of God speaking through his servant. It is a life giving word and a life challenging word. You can't just hear it, you must respond to it. It is hard to call it "good teaching." It is "sword" teaching, dividing your heart and mind with truth and power.

I don't want to be freaky, but the mysterious presence of God was in this place! God is always around us, don't get me wrong, but at times he is "near" and so very real. Isaiah the prophet said that when those moments come you don't want to miss them. (Is. 55:6) I am so glad I didn't miss the nearness of God in these days.

The obvious, but not so obvious to some, visual things were present. The altars were full, there were tears and crying out to God, there were people confessing sin, making commitments to be watchman on the walls and many begging God to "lay his heart on their hearts" so they could intercede more effectively for people and our nation. There was praise, there was prayer, there was some deep fellowship among people from many different denominations and spiritual heritages. Wow! It was a real God moment!

I must say that the one real conviction that came my way was this. You have what you pray.

For your family, our church, your city, and your nation. God is always looking for that one person who will humbly seek his intervention in the lives of people. A stand in the gap kind of person. Weak pitiful praying yields pathetic results.

“The men of Ephraim, though armed with bows,
turned back on the day of battle;
they did not keep God’s covenant
and refused to live by his law.
They forgot what he had done,
the wonders he had shown them.”
(Psa 78:9-11 NIV)

This passage went right to my heart! Being ready and equipped is one thing, failing to be obedient, not keeping my covenant promise and not making God famous are completely different things!

I might say, we have not because we have lived not! Forgive us Father! As leaders in your Kingdom, forgive our faithlessness and our arrogant disobedience of your revealed will.

I know that many of the pastors who gathered at Maryland Community Church have vowed to challenge and call their leaders to a more active and obedient life! We must pray the price and stand in the gap for all that is precious to God.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

I have been reading a book about missional leaders over a break. Like any good book it is both reinforcing in what I believe and at the same time challenging what I believe. I am sure you have read books like that or watched movies that did the same thing.

Here is a quote that really hit home; "We can see this phenomenon of making private need paramount in the increasing number of people who make it known that the forms of life in a particular congregation are no longer enough for them. As a result, they seek another congregation that will satisfy their needs. To them, it is vividly clear that the public gathering of the people of God has a single, primary purpose: meeting the private, personal needs of each individual member." p. 68 The Missional Leader

My down to earth theology knows that usually people go at their particular circumstance from one of two equally valid and important truths. 1) God is holy and all powerful, 2) God became flesh and suffered just like me. You can word those in many different ways of course.

It seems that many congregations, followers of Jesus, sufffer at times from an over emphasis on #2. They see everything through the lense of "how will that help me?" If it doesn't then I will change churches, pastors, leaders, cities, countries, religions.

If there isn't something bigger and more important than me in my circumstance then I have to do whatever it takes to alter my circumstance.

What if there was something bigger and more important than you? What if it was more important than your circumstance? For some that is even hard to imagine let alone believe.

For true followers of Jesus we know who and what is more important. Jesus is more important and His Kingdom is greater than mine! Without this focus I will never believe that God's desires would ever trump mine or that his power is greater than mine.

We live in such a winner take all world that the idea of staying with anything that is perceived as being inferior or a loser is quite distasteful. Shouldn't I move on? Shouldn't I go with the winner?

The Kingdom of God doesn't always look like a winner or being superior. That is why Jesus looked and sounded like such a fool in his day. He still does in our day to a large extent.

Pretty soon we will have 300,000,000 churches in America. In case you didn't know; one for every person. Sad isn't it.

Friday, October 13, 2006

I attended a pastors gathering at Mt. Pleasant UMC last night that was truly amazing! The group represented were among the United Methodists, Southern Baptists, Assemblies, Independent Pentecostal, Church of Christ Non-Instrumental and Messianic.

We gathered for fellowship and then to watch a documentary of the revival in Fiji produced by the Sentinel group. It was an amazing story of revival among a nation that had been racked by political and racial uproar for many years.

The gist of things was desperation with circumstances, prayerful repentance, efforts at reconciliation both racially and denominationally and political action. There was an amazing turnaround in the whole nation socially, economically and geographically. There truly was an answer to II Chronicles 7:14!

As we talked about this and how it impacted us, it became very clear that we too wanted such things for our city, state and nation. Our small gathering every Tuesday morning for 16 years has increasingly grown in numbers of pastors and intensity for revival. We certainly are not as desperate as we could be or should be, but we are getting there! Our prayer is not yet as fervent as it could be or should be, but we are getting there!

One things has become increasingly more apparent. We are united around Jesus Christ and the truth of the Word of God. Denominational ties are being broken. Personal agendas set aside. There is more and more a visible city-wide church! Oh how I long for this to increase!

Pastors praying together, worshiping together and then working together is amazing! I believe it will make an impact in our city. These three things are the key to proactive city-wide ministry; prayer, worship and service.

We will be reading and studying revival more and meeting again in a month; Nov. 27th.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Both of our Days of Vision for EPIC and Exchange are now complete! How exciting to share what God is doing at Maryland Community Church. Our two communities are unique methods of reaching various as many people as we can. I am constantly amazed at how two different environments can reach different people for many different reasons.

I am excited to see what God is going to do through our multiple environments over the next few years. The Blessed Life series that Scot Longyear, pastor of Exchange, and I have been teaching from materials from Robert Morris have been great tools for helping both communities come to grips with putting first things first in our lives. Our financial resources are one of the litmus tests to our heart condition. I know God is continuing to search our hearts to see if we will be faithful and responsible with all the many talents and resources he has given this great church.

I would challenge all our followers of Jesus to pray hard on how they can respond on November 19th. This Sunday is a crucial moment in the life of Maryland Community Church. Our commitments to tithing and extra giving are of immence importance and we look to the future. Let's IMAGINE together what God can do through us!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Love Languages

Sandy and I are anxiously waiting to see what God will do with our series on the "Five Love Languages."

Love is a big deal to us! We love God with all our heart and try very hard to love each other as Christ has loved us. Needless to say this has been a journey of many years; 37 to be exact!

Love is the real heart of marriage. It is a language that God has used to communicate his relationship with his people down through the ages. It was an epic description of the relationship of Jesus and the Church. Jesus the groom and the Church the bride. Ephesians 5 is the classic biblical text for the love of man and woman; Christ and the Church.

Come join us at Maryland Community Church, 4700 S. St. Rd. 46 in Terre Haute, IN and see what the Lord is saying to you about these two major relationships. Begins Sunday Oct. 8 and goes through Sunday Nov. 5; 10 am.