Tuesday, October 06, 2015

What kind of problem are you facing?

I left to go to church last Sunday morning, and couldn't find my keys.  I always hang them by the door, and after looking in a couple of other spots they were nowhere to be found.  I had one last spot to look: in the truck.  I had got in the habit of leaving them in there, even in the ignition.  This is only possible because I live in a small town and have a 27 year old truck no one would want to steal. But when I got to the truck, in a hurry now to get to church, I saw that I had locked them inside the cab.  With only one set of keys (because the closest place to get a copy is about 1/8 of mile away), I quickly found a coat hanger and set to work.

I knew what the problem was, and so I set out to fix it, by unlocking the door.  I had to try for about 20 minutes and two coat hangers before finally getting it open.  I had a problem, I found a solution.  But one thing I never did was pray over my locked door.  My problem wasn't spiritual, it was physical, and I could take care of it myself.

We all encounter problems, and we all seek solutions. But often we seek the wrong kind of solution to the problem that we face.  In Acts 12, James the brother of John has been arrested and beheaded by Herod, and after seeing it that it pleases the Jews, he makes plans to do the same to Peter.  Acts 12:5 lays out the problem, and the church's solution.

"So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God." Acts 12:5 NASB

We are not blind to our problems.  It doesn't take a keen eye to see that many churches in America are sick today, and yours might be one of them. But while we see what the problem is, we fail to see what kind of problem it is, and then seek the wrong answer.  Peter being in jail could have been seen as a political problem, so the solution is to call in political favors, to pull some strings, and get him out.  Someone might have seen it as a physical problem, so the physical solution is to bust him out of jail, Ocean's Eleven style with all the apostles.  But the church saw Peter being in jail about to be beheaded as a spiritual problem, and so they sought a spiritual answer through prayer.

If your church is struggling financially, is it a spiritual problem or a physical one?  If your church is comfortable and doesn't want to reach out to it's community, is it a spiritual problem or a physical one?  If a pastor or leader is is struggling because attendance is down, is it a spiritual problem or a physical one.  We often think that we have the answer to all our problems, if people will just listen to us.  If these are physical problems, then there are physical solutions out there to help you.  Ways to raise giving, to boost attendance, ideas to stir a comfortable church can be found by the hundreds.  But if these problems are spiritual ones at their heart, then God alone has the answer, and prayer must be made "fervently by the church to God."  

Use common sense.  If your parking lot has weeds, pull them.  If the sanctuary needs painting, paint it, don't just pray over it.  If the keys are locked inside your truck, go find a coat hanger.  We would never seek spiritual solutions to physical problems.  So why do seek physical answers to spiritual problems?  

Ask yourself what is the root cause of your problems.  Recognize that many (if not most) of the problems that plague churches and families are spiritual problems at their core.  And then seek the one who has all the answers, no matter how big the problem might be.  

Peter ends up out of jail in Acts 12.  Neither he nor the church could seem to believe what God had done.  But when we get the right solution for the right problem, even the jail doors can open.  

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Two Jobs

Like many pre-adolescent boys, my first job was mowing lawns.  I mowed the lawn at home of course, but then got a job mowing at my school in the summer, where my dad was a principal.  Looking back, it was a pretty simple job.  Mow, weedeat.  That's about it.  I don't think I got a job description, but if I had it wouldn't have needed to be more than one or two sentences.

As a pastor, my job description has gotten a little bit more complicated.  I didn't have a description when I came to my current church, so we put one together.  I basically wrote the whole thing, and I'm still overwhelmed by it at times.  A pastor often plays so many roles, from shepherd to teacher to administrator, vision caster, trainer, janitor, secretary, and more.  At the beginning of the week I think I can accomplish all I need to, but as the week goes on, it seems like the to-do list gets bigger, and the done list doesn't have near enough on it.

What often weighs most on pastors though is not the physical things to be done, but the spiritual health and growth of the church.  We are flooded with people telling us we need to have the vision, the plan, the ideas to take our church to the next level.  We have to be that next-level leader in order to be effective pastors, we are so often told.  When problems arise we must strategize how to overcome them and then we need to make sure we can see problems before they arise!

Things are going well for the church in Acts 6.  Salvation, growth, miracles, and more are common for the early church. But then a problem arises, that no one saw coming.  I find comfort in the fact that the disciples apparently hadn't covered all the bases in their long range planning. But when the problem is noticed, it's acknowledged, it's delegated, and the disciples return to their main tasks.  Preaching and prayer.

"But we will devote ourselves to the prayer, and to the ministry of the word."  Acts 6:4

The disciples, as they see it, have only two tasks.  To preach and to pray.  They get other things out of the way so that they can get back to those main tasks.  It would have been poor leadership to let the problem fester, but it would have been just as poor leadership to neglect the Word and prayer to solve that problem.

No job description covers every possibility that can come up, but the disciples had a simple one: Preach and Pray. When something comes up, deal with it so they can get back to preaching and praying.   We are not made told about any of the brainstorming session the disciples had to reach Jerusalem, or to their think tanks on problems they faced. They preached, they prayed. Some problem had easy solutions, like Acts 6.  Some needed more prayer and seeking God, like Acts 15. But the early church did not need them to be superheroes, or to be transcendent leaders.  They needed them to preach and to pray.

Pastor, that's what your church needs from you most.  Most of us will never be the type of transformational leaders that get their own book deal and conference.  But we can preach, and we can pray.  Don't neglect your two most important tasks for something else.

Thursday, September 03, 2015


Helping my wife prepare for a garage sale is one of the things that I despise most in the world.  Not only because I'm a pack rat, but all the work involved.  I was going through a sack of baby clothes, and marveled at how the small the newborn clothes were.  Almost 8 months ago our lives changed dramtically when our third daughter came into this world.  I can hardly remember life without her, though my wife assures me that it happened.  From the moment she came into this world she has been growing, growing, and growing.  She has outgrown clothes, toys, shoes, and more in only 8 months, and I know from experience it's only going to get worse.  The thing about children is that they never stop growing until they are brought to physical maturity.  Barring a physical ailment or disease, God has built it into children to grown until they reach the point of maturity.  I don't have to tell my daughters to grow, I don't have to always remind them.  I don't have a plan for them to physically grow.  It just happens!

Although physical maturity happens without our planning, Paul told the church at Colossae that spiritual maturity does not work that way.  Speaking of his role as a minister of God, he says this:

 We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.  Col 1:28-29

To Paul, his role as a minister could not be more clear.  He works, labors, striving, he says, to bring people to completeness in Christ.  He labors to present them as mature followers of God.  And this, he says, is heavy labor. 

