Friday, December 04, 2015

A Tribute to Mark Richt

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I love college football. I have been a fan of college football my entire life. My three favorite teams are: Auburn, Baylor and whoever plays Alabama.

The earliest game I remember is the 1967 Iron Bowl. Kenny Stabler wove through the Auburn defense that evening to secure a 7-3 Alabama win. I have either attended, watched on television or listened by radio to every Iron Bowl since.(For the record: Auburn is 21-27 during that time)

I now serve on the Baylor Board of Regents. As a part of my service to the University, I am currently a member of the Athletic Committee on that Board. I have the greatest amount of respect for our Athletic Director, Ian McCaw and the rest of the Baylor Athletic program. I would put our coaches and staff up against any in the entire country. Sic 'em Bears!

With all that said, I have watched the situation at the University of Georgia unfold with great interest. I have always loved Georgia. My parents are originally from Georgia. My wife was living in Georgia when I met her. We both have lots of family in Georgia. Georgia has always been my second-favorite SEC team. Even though the Auburn-Georgia rivalry is the oldest in the South, I have always cheered for Georgia except for that game.

This past week, Georgia fired its Head Football Coach, Mark Richt. Without a doubt, Richt is one of the best men and best coaches in all of college football. He is one good football coach. His record speaks for itself. He has won 74% of his games at Georgia (4th best of all active coaches in Division 1 football). He has won the SEC East five times and has twice won the SEC Championship Georgia had not won an SEC title in 20 years prior to his arrival). His Georgia Bulldogs have played in a bowl game every year that he has served as Head Coach. He has had 72 players drafted into the NFL. He has had nine 10-win seasons -- a bowl win this year will be ten 10-win seasons.

And--he was fired.


Richt is not just a good football coach. He is a good man. A really good man. He was a stand-out quarterback in High School in Boca Raton, Florida. He signed a football scholarship with the University of Miami with the dream of winning the Heisman Trophy and enjoying a career in the NFL. However, he was beat out at Miami by Jim Kelly (future Hall of Fame). He graduated from Miami and was not drafted. He was invited to a tryout with the Denver Broncos -- but was beat out by John Elway (future Hall of Fame). He took a year off and was invited to a tryout with the Miami Dolphins -- but was beat out by Dan Marino (future Hall of Fame).

Finally, he went into coaching. He landing a graduate assistant job at Florida State. As a grad assistant, Head Coach Bobby Bowden led Richt to faith in Jesus Christ. Mark Richt became a believer in Bowden's office. It changed his eternity and his earthly life.

He has given the rest of his life in service to Christ. He has been an unashamed, bold and gracious follower of Jesus throughout his adult life. While at Georgia, it has just been revealed that he has been paying some of his assistant coaches out of his own pocket! When a coach did not get a bowl bonus because of some stipulation, Richt paid him personally. When the university was not able to give a raise to certain coaches, Richt made up the difference with his own money. When a coach just missed an anniversary bonus because he departed to another job, Richt paid the bonus himself.

Again-- wow.

At his final meeting with the University of Georgia team this week, he was greeted with an extensive applause by his players. He is headed to coach his alma mater, the University of Miami. His Georgia players gave him the "U" greeting that is used by Miami players and fans. It was an incredible gesture of love and appreciation from his team.

Then -- one of the players sent out a tweet from Richt's final speech: "Life is about people, not rings. Rings collect dust."

This quote from a coach who has two national championship rings (Florida State Assistant) and two SEC Championship Rings (Georgia Head Coach). He has the perspective as a champion himself.

All that to say -- Mark Richt is what is good about college football. A man who is well-grounded and is very good at what he does. He is the kind of man that student athletes need in their lives. He is the kind of man who understands that there is more to life than college football. He is the kind of man who is making an eternal impact in the high-pressure world of college football. While many coaches are chasing their own dreams and often surrender to the temptation of exploiting young athletes along the way, Mark Richt has stood tall as a shining example of how to be successful in teaching young men about life as well as football.

I am just one college football fan. But Mark Richt has my utmost respect and appreciation. I wish him all the best.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Pastoral Prayer

Dear Father,

I come before you today on behalf of a broken world. On the one hand, I am grateful for the evidences of your presence in our world. It is unmistakable and readily discernible. Certainly we see your handiwork all around us. How we marvel at the beauty of your creative genius. The stunning images recently broadcast from the International Space Station reveal a world filled with splendor and majesty. The scale of your design that extends out into our universe and beyond escapes our comprehension.

We also encounter your touch in the innocence and wonder of curious children exploring their world for the first time. We hear whispers of your voice in their laughter and in the innumerable expressions on their faces as they learn new things and invite us to join them in their daily journeys.

We are reminded of the power of love as we see it extended through real relationships across the human family. An elderly couple walking through life hand-in-hand and coming to the end of their journey with an eternity full of memories. A dedicated single mom working two jobs and gingerly pacing herself as she juggles all the responsibilities of her life – all the while relishing the benefits of self-sacrifice through the health of her children. Generous people going above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that others have the daily necessities of life. 

So – yeah – we see you hand at work in the midst of a busy, complex, broken world. Truck drivers, Traffic Cops, Carpenters, Cooks, Barristers, Brokers, Programmers, Pot-hole repairers, Engineers, Educators, Musicians, Marketers, Homemakers, Heart Surgeons, Insurance Agents and Industrialists ----- all show up at work every day and contribute to an ordered society that bears the imprint of your design that allows us to creatively express your image in our world.

And yet – I am easily reminded of the brokenness of it all. This past week, as Americans we paused to express our thanks to our veterans. These champions of liberty. These servants of a civilized society. In fact, we paused to remember Armistice Day – when the freedom of Europe was secured at the end of WW I. And yet, we know our history. We know that WW I was quickly followed by WW II and a host of other wars and conflicts that have wrought havoc across the human family.

By Friday of this past week, we were bitterly reminded of just how fragile freedom truly is. The darkness of the actions perpetrated on Paris continues to shock us today. We are stunned again by just how evil human beings can be. 

So, Lord, I ask you to bring healing to families who are hurting today once again because of the violence committed by fellow human beings. I ask you to bring comfort to those who need it.

I also ask you to bring hope where it has been lost, joy where it has been tarnished. Peace where there has been conflict. And yes, even life where there has been death.

Certainly, Lord, I ask you to provide wisdom for the leaders of our world—especially those who do not seek your counsel. I ask you to give them insight beyond their human ability and courage to implement plans that will provide for security and stability for human beings to live in an ordered society. I ask you to give our leaders the wisdom and collective will to confront the web of terror that blankets our planet.

Also, Lord, I would be remiss if I failed to admit the darkness that lies in our hearts as well. We may not be tempted to take an AK-47 and take aim against innocent human beings, however, we still struggle with our own temptations. We are often characterized by malicious actions, critical spirits and the expression of vindictive motives. We often succumb to the temptation to answer darkness with . . .  more darkness.

Help us to learn the lessons from your Word. The only answer for darkness is light. May we be forces for good as we reflect the light of the Gospel in our world. May we be harbingers of hope. Messengers of peace. Examples of transformation. May we experience your power in our own lives so that what is broken within us might be restored so that we can bear Your image in this world.

Work within us and through us so that we might truly be the people of God.

In the Name of Jesus, have mercy.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

It's Okay, Elvis - We Love You

Man. Last night’s loss to Toronto was a tough one for us die-hard Ranger fans. I was able to catch some of the game live – but had to lead my Pastor’s Bible Study so I missed the crucial parts of the game. I recorded the game and watched the fateful seventh inning when I finally arrived home after a long Wednesday at church.

