Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Politics & Preaching

Some people have asked me if I intend to preach a message about the upcoming election prior to November 6th.  The quick and easy answer is “no”. I have never preached politics from the pulpit. I have never, in my role as a minister of the Gospel, advocated the candidacy of any person for any public office. And while I believe the stakes are high and our votes are important, your decision should be based upon prayerful consideration and Biblical standards, not on what your pastor thinks or says.

My refusal to preach on politics is not based on a lack of interest in political issues. I have long found politics interesting (I was captivated by the televised Watergate hearings in the mid 70s—when I was a young teenager!). I have run for and served in public office. I closely follow politics, and I think that it is extremely important that we participate in the political process.

It also does not stem from a lack of opinions. Believe me, I have some very strong opinions on political issues. I read a great deal on the issues we face as a nation, and the truth be told, I probably think I know more than the average person about many of those issues. I used to find great enjoyment in debating the finer points of public policy with friends and adversaries.

And while I believe there are some areas of life where moral/Biblical issues overlap political issues, they are not always the same. Moral/Biblical issues remain constant, regardless of which political party is in power or whose political philosophy prevails. God’s Word is true whether in a democracy or a dictatorship. God’s Word is sure, no matter whether a nation adheres to a capitalist, socialist or communist economic model.

But as important as the political issues are that face our nation and our world, they pale in comparison to the spiritual issues that we face. The answer to poverty, prosperity or depravity will not be found in any political party’s platform. No politician will fix broken homes or mend broken hearts. The answer to our deepest, most serious needs is Jesus.

Week after week, I have the privilege of preaching  Jesus to more than 200 people who have come to hear the Word of the Lord. They are men looking for work. They are women struggling with loneliness. They are teenagers facing tremendous pressures to rebel against the values they’ve been taught. They are couples dealing with competing dreams and conflicting desires. They are parents trying to figure out when to pick their battles and where to draw the lines.

In all honesty, neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama will help them deal with most of the pressures they will face in life. They can’t pick up the phone to ask Mitt what to do or email Barack for suggestions as to how to proceed. But they can go to Jesus. They can pour out their hearts to a Savior who loves them so much that He clothed Himself in human flesh to dwell among them. A God who promises to never leave us or forsake us. A Lord who shows Himself to us through His Word.

I never have understood pastors who give up the pulpit for a role in the political world. It seems like a huge demotion to me. To go from leading people in a thriving relationship with Jesus to trying to make one sinner sound superior to another sinner in order to garner our votes—well, I just don’t understand it. While I’m glad for Christians who participate in the political process, I can’t see ever giving up the opportunity to preach God’s unsearchable riches to get down in the mud of partisan politics.

Anyone who knows me or who is acquainted with my ministry knows that I am not afraid to preach tough messages on issues that are addressed in Scripture. When God’s Word speaks to the sanctity of human life, the sacredness of marriage or our responsibilities to the poor and disadvantaged among us, I do not shy  away from preaching the Truth. And if God’s Word said “Thou shouldest vote for Obama” or “Thou shalt not cast your ballot in opposition to Romney”, then I’d preach that message with boldness and confidence.
But I will not pretend that God’s Word says something when it is silent. I will not try to manipulate God’s Word to justify my own political persuasion. And I will not take precious time to advocate for any man (or woman) when that takes away from the time for me to preach Jesus.

I challenge you, read your Bible—particularly the New Testament. Underline every phrase in which the writers advocated or opposed the political leaders of their day. In a time and place far more hostile to Christianity than our own, these men, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, refused to condone or condemn the politicians of their era. But they made much of Jesus.

We are blessed to live in a society where we get a voice as to who will be our political leaders. As good citizens, I think we should participate in the process. So, if I were to give you any advice at all about the upcoming election, it would be:
Know the issues. Study the various positions. Don’t form opinions based on knee-jerk reactions of the politicians or parties.
Study your Bible and seek God’s direction through His Word on the choices you have to make.
Pray about who you should vote for.
Pray for the candidates and their families.
Pray for God’s Will to be accomplished.
Vote. Election Day is Tuesday, November 6th. In Kansas, early voting has already begun. For more information, go to http://www.jocoelection.org/voters/Advancevoting.htm
Pray some more. Because while you can only vote once, you can pray without ceasing.