Spiritual maturity, you see, does not just happen.  My children will physically grow whether I tell them to or not.  I don't have to set time aside for their physical growth each day, and it's certainly not a labor for me.  But to grow spiritually takes work, takes labor, takes striving everyday to be closer to God.  Paul said his purpose as a minister is to labor to bring people to maturity.  

Paul's labor is specifically for people.  He does not labor for his plan.  He's not working to bring his ideas of ministry to maturity.  He is not working for a building, for a plan, or for an organization.  He works for people.  He labors, he strives, he agonizes.  He fights daily for people.  Not against them as they stand in the way of his plans, but for them, for their souls,  and for their hearts.  

And it is labor. It's not easy.  Physical maturity, though it happens naturally, is full of aches and pains and growth spurts and baby teething and getting used to your body as it changes and all sorts of things.  Why do we think spiritual maturity is going to be any easier?  The stakes for spiritual maturity are higher, and the opposition is greater!  The devil fights against our growing closer to Christ, trying all the time to get us to be complacent where we are, to be satisfied with our walk with God, even to take a step back.  Nowhere in the Bible do we get the idea that spiritual growth is easy.  It's the opposite.  Paul said it's a fight.  

But although Paul fights, he does not do it in his own strength.  He labors "according to the power , which mightily works within me."  It is incredible gut wrenching, soul breaking work to bring yourself or others to spiritual maturity.  Thankfully it is not done in our own power which would soon run out.  It is done in the power of Christ!  If it is fighting, striving labor to do it in the power of Christ, imagine how hard it is to do it your own power!  It's impossible!  

There's no confusing what Paul sees as his task.  Spiritual maturity won't happen on accident.  It takes concentration on people, not on plans, vision statements, or buildings.  And it can only be done through the power of Christ.   

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The School Year and the Church Year

I dropped off my children for the first day of school today.  This year I have a daughter in 3rd grade, and a daughter in Kindergarten.  But I can't talk about that or I might cry.

The elementary school was electric with energy as I walked my youngest to her class.  Teachers were excited, kids were running around, some people looked lost too!  I could tell the teachers were looking forward to a new year, and the kids were too.  I grew up with a father for a teacher, a principal actually, so I'm familiar with the excitement.  The school year starts off strong and follows a predictable schedule. Fall Break, Thanksgiving, Christmas break, and on into the spring semester.  But more than anything, a school year is pushing towards a goal.  A qualifiable, tangible goal: to teach children and move them on to the next grade.  I know teachers do much more than that, but that simplifies it.  And even beyond the goal, a school year has an end in sight.  There's a beginning of the year, middle, and end.  To break it down even farther, each semester has a beginning and end, down to even every day.

It was great to see how excited the teachers and kids were this morning.  As I got in my car and left for the church, I thought about my work week, work year, and work day.  My clear goal as a pastor is to move people into relationship with Christ, with each other, and to grow deeper in that knowledge of God everyday.  This past Sunday we baptized two elementary students to mark their recent decisions for Christ.  But I cannot rest thinking that know I can check them off a list, as if the work God is doing in them is done.  Or even that my work in proclaiming the gospel to them is done.  A pastor's work schedule often does not have a clear beginning and end.  Growing closer to Christ is something that is carried out over a lifetime.  One of the things I still struggle with as a pastor is this very fact.  I often go home at the end of the day thinking there was someone else I could have called, visited, another commentary to check.  But the work takes a lifetime.  A pastor then, is a plodder.  Going day by day, striving to move closer to Christ everyday.

It feels like there is not much glamor in plodding.  No celebrating the first day, or moving someone on to the next grade.  But this way reminds me that Christ is the one who does the work in peoples hearts, not me.  Plodding helps me find my satisfaction in Christ, and not in what I have done.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Strangers in a Small Church.

"Assemble the people, the men and the women and children and [a]the alien who is in your [b]town, so that they may hear and learn and fear the Lord your God, and be careful to observe all the words of this law." Deuteronomy 31:12

 It's been a little over a week since the horrific shootings in Charleston. Dylan Roof opened fire after Bible study, killing 9 people. The shooting was no doubt racially motivated, and much ink has been spilt over diagnosing the causes, cures, and more of racism in our country.

One particular commentator I heard on NPR made sure to mention that as an African-American church, Emmanuel AME was welcoming to all who came through her doors. In fact, the commentator continued, an African American walking into a historically white church would not receive the same open arms that Dylan Rood did at Emmanuel. I was unable to glean the name of commentator, but I do know that I disagree with that statement, at least in part.

I want to approach the shooting from a different perspective, from that of a small church. I don't know the attendance normally at Emmanuel AME, but the small group there on that Wednesday night puts them in the average as far as churches are concerned across the country, no matter the denomination. I myself pastor a small church in rural community, filled with other small churches. At most (all?) of the churches in our community, it's not uncommon to have groups of under twenty in attendance at services not on Sunday morning. I have been a part of services when a stranger walks into the church, and no doubt they attract attention. Not because of race or gender, but because there is someone new there! Anyone who is not a "usual" stands out in small group, no matter if we are meeting in the sanctuary, downstairs in the basement, or somewhere else, you cannot help but notice someone new. Roof has stated that he almost couldn't go through with the shooting because everyone there was so nice to him, and I bet that he would have the same welcome at many small churches throughout the country, regardless of denomination, race, or gender.

In light of the shooting, many have urged churches to re evaluate their security procedures, to train responders, to look out for "suspicious people." But what is a church community to do when a stranger walks into a small group? Pat them down? Install metal detectors? Make Wednesday Bible Study a "members only" event? The very nature and mission of a church is for it to be welcoming and opening to anyone who walks through the door. The very nature of a church is even to put itself at risk in order to accomplish it's mission: loving our neighbor as ourselves.

I freely admit taking note of different people in service, particularly because of such events as the Charleston shooting. But what are we to do, church? Close our doors? If we want to reach the community, we will be at risk every time the doors are open. My church sits right on a major highway, and we always get in servive people passing through town on way to somewhere else. I remember one particular event, a large (large) cowboy of man walked in to our Wednesday night service after we had already served meal and were about to start Bible study. In a small community we know "of" everyone, it seems at least. But this man was a complete stranger. He stayed for study in our small group of twenty or so. We talked afterwards and I heard his story, of passing through from Alabama to Wisconsin to Texas looking for work. I gave him some meal money, prayed with him, and he moved on. When he walked in our service I had no idea his purpose or mission in coming, but we did what Christ command us to do. Welcome him in the name of the Lord.