Wow. A 53 minute inning. Filled with drama, to say the least. It had everything any baseball fan would want packed into 6 outs. Fans on their feet (and throwing stuff on the field – way to keep it classy, Toronto). Great pitching. Obscure rule. Great hitting. Historic home run.

And . . . errors.

In case you missed it, the Rangers made history with three errors on consecutive plays in one inning. Elvis Andrus was involved in all three but was only charged with two of them. It was epic. Awful for us – but epic, nonetheless.

I hate it for Elvis. I love Elvis (both of them!). He is one of my favorite players. He embodies all that is good in baseball. He crowds Adrian Beltre on routine fly balls in the infield. His smile is contagious. His joy on the field is unmistakable. He rubs Beltre on the head and drives him crazy.

And – Elvis can play some baseball. I have seen him just lay out on ground balls in hole and shortstop and make unbelievable throws to first base. He has barehanded more short-hop ground balls and thrown out runners than any shortstop I have ever seen. He hits well. He steals bases (including home!). He plays with abandon. I’m proud of him. I’m glad he is a Ranger!

Elvis and the rest of these Rangers have given us a great season. Most longtime Ranger fans know that our heart is often broken in April. This year – after an incredible stretch of baseball, our heart was broken in October! Wow!

And – all of our lives are full of errors. Ours just aren’t as public as Elvis’. We all make mistakes in our work, at home and in our families. We are mistake-prone people. The hope is that we learn from our mistakes and we improve for the future.

That is my hope for Elvis. Learn from it – but move on. There is a lot of baseball in his future. I’m glad I will get to see him live it out in a Ranger uniform.

But, my hope for us is that we will learn from our mistakes as well. We don’t have to be defined by our lowest moments. We can move on into a better and brighter future.

And – Go Rangers!

Monday, October 12, 2015

I Love Youth Ministers

That is right. I love Youth Ministers. They are engaged in so much "front-line" ministry today on behalf of the church.

Today, I had the privilege of preaching to about 400 or so Youth Ministers from across the state of Texas. These ministry leaders are in Arlington for the annual Texas Baptist Conclave meeting. It is a time for these folks to spend some time in worship together and in training. They are here -- networking, learning, exchanging ideas, worshiping and just getting refreshed for the tasks at hand in their significant ministry.

I was energized by the opportunity. I was also humbled as I prayed for these ministers. Youth Ministry is such a strategic part of any church's ministry offerings. Our kids are facing unprecedented challenges today. Our society has been free-wheeling for so long that millions of young people are suffering the effects. The moral fabric of our nation is tattered to say the least. Families are struggling to navigate the terrain of an American culture that often lacks basic, common sense.

I can remember when the big issues in my youth were smoking (cigarettes) and drinking. There were those who were into drugs and alternate lifestyles -- but they were on the periphery of normality. Today--our kids are dealing with such deeper issues. Questions about morality, confusion about gender, broken relationships with parents, violence, abuse, absence of role models---what else do I need to list?

What do our young people need in the midst of such a challenging climate? How can we help them?

In April of 2014, Seraphim Danckaert wrote an article for Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy entitled, "Losing our Religion: On 'Retaining' Young People in the Orthodox Church. (You can find it here at Losing Our Religion)

In this article, Danckaert references the research of the National Study of Youth and Religion. According to the research cited, there are three factors that contribute to youth maintaining their Christian faith into adulthood:

1. The young person's parents were authentic believers who demonstrated their faith in their normal, daily lives.
2. There was at least one significant adult mentor or friend who also practiced authentic Christian faith.
3. The young person had at least one significant spiritual experience prior to the age of 17.

Wow. I look at those factors -- and I can't help but think of Youth Ministers! They play such pivotal roles in the lives of our youth. They can be that adult presence. Or they can build teams of adults who can be mentors for our students. They also oversee all manner of spiritual activities that help promote opportunities for young people to have genuine spiritual experiences.

Youth Ministry has such a significant role to play in our churches. Our Youth Ministers make unique contributions to the overall life and health of our churches. So -- I will say it again -- I love Youth Ministers!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Obstacles and Opposition

What should be our response when we face obstacles? And, what if those obstacles actually turn out to be full-out opposition?

First of all, I would distinguish between the two. Obstacles are simply . . . obstacles! They stand in our path. They block our progress. Opposition is more of an active reality. Facing opposition is a bit different than just a mere obstacle.

Regardless, what do we do when we find ourselves facing an impediment to our progress or someone (thing) is actually opposing us? There are numerous examples in the Bible of God’s people facing the challenges of obstacles, impediments or opposition.

Often, the first response is fear. It can be quite natural to be afraid of an obstacle. For example, when God asked Moses to send spies into the Promised Land in Numbers 13, those men returned with a report of fear. They explored the land and it indeed was prosperous and promising. However, they acknowledged their fears of the fortified cities and the giants in the land. In fact, they summarized their report with, “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes” (Numbers 13:33).

Sometimes it is natural to just be afraid. In fact, I don’t think that bothers God too much. However, if God is leading us towards something, we have to move forward despite our fears. We cannot allow our fears to paralyze us. Unfortunately that is what happened to the spies and the entire nation. They were paralyzed and unwilling to move forward. What should they have done?

I would propose that we should re-focus our attention on God in the midst of our fears. So, when you are sensing God’s direction and you begin to move ahead—you will probably encounter some obstacles. You may be afraid at first. That is ok. But, don’t let those fears stop you from obedience. Re-focus your attention on God.

Our temptation will always be to focus on the obstacle. Our focus is to be on God. He is the object of our affection. He is the one who is calling us and leading us. So, re-focus on Him. Make sure you are listening to Him. Be assured of your understanding of His direction and wisdom.

Then, face the obstacle. Engage it. Muster up the energy and the courage—and face it! Take the steps God lays out for you. Move through your fears. Don’t let fear or the obstacle win! Forge ahead.

You don’t have to fake your way through it. Your FAITH your way through obstacles! God is an expert at empowering us to face obstacles and opposition. He will provide insight and resources in His time and according to His will. He is calling us to a deeper relationship with Him. He wants us to learn to trust Him.

Paul was in Ephesus and the Corinthian church wanted him to come to Corinth ASAP. This was a demanding church. They were always in crisis mode. Paul heard their request and turned them down! In his answer to the Corinthians, we learn a valuable lesson about obstacles and opposition. Listen to what Paul told them:

But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.
-1 Corinthians 16:8-9

Did you catch it? Paul said – a door has been opened. I am walking through it. But—there is great opposition here! Paul understood that the open doors in our lives are most often characterized by the presence of opposition. He did not allow that to keep him from forging ahead in obedience to God.

So, if you are facing obstacles or opposition—don’t be surprised. And—don’t allow those obstacles to deter you from doing the will of God!

Friday, September 11, 2015

We Will Never Forget

Fourteen years have passed since the events of September 11, 2001. Our world was forever changed that day. We will never forget.

We will never forget the senseless loss of innocent lives on that day.

We will never forget the families who lost loved ones to the acts of terror that day.

We will never forget the courageous and selfless actions of countless first-responders who saved the lives of others while showing little regard for their own lives.

We will never forget the countless acts of love and mercy shown by countless numbers of people in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy.

We will never forget the character of a nation that refused to be defeated by the cowardly acts of terrorists.

We will never forget the men and women who have stepped in the path of terrorism and served honorably in our military and worked tirelessly to make our country safer.

