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Hurricane Harvey Brings out the Best and the Worst

As I type this, Hurricane Harvey made landfall last week and has devastated Houston and surrounding areas with wind damage and “unprecedented” flooding. Some parts have had over FOUR FEET OF RAIN. I didn’t say that there was over four feet of flooding, but over four feet of rain! And rain continues to fall. Moments ago, I heard that a levee was breached.  This is NOT good!

Once again WeatherBell’s Bill Bastardi was spot-on in his predictions.

Thousands of victims have been rescued by the US Coast Guard, Texas Guard, US National Guard, and an army of volunteers who launched their personal boats at their own risk in an effort to rescue every person from the floods. A friend of mine loaded up his car with as much as he could and hauled his boat almost 300 miles to help in the rescue efforts. This IS good.

Even before Harvey approached the Texas Coast, Texas Baptist Men, volunteers who travel wherever there are disasters, loaded up trucks with roofing materials, food, water, and portable facilities for showering and laundry and began the near-300-mile trek Southward. This IS good!

Meanwhile, some long-time friends have posted comments and memes on Facebook callously mocking Texas politicians, saying they’re hypocrites for requesting and accepting federal money when they voted to deny such federal support for victims of Super Storm Sandy in New York. Some of my friends posted a link to an article saying that this Hurricane was related to man-caused climate change. However, seasoned meteorologist Bill Bastardi (mentioned above) says this is a “natural cycle” that has been observed before.

Here is my latest plea on Facebook:

Regardless of your political leanings, please show some semblance of respect and basic human DECENCY by not politicizing the disaster that was Hurricane Harvey, and as a tropical storm continues to deluge SE Texas and SW Louisiana.Your snide remarks, memes and other criticism of POTUS and Texas politicians are falling on deaf ears. You are only displaying your ignorance, cruelty, and downright indecency. Your attempt at levity in the midst of the gravity of this situation is sabotaging any amount of credibility and respectability you *think* you still have.

I have lost all respect for some long-time friends whose focus is solely on politics and not on the decency of helping victims of this tragedy. Debating politics is one thing, but it is disgustingly heartless to do so while the area is still being inundated by torrential rains and flooding. This is NOT good!

So how can people help? I’m glad you asked that question! Here’s what I said last night on Facebook:

Especially for this need, I might not recommend Red Cross (or any other organization whose CEO makes multiples of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year). As I understand it, the Red Cross pools resources from other organizations. Why not give directly to those organizations! If the Red Cross keeps 15% of what they receive, then only $.85 of your $1 would be able to pass along to the organization that the RC uses. Why not eliminate the middle man and give the entire $1 to one of the organizations below, who already have a low overhead and therefore operate more efficiently! And these are not fly-by-night organizations; they are well-established with an excellent stewardship history. 

So here are my recommendations (none of which has a high-paid CEO):

Texas Baptist Men go wherever there’s a disaster. This time, they stayed home to help fellow Texans. Some crews departed Dallas as early as last Thursday (before Harvey made landfall) with roofing supplies, food, water, portable shower and washer/dryer facilities. TexasBaptistMen.Org/give-now 

One friend’s church (in Virginia) made this remark:
Want to help victims of Harvey in Houston? Our denomination has the 3rd largest disaster relief organization in the country (SBC Disaster Relief) and they are already staged in Houston with hundreds of thousands of meals, water, chains saws, shower trailers, etc. They also have teams of chaplains to provide spiritual counseling in the wake of this disaster.
If you would like to donate, you can give directly through the NAMB website below or text SENDRELIEF to 41444.
North American Mission Board’s Hurricane Harvey Response 

And of course, everybody has heard of The Salvation Army.

 However you choose to help, please do so.

Why I Am a Baptist

I didn’t grow up as a Baptist. I wasn’t saved in a Baptist church. I didn’t become a Baptist until I had been a Christian for thirteen years. So why did I become a Baptist?

