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July 2013 entries

A New Challenge

Last Sunday Dallas Bay celebrated 25 years of ministry. My family and I have been blessed to be a part of the last 24 years. God has been gracious enough to allow us to see the church grow from a mission of two dozen adults to nearly three thousand. The church has baptized nearly fourteen hundred believers in that same time frame. I have been privileged to see it grow from an acorn to a mighty oak.

Most parents who have had successful careers have something to leave to their children to carry on after they are gone. I am thankful to leave behind a lifetime of serving the Lord. However, I have never encouraged my boys to enter the ministry, especially at Dallas Bay. It's not that I would not be proud if they did, but if they are called to full time Christian ministry it will be from the Lord, not their earthly father.

So, wanting to provide for my children's future, I decided to open a business and and eventually leave it to my boys. The Lord has been good to me and I have always lived below my means, so I am able to financially become a small business owner. It has not taken away from my time as a pastor. I have spent my off days, after hours, and lunch-times getting the business ready to launch. My oldest son Adam has made most of the appointments and phone calls when I was not able.

Here's what I have found. As I have been working to get the business off the ground it has put me in places where I am confronted with what my members deal with everyday. As my role as pastor of a large church has become more involved and busy, I have found that I spend very little time with people who have no faith in Christ. I'm almost always around ministers or lay people; people who know the importance of faith and belonging to a community of faith. Lately, that has not been the case. You know how long it has been since someone felt comfortable to curse in front of me? Do you know how long it has been since a salesman has invited me out for drinks? Well not anymore.

I have a new respect for the pressure to conform every believer encounters as they face life everyday. It's easy to get isolated when you're a pastor. It becomes difficult to understand the pressure a Christian is constantly under to conform to the norm; to become a Sunday only believer. I understand better why Jesus spent more time around sinners than church people. He certainly loved His followers with every ounce of His being, but He loved the sinner no less. He knew if He were to isolate Himself from the unbeliving crowds He would not be able to empathize with their struggles. He spent tiime with them even when religious people ridiculed Him for it. Sometimes, even His own disciples did not understand His propensity to spend time with tax collectors and prostitutes. I feel His pain. I too have been criticized by some for venturing into entrepreneurship.

It is so easy to wrap our arms around one another and call plays in our holy huddles. It is much more painful to break the huddle and execute the play in the game. Sometimes we have to play through the pain and ignore the boos from those sitting in the stands. They may never experience the pain of being criticized or knocked down. But those who never leave the stands will never get the lift the trophy over their heads or hear "great game" from someone Who truly understands.           

Coming Soon to Your City: Church of Atheists

Pippa Evans and Sanderson Jones have recenly planted a church in London, England. Normally we would applaud their efforts in a city where Christianity has lost much of its influence in the last two centuries or so. But before you pronounce a hearty amen on their efforts you need to know that this is not a typical church. It is for atheists. Pippa and Sanderson determined non-believers needed a place to fellowship. Evans asked, "If church is going down in terms of attendance, how can we keep hold of these rituals that are a part of our lives."

The Sunday assembly is defined as "a friendly community gathering for like-minded people." The duo of atheists expected about 20 people at their first service. They had over 200. Their second gathering attracted more than 300.

The congregation sings songs by Queen and Stevie Wonder that express ideals of love and goodwill. There are messages advocating better living, helping others, and promoting a sense of wonderment. You may recognize these as Christian themes as well. The atheist church teaches these principles in a world devoid of God.

What does this mean for us who trust in God? One lesson is that people regardless of their faith, or lack of it, need to belong. They want a place of hope and trust. They need to know someone cares. These aren't just Christian values. They are basic human needs. Unfortunately, we often forget these basic human needs. We rush headlong to advance our doctrines while failing to love people like Christ. Don't misunderstand me. I believe doctrinal truth is imperative for the church to stay on track. However, Christ's first doctrines were to love God and to love our neighbor.

Nothing to worry about you say. The atheist church is just an anomoly. It will never catch on. Really? They are now streaming their services on YouTube. They have recently planted a church in America. Is it a far fetched idea that someday a missionary from their church may knock on your door and invite you to one of their services down the street from your home.

How can we respond? We can get back to loving people like Christ loves them. We can be reminded that people want to connect with purposes bigger than themselves. We can begin by attempting great things for God. A church full of atheists can do good to their fellow man, but their efforts cannot match the good done by a faithful group of Christ followers filled with the Spirit of God.     

The Hiddenness of God

Comfort. convenience, and ease are obstacles that block our ability to see God. 

Those to whom the hiddenness of God is a problem fail to see His evidence all around them. Those who have ready access to His Word, the Bible, or access to a legitimate church with authentic Christians, are most likely to say God is not real. In His church and through His Word, God has given ample evidence of His existence through the gifts He has bestowed on the free world and to those who are physically able to receive it. 

If a person is not physically able, or does not have the freedom to attend a church or read a Bible, God will reveal Himself to all those who seek after truth. Today, in the Middle East, the largest number of people who are coming to faith in Christ are receiving either dreams or visions of God. If the religious or political environment will not allow the penetration of the Gospel, then God will communicate in the world in which there are no such barriers; the realm of the Spirit.

I have heard those whose physical bodies are deteriorating because of age or disease testify that God's presence is very real to them as they continue to suffer. His strength becomes their only strength. As they walk deeper into the Valley of the Shadow of Death, His presence becomes more tangible. God will make His presence known according to our need. His supernatural presence will be manifest where either weakness or oppression limit His presence being known in other ways.

Which brings me to America on this Independence Day. God is hidden from many because they no longer seek Him or acknowledge His gifts to our country. If we attribute health only to medicine, knowledge only to science, and freedom to only man's insatiable desire to explore the unknown, then we have obscured His gifts with our humanity.

God is the author of all the things we have enjoyed in this country. To quote the Declaration of Independence, "They have been endowed by their Creator."  From freedom to prominence in the world, our success has been directly related to our willingness to acknowledge God as author of our many blessings. Now as we write Him out of history books, omit Him from education and politics; He is withdrawing His blessings from our land.

Is it any wonder that He has moved His personal revelation to places where His visible blessings are not as evident as here in the USA? He is doing miraculous things where His servants are under heavy burdens of oppression and tyranny. And here, where He has protected and blessed us for so long, His followers have lost their influence and their enthusiasm. He does not move in mighty and miraculous ways because His children defer to Him only after they have exhausted their political and financial mechanisms first. In other words, He is no longer visible because we stopped looking for Him.

Until we turn to Him first, Christian Americans will continue to hear of revivals in third world countries. We will read of His visions and dreams in dark and hostile lands. And perhaps we will mourn for those days when we too experienced God in real power and glory. Or perhaps not.