By all means use wisdom and take precautions in your church.  But when a stranger comes in your church, we have no other option but to welcome them. It's what God commands of us. We must not stop there though, we must love them as ourselves, and work to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with all who will listen.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

On Being Content

I timidly knocked on the door, not really sure what to expect.  I couldn't believe that I had finally made it, that I was finally there.  All those years of longing, all those years of wandering, all those those years of wondering.  All of that came to an end as the door opened up.

I only had to knock once, and the door quickly opened up, and then I saw Him.  I couldn't believe it was Him!  I fell at His feet, speechless, not knowing what to say.  A lifetime of talking about Him, of reading about Him, and I now I fell down as a dead man.  Without words, he picked me up.  I hadn't expected Him to greet me.  I thought a servant would, surely He would be to busy for someone as lowly as me.  But He greeted me warmly, as He picked me up off the floor giving the best embrace I had ever had.  In that embrace, all my fears melted away, all my concern about not belonging, all of them were gone.  For in His face and in His touch I knew and felt His love for me.

We walked into a room where a great meal was taking place.  The place was beautiful, of course. But in this room, the banqueting hall, I felt that love and and passion He had for all who were there.  And there were people as far as the eye could see in every direction.  He knew them all by name, and they knew Him, of course!  The joy in the room was contagious as we found a spot to sit down and eat.

The food came, like nothing you'd ever seen before.  More than anyone could ever eat, but none of it seemed to go to waste.  Always hot, never ending, the feast carried on and on. But the food was not why were there.  It was to be with Him.  To see Him. To give Him the honor that he deserved.  Everyone there was there for the same purpose.  Him.

The guy next to me had only been there a few days, he said.  They guy across from him for years!  Everywhere I turned I saw familiar faces, but then again, everyone looked familiar.  Even though we were all differecnt races and spoke differnent languages, we all understood each other.  We all got along.  We were family.

He was always there, the head of our family.  He continued to walk amongst us, consantlyt bringign new people to the table.  And there was always room for one more!

I stopped Him one day.  I was so grateful for the feast, for the family, for the love.  For the table he provided, and for being fed.

"But could you get some more variety?", I asked.  "It's not that I'm ungrateful.  I'm very grateful!  I just want something else. Something more, something different, you know? You see, I saw what the man next to me had, and it looked good.  So I got it, but then I didn't like it.  I just want something different.   Nothing fancy, I'm not asking for much.  Just more.  I just want more.  More. More. More"

"Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." - Phl 4:11-13 

The Lord has been dealing with me about contement.  I am never satisfied, always asking for more.  To say I'm thankful but then constantly yearn for more is the epitome of selfishness, of turning my eyes on myself.  Christ supplies all my needs, whether I'm in heaven or not, and I must "learn", as Paul did, the secret of being content.  It's a slow process.  

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Jihads and Youth Groups

We hear constantly about how young adults and teenagers are leaving the evangelical church in America and the rise of the nones. The picture that is painted for the future of religion in America is a bleak one, if all one listens to is these reports.

That's why I was fascinated by this recent article from Rolling Stone about the way that the Islamic State is reaching out and attracting young adults and teen agers from around the world.  The article is lengthy, but a great look at how teenagers are flocking to a stronger religious affiliation than their parents.  Far from watering down the Muslim faith to reach out to these young adults and teens, ISIS is calling for them to leave the comforts of home, to leave the ways of the western world, and for them to come and live and support and fight on behalf of Islamic State.

The article starts with the story of the three Muslim youth from Chicago, siblings, who plan to leave their parents and travel and join the Muslim state.  The oldest left a note for his parents:

"An Islamic State has been established, and it is thus obligatory upon every able-bodied male and female to migrate," Hamzah had written in a letter he left for his parents, explaining why he was leaving the comforts of suburbia for the khilafah, or caliphate. "I cannot live under a law in which I am afraid to speak my beliefs."

The other siblings expressed similar opinions,  stating that "this nation is openly against Islam and Muslims" and that "Living in this land is haram [sinful]."  Although it's clear that many young people are leaving the evangelical church, many young Muslims are desiring to leave home and go overseas to serve their god.  The story of these teens is only one among many that have left home, from America, Scotland, UK, and elsewhere to travel to become part of the Islamic State.  According to one report, 33 people in the US have been detained or questioned for attempting to aid or join ISIS.  ISIS is actively recruiting on social media, and some report the DOJ is looking to prosecute those who voice support for ISIS on twitter.  This picture is but one way they are glorifying the fight against the western world.  

I encourage you to read the whole article.  As I read it I kept wondering why we have such a difficult time getting people to come to church on Sunday morning, yet these groups are able to get teens to leave their home, their parents, and the comforts of home to come and join the fight.  A couple of observations came to mind as I read the article as to why Muslims teens are drawn to this fight.

1.  They expect much of them.  Most church youth groups are known for their fun and games and trips they go on.  I have nothing against those things per se, but what came up time and time again in the article is that ISIS believes that everyone is able to contribute to the fight they see themselves in.  They don't see teenagers as people to entertained until they can grow up and be a part, rather they are soldiers that can fight alongside of them in the war against the western world. 
 In his first video appearance as self-annointed caliph, Baghdadi issued a direct call to not just fighters, but also doctors, judges, engineers and experts in Islamic law to help build the new "Islamic State," where all Muslims were now obligated to go.

This call is for all people, regardless of age or skill level.  By contrast, I often hear well meaning church members say something to effect of "The youth are the church of tomorrow!"  While well meaning, this can lead youth and even young adults to think the church has no place for them to serve.  We often put too low of expectations on youth as being just "kids" who need to "grow up" before God uses them.  But scripture is full of people that were used by God, of all ages, and we would do well to raise the expectations we have of our youth groups.  They can serve and promote and advance the kingdom of God now in innumerable ways.  

2.  They give them somewhere to belong to  Most teenagers feel like they don't belong, whether at school, church, or even their own family.  I understand that the message that comes from ISIS is mostly propaganda, but they still provide a place for these youth and young adults to belong to.  So much so that they are willing to leave home, country, and friends in order to travel half way across the world to join them.  Most people are desperately looking for a place to belong to, none perhaps more so than teenagers.  ISIS appears to be a place where all are welcomed, as long as they swear allegiance to Allah, and provide that place that can be called home. One of the main focuses in the story is on a young teenage muslim girl in Chicago, who struggled to fit in.  She thought leaving would make more sense than staying.  