I grew up in another division. I say this because “denomination” is a math term and is related to division. The division I grew up in was the one chosen by my parents shortly before I was saved. It seemed to fit me well for eight years or so. Then I was challenged to look at what the Bible said about eternal security.

I had always thought that it was possible to lose your salvation. A high school teacher challenged me to consider what the Bible had to say about the subject. As I looked at what was clearly taught in the Bible, I realized that maintaining my salvation had nothing to do with what I did. It had everything to do with what Jesus had already done! As I continued to consider the issue – even recently – I saw that my eternal security had everything to do with the very character of God!

A few years after my epiphany on eternal security, I began to consider my call to ministry from my early teens. I looked into what my division had to say about issues like abortion. My division’s official position was that abortion was a private issue between a woman and her doctor. But this seemed to be contrary to what the Bible taught about the sanctity of life. Psalm 139, among other scriptures, seemed to indicate that life began at conception. If that’s true, how can abortion be a private issue between a woman and her doctor when a baby’s life is at stake?  I couldn’t see myself following a ministry training program in a division that differed from the Bible on this clear issue.

About that time, a non-Baptist friend told me that I was a Baptist, but I just didn’t know it; he said that I already believed everything Baptists did. As I considered his comments, I picked up a couple of books about what Baptists believe. Sure enough, I was a Baptist, I just didn’t belong to a Baptist church. As I continued to consider, not only Baptist beliefs , but Baptist ministry, I saw the importance of cooperative ministry: churches pooling their resources to do ministry, evangelism, missions, and education. Southern Baptists seemed to do ministry from a Biblical model.

So I joined, not only a Baptist church, but a Southern Baptist Church. And when it was time to pursue ministry training, I went to an SBC seminary.

I still have many friends from my former division, as well as friends from many other divisions. We can all agree to disagree on non-essential issues. But at the end of the day, I am a Southern Baptist because I agree with the beliefs and the way Southern Baptists do ministry.

 

 

Is “Praying the Prayer” Biblical?

One of my concerns over the years is the popular idea of encouraging people to “pray a prayer to accept Jesus into their hearts”. According the new International Mission Board President, David Platt, doing this is superstitious and dangerous.

I took a class on World Religions when I was at UNC-Chapel Hill. Obviously, this class was not taught from a “Christian perspective”. And that was a good thing. It was good to hear an academic description of the major world religions because it gave me an idea as to how lost people look at the world.

One day, our professor began to explain Pure Land Buddhism. As he described the concept of “salvation”/”achieving enlightenment”, I began to feel chills creep up my spine. According to that religion, all you need to ensure your “salvation” was to speak a particular phrase. You could live your life however you wanted before and after speaking these words and you were still guaranteed “salvation”.

So why did I get chills? Because there’s not much difference between that religion’s concept of “salvation” and much of our evangelistic training and mindset!

Let me ask… When you think about when you became a Christian, do you believe it happened because you prayed a prayer, or walked down an aisle? If one must do any or all of these things, then why don’t we see either of those things mentioned in the entire New Testament? Or in the writings of the Church Fathers? Or in the writings of the Reformers? Even baptism — as important as it is — isn’t given as being essential to salvation. In fact, such easy believe-ism is completely counter to everything we read in the New Testament, and the writings of the Church Fathers and the Reformers.

The concept of praying a sinner’s prayer is a modern convention, perhaps shaped by the Western mindset of “being a soul-winner”, similar to being a successful salesman who always presses for the decision and closes the deal. I even remember some of my evangelism training including asking the prospective convert if he/she could think of any reason why they shouldn’t pray the prayer and if not, they should bow and pray.

As Dr. Pratt says in the video above, doing this is dangerous, and even damning.

How many people will stand before God on Judgment Day, claiming that they should be granted access to eternity in heaven because they prayed a prayer, walked down an aisle, shook a pastor’s hand or were baptized?

