Tuesday, April 25, 2017

25 Years & Counting


25 years. The “Silver Anniversary”. Quarter of a century. A Quadranscentennial. 

That’s how long I’ve been in pastoral ministry come next month. 

It doesn’t seem possible that it was 25 years ago that I loaded up my wife and 18 month old daughter in a U-Haul making our way to England, Arkansas to begin my first pastorate at County Line Missionary Baptist Church. It was a relatively small church, literally in the middle of the cotton fields. It was made up of folks who knew the meaning of a hard day’s work. Truck drivers and farmers and laborers and teachers. They loved the Lord. They loved each other. And they loved on us. From the moment the U-Haul arrived in town, they helped us get settled and made us feel at home. They somehow came to accept a city-slicker like me, who had trouble distinguishing a tractor from a combine.

It was the perfect place for a young man who had never pastored before and who was starting his seminary education a few months later. They let me make mistakes. They gave me gentle guidance and firm direction. They modeled the love of Christ in as genuine and authentic a way as any church I’ve ever known. Best of all, they loved Kim & Kacie in a way that helped us make the transition pretty smoothly. I learned much more in the 3 years I was their pastor than in all the classes and seminars of my seminary education. 

From there we moved about 30 miles south to White Hall, Arkansas, just outside of Pine Bluff. Bethany  Missionary Baptist Church was a larger church, and it was my first experience as the Senior Pastor of a church with a staff. I will always cherish my pastorate at Bethany, in large part because it allowed me to be a co-laborer with my long-time friend, who was their Worship Pastor when I went there. I was Best Man in Bill’s wedding in the early 80’s and he was my Best Man in my 1989 wedding. Bill is probably the most authentic & Godly man I know, committed to living out his faith in a sincere manner. We made some great friends at Bethany, and they helped to instill in me an even deeper affection for the truth of God’s Word.


When we returned to Overland Park in 1997, we thought the Lord was leading us to help with a new church plant in Overland Park, one sponsored by the church we had just left in Arkansas. We started helping there, but before long the Lord led us back to our old home church, which had been without a pastor for a few months. Through an interesting and unexpected series of events, I agreed to serve as Pastor of Landmark Missionary Baptist Church, leading them through a time of transition and relocation from KCK to Bonner Springs. During the time I served as their pastor, I also worked a full-time job. After 5 years, and having led in the construction of new facilities, I found myself with nothing more to give. Leaving that congregation of dear friends was painful. I’d known most of those folks for more than 20 years. It was in that church that Kim & I had been married, and it was in that church that I was privileged to baptize Kacie. But we knew that the time had come for us to move on.

When we left Landmark, I thought my service as a pastor was over, but I still possessed a heart for ministry. After the Lord led us to Olathe Bible Church, I was blessed to be given an opportunity to teach an Adult Bible Fellowship on Sunday mornings. Teaching that class remains one of the greatest blessings of my ministry, at any level. In the three years I taught The Connecting Point, we grew from a class of about 20 people to more than 70 in attendance each week. It was a multi-generational class, and we loved to study the Word of God together. We still count some of those folks among our dearest friends. 

In 2005, we began to talk about the possibility of my going on staff at OBC as a campus pastor. OBC has a real heart for church-planting, and had already planted two churches in suburban Johnson County. They were looking at beginning a new church plant, and had settled on Spring Hill, on the Johnson County-Miami County border. Over a period of months of prayerful consideration, I accepted the call to pastor the Spring Hill Church Plant. I joined the OBC staff as a full time pastor in June, 2006, and we began holding services in Spring Hill that fall at Life Spring Church. 

The rest, as they say, is history. It’s been an incredible journey that has spanned more than 10 years. This is the longest tenure of my 25 year pastorate, and it has been amazing to see God work in the hearts and lives of this church and this community. This experience has stretched my faith beyond anything that I ever imagined. From meeting in a school building, to purchasing land, to buying a shopping center that housed a grocery store and remodeling it to be a church campus. We began running the community food pantry a few years ago. We’re known as the church that “hands out water bottles” in the Fall Festival parade every September.  

The one thing that this journey has taught me is to be open to where God is leading—and don’t ever think you know where He will lead you next. I never thought I’d be a pastor. When I did surrender to the ministry, I never thought I’d move to Arkansas. Once we moved to Arkansas, I never thought we’d come back to Kansas City, and certainly not to our home church in KCK. When I left Landmark, I never thought I’d pastor again. And I’d even say that I never thought we’d move to Spring Hill, but honestly, I didn’t know anything about Spring Hill until we considered the call to minister here.