In fact, in some ways, life in a city like Raqqa might be better. She'd have a whole community of sisters, a group of ready-made friends, just waiting. And everyone, it seemed — at least everyone she talked to — was under 25.

Everyone, but perhaps especially students, are looking for somewhere to belong to.  They provided a place for them to be a part of.

3.  They expect them to give something up to follow the call.  In most of our churches, people want to be able to have all the good things of life, and be a follower of God as well. We tell them they can be cool, well liked, a nice house, nice car, travel , and be a all that God asks them to be.   ISIS expects people to give up things, even family, to follow the call to come and join the Islamic State.  The higher the price for something, the more valuable it seems.  If all we ask people to give up is a few hours on Sunday to follow God,  we devalue the cross.  ISIS asks people to give everything, up to and including their life, and people flock to it in droves.  We need to send the message to the world and young people that the Cross of Christ is worth giving up everything for.  

Again, I know that the message that ISIS promotes is not reality. Much of this is propaganda at it's finest.  That's part of the article, also. But they seem to have no problem engaging young people to follow a religion, to give up something to be a part of it, and to provide somewhere to belong to.  

If this much can be done with lies, imagine what the Church of God, the body of Christ, can do with the Truth.  

Monday, March 02, 2015

Overlooking the Cooperative Program

“Mr. President, Mr. President!” Three voices spoke almost as one. “Mr. President, do I have the floor?”

The president’s gavel hammered vigorously. “The Chair recognizes Brother Stealey.”

“Mr. President, we must settle this evolution issue at once,” Clarence Stealey said. “Let the messengers to this annual session of the Southern Baptist Convention vote now. It’s the most pressing matter before us in 1925. Brother Burts’s money report can come later.”

“Mr. President!” shouted Bronson Ray taking advantage of Stealey’s pause, “the editor from Oklahoma may think other matters are more important than money. But that’s because he doesn’t have the foreign missionaries looking to him for their salaries. He doesn’t have debts piling higher every month and precious little money coming in to pay them. I tell you we are in a bad way. This Convention must do something before it leaves Memphis...”

The gavel beat out an insistent interruption.
“Gentleman, Gentleman!” said President McDaniel. “Let’s get on with the order of business. Brother Charles Burts has been standing here for ten minutes now to give his report. We shall hear him now.”

Burts eyes moved over the big room, and then back to the paper in his hand. He read slowly, his voice lifting slightly as he accented certain words and phrases. His was the first annual report of the Future Program Commission, of which he was general director. The report set forth and named the new unified budget of the denomination.

“From the adoption of this report it shall be known as the Cooperative Program,” read Burts.
The report was adopted in routine fashion by messengers anxious to get on with debate on evolution. With that action, the the Cooperative Program was launched May 13, 1925 at the Southern Baptist Convention in Memphis, TN.

The Cooperative Program was almost overlooked in the beginning. State papers were concerned with debts and debate. Few messengers paid attention to it or caught its significance.

Our Cooperative Program By W. E. Grindstaff, Sunday School Training Course material 1965 Published by Convention Press

Such humble beginnings for something that most Baptist’s would be quick to praise now. Something that seems to be an indispensable part of Baptist life is less than 100 years old and got off to a slow start, as Grindstaff later discusses in his book. Grindstaff served as pastor of several churches in Oklahoma after attending Oklahoma Baptist University, and later served the BGCO and was director of Cooperative Program Promotion with the Stewardship Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, so this is an area he is well familiar with. There were several failed attempts at funding the work of Southern Baptist before this, such as the Judson Memorial Fund, the $75 Million Campaign, and the many special pleas made by agencies to churches every week across the country. Until the Conventions agencies paid off most of their outstanding debts with the “Hundred Thousand Club” from 1933-1943, the CP was slow in getting going.

Once it finally started rolling, it was a great plan that funded untold salvations, missionaries, block parties, and baptisms, among other things. There has been much discussion about the future of the CP, and of the way that we need to fund our work among the nations.   But as I read this book, by a man commissioned by the Southern Baptist Convention to write a training course to educate all Southern Baptists on the Cooperative Program, I was struck at the time it took them to reach the conclusion of the CP, and the time, again and again, it took to fine tune it. I know that we have now reached that time again, but I doubt the CP will be scrapped any time soon.  It will be tweaked, challenged, changed, and more, as it has throughout it's history. Obstacles arise, new ideas come forth, and we must do the best to continue to push the gospel, to our neighbors and the nations.  The history of the SBC is one of change, believe it or not.  We tried whatever we could to get the name of Jesus out to the world.  Some attempts were ill advised, some were spectacularly successful.

The history of the CP is well documented, but we act as if everyone agreed it was a great idea at the time. Grinsdstaff records the sentiments of three people who left that convention in 1925.

"Happiness of former conventions was not on the face of delegates.  This was due, perhaps, to the depressing effect of our huge debts."  CW McEloy

"The Convention was the least satisfying of all I have attended in twenty-five years."  TC Skinner

"The Convention struck no high tide.  We seemed to not be together."  Frank L Hardy

At a time when they just voted to start cooperating, to institute the great CP, it was felt as if nothing was accomplished.  It feels like the SBC is more divided than ever now, so it's good to be reminded that this is not a new spot in history!  Although our concerns are many, and there are difficulties to overcome, we can look at history and see God worked through that time and is working through ours as well.

There were many varied opinions that were put forth, and tempers flared as the SBC fought to figure out the best way to fund God's work.  At the time, it seemed like there were more pressing issues to deal with, but there is no more pressing issue than sharing the Gospel.  As we continue to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the world, we must continue to work together, finding new and creative ways to work together, as we have before.

We won't all agree on every single detail.  We are Baptist's, after all.   But by the grace of God we will continue to work together to take the good news of Christ across the street and across the world.  I trust the leaders God has blessed us with in the SBC, and trust the heart of it's pastors and members to put Christ first above all.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Of Good News and Bad News

I recently went with my family to Branson for vacation.  We left town on Friday and were able to stay into the next week. As a pastor, I don't get many weekends off. So I determined to make the best of it.  I was going to church!  And while there, I got good news, and bad news.  

I got up early Sunday morning while my wife and children and in-laws were all still asleep in the condo, and headed to First Baptist Branson.  I had been there before (on vacation) and enjoyed it.  The early service started at 8:30, and I would have plenty of time to get back to my family.

I arrived a little early to the parking lot, and noticed there was another church right across the street literally.  I drove over there and found a catholic church, early service 8:15!  I parked and made my way inside, and the service had already started.

