Friday, May 21, 2010

Empowering Whose Kingdom?

This is an article that I submitted to our state denominational paper this morning for consideration. These are my thoughts on the state of our denomination, in light of the Great Commission Resurgence report, which will be voted on at the SBC Annual Meeting in June.

Empowering Whose Kingdom?

I am the product of many Southern Baptist institutions who nurtured my faith. Of all the values instilled in me from my religious education, the most important of those values is the Great Commission. The Great Commission is the bedrock of our denomination, founded some 165 years ago. Our faith forefathers decided it was better to pool our resources to exponentially multiply our effectiveness in spreading the Gospel to the nations. That missions focus, together with our cooperative spirit and doctrinal integrity, is what compelled me to remain a Southern Baptist as many of my ministerial peers decided to align themselves with other faith families. Like many of you, the past few years have been rather strange for me. Like you, I sensed that something was wrong. We all became increasingly aware that we were becoming less effective in reaching our country for Christ. Most of our churches were plateaued or declining. Many of our churches were aging fast, as we failed to reach the next generation for Jesus. There was also an increasing disconnect among us. We began to fight over worship styles, church planting, political activism, and CP percentages. I saw an unhealthy devotion to an outdated set of practices and institutions that was slowly killing us from within. The sinking sense set in that we were on the brink of fostering an ineffective Baptist subculture that resembled the Pharisees of Jesus’ time more than the Acts church. The Great Commission was taking a backseat to petty politics, musical preferences, and generational bickering.

I was greatly encouraged by the clarion call last summer in Louisville to examine ourselves to see what changes needed to be made to make us more effective, aptly named the Great Commission Resurgence. I closely followed the GCR progress through the past year with great anticipation. To me, it was a chance for our convention to analyze ourselves from within and make changes that could greatly impact our collective futures. When the report was released in March, I was initially disappointed because I expected greater wholesale changes. Most of what I saw were token gestures, hinting at bigger changes that really need to happen. What really encouraged me, though, was the renewed emphasis upon fulfilling the Great Commission by prioritizing money toward the IMB and the starting of new churches in the areas of our country yet to be infiltrated with the Gospel. I saw a call back to our 165-year-old purpose, pooling our resources to share the Gospel with the world. Instead of the normal badgering pleads for Southern Baptists to simply give more money as in times past, this report actually called for the realignment of funding structures to support these changes.

What I didn’t expect to see was the groundswell of negativity concerning this report as national, state, and associational leadership rang the bell of alarm. Many of our denominational stalwarts felt threatened by the changes. I have attended a few denominational meetings in recent months to speak and to listen. Many people talk about the GCR changes as if they are a slippery slope to splintering our denomination. They talk about the fear of cuts and the unhealthy competition for funding that is likely to ensue as churches feel more empowered to fund individual entities, circumventing the Cooperative Program. The Cooperative Program is a wonderfully effective way to give, but it is not the only, divinely inspired, way to fund God’s Kingdom work. This method of giving was born more out of pragmatism than biblical inspiration.

I understand it is extremely difficult for large institutions to change because, inevitably, somebody appears to lose. Everybody will not receive the funding they have always received as we realign our priorities because there is a limit to the dollars we all share. All of us will need to sacrifice to make up for the proposed missions focus shift. However, instead of concentrating on what we lose with the proposed changes, I encourage you to think about who wins. Lost people groups who have yet to hear the name of Jesus spoken in their native language win if we can get more missionaries on the field. The great American cultural centers of the Northeast and West win if we can start vibrant churches that reach the millions so distant from God for many generations. The Kingdom would win from the changes, but our smaller kingdoms might have to take a hit.

