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April 2011 entries

The Real World

With Easter in the rear view mirror it is time to get back to reality. Reality is not 5 full services in 3 locations with police assistance to get traffic on and off the campus. It is not having to send people away because the main auditorium and overflow are packed. I wish everyday were Easter Sunday, but it's time to return to the real world. 

What is the real world like? Painful, costly, erratic and sometimes frightening. Corporately, it is about working through the budget, getting by with much of the staff on vacation when we work with a staff too small for our size to begin with, and back to funerals, hospitals and nursing home visits. In other words, dealing with all the fallout of living in a sinful world. Individually, the real world is dealing with your own failures and weaknesses. It is coming to grips with impure motives, jealousies, envy and greed. Without the busyness of Easter to keep on focus my mind wanders in and out of frustration with people who let me down and God who seems too quiet and too distant. Living in the real world causes me to lean toward negativity and skepticism. So what is the Rx for living victoriously in the real world? God's Word!

The Bible consistently elevates my spirit and gets my thoughts out of the dumpster. I love the NLT. It's my new favorite translation. For example listen to Ephesians 4:30, "And do not bring sorrow to God's Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, He has identified you as His own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption." I read that and thought, "Guilty." If I walk down the path that leads to negativity and skepticism, I am bringing sorrow to His Holy Spirit. Why is that important? Because I'm identified with Him and if people see me that way then they may assume the same thing about Christ. Not only that, but He has guaranteed my ultimate salvation. Isn't that what we just sang about while we celebrated the cross and the empty tomb Sunday? God's Word turns me around and points me in the right direction. I worry less about my failures and the inconsistency of others and think more about His grace.

While we can't expect the crowds and excitement at church to equal Easter each and every Sunday, we can live in the hope that someday everyday will be a celebration! Until that day I'll keep turning to His Word for encouragement. (And looking forward to next Easter!)  

The Easter Bunny Ain't Leaving Alone!

Ok, so it has gone far enough folks. "PC" now officially stands for "plum crazy". We started this crazy train in the 60's with the prohibition of public prayer in the schools. Then we protected our kids from the Bible by not allowing it to be read or taught as a document of faith in the public school system. Then we changed Christmas and Easter vacations to winter and spring breaks respectively. (Come to think of it, changing Easter break to spring break wasn't such a bad idea after all. I would hate to think wet t-shirt contests and dancing half naked in Cancun were in any way associated with the Christian faith.) A few years ago cities became so concerned about offending some pagan family that they removed nativity scenes from the public square. So could it get any more absurd? Just read this news article from Ohio.

 MUNSON TWP., OH -- A community in northeast Ohio wants to take the word "Easter" out of this year's annual egg hunt. The White House is preparing for its annual Easter egg roll, a tradition dating back to 1878. However, trustees in Munson Township believe a government sponsored egg hunt should *not* include a religious holiday in it's name and have renamed their Easter weekend event to "The Spring Egg Hunt".

"It's traditionally been called an Easter egg hunt for years and years and people are little bit too touchy,"  resident Michelle Nelson said.
AAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!! (That represents me pulling out my hair and thinking words ministers should reserve for sermons where they can be said and not considered curse words.) Are you kidding me? There could be very little in this great wide world of ours that is more removed from the Christian faith than pink bunnies and plastic eggs. It was years before I could even consider it as a harmless kids activity. I probably wrote a passionate sermon condemning the Easter bunny to the flames of eternity somewhere in my not too distant past. Now he is too religious?

Alright, let's be fair about this. If we are going to give the Easter bunny the boot because he is too religious for our post-Christian society, then some other icons have to be abolished as well. What could be more religious than cupid at Valentines Day? How many precious souls have been scarred for life by the image of this heavenly creature on a card from some secret admirer. It's hard to get more religious than an angel. Unless it is the chief of all fallen angels. To be fair, if the Easter bunny goes; so does Satan. We can't have the devil running around on Halloween. That's religious symbolism and we can't have our kids exposed to any such thing. And Santa has got to go too. Doesn't the "PC" police know that Santa is just a derivation of the word saint. We can't have that; can we?

Let's be real. Our world is full of reminders of our faith. Those who try and shield our children's eyes from God's world have an awful big task on their hand. And who are they trying to fool. They know the truth; they just don't want to submit to an almighty God. Read Romans 1:19 - 20.

"They know the truth about God because He has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see His invisible qualities - His eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God."

The story in Ohio isn't all bad. It ended well. Why don't we all take a stand for our rights just as this home builder did in Ohio.

"Meanwhile, a Munson Township home builder has invested $600 to put the sponsorship in private hands ad the *Easter* back in the egg hunt."



Confessions of a Narrow Minded Pastor

Christian teachers often find themselves between a rock and a hard place. As I prepare for the most important messages of the year, Palm Sunday and Easter, I am reminded of this fact. The dilemma is to speak boldly of the unique place the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has in the salvation of mankind without being pious or self righteous. Why is this a struggle. Because there are good people who have either adopted another faith or have forsaken faith all together. These people often are more ethical and socially conscience than many Christians. They care about the sick, the poor, the homeless and outcast. They agree with the moral life of Jesus and even try to imitate His caring nature for those who are under the oppressive rule of others. They admire the life of Christ, but they don't want to consider the significance of His death. I will be speaking to many of these types of people over the course of the next two weeks.

