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April 2009

March 2009 entries

A Reluctant Fundamentalist

Sunday, during the morning message, I felt compelled to declare myself a fundamentalist. The statement was made related to the lumping of all fundamentalists together by the society at large. I typically avoid the label and call myself a conservative. Many fundamentalist Christians I have known in the past are not pleasant to be around. They often monopolize conversations to prove to others that they have some insight into truth and that if you don't agree with them you are wrong. It's the old "my way or the highway to hell" attitude. While I have been accused of being arrogant, I have never considered myself so perfect that I am never wrong. My definition of a fundamentalist is - a conservative with a bad attitude. So why did I lump myself in with this group? My purpose: to show just because you are a person who believes in grace and choose to emphasize God's love, and not just His wrath, it does not make you a moderate or liberal. You can be a gracious believer and still believe in hell and judgment. It's just that you get no kicks from doing so. A person can choose to talk of the grace of God and still believe every word of the Bible is true. More and more I hear and read that intelligent people cannot also be fundamental in their faith. Here is a case in point.

While reading one of my favorite periodicals, Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR), I came across this statement in an article; "The fact remains that belief in demons was widespread at this time (3rd to 7th century) among Jews as well as other peoples." Implied in this statement is of course intelligent people do not believe this today. More importantly implied in this statement is the fact that Jesus was a victim of the superstitions of His day when he recognized, spoke to, and cast demons from possessed individuals. The logic follows that if Jesus were mistaken then He could not be God. If He were not God then He was a liar, because He declared Himself to be equal with the Father. "I and My Father are one." (John 10:30) If He were a liar then some or none of the things  He said are true. If some or all of the things He said were lies then He could have lied about His resurrection. If His resurrection is a lie then we are fools damned to darkness beyond this life. "If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty." (I Corinthians 15:13 - 14)

It seems to me that every thing hinges on the events and participants of the Bible, whether of the flesh or of the spirit, being real and not a figment of the superstitious mind. Being intelligent does not mean you must exclude belief in the supernatural. Our faith is dependent upon the supernatural. So, if believing every word of the Bible, as did my Savior, make me a fundamentalist then I guess I am guilty as charged. Just remind me not to cop an attitude.


Don't Miss the Masterpiece

I was sitting here thinking how once obscure things have taken on new meaning each day that passes. I have begun each day lately just thanking the Lord for one more 24 hour gift. I am reminded by a small voice in my soul that there is so much beauty in God's great creation that I have too long ignored. This voice seems particularly loud as I am daily disappointed with His greatest creation, man. The voice reminds me that the Creator has beautifully and elaborately adorned this planet to brighten our day even when man let's us down. I am learning that He has hidden masterpieces in the clouds and in the clay. While people demand our attention, God's creation sits quietly awaiting our gaze. I read a story recently in Leadership magazine that illustrates what I am trying to convey.

"Joshua Bell emerged from the subway train and positioned himself against a wall beside a trash basket. He was nondescript-a young man in jeans, long-sleeved T-shirt, and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. From a small case, he removed a violin. Placing the open case at his feet, he threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money and begun to play.

For the next 45 minutes, in the D.C. Metro station, Bell played Mozart and Schubert as more than 1,000 people streamed by, most hardly taking notice. If they had, they might have recognized Bell as a world-renown violinist. They might have noted his instrument was a rare Stradivarius worth more than $3 million. It was part of a project by The Washington Post that the editors called "an experiment in context, perception, and priorities, as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste. In a banal setting, at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?"

Only three days earlier, Bell had sold out Boston's Symphony Hall, with ordinary seats going for $100. In the subway, Bell collected about $32 from the 27 people who stopped long enough to drop in a donation."     

Maybe, some of you need to heed God's call to stop and admire His best work just as I have. Don't let your disappointment with man blind you to the beauty in the rest of His creation.

A Word From a Pastor on the Fringe

Occasionally I am reminded how different I think than your typical Baptist pastor. There is a reason I titled the blog "Out of the Box." I was talkling recently with several other pastors. The conversation drifted between topics that concern our calling when the inevitable subject of preaching came up. I was reminded how my preaching style is viewed by many of my peers. I think it would probably be considered on the fringe of mainstream if not on the margin. Being, thinking, looking, or acting different than the majority can push you to the margins.

May I speak up for those of us who often find ourselves marginalized by the mainstream. I believe Christianity has a lot to owe those of us who have historically thought outside the box. In the 16th century the church was chugging along it's merry way when a "reflective thinking" Christian came along. He doubted things like indulgences which floated nicely upon the mainstream church conscience. It bothered him that people would have to pay sums of cash to have certain sins forgiven. So Martin Luther spoke up and against such things and found himself pushed into the margins of Christianity. He found that the church doesn't have much tolerance for people who question the way things have always been. 