So much has changed in 25 years. Different cities. Different states. Different churches. Different people. Most have been wonderful, Godly, loving people. Some have been…less wonderful. But I think I’ve learned something from all of them. 

Kacie has gone from an 18 month old toddler to a beautiful young married woman. Her husband, Andrew, is a great young man whom we didn’t even know a few years ago, and he has become a valued part of our family. Kim is a help-mate in every sense of the word—my partner in love, in ministry and in life. Over these years, I’ve put on a few pounds and shed a few hairs. 

But the one constant: a God who is the same yesterday, today and forever. He has always been faithful, even when I have not. He has led us through times of abundance and through times of struggle. He has comforted us through dark and difficult days, and He has blessed us beyond anything we could think or imagine. 

I don’t know what the future holds. Will I be around for 25 more years? If I am, will I still be a pastor? Will I still be in Spring Hill? Will I have any hair left at all? 

I don’t know the future. But I know who does know the future. He has led me throughout my life, and particularly throughout my ministry. He’s seen me through all these years. I think I’ll trust Him to see me through to the end. And I’ll do it with a sense of wonder—what will He do next?

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Patriotic Christians

This past Sunday, we had a man leave in the middle of Services because he disagreed with our reciting the Pledge of Allegiance during our Worship Service on the Sunday before Independence Day. He didn’t speak to me on this occasion, although he has previously expressed his concerns on this issue to me and to others.

One of his primary arguments is that we shouldn’t recite the Pledge or participate in other patriotic displays because of the separation of church and state. That’s a pretty weighty issue on which there are a wide variety of learned opinions. But even if you concede that the separation of church and state is a legitimate issue, here’s the thing: the restriction is on the state, not on the church. The state (i.e. the federal government) is in fact prohibited from making laws respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. It’s right there in the 1st Amendment. Clear as day.

Again, honest people will disagree on how to interpret it, but there is no honest disagreement on this salient point—the 1st Amendment regulates the government, not the church. The church is free to participate as much or as little in the promotion of the state as it desires.

I consider myself a very patriotic person. I love my country and feel incredibly blessed to have been put here by God. That’s true regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans wield power. That’s true no matter whether conservatives or liberals are in charge. I am not always proud of the things our government does, but I am proud to be an American, where (to steal the words of the song) at least I know I’m free.

It might surprise some people to know, however, that I do struggle with how far we should go in the church in our patriotic zeal. I think we have to be careful not to confuse being an American with being a Christian. They are not the same thing. I think we have to avoid thinking that the blessings God has promised to believers apply across the board to our nation, because they don’t.

So we do have to be cautious in aligning ourselves in the church with the state. Even a cursory review of Church History makes this very clear: whenever the church and the state get too closely tied together, the church inevitably loses. Every time.

That’s why the focus in our Worship Services—on Independence Day, Flag Day, Veteran’s Day or any other day is on Jesus. We may honor our nation, but we worship our Lord. We may recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but our loyalty is always first and foremost to our God.

In the same Service in which we have one man walk out because of the Pledge of Allegiance, we may have others who are upset because we didn’t go further in recognition of Independence Day. We didn’t sing God Bless America or The Battle Hymn of the Republic. The Sermon was not explicitly a patriotic sermon.


And that’s OK. Honest people can and will disagree on such issues. But as long as I am privileged to pastor Life Spring Church, we will do our best to achieve a balance in which Jesus Christ remains preeminent.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Tragedy in Orlando


            On Sunday we woke up to the tragic news of another mass shooting. While merely one of dozens of such tragedies in recent years, this one was different, in some ways.

            For one thing, it was the deadliest mass shooting in the nation’s history, with 49 innocent victims plus the shooter dying by gunfire. 53 more people were injured, but as of the time of this writing, the hope is that the death toll will not rise.

            Another difference is that this one involved a bar that catered to the homosexual community.

            It was classified a “hate crime” because it was directed at a certain segment of society, though I suspect that most mass killings are motivated largely by hate.

            It was classified an act of terror, because reports suggest that the killer had been radicalized by association with one or more terrorist groups which, while often in conflict with one another, share one overarching commonality—they hate America.

            But in the end, this one was pretty much like all the others. More sons and daughters perished. More friends died. More neighbors wouldn’t return home at the end of the day. More police, EMTs and first responders put their lives on the line for complete strangers once again

            What, some have asked, is the proper Christian response to this horrific tragedy? The fact that the question is posed at all is sad. It is a testimony to how polarized we are, not only as a nation, but as a community of believers who profess that Jesus is our Savior and Lord.

