Thursday, November 17, 2016

Grace and Truth

In John 1, the apostle declared that Jesus was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Wow.

Let’s think about that. As I see it, grace and truth do not lie at either ends of a spectrum. That separates them too far from each other. However, I do think they have to be held in tension. Both are needed in the life of any follower of Jesus.

We can’t utilize one without the other, however. For example, we can’t be all about truth and ignore grace. In other words, we can’t JUST be concerned about truth. When we lose touch with grace, we become hardened and calloused toward others. If all we care but is truth, we miss the opportunity to carefully express truth. Our expressions are uncaring and can even be damaging to others.

On the other hand, we can’t be all about grace. If we JUST are concerned about grace, we can lose touch with the truth. When this happens, we lose any sense of judgement or discernment. We can become people who don’t really believe anything—thus, anything goes. This too, can be damaging to others.

Somehow, we must aspire to be like Jesus—namely, full of grace AND truth. We must learn to embrace the truths of the Gospel and learn to express them graciously. We don’t have the option of just believing. We have to behave as well.

So, when we encounter difficult and sensitive topics—we must keep this in mind. As I observed the debate at our annual meeting as Texas Baptists, I kept thinking about grace and truth. We were discussing the very sensitive topic of human sexuality. We all know our society is embroiled in a debate about it. Churches are debating it as well.

My personal conviction about human sexuality is in line with the historic, orthodox Christian position. However, as I live out that commitment to truth and express my belief in it—I must do so graciously.

I will not surrender my belief. I am committed to it. But I am also just as committed to express my beliefs through both gracious words and gracious behavior. It is hard to do. But, I must follow the example of Jesus. In the famous story of John 8:1-11, Jesus shows us how to do it. I would encourage you to read that text and look for grace and truth.

I am praying for myself as we navigate the challenges we face today. I am praying for you as well.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Donald, Hillary and the Rest of Us

And so, here we are. Weeks away from an historic presidential election. As a pastor, I do not endorse candidates for political office. While I have my own convictions as a private citizen, I also have an obligation as a pastor to remain neutral in public discourse as far as endorsements go. Not all of my colleagues share this particular conviction, but I still practice it.

With that said, I do have an obligation to speak on behalf of the Gospel and offer some historical perspective. This current election has easily been the most troublesome one of my adult lifetime. We have had acrimony and disgusting political discourse in the past. However, we have set the bar at its lowest in these recent months. We have witnessed the degradation of the elective process in this election that is incomparable to any presidential election in history.

Almost daily we read of deplorable actions on the part of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Even their most ardent supporters have had to cringe at the revelations of the actions and words of these two candidates. In fact, representatives from both sides often challenge voters to support their candidate merely because “he/she is not as bad as him/her.” Really? Is that the only reason to vote for a candidate for president?

I know I have heard many times that voters choose between two evils. But this time, what are our options? All of us have been offended at some level by these two candidates. Unfortunately, we have created a society that evidently rewards their behavior. Both of them have abused power and taken advantage of vulnerable people. Both of them seem to thrive on acrimony, accusation and a cavalier treatment of the truth.

As an American, I am deeply disappointed. As a Christian leader, I am deeply troubled.

However, as a Christian leader, I also feel compelled to remind us that our hope is not in an earthly leader. As much as I love America, my hope is not in the “American way.” My hope is in Jesus and I am first and foremost a follower of The Jesus Way.

I have to remind myself (and all of us) that God intervened in history when a tyrant (King Herod) and a pagan (Caesar Augustus) were in power. His Son was birthed into a vulnerable family in a tumultuous time. After His Messianic Mission was complete, the church was birthed in a climate of governmental oppression. In fact, the early life of the church was constantly in peril because of institutional persecution.

Those early Christians knew better than to put too much stock in earthly powers. We could do well to learn from them. We are admonished in Scripture to pray for our leaders. We must be obedient. We must pray for them. However, we are not to view them as the answer to the ills of society. Our hope is in Jesus and in His Kingdom. As Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). In His Kingdom, the only vote that matters has already been cast!