The prospect of that Day scares me! And it should scare you, too! Jesus took it a step farther, saying that on that Day, many will claim that they had done some pretty spectacular things, but would still wouldn’t enter heaven because He never knew them. (Matthew 7:21-23)

Biblical salvation is more than just praying a prayer, walking an aisle, and being baptized. Salvation is receiving eternal life and eternal life is knowing God (John 17:3). Salvation begins when we exchange our life (all of our sin) for Jesus’ life (all of His righteousness) in order to be put in a right relationship with our Creator and King, against Whom we have all committed High Treason. Without accepting that free exchange, we are all worthy of nothing better than an eternity in hell and separation from God. Salvation continues as we live according to that new standing as adopted children. And salvation is fully realized when we cross over to the other side of eternity.

Does praying a prayer save you? No. Prayer is a natural response to receiving the New Life in exchange for our Old life and being accepted into a new family by a loving Father. And prayer can express our repentance as we turn from our sin and toward God.

What are your thoughts?

 

What is the Measure of One’s Ministry?

Too often we measure ministries by “nickels and noses” or “buildings, budgets, and butts”. If you’re around a group of pastors of different churches, the topic of church size quickly comes up, one will brag about his church’s latest building program, another brags about his latest offering, and still another about how many new members have recently joined the church. And if you ask how many people attended last Sunday Morning’s church service, you will hear a “ministerialy-speaking” number that more often than not, is inflated.

Speaking of inflated numbers…. the first church I pastored had nearly 300 members! But I don’t know that even on the “high attendance” Sundays of Christmas and Easter we ever had more than 50 people in the sanctuary. As we dug into the names, we found that we only recognized about 60. Sixty of 300 names!

You rarely hear of churches cleaning up their rolls, mainly because reporting the numbers accurately makes it look like the church has had a drastic drop in membership. And smaller memberships mean fewer people can go to denominational meetings and vote on behalf of your church. But, honestly, how many people go to those denominational meetings anymore anyway?

Wanting to account for the actual number of sheep in our fold, we began removing the names of people we didn’t know, or that we knew had died. So what happened to so many people on the membership roll? I suspect that many moved away, joined another church, or simply dropped out. Perhaps many were children who prayed a prayer during a Vacation Bible School over the course of 30+ years, and their names were added to the membership and they were never heard from again. (and did we ever follow up with them?)

I have heard of church business meetings where a number of people showed up for the first time in years in order to vote out a pastor (maybe some people didn’t like the way he parted his hair) or to change the direction a pastor was trying to lead the church (perhaps to be less “religious” and to be more like Jesus). Phone calls were made and accusations were leveled, with the result of the poor church clerk having to pour through the membership roster to make sure that everyone in the meeting was entitled to vote, based on their “membership” in the church. I must confess that this is one of the reasons I wanted to clean up the membership rolls; I didn’t want the church to be sabotaged by people who had no vested interest in the normal operations of the church. If there were people who wanted to maintain membership so they could have a “church marriage” or a “church funeral”, I was prepared to conduct their services, but I felt that those “members” had “broken covenant” by choosing to no longer attend and support the church with their time, talent, and their treasures.

So what is church membership?

Even after paring down the list of names to those 60 that we knew, we still had some names on the list because they were family members of charter church members, for whatever reason afraid of removing their grandchild or cousin from the roll. Were they afraid they wouldn’t come back to church? Hadn’t the grandchild or cousin already made that decision?

OK, I’ll step off my soapbox after saying that we need to seriously consider what “church membership” means. By “we”, I mean churches, staff, as well as everyone who calls themselves a “church member”. Wouldn’t it be better to call everyone either a church member or church attender based on their investment of time, talent, and yes… treasures?

 

I came across a really good post this morning that addresses this question of how to best measure one’s ministry. From a pastor’s perspective, I believe we should change our criteria.

 

New Resume Posted!

I have just updated my resume and a letter from the Parker County Director of Missions, John Thielepape. Perhaps I might be a good fit for your church as a Supply (fill-in) Preacher, Interim Pastor or Pastor. Let’s talk! Contact information is on the resume or click here for a contact form.