As a baptist pastor, I'm pretty familiar with what to expect in a baptist service.  Even when traveling overseas, I feel at home in a baptist service.  My own church, FBC Tishomingo, has the mostly the same elements in the service each week.  I, and others, know what to expect.  But I think it's helpful for pastors to go every so often to a church where they have no idea whats going on in a service so they remember how visitors to their church feel.  

So I felt that way in Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church.  I didn't know when to stand up, sit down, when to say what everyone was saying, what the point of the people going up and down off the stage was.  I felt very out of place.  Even sitting on the back row like a good baptist, I felt as if everyone was watching me make mistakes in the service!  It was a great reminder of the way others feel when they come into our own church service back home.  After a few songs and scripture reading, it was time for the homily.

The passage was Matthew 25, for Christ the King Sunday in the liturgical calendar.  The passage describes where Jesus tells them, that as they did it for the least of those, they did it for Him.  And that someday the King will judge them for what they have done.

The priests homily that day centered around ledger sheets.  That our lives are like ledger sheets, with credits and debits, and one day Christ will return, as King, and see if our credits out number our debits. The credits are our good deeds, as mentioned in Matthew.  Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, helping the poor, are all things that count as credits in our account with God, and when Christ returns we will be judged for the things we didn't do.  This is how entrance into heaven is determined. 

He went on to state that the question to ponder was "What is the balance of my ledger page?"  This is not meant to scare us, but to think about our life.  This Sunday, he said "was one more chance to add credits to our ledger before Christ returns.  The balance on our ledger page determines our eternal fate"

Needless to say, I didn't feel very built up.  If a church is in the business of sharing good news, that was not it.  That my eternal fate rests in my hands is not a comfort to me, but a terror.  I know what a sinner I am!

I left after homily (during the offering, in fact!) and drove over to FBC Branson.  I missed the worship, which I hated, but arrived for the sermon. Their youth pastor preached that day, and this is what I heard.

Lie:  My life is based on what I contribute
Truth:  My worth is based on on who I am in Christ

When I understand who God is I can live from His approval of me and not just for His approval.

In the Gospel I am accepted by Christ.

Your value is based in whose you are.  In Christ, I am pleasing to God.  Because Jesus is pleasing to God. 

When God looks at His children He sees us clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

I left that service encouraged, reminded of who Christ is, and who I am in Christ. Not because of my works, but His.  This truly was good news for a pastor who felt beat up by the world. 

I'm thankful for faithful ministers of the Gospel who proclaim the good news of Christ the King.  A King who sacrificed himself for our good and paid the debt we never could. 

The good news is that when God looks at my ledger sheet, he'll see Christ's name scrawled across it.  This debt has been paid in full at the cross. That is good news.  

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Why I'm tired of hearing about church planting

This post originally appeared on  Church Revitalization 

When I was in college, I interviewed to be a youth associate-type-intern person with a mega church in OKC.  It was a typical interview, Q and A type things.  Greatest strengths, weaknesses, and so on.  He then asked me a new one.  If I was standing before two rooms, one with people who were not followers of Christ, and one with lukewarm church people, and I could only enter one to speak to, which would I choose?  I thought about it for a while, and finally answered that I would take the lukewarm church people.  He seemed surprised by my answer.  I didn’t get the job, or didn’t take it at least.  But I have mulled that question in my head for a while since then.  Was it the right answer?  If asked again now I would go and share with the people who were not Christians, that much is sure.  Always take a chance to share with people who don't know God.  But that answer then began to show me the heart God had given me for the church. The lukewarm, the burned out, and the never was.  I love the church.

In the early pages of the book of Acts, the early church spreads with earnestness.  The church grows in leaps and bounds. I have sometimes wondered, as a nerd might do, about the logistical dilemmas it caused the early church.  How they communicated, passed word along, etc.  As Acts moves along, Peter begins preaching to the Gentiles, and then Paul enters and the church begins to explode across the western world. Churches pop up everywhere.  

Many people today seek to emulate the Acts model, to go and plant a church where there is a need for the gospel to spread.  And rightly so, as this is a great way to spread the gospel.  There are seemingly endless amounts of funding, training, mentors and resources for church planters.  

 I long for more churches to be planted, in my own community, and around the world.  I count many church planters as my friends, and considered the call for myself.  I know many organizations exist to help churches plant churches, to fund, train, equip, support and more.  I'm proud to be part of a denomination that recognizes the need for that.  

But I am tired of hearing about church plants.   Don’t get me wrong, I think we need more churches.  But still I’m tired of it.  My heart has always been with the local church, and  I have a great desire for existing churches to be revitalized.  This is not meant to put down church planters or the need for more churches.  It's a call to remember the task before us with the churches we already have.  

Revitalize.  It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot, with increasing frequency among some people.  But there are precious few resources devoted to this.  My own denomination, the SBC, will spend over 50 million dollars this coming year on church plants through the North American Mission Board.  I applaud that.  But I constantly see every week in our state Baptist paper a list of churches that have shut their doors.  I know it’s not limited to my state either.  Thousands of churches close their doors for good every year, from all denominations.  

So what is to be done about it?   “Church Revitalization”  is a popular term, but it garners nowhere near the popularity or articles or funding of church planting.  A quick google search yields these results for number of hits on these terms.  

church planting

Church revitalizing


Church planter

Church revitalizer


“to give new life or vigor to” 

That’s the dictionary definition of revitalize.  But what does it mean for a church?  For something to be re-vitalized, it must have had life at some point!  This is the primary focus of revitalization, bringing back the life that was once there.  In a church setting, this life might have been very far in the past, sometimes over a hundred years.  More likely it was a few decades ago, a generation or so.  The church was full of life, busting at the seams, with programs, outreach, training, missions, and more. But as time wore on, the community changed, or there was a fight, or there became just a general lack of drive.  Maybe there was a moral failure in the leadership, or a local economy collapse.   And so attendance fell.  Pews were empty, baptistries still.  But there is hope still!  Revitalization.    When these churches get revitalized, they get new life!  Not old life, or the way things were in the good old days.  But new life.  New people.  New ways of thinking that are outward focused, that spread the Gospel, and grow God’s kingdom.  

But it seems for some, the solution  is just plant more churches.  Those churches had their heyday, now it’s time for someone else.  Let those old, stubborn, unchanging churches die.  

My church sponsors a mission church in a un-incorporated community about 20 minutes from ours.  It is a mission church, and will always be that for us, a mission.  We sought help for the funding of this church, and a few agencies told us to close that church down, give it six months, and open again as a church plant. Then we would have access to lots more funding, resources, missionaries, and more.  But for our established mission church, there was no help they could give.    