We will never forget that freedom is a precious privilege and a great responsibility.

We will never forget that God has a remedy for terrorists and all other sinners. It is His grace made possible through the loving sacrifice of His Son. He remains our only true hope and the true Answer for what is so broken in our world.

We will never forget the darkness of that day - September 11, 2001.

We will never forget the light of the Gospel that shines forth today and brings healing to the broken, hope to the hopeless, freedom to the captives and light in the darkness.

We will never forget.

Friday, August 21, 2015

An Ode to Teachers

In the fall of 1964, I began my academic career at Barnes Kindergarten at the Wylam Armory. Ms. Barnes sponsored a private kindergarten program for the “aggressive” parents in our community—since public school didn’t offer one. In the spring of 1965, I successfully graduated!

For the next 27 years I was enrolled in school! By the time I completed my PhD at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in July of 1992, I had been in the classrooms of many teachers!

Our two children both attended public schools and graduated from college. We now have two grandsons attending public schools. And – I spent 8 years on the Adjunct Faculty of Truett Seminary at Baylor.

All that to say – I have the opportunity to interact with countless teachers across the years.

So – to all of our teachers and administrators who are launching a new academic year, I want to say . . . THANK YOU! Thank you for all you do for our children. Thank you for spending untold hours preparing for your students. Thank you for being patient with parents. Thank you for spending your own money on the extra things. Thank you for going the extra mile time and again. Thank you for showing up early and staying late. Thank you for listening. Thank you for truly loving your profession and loving our children.

As I have reflected upon my own academic journey, I can’t help but think about the many great teachers I had in my classes. As I remember it, there are two things in particular I want to say about our teachers.

First of all, teachers are purveyors of information. The good teachers I remember are the ones who really knew their subject matter. And – they knew how to share that information with us in a way that helped us learn. At the end of the day, that is what teachers do—they teach!

Good teachers are well-informed. They know their material. And they know how to share the information with students. They understand that the knowledge they possess is valuable and useful to the students. Think about it. What a privilege for a teacher who leads a child to read. Or to spell. Or to understand basic math. Think about how those skills prepare a child for a lifetime of learning.

So, thank you teachers for being students yourselves. Thank you for spending time learning a subject and taking the time to impart your knowledge to your students. You truly do impact the world every day!

Second, the great teachers in my academic journey learned the art of inspiration. The great teachers understand that they can ignite something in a child through their influence. They offer that intangible quality of inspiring students to pursue endeavors that just may be life-changing.

When I was in fourth grade, my teacher, Ms. Buford, announced that our class was going to put on the school play that year. The entire school would be in attendance. We were excited about it. However, I was not the kind of child who was always “in front” in those days. I was a very good student. Honor roll every six weeks. But I was not an “upfront” kind of person. Well, she also announced, “Dennis Wiles – you are going to play the role of Jesus!”

I met with Ms. Buford after class. I asked her to reconsider. I had never done anything like that. Surely someone else could play the lead role. But, she insisted. And I did it. It was my first time to actually be in that kind of public setting (outside of sports). It was way out of my comfort zone. But, it ignited something in me. I actually could be up front. And – well, the rest is history for me. I have spent my entire adult life “up front” as a pastor. Thank you, Ms. Buford!

So, thank you teachers for inspiring students to reach for something new. Thanks for recognizing something in us before we see it in ourselves. Thank you for igniting passions in the lives of students. Again, you are impacting the world every day as you inspire your students.

I am grateful for our teachers and administrators who show up every day and make a difference in the lives of students. May this be a great school year!

Monday, August 03, 2015

What Does God Owe Us?

He is unfathomable. He is unsearchable. He is unknowable. He is unreachable.

He is Yahweh – I AM.

He is:
El Shaddai (Lord God Almighty)
El Elyon (The Most High God)
Adonai (Lord, Master)
Jehovah Nissi (The Lord My Banner)
Jehovah-Raah (The Lord My Shepherd)
Jehovah Rapha (The Lord That Heals)
Jehovah Shammah (The Lord Is There)
El Olam (The Everlasting God)
Elohim (God)
Jehovah Jireh (The Lord Will Provide)
Jehovah Shalom (The Lord Is Peace)
Jehovah Sabaoth (The Lord of Hosts)

He is the God of ages past. He is God today. He will be God tomorrow and forever.

He is the God of our Fathers and Mothers. He is our God. He is the God of our children and our children’s children.

He is the God Who was, Who is and Who is to come.

Before anything was, He is.

He exists out of time. Yet, He lives in time. And He is always on time.
He is always righteous. He is always pure, He is always holy, He is always glorious – and He is always right.

His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. His ways are higher than our ways.

His yes is yes. And His no is no.

He is all wise. He is all knowing. He is all powerful.

He is a consuming fire. He is the LORD the LORD. He is majestic in splendor and glorious in array. He is immense in power and eternal in presence.

His Word is true. His Word is powerful. Through His Word, He created all that is. All of creation is an expression of His will. The heavens declare His glory. He is the God of the red moon. He is the God of the blue moon. In fact, before there was a moon, He is God.

He has no beginning and no end. He is immensitas as theologians have declared – He simply is. He exists independently of anything that is.

He is never confused. Never perplexed. He is never uncertain. He is never outmatched. He remains unimpressed. He has never consulted Isaac Newton, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Steven Jobs or Bill Gates about anything! He is up to date and never goes out of date. He understands the internet, microchips, mobile collaboration, smartphones, 3-D printing, oculus rifts, robots, neuromorphic chips and the Apple Watch.

He has never had to explore outer space, wait for a photograph of Pluto or wonder if there is life on Mars and He was never waiting for the human genome to be mapped because He spoke it all into existence and all creation bears His signature!

He is the incomparable God of this universe. He sits now enthroned in eternity high and lifted up with the 24 elders worshiping Him, seraphim praising Him while angels do His bidding.

From the first to the last, He is God!

What does He owe us? Seriously? Is that really a question?

Friday, July 17, 2015

Retreat: Spiritual, Academic, Emotional

I have spent this week nestled in a Study Carrel in the Moody Library on the campus of Baylor University. I have to thank both First Baptist Church of Arlington and Baylor both for this week. I am on my annual Study Leave from FBC Arlington. This wonderful church graciously allows me a month out of the pulpit and away from my normal administrative duties to spend time studying, praying, reflecting and planning. It is a true gift each year. And - Baylor University is gracious to offer me a place to hang my hat while I am here studying. So - I am grateful, for sure.

I have spent most of the week in the quiet setting of this great library. And yet, I have been surrounded by the voices contained in the wisdom of these shelves. The great voices of the past -- Augustine, Chrysostom, Luther, Wesley, Truett, Ladd -- and many others, have all spoken to me this week. Taking time to listen and reflect on theology, ecclesiology, church history and homiletics has been productive for me. There is just something about the academic setting that contextualizes my thinking. I spent 29 years in school -- so I feel at home in a library!

Also, taking time to ponder the grand sweeping story of the Church in history offers a person some grounding and weight in the midst of a culture that seems quite weightless right now. The orthodoxy of the past seems to now be weightless in my culture today. Sound reasoning and appeals to rational thinking can both be as easily dismissed as a cable TV provider. So, I have appreciated the time to reflect upon the big picture and the meta-narrative of The Big Story.

Also, it has been a time of emotional retreat for me. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the emotional energy required to fulfill my calling. I love people. I love my people in particular. As a pastor, I am personally engaged in the lives of many people. For the past two weeks now, I have been studying at home and here in Waco -- and I have experienced an ease in the emotional pull that is so familiar to any minister who is personally connected to the people of God.

