Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Why Churches Need Parachurch Ministries and Parachurch Ministries Need Churches

This week my oldest child is at FCA Leadership Camp. She will be a huddle leader at her school again this year. I'm so proud of her and excited to see how God is using her for the sake of the Kingdom.

Last week I had breakfast with a staffer for Young Life in another county that my family supports each month. As I listened to stories of camp and this past year of serving in ministry I was reminded of the need that is out there to reach the next generation with the gospel.

Our church like other Baptist churches across Georgia is placing an emphasis on getting kids in the word. Helping them to spend time reading the Bible as individuals or as a family. Helping them memorize scripture and learn the books of the Bible. Why are we doing this? Because we believe that reaching children and youth is vital to the health of our church and fulfills the Great Commission.

My wife and I are both involved in the work of Guido Bible College.  A small school situated at Guido Gardens in Metter which is helping to train the next generation of sowers for kingdom work.

As college students we were involved in a local congregation that helped us grow immensely in our faith, but our involvement in a college ministry associated with that denomination is what really helped us lay a foundation of our faith.

Throughout my time in ministry I have wrestled with the tension that exists between the church and parachurch ministries. Often times there is great hostility between the two entities rather than seeing each other as partners and allies in gospel ministry. I am so thankful to be shepherding a congregation that gives to parachurch ministries financially and otherwise. The truth of the matter is that it takes the combined work of the church and parachurch ministries as partners to accomplish the work of God's kingdom. Just as any one church will not reach everyone, any one ministry will not reach everyone either. However, together there is strength and power to be more effective at reaching people for the gospel, training and equipping them for ministry and service, and seeing the world radically changed by Jesus!

I'm so thankful for the opportunity to hear stories of the work of FCA, Young Life, Guido, RUF, BCM, and other ministries that come alongside churches to engage people with the gospel. Perhaps the future of Christianity will be shaped by more cooperation among churches and parachurch ministries to see even greater kingdom impact.

Southern Writing

My wife and children gave me Harper Lee's Go Set A Watchman for some occasion in the last few years since it was released. To be honest I can't remember if it was Father's Day, Christmas, or birthday. Either way they know my love language is books, so they purchased it for me. Earlier this year I reread Lee's classic, To Kill A Mockingbird in anticipation of reading Go Set A Watchman. I recall others commenting that they didn't like Atticus Finch in the second book or something else about the book that disillusioned them surrounding the mystique of Harper Lee or the legendary book she was known for nearly all her life. Though I enjoyed To Kill A Mockingbird more, I really liked Go Set A Watchman

I liked it for the same reason I like most southern writing, particularly southern fiction. In the pages of Flannery O' Connor, Harper Lee, Walker Percy, Will Campbell, Ferrol Sams,  Pat Conroy, and others one is confronted with the hypocrisy of the south in all its glory. One is forced to wrestle not just ideologically but personally with issues of rich and poor, black and white, educated and uneducated. One reads the characters in these pieces of literature and finds glimpses of self shining through. Questions of ideals, racism, sexism, and even theological tensions. Many of the famed southern authors have faith or at least religion somewhere in his or her identity which manifests itself in the ink of the page. I read these authors because I find traces of myself in each book. Things about me that I like, things I don't like. Things I have changed, things I want to change. Ultimately each author and each of the books by them I have read push me to examine who I am as a person, a Christian, a husband, a father, and a friend...because of this I will keep reading.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Food for Thought

I measure the value of a book by how long I keep chewing on thoughts and ideas from the book long after I have reshelved it. Here we are halfway through 2018 and I keep being drawn back to things I read in Eugene Peterson's book, As Kingfishers Catch Fire. You may recall seeing headlines with Peterson after his interview with Jonathan Merritt a year ago in which Peterson first came out seeming to support same-sex marriage. Peterson later retracted his statements and affirmed a traditional understanding of marriage between one man and one woman.

I was eager to read As Kingfishers Catch Fire because I had benefited so much from many of Peterson's other books. I also was at a crossroads in ministry in which I was evaluating where and what God was calling me to do for the next phase of my life. The book is a simple collection of sermons spanning the 29 years Peterson pastor Christ Our King Presbyterian Church, which he planted. The collection is grouped around various biblical characters as Peterson saw himself preaching in the company of those individuals and the larger company of the saints of God. Now to be honest, reading sermons is usually less moving that hearing the sermons. This maxim holds true in this collection as well, though there are some stellar moments in the sermonic journal.

Perhaps for me it was my identity with Peterson's own struggle to find his way of being a pastor in the midst of the expectations that his denomination and culture put on him to be a pastor. In other words, the denomination expected him to grow in attendance by a certain percentage, grow in giving, educational endeavors, and various other "measurables". From the Preface, "But as time went on, I found myself increasingly at odds with my advisors on matters of means, the methods proposed for ensuring the numerical and financial viability of the congregation but without even a footnote regarding the nurturing of souls." He goes on to write that he had grown weary with laying out strategies and "casting visions". Instead, he wanted to nurture the souls of his congregation and walk alongside people as they figured out what it means to follow Jesus throughout life. As I read the Scriptures and grow in my own faith I have come to the conclusion that making disciples is not the same as casting a vision or developing a strategy to make disciples...it is MAKING disciples. It is building relationships with people, getting to know them, and patiently but boldly sharing with them the good news that Jesus Christ lived a perfect life, died on the cross, and rose again from the dead thereby bringing reconciliation between us and God. This indeed is the gospel, this indeed is good news!!