As I provocatively said,  I'm tired of hearing about church plants.  We need them.  But I want to see the resources, blogs, pastors, networks and funding that goes to church plants be put towards helping churches get new life. 

Without existing churches getting healthy, I don’t think we can reach our towns and cities effectively for Christ. 

Please note:  Revitalization is just that:  New Life!  It is not church growth, it is not church plants, it is not even tweaking a good church to make it great. It’s helping existing churches become healthy.  There is a time and space for all those other things, but revitalization of sick churches is one of the greatest challenges facing the church today. 

So what are you going to do about it? 

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Preachers who Yell

A few weeks ago when leaving our Sunday morning service, a lady remarked to my wife how good the sermon was that morning, and that she really needed to hear it.  She finished up the conversation with,  "I thought he was going to yell at us there for a minute"

Since my wife shared that with me I've been thinking about preachers and yelling.  I'm not one prone to raise my voice.  I'm a pretty dry person by nature, and by humor, and my personality comes out in my preaching.  That sounds exciting to listen to doesn't it?  I'm a great salesman for myself.

But the remark did get me thinking about some other encounters I had in the past year regarding peoples remarks on styles of preaching.  We had a dear friend of mine in for our Spring Bible Conference.  He and his wife poured their hearts out to us, and after it was over one person told me "They don't' make preachers like they used to." ( He meant he didn't like the preacher)

It seems when people come to a service, they expect to hear things a certain way. And when things don't go that way they feel let down. There's  a certain crowd also that really wants to "preached to" by a yelling, screaming, red-faced preacher.  When leaving that church you know you've been preached at!  In fact, some feel that without that style it's not really preaching.

 I remember a preacher I had as a child who yelled a lot.  I was very small and mostly remember him being very red faced.  I'm sure you can share stories of pastors who yelled, screamed, called people out, and more in the name of preaching.  And stories of preachers so boring it was all you could do to stay awake every Sunday.  No naming names, please.

I had been musing on these things when I read the chapter in John Piper's Brothers We Are Not Professionals on pursuing the tone of the text.   (PDF for Whole Book)  Each preacher has his own personality,  and Phillip Brooks famously said that preaching is "truth through personality"  The personality of a pastor has a large bearing on how he presents in a sermon, and how the text is received by the congregation.  But what kind of tone should a pastor aim for?

"By tone, I mean the feel that it has.  The spirit it emits.  The emotional quality.  The affectional tenor.  The mood.  Every personality has a more or less characteristic tone.  That is part of what personality is.  Some personalities play a small repertoire of emotional instruments, while others play a large repertoire."

If the text shapes the tone as Piper suggests, then I don't think a pastor should yell every sermon.  If you yell and scream every sermon you might need to broaden the texts you preach from.  Likewise, if you never raise your voice at the sin in our lives that separates us from God, you might need to broaden your preaching texts as well.

Pastors should work hard when preaching to display the range of emotion that scripture does.  This can only be done I believe by soaking yourself in the text for an extended period of time.  And by that I don't mean spending 20 minutes in it on Thursday for a Sunday sermon.  Immerse yourself in God's word, in the passage you are to share God's truth from.  You will only benefit from spending time in God's word, as it does not return void,

Piper lists ten thoughts on tone in preaching, all of which have bearing on preacher.  This section comes from the Desiring God blog post on the subject, an almost verbatim transcript of the chapter.  

  1. Texts have meaning, and texts have tone. Consider the tonal difference between, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden . . .” and “Woe to you, blind guides . . .You blind fools!” The preacher should embody, not mute, these tones.
  2. Nevertheless, just as the meanings of texts are enlarged and completed and given a new twist by larger biblical themes, and by the gospel of grace, so also the tones of texts are enlarged and completed and given a new twist by these realities. A totally dark jigsaw-puzzle piece may, in the big picture, be a part of the pupil of a bright and shining eye.
  3. The grace of God in the gospel turns everything into hope for those who believe. “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that . . . we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32). Therefore, all the various tones of texts (let them resound!) resolve into the infinitely varied tones of hope, for those who believe in Jesus.
  4. If there is a danger of not hearing the tone of gospel hope, emerging from the thunder and lightening of Scripture, there is also a danger of being so fixed on what we think hope sounds like, that we mute the emotional symphony of a thousand texts. Don’t do it. Let the tone grip you. Let it carry you. Embody the tone of the text and the gospel dénouement.
  5. But it’s not just the gospel of grace that should inform how we embody the tone of texts. We are all prone to insert our own personalities at this point and assume that our hopeful tone is the hopeful tone. We think ourtender is the tender. Our warmth is the warmth.
    This is why I said our capturing of the tone of the text should be informed by the tonal balance of Jesus and the apostles. We may simply be wrong about the way we think tenderness and hope and warmth and courage and firmness sound. We do well to marinate our tone-producing hearts in the overall tonal balance of Jesus and the apostles.
  6. Tonal variation is determined in part by the nature and needs of the audience. We may well shout at the drowning man that there is a life preserver behind him. But we would not shout at a man on the edge of a precipice, lest we startle him into losing his balance. Jesus’ tone was different toward the proud Pharisee and the broken sinner.
  7. But audiences are usually mixed with one person susceptible to one tone and one susceptible to another. This is one reason why being in the pulpit week in and week out for years is a good thing. The biblical symphony of tones can be played more fully over time. The tone one week may hurt. The next it may help.
  8. There is a call on preachers to think of cultural impact and not just personal impact. In some ways our culture may be losing the ability to feel some biblical tones that are crucial in feeling the greatness of God and the glory of the gospel. The gospel brings together transcendent, terrible, horrific, ghastly, tender, sweet, quiet, intimate, personal realities, that for many may seem utterly inimical. Our calling is to seek ways of saying and embodying these clashing tones in a way that they sound like the compelling music.
  9. In the end, when a preacher expresses a fitting tone, it is the work of God; and when a listener receives his tone as proper and compelling, it is another work of God.
  10. So we pray. O Lord, come and shape our hearts and minds with the truth and the tone of every text. Let every text have its true tone in preaching. Shape the tone by the gospel climax. Shape it by the tonal balance of Jesus and the apostles. But don’t let it be muted. Let the symphony of your fullness be felt.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Fastest Doctor

The man was nervous as he waited in the doctors office.  The room was cold and the gown was loose and drafty, not to mention way too small.  It's so vulnerable to sit in a strange office and bare all your hurts and pains to them.  It's scary to admit you need to change, but he knew he needed too.  And besides all that,  this surgeon came highly recommend from his hometown doctor.  He had been assured that this was the way to go, the best way to fix what was wrong.

