December 31, 2007


This was one of the most trying years I have ever experienced. As I look back over the last 365 days, I pause and reflect on all that has happened:

My mom, Helen Backes, on January 8th took her own life by overdosing on prescription medication.

REFLECTION: It doesn't seem possible that it's been a year. After a lifetime of pain and mental illness, she reached a point where she saw no hope in the future. No reason to live. No reason to carry on. I've become more sensitive to the fact that so many times a simple phone call or ten minute visit can mean the world to someone. As I read this post I wrote earlier this year, it still feels as heavy as it did then. There aren't many days that go by without a thought of her crossing my mind and a feeling of sorrow and remorse over how much I failed as a son, as a Christian, and as a man. God has used her death to humble me and to chip away at my pride. God has used her death to seal within me a passion for the Gospel and the hope that it brings. God has used her death as a reminder to me that no matter how bad things seem, tomorrow is a new day and that we should always look for the hope that tomorrow brings. God has used her death to cause me to become a more graceful and merciful man. God has used her death in ways I couldn't have imagined a year ago. I miss my mom. I'm grateful for what God has done in me as a result of her death.

After five years of employment, Upward and I mutually agreed that I should no longer be a part of the Upward team

REFLECTION: Sometimes in life, there are things that absolutely don't make sense at the time they occur, but you very clearly begin to see the hand of God at work as more time is put between the present and the event. This was one of those times. I didn't understand at the time how five great years could come to an end so quickly and so poorly. It wasn't supposed to the end the way it did. And it was extremely unfortunate that it did. But as I look back it now, I can see that God had to orchestrate the events the way He did to forcefully extract me from the situation I was in because I don't know that I would have left on my own. In the same vein of God using Joseph's brothers attempt to kill him to get Him to Egypt, I can see God using unfortunate and sinful events by others at Upward to pry my loose and get me on the road back to Jefferson City to plant Eternity. I'll always be grateful to Upward for the experiences it gave me and the growth it caused in me, but I can very clearly see at the end of 2007 something I didn't see in the middle of it: God has a much bigger purpose for me.

God laid upon Jenni and I a calling to plant a church

REFLECTION: And this is the note that 2007 is very much ending with. I am anxious and excited about 2008 and what God is doing. As I leave this year, I could never have imagined ending up at LifePoint church and becoming the church planting intern. I could never have imagined developing the friendships and relationships that I have over the last four months. I could never have imagined God so perfectly putting me in situations to prepare me to plant a church. I could never have imagined God bringing me a friend and a coach in Lane Harrison that would speak to me the words God needed me to hear. I could never have imagined God doing what He has done. I truly am amazed at what God is doing and I agree with Habakkuk: I would not have believed it even it someone had told me it was going to happen. I simply wouldn't have. I don't think I could have.

And as I look to 2008, I wonder what I'll be writing on December 31st, 2008. Where will we be? Will we be in Jefferson City? Will we have a core group for Eternity meeting on a regular basis? Will we be preparing a building to meet in? Will the Gospel be transforming lives in our midst? Will we be seeing lost people converted? Will we be seeing marriages restored? Will we be seeing the sick healed? Will we be seeing broken lives made whole? Or does God have something else in store? I don't know for sure, but I will say this that I look forward to it.

It has been a year of pain, heartache, suffering, refinement, learning, humiliation, humbling, and a whole bunch of other challenging adjectives. But life is full of valleys and peaks. And life will always have suffering. But in the midst of suffering, I'm learning to see the beautiful and wonderful things God is doing as well. I'm also learning more about who I truly am and who God wants me to be as a man, a husband to Jenni, and a father to Trey and Josh. I'm a sinful human being who falls down every hour, but I'm growing and grateful that God has been merciful and graceful to me. I'm eternally thankful that God hasn't given up on me. I'm humbled by the Cross. I'm excited about the Gospel.

I'm hopeful for 2008.

December 27, 2007

Pastor Your City – And Your City Will Be Your Church

Million dollar quote I heard listening to this message over at the Acts29 site on team leadership in church planting.

And I guess for me that quote really encapsulates in a lot of ways what I envision for Eternity.

I'm still processing all that I heard in the thirty minutes of the talk, but truly I think that the truest expression of the Gospel in a community is when it engages the community and opens the doors of opportunity for ministry that may not occur for years but will only occur within the context of a relationship.

As I think back and look at all the churches I've been a part of or have been exposed to, there aren't many (a handful really) that got the idea of engaging lost people and the community just for the sake of the engagement. The guy talking in this message said that his church knew "in a holy fashion" every bartender and waitress on their street and that when they were going through something in life, they were coming to their pastoral leadership team for guidance and help.

So it really puts in perspective for me, who the target group is. Is it enough to just look to pastor your church, or am I going to pray and labor to raise up a team of members, elders, and deacons that will pastor the city where we are.

Fascinating 30 minutes of listening…I highly recommend it..

December 26, 2007

Jesus The Merciful

If you were to ask me what my favorite movies were, I would have to put Gladiator in the top five. I've watched it dozens of times and for some reason, no matter how many times I've watched it, I'm intrigued by it.

It could be the storyline – a man of position (a general) who loses everything and yet through his slavery becomes more powerful than the emperor of Rome. It could be the imagery. It could be the blood and gore (always helpful to keep guys interested in movies). It could be a lot of things.

But one thing is for sure. The character played by Joaquin Phoenix (Commodus) is a fascinating character. A man, beset by insecurity and consumed with the opinion of others, searches for the entire movie to determine how he shall be remembered by the people of Rome.

And at one point in the movie, he espouses the virtues of mercy. He fancies himself as Commodus The Merciful and wanders what it would be like if that is the way that history remembered him.

And as I sat at my kitchen table this morning listening to the preaching of God's word and enjoying a peaceful hour, I heard the pastor giving the message reference the Sermon on the Mount and more specifically:

Blessed are the merciful for they shall be shown mercy

This amazing conditional statement of Jesus should send shockwaves through us as Christians. For in it, Jesus is saying that we shall receive mercy only to the degree that we extend mercy.

I wrote a couple days ago on the fact that I see grace and mercy as two components of the salvation we receive. Grace being the good we didn't deserve and mercy being spared the bad we did deserve. And as I ponder these things finishing up the year, I wonder to myself: "How merciful am I?"

And how merciful are you?

  • Do we make it a routine practice in our lives to spare others the hurtful and condemning words they deserve?
  • Do we make it a routine practice in our lives to overlook the mis-steps and mistakes that others make realizing the thousands of mistakes we've made that were forgiven at the Cross?
  • Do we make it a routine practice in our lives to withhold our spiritual and emotional judgment on another recognizing how much mercy we've been shown by God?

The answer is no. We tend to be a hateful and spiteful bunch that is full of pride and arrogance. We are quick to point out where others have failed yet give ourselves a pass on our own sin. We are hasty to judge the sins of others while rationalizing or minimizing our own. This is our nature post-fall and we are good at defaulting to our sin nature.

But that is not the example set by Jesus. That is not the nature of a Christian living under the power of the Holy Spirit. We are to be merciful as we have be shown mercy. And if you don't think you have been shown mercy, then you either A) Don't know yourself or B) Don't know God

We have all been shown infinite mercy. And unlike the movies, this mercy is real and tangible and not written is nice clean manuscripts. Have we considered all the ways we have been shown mercy? Do we care? And are we thankful for them? Or are we content to be ignorant of the God who loves us?