This week in particular has been a time of spiritual retreat. I am a sinner. I need God's personal attention in my life just like any other follower of Jesus. I have spent time with the Father. I have asked the Holy Spirit to nourish and refresh my soul. I have looked to Jesus as the author and prime example for my faith.

Today, I went on a long prayer walk across Baylor's campus. It was a powerful and rich time for me. God touched me on many levels. I just wanted to engage Him on somewhat "unfamiliar" territory. I have never really walked around this campus like I did today. I felt His presence and listened for His voice as I shared my concerns and burdens with Him.

I found the small chapel in the Bobo Spiritual Life Center here at Baylor. It is a small, austere room, decorated with a contemporary but simple cross. I sat in this chapel and prayed and worshiped. Meanwhile, scores of incoming freshmen at Baylor filled the outer hall of the building as their orientation to Baylor University has begun. I could hear the excitement in their voices. I was struck by the contrast of my library setting all week. I have been surrounded by the wisdom of the voices of the past all week. Today, I was blessed by hearing the voices of the future. Who knows how God is going to use this crop of young people for His glory? I found myself praying for them as I sat alone in His presence.

I will return to Arlington today. It has been a productive week. I have renewed energy for the tasks at hand. God has given me a sense of direction for next year for our church. I still have a couple of weeks left to now more fully develop the general direction I have felt led to. I have been blessed by this time here for sure. As a Regent at Baylor, I have been inspired by how I see God using this university for His Kingdom's purposes. As a Texas Baptist pastor, I have been encouraged by my sense of Baptist identity here. 

As a follower of Jesus, I have been blessed by God. I am humbled by how He pays attention to our needs. I am transformed by His grace in my life. I am blessed to be reminded of just how desperately I need Him in my everyday life. 

So - July has already been a time of retreat for me. Academically stimulating, emotionally encouraged and spiritually inspired. Thanks be to God.

Friday, June 26, 2015

A Free Church in a Free Society

For most of us who have been aware of cultural and political developments in recent years, there was little surprise in the Supreme Court ruling announced today. Personally, I was disappointed, but not surprised.

Our nation is an incredibly diverse one. Further, this nation has almost 240 years of experience in the grand experiment crafted by our Founders. This country has been an experiment in freedom. In spite of many shortcomings in our history (e.g. slavery, subjugation of women, child labor, etc.), the idea of freedom has captivated our national consciousness. Liberty is a long-held, much-treasured component of the American ideal. Often this ideal is expressed with pride when we say, "This is America!"

Seeds of liberty were sown across the spectrum in American life from the nation's inception. It took some time for the fruit to be borne both legally and socially. However, in spite of ourselves sometimes, we actually matured into a nation where institutional racism is illegal, equal rights are extended to people of all races and genders, human rights are protected and legal provisions are in place for the impoverished.

It is not--nor has it ever been--a perfect society. However, it has been a grand experiment. The impulse of freedom has penetrated urban, suburban and rural communities in historically-unprecedented fashion. Our national story is replete with untold numbers of people who have risen above their circumstances to achieve "The American Dream." In business, in political life and on the athletic fields--there have been too many inspirational stories to count. At the heart of it all is the concept of freedom. In this country we don't have to ask permission to dream. We don't have to wait on a government-assigned job. We are not subject to institutional limitations that maintain societal divisions.

So -- I would argue the experiment is working. America is a free society. People walk through their day in freedom. A typical American's day is filled with choices. Some of those choices may have a profound impact on their future. It is an amazing country that attracts millions of immigrants each year.

The other aspect of the grand experiment was to all freedom of religion. The Constitution was ratified as amended in 1789. The First Amendment guarantees the practice of religious liberty across our land. This was an unprecedented move. Our Founders were people of faith (not all of them were orthodox Christians). From the very beginning, America was to be a free society inhabited by a free church.

From a church history point of view, this proved to be an unprecedented decision. Throughout the history of Christianity there have been all kinds of relationships between Church and State. The American experiment was truly new. There was to be no persecution, no favoritism and no establishment of religion. Religious expression was to be lived out freely in the context of a free society.

So - how has that worked out?

Again, I would argue the experiment is working. It is not as clear as the State Church model. It is not as pure as the persecuted church experience. However, religion in general and Christianity in particular, has flourished in the grand American experiment.

Just as the seeds of liberty have borne the fruit of diversity in the broader American society, the resulting fruit of religious liberty is a very diverse religious family in America. It is truly the most religiously pluralistic free society on earth. Without government compulsion, but with government protection, religion has grown across America.  As already stated, Christianity in particular has truly flourished.

Today, however, we have been reminded of just how difficult it can be to live as a free church in a free society. The highest court in the land has just issued a decision that signals a major societal shift for the American culture. One of the core institutions inherited by American society from much older cultures has just be re-defined by the decision rendered by nine people.

The announcement of this decision has already given evidence of the diversity of religion in America. Christianity is not monolithic across our land. The Christian family is broadly divided across a spectrum known commonly as the right and left. Those who are more liberal in our family (the left) tend to be more embracing of a decision like this. Many of them no longer hold to the authority of the Bible in the traditional sense and thus the message they often proclaim tends to be more of a cultural echo than a prophetic voice. Those on the far right of the spectrum (fundamentalists) tend to demonstrate their anger over these types of decisions and use these times to denounce the American culture. There will be many angry voices heard across America on Sunday morning. I understand their pain and would only caution -- it is okay to get mad, rarely is it ever okay to stay mad.

However, there are many folks like me who tend to hover somewhere in the middle of that theological and religious spectrum. We are not as newsworthy, so you will hear very little from us on a day like this. Our voices are muted by the louder voices on the extremes of our family. 

On this day, I have been more reflective than reactionary. I am mulling over how to lead my particular congregation to a reasoned and Biblically-based approach to the free society around us. I am seeking wisdom from God once again as to how to embrace and love people with the love of Jesus Christ without surrendering a deep commitment to the truth He embodies. I have been driven to the Bible again for direction.

I am not given to public political opinions. I am not a politician. And--I have lived long enough to learn how fleeting political power can be. And--I have studied enough history to know how short-lived political victories can be.

I am a spiritual leader. I am a pastor. I am a follower of The Jesus Way. I am seeking God's wisdom as to how to follow faithfully and proclaim graciously the message of the Gospel in a compelling fashion that honors my belief in freedom.

I still believe in a free church in a free society. May God give us His wisdom today as to how to best be the Church for this era!


Friday, June 19, 2015

Murder in the Church

It is shocking. Just to have those two words in a sentence or title: Murder - Church.

We are all still reeling from the events in Charleston, South Carolina this week. A crazed young man interrupted a prayer meeting at a local church with unspeakable violence. How could this happen?

I will never forget March 3, 2011. It was a Thursday afternoon. I was home preparing for a Men's Retreat and my phone rang. One of our staff members informed me that something terrible had happened at NorthPointe Baptist Church. NorthPointe is a mission of our church and one of my seminary students, Clint Dobson, was serving as pastor there. I dropped everything and jumped in my car and headed to NorthPointe.

I drove into the parking lot at our mission and was met by a couple of staff members. Police cars were literally everywhere. A helicopter was overhead. SWAT police officers were surrounding the building. To say that it was surreal is an understatement.

Finally, the details emerged. The unspeakable had happened. At CHURCH. A young black man had entered our mission church and murdered our young, white pastor. He also had left the church secretary for dead after severely beating her. Miraculously she survived.

I remember thinking -- How could this have happened? At CHURCH? Is nothing sacred anymore?

Obviously, Clint's family, friends, church - and our church - have never been the same since that day. The violence perpetrated in that church has changed all of us.

When I heard about the shooting at Emanuel African Episcopal Methodist Church in Charleston, I couldn't help but re-live our experience just a bit. Similar emotions emerged. Similar questions surfaced. How could this have happened? At CHURCH? Is nothing sacred anymore?

This time, a crazed white man murdered several black Christians. Evidently he was motivated by his racist hatred.

When Clint was murdered, as best we know, racism was not a motivating factor. Evidently, his murderer was a young man who lived in a violence-ridden and drug-crazed environment. He needed a car, some money and a few things to sell. He killed a brilliant young pastor to satisfy his wants.


As I have reflected on it all for a couple of days, I have just been reminded of the darkness of evil and the impact of sin. Clint's murderer was (and is) a broken, sinful individual. We discovered at his trial that his days were marked by senseless acts of violence and drug use. He had no problem with abusing others to get whatever he wanted. He was even willing to kill another human being if that was what it took to meet his demands. He was even willing to walk in a church in broad daylight and murder a pastor at his desk working on Sunday's sermon.

This young man in Charleston seems to have nursed a racist perspective over the course of a lifetime. I have only briefly read about his propensities, but they are the product of a sinful mind encased in the evil of racism. He was willing to walk into a church prayer meeting and presumably kill the pastor and other parishioners just because they were black.


There are no easy answers today. There weren't any easy answers when a church was bombed in downtown Birmingham in the early 1960's. There weren't any easy answers when a crazed individual walked into a youth prayer meeting at Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas back in 1999 and just started shooting. There were no easy answers that day in the parking lot at NorthPointe. 

In the face of such evil, we grieve. We grieve over the senseless loss of life. We grieve over the incredible darkness that can live in a human heart. We grieve over the reverberating pain felt by family members and survivors.

We also continue to turn to a loving God who grieves more deeply than we ever will. We turn to a loving Father who has promised us that love will outlast and overcome hatred. We turn to a loving God who personally visited our planet and entered into the suffering of humanity. We turn to a loving God who can and will bring comfort and peace to troubled souls. We turn to a loving God for strength to enable us to walk through our grief and loss with hope. We turn to a loving God who can enable us to continue to be beacons of light in the face of such darkness. We turn to a loving God who alone can bring about the transformation of human beings and deliver us from the darkness of evil in our own lives. We turn to a loving God who alone is the hope for a future where the light of His love will overcome the darkness of a broken world. We look forward to the new heaven and the new earth where there will be no more evil or death.

Until that day comes -- may God use us as His ambassadors to share His love and His hope in our own corner of the world. May we be able to share the love and hope of Jesus with others so that hatred, racism, violence would be overwhelmed. 

I also must say that we acknowledge that evil has penetrated the walls of our churches. Yes, there have been murders at church. But, the church itself has not been murdered. In fact, the church opens its doors for murderers, drug abusers, racists and all sinners ----- yes, the church is open for business in Arlington, Birmingham, Ft. Worth and Charleston today. The church is open and at work. The church continues to say to everyone, "Come inside. Find hope for your life. Find rest for your soul. Find answers for your questions. Find beauty in your ashes. Find healing for your pain."

May God have mercy on all of us today.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Churches and Transition (4)

Our conversation continues. Churches must learn to deal with transitions. As I have written earlier on this blog, churches are not trying to "keep up with the Jones" (or the Kardashians) -- but they must recognize the reality of change all around them.

Let me remind you of what we have already learned. Churches that are learning how to proclaim the unchanging message of the Gospel in the face of changing times have engaged themselves in the following:



Now -- let's look at a third exercise:


Thing of your church as an arena of ministry offerings. How well do you (as a leader) understand these ministries? Why is your church engaged in them in the first place? Do they match the giftedness and identity of your church? Is the history of the church an issue? What kind of staff do you have in place? What kind of staff do you need? Who are the leaders of the church? What kind of training do you offer for your leaders?

I usually encourage new pastors to take some time to become familiar with the congregational "atmosphere" of a congregation. Before you can make strategic and substantial changes in a church, you need to understand the true makeup of the church.

Remember -- if you are new in particular -- those members have been there a while. They have a certain perspective of their church. It is an "understood" reality for many of them. The general atmosphere simply flows through the ventilation system of the church! Everyone is breathing the same air!

At one church where I served, I asked the leaders of the church to describe the church to me as if it were a person. They took their time to evaluate their response. Finally, this is what they told me: Our church is a middle-aged, balding accountant. He started his own business a few years ago and was really excited about the possibilities. The early expansion of his business exceeded his expectations and the experience was thrilling. However, in the past 15 years or so, business has flattened out and the enthusiasm has waned. He is a bit more cautious now and somewhat content with reality.

Wow! That was insightful! It helped me understand how these leaders viewed the church.

One church where I served had an air of formality about it. It was like a well-pointed dinner with nameplates at each setting. The folks at the table were well-dressed and well-mannered. It just had a "proper" feel to it. I had to learn to lead the church appropriately.

Where I serve today, our church is more like a family picnic. There are paper plates and barbecue everywhere. There is more of a festive atmosphere and everyone is welcome!

My point? You need to explore the arena of your own congregation. What are the primary gifts of the people in your place of ministry? How are you using those gifts? Who are the people in your church? Do they match the overall makeup of the community as well? How can God more effectively use the gifts of the people in ministries that serve the interests of God's Kingdom?

Take time to evaluate and assess the budget of your church. How are you spending money? What priorities are reflected through those expenditures? What does the budget communicate? What are some ways to adjust the budget? What changes might be made to bring the ministries more in line with where God is leading you?

I guess what I am after here is this -- take some time to explore who your church really is. Take your history into consideration. Talk to some long time members. Ask them to help you figure this out. Ask them how they have handled change in the past.

Once you understand the DNA of the church, you are much more equipped and prepared to lead it into the next era of ministry. 

Friday, May 01, 2015

Churches and Transition (3)

We have been discussing how churches can navigate through transition. One thing is for sure, change is inevitable. Particularly nowadays! Our culture seems to be changing at warp speed around us. Our churches are often caught off-guard with the rapid shifts in culture. Technology has certainly played a role in increasing the speed at which change occurs. 

To be clear -- just because our ministry setting seems to be in constant flux, that does not necessarily mean that churches should be trying to "keep up with the Jones'" so to speak. I am not advocating in these posts the idea that we should abandon our core convictions so that we might make the Gospel more palatable to our culture. What I AM saying -- is that we have to be willing to think critically about our church's strategy in proclaiming an unchanging message in the context of changing times.

With that said . . .



Churches that are flourishing today are churches that have taken the time to evaluate their unique area and setting for ministry and mission. So, begin with geographical considerations. Where is your church located? Is it urban, suburban or rural? What is the cultural setting around you? Why has God allowed your church to be located in that particular spot?

I realize some churches have chosen to be located in several geographical locations simultaneously. This phenomenon is known as the "multi-site" model. I am not a big proponent of this approach unless each site has its own pastor who preaches each Sunday and is incarnationally present with the people. Our church oversees about 350 different apartment churches across Arlington, but each one has its own indigenous leadership. (But this paragraph is actually for another topic -multi-site churches-and another future blog post!)