Harold didn't really understand what was wrong though.  That was the thing.  He understood that he didn't feel like he used to, back when he was younger.  He had a harder time getting around, wore out easily.  He had been sick before, but always recovered pretty quickly. But the things he always did didn't seem to help this time.  In fact they seemed to make it worse!  Not to mention how hard a time he had understanding things now a days.  This doctor wanted to do a consultation over a video chat. He had refused to do it.  No sir, no way.  Some things were just meant to be done face to face.  Technology makes things so complicated!  He missed the good old days when things were simple.  He didn't have to work to understand the world around him then, he was a product of it.  But that world was long gone unfortunately.  But he wasn't going to let it go so easily.

The doctor walked in the room in a hurry, without knocking or anything else.  He didn't really introduce himself so much as talk about how smart he was, pointing to his degrees on the wall.  Harold thought that had to count for something. Nobody with that much education could be very stupid, right?

The doctor quickly got on with his exam, quickly going over his chart and asking Harold a few questions.  How long had he had this problem?  How bad was the pain?  Is he sure he wanted to have this procedure?  Who recommended him?  All these questions and the others asked were in his chart?  The doctor had glanced at it but didn't really seem interested in learning about Harold, just in getting the procedure scheduled.  Harold's wife Carol and daughter Jennifer were in the room with him, and he hadn't even acknowledged them.  Family meant nothing to him I guess.

Harold reached over to his pants and got out the piece of paper he had wrote his questions on.  He started to ask them, and the doctor grabbed it from him, crumpled it, and threw it in the trash!  He was so mad!  The doctor, laughing, assured him that he knew just what was wrong with Harold and how to fix it. Before Harold could ask a question, he grabbed a book off the shelf and began reading out loud the symptoms Harold had.  The problem was clear as day he said, and this procedure was how to do it.  Years of neglecting the daily habits of healthiness had left Harold's body in a mess, but the doctor assured him he could fix it.  Fix it in record time even.  A few changes to daily practices, to habits of life, and he would back healthy in no time.   The doctor said he didn't need to know Harold's family history, or anything else like that.  He was concerned about the future not the past.

The doctor excused himself from the room, saying he needed to call a colleague.  Did he need a consultation, asked Harold?  Of course not, he snorted, he knew what was wrong.  He just wanted to tell his friend how quickly he got the diagnosis, before his friend would have got it for sure!

But these were drastic changes!  Harold had spent a life time living this way, just like his father had, and grandfather before him.  And he wasn't going to let some young know-it-all come in and boss him around.  The doctor had not been concerned about his family, his past, or even really it seemed in his future.  The doctor was most concerned with being right, and letting others know that he was right!
Putting his pants back on, Harold decided he wasn't going to change if it meant listening to a punk like that!

Change doesn't come easy, and it sure doesn't when someone is in a hurry for you to do it.


While this story is fictional, I know too many like it.  But the culprit most often is pastors.  We have a tendency to think that we can spot a church's problems a mile away. And if they will only listen too us, and make the changes we suggest, we can flip that church around in no time.

But churches are not problems to be solved.  They are made up of people with histories, with stories, with hurts and pains, and joys and triumphs.  I too have been guilty of the arrogance, particularly the arrogance that comes with youth.  If people would only listen to me, I could fix it.  I could make it better.

Thankfully God has not taken the same stance with me that many of us do with churches and people.  He does not give up, he does not leave us.   He stays with us when we cling to the past, when we agonize over our hurts, and when we think our triumphs are due to our own ingenuity.

As an undershepherd, I pray that I have the patience with my church that God has with me.  Change comes slowly.  Don't forget that.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Andy Stanley, Lloyd-Jones and Revival

Last week I had the privilege to attend the annual Southern Baptist Convention in Baltimore, MD.  I always enjoy that time and it's a joy to hear the work God is doing among Southern Baptists.

Any time Baptists get together theres no shortage of controversy, and this time was no exception.  Many articles around made note of our resolution on transgender identity, or on books about the after life. And there was a little thing about a Muslim man being admitted to one of our seminaries.

Before the convention is the Pastor Conference, in which various pastors come and preach, exhort, and encourage.  The theme this year was "Show Us Your Glory",  a call to echo the prayer of Moses in Exodus 33, and to pray for revival.

I usually follow the conversation on Twitter, and Monday night it blew up over a tweet by Andy Stanley.

Andy Stanley, popluar pastor of Northpoint Church in GA, seemed to be suggesting that Southern Baptists should quit praying for revival, and just get out and do it.  Many joined in the conversation over the course of the evening, but this tweet I think sums up his feelings on the subject.

This type of thinking makes me very uncomfortable, that we need go get out and make it happen.  As Alvin Reid has helpfully pointed out,

If we simply use prayer for revival as an excuse for our unwillingness to obey God, we should not pray for revival, we should repent.

But where does the initiative lie in trusting in God to move, and on doing the work ourselves.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his message on the passage in Exodus 33 gives us some clarification.

I am calling you to pray for revival. Yes, but why should you pray for revival? Why should anybody pray for revival? And the answer that is first given here is this: a concern for the glory of God. You will find it at the end of verse 13: ‘Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight; and consider that this nation is thy people.’ That is the motive. That is the reason. Moses was concerned primarily about the glory of God.
 Or do we know something of a concern for the name of God? Are we pained? Are we hurt? Are we grieved? Does it weigh heavily upon our hearts, and minds, and spirits, when we see the godlessness that surrounds us, and the name of God taken in vain? Do we know something of this zeal, this holy zeal?

Lloyd-Jones says the  reasons to pray for revival are three fold:  concern for God's glory, concern for the sake of the church that is the Bride of Christ, and for the sake of the lost outside of it.

Moses indeed prayed with boldness, for God to move in a way that the people of Israel knew, that the surrounding nations would know that He is God. So too must we pray for God to move in such a way that it leaves no doubt who He is.  Pray for God to move so mightily that it cannot be attributed to human wisdom, or to man's plans and schemes.  An act that can only be credited to God Himself.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Missions and the Rural Church

I was invited to a missions meeting put on by my state denomination.  A two hour or so meeting. And by invited I mean I recieved a mass email. But having just returned from Brazil I was interested in learning from other churches about engaging my church on mission.

The meeting consisted mainly of missions pastors from larger churches getting up and discussing how and where they do trips.  It was great to hear from them, and from the few large church pastors who lead their churches to engage around the world.  The church we met in had flags all around the foyer of places their church had been in the last 20 or so years.  Probably 40-50 countries around the world. As a child of God, a christian, it was exhilarating to hear the talk and see the results of people on mission.  But as a small church pastor I felt discouraged.