December 24, 2007

In God’s Name

Okay, not sure how many folks actually caught this Sunday night on CBS, but if you didn't, I hope you can go online and watch it. I DVR'd it and I have to say that I think it was absolutely fascinating to me.

I think sometimes we get locked into our world of western Christianity and get really myopic about the universal nature of man's search for God. No matter who this show focused on last night, one thing came shining through (whether they would express it this way or not): God created man in His image, in His image He created man. And because we were created in God's image and lost paradise due to sin, we are left with an "insatiable thirst for God" as one of the spiritual leaders put it.

And that is universal, no matter where you go on Earth. Man knows (even if he doesn't recognize it consciously) that he is incomplete without God. The Book of Romans came to life for me as I watched. I don't see how it couldn't.

Here are some miscellaneous thoughts as I sit here:

  • There seems to be a vast difference in the "reverence for God" category between the Eastern and Western world. We always talk about how "commercialized" Christianity has become in America, but last night you could really see it on display. We have lost the mystical "aura" if you will of worshipping God.
  • There should be no doubt in the difference of living standards or how blessed we are in America after watching last night.
  • I was glad that they didn't paint Frank Page (President of the SBC) as a narrow minded bigot or hate-monger. They did a good job of conveying who he truly is I believe.
  • The more I see the interaction between the Catholic faithful and the Pope, the more concerned and convinced I am that true "idolatry" is taking place. One thing you couldn't miss from this piece is the "rock star" status of the Pope.
  • The "hugging goddess" Amma was probably the most intriguing for me. This woman has hundreds of people line up every day jus to get an embrace from her. I think the thing I took away from her was just the simple power of listening and empathy.
  • It's amazing to me how the communal nature of faith is readily evident to everyone but us in the United States. I mean truly. I watched this last night and was amazed at how communal all of the other faiths were by nature, not by programming. And this, I believe, is one of the most significant challenges we face in America because Christianity is by nature lived out in community. And yet, I think the thing we struggle with most in our churches is seeing authentic community develop. And from watching last night, I can see where we as people in America are simply not by nature communal anymore. At least not in the sense that other religions or cultures are.

More to come as I re-watch it.

December 21, 2007

Half Of What You See – Less Of What You Hear/Read

It's an old adage but I'm finding more and more in life that it is true. And the more I experience in life, the more I am learning to not be so quick to jump on things like "initial reports" or "breaking news" type conversations with people.

There's an element in all of us that wants to be the first one to find things out. Or to know of news before everyone else does. It's why Cable News (FoxNews, CNN, MSNBC, DrudgeReport) do so well. We are addicted to knowing the details before others do. There's a pride involved in it. We don't want to miss out. We don't want to hear those dreaded words "Dude, where have you been – you need to catch up".

I'm learning the hard way that if you want to know what's really going on, you need to go to the source. Emails, websites, news reports, etc are all designed to help generate readership and you are consuming what the author wants you to consume. The truth can be a far different thing.

December 20, 2007


What do we do when someone makes a mistake?

Do we forgive? Do we forget? Do we ignore? Do we move on? What do we do?

I've made plenty of them. I'll make plenty more. Others have made them. Others will make plenty more.

But it's this topic of forgiveness that keeps coming to mind. Because in forgiveness, I see the two components of grace and mercy more clearly than ever before. Grace in the good we extend in forgiveness, and mercy in the judgment we withhold in forgiveness.

Jesus' command here, as most of His commands are, is impossible to accomplish in our own strength. We are not forgiving people. We are not grace giving people. We are not mercy loving people. By nature, we are judgmental, arrogant, proud, legalistic, pharisaic, hard-hearted, stiff-necked bigots.

We will always tend to take it light on our own faults and magnify the defects of others. We'll always point the finger at others, and put magic ink on ourselves. By nature, we're hateful, spiteful, and quick to condemn the actions of others.

It's because of two things:

  1. Sin has corrupted our soul.
  2. We don't have a clue what the Gospel is about.

You see, 490 doesn't even begin to touch the level of forgiveness each of us has been extended. Not even close. wouldn't even get it. I've been intrigued and humbled lately by the fact that God so often describes Israel and by extension us as a prostitute who went in search of other lovers. And even though we are in our sin a dirty, nasty, prostitute – God takes us back. Forgiveness is available. Forgiveness is given.

And yet we go on, holding it against others. We're so grateful for the gift that we don't give it to others. How dare we! We have no right as prostitutes to judge adulterers. We are just as bad as they are.

And as we look at the different spheres of our life: Marriage, friendships, work, church, community, etc – are we a kind of people who understand what we were and what we are when God extended His forgiveness to us. And second, do we live and breathe as people ready, happy, and willing to dole out grace and mercy (forgiveness) to others? My guess is not.

So as you get ready to see Baby Jesus in your manger at home. Understand he wasn't a baby given to you so you could worry about how many gifts you're going to get or give this holiday season. He was a baby given because you and I were prostitutes and needed that baby's blood for forgiveness. If we want to honor that baby, we should become people that live by His power as He did.

December 11, 2007

Whoever Holds The Guns Holds The Power

So if you believe that all religions are the same and that everyone should be free to determine for themselves what is right for them, then I ask you the following question:

Who ultimately determines what is right?

In the end, whoever holds power determines what is right. That doesn't seem to ring true with us in America because somehow we think we are always going to be the superpower and we are always going to hold the power. History would definitely not be on our side in that assumption.

All empires fall. EVERY ONE. There isn't a single remaining ancient empire. And there is very low likelihood that history will change and thereby guarantee that the United States will exist forever.

So if you can imagine a world where we don't hold the power and someone else does, then you have to understand that they get to determine what is right and what is wrong. That is, if all religion are in fact the same and there are in fact multiple ways to God.

So whoever holds the power, makes the rules. Ultimately, those who believe that every person should be free to determine what is right for them, endorse the rule of cruel dictators, totalitarian regimes, and power mongers. They will say to me: "Marc we do not, what is happening in China, Russia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa etc is terrible and nobody should be treated the way those people are treated. People have rights. People should be free. People should be happy."

And so I will ask you: Why do you think that. Your very worldview says that everyone is free to determine for themselves what is right. So naturally, whoever can grab power and hold it over another now has the control they desperately long for. And who are you to judge whether their precepts are right or wrong? They're just doing what they believe is right. Isn't that what you believe they should be free to do?

And you begin to see very quickly that your whole denial of one way to God. Your whole denial of right and wrong having a transcendent source outside of humanity. Your whole rejection of an authority outside of yourself fails on its own terms because it can never bring peace and happiness, and in fact has led to some of the cruelest, most inhumane regimes in history.

Sooner or later, truth – expressed in right and wrong, has to come from somewhere outside of ourselves. And the real problem you have is not that you believe there is a God, or that you deny the existence of Jesus, but rather, you don't want to accept nor submit to the fact that Jesus may not approve of your lifestyle and habits. You want to be free from judgment, but certainly have not thought through why your worldview is a giant contradiction on its own terms, not mine.

Someone has to make the rules. And unless you want to be subject to the changing wind of men's hearts, then your only hope is to appeal to one whose heart never changes. Where truth is truth now and forever. Where right and wrong is spelled out and never changes. Where you have hope you can bank on.

Everyone doing what is right in their own eyes – ultimately leads to dictatorships and chaos.