The statewide theme for many years was “Empowering Kingdom Growth.” It was a call for us to see beyond our own church and denominational dominions to grasp a full vision of God’s movement in the world. It was a call to fight the spiritual nearsightedness to which we naturally gravitate. The question that hit me lately through the ensuing debates is “Whose Kingdom are we really trying to empower?” Our hearts and pocketbooks are closely aligned. Our financial spending highlights our priorities. If our focus is saving our denominational legacy over and above reaching the lost outside of our region of the country and the dark corners of the world, what does that say about our hearts? We say we are Great Commission Christians, but does our spending reflect that heart? I think most Southern Baptists would be disappointed to know how small of a percentage of their Sunday offerings actually support these endeavors. The irony is that we use international missions as the great motivator to spur our people to give their money and then turn around to spend most of it on ourselves. Most of our Sunday offerings stay in-state through local church budgets, the large percentage of CP undesignated funds kept in-state, and regional NAMB partnerships. Pennies on the dollar actually make it overseas and to the unreached North American regions. I know we need to reach our Jerusalem and our Judea, but it should not be where we spend a majority of our mission money. Otherwise, we have an unhealthy fixation on building our own denominational kingdom. I call on all of us to support the GCR this June to reverse our financial focus to the greater Kingdom to come.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

In the Garden

Matthew 26
39Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."
42He went away a second time and prayed, "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done."
44So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

Over and over in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus offered this request to God. Over and over, I believe, He received the same answer. "There is no other way. You are the Way, my Son." I hear the agony in Jesus' voice as He cried out to His Father. "This cup" is the sum total of God's wrath. There are many references to the devastation of God's wrath being unleashed with the cup imagery. (See Jeremiah 25:14-16 and Revelation 14:9-11 as examples. Not so pretty!) Jesus knew He was going to endure the full weight of humanity's sin and their consequences. The cross was was merely the physical death. What He dreaded, yet so obediently endured, was the penalty of your sin and mine. In His heart, Jesus knew there was no other way. He knew the full weight of that punishment greater than anyone. Today, take a moment and ponder the price that Jesus paid for you. Consider the death He willingly died so that you may live.

Romans 8:1-4
1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Luke 11: Persistance

In this passage, we have the "less popular" version of The Lord's Prayer. Most of the time, the unabridged Matthew version is the most popular. Some of you guys may be a little freaked out because the 2 versions are different. Luke leaves out some of what Matthew keeps in his version, but the gist is the same. When you pray: exalt the Lord, focus on His will for your life and not you own, depend upon God for your daily needs, seek forgiveness through repentance, and pray for spiritual protection.
The latter part of this passage is what I want to talk about today. The next story in verses 5-8 has a great lesson we need to hear. In this story, a man has a surprise guest in the middle of the night and needs to feed him. Knowing he has no food, the man pounds on his neighbor's door so he can borrow some food. Because he is a friend and because of his persistance (v.8), the neighbor relents, gets out of bed, and helps the guy out with some bread to share. I love the 2 criteria by which the neighbor decides to act: relationship and persistance.
In other words, he wouldn't have just done this for just anybody. Because they were friends, the neighbor wanted to help him out. Friends have each other's back. Friends look out for the best interest of each other because they are committed to each other. Is God your friend? Do you have an intimate relationship with the Lord as such that when He needs for you to do something you would do it for Him?

"Now wait," you say. "I thought this passage is about God doing what I ask Him to do for me?"

This passage is about just that...but friendship is reciprocal. Most of the time when I think about prayer I think about me asking God to do what I want him to do. I'm just reversing that thought for a second, since friendship is a reciprocal act. Let me ask you again. Since you are a friend of God, would you be willing to do whatever He asks you to do because you trust Him? Jesus speaks here as if the Lord feels that way about us.
The Lord also responds to persistance. The NIV calls it "boldness." Have you quit praying about something because God didn't answer it? Maybe you should consider asking again. God answers all prayers. Sometimes He answers yes, sometimes He answers wait, and sometimes He answers no. But we have to know, based upon verses 9-13, that He answers out of a heart of concern for me. He is my Heavenly Dad and He knows best. Aren't you glad God hasn't granted everything you ever prayed for Him to do? If that were the case, I would be married to someone else. I wouldn't have finished college. I would not be pastoring a church...the list could go on. My life would be dramatically different, for the worse, if God just did everything I asked Him to do simply because I asked Him to do it. That's where the Lord's Prayer fits in. Remember the part in the prayer about "Your Kingdom come." My life is ultimately about ushering in God's Kingdom on this earth. Admittedly, most of my prayers revolve around my kingdom. Prayer is about lining up my heart with my best friend's heart. So pray about your life...pray with persistance...and accept the Lord's answers!

Friday, May 07, 2010

Day 26: Will You Be My Neighbor? - Luke 10

Many of us will gloss over the story of The Good Samaritan when it comes time to read this assignment. "Oh, I know that one." I've said before. But take a minute and think about the moral of the story. Don't think so much about the details of the plot, the people who walked by, etc. Think about the "big idea" that Jesus is trying to convey. The conversation leading up to this parable is interesting. A pharisee is trying to impress Jesus and the crowds with his question...and Jesus returns volley, closing with the command to love your neighbor as yourself. At the heart of the passage is the pharisee's question as he tries to "justify himself," or save face. Mr. Smarty Pants asks Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?"

In my little world I have a few neighbors. In fact, the closest one lives a quarter of a mile down the road...welcome to country life! If Jesus just means to love those people who live one house in each direction, then that's doable/tolerable/comfortable. But the point of this story is that EVERYBODY is my neighbor. (Cue the Mr. Rogers' theme song here..."Will you be my neighbor?") The gist of the parable is that the most unlikely people are your neighbors. In fact, the people who are the farthest from you socially, racially, and economically should be considered neighbors. He defines that subgroup as "everybody," then reminds you to love them as much as you love yourself. Jesus refers to this as showing "mercy" to them (v.37). When I think of mercy, the perspective of the mercy-giver is a position that is higher than the mercy receiver. A mercy receiver is in need of help. I extend mercy to someone who NEEDS it. That usually means they are in a bad situation, likely lower than my own. So mercy drives our hearts as we extend concern for everybody. This concern should not be in a "well bless his little heart way," but in a way that empathizes and genuinely cares about that person's welfare. So, to narrow it down...or really to broaden it everybody as well as you love yourself with an empathetic heart of concern. Why should we do it? Because Jesus demands it. And it reflects the heart of God, who gave great mercy out of a heart of concern for us.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Great Commission Resurgence

I want to take a break from the 40 Days with Jesus blog today to highlight, what I believe, is an important issue for all of us. Let me start by affirming this, I am proud to be a Southern Baptist. I choose to remain a Southern Baptist, not because I of my heritage or my job, but because I feel that we are one of the most doctrinally and missionally sound denominations in the world. God is using our denomination, and will continue to use the SBC, as long as we remain true to the task to which He has called us. That task is the Great go into all the world and make disciples. It is cool to think that when you give each Sunday at Good Hope you are supporting the largest mission sending agency in the world.

Having said all of that, I do affirm what other leaders within our Convention have been sensing for a while now. As good as the SBC is, there is room for improvement and refocus. Just like any other institution with age, there is a wonderful litany of programs and initiatives that we have taken on. The problem is that, with time, that litany continues to grow. Most organizations gravitate toward complexity and doing more stuff...we usually don't have a mechanism that evaluates and says "no" to ineffective or superfluous things. Churches are guilty of this, too. That's why I am huge fan of the book Simple Church by Geiger and Rainer. Please read this book, if you've never read it. I have 2 copies in my office if you'd like to borrow one! We have to define our priorities as an organization...those 3 or 4 things that we really want to do well...and then focus all of our effort and resources into those initiatives. If we don't, we'll turn inward and spend all of our energy and resources on maintaining the bloated institution we've created!

Last year at the Southern Baptist Convention we voted to form a task force to evaluate our entire convention to see what needed to change. Their report came out today. Their inquiry and consequent findings have been associated with the movement called "The Great Commission Resurgence." I will be in Orlando at the convention this summer to vote in favor of the changes they recommend. Honestly, I think this is just the beginning of the changes that need to be made...but you have to start somewhere! I encourage all of you to read over this report, watch the video, and process the changes recommended. Let me know if you have any questions. I would love to help you understand what we are trying to do to make the SBC a viable strong arm for the Lord in reaching the world for Jesus!

The report can be found here .