At the risk of taking Scripture out of context, let me close with this parting advice when it comes to your politics:   Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Friend Request

I have to admit that I’m not the biggest fan of Facebook. 

As much as you may think those pictures of your children playing with a bunch of cats are cute, I’ve been there and done that. I rarely take up people on their challenges to “repost” a clever saying or a heart-warming story, so I guess I don’t “really love Jesus”.  I’m as patriotic as anyone, but I don’t have to change my Facebook picture (it was hard enough finding one that would fit in that postage stamp-sized box without cutting off my head) to prove that I am proud to be an American.

Recently, I was chastised for failing to visit someone associated with our church in the hospital. When I talked to a family member about it, advising her that I didn’t know about the hospitalization, she replied, “Well, I posted it on Facebook.” Yeah, well, I’ll tweet you in the hospital and we’ll call it even.

I also grow a bit discouraged when I see status postings by people who claim to be Christ-followers, but who use the same foul language or crude humor as the world. I’ve taken to “hiding” most of those “friends”, because I hear enough of that talk in society—I don’t need to be confronted with it on my Facebook page.

And the closer we get to the election this fall, the more I dread reading everyone’s political commentary. If Facebook is any barometer, then Christians are no different than non-Christians in posting mean, ugly and even vulgar things about our national leaders. You can’t tell me that you pray for our President when you are at the same time posting vile and mean-spirited things about him. You won’t convince me that you take the Republican nominee to God’s throne of grace at the same time that you post demeaning and crude statements about him. If I read my Bible correctly, we are to show respect for our leaders, even when we strongly disagree with them.  I know, I know, why am I bringing the Bible into all this.

So by now you probably wonder why I have anything to do with Facebook. And sometimes I ask myself the same thing.  I’ve been tempted to just close my account. I have lots of other ways to waste time—that’s what Words with Friends is for, right?

But there are a few people that I really enjoy keeping up with via Facebook. There’s the guy I go to church with who posts things about his favorite college & pro football teams, and the only hope I have to change his mind (and maybe save his soul!) is through needling him on Facebook. There’s a young man I’ve known since he was born who is now in college, and I like to keep up with what he’s doing.

And lately, God has used Facebook to provide me some tremendous words of encouragement. One was from a man, about my age, who was in a church I pastored in Arkansas. It wasn’t the easiest pastorate, for a lot of reasons—including some of my own making—but he posted one day, “You were my favorite pastor ever.” While I always liked this man and his family (he obviously has good taste), I had no idea he felt that way about me.

And then recently a lady from that same church sent me a “friend request”.  I was surprised, because we weren’t particularly close when I was her pastor. But then she also sent me a direct message, telling me that I had made a difference in her heart and life. She cited a particular conversation we had in which I had provided counsel that she said helped her to come to terms with and resolve some issues she had been dealing with for a long time up to then. I haven't seen her in 15 years, but she shared this word of encouragement with me and blessed my soul. I never knew that I had ministered to her in any significant way, and I am incredibly grateful that she shared that with me.

So I’m going to keep my Facebook account. I won’t post many cute pictures. I won’t often challenge you to post or re-post something to prove you’re a true Christian. And you’ll likely not hear me comment much on politics. But I’ll still give my friend a hard time about his poor choices for sports teams, and I’ll keep up on what friends are doing. And I think I’ll even begin to make a concerted effort to let some people know how they have touched my life. If it blesses them as it has blessed me, they will be blessed indeed.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Monday Morning Perspective

I think I speak for a lot of pastors by saying that Mondays are often a bittersweet day.

On the one hand, we’re physically & emotionally exhausted from Sunday. I know all the jokes about how it must be nice to be a preacher because you only have to work one day a week. (At least I think they’re jokes!) But anyone who has ever preached the Word of God knows that it is a tremendous burden to proclaim the Holy Scriptures. I do so each Sunday with fear and trembling. And when my morning is over, I feel the pressures lifted for a few hours, before I have to begin preparing for another message just 7 days hence.

On the other hand, we are blessed so richly at Life Spring, that I normally look forward to coming in to the office on Monday to get a start on the next week. Dennis and I generally debrief on the previous day’s services—going over what went well and where we can improve the worship experience for our attendees. There are meetings to attend, phone calls to make, emails to handle and, and sometimes—before the day ends—I even get to spend some time in the Word.

But then there are some days like today. The day starts off well enough, but it very quickly goes downhill. It is at times like this that I am reminded that ministry sometimes requires us to get dirty. It cannot be accomplished from the ivory towers or from the sidelines. We’ve got to roll up our sleeves and immerse ourselves in a society filled with selfishness, greed, anger and a whole host of other sinfulness. And occasionally that society is very close to home.

The sermon I preach on Sunday needs to work for us—it needs to work for ME—on Monday. Especially Mondays like this. Because it is easy to grow discouraged. Because it is easy to question whether what we do is really worth anything. After all, we make no widgets. We sell no products. We cannot measure our success in terms of customers served or profits earned. We do not measure our worth in dollars and cents. And when it seems that the world is crashing down around us, it is easy to think that there must be other ways to live your life.

And then the phone rings. It’s from someone who attended Sunday’s service. “Thanks”, she says. “I needed to hear that message. It helps me to know I’m not alone.”

The email comes in—different from some of the other emails I’ve read today with spiteful comments and mean-spirited intentions. This one says, “I thought you’d be encouraged to see what my son posted on Facebook.” It included a Scripture quoted in Sunday’s sermon.

And then I turn to the Word for comfort. I know that I am not the first to have a rough patch, so I turn to the Psalms of David and read Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this; He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. (Psalm 37:5-7)

Through His people, through His Word and through His Spirit, God affirms and comforts. He reminds me, as He once had to remind Elijah, that I am not alone. There are many, many others who love the Lord, who cherish His church and who value His will. And I am blessed to be among them.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Time For Change

This Sunday (May 27) marks a big change in our ministry at Life Spring. Barring unforeseen circumstances, this is the last time that we will worship in just one service on our Spring Hill Campus at 10:15. For almost 6 years, we’ve met each Sunday at 10:15 for worship & the study of God’s Word (except for snow days or special services). But as our congregation has experienced significant growth since moving into our new facilities last Fall, it is time for us to add a second service to accommodate our new worshipers. Starting June 3rd, we’ll have Worship Services at 8:00 & 10:45, and Bible Study Classes at 9:30.

While this will significantly change the way we worship and serve, it is really a good thing, and our people seem to understand this. We realize that it will stretch our resources. We know that it means that we might not always get to worship with our friends or family. For many people, it will mean being at church for almost 5 hours on Sunday mornings.

But I’ve heard no negative feedback. That’s not to say that everyone is happy about it, but I think everyone “gets it”. We see what God is doing in so many lives, and we are excited to be a part of it.

I’ve been in church all my life. I’ve served in all kinds of volunteer positions—youth director, Sunday School superintendant, Children’s Church Director, Missions Treasurer, Adult Bible Fellowship teacher, Elder, and for most of the past 20 years, Pastor. I’ve been in small churches—averaging fewer than 100 in attendance—as well as large churches running 1500 or more on Sundays. But I have never been privileged to be a part of a movement in which God is so clearly and unmistakably at work.

It’s not just numbers, though it is gratifying to see new people walk through our doors every week. But it is the stories of the ways that God is moving in the hearts and lives of people who desperately want to walk in an intimate way with the Master. It is people confessing their sins and accepting Christ as Savior. It is people who have strayed from the Truth who seek to return to the Father. It is men desiring to be Godly husbands and women wanting to become more deeply immersed in God’s Word. It is young people willing to take a stand for righteousness even though that puts them at odds with their peers. It is families committed to putting God first.

We’ve experienced some rough patches as a young church, and we’ll experience more. But I sure am enjoying this season of life where God’s people willingly submit to His Word and anxiously seek out His will. I am thrilled to be the Pastor at Life Spring, and I can’t wait to see what He’ll do next with us and in us and for us and through us. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

I'm Kind of Homesick

Today is the third Sunday in a row that I have not worshiped with my home church. I’m not sick, and I’m not mad at anyone (and as far as I know, no one is mad at me)—I’m on Sabbatical. In fact, I’m at about the half-way point of my 5 weeks away from Life Spring.

As I write this, I am in the part of the Sabbatical focused on personal spiritual renewal. I have spent most of the past two days sitting in a screened-in porch at a condo in Branson. I’m not taking in any shows, and other than walking around this beautiful property a couple of times, I haven’t ventured far from the condo.

I’ve read a couple of books, and I’ve spent several hours listening to sermons. I’m going to do some sermon planning for the rest of year, but mostly I’m trying to focus on hearing from God through His Word and through prayer, eliminating as many distractions as possible.

As much as I feel I am benefitting from this time away, I have to say that it is really hard to be away from my church family for this long. Each of the past three Sundays, I’ve looked at my watch all morning long. Around 8:30, I think “This is about the time I’d be arriving at church.” Then around 9:00 I’ll say, “It’s time for Sunday School.” I’ll start praying for the services—for Pastor Dennis as he leads the worship and those men who are filling in for me—as it gets closer to 10:00. I just can’t get Life Spring off my mind.

I’ve enjoyed some incredible times of worship in other venues, getting to visit three churches that I have long wanted to visit, including Grace Community Church, where John MacArthur pastors; Shadow Mountain Community Church, the home of David Jermiah; and Saddleback’s Lake Forest campus. I’ve heard some great preaching, both live & online. But nothing compares with worshiping & fellowshipping with the people I have come to know and love so dearly.

Frankly, I don’t know why anyone would ever voluntarily absent themselves from church on a continual basis. Some people go weeks—even months—without gracing the doors of a church. I feel sorry for them. Not only because that is a sign of some deeper spiritual issues, but because it must contribute to a sense of loneliness and isolation. No matter how many friends you have or how active your social life is, being a part of a vibrant and thriving Church of the living God is as good as it gets.

I am getting some much needed rest. I am connecting with God on a real and intimate level. I am doing some long range planning that I simply wouldn’t have the time or energy to do if I were home with the everyday pressures of ministry facing me. I am trying to take advantage of this time away to prepare my heart to be a better pastor and teacher when I return.

But while I am away, I am missing my church family and praying for them. And I am looking forward to being back with them very soon.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Happy Leap Day

Well, it’s over. You plan for it for months. You do the decorating and the shopping and the baking, and almost before it starts, it’s over. Now, we’ll suffer the blues as we wait for next time.

Yes, I’m talking about Leap Day.

It only happens once every four years. And unlike Presidential election day, this day doesn’t bombard you with negative commercials or unrealistic promises.

In fact, if you’re not careful, you’ll miss it altogether. One day it’s February 28, and the next it’s March 1. But once every four years, in a magical—perhaps mystical—manner, we are blessed with one more day in our year. 24 more hours.1440 more minutes. I hope you used them wisely.

Also known as an intercalary year, a leap year contains one additional day so that our calendar year remains properly synchronized with the astronomical or seasonal year. But I bet you already knew that.

Now maybe Leap Day doesn’t seem like that big a deal to you, but to some people, it ranks right up there with the best of the special days—like “Take Your Daughter to Work Day”. If you were born on February 29, then it is a very big day, because your birthday only rolls around once every four years. That’s a bummer when you’re younger, but by the time you hit 40 (or “10” as Leaplings like to say), it’s not a bad deal.

Although it is commonly said that leap years occur every four years (I’ve said it at least twice already!), that’s technically not true. A Leap Year occurs in a year whose date is exactly divisible by 4 except those that are divisible by 100 but not 400. Got that? It’s not as easy as you thought, now is it? That’s why we have Wikipedia.

Throughout history, people have come up with some crazy ideas associated with Leap Years. For example, folk lore was that children born on Leap Day had a rebellious streak or could be hard to raise. Well, if you only got a birthday card, cake and gifts every 4 years, you might develop a stubborn streak too.

Farmers believed that beans and peas planted in a Leap Year would grow the wrong way—whatever that means. And in Scotland they used to say, “A Leap Year is never a good Sheep Year”. I hate it when we have bad sheep years.

Perhaps the best known “tradition” associated with Leap Year is that February 29th is the day that women can ask men to marry them. Of course, modern women-folk have no respect for the traditions of the elders (like cleaning house and cooking supper), so today you’ll find loose-women asking men to marry them just about any day of the year. But for those who know their place, they’ll confine their marriage proposals to the proper time.

I started this blog entry on February 29th, but I took too long to finish it, and now it’s March 1st. Well, there’s a lesson there somewhere, but I’ve started my Sabbatical, so I’ll have to wait a while to see what it was. Maybe I’ll come up with something before the Ides of March.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Lies Christians Believe

Wow! I just realized that it has been a really LOOOONG time since I blogged. It is crazy how busy the last few months have been. Crazy in a good way, I mean. We moved into our new building, celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas in our new church home and now it's a new year. Before long we'll be planning our Easter services and getting ready for Memorial Day!

I recently read an article where the author shared "The Top 5 Lies Too Many Christians Believe". I found it an interesting perspective. Though I'm not sure I agree with her list, it got me thinking about the things I would include on such a list. As I try to get back in the swing of things, here's my go at it:

1. Church is unnecessary.
A lot of people who have made professions of faith seem to have little regard for the church of Jesus Christ. They'll use any excuse at their disposal to miss services. Company is coming. Got the sniffles. Kids' extracurricular activities. I even heard one parent say that she "punished" her kids by not letting them come to church.

The Bible calls the church the "body" of Christ and the "bride" of Christ. We're told that Jesus gets glory "through the church". It seems like the church is pretty important to God, so if we love Him and desire to follow Him, it should be pretty important to us, too.

2. A Christian just needs to be "good" and act "nice".
Christians certainly should seek to live moral lives, and we should be nice to others, but that is not the sum total of being a Christian. We'll never please God simply through our external behavior. It is by faith alone in Christ alone that we enter a right relationship with God. Once we have accepted Jesus as our Savior, and as we allow Him to live through us, we will be "good" and "nice" in a way we never could in our own strength alone.

3. We should expect unbelievers to behave like Christians.
Why is it that Christians are often so offended when unbelievers lie, cheat, cuss, lose their tempers and in many other ways act like...unbelievers? Why in the world would we ever expect non-Christians to live like Christians? We need to be much quicker to show grace to those who have never trusted Christ as their Savior. After all, consider how hard it is for us as believers to act righteously, and WE have the Holy Spirit living in us.

4. We should leave the teaching of Scripture to Pastors & Ministers.
I count it a real privilege to preach and teach God's Word to the Life Spring congregation. But it is not my privilege or responsibility to do it alone. God has not entrusted His precious Word to just a few special people. He has made it available to all who will listen with their ears and see with their eyes.

We're really blessed at Life Spring to have a number of gifted teachers, and we should take full advantage of the opportunities to study the Bible with them.

5. My spiritual life has nothing to do with my "real" life.
Maybe this should be the #1 lie, because it is really the root of the others. When we begin to separate our "spiritual life" from our "real life", we make it incredibly easy to live in disobedience and rebellion towards God. When we fail to draw a connection between what we experience on Sunday morning and what happens the rest of the week, we end up living lives of hypocrisy and duplicity.

I'm not sure these are really the "top 5 lies", but they certainly are prevalent among many who claim Christ as their Savior. Let's be quick to look at our own lives and ask God to reveal areas where we might be buying into such lies. After all, there really is no deception as dangerous as self-deception.