I'm not sure that's what you want. I'm pretty sure you don't want someone to point out the sin in your life. You just want to use "inclusive" worldviews to deflect someone from actually pointing out to you where you might need to change.

December 10, 2007

You Do What’s Right For You – I’ll Do What’s Right For Me

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about a common talking point in America today and that is:

  • Basically all religions are the same
  • Everyone should be free to find their own way to God
  • We shouldn't judge people because of their religious beliefs

We want to be a very inclusive society. Therefore, if you don't believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven, that's fine. You do what's right for you. And I'll do what's right for me. And in the end, we should just accept each other as we are and not try to push our religion on to anyone else. That's just rude. It's not cool.

So the question I want to ask here is this:

Who decides what is right?

The common answer in America is Congress, the Supreme Court, and the President. And in extension, the American people, by power of democracy, get to decide what ultimately is right and wrong. If you ask most people, that will be the framework they'll give you. We're free to decide what is right for us as long as it falls within the bounds of accepted United States law.

Here's the problem with stopping there. Your assumption of what is right for you is based on how you view the "world" not just your country. And ultimately, if you base your life on "what's right for you and what's right for me" then in order to avoid being exclusive, you have to extend that privilege to everyone in the world, otherwise, you are saying that the United States way is THE WAY.

So by extending your view of "let's all decide our own way" to the entire world, what are your feelings when you read about Muslim women undergoing genital mutilation? Or about most infant females in China being killed to preserve Chinese tradition of elder sons? What are your feelings of Hitler's holocaust? How did you react to 9/11?

Do you get angry? Are you repulsed? Do you feel they should be punished? Is what they are doing wrong? Because, how can you say that killing over 3,000 Americans was wrong? Weren't they just doing what they felt was right?

You might say to me – "Marc that's ridiculous – everyone knows that was wrong!" And I would ask you "By whose standards?" What was the magic moral code out there that told you killing thousands of people is wrong? What book does that come out of? Is it the Bible? Is there some other book titled "Common rules to follow" that we should all be reading to let us know what is right and what is wrong?

Because if you say everyone should be able to determine for themselves what is right for them, then how can you feel outrage or anger regarding the actions of another in any of those circumstances. They're just practicing what you believe. They are doing what's right for them. How dare you be exclusive and tell them that they are wrong! They're doing nothing different than you are.

So now I ask you, and I'll pick up on this more tomorrow, do you see the inherent problems if you follow your worldview to its logical conclusion?

December 06, 2007

Church With Benefits

After yesterday's interaction with an article about friends with benefits, I wanted to take a moment today to show how our culture's attitudes towards sex also manifest themselves in our attitudes about church.

In the same way that someone seeks the "booty call" with a FWB, I believe there are millions of people attending church today who are using a local church of their choosing for their "spiritual booty call".

Let me explain.

Essentially, the one night stand or the FWB is intended to produce a maximum amount of immediate pleasure with little to none ongoing commitment towards the other party. In the same vein, as I experience emotional or isolational lows, I can immediately begin looking through my iPhone for my next hookup to relieve me of my crisis and the great thing about the "booty call" is that it is on demand, when I want it, and there's no expectation that I have to respond to anyone else's expectations of me. It is 100% on my terms.

And millions are doing the same thing with church. I attend when I want to, and only for my benefit. I am there because I am experiencing a personal spiritual, relational, or emotional crisis, and I want God to give me my "spiritual booty call" to make me feel better. But don't ask me to make any ongoing investment in the church. Don't have any expectations of me as someone who came to that church. Just allow me to come in, use your church as I would a prostitute (I might even pay you for your services), and then I can move on, go back to my life and I'll get back to you if I need you again.

The book of Hosea pretty clearly describes us as playing the role of the prostitute. It pretty clearly draws the analogy that how we tend to act sexually with one another, is also the way we tend to interact with God. And if you'll look closely enough, you'll see that it's absolutely true.

We've all seen those people who attend church every few months or so. We've all seen those people who want the church to be everything they want on a Sunday morning but have no intention in making an investment into the life of the church community. We've seen people who want a pastor or God for that matter to be a genie of spiritual fix all, but want to do nothing to discipline themselves to keep stupid to a minimum in their life. We've seen people who show up, want the spiritual "orgasm" so to speak, and then retreat to their life with no change until the next time they want their ecstasy.

So here's the question to consider: Are you using your local church for a "booty call", or are you gonna quit dating the church and marry it?

December 05, 2007

Friends With Benefits

As I was scanning the morning news, I saw this article over at Fox News. It would appear that sex outside of marriage still doesn't live up to its' billing:

Suddenly, bearing the scarlet letter of a one-night stand doesn't sound so bad, especially if "doing it without drama" has been your mantra as of late. Turns out that, despite the conveniences of FWBs, temporary sexual gratification comes at a price — the chance at real romance. The Michigan State study found that friends with benefit relationships often reach the point where one friend starts to develop feelings for the other, but only one-tenth of these arrangements actually end in a full-scale romance and unreciprocated feelings can lead to the demise of the friendship.

Interesting. You mean sex with someone actually might cause you to have feelings for them? It really is a revealing article that gives a good glimpse into what the 18-25 culture is like right now.

However, I don't think it's just a college kid thing. I think it's a humanity thing. We want to have our pleasure but feel none of its consequences. We want something for nothing. Have you taken a look at Monster or CareerBuilder lately? They are full of jobs that promise exorbitant wealth without having to work at all for it.

If there is one principle in life – whether it is in the realm of knowledge, work, sex, athletics, whatever – it is that you cannot have something for nothing. There is always a price to be paid – either positive or negative. Decisions carry consequences. Choices have results.

It's the reality of sin and the true exegesis of what happened to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The first sin committed was believing that you could have something for nothing. All the ecstasy, none of the guilt!

And what's amazing to me, in the current climate of people saying that the Bible is so outdated, so irrelevant for today, so unreliable – is that it clearly shows over and over that no matter how much time passes, some things never change.

Genesis is just as relevant today as it was thousands and thousands of years ago.

December 03, 2007

Our Focus Should Be ….?

I came across an interesting quote last night in a book I've recently begun reading:

The careful, painstaking education of the disciples secured that the Teacher's influence on the world should be permanent; that His kingdom should be founded on the rock of deep and indestructible convictions in the minds of the few, not on the shifting sands of superficial evanescent impressions on the minds of the many. – A.B. Bruce

And that got me to thinking. In the church, where should our focus be? I highlight the word focus, because I think it's a false dichotomy to say that in order to focus on training and equipping, we must abandon our zeal for finding stray sheep. Likewise, I don't believe that in having a zeal for stray sheep, we should lose our love and passion for sheep that are already in the fold and assume that they no longer require care and attention from their shepherds.

But it is a question of focus. Some obviously stand in the camp of focusing on stray sheep, and in their own admission, find the process of building deep convictions and sharpening edges of faith to be boring. They believe the best use of your life is a relentless pursuit of lost sheep.

But is that who Jesus was? As you read the Gospels, do you find a Jesus who cared little about the "depth" and "quality" of understanding/knowledge that His disciples had of Him?

If there was ever a life where every second counted, it was Jesus. So how he spent his seconds and hours should speak volumes to us of how we spend ours. And what you see Jesus investing "most" of his time in during his three year ministry, I believe, is a core group of men whom He had chosen. Did He seek stray sheep? Yes. Did he find what was lost? Yes.