Until He returns to fully establish His Kingdom on earth, we will put our hope in Him. We will live in accordance to His values. We will embody His truth. We will humbly serve other human beings in His Name. We will pray for our leaders and each other. And we will do our part to participate with our Lord in advancing His Kingdom on earth.

As Christian Americans, let’s seek God’s direction as we vote for any candidate. Let’s hope for the best. Let’s commit ourselves to contribute what is good in our society and refuse to participate in what makes it worse.

And—Lord help us.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Again--the Tragedy of Senseless Violence

Once again, we have had a tragedy-filled week here in America. Lord have mercy.

We all have a certain feeling of helplessness whenever things like this occur. When I heard and read about the events in Louisiana and Minnesota, my heart sank. I felt for the families who had lost a person they loved. I felt for the police officers who respond to emergencies as a matter of course. I felt for our country as it seeks to navigate through the incredible challenges we are facing today. I felt for the many people in our nation who feel disenfranchised and under-represented in our "system" of life. I felt for all the people who have been victimized by those in authority.

Again. Lord have mercy.

And then, last night. Wow. Last night. In Dallas, Texas. My goodness. There are no words to describe the emotions we are all feeling here in the metroplex.

Peaceful protests are woven into the fabric of our nation. Historically, we have protected and blessed the rights of Americans to free speech and free expression. I certainly understand and support the right of our fellow Americans to protest injustice and express frustration. I grew up during the Civil Rights Era in Birmingham, Alabama. Trust me--I am very familiar with protests that emerge from just causes.

Unfortunately, the tragic turn in Dallas last night may affect all Americans. The acts of a handful of sinful people will have ramifications across our land today and in the days ahead. Police officers will be on edge today. Uniformed people will be on alert. And--for good reason. The overwhelming majority of police officers in this country are incredible people. I was reminded of that last night as I watched the events unfold on television. I watched courageous police officers do what police officers do--they RAN TOWARD an active shooter. They put their lives on the line to protect our community.

How many times today will police officers across the country do the very same thing? How many times will they step into a tense situation and diffuse it without event? How many Americans today will go about their business without even thinking about the acts of courage on display all around them by our police officers? Would you join me today in praying for the police officers across America today? Let's pray for their safety and their ability to intervene in the troubled places of our country today in ways that will diffuse anger and resolve conflict.

At the same time, we have to admit there are injustices in our society. People of color still face obstacles that are unfamiliar to others. People of color often are tested in ways that many of us do not understand. It is tragic. We are the land of the free ---- but there is so much work left to be done to make that freedom a reality for all Americans.

This morning in my daily Bible reading, I was reading Acts 5. I'm sure you know the passage. It begins with the judgment of Ananias and Sapphira. However, the text then goes on to recount the faithful disciples sharing Jesus with their community. They were arrested and persecuted but they continued to share the good news of Jesus.

As I have reflected this morning on all of the recent events, I have sensed the leadership of God in my own life to be more personally faithful to share the hope of Jesus with the people I encounter. I have also been impressed to do my part to help our society address injustice as I am able. I have been reminded of just how lost our society truly is.

I can't get the image out of my mind of those officers running toward the trouble. I just sense that we as believers must do the same thing. We can't shy away from the forces of evil in our world. We have got to engage injustice. We must bring the hope and love of Jesus to the broken people in our world. We are not called to be "safe" in this world. The world is too lost. The needs are too great.

We also have to run toward those who are hurting. We must stand at their side and mourn with them. We must let them know that their Father is grieving with them today. He is sickened by senseless violence and hurt. He loves them deeply and we need to be the messengers of that love.

So--I am praying for all concerned today. I am also praying for the Church of Jesus Christ today. I am praying that God will empower His people to be His messengers of love, hope, comfort, care. I am praying that we will engage our communities with the Gospel of Jesus. I am humbled by the concluding verse of Acts 5: "Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah."

