Mar 19, 2009


Some things just don't need a comment. Go Red Sox!

Mar 16, 2009

Yeah baby!

Portland Bound! See you Thursday!

Mar 10, 2009

Staying Faithful in Uncertain Times

Lately my pastor, Les Hughes, has been bringing it from the pulpit. He's in a series called "When God Gets Personal," and we've been hearing great things from the congregation about the messages. The last couple of weeks he's been talking about "When God Gets Personal With My Stuff." It's been a great two weeks of messages about the resources we have and our stewardship of them. He's also been able to bring some timely advice to the body about how to react during the stress-filled economic times we are in. As church leaders, we struggle just like everyone else with making ends meet, making wise financial decisions, trying to decide what to spend and what not to spend, etc. We've also had to react to giving patterns in the church and nationwide as we restructure our budget for this year.

Did you know that the average church member that gives will give about 2% of their income this year to any and all Christian charitable causes? George Barna reported that in 2008 one out of every five households have decreased their giving to the church compared to previous years. Of those who have decreased their giving, 22% stopped giving altogether. What do these types of statistics say about the Body of Christ in America, one of the most affluent nations in the world?

I know that times are tough for a lot of people and a lot of people I know have lost jobs due to no fault of their own. I see the same depressing news you do every morning as I get ready and have found that I have a lot more interest in the stock market recently. I didn't have much set aside in my 403(b) with Guidestone, but I looked at it recently and I have lost 53% of it since January 2008.

Here are a few of my personal thoughts about this mess:
1. The root of most of this economic collapse is spiritual and moral, not financial. Greed, excess, and discontentment have created the mess we are in. Bankers loaned money to people that couldn't pay, people bought more house than they could actually afford with money they didn't have, and financial investors took risks that were too big a gamble all because of the desire to add more to our personal worth - greed. I think God will and is using this time to show the Christ-followers and true church in this country that we need to be more dependent upon him than we are on Ameritrade or Edward Jones. Greed is at the heart of many of the problems with humanity and the church. If you bought more house than you could afford, it was not just because it was a good investment. It was more likely because you are greedy and being able to say "I live in ..." makes you feel better about yourself. Paul said "Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, 7for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world." (I Timothy 6:6-7)

Greed is a heart issue, not a financial one. How much is enough for you? How expensive a house do you need? Could you possibly live in a smaller house and use the extra money from your house payment to sponsor a child through WorldVision or take a mission trip to share the Gospel? Everywhere I look, I see greed. But I see it most evidently in my own heart. I always want more. Bigger toys, nicer cars, bigger house. I bought a new TV last year for Father's Day and still find myself browsing through Best Buy looking at the bigger ones that are cheaper than mine now. Despite what Gordon Gekko said in the movie Wall Street, Greed is not good. Have you found thorough this experience that you are a greedy person? If so, what changes are you making to correct that?

2. While many have been seriously affected by the economic downturn through job loss, most of us have not. I would venture that the majority of Christ-followers in the church today are making close to the same amount of money they did this time last year. You may be in sales and get paid on commission, or your company may have recently had to cut costs and payroll by some percentage recently. However the vast majority of us are making very close to what we made last year. At the same time, while many of us are making the same amount of money, giving to churches has decreased. Loosely translated, people are more concerned about the economy and one of the first places they tighten up is giving to the local storehouse. Bottom line, if you are making about the same amount you did a year or two ago and you are giving less or have stopped giving to your local church, you are robbing God. Check out Malachi 3:8-10. If you give less to God during tough economic times, then who are you really trusting? Do you trust God to provide for you like he does the sparrows and the lilies (Matthew 6), or are you trusting in what you can put back on your own? Do you not remember that God rewards faith? What better time to test God and your faith in him than to faithfully give? Isn't God the same God when the stock market is 6,000 points as He is when its 11,000 points?

3. Finally, the consequences of lacking faith in God during tough times is much worse than the consequences of misplaced trust in Wall Street. If you trust in financial institutions for your security, then when those institutions fail, your security is stressed or destroyed. However, God is our sure rock during unsure times. The consequences of lacking faith in God will have spiritual ramifications long after the recession has subsided.

I would encourage you to be a trendsetter and not a trend-follower. Show the world that as Christ-followers, we may not know where Wall Street is heading, but we know where Christ is. Be faithful. Test God and show the world that His kingdom advances and His church in on the front lines.

Mar 6, 2009

Essential Church Retreat

Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Essential Church Retreat at Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina. This event was sponsored by Lifeway and featured its president Thom Rainer and his son Sam who co-wrote the book Essential Church: Reclaiming a Generation of Dropouts. I am a big supporter of Dr. Rainer's books, and my ministry has been profoundly helped by his insights during his time both at Southern Seminary and now as president of Lifeway. My denomination is blessed to have Dr. Rainer leading the helm at Lifeway.