But I believe his "focus" was on twelve ordinary men. He knew that for generational effectiveness to exist, they were going to have to receive hours upon hours of instruction, training, relational investment, and care. And even after all of that, it still took the Holy Spirit as promised to seal them and keep them. Conviction takes time. Firm in the faith doesn't happen overnight. If we are to see rocks, redwoods, and stalwarts of the faith come to pass, then we must invest, nurture, and care for them when they are seedlings.

We must care for spiritual infants as much as human parents care for newborn babies if we are ever to see spiritual adults. It is an inescapable Biblical truth.

We must re-orient our timescale and begin thinking in terms of years and decades rather than minutes and hours when it comes to imagining effective spiritual formation.

November 29, 2007

So Let Me Get This Straight

It's first degree murder if the husband wants the abortion and the mom doesn't, but it's a women's right to choose if the mom wants the abortion and the father doesn't?

Wow...that makes a ton of sense

I Want You To Picture This

As you read this story, I want you to actually stop long enough to try and put yourself watching this happen.

And I know that the details probably aren't exactly accurate. But it's horrific enough.

What haunts me is actually pondering hearing a little girl beg for daddy to stop.

And then what humbles me, what staggers me, what just overwhelms my soul and causes me to yield to the will of God…

God allowed this to happen to this little girl, and He didn't stop it.

And I can't tell you why that is. And I can't begin to challenge his judgments. But Solomon said in Ecclesiastes that the biggest problem in life is not life without God, but rather life with God. Life with a God who is sovereign and who will act as He pleases.

When I read stories like this, as God has grown me and shaped me, I fall at His feet and simply say God, I hope you held her tightly as she was being hit repeatedly with leather belts and as her little head went under water, I hope she saw Your face appearing brighter and brighter.

And I also say, God, I am just as evil as those that abused her, and because of Your grace in my life, I am who I am today.

It is too much for the soul to ponder.

November 28, 2007

It’s One Thing To Break A Rule

It's a whole different thing to commit adultery.

That was a little nugget I pulled from a sermon by Jonathan McIntosh at The Journey. It was toward the very end of the sermon, but it really stuck out to me. So much so I wanted to write about it today.

When we think about religion, when we think about Jesus, why is it that we automatically default to the rules and regulations we believe will be imposed upon us. Is it because we don't want to be told what to do? Is it because we love our sin so much that we don't want to give it up.

We don't want to be told not to have sex outside of marriage. We don't want to be restricted from getting inebriated every weekend. We don't want to be bound by having to give generously to God's church and God's people. We don't want anyone imposing rules on us.

But yet when we get married, we have no problem with the rules our spouse imposes on us. And those rules are unspoken. Don't hit me. Don't hurt me. Provide for me. Take care of me. Love me. Pamper me. Honor me. Cherish me. Don't sleep around on me. Don't talk bad about me. Wear your wedding ring.

So what's the difference? The main one is that we see Jesus as a set of rules and we see our spouse as a person with whom we have an intimate relationship. We can break Jesus' rules and it's just breaking a rule. We break our spouses' rules and we're committing adultery.

And there's a big difference in the two. In one scenario, we're simply someone who can't follow instructions, in the other we're a whoreing spouse.

But I would say that we should look at our relationship with Jesus the same way. The essence of the Gospel is not rules but a person. A person who is the same in His humanity as our spouse. And once we are united in faith to Jesus, we are engaged in an intimate (non-sexual-but still intimate) relationship with Him. And to violate that relationship by placing other God's, other desires, other motives ahead of that relationship is to play the part of a whore once more.

It puts our sin in a whole new light. You're not just breaking a rule. You're cheating on Jesus. And that's imagery, especially in the book of Hosea, that the Bible uses repeatedly.

It's funny, I would never do anything to hurt my wife, not because I feel bound to obey her rules, but because I couldn't take doing something to wound her heart. I love her. I care for her. However, I don't think twice about wounding the heart of Jesus. Mainly because, too many times, I reduce the Savior to a set of rules to follow.

Christians were never meant to live like that. Thank you Jonathan for sharing that on Sunday.

November 27, 2007

Don't Be A Hypocrite

Today's blog post can be found over at LifePoint's blog site.

November 26, 2007

Drop The Act

The link to the sermon I preached this past Sunday is now online.

Thank you God for giving me the strength to get through it without throwing up!

When The Dollars Won’t Let You Go

I was cruising through my blog feeds last night and came across this post by Mark Dever over at 9Marks. He's been reading Bob Kauflin's latest book and references this quote in the book:

"I know worship pastors who wouldn't be in their present church unless they were being paid. That's not good. Salary shouldn't be the primary means of determining where we serve. And you shouldn't work at a church you wouldn't attend."

And that quote got me to thinking: How many people are in their current jobs strictly because of money?

I can say from personal experience that I know a bunch. I know folks who are employed by companies and organizations that if it weren't for the size of the paycheck, they wouldn't be there. I know people employed by churches who hold to a completely different set of theological beliefs than the church they are employed by, but because they church gives them big dollars, they don't say anything. And worse, they make peace with the fact that they aren't on board with the church's mission and live a double life. They will secretly lament the church's shortcomings, yet take its money.

In my opinion, that's stealing.

You see, IMO, when you sign on to a church or a ministry organization, you don't sign up for the money. You sign up because you believe in the mission. And when you don't whole-heartedly embrace the mission any longer, or the methods that are being used to accomplish that mission, it's time for you to go – regardless of the financial impact.

But people don't do that. Why? Because the false security that money provides becomes our God. We worship it. We bow to it. We sacrifice our character and integrity for it. We lose our soul for it. And we get trapped by the big paycheck. And we'll look back at our lives and realize we spent significant chunks of our time here on Earth laboring for a cause we didn't truly believe in. We'll realize we were hypocrites. We were acting. We were playing a part.

And millions in the world today are doing what they do, not because they love it, but because of the bucks.

I can think of no clearer example of what Jesus meant when He said you cannot serve two masters. Doing something you aren't truly passionate about because it puts big money in your pocket.

What people don't realize is that the money goes back in the box and you can't take it with you.

But you can take the growth, enjoyment, and experience of doing something God has called you to do all the way into Eternity.

Are you trapped by the dollars? I hope not.

November 25, 2007

It’s Sunday Night – And Here Are My Thoughts

What a last four days it has been.

  • We spent Thanksgiving day in St. Louis with family. Touch football in 25 degree weather was fantastic. Just don't do it with open-toed sandals for two hours.
  • I might spend hours looking at this. It may not come around again for a long time but I'm certainly going to enjoy the next six days while it lasts.
  • Saturday was an awesome time with Jenni's family. Two things we always do when we get together on that side of the family – EAT and PLAY CARDS. If time allows, a nap is always mandatory.
  • I'm exhausted after all that has gone on over the last 96 hours. Fortunately, it was cold, rainy, and overcast this afternoon so I was able to sneak in a three hour nap. Can't beat those.
  • I preached this morning at LifePoint on Luke 12: 1-9. Hypocrisy is never a fun subject to talk about, but God was good this morning.
  • "It Is Well With My Soul" is one of my favorite hymns ever. Dennis and the peeps did a great job with it this morning. It helped me in ways they'll never know.
  • We had 270 in attendance at LifePoint even though it was the Sunday after Thanksgiving. That's a great thing. God is doing some amazing things at our church right now.
  • I will have to blog more about this later on in the week.
  • The Rams still stink.
  • Can anyone stop Devin Hester?
  • Putting up a Christmas tree is one of my favorite / least favorite things to do.
  • I can't wait to DVR "The Amazing Race" and watch it with my family."