Lord, have mercy today on our nation. Lord, may Your church represent You well today.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

A Week (or so) in the Life of This Pastor

As Ralph Kramden used to say, "How sweet it is!"

Today is Mother's Day. I find myself seated in my study at home--after a hectic day, all is quiet. In the quietness of these moments, I have been reflecting on the past 10 days or so in my life. It has been quite a whirlwind.

The week leading up to Celebration Sunday (May 1) at our church was a powerful time. I could just sense the momentum mounting as Sunday approached. Since I have been the pastor here at FBC Arlington, we have never attempted an outdoor morning worship service. And certainly -- never one like this one! It was the culmination of months of planning and praying through our Blessing the Generations Campaign.

On Wednesday of that week, I was in Fort Worth attending a ceremony as a Regent for Baylor University. That afternoon I attended a long meeting analyzing the potential renovation of our Sanctuary. That evening was somewhat usual--Wednesday evening Bible Study, a Quarterly Church Conference and two meetings afterward.

As the weekend approached--I found myself wandering over to the Levitt Pavilion to just pray over the grounds. I then had a Wedding Rehearsal in Dallas on Thursday night. On Friday night, I performed a wedding in Dallas. On Saturday morning, I was at the Levitt just observing all the setup for Sunday. I attended a prayer time that afternoon with the Worship Team, Media Team, Staff members and volunteers at the Levitt. I then headed to Ft. Worth to perform another wedding.

Sunday morning began with a good-bye to our son, Josiah and his wife, Adrienne. They left that morning for a vacation in Europe. I headed to the Levitt with a heart full of anticipation. And--I was not disappointed. It was an incredible day of worship, community, fellowship and celebration. As large as my expectations were--they were exceeded! Oh my!

I will never forget that day. It was an inspiring time at FBC Arlington. God worked among us in amazing ways. The spirit of our people was just contagious. At the end of the service, hundreds of people came forward to make commitments to our campaign. It was a moving time of prayer and sacrifice. We capped the day off with dinner on the ground courtesy of David's Barbeque. It was awesome. 

This past week has been filled with meetings. I have met with lay leaders, staff members and various combinations of the same. We have been assessing the campaign, praying for God's wisdom and celebrating the generosity of our people. After numerous meetings, we began to get a sense of further direction from God in our journey. We convened a meeting for Saturday morning with several leaders of the campaign and Master Planning Committee and the senior level staff members.

Prior to that meeting, I was able to visit with one of our church families who was preparing for a funeral. Cindy and I headed to Dallas to another funeral home to comfort Sarah Mitchell (Clint Dobson's sister) in the tragic death of her husband. We stood with the Dobson family at another casket and prayed and cried.

Saturday morning was an inspiring meeting. As leaders of FBC Arlington, we sensed God's hand on us as we reflected upon next steps in our campaign and in the overall direction of our church. We prayed and planned together. Then, I was off to Flower Mound for another wedding!

Then---today. Mother's Day. We baptized three new believers today. We had another child in our church profess her faith in Jesus today. We dedicated 11 babies to the Lord in our two morning worship services! We heard an incredible report from our the Chair of our Blessing the Generations Campaign. We have had pledges and gifts that exceed $10 million! Praise God!

So--these past 10-12 days have been jam-packed. Three weddings, two funerals, several counseling sessions, numerous meetings, two Bible Studies, two incredible mornings of worship and celebration, 3 baptisms, 11 baby dedications, multiple prayer walks, meaningful family events ----- and I managed to work in one golf tournament!

I guess the summary of it all is . . . I love being a pastor. In fact, I love being the pastor of this church at this time.

In fact . . .

How sweet it is!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Ides of March

Thanks to William Shakespeare, this day is well-known to many. Most English Literature students are familiar with the phrase, "Beware the Ides of March." It comes from Shakespeare's play, Julius Caesar. A soothsayer warned the Roman Emperor that something ominous had appeared on the horizon and this day would reveal it.