For example, our church is located adjacent to a major state university. University of Texas at Arlington has over 35,000 students. We literally share property together. In fact, it is difficult to determine when you leave its campus and join ours -- and vice versa. So, that particular location has caused us to make significant financial and ministry decisions because of our huge next-door neighbor.

What is the composition of your community? Blue collar? White collar? Ethnically diverse? Apartment complexes or homes? Socio-economic factors need to be explored. What makes these people tick? Is your community very connected to its public schools? What kind of entertainment is available in your community? Is the make-up primarily families or single adults?

What are the ministry opportunities in your community? What needs can you help to address? How can your church bless its community? Does your community need a clothes closet? A training center for adults who are changing vocations? A counseling center? An after school care program? A feeding center in the summer for children who are hungry? 

Also - look for ways to collaborate with others. What are the possibilities of cooperation and collaboration in your particular community? What kind of partnerships can you forge that will give you the chance to bless your community and be salt and light for the Gospel? Is there a local school you can adopt? Can you provide tutors for students? Can you host events for the neighborhood? Can you show drive in movies on the side of one of your buildings during the summer? Can you volunteer at sporting events or other types of entertainment in your community? How can you bless your city?

Our church is located in downtown Arlington.

We are right across the street from City Hall. A few years ago, our city asked us to consider engaging in a land swap that would allow for the construction of an outdoor concert venue that would be a great blessing to our community. We worked it out! We arrived at a deal that was beneficial to both the city and our church. We now have over 50 free concerts each year at the Levitt Pavilion that is located in our front yard! It has been a tremendous blessing for our church and for our city.

As a downtown church, we are a hosting church. We host events each week at our church because we located in the very center of Arlington. People can travel from across Arlington and conveniently arrive on our campus. Graduations, recitals, strategy meetings, Bible Study Fellowship, weddings, receptions, High School Choir performances -- we routinely host events like these all the time.

On the south side of our campus, we intersect directly with UT-Arlington. Recently the administration of the university decided to construct a new College Park Center -- which houses athletic events, music concerts and a host of other activities. In order to satisfy the parking demands of the new facility, the university asked us to consider allowing the construction of a parking garage on our campus. We would "lose" a parking lot but gain a 4-story parking garage that we can use daily and on Sundays.

We worked it out! We now have a parking garage located on our property that services our parking needs during the week and on Sunday mornings. For a downtown church, this is a huge blessing!

So - your church can evaluate your area. Find ways to partner and to minister. Hopefully, you will find favor with both God and man!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Churches and Transition (2)

How do churches make the necessary transitions to remain vibrant and viable in the face of sweeping changes across the culture? It is not easy, for sure. But, it is possible. 

The church I serve was established in 1871. It is older than our city! Ulysses Grant was the President of the United States when a small band of Baptists organized our church in a small community forged around a stagecoach stop. The church eventually moved three miles to the north because the railroad was about to start servicing the area.

Think about all of the changes that have occurred around this church since 1871! And our church is flourishing today. We are home to about 2500 or so regular attenders. We sponsor Mission Arlington that has about 350 apartment churches that meet each Sunday across our city with another 4000 or so in attendance. We also host and support Living Hope -- the largest ministry of its kind in America that assists sexually broken people in their journey of healing. We also have a Child Development Center, a Center for Counseling and Enrichment (11 licensed counselors), Christian Women's Job Corps, operate an office building downtown and we have launched a church-based mission network called Restore Hope. We also are training and sending our own people to live long-term cross-culturally across the world. We are directly at work in Niger, Sierra Leone, Costa Rica, Mexico, China, Indonesia, Spain, India, Japan and New York City. Last year we were able to determine that our church had direct ministry contact with over 600,000 people in over 160 countries around the world. 

All that to say -- God has blessed our church and it is flourishing.

How have we managed all of the transitions in both the broader culture and within our own body? Here are a few insights I have learned along the way.


This is a crucial insight. Many churches make the mistake of staring in the rear-view mirror. Many churches long for days long gone. I would challenge you to surrender any lament about "what used to be." You have to get over it!

In my office, I have a rug that reads, "You are here." I stand on it occasionally! If you want to go anywhere, you have to start where you are! You cannot start from where you wish you were. You have to begin here and now.

I could challenge you to embrace your era. This is not 1955. It is 2015. America is a different place than it was just 50 years ago. Your church (and mine) must recognize the unique challenges and opportunities of this era.

So - take some time to evaluate this era. What are the forces at work today? Recognize that pluralism, technology and migration have all had an effect on the culture. Churches are called upon to minister in the midst of the pluralistic realities resulting from massive people migration to the USA. We live in the day of the diaspora. This is also a day where churches are more focused on Kingdom endeavors than denominational initiatives. Churches are looking for collaborative opportunities based on shared affinities rather than geographical proximity.

Take some time to evaluate how the realities of this era can offer your church opportunities for ministry and mission. This is a great time to be alive and in ministry! Seize this day! 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Churches and Transition (1)

I know you have heard some version of the following joke:

How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb? What? CHANGE??

It is not just true of Baptists -- all types of churches struggle with change. Transitions are rarely neat and clean. Change usually comes because it is forced upon us. Often it is characterized by more fits and starts than strategic implementation of well planned ideas.

Regardless, change is inevitable. Transitions are in the future of every healthy church.

I grew up in a very conservative Baptist church in the deep south during the Civil Rights Era. It was a tumultuous time, to say the least. I was in the second grade when racial integration became a reality in Birmingham, Alabama. I can remember the strain placed on all societal institutions in those days. I wasn't old enough to understand the dynamics at play, but I was aware of the tensions that existed at every turn.

Frankly, our church struggled to manage the sweeping transitions occurring around it. It held on for a long time as a bastion of its tightly construed reality. Finally, a few years ago, the church disbanded and the facility was assumed by another church. I lost touch with any connections in that community years ago. I have not been aware of the status of the new church and its ability to be a viable witness in a transitional community.

Today, my brother sent me some recent photos of the demolition of the church buildings that used to house our church (and the new one, as well). I don't know what has happened there -- but I did find the rubble recognizable. After all, I spent the first 21 years of my life attending that church. I was saved in that sanctuary. I was baptized there. I was called to ministry there. I preached my first sermon there. I was married there. I was ordained into the ministry there. I can close my eyes right now and see that sanctuary. 

It was a bit shocking today to see that building in ruin. But, in all honesty, that church had been in ruin for a long time prior to this. It refused to change. It refused to acknowledge the ministry needs all around it. It chose to protect what was precious to it, rather than embrace what it might also discover to be just as meaningful.

I have been serving as a pastor now for over 30 years. I know how difficult it can be for a congregation to hold fast to conviction and embrace necessary transitions. I have led my fair share of efforts aimed at changing a church's strategy and identity in mission. I know how threatened a church can "feel" when changes are occurring at blazing speed all around it. Technology, demography, ethnography and economic changes can radically alter a church's ministry context. Sweeping changes can overwhelm local church leaders.

So - how do we manage our way through the shifting cultural sands and inevitable transitions that need to happen in order to provide both a prophetic and viable Gospel witness in a given community? That is what I want to explore in the next few blog posts here. Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

What does the Church Need from Millennials (and anyone else, for that matter)?

If you are clued in to significant discussions among church leaders today, then you know millennials are a hot topic. What are churches supposed to be doing to attract this very attractive group of people?

Let me begin be offering a significant set of caveats. First of all, I am a pastor of a local church. I have served as a pastor since 1983. I have spent my adult life serving local churches as a pastor. So, I have a certain perspective forged by over 30 years of pastoral ministry. Obviously, I am a "local church guy".