I can't wait to see what God has in store for the next seven days. I needed the last four more than I realize. I truly am thankful for all that God has given me. And after 96 whirlwind hours, I can truly say it was a great holiday weekend.

November 21, 2007

Aren’t All Religions The Same?

  • I mean, can't we all just get to God in our own way.
  • How can someone possibly judge someone else simply because they have a different religion?
  • What religion you are doesn't matter, as long as you do what's right.
  • Aren't they all the same anyway? It's not important what religion you practice, what matters is that you do what's right for you. Right?

I think most people who are not Christians or adherents to any other religion think these kind of thoughts most times when it comes to the topic of faith.

It sounds great. It sounds nice. It sounds accepting. It sounds compassionate. It sounds loving. It sounds inclusive.

After all, if those statements are true, then God can't be mad at anybody except those who do bad things and who aren't doing what's right for them.

If those statements are true, God doesn't judge. He loves. There is no anger from the divine. Only warm fuzzies for you along your life journey.

Don't be a hater. Don't judge. Just do what's right for you and I'll do what's right for me.

That's the mantra for today.


Let's talk about it over the next week or so. Is this right? Or is this wrong?

November 19, 2007

More On The Seismic Activity

David Fitch blogs the latest piece on this story that I wrote about a few weeks ago.

You really need to read it, as I think it is extremely insightful. The last paragraph is what struck me:

One more question for REVEAL. If the people who are leaving Willow Creek are the mature Christians, could this mean Willow's role was never more than a good old-fashioned evangelistic organization? It was never meant to be church. For one thing is true, I see more and more Christian leaving large mega churches seeking missional community. Is there anything wrong with that? Could this be Willow's role in the renewal of the church?

I've had thoughts along this line for a long time. In my tenure at Upward, I was able to sit down and talk with small churches and mega-churches alike and one thing almost always presented itself. The bigger the church got, the more it trended towards Sunday morning being a performance, and the church being a machine when it came to "evangelism".

But the one thing that those large church staffs always told me was that the back door was growing larger and larger. Sure they were bringing people in the front door, but they were also seeing people leave at alarming rates. And it made sense. Because almost all of their efforts, even their mission statements, were largely aimed at the front door, not the family already in the house.

And I have a theory why.

Because walking people through the stages of spiritual formation is hard work, time consuming, painful, messy, and taxing. And we would rather have a good show they dig in and do real work. Style is always easier than substance. Flair is always more expedient than labor.

But it's funny that Jesus said the field was white unto harvest, but the "laborers" were few. A lot of people want to be in show-business, but few people want to be a farmer. One gets you lots of fans. One just makes you work and sweat.

(HT: Jared)

November 16, 2007

See Dennis, I Told You So

And now Seth Godin has agreed with me as well!

Here's the key paragraphs:

Last year, more than $8,000,000,000 was wasted on these cards. Not in the value spent, but in fees and breakage. When you give a card, if it doesn't get used, someone ends up keeping your money, and it's not the recipient. People spent more than eight billion dollars for nothing... buying a product that isn't as good as cash. Along the way, we bought the story that giving someone a hundred dollar bill as a gift ("go buy what you want") is callous, insensitive, a crass shortcut. Buying them a $100 Best Buy card, on the other hand, is thoughtful. Even if they spend $92 and have to waste the rest.

The interesting thing about stories is that the inconsistent ones don't always hold up to scrutiny. Consumer Reports and others are trying to spread a different story. One that sounds like this:

Gift cards are for chumps.

If enough people talk about this new story, people will be embarrassed to give a gift card. It's a waste. It's a scam. It's a trap for the recipient. The irony is that the gift card companies could easily spend, say, half the profits and create a wonderful, better story... where every $100 gift card also generates two or three dollars for a worthy cause. That would resonate with a lot of people... But I think it's unlikely.

I could go off on a LONG, LONG rant about what Christmas has become and what we have turned it into, BUT, for right now I won't.

I just think it's interesting that we paid nobody in particular almost 8 BILLION dollars last year. Great stewardship!

November 15, 2007

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

Bill McLellan, a columnist for the St. Louis Post Dispatch, wrote a column about Sen. Grassley wanting to investigate six "prosperity Gospel" types. I'll just say that I'm not a huge fan of Mr. McLellan but I think these paragraphs are right on:

But it isn't. According to a story in this newspaper a week ago, Sen. Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, has asked Meyer for documents detailing the finances of the Joyce Meyer Ministries, based in Fenton. He wants to know about clothing, cosmetic surgery, a $23,000 marble-topped commode, a $30,000 conference table and five pages of so on and so forth.

I could go item by item, but let's just take the first one — clothing. What business is that of the government? Do we want staffers from the Finance Committee poking around in Billy Graham's closet? Maybe they would find expensive Italian suits. So what? If preachers are required to wear cheap clothes, the Rev. Larry Rice would pass muster, but not many others, and certainly not any of those who espouse the "prosperity gospel." That's what Meyer preaches, that God showers blessings on those he favors.

And if you want to believe that, you can. It's not the role of the government to decide the theological validity of anybody's religious beliefs. Matters of faith are not stuff for a Senate committee to consider. Of course, the senator is arguing that financial matters are a little different. In a written statement, he claimed he has "an obligation to donors" to find out that the money is being spent as intended. No, he doesn't.

Basically what McLellan is arguing is that if you're stupid enough to give to the "prosperity Gospel" types, then that's your business and your loss. It's not up to the government to save you from your own stupidity. And that's absolutely right. There is a real inherent danger in governmental interference in religious matters. Suppose some feel that John Piper is too fundamentalist and that people shouldn't be subjected to that, then what?

You go down a slippery road because what's being investigated depends on who is in power. And while we may agree that those in the "health and wealth" camp are destroying people's souls and perverting the great Gospel of Jesus, we should leave justice and accounting for that perversion in the hands of Jesus and not in the Senate floor of Washington DC. What we end up cheering for today, might very well turn out to be the very thing that sends us underground in the future. Once government feels comfortable dictating religious matters, it is a slippery slope we walk.

The columnist ends with a great closing salvo:

I think not. Freedom of religion means, among other things, that matters of faith are not subject to government approval. A "prosperity gospel" that includes a $23,000 marble-topped commode for the preacher does not appeal to me, but maybe it does to you, and the U.S. Senate has no business saying it shouldn't

If you want the "money lovers" to not be able to live their lavish lifestyles, then the answer is to share the true and real Gospel as much as you can. Not look to the politicians to bring down their empire.

November 14, 2007

He Might Be Right – Then Again He Could Be Wrong

Mark Dever gave a talk at Southern Seminary. He's a pastor of a Baptist church in Washington D.C. He founded 9Marks ministries. He takes church membership, discipline, and preaching seriously.

Key Paragraphs:

"The problem with the seeker-sensitive model, emerging church model and even the traditional model that say, 'Get as many people into a room as possible and share the Gospel with them,' is that they view success in light of visible fruit," he said. "All three of these approaches say, 'Change your techniques and let's get some numbers.'