            The proper response? Sadness. Grief. Mourning. In Old Testament times, such a tragedy would have led people to “rend their clothes” and to clothe themselves in sackcloth and ashes.

            The proper response? Outrage. How dare someone, for whatever reason, harbor such hatred and malice so as to unilaterally decide that some human lives aren’t worth living.

            Let me be clear. The homosexual lifestyle is sinful in the eyes of God. But those of us who hold to the Scriptural teaching regarding homosexuality should not in any way view this criminal act as just or right or acceptable. To do so is to deny that our God is a God of grace and mercy.

            I do not hate the homosexual. I hate the sin.

            I do not hate the adulterer. Or the alcoholic. Or the liar, cheater or thief.

            I cannot hate them, because I am a sinner just like them. I don’t think that they should be attacked for their sin any more than I should be attacked for mine. I do not believe that they should be ostracized from society or banned from the culture.

            That’s true of most Christians I know. We are capable of complex thoughts, attitudes and beliefs. We are capable of believing something is sin just because God’s Word declares it so, while at the same time being able to associate with and minister to those who practice such sin.

There are some on the fringes of Christianity who have gloried in this tragedy. They use vile and vulgar terminology that adds nothing to the public discourse. They hold hateful and spiteful attitudes that call into question the legitimacy of their relationship with the Christ of Scriptures. They do not represent the heart of Christianity and should not be elevated to such status in the public eye.

            My heart breaks for the men and women who lost loved ones in this affair. I grieve for my country because of this attack on us. I mourn for the Orlando community as they struggle to deal with this senseless tragedy.

My condolences are not inauthentic nor my sorrow disingenuous because of my understanding of right and wrong based on the teaching of the Bible. I do not apologize for my beliefs nor do I yield my right to express sadness in times of such sorrow. I condemn those who would use this attack as an excuse to score political or theological points. And the comfort I draw in a time like this is that the God of the Bible is still on the throne, and the hope—the only hope—we have is in Him.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Disturbing Development!

About this time every two years, I am asked if I am going to preach on issues surrounding the upcoming election. Will I speak out on presidential, gubernatorial or legislative campaigns?  Will I share my opinions on the hot-button issues of the day?  The short answer is “no”.

I do not share the perspective of many of my pastor-brethren that the pulpit should be used to promote politicians or political parties.  Week-in and week-out, I’m given about 40 minutes to address the people at Life Spring, and I don’t really want to waste it sharing talking points published by politicians.  I won’t shy away from preaching tough sermons on issues rooted in Scripture, but I won’t try to make a political speech using the Bible as cover.  I’d much rather talk about Jesus.

Over the years, there have been numerous warnings of dire consequences that Christians and churches in America would experience as our nation becomes less tolerant of the beliefs and practices of people of deeply held faith.  I must admit that I have largely dismissed many of these concerns, chalking them up to a “chicken little” mentality that exists among many conservative evangelicals. For many of these folks, the sky is always falling.  I have believed—and I still believe to a large extent—that we focus too much on the temporal to the exclusion of the eternal.

But a recent event has sent shivers up my spine, and it should be a cause of concern among all Americans, regardless of religious affiliation or political persuasion.  Recently, the City of Houston subpoenaed several pastors’ emails, texts and other communications—including sermons—that dealt with gender identity, homosexuality and comments regarding Houston’s first lesbian mayor, in connection with a recently passed Houston city ordinance.

My primary concern is not with the ordinance or the efforts to put that ordinance to a public vote—that is a completely different issue. You can read more about that matter on several news sites, including at:    http://www.chron.com/default/article/City-subpoenas-pastors-sermons-in-equal-rights-5822403.php

My great concern is with a governmental entity issuing a broad directive to provide notes and sermon manuscripts or outlines for some government official to review. What is the purpose of such a review? How would such material be used by the government?

Don’t get me wrong. I’d be happy to send a few dozen sermons to the Mayor of Houston, with prayers that they would be read and considered for their effect upon her relationship with God. I’d love for her to come to know Christ and to turn from sin and wickedness.

But I don’t think that the purpose of such a review is for them to prayerfully consider their ways. The idea of the government—at any level—having the ability to randomly and arbitrarily secure the notes, sermons and correspondence of pastors is extremely troubling. Is government now going to put itself in the place as an arbiter as to what can and cannot be said from the pulpits in our churches? Will they decide what is acceptable and unacceptable theology?

There has been a strong public backlash against this governmental intrusion, even by many sympathetic to liberal politics and causes. I hope that this translates into an immediate effort to stop trying to intimidate pastors and churches from speaking out on Biblical teaching—however unpopular or politically incorrect it may be.