Also, I love people. All kinds of people. All ages of people. People from all walks of life. I'm surrounded by people from multiple generations in all facets of my life. I live in a multi-generational home. My parents have lived with us for about 17 years. (My father died six years ago, but my 92-year-old Mother still lives with us.) I have two millennials as children. And, I work in a multi-generational setting. And I am 55 years old -- so, I have personally navigated through several generations myself!

Also, I believe in contextualization. I serve a local church that trains and sends its own people to live cross-culturally across the world. I have spent years studying missiology and cultural adaptation. I have worked for the past 15 years among unreached people groups in remote regions of the world. I know how important contextualization is with respect to the advancement of the Gospel.

Also, I believe in analyzing trends, researching sociological factors and considering cultural shifts as a church leader. Sticking our heads in the sand, digging in our heels and resisting change are not options for church leaders. We have to breathe the air of our day and live in the moment of opportunity. I am a firm believer in embracing one's era without complaint.

Finally, I have greatly benefited from the immense amount of material produced by others about millennials. Thom and Jess Rainer published their research on this significant generation in a book entitled, The Millennials: Connecting to America's Largest Generation (B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, 2011). This book is full of insight about the generation of Americans born between 1980-2000. There are close to 80 million millennials! 

I have also enjoyed the insights rendered by people like author/blogger, Rachel Held Evans on the relationship between millennials and the Church. As I have perused the material on this subject, often the resources in print have to do with the reasons millennials are leaving the Church. I have listened to numerous opinions about what our churches need to do in response to this alarming trend. I have heard the challenges from millennials themselves with regard to what they need from the Church.

So, now that I am appropriately covered with caveats, I want to address this topic from a different perspective. As the title of this entry reveals, I want to turn this issue on its head. Here is my question:

What does the Church need from Millennials?

I have given this much thought. As I have already mentioned, I have listened. I have considered and digested what I have heard. And, I am a practitioner. My life is lived in the local church. I serve as pastor to people from multiple generations. Of course I am concerned about any group of folks that seemed to be "turned off" by the Church. We don't want that to be true of any generation of Americans. However, I would note that each generation of Americans has had its own set of issues with the Church. Anyone who lived in the turbulent 1960's knows that local churches struggled in that era to adapt to the sweeping changes that occurred then.

With all that said, let's get back to my question. What are the expectations of the Church from millennials (or anyone else)?

First - give the Church a chance! Local churches are not perfect. They are filled with broken people. They are led by broken people like me. Most local churches that I know really do care about people. They often are at the forefront of benevolent activity in the community. They are populated with people that visit sick folks in hospitals, take food to those who are ill at home, arrange carpools for parents who are temporarily out of commission, take care of the bereaved, call on the elderly and just do a lot of good things. Churches gather regularly to attempt to praise God, give attention to authentic community and study the Bible. Church people are often just trying to figure out how to respond to God's leadership in the midst of a myriad of challenges.

It is easy to take potshots at the Church. Anyone can do that. Anyone can point out the weaknesses and failures of any local church. But -- what if you give the Church a chance to demonstrate what is good and healthy about it? What if you suspend judgment until you more deeply understand the intent of a group of believers who are gathering as the people of God in the attempt to serve His interests in a given time and place?

Second - give yourselves to the Church! The Church needs people who are willing to make serious commitments to the Lord and His work. Local churches are able to accomplish so much because of committed people who are invested in the interests of the Kingdom. Jesus established the Church and left it behind to represent Him on earth. If you are one of His followers, then get involved in what He is doing today! He is working through His Church. He wants you to discover the abundant life that is only available through a dynamic relationship with Him and a purposeful engagement with His people.

Quit viewing the church as a commodity to be consumed and embrace it as an opportunity for you to be used by God in service to Him and others. Years ago I heard a story told by Zan Holmes, legendary Pastor of St. Luke's Methodist Church in Dallas. When he was a child, he returned home from church and told his grandmother that he didn't get much out of the sermon. She asked him, "How much did you put into it?" "What do you mean?" he asked. "I am not the preacher." "Well, did you pray for the pastor this morning? Did you read your Bible this week? When you showed up at church, were you prayed up?" To all of this, Zan answered, "No." She wisely added, "Then, how dare you to expect to get anything out of something that you put nothing into!"

So - yeah, put something in the Church.

Third - help make it better! Every generation has offered unique gifts to the Church. Those gifts have been invested in the midst of a certain context. For example, the early history of the Church was marked by different needs brought on by both internal forces and broader societal factors. The leaders responded appropriately. There was a period of edification -- the theologians responded with writings to meet that need. Later polemical writers addressed the theological distinctions emerging within the Church itself, apologists spoke to the wider culture and systematic theologians arose once the Church was legally established across the Roman Empire.

There have always been generational differences and particular generational needs reflected across the Body of Christ. Each generation of believers has the responsibility to steward its respective influence in ways that are healthy and beneficial to the entire family of God. So - let's continue to answer the bell. Millennials (and anyone else) need to look for ways to assist the Church in transition and adaptation without compromising the integrity of the Gospel witness. We also have to find ways to do this without demanding that the Church bend everything in our generational direction.

Finally - follow The Jesus Way! Here is what I know. If you follow Jesus, He will never lead you out of the Church. He may lead you to a particular local church. But, He will not lead you out of the Church. The Church is His Body. His Bride. His Family. His Army. He loves His Church.

Jesus is not asking you to simply find your way. He is calling you to find your way to His Way! He wants you to know Him and heed His guidance. He wants you to surrender your desires to Him. He wants you to seek His presence in your life and His perspective on your life. You already know your perspective. Seek His. What does He think about the Church? What does He think about your connection to a local body of believers? What does He think about your investment of your life? What does He think about your commitment to His Kingdom interests?

Somehow, every generation of believers prior to our own has figured out how to be the Church for its time. Surely, we can do it as well.

This is a great time to be alive. It is a great time to be in the Church! May God use all of us to reflect His glory through the Church!

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Good Friday

Jesus had entered Jerusalem on the Sunday prior. It is an understatement to say He received a royal welcome. John tells us that the Pharisees were so overwhelmed by the spectacle of Jesus' entry that it felt like "the whole world has gone after him" (John 12:19).

I love John's accounting of the final week of the life of Jesus. Right after the Pharisees offer this concession, John records, "Now there were some Greeks who went up to worship at the festival" (John 12:20). These Greeks (Gentiles) asked to have a meeting with Jesus. In fact, the whole world was going after Jesus! Even at Passover, both Jews and Gentiles were seeking Him.

The teaching that follows this incident in John's account sets the stage for what was to happen next. Back in John 2, Jesus encountered a potentially embarrassing situation when a family friend ran out of wine at a wedding. His mother asked Him to intervene. Jesus responded by saying, "My hour has not yet come" (John 2:4). John uses the Greek "hora" (hour) to refer to Jesus' redeeming work on the cross. In John 7, Jesus was in Jerusalem ant the crowd tried to seize Him but His "hour" had not yet come (John 7:30).

However, in John 12:23, Jesus declared, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified." It was time. John mentions this again in John 13:1, "Jesus knew that the hour had come . . ."

It was time.

It was time for the Life-Giver to offer up His own life for all of humanity. It was time for the Prince of Peace to receive all of the attacks of the prince of this world (John 12:31). It was time for the Advocate to be assaulted by the Accuser. It was time for the Savior to face Satan.