"Instead of being directed by [visible] success, we should be directed by faithfulness. We should say, 'If the Lord doesn't like our product, we will change the product.' We shouldn't take the idea that if we don't have X number of conversions in our church, then we must be doing something wrong. I am glad Jeremiah didn't think that. And I am glad that Jesus Christ didn't think that. Let us remember that we are following the One who was crucified as a revolutionary."

OK. Could not agree more. Since salvation is of the Lord, and only God's to give, and really only God's to know, we should not be in the business of touting number of conversions. I'm convinced organizations do it for marketing purposes and not genuine heartfelt reasons. I've seen it first-hand. If we have a lot of "decisions" we can begin to slide in and take some of God's glory and think we had something to do with it. We can place our name alongside of God's name. And we look better in the process.

So I'm tracking with Dever here. But, is he really arguing against Biblical contextualization. Would you share the Gospel and teach the Bible the same way to a redneck from Mississippi as you would an inner-city black woman from Chicago?

Isn't context important? Isn't it of significant importance? Isn't that part of being a missionary?

I think it is. I think it has to be. I think Dever would say that himself.

"You must very clearly preach the Gospel, Sunday after Sunday, making it very clear what a Christian is [in such a situation]," he said.

"Second, you must be very patient. It took me two years to finish dealing with that issue, in a very stable, Bible-believing congregation. Get counsel from older men who agree with you theologically.

"And when the time comes, what is typically lacking in pastors in many cases is courage," Dever said, adding that it takes "courage to look at a man twice your age and tell him that he has been doing things wrong all his life. You must keep making it very clear what a Christian is."

Understand, the more clear you are, the narrower the definition. And the more you begin to realize that most people attending churches these days are still lost. And in a lot of ways, our preaching has given them false hope.

November 13, 2007

Dad – Do I Have Hair Under My Armpit?

You know, my boys are unbelievable. Apart from God the Father – Son – And Holy Spirit, and my wife, they are the most precious treasures in the world.

  • There are days where I wonder if they'll make it to 10
  • There are days where I wonder if they wouldn't have been better off having a different dad.
  • There are days where they teach me more about myself than I could have ever dreamt possible.
  • There are days where I want them to quit growing up so I can enjoy these years a little while longer.
  • There are days where questions like the title just crack me up.
  • There are days where sadness overwhelms me because I'll never be the dad they deserve. I'm just being the best dad I can be.
  • There are days where I am so excited about all that God will have for them.
  • There are days where I am fearful for the world that they have to grow up in.
  • There are days where I am paralyzed by all the responsibility I feel to raise them up to be Godly men, husbands, and fathers themselves.
  • There are days where my heart bursts with joy when they wrap their little arms around my neck.
  • There are days where I cry like a baby because to them I have the most special title in the world: "Dad"
  • There are days where I feel like an utter failure.
  • There are days where I feel like I did it right.

But every day, I thank God that he gave them to me. I always wanted to be a dad. And I always wanted to have boys of my own. God has been truly gracious to me. So take time to smile when a three year old looks at you with big blue eyes and great big smile and asks you if he has hair under his armpit!

November 12, 2007

Why God Why

Do things like this have to happen? And why did you allow this to happen?

In short, a little girl was left in her home by her step-father. Then, one of the step-father's friends came and abducted her, took her to his trailer and raped her. After raping her, the step-father arrived, and raped her as well. After both were done, they then took her outside and strangled her with a curtain cord. Then drove her to a remote sinkhole where they simply dumped her lifeless body in a cave.

There are so many questions that come to mind for anyone:

  • How can two grown men sexually devastate a young girl?
  • How can any adult human being strangle a young child and watch her struggle for life before your very eyes?
  • How can anyone continue doing any of it when you hear a young girl beg for you to please stop?
  • What purpose did this event serve?
  • Where was God while all of this was taking place?
  • Is that really the purpose of this 9 year old's life? To be raped and murdered while she was still a child?
  • Why didn't God stop this?

Evil like this happens every day. I recently talked with a friend who had just experienced a suicide by a father who left his wife and three children by hanging himself on the front porch. You read news stories and talk with people and there is one inescapable conclusion. Evil is all around us and the heart is absolutely depraved. Anyone is capable of anything.

So what do we do? Do we live in fear? Is God really watching all of this? Has He fallen asleep on the throne? Or worse, does He condone this? Why doesn't He stop it? If He can part the Red Sea and create the universe in 6 days, do you really mean to tell me he can't stop an evil step-father from this horrendous act?

  • I wonder if people ever ask those questions?
  • I wonder if people ever wrestle with those questions?
  • I wonder what the Bible has to say about those questions?
  • I wonder what God has to say about those questions?
  • I wonder where we can turn for answers?
  • I wonder if God did answer that question if we would accept his answer and submit to it?

Life isn't all roses. Life isn't all fun. Life isn't all about how to do church better or how to preach better. Life is real. Life is hard.

Maybe some more to ponder tomorrow. I think this is enough for today.

November 11, 2007

Happy Veterans Day

To my dad – John Peter Backes. C'mon with a name like that you had to know his son was going to be a pastor J.

There are those in the world that think I'm a little off mentally sometimes. My dad's the cause of it. Back in the mid 1960's my dad VOLUNTARILY signed up to be a United States Marine and did a 13 month tour I believe (correct me if I'm wrong) in Vietnam.

Also, back where I'm from, there are many brave men and women who have served the United States faithfully through their military service. I love hearing the older generations talk about being in the Army or Navy, and what not.

My dad gave me many opportunities in life that I'm extremely grateful for. His, and folks just like him, service to our country gives us all opportunities that we take for granted far too often in our daily lives. By God's sovereign hand we live in a democracy. Also by God's sovereign hand, there are folks willing to make untold sacrifices and thousands have given the ultimate sacrifice.

On this day, we say thank you. But we should say thank you every day and honor that sacrifice with our lives and the choices we make.

Thanks Dad….

November 09, 2007

Eternity On My Mind

Nothing earth shattering in the tank today. Thoughts and a lot of life swirling around right now. But nothing pressing on the soul to opine about.

In some ways, people would call this a throw away post. To others, it would be less than ideal. It's hard having something to think about every day.

The most pressing thing going right now is to finish my prospectus for Eternity. I've in the middle of it and have finished Mission, Values, Summary View Of Ministry, and finishing up my section on the context in which I will plant which is Jefferson City, MO.

I'm coming face to face with the situation where I thought for years I knew how other churches were doing it wrong and how I would do it better. Now I'm having to get that down on paper and get rolling with it. It's a daunting task. I could use the prayer.

A while back, I asked here on the blog what people would write if they were writing a mission statement. I believe I've decided on the mission for Eternity. I'll end with that:

To labor for the Gospel as it transforms us, our city, and our world for eternity.

November 08, 2007

This Would Be Funny

If you couldn't honestly say that somehow it may be true.

The invitation. A funny and peculiar thing. Why do we do it? Where did it come from?

Response to God is an important part of faith and repentance. Peter exhorted those listening to his sermon to repent and be baptized.

Billy Graham made the invitation a cornerstone of the American church. Thousands upon thousands of churches followed suit. I've heard sermons on why not doing the invitation is sentencing people to hell. (BTW, the pastor who gave that sermon pastors a large Baptist church in a town that shares a name with a hippie gathering in the 60's)

Does it all depend on your theology? Is it emotional manipulation?

Can it be effective today in a culture conditioned to be skeptical of religious manufacturing?