Well -- actually, Shakespeare's account was rooted in reality. Julius Caesar was actually warned by a Roman mystic that a period of darkness was in his future that would last until the Ides of March. Caesar dismissed this prophecy as faulty and continued his normal activities. In fact, according to some sources, Caesar actually passed by this soothsayer as he was walking to a meeting of the Roman Senate on March 15, 44 BC. Supposedly, Caesar remarked that the Ides had come. The soothsayer replied, "But not gone."

Turns out -- it was a fateful day for Julius Caesar. He walked into an ambush that day at the Theater of Pompey (temporary home of the Roman Senate). He actually was in attendance to let the Senate know that he was planning to postpone their meeting. After taking his seat on the Emperor's Throne, he was attacked and fatally stabbed some 23 times. Wow! Beware indeed!

And--today is a pivotal day in the election cycle in the Presidential Primaries in the US. Hopefully, none of the candidates received an Ides of March message! This has been an interesting primary season, to say the least. I have heard many folks express their anxiety about the races this year. Some have lamented that this may be the most controversial election in our history.

It will have to be incredibly controversial to win that designation! We have had some pretty interesting elections in our history as a nation. We have not had our leader stabbed by a host of Senators like ancient Rome--but we have had some doozies of elections.

For example, in 1824 John Quincy Adams was elected President of the US. However, Andrew Jackson won 99 Electoral votes and over 41% of the popular vote. Adams only won 31% of the popular vote and just 84 Electoral votes. There were four candidates who ran that year--and all from the Democratic-Republican Party. Because Jackson did not win enough of a majority of the vote, the House of Representatives had to elect the President. Henry Clay was the fourth candidate in the race and did not earn enough votes to be on the ballot in the House. However, he was the Speaker of the House and he hated Andrew Jackson!

So, what happened? Henry Clay led the charge against Andrew Jackson and convinced enough state delegations to vote for Adams. Finally, after all the deliberations, John Quincy Adams was named President, marking the only time in our history that the candidate who garnered the most votes in the Electoral College was not elected president! And--Adams promptly named Henry Clay his new Secretary of State! Talk about controversial!

Or, what about the election of 1860? Abraham Lincoln won the nomination to run for President of the US and nine states in the South refused to allow his name of the ballots! Or, what about the election of 1876 between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden? Tilden easily won the popular vote, but voter fraud in the Electoral College threw the election into the House of Representatives. Oregon turned in two ballots because of the infighting of their political parties. Finally, Tilden's supporters agreed to let Hayes become President if he would end Reconstruction in the South--even though he did not have the votes to win. He agreed and served one term as President.

Or, what about the election of 1872 when Horace Greeley tried to unseat President Grant? Greeley received 2.8 million votes which qualified him for 86 Electoral votes. Then, he died before the Electoral College met to cast their votes. This was unprecedented in US history. His Electors agreed to split their votes among other candidates. However, three of the Electors refused to change their ballots and all cast their votes for Horace Greeley. This was the only time in history that Electors cast their votes for a dead candidate!

So, this election cycle feels like it is out of control to some folks. It has been characterized by some low blows and crazy antics. I am not particularly enjoying it. After all, this is the race for President! However, I am encouraged by the fact that our nation has faced challenging elections in the past. Hopefully, we will find our way through this one!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Blessing the Generations

At our church, we are spending two months exploring Blessing the Generations. Here is an article I wrote about the six generations in our church relating to each other. I read this to the congregation on Sunday morning, January 10, 2016.

How do all of these generations relate to each other in healthy ways?
I’ve written this parody to just demonstrate how diverse generations can be – but also just how much we actually all have in common. We’ll see how many images, phrases and cultural jargon you recognize – and how often you are in the dark because of the limitations of your generation.

So – back to our question. How do all of these generations relate to each other in healthy ways?