It was time for the Son of Man to act on behalf of all the sons and daughters of the world. It was time for the Son of God to fulfill the work assigned to Him by the Father. It was time for the King of Kings to be inaugurated. The Kingdom of God had come on earth. Strangely enough, it would required the death of the King. But, Jesus said that His death would bring about life for others (John 12:24).

It was time for the sins of the world to be answered by the Lamb of God (John 1:29). It was time for the one who had come down from Heaven's throne to be lifted up on a sinner's cross (Philippians 2:6-8). It was time for the love of God to be on display for all the world to see (John 3:16). It was time for God to reconcile the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). 

The hour had come.

Almost two thousand years have passed since that fateful week in Jerusalem. We have the benefit of history and God's revelation to help us digest the events that occurred that week. Thousands of theologians, priests and preachers have digested these events. We are truly blessed in that regard.

However, each one of us -- as a follower of Jesus -- has the opportunity to simply pause and reflect on the meaning of the death of Jesus Christ. Good Friday is the day to do it.

It is time.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

A Tribute to Jesus . . . and to Clint Dobson

Today, March 3, marks four years since Clint Dobson's death. Some of you who read these words may not have known Clint. He served as the Pastor of North Pointe Baptist Church here in Arlington, Texas. This church is a mission of our church -- so Clint was on our staff. He was one of my students at Truett Theological Seminary. I felt led to bring him here to pastor our mission church.

He married Laura just a little while after he began his work here with us. Together, they were such a force for good as they served the Lord here in north Arlington.

Tragically, Clint was murdered in his office at the church on March 3, 2011. A day forever etched in many of our memories.

Today, I found myself drawn to John 11. This is one of my favorite pages in the Gospels. In this text, the humanity of Jesus and the divinity of Jesus are presented so powerfully through both words and actions. I would encourage you to take the time to read it.

The chapter opens with the announcement that Lazarus was sick. His sisters sent word to Jesus, "Lord, the one you love is sick" (John 11:3). Wow. The one "Jesus loved." Jesus was fully human. He understood what it meant to love someone. He was acquainted with the power of love and the force of bad news. 

How many times have we received bad news about someone we love? I take great comfort in the fact that Jesus understands how that feels. He can identify with you when someone you love is suffering. He knows the cascade of feelings that can overwhelm a person. He was fully human.

But John quickly reveals that Jesus is also fully God. In verse 4, Jesus boldly declares, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it." Wow. Jesus claims here to have power over death itself. He knew that a display of power of this magnitude would be a testimony to His divinity.

After intentionally waiting a couple of days, Jesus finally made His way to Bethany to the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha. Martha ran to meet Jesus. "If you had been here, my brother would not have died," she said. The divinity of Jesus emerged as He declared, "Your brother will rise again." Martha had some knowledge of Messianic eschatology. She replied, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection in the last day" (John 11:23). Jesus re-framed the entire discussion with His famous statement marked by both Messianic fulfillment and Divine revelation:

"I am the resurrection and the life. the one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

I am! This is a direct claim to be divine. He embodies the power of the resurrection. He is life. He will give life to those who die in Him. Death has no victory in eternity. In fact, as John records in his Gospel, Jesus will conquer death on Easter Sunday through His own resurrection. He will demonstrate the power of the Gospel as He answers both sin and death in His Passion.

Martha was overwhelmed by this truth. She proclaimed her belief in Jesus as the Messiah.

Mary came to Jesus and reiterated the words of her sister. "If only . . ." (John 11:32)

The humanity of Jesus surfaced again when Jesus saw the depth of grief displayed by Mary and her friends. John wrote, "He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled" (John 11:33). He was moved as a human being. Again, Jesus identifies with us in our sorrow and grief. He understands the pain of death and loss.

Finally, Jesus stood before the tomb of Lazarus. And he wept (John 11:35). The Son of Man wept. The Son of God wept. Overwhelmed by the moment of grief. I believe He wept as a human being because of the pain felt by his friends. I believe He wept as the Son of God because He was staring the result of sin and brokenness in the face. Death had come. At this point, there was little to do but cry. Everyone around Jesus at that moment would also die. Including Him! And --- He wept.

However, then His divinity was displayed when He called Lazarus forth from death. He demonstrated His power over death. The grave is powerless when Life speaks. Resurrection spoke. And -- Lazarus came forth! Wow!

Jesus Christ was fully human. He felt every emotion. He knows what it is like to stand in a cemetery and cry. He knows the pain that families feel when death comes. He identifies with us in our loss and grief. And yet, Jesus was fully God. He understood death to be an enemy to be defeated. He demonstrated His ability to temporarily address death by resuscitating Lazarus from the dead. However, He would deal death an eternal blow with His resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday. 

Because of the resurrection power of Jesus, Christians enter and leave cemeteries differently than non-believers. We have hope in our grief. We acknowledge His presence with us in our sorrow. Jesus was with all of us when we stood in the cemetery in Arlington and buried Clint Dobson. He was with Clint when he died. He welcomed Clint into eternity. He has used Clint in both life and death. He will give Clint a new body one day that will last forever. Clint will rise again on the last day.

Until that day comes, we can testify that Clint did not die in vain. He has brought glory to the Son of God in his death. God has used him in life and in death. His life and ministry continue to bear fruit in God's Kingdom today. He gave his life to give witness to the One who has conquered death. Praise God.

Today we pay tribute to Clint. He lived and died as a tribute to His Lord. Amen.

Friday, February 27, 2015


I wrote this article for my Pastor's page this week at First Baptist Church of Arlington, Texas. I decided to publish here as well:

It is a powerful force. Music. It is an incredible medium of communication. It is also profitable. Last year, the revenue in the music industry in the United States was $15.2 billion! Our nephew, Ben Vaughn, is in the music business in Nashville. In fact, Ben is the Executive Vice President of Warner/Chappell Music Publishing and he leads its Nashville office. On behalf of Warner/Chappell, he accepted the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) award in November in Nashville as the Music Publisher of the year. He also was honored two weeks ago by ASCAP and Belmont University with the 2015 Music City Milestone Award. We are pretty proud of him. Ben knows music.

I, on the other hand, am not as proficient as my nephew. I had a tonette solo once in the fourth grade music class at Wylam Grammar School in Birmingham, Alabama. I did a pretty good job with my rendition of This is My Country! But, my music career was short-lived. I can still play the Ensley High School Alma Mater on the tonette, though.
I am not a musician. I am not in the music business. But, I do value and appreciate music. In fact, I love music. And—I enjoy music. I like lots of genres of music. I have wide tastes. There is no rhyme or reason for my tastes – I just know what I like. I like to listen to Elvis (who doesn’t?), Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, Elton John -- but, I enjoy classical music, jazz music and a little bit of country music. I also like hymns, psalms and spiritual songs. I am moved by the truths expressed in some contemporary Christian music as well as in some hymns.

Right now, I am singing through the Baptist Hymnal (Convention Press, 1991) in my devotional time with God. I’m sure He is amused! But – I do believe He is pleased. I have felt led by Him to do it. I’ve been amazed by how many hymns I don’t know. I have enjoyed praising Him through music expressed so personally and privately (thank goodness, because I’m not much of a singer!).

I think God has used this exercise to remind me of the beauty and passion of music. He has also has used it to remind me to remain humble and gracious about music. As a Baptist pastor in the 21st century, I know how controversial music can be! As you might imagine, I have received numerous communications through the years about what kind of music God likes!

But – I am not trying to open a can of worms. I am just noting how powerful and beautiful music can be. I’m grateful to God for gifting people to compose, write and perform music. We are all better off because of it!