The next century another guy took it on the chin for thinking outside the box. Galileo obseved that indeed the earth was not the center of our universe. Sadly, when his views became known they were not well received by the church leadership. He soon found that people who doubted long held church "facts" were not welcome at the table any longer. 

If you study church history you will find the people who were often seen as radical to their peers had the greatest influence in changing the church in a positive way. Unfortunately, when the Christian community excludes those who question the status quo, they often silence the voices which could initiate spiritual growth and renewal. 

Opposition to creative thinkers has pushed many of us to the fringe where our ideas have a difficult time influencing any sphere larger than that of our local church. Many churches that need renewal may be silencing the voices in their community or even their denomination that may offer fresh insights into old problems. If renewal comes, as it has historically from the margins, then we need to at least listen to those who question traditional methodology as sacred. I don't pretend to know what's best for everyone or every situation, but I have found that God works in ways that we cannot predict. When we expect God to show up in our prescribed and approved practices we may just miss Him and His power in our lives. In my own life I have few occassions to speak outside my own church. While Dallas Bay has been one of the fastest growing fellowships in our denomination, I am not inundated with requests for speaking engagements. I often get lumped with preachers who have abandoned the Word for felt needs. I am associated with those who are more concerned with making a scene than making a difference. Nothing can be further from the truth, but unfortunately few know or believe that outside of my own congregation. 

To those of you who appreciate the old, old story being told in fresh and innovative ways I say thank you.            

I'm Pumped

Okay, so its time. The time of year that every pastor begins to have visions of grandeur. It is only 6 weeks until Easter. Now, not every believer get's pumped up like pastors about this season of the year. You may not even know what day Easter falls in '09. I do, April 12. I have known since last Easter when I began to plan for this year. You may wonder what's the big deal. Just imagine you are a salesman. You sell, let's say, Tupperware. You give a party almost every week. On a good night you may convince 6 people to come and look through some catalogs and watch you burp the lids on your new pastel colored salad bowl set. You believe in your product. You think it would add great value to your potential customer's lives. Most everyone who comes seems to honestly enjoy themselves and many promise to come to another party. But, there are those weeks when no one wants to book a party or even burp a lid. It becomes discouraging. You are still sold on your product, but just as you begin to get down on your profession something strange occurs. There comes a day when you have to book several parties in one night just to handle the potential customers. You feel the excitement in the air when for a few days housewives, their husbands and even their children are all a twitter about plastic food containers. You put on your best sales outfit and polish your sales pitch until you could sell ice cubes to an Eskimo. The adrenaline rush is enormous as you see unfamiliar face after unfamiliar face walk into the living room. They all have their minds focused on what you have to say. You're sure that they all won't become customers, but many of them will walk away committed to keep their food fresh using the products you so plainly set before them. You finally collapse exhausted after several back-to-back parties,  but strangely invigorated to keep selling Tupperware for another year. 

That's the way a pastor views Easter. For a few moments each year in the spring people all over the world think about Jesus. They actually come to you and say, "tell me what you know about this man they call the Son of God. Did He really die and then rise from the dead?" At DBBC we actually have to hold 4 Sunday morning services just to handle the rush of people. I know good and well not all of them will buy what I'm selling, but I know a few will. And for those few their lives will never be the same. So I work on my presentation; over and over. I know that I may have only one shot at some of these people. I know that given the odds this will be the last Easter sermon a few of them will ever hear. That hour they spend with us may determine where they spend eternity. Wow, that's exciting. I've never been more convinced that the product I have to offer is worth the investment. 

This year we are going to start the Easter sermon one week early. We are going to do something that this community has never seen. We will actually have live construction going on in the worship center starting on Palm Sunday which will be completed on Easter Sunday morning. The completed structure will then be used the week following Easter to aid people in getting re-connected to God. That's all I'm going to say right now. As a reader of "Out of the Box" you are already privy to more information than the church at large. I've leaked a little information out to you just so you will as excited as I am about sharing the message with all those people who will gather at Dbbc on April 5, 12, and 19. I also want to ask you to pray with me that during the Easter season many lives will be touched by the story of a God Who loved us so much that He came to die for us. 

I'm so pumped I think I'll go out this week and pick out my Easter outfit. I'm not sure what that will be, but I'm sure it will not include a tie! 

In His Shadow,

Pastor Ken