Monday, July 16, 2018

Did God Really Say...?

This coming Sunday, July 22nd, we will begin a brief new series of messages entitled, Did God Really Say…?, in which we will examine a few common sayings that people think are in the Bible, but which are not. I am really excited about this series, as it will help us to distinguish between conventional wisdom, and the Truth of God’s unchanging Word in some key areas of life.

The genesis for this series is rooted in a study I did last year during my Sabbatical. During that time, I was able to spend an expanded period of study without the pressures of having to compose a sermon for the next week. Instead, I was able to go in-depth into the Scriptures, and from those notes, I have put together the four messages that will make up this new series.

For every subject we will study, there are countless other topics that could have been included, because there is a high degree of biblical illiteracy in our society. People possess just enough
“knowledge” to be dangerous. So, for example, many people have come to believe that money is the root of all evil or spare the rod, spoil the child are direct quotes from the Bible. They are not. But that won’t stop some of you from looking up those phrases to prove me wrong. :-) 

In any event, those are just two examples of the kind of statements that reveal our lack of knowledge and understanding of Scripture. We’ll touch on only four such subjects this time, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find a sequel sometime in the near future.

I hope you’ll join us over the next four weeks as we look at some other statements that people attribute, erroneously, to Scripture. We’ll start this week with the oft-repeated phrase: God Just Wants us to be Happy. Did God really say that? Join us on Sunday and find out.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Sutherland Springs, Texas

A shooting last year at a night club that catered to the homosexual community resulted in a tragic loss of life and was rightfully mourned by our nation. But it didn’t have a personal impact upon me, because I don’t frequent night clubs.

The shooting last month in Las Vegas at a country-music show was equally tragic. I paused to think of friends and family members who might attend such a venue from time to time, but again, it had minimal impact upon me.

And then there was a shooting at a close-knit Baptist church in a small Texas town. At last report, 26 people in that congregation, ranging in age from 18 months to 72 years, were killed. It included the Associate Pastor & his wife, and the teenage daughter of the Lead Pastor. Now this one hits close to home. Painfully close.

This is not a monologue on guns or mental health issues. These things need to be discussed in a rationale manner which might affect public policy. But that’s not where my thoughts take me today.

Today, I am considering how painful this event is for the survivors. For the family members. For the other church members. I cannot imagine suddenly and unexpectedly losing 26 members of my church family. I mourn every time one of our families moves away or decides to attend a different church. Let alone 26 such members. That’s just devastating.

Think about it. On a day we were celebrating 5 baptisms, singing songs of praise and contemplating what God’s Word has to say about our tendency to hide from God, our brothers and sisters in Christ 800 miles to our south were literally fighting for their lives. They had come to church to worship God and fellowship together. They had made plans for lunch after church. Some were looking forward to watching a few football games on TV. Some of them were planning on attending their kids’ soccer games.

And then a man—we can think of all sorts of adjectives to attach to that word (crazy, deranged, sinister, etc)—entered the church with evil intent, and carried out a massacre beyond our capacity to comprehend.

In the span of a few minutes, lives were taken, and those who survived would be forever changed. A place of worship became a place of sacrifice, the likes of which none of us can really imagine.

Much time and interest will be devoted to trying to figure out the motive for such a senseless killing. Maybe it was a domestic abuse situation on steroids. Maybe it was the result of untreated mental illness. But in the end, the shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas occurred for the same reason as the killings in Orlando and Las Vegas. It doesn’t really matter the race or nationality or religion of the perpetrator. It doesn’t matter his country of origin or his political agenda. These events—differing in time and distance—all stem from the same problem. Evil lurks in the hearts of men. They may have different “reasons” for the outpouring of hatred and malice, but ultimately they spring from hearts turned against God.

Our prayers rise upward on behalf of those affected by this tragedy. And they rise upward on our behalf. Because wherever we go, whatever we do, sin & evil are there. They may not manifest themselves in mass murder, but they permeate every aspect of our lives. And while honest people debate the wisdom of laws affecting guns or mental health issues, the answer—the solution—ultimately lies in Jesus Christ, and in Jesus Christ alone.

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:

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.