Don't you get disgusted with the pastor who utters the words "just one more verse" because he doesn't want to be embarrassed by the fact that no one responded to his sermon and therefore he wants to try and force someone to come to the front so it can look like he had an impact?

If it's so effective, why did Billy Graham have to "engineer" movement by encouraging his counselors to begin moving forward first?

What if you don't give people a chance to respond publicly? What then? Should there be public response other than baptism? Does the public nature add undue pressure?

All things I ponder while waiting for another episode of Survivor and The Office.

November 07, 2007

Acts 29 Quarterly And All Things Tuesday

Yesterday was a great day in many respects. A beautiful day to drive from Ozark to St. Louis to Jefferson City back to Ozark. I love drive times alone with God.

The Acts29 quarterly was great as usual. Preaching was the topic. Highlights were:

  • Jonathan McIntosh challenging us to examine our weaknesses in our preaching. He talked about three streams and how it is vital for preachers to be good in all three streams. He shared rightly that most folks default to one stream but that we needed to listen to guys from all three streams. The three he hit on were:
    • Normative – Truth focused (John MacArthur, John Piper, et all) – What to I want people to know or believe?
    • Existential – Emotion Focused (Martin Lloyd Jones – CJ Mahaney) – What do I want people to feel?
    • Situational – Action Focused (Andy Stanley – Rick Warren) – What do I want people to do?
  • Catching up and sitting with Steve Easterwood from FBC Lake St. Louis.
  • Having a chance to talk with Bob Werner about planting Eternity. Bob's first pastorate was in Jefferson City. He had many good words.
  • Listening to Darrin Patrick, Ron Cathcart, John Ryan, and a great guy who I can't for the life of me remember his name (although he won a preaching award from Covenant Theological Seminary) answer questions about preaching ranging from:
    • How they prepare for their sermons?
    • How much time do they prepare?
    • What is their best advice for guys who are trying to find their voice?
    • Their advice on building preaching teams
    • Their thoughts on use of certain language in sermons
    • Their thoughts on being a communicator for God on Sunday morning
  • Getting to say hi once again to Maxedon, Sam, Brian, Trey, and meeting Mike Hubbard and Marc Sikma

It was then time to head to Jefferson City and have a meeting with some folks about Eternity. For those who are just catching up, I am in the process of planting a church in the next 12 – 18 months named Eternity and Jefferson City is where that church will be. Last night's meeting was great. From everyone I've talked to, the area is in desperate need of a Gospel centered, culturally sensible church.

With every discussion I have about Eternity, I grow more excited and nauseous at the same time. I am growing increasingly aware how huge of a task it will be. I am also realizing with each day how great God is, how ignorant and sinful I am, and how I am in dire straits if God isn't driving this train.

But as each day goes by, Eternity becomes more and more a reality and the path to reality a little more clear.

It was a good day. Let's see what today holds!

November 05, 2007

Does Jesus Make You Happy?

It's a fair question. I would argue it's the most important question in life. Recently, a well known blogger and author posted a list of things that made him happy:

  • The newly released album from the David Crowder Band.
  • When my wife makes me go play golf with my son--who now owns his first set of clubs.
  • Winning another fantasy football game.
  • The smell of the church atrium now that the coffee shop is open.
  • Finding out that I'm going to a conference after all
  • Yard moderation.
  • Our Sunday evening service
  • Learning that a friend is finally blogging
  • Watching a football athlete speak.
  • Discovering that iTunes has some competition
  • Our new king-size bed.
  • TV Shows
  • When someone delivers freshly brewed decaf coffee to my office mid-afternoon.
  • Spending time downtown
  • Watching my daughter play soccer.
  • Cool parts of my job
  • Planning my next trip to the beach.

What you'll find striking about this list is that Jesus didn't make the list. For that matter, God didn't make the list. Church made it. But God didn't. There's a big difference. I tried to point that out to the author. The author chose not to publish my comment on his blog. It appears asking why Jesus didn't make him happy was not an acceptable comment for others to see.

But now the question looms for all of us. If you published your list on the Internet, would Jesus make it? You see the list above lists sports, coffee, stuff, leisure, etc but is that truly where our happiness and joy as Christians is supposed to originate. How exactly is the list above any different than a garden-variety pagan's list?

I'd like to give the author the benefit of the doubt. I was willing to. I assumed it was just an editorial oversight. He really did love Jesus and Jesus actually did make him happy. He had just missed putting Jesus in the list. But given the fact that my comment was reviewed and not acted upon, I can only assume once the minor detail was brought to his attention, he still didn't think Jesus should be included.

Which is sad, because I think there are millions of Christians that would make their lists and not include Jesus in the mix. When you get right down to it, Jesus doesn't make them happy, He's just a drag on their life. Too many rules. Too many don'ts. Too many things He expects of me. That's not fun. That's not happy. That's oppressive. Give me my family, my food, my fun and that's what makes me happy. Don't get me wrong, those things make a lot of people happy, and in many respects, there's nothing wrong with those things bringing happiness to your life.

But Jesus should be # 1 on that list. And you should find all those others things enjoyable only because first you find enjoyment in Jesus. It's in Him that we have life, breath, and everything. He is the giver of all those other things. He is the reason you can live with a smile and not in terror fearing for your life before a Holy righteous God.

He is, in every meaningful way, the river of living water.

Now, if He could only find a way to make his way up in the rankings of things we love in life.

November 01, 2007

The Days Ahead

Everyone is gone from Tan-Tar-A and has returned home to their churches in Missouri to continue their loving service to their congregations.

Micah has a good roundup this morning that I would like to interact with a little bit.

Getting to meet Darrin Patrick was a much more exciting experience than I imagined it would be. I have had the privilege of meeting a lot of guys who are very successful in ministry and who lead fast growing churches, many of which are considered mega-churches and I have never met a Pastor more congenial and laid back as was Patrick.

I'm convinced that if those in the Missouri Baptist Convention and really around the nation would actually spend time with us Acts29 type folks, and the church planters in our network, that they would discover we are not a bunch of beer-drinking liberal freakshows as many would like to paint us as. I read blogs that bash Driscoll and certainly Darrin has taken his load of criticism but much of that criticism is coming from ignorance and fear. As I spent time with guys like Sam Byers, Trey Herweck, Kevin Larson, Rik Maxedon and others, you'll discover that these guys are young, passionate; Gospel consumed people who just want to see Jesus be the hero in their churches.

And the fledgling reformation going on in American Christianity today in ironic ways is about returning to our roots and first loves rather than about leaving them. If you look historically, you'll find that the young church planters would share more in common the founders of the SBC than they do with the current SBC. The young guys are accused of deviating from tradition, but rather they in fact are the ones looking to restore the tradition. Reformed doctrine, Christ exaltation, Man centered renunciation, and a belief in only the Gospel as the possible means of transformation characterizes this group.

And like many times in history, the more that the other side gets to actually know where they are coming from and understand who they really are, the more they realize there is nothing to fear but rather to embrace. And I think many people are discovering that.

I am proud to be a part of that group and I am excited about what God is/currently/and will do through us in the days and years ahead. There is a passionate resurgence well underway and I think folks are beginning to see that. Guys like Darrin and Lane, pastors who are passionate not only about their churches, but the churches of the guys who will plant in the future are awesome to be around and I think typify the spirit of Paul in Acts. They realize that we won't reach the world with one church. And they are passionate about their roles in developing and coaching guys who feel the call of God to plant a church.