That is a great question! How do we do it? In some ways, it is the $64,000 question.

There are no easy answers. Generations are just . . . well, different. Whether it is music, literature, movies, cultural iconography, tastes, preferences, clothes, hairstyles or heroes. We can just be so different.

But—generations don’t have to irritate each other all the time. We can learn from each other. We can truly relate to each other. We can live together in healthy relationships and get the best out of those relationships. Even when we don’t all recognize what is being said or why something is being done. We can give each other the benefit of the doubt. We can learn from healthy examples.

By definition, families are intergenerational. Families can create healthy dynamics where everyone benefits. I can think of numerous families that have demonstrated healthy intergenerational relationships. For example, Morticia and Gomez loved each other deeply and were able to care for Grandmama and still had time for their children, Wednesday and Pugsley. Plus, Uncle Fester and Cousin Itt were both welcomed and allowed to live in this multi-generational home.

Now, they were creepy and they’re kookey, mysterious and spookey, they’re altogether ookey --- the Addam’s family.

Ahh – why not?

Their house is a museum, when people come to see’em, they really are a scre-am --- the Addam’s family!

So, it can work. And not just on television. We can make it work.

But – we all know inter-generational intersections can be challenging. Different ideas can collide instead of merge when radically different perspectives are brought together. When people from such different backgrounds with such different worldviews are forced to interact with each other – it can be a recipe for disaster.

In fact, the differences experienced in multi/inter-generational relationships are innumerable. Sometimes when we try to sort them all out in real time in real relationships or real churches or real families, it is challenging to say the least. Emotions can run rampant, things are said and stuff can just cascade down unintentionally. It is almost like opening Fibber McGee’s closet!

There can be so many natural barriers between the generations. That doesn’t help. Differences in communication styles, language, cultural backgrounds and worldviews can result in the building of walls instead of bridges. So, when generations are trying to communicate with each other, it can be much like Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s On First?” skit.

And it can be frustrating when you are trying to share the irritation you are experiencing and there just isn’t the right Emoji that captures your feelings. 

#Idon’twanttoblessthegenerations #oldpeople #whycan’teveryonebelikeme #i’msooverit


So, yeah, intergenerational relating is fraught with difficulty and misunderstanding. But it is worth the effort to make it successful. Intergenerational relationships will enrich your life and make you a deeper, more well-rounded person.

It’s not easy. It never has been. There have always been tensions between generations.

“Every generation wants to be the last. Every generation hates the next trend in music they can't understand. We hate to give up those reins of our culture. To find our own music playing in elevators. The ballad for our revolution, turned into background music for a television commercial. To find our generation's clothes and hair suddenly retro.” 
            -Chuck Palahniuk, Lullaby

But it is worth the effort. Learning to relate to other generations will take time and energy. In order to make it work it is important To Tell the Truth. Because actually, Truth or Consequences emerge in intergenerational relating. Sometimes telling the truth requires Survivor – like skills. In fact, sometimes you hear The Voice ringing in your heart to do or say the right thing. It requires finesse and dexterity – it can be like Dancing with the Stars.

All of us are going to develop and mature through our own generation. If you can survive The Dating Game, get past being The Bachelor you can make to The Newlyweds. Sometimes your journey may be in Jeopardy. It will require Concentration. And – if you can learn the art of compromise, and if you can survive the Family Feud you will often say to each other, Let’s Make a Deal. Who knows? You may take a spin on The Wheel of Fortune and climb the $25,000 Pyramid and you might even ask the question one day, Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

As you mature and develop, hopefully your desire to be a blessing to other generations will develop as well. I hope you will see the value of reaching across the divide and building bridges to others who see the world very differently than you. What you will discover is that we actually all have a lot in common.

We want to live meaningful lives. We want to love and be loved. We want to know the deeper things of life. We want to have fun. We want to make a difference in the world. We want to recover from hurt and failure. We want to live! We want to navigate the human experience successfully. Certainly, if we are believers, we want to Follow The Jesus Way!