Some of my peers have fallen to the temptation to make the exclusivity of Jesus more palatable to those who have chosen to deny the full gospel story. The desire to increase the audience who will listen to our message has caused some to broaden the message as well. Like the well known pastor who recently released his book "Love Wins". The conclusion you arrive after hearing him describe the purpose of the book is that God loves so profoundly that everyone ends up in heaven after all. May I confess here and now: I wish that were true. I have had too many friends who went on into eternity denying Christ. The problem with my well meaning sentiment is that it has no foundation in truth. The Bible, which is my only authority in spiritual matters, allows for no other way to heaven. It expressly claims that most people will deny this truth and follow other paths. So the question ultimately is this; "Is it more important to speak to as large an audience as possible or to speak the truth as narrow as it may seem?'  I have chosen the narrow message over the larger audience.

Here is a confirmation that I have chosen well. While considering the topic for this entry someone shared this story with me. A person asked one of our church members where they attended church. The member responded Dallas Bay. The person asking the question said they had tried Dallas Bay but found the pastor was too narrow. This person did not like that I claimed Jesus was the only way to heaven. It seemed that I was too intolerant of other faiths. So this person had stopped coming. The member responded that they felt the same way as me and the conversation was over. Here is the point. The member laughed this Sunday as they left. Walking out of the service was that person who said they could not attend because of my intolerance. I think people are really looking for someone to stand for something even if they don't agree. There is something attractive about conviction.    

 John 12:32 
32 And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”

See you Sunday. I will be presenting a message in a fashion most of you have never experienced. Pray with me that God will bless the message as well as the presentation.



Comments Restored

It's come to my attention that comments to "Out of the Box" haven't been showing up on the site. It's all my fault. I turned off comments from automatically being posted because of a couple of trouble makers. It seems that there are people out there who like to write profane things on faith based blogs just to offend. I didn't want to offend any of my readers with their language so I turned comments off. Well, I shouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water. 99% of comments are great. Some don't agree with my comments, but that's ok with me. As long as they are not profane I will publish them. So you may notice that a few recent comments have been restored to my site. Thanks for your understanding.

What Really Keeps Them Away?

Last week I was able to get away for a couple of days with some of my staff. I try to make an extended trip at least once a year with each of our ministers to build relationships and teamwork. I also like for us to go learn about ministry from others who are leading the way with innovation and creativity. I've been back a week and some things have had time to penetrate my thick skull. I came away with some good things as well as some I an worried about.

First of all, the good things. This mega church in Atlanta had great children's and middle school ministries. We sat through a presentation of the gospel to their kids and I was really impressed. Through visuals and plain talk the gospel was presented in such a way that children did not feel pressured. But they were given the full monty about sin, forgiveness and Christ's death and resurrection. For those kids who choose to accept Christ they throw a birthday party with cake, ice cream and balloons. They invite family and friends to church on a Sunday afternoon and play a video of their testimony. After the video the children are baptized. If it's done better anywhere, I haven't seen it.

Sadly, that was the only place I heard the gospel boldly proclaimed while we were there. Gone were any symbols of the Christian faith. Other than some artwork in the hallway, I failed to see a single cross in or around the area where we gathered. The worship leader, called a special program director (or something close to that), remarked that they never began the service with a song that mentioned blood. I had heard this before, but I thought it was just the rantings of some angry fundamentalist. It was actually a policy at this mega church. The pastor was not called a preacher. He was the PC. That stands for Primary Communicator. The ministers on staff were called managers and the assistants were all just employees. It was much closer to a Christian based organization than a church.

However, nothing got my attention more than this one statement made by the PC. He told us to remember, "Presentation always trumps content." Let that sink in for a moment. "Presentation always trumps content." When I first heard him say that I was a little taken back. No, let me change that, I was a lot taken back. I was waiting for him to add something like, "Of course, I realize the Holy Spirit can always use our weakness or poor presentation to bring supernatural power to our message." But no disclaimer was forthcoming. He even repeated his mantra, "Presentation always trumps content" several times during his talk. Let me say, if the content is the gospel, then the content is always more powerful than the presentation. After all, "it is the power of God unto salvation." Not my delivery. Now, that doesn't lessen my responsibility to make it understandable and interesting. It does not excuse my laziness when it comes to preparation. But I have been reminded time and time again that my poorest efforts at preaching have often brought about the greatest results. How can that be? Because it isn't about the messenger. It is all about the message.

I understood his reasoning for this statement and the other philosophies of toning down the religious environment of their surroundings. I understand, but I don't agree. He said they are trying to reach professionals in the Atlanta area that have never been in church and have preconceived notions of what church is like. I disagree. I don't disagree with his mission; just his assumptions. I don't believe non-believers stay away from church because of crosses or steeples. I don't think they are offended by songs that talk about blood. I think they are turned off by the Christians they meet away from the church. I don't think the grounds, buildings or worship styles of 21st century Christianity is nearly the roadblock to unbelievers finding Christ as 21st century Christians are. It is my contention that they would come if they found our faith really made a difference in our lives. Our inconsistency has more to do with the unwillingness of the un-churched to attend with us on Sundays than our music or our vocabulary.           

Just my humble opinion. I'm not all that smart. If I was maybe I would be a mega church pastor. Who knows?