I can't lead my church into many different countries, on multiple trips a year.  One church, a great church with a great pastor by the way, has over 15 trips for 2014.  I can't have trips for singles, for youth, for retirees.  I could come up with many excuses, but I still have the mandate of Christ for my church to go and make disciples.  But is the way a small rural church different from the way a large urban church does missions?

I traveled to Brazil as part of an Upstream Collective trip, and one of the things they are passionate about is the "sending church."  They define it this way:

A Sending Church is a local community of Christ-followers who have made a covenant together to be prayerful, deliberate, and proactive in developing, commissioning, and sending their own members both locally and globally, often in partnership with other churches or agencies, and continuing to encourage, support, and advocate for them while making disciples cross-culturally.

I love this definition, as it does mention budgets, or number of peoples, or size of communities.  It is simple and clear, and is suitable for big and small, rural and urban. 

But still, how do I lead my church to do that?  In a small church, or large, missions is far more assumed than taught.  And that is where it starts.  It starts in the life and heart of the leaders, and with clear deliberate teaching on the heart of God for the nations.  It then moves to the local community of Christ-followers who covenant together to be purposeful.  The call must be clear, and we must be clear to people that the call to missions is to the people of the church, not just the pastor.  

A small church pastor has obstacles in that he might have many people who have never traveled abroad.  Not even across the country!  It's not unusual to find people who are "homebodies" from a small town and not been outside it much.  So the first challenge is one of semantics.

When we hear the word "Sending", we automatically assume it means overseas.  Overseas means costs, and fears, and planning, and more.  But Upstreams definition is helpful as it is clear we send locally and globally.  We have to to help our people understand that "Sent" does not always equal overseas, but instead means "wherever you are".  The call must be clear, and we must be clear to people that the call to missions is to the people of the church, not just the pastor.  

The next challenge for the small church must happen internally as well.  It's no secret that we live in a world that is increasing indifferent to Christianity, if not outright hostile.  In a small town a church might have a little bit of respect left, but not much.  We have to realize that the church does not share the same values of the culture anymore. We live in a post-Christian culture.  It may not have made it all the way to your town yet, but it will.  There is no Mayberry anymore, no matter what the local chamber of commerce says. The church will have little or no meaning to many, if not all in the community, and so the first place we are sent is out into our own neighborhoods.  I am constantly amazed at how little use people have for this place that has consumed all of my adult life, and childhood for that matter.  They are not angry at church, they just don't care.  So after understanding what "send" means, is going out into the streets where we are.  This is where local mission projects, prayer walking, talking to people up and down main street and being present will begin to take effect.

Missions never happen on accident.  It always takes planning and purpose, and much prayer to accomplish the will of God for a church to be a sending church.  When a person gets a heart for the nations, the first impulse might be to jump on plane for overseas.  But Jesus advised us to "count the cost" and to plan our building before it is done.  A sending church, small or large, must have the right foundation to make it last. Not to see exotic places, or a desire for notoriety, but a burning desire to see Christ lifted up in places and by people where He is not.  

A small church leader has to be active in engaging with people with skills and resources that he doesn't have. It's my experience that larger churches will not seek out partnerships, mostly because they don't really need to.  But they will always welcome them.  It could be a big church in the next town or in the state capital, but a small church pastor must quickly get over his ego, his envy, and his arrogance to go ask for help.    Most churches will gladly welcome the chance to partner with you, if you will only ask them. 

A small church might only send one team a year, and it might only be a few people.  DO NOT hang your head in shame over that.  Celebrate the work that God has done, and is doing in and through your people.    You will see a greater hunger for the things of God, and the vision spread through your church and your town as well.  

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Story Telling God

Jared Wilson is one of those people who can just flat out write.  Whether it's on his blog, his many books, or his strange obsession with Tom Brady on twitter, his writing is always full of snarky remarks, but also deep insights into the gospel.  His new book The Story Telling God is no exception.  In it he takes on the parables of not only Jesus, but the rest of the bible as well.  

Wilson reflects on the parables that goes beyond them being sermon illustrations, and instead shows us that they contain the deep truths of the Kingdom of God.  He reminds us

"When Jesus teaches a parable He is not opening a copy of Chicken Soup For the Soul, or a fortune cookie but a window to the hidden heavenlies.  He is revealing a glimpse of eternity crashing into time, a flash photo of His own wisdom brought to bear."

Rather than teaching the parables as moralistic fables, Wilson shows us the the meaning of parable is to explode the truth of the gospel into our hearts and minds. The literal meaning of parable in the Greek is just that, to come along side of.  They run along with the teachings of Jesus and get down into our hearts and mind and expose the truth in immediate ways.  

He also encourages us to not spend too long looking for every hidden meaning.  What kind of lily did Jesus mean?  What kind of rock was the rocky soil?  Igneous or sedimentary?  We make two main errors in parables, he says.  When we simply believe they are religious illustrations, or simple allegories, we miss the point.  We miss the point as well when we think of them as a Magic Eye hidden picture, where if we stare at it long enough we will see the hidden picture.  This is, in my opinion, just a form of Gnosticism, where only a elite few can really get the point of the parables.

Leaving the parables of Jesus, Wilson walks us through some of the major parables of the Old Testament as well.  He shows us that an oft overlooked point of the Bible is that God is a God of stories.  He quickly goes through several prominent OT parables, like Nathan before David, the broken garden in Isaiah 5, and the prophet Ezekiel, whose whole book is almost one big parable.  

The book shows us that we cannot understand how the kingdom works without someone showing us. 

"Time and time again we think we know how this thing works, but time and time again we are wrong.  Jesus' disciples thought they knew how revolution would come; you bring it by sword.  But this is not how the revolution came, and Jesus rebuked those who tried to bring it with physical violence.  Time and time again the church thinks we know how people change.  We tell people to get their act together, of course.  And then we are surprised when this doesn't seem to work.  Why can't we just nag someone into spiritual maturity?"  

This book is not what I thought it would be when I picked it up.  I thought it would be a word by word walk through the parables, in commentary fashion.  But I was pleasantly surprised when Wilson took time to guide us through to see that when Jesus point to "real life" scenarios He is showing us there is "realer life" to be had.  Wilson's strong dependence on the grace of God and amazement at the way God works moves me to behold the working of God in new light.  

I encourage anyone to read this book who is looking to understand some of the parables that Jesus teaches through. But Wilson shows not only what it means, but why it means it, and how we can see God in them