The writer of Ecclesiastes is right:

Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever . . .
       What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under           the sun.

Every generation has heroes and villains. Love songs and poetry. Tag lines, memorable events, leaders and followers. Sometimes we say the very same thing in different ways. But – there is a core connection across all generations!

The Crawley family didn’t invent the desire to live in an Abbey in Downtown.

Petula Clark was singing about that in the 1960’s.

When you’re alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go . . . downtown. When you’ve got worries, all the noise and the hurries seems to help I know . . . downtown.

Or Bruno Mars puts it this way for today’s generation--- 
Uptown: Saturday night and we in the spot. Don’t believe me, just watch – Uptown.

Wait a minute – it’s not Downtown Abbey – it’s Downton Abbey.

Oh well, you get my point, right? Here are a few other insights:

Adele wasn’t the first one to call and say “Hello from the other side.”

Jim Croce did it years earlier with a little help from the operator:

Operator, could you help me place this call?
See, the number on the matchbook is old and faded.
She’s living in LA with my best old ex-friend Ray
A guy she said she knew well and sometimes hated.

#Adeleisawsome #Ican’tbelieveheknowsuptownfunkanddowntonabbey

And – famous love stories? Every generation has them!

Beyonce and Jay Z
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall
Brad and Angelina
Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn
Kanye West and Kim Kardashian
Elizabeth Taylor and Mike Todd
Elizabeth Taylor and Conrad Hilton
Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton
Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner

We also have our own memorable phrases:

Where’s the beef?
Show me the money!
Have it your way!
It’s the real thing!
A little dab’ll do you!
Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz – Oh what a relief it is!
You’re in good hands.
What’s in your wallet?
Don’t leave home without it.
Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t.
A mind is a terrible thing to waste.
Can you hear me now?
Finger-lickin’ good!
It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.
You can trust your car to the man who wears the star.
15 minutes can save you 15% on your car insurance.
Watch me whip, Watch me Nae Nae

And generations have their defining opening lines or scenes:

That feather landing on Forrest Gump’s shoe.

You’re about to enter another dimension. A dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. Next Stop – the Twilight Zone!

The story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. 

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

So, there it is. We are very different – and very much alike. Some of us come from generations where only spiders built websites and the only thing online was a fish. Others of us can’t imagine a life without downloads, a digital footprint or an Instagram account.

Sometimes it can be hard to keep up with what is current or appreciate what used to be. When Barney Rubble and Fred Flinstone told us to have “a gay old time” – that meant one thing then, something completely different now.

To my generation, the moonwalk was made famous by Neil Armstrong. To another generation, it belongs to Michael Jackson. I remember when Matt Dillon didn’t know anything about Mary – he knew about Kitty and he was a Marshall in Dodge City with a deputy named Festus.

#whatisafestus? SMH WCA

I remember when the Colts were in Baltimore and the Jazz was in New Orleans. I remember the first microwave I ever saw and the first time I learned that a telephone could work without a cord attached to the wall. I remember the first personal computer I ever owned (thank you, Kaypro) and the first car I ever had with an 8-track player built in. I remember a bar in Boston where everybody knows your name; helicopters landing delivering the wounded to Hawkeye and Trapper John. I remember when a lovely lady met a man named Brady; when Mr. Kotter was welcomed back; when the SS Minnow was lost at sea; when the Jefferson’s moved on up; when space was known as the final frontier and the Starship Enterprise could boldly go where no man has gone before.

I remember when they built a bridge over troubled waters, when a stairway was built to heaven and the night they drove ol’ Dixie down. I know that country roads can take you home, that you can’t save time in a bottle, that Monday, Monday can be all I hope it will be and that the answer is not really blowing in the wind.

In fact, hey – I’m a believer and I have learned that without Jesus, I can’t get no satisfaction.

I am happy to be alive at this point in time. I am still learning and growing. I want to learn from all of you – and I hope we all join in the blessing: