Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Scripture as Travel Agent and Tour Guide

When I decided to become a committed follower of Jesus someone told me, "If you want to mature in your faith you need to read the Bible." So, I started to read.

I had an uncontrollable desire to devour the Word. I needed the Word like a "drunk" needs a drink. I wanted the Word to get inside of me. I found Scripture to be more compelling than ever. It was like fire in my bones.

But, I quickly ran into a problem. No one had ever taught me how to read the Bible. They only told me to read. The first few months, I found myself reading to defend church practices and traditions. My parents didn't teach me to approach Scripture in such a way; I guess it was just part of the church culture I grew up in or something like that.

This defensive approach didn't last very long. It wasn't very fun for me. I didn't have the time or energy to waste on things like lifting hands, worship styles, instrumental music or how to "do" church right. I found it to be strange how we had defended certain practices/traditions with verses that actually had nothing to do with the subject we were defending. Does Ephesians 5:19 really defend accapella music? Does Acts 20:7 really mean that if we don't take communion on a Sunday, we sin?

I began to learn a very important truth that has stuck with me for years now--how we read the Bible is just as important as what we read.

You can take the approach of reading the Bible for information only, but this approach will leave you arrogant. It's not appealing to me.
The approach of reading the Bible as a means to load up the arsenal to defend a set belief system is taken by many, but this will leave you spiritually unhealthy and relationally unfriendly.
You can read Scripture as history, but you will become like a gnostic whose spiritually is distant from a God who has chosen to invade every generation with His presence and power.

I hear a lot of stats on how our younger people are biblically illiterate, and there is much truth to these stats. Honestly, (some of you aren't going to like this) I think the reason that many of our younger folks (40 and under) don't read the Bible much is because they don't like the way they've heard the Bible read by their parents, Sunday school teachers, or preachers growing up.

Scripture can be interpreted as a Travel Agent, whose purpose is to point you to a destination. They make the plans and then send you on your way.

Or, Scripture can be read as a Tour Guide, whose purpose is to lead you on a journey while teaching you about life.

Surely there is the place for the Travel Agent, but right now in my life I choose to engage Scripture as a Tour Guide. I need the Word of God to teach me about life. To release me from bondage. To act in formational ways. To perform in ways that declare that the Word is still alive. And, ultimately, to invite me into this glorious story.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

ACU Summit

I was in a mentoring group a few years ago with Jack Reese, the Dean of the Bible Department at ACU. They had just hired Brady Bryce as the Director of Ministry Events, which meant that Brady would be the visionary and director of ACU Lectures. During the interviewing process, Jack said that Brady and his wife Donna expressed concern over "leaving ministry." Jack responded by saying, "Brady, we don't want you to leave ministry. We want you make this your ministry."

With that said, Brady is an exceptional minister who just happens to be the Director of Ministry Events at ACU. The vision and direction he has brought to ACU Lectures, now called ACU Summit, is outstanding.

I was honored to be a participant and a recipient of this incredible event last week. Two of my favorite people in the world, Mike Cope and Josh Graves, keynoted and were phenomenal.

In my opinion, ACU Summit is one of the best events in the Churches of Christ.

I was able to connect with a number of people who have influenced my life in incredible ways: Troy Robertson, Kevin and Sarah Campbell, Josh Graves, Luke Norsworthy, Wade Hodges, Randy Harris, Rick Atchley, Chris Seidman, Barry and Collin Packer, Chris Fields, Josh Kasinger, Lauren Cunningham, Garrett Sublette, Mike & Diane & Chris Cope, and Aaron Metcalf. I might have left off someone, but there was a lot of connecting and it was awesome.

I had the privilege of preaching at Highland Church of Christ. It felt like home. I preached in front of friends, mentors, and professors. This church nurtured us early on in our marriage and they taught me how to be a Spirit-led minister who isn't afraid to take risks for Jesus.

My trip to Abilene was refreshing in so many ways, but I missed the SVC family and I am eager to preach the word tomorrow.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Back in Memphis

I'll have more to write about ACU Summit and my trip to Abilene later.

I'm preaching on spiritual disciplines this week and I'm curious, what are the disciplines/practices that sustain you in your faith journey?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Guilty of Compassion?

I will never forget the event that occurred one night before a football game when I was a freshman in high school. My 3 best friends and I would gather at a home for a healthy pre-game meal which consisted of Jack in the Box cheeseburgers with curly fries and a large Dr. Pepper…just the right about of protein and carbs to boost the energy level.
We were sitting in the kitchen of a house. Three of us looked like freshman…we had about 18 hairs on our sideburns and chins and we let them grow out as if it made us look more manly. The other friend looked as if he had been shaving since kindergarten. The guy was huge. While three of us still had squeaky voices; the other one was basically getting into rated R movies without them checking ID.
This one day, a verbal spat began between one friend and our manly friend. Their disagreement turned into raised voices and sarcastic outbursts and finally the biggest friend stood up and pushed the other friend into the stove with his head hitting the built in microwave. The two of us who were spectators just sat there stunned. Then, in his low voice he said, “If you say something else, you’re going to get a smack-down.” (That’s the G-rated version of what he really said). The other friend, still holding his head from the collision with the microwave opened his mouth after being warned and said, “That’s real cool. You’re a real friend.”
That’s all my big-buddy needed. He stood up and began to swing. Punch after punch after punch. My other friend turned and covered his head with both arms as his body received blow after blow from the fists of an oversized freshman.

And I was so stunned that I just sat there. I was frozen as I watched one friend treat my undersized friend as a punching bag. I did nothing.

Check out these words from Obadiah…yah, you heard me right…Obadiah:

Because of the murderous history compiled against your brother Jacob,
You will be looked down on by everyone.
You’ll lose your place in history.
On that day you stood there and didn’t do anything.
Strangers took your brother’s army into exile.
Godless foreigners invaded and pillaged Jerusalem.
You stood there and watched.
You were as bad as they were.
You shouldn’t have gloated over your brother when he was down-and-out.
You shouldn’t have laughed and joked at Judah’s sons when they were facedown in the mud.
You shouldn’t have talked so big when everything was so bad.
You shouldn’t have taken advantage of my people when their lives had fallen apart.
You of all people should not have been amused by their troubles, their wrecked nation.
You shouldn’t have taken the shirt off their back when there were knocked flat, defenseless. And you shouldn’t have stood waiting at the outskirts and cut off refugees,
And traitorously turned in helpless survivors who had lost everything.

I texted a preacher-friend in Fort Worth last week and I asked, “Have you ever preached Obadiah?” His response was, “No. It sounds like a Star Wars character and I’ve seen all 6 of the movies like 14 times.”

Here’s what you need to know about Obadiah, since most of you have never read the book:
Jacob and Esau were two brothers who were at each other from birth. They became bitter rivals, and though there were attempts at reconciliation, the resentment towards one another was handed to generation after generation.
Jacob was ancestor to the Israelites.
Esau’s ancestor to the Edomites.
This rivalry was like the hatred between Yanks and Red Sox, Cowboys and Eagles, Lakers and Celtics, and Grizzlies and __________.

There was a long history of war and violence.

Here’s why Obadiah was written, when Israel was taken into captivity in 721BC by the Assyrians and again in 586BC by the Babylonians, Edom stood across the fence and watched. They did nothing.

This is why this message today is so real to what is observed every single day in school hallways and cafeterias, in the streets of our cities and in the slums across the world.

People look across the river at the oppression of others and they do nothing. And, it’s not always because we’re bad people.

Jesus tells a similar story that sounds a lot like Obadiah. In fact, I wonder if the story Jesus tells came from his recollection of this lesser-known prophet. The story is told in Luke 10 and it is known as the Good Samaritan.
Sound familiar?
The people who should have stopped to help because their relationship with God involves them in the cares of the world, don’t! They just keep walking. In other words, they look across the river (or road) and do nothing.
The person who stops breaks every barrier that had been set up by society, but the person didn’t care. It was the right thing to do.

I don’t know what this means for me. Should I care about the AIDS epidemic in Africa? How about the genocide in Darfur? There are the brothels in India? Or the broken down public school systems in our inner-cities?
I know I can’t solve world hunger, AIDS, or the healthcare crisis. But in the words of Mother Teresa, “If you can’t feed a million hungry people, feed one,” keep ringing in my ear.

What does this mean for churches?

I know this…if I’m guilty of something in this life I want it to be that I have deliberately chosen to be on the side of compassion.

A Difficult Task

I love the story of Scott Williams. He played in the NBA from 1990-2005. He never averaged over 7.6 points a game. He was never a starter. But he did get a few rings while playing with the Chicago Bulls.
After a game when Michael Jordan scored 60 points, a reporter met Williams at his locker and said, "What will you remember from this night...a night when Jordan scored 60 points?"
Williams quickly responded, "I will always remember this as the night that MJ and I combined for 62 points."

This Sunday I have the difficult task of preaching at a church where Randy Harris and Jerry Taylor have preached the last two weeks. Have mercy on me!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mother Teresa

"If you can't feed a million people, feed one."

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Arkansas Democrat Gazette

The call came last Tuesday afternoon. It was an editor from a newspaper based in Little Rock. I had never heard of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. My first thought was that it was a small community newspaper that would be read by Fred and Ethel over some coffee and a pancake at the corner cafe. I didn't know that it was THE newspaper of Arkansas.

They called because there was a church in North Little Rock called The Summit, a Southern Baptist Church, who took part in a "reverse offering." Somehow, the Senior Pastor found the story from my blog back in July and they decided to do it at their church. The Gazette interviewed the Pastor and he told them that he got the idea from a church called Sycamore View in Memphis and that the minister's name was Josh Ross. So, they called me for an interview.

The story ran on the front page. They said they weren't going to put up another story of a bombing but instead they wanted to highlight some good news. I thought that was pretty cool.

Since then, K-LOVE has run the story on their website. All glory to God.

The Spirit that invaded the church in Acts 2 and Acts 4 continues to multiply its grand idea of a shared community. Other churches inspired me and now churches are being blessed through something that seemed to have been so simple to the early church. We are given much...and we give much.

Some Speeches Transcend Party Lines

Today a speech will be given to students in schools throughout this nation that I hope is given by every president annually. Reagan and Bush #1 gave similar speeches to encourage kids to make good choices in life and say no to drugs, and today Obama gives a speech encouraging teens to stay in school, to stand up against the bullies, and to understand that the decisions you make now will determine the future of our nation and our world.
There are certain speeches that just transcend party lines. These speeches are not promoting "liberal" or "conservative" agendas. Instead, they serve to pave paths to take each day seriously because the future depends on it.
Sometimes it seems that an allegiance to a particular party trumps any form of good that might come from the other side. Such an allegiance gets us away from the respect, honor, and commitment to prayer that Christ-followers are called to in the NT.
I'm saddened by parents who feel the necessity to take their kids out of school for such an occasion, or to take the time and energy to write school administrators to boycott such events. Such decisions are usually based on fear, and fear is rarely a good motivator. However, we do live in a free country and parents have the right to such action.

I'm constantly reminded of the words penned from the hands of two apostles: Paul and Peter. And keep in mind that Peter and Paul wrote during the times of some of the most brutal and godless emperors who ever lived.

Romans 13:1-7, "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment...for the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due them--taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to who revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due."

1 Timothy 2:1-2, "First of all, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions..."

1 Peter 2:13-17, "For the Lord's sake accept/submit to the authority of every human institution whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right...honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor."

Friday, September 4, 2009

When "No" is the new "Yes"

In his book Pilgrim Heart, Darryl Tippens offers some reasons to say no:

  • When yes is really about building one’s material wealth or enhancing one’s ego, rather than advancing a good or essential cause; in other words when yes is about me
  • When yes hurts those you love
  • When one’s yes is prompted by an automatic, uncritical response, rather than the product of self-examination, prayer, and discernment
  • When one finds oneself growing weaker and weaker, spiritually speaking, the more one does
  • When one finds oneself fulfilling a lower good, while sacrificing a higher one
  • And when one finds, at the end of the day, one is becoming someone he or she doesn’t even like.

How do you practice saying "no" in your own life?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Day of Jubilee Follow-Up

Back in July I wrote about one of the most powerful worship experiences I've ever witnessed. You can read about it here.

This morning an anonymous letter was sitting in my box. Here's what it said:
Recently your congregation celebrated a "Day of Jubilee" in which your leadership invited those members in need to take what they needed. At that time, I did not want to take/receive what I needed to make it through the week because I knew there were people who needed it much more than I did.
God works in mysterious ways, and I humbly received $125 for my family, which was greatly needed, and put to use for bills and supply to finish the week. We now humbly return what was blessed unto us and increase it ten times told, in hopes it can bless someone else.

The envelope was stuffed with cash. Let those who have ears to hear, let them hear.