But we who take our faith seriously must constantly be on guard, and we must make our voices known. Because whether we admit it or not, maybe the sky really is falling.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Because He Lives

The emphasis at the outset of Holy Week is generally on the outpouring of support that Jesus received from the Jewish people as they contemplated the Messiah’s overthrow of the oppressive and corrupt Roman government. Although we know how quickly that support turned on Jesus, those images of palm fronds lining the road to Jerusalem are the enduring image of what we call “Palm Sunday”.


However, in our community, Palm Sunday turned dark this year as the forces of evil reigned ugliness and violence on a couple of Jewish centers in neighboring Overland Park. Three people are dead, including a teenage boy, and the entire Kansas City area is experiencing a collective sense of deep sorrow.


Although it’s early in the investigation and things are sure to change as more information becomes available, it appears that the motivation for this senseless violence was the irrational hatred of the Jewish race, something neither novel nor isolated.


But even as our hearts are heavy for those directly affected by this violence, we are reminded that at its core, Easter is all about such dark & sinful hearts. And while we may not have fired shots at innocent people or openly spewed such hatred for our fellow man, we too are guilty of sins for which Jesus had to die. It is every bit as much our spiteful thoughts, our jealousy & envy, our arrogance, selfishness and stubbornness that nailed Jesus to that cross.

It is because we all fall short of God’s standards of righteousness that we need a Savior. Not to make our tax system fairer or our healthcare system more just, but to pay the price for our sins and to endure the very wrath of God on our behalf.


So even as our celebration of our Savior’s victory over sin, death & the grave is tempered a bit by our grief for our fellow man, it should also be heightened by the reminder that such hatred and ugliness will not gain the ultimate victory. The love, grace & mercy of God will reign, and it is this hope that enables us to glorify God through our tears and to exalt His Holy Name despite our heavy hearts.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

National Tell a Fairy Tale Day

I just learned that today, February 26, is National Tell a Fairy Tale Day. It's also National Pistachio Day, but I don't know enough about pistachios to blog about them.


I love fairy tales. Some of my favorite stories begin, Once Upon a Time...


Whether it's Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs or some other story, they are generally fun and harmless.


Unfortunately, there are a lot of fairy tales being told these days that are far more serious and sinister. Here are just a few that are quite popular.


There's the one that says that people can disobey the Word of God and disregard the Word of God with impunity. Those who believe this fairy tale believe that we can thumb our noses at God and do whatever we want without paying a price. Now, that's a hoot!


Then there are several variations of this one: There is no absolute right or wrong. AKA All beliefs are equally valid. OR We're all headed in the same direction. OR There's no way to be certain what God really meant when He gave us His Word.  They're all good!


There's the one about how if our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds at the end of this life, we'll be right with God.  How about that--"good" deeds in the sight of a holy and righteous God--PRICELESS!


There's also one that says that our relationship with God depends on us (e.g. our church membership, our works, our baptism).  Where do they come up with these things???


Although I share these with you with a certain level of sarcasm, it's not really very funny. Because as opposed to stories about wicked witches or big bad wolves, these fairy tales are believed by lots of people to their detriment. They would prefer to believe a lie than to believe the truth as contained in Holy Scripture.


So, enjoy National Tell a Fairy Tale Day, but don't believe everything you hear!

Monday, January 6, 2014

New Year's Resolutions


As 2014 began anew,
I resolved to change a thing or two.
Improve some things, some changes make.
All for a Happy New Year’s sake.

I’d start by losing unwanted weight,
Perhaps 4 pounds—or 6 or 8.
But then a thought I began to probe:
Less weight would mean a new wardrobe.
Think of all the money I’d spend.
I’d end up broke—though I’d be thin!

So then I decided to exercise.
Firm up my abs, my arms, my thighs.
Lift weights or jog or mountain climb.
“Oh no”, I thought, “I don’t have the time.”
For I am busy; I must admit,
Eventually exercise I’d quit.

And then, although I knew it was funny,
My thoughts turned to the way I handle my money.
“This year”, I declared, “I’ll watch what I spend. 
I’ll live on a budget.” But then, in the end,
I knew it wouldn’t work—it would just be too hard.
To be honest with you, I love MasterCard.

I considered many others changes to try,
Things that would help the New Year to go by.
But nothing I thought of sounded much fun.
So, for a resolution, I’ll stick with just one.

To do nothing this year—neither too bold nor too tame.

In 2014, I’ll just stay the same.