Peterson drawing on inspiration from Gerard Manley Hopkins traces the way that Christ plays in ten thousand faces and places. He writes, "The Christian life is the lifelong practice of attending to the details of congruence--congruence between ends and means, congruence between what we do and the way we do it, congruence between what is written in Scripture and our living out what is written, congruence between a ship and its prow, congruence between preaching and living, congruence between the sermon and what is lived in both preacher and congregation, the congruence of the Word made flesh in Jesus with what is lived in our flesh."

Like so much of Peterson's library, there aren't always small nuggets of truth to tease out and quote on social media. Instead Peterson ushers you into the throne room of God and allows you to reflect on all that is and all that could be in a life of faith. Peterson nurtures the souls of his congregation while also nurturing the souls of his larger adopted congregation of his readers. He doesn't disappoint, nor does he wow the reader. Instead he simply offers his thoughts on what it means to follow Jesus and invites us to follow along with him. One year later I am still finding strength and encouragement from this book.

Monday, June 18, 2018

VBS 2018

Last week was VBS at Friendship Baptist Church. I have experienced VBS in so many different roles and capacities but this was the first time as Pastor of the church. It was a fantastic week! VBS really is a whole church effort. It takes teachers and leaders to make it a great experience for the children. It also takes volunteers serving behind the scenes and in unassuming roles to prepare meals, clean up, take out the trash, decorate the classrooms, and the worship room. I was blown away last week as I saw the entire church being the hands and feet of Jesus to reach the Next Generation. I told our congregation yesterday that it was my favorite VBS thus far in life. I think part of my feelings stem from getting to serve this congregation as pastor. What an incredibly humbling experience in so many ways. Last week was also the six month mark of my tenure as pastor, so I'm sure part of my enthusiasm flows out of gratitude to the Lord for giving me the opportunity to do what he called me to do. I can't wait to see what's next in the life of our congregation.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Advent Musings pt. 6

Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. Luke 21:34 (NIV)

The anxieties of life can certainly weigh you down. George Bailey, in the iconic film, It's a Wonderful Life, almost succumbed to the anxieties of life by ending his own life. Clarence appears and gives George a glimpse of what life would have been like if he had never been born. My favorite scene in the film is at the end as George reads the inscription from Clarence. "Remember, no man is a failure who has friends." 

Three years ago our family gathered to celebrate my cousin's wedding. Weddings are joyous occasions that remind us of God's blessings in life when the anxieties are threatening to trap us. Jesus performed his first miracle as recorded by John at a wedding feast. Three years ago as we celebrated Brad and Bonnie it was a reminder of the joy of friends and family. It was a reminder that life really is wonderful. It was a reminder that the anxieties of life meet their solution in Jesus of Nazareth. 

This year I have been continually encouraged by dear friends in my life. I'm most grateful for the friends that God places in my life that help push me closer to Jesus. Those friends remind me not to let the anxieties of life close in around me. Those friends are a tangible expression of God's grace. Praying the Lord surrounds you with friends this Advent season. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Advent Musings pt. 5

The greatest event in the Old Testament was the Exodus. This event defined the Hebrew people for generations to come. The second most important event in the Old Testament is the Babylonian Exile. Both events brought about a renewal of God's covenant promises with his people after a period of time that felt as if God had abandoned them. The prophet Micah speaks of the coming judgment that would manifest itself in Exile. Micah also spoke of restoration. Of Hope. Of renewal. Of God's faithfulness in the midst of a period of perceived abandonment.
Micah 4:6-10 (NIV)
“In that day,” declares the Lord,
“I will gather the lame;
    I will assemble the exiles
    and those I have brought to grief.
I will make the lame my remnant,
    those driven away a strong nation.
The Lord will rule over them in Mount Zion
    from that day and forever.
As for you, watchtower of the flock,
    stronghold of Daughter Zion,
the former dominion will be restored to you;
    kingship will come to Daughter Jerusalem.
Why do you now cry aloud—
    have you no king?
Has your ruler perished,
    that pain seizes you like that of a woman in labor?
10 Writhe in agony, Daughter Zion,
    like a woman in labor,
for now you must leave the city
    to camp in the open field.
You will go to Babylon;
    there you will be rescued.
There the Lord will redeem you
    out of the hand of your enemies.

Redemption, rescue, hope, restoration. These are things Micah draws the people to consider as they get ready to go into Exile. In the words of that esteemed American folk theologian, Tom Petty, "You don't have to live like a refugee." The refugees and exiles that we see around us, the ones we find in our homes and families, and even ourselves can cling to the promise of redemption. The broken shell of who we are, beat down by life, in prison to our sin and idolatry, cast away from our homeland and family can rejoice that through Jesus we can experience restoration. Exile doesn't have to define us because Jesus has redefined us through his victory that conquers Exile. 

As we observe Advent, let us wait with great expectation of the promise of redemption found in Jesus alone. 

Advent Musings pt. 4

My Mamanon's birthday was today. She passed away in the spring of 2016. Remembering a loved one on a birthday always reminds me of good times shared with them. My mind is filled with wonderful memories of childhood, young adulthood, and even adulthood in which her presence was felt because of something she said or did. The impressions she left on me continue to shape me. She was a woman who loved deeply, who prayed fervently, and who worshiped authentically. Psalm 79 speaks of the generational component of faith. A life of faith is passed down from one generation to the next, in much the same way as family stories are passed down to each other. Mamanon passed down her faith, the faith, entrusted once and for all to the saints to her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She taught us and others what it looks like to praise the God who created us and redeemed us in unending praise.

Psalm 79:13
Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture,
    will praise you forever;
from generation to generation
    we will proclaim your praise.