I picked this book up originally because every time I go to the bookstore and see a Thom Rainer book on the New Releases shelf, I automatically look inside. The staff at my church read Simple Church a few years ago and radically restructured a lot of our ministry around the four discipleship envriornments we indentified as part of reading that book. Essential Church is in many ways a follow-up to Simple Church. The research was done to show how to recapture and prevent the large number of church dropouts that occur between the ages of 18-23. Being a previous youth pastor, I have seen first-hand how many students walked away from the local church during this time, no matter how strong the youth program or their seemingly strong personal walk with God during the High School years. I was also intrigued reading the book because the research is part of the basis for my Doctor of Ministry Project that I am working on at New Orleans Seminary.

During the retreat and in the book, the Rainers show that "of those who dropout of the church, 70% will do so between the ages of 18-22." There are many reasons given in the feedback by the survey respondents, but the primary reason for their dropout is that they no longer saw the church as an essential part of their lives. They made a consumer decision of their time and energy and the church lost out. The Rainers also show that these young adults did not necessarily walk away from God or change their views of God, just His bride. While these trouble me, they don't surprise me. The authors also did a fantastic job in the retreat and the book showing that there are four elements that are necessary to create the type of Essential Church that will bring this generation back. They also showed that while the research was limited to a young adult population, the principles of the Essential Church transcend all age groups and will probably be necessary to reach the de-churched no matter what the generational identification is.

Another very interesting insight from the Rainers is that of the "Third Place" mentality. At one time, it was common in the culture that outside of the home and work, the church was the center of cultural life. That is no more. However, many places have started to capture this "Third Place" mentality. Starbucks is a prime example of this. The authors encourage the readers to begin to investigate ways to bring this Third Place mentality back to the local church. I think this is an effort that deserves some more research.

Overall, a great time the whole weekend. The insights from the retreat were great. Alison and I got to spend some much needed time alone together. It was significantly impacted by the fact that Ridgecrest doesn't have televisions in the rooms. Wow! That was an adjustment. We took a rainy tour through the Biltmore Estate on Saturday and then had a fun ride home in the sleet and snow that hit the Southeast on Sunday.

Mar 3, 2009

Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century - A Review

A few weeks ago I signed up to be a Book Review Blogger with Thomas Nelson publishers. The first book I choose to review was Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century by Hank Hanegraaff. Hanegraaff is the president of the Christian Research Institute and known as the “Bible Answer Man” because of his radio show in which he fields questions about cults and cultic groups. Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century is the author’s response to the popularity and subsequent dangers of the Word/Faith movement that has infiltrated the American church. He does a good job of not only showing the cultic nature of this dangerous movement, but also helping the reader understand that not all Charismatic branches of Christianity espouse this dangerous doctrinal poison.

The Word/Faith movement is not a new one. Hanegraaff shows how its seeds have been sown for over a century now. He also does a good job of showing how the ever-changing cast of characters have developed from its beginning with E.W. Kenyon and Kenneth Hagin to more current proliferators like Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, and T.D. Jakes. The movement lacks denominational structure and its teachers have differing emphases and dangers in their teachings. Hanegraaff shows, however, that most all of them have some consistent heresies in their doctrine and teaching. The author’s main points of dissention are that the movement redefines faith as a metaphysical force by which the believer can require and demand from God; a reduction of the deity of God and Jesus and a subsequent deification of man a sovereign over the earth; a redefining of the atonement of Christ in which Christ’s redemption is not won on the cross but in an encounter in hell; and a dangerous teaching that believers should never be sick or in want because of the force of their faith.

Hanegraaff’s book is well-written and well thought out. It exposes a very dangerous branch of the American church that very few in today’s society have had the courage to confront. The movement’s lack of structure and the vast bank of resources by its proponents have given it a strong foothold in the culture. Hanegraaff’s writing shows a well-crafted researcher who has spent many years studying the false teachers of the Word/Faith movement. The author has employed over 1100 footnotes and quotes directly from these false teachers, exposing the reader in a large scale manner to the depth of deception and deviation from the truth that characterize the movement. However, the author does not just expose false teaching, but shows sound theology by giving the reader firm answers to the deceptive teaching.

In addition to the solid research and sound theology, the author makes use of acronyms to present the material to the reader. While seeming a little cheesy at first, the use of these acronyms provides the reader with memorable handles to recall the dangers of the Word/Faith heresy. This helps boil down the information into memorable handles that will go beyond the reading of the book.

Overall, Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century is a much-needed and timely alarm to the church today. In a time when present day books for church leaders mostly focus on missional renaissance and leadership techniques, and rightly so, Hank Hanegraaff has given those same leaders a sound call for doctrinal purity. Whether they realize it or not, all church leaders are battling every day with the subtle decay of sound doctrine and proliferation of man-centered, greed-filled teachings of the Word/Faith leaders. To overlook this decay leads to a silent endorsement of its teachings and quiet approval of its results. Pastors, read this book.