For those who might read this and not know a lot about Acts 29 or the young church planters currently in the MBC, I would encourage you to do the same thing Micah did. Just find a way to hang out us. You'll find we're not the boogey-man you may have thought us to be.

October 31, 2007

Missouri Baptist Convention (VI) – It’s a Wrap

At least for me. We headed home yesterday even though most of the crucial voting in the convention is set to occur today. For those who don't know, what is happening at the convention is of tremendous importance not only for Missouri Baptists but for the national SBC as well. Many states are looking at Missouri right now and observing what is going on. For those who need a primer:

  • The conservative resurgence happened in Missouri as well
  • The conservative resurgence (in the opinion of some) has gone too far in its legalistic stances on methodology, Acts29, alcohol, and other secondary issues and must be replaced by a more moderate, less antagonistic direction for the Missouri Baptist Convention (better known as Save Our Convention)
  • That shift began taking place yesterday with a landslide victory by Gerald Davidson over the incumbent Mr. Green. Today's votes will carry significant weight as the rest of the officers are elected. It will either signal that a shift has truly taken place, or whether Davidson won on name recognition. Quite frankly I think a shift is underway, and I think you'll see that today.

So what to make of all of this. Rather than write paragraphs, I'll share brief thoughts in bullet form:

  • It's time that alcohol consumption be dropped as a front and center issue for Baptists. We are clearly given liberty in Scripture for its consumption. We are warned of its excesses but we are warned of all excesses in Scripture that would result in idolatry. We have more central things on which to focus our time and energy (namely lost-unregenerate people).
  • Some have said that they think David Tolliver took the high road in his address Monday night. I do not. I think it was a cheap shot across the bow and ill timed given the events that were set to take place the next two days. I do not know Mr. Tolliver, but after having listened to his address, I (along with many others at the convention) found it to be disingenuous and bad exegesis.
  • I agree whole heartedly with Micah's first bullet point here. And I look forward to the second one as well.
  • After observing the conference for two days, I am greatly concerned about how out of touch most folks are about the world they find themselves in.
  • Having the chance to hang out with Acts29 guys who have actually planted churches was great. I look forward to being a colleague of theirs in the near future.
  • I am more appreciative of Lane and Dennis and what God has done at LifePoint.
  • Bobby Shows is awesome and I am proud to have him as a spiritual grandfather.
  • Eternity may have just found a home the last two days….stay tuned.

October 30, 2007

Missouri Baptist Convention (V)

Mark Dever finished the 9 Marks portion of the MBC convention with a message on leadership based out of Acts 6.

He opened the address with a pointed support of mega-churches saying that:

The church at Jerusalem apparently had 1000's of members and we see nothing inherently un-biblical about it.

Mark also covered some interesting tangents as he worked his way into the leadership portion of the message. He talked about racism undermining our belief in the Gospel by not believing that it can overcome every barrier. He also cautioned pastors that division between people who would naturally be divided in the world eclipses the Gospel and shows our natural division to be more powerful than the Gospel. I had to let that one sink in for a while before I caught it but it was a great point.

He then returned to the main theme of his earlier address by reminding pastors that the apostles realized that ministry entrusted to them was more important than quick resolutions to conflict. Their priority was the ministry of the Word. He then went on to give a pretty thorough treatment of Elders, Deacons, and Congregations. He did so with good clarity and usually Dever skill.

He hammered home being able to manage priorities and keep the main thing the main thing. He championed the plurality of elders approach to church leadership. He re-introduced in a way the role of the congregation in church government. Overall, he did a great job.

It was also a big highlight of the trip to meet Mark and to spend some time talking with him about what he's up to and where's he headed over the next few months. I'm looking forward to seeing him in April at the Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville.

Stay tuned. Highlights and thoughts from today's sessions at the MBC are yet to come.

Missouri Baptist Convention (IV)

Matt Schmucker brought the right after lunch message on membership / church discipline. Matt did an OK job in a tough timeslot. This is tough stuff to deliver a sermon on so to speak so it came across as more of an academic address than it did a message aimed at motivation to change.

Gary Scott Lamb has a good roundup of the address over at his Thoughts And Adventures blog.

I'll highlight here Matt's twelve step recovery program to recovering biblical discipline and church membership:

  1. Regularly proclaim the Gospel
  2. Use a congregationally agreed upon statement of faith
  3. Require membership classes
  4. Interview your potential members
  5. Think before baptizing and admitting children to church membership
  6. Realize that admission to membership is an act of congregation
  7. Publish membership directory
  8. Give active pastoral oversight to the members
  9. Create a culture of discipleship in your church
  10. Limit some activities to only members
  11. Consider reviving practice of church discipline
  12. Recover the grandness of God's blessing

Missouri Baptist Convention (III)

Jonathan Leeman, Director of Communications for 9 Marks ministries, wrapped up the morning with an address on conversion and evangelism. He did a good job in the address, helping us see that preaching and evangelism are not distinct animals but rather one in the same. He talked about how preaching the Word helps three very distinct groups of people in our congregations:

  1. Non-Christians – Here we must learn to apply sermons to their lives that will seek repentance and faith. Jonathan made a great point about not winning their approval but rather their lives with our preaching.
  2. Nominal Christians – This is where he talked about the groups that I think I have been the hardest on in my blog and how we take way too much for granted with this group assuming that they have a grasp on the Gospel and they don't.
  3. Christians – Even this group needs to hear the Gospel regularly to increase their understanding of it and to learn how to increasingly integrate it with the rest of their lives.

Jonathan then went on to talk about that conversion IS NOT:

  1. Reciting a creed
  2. Reciting a prayer
  3. Walking an isle
  4. Emotionally heated experience
  5. Reaching a certain age
  6. A journey

In contrast to what he believes conversion IS:

  1. Turning from path your on
  2. Turning from self-justification to Christ's justification
  3. Turning from idol worship-god worship
  4. Turning from self-rule to God's rule
  5. He created the first time – he creates us the second time.

He then spent some time talking about a subject that quite frankly has plagued and is the biggest issue with the MBC and SBC. He said that misunderstanding conversion will cause our churches to be filled with serious pronouncements but not with people who have experienced a radical change. OUCH. He's absolutely right and that is the exact diagnosis that is wrong with a lot of churches in America today.

Jonathan did a good job. He had a lot of content and delivered it well. More to come on the afternoon sessions.

Missouri Baptist Convention (II)

Mark Dever was the second speaker of the morning. For those who don't know Mark Dever, he is the pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington DC. He wrote 9 Marks Of A Healthy Church and has been responsible for the creation of 9 Marks ministries

Dever started out by clearly stating what his whole sermon would be about:

If you're going to be God centered – that means you need to be Bible centered. And being God-centered doesn't mean giving your people what you think God tells you but rather giving them what God has given to us, namely the revelation of Himself through His word.

And in typical Dever fashion, he then went on to speak for forty minutes on the centrality of expositional preaching. He certainly showed some animosity toward para-church programs and publishers with this little zinger:

People always ask me what we are doing at Capitol Hill to grow our church. And I always tell them that we use the Jesus program. Now the Jesus program may not be very popular because nobody at Wheaton, Nashville, or anywhere else makes money off of the Jesus program. But that's what we use.

He then went on to challenge the current normative thinking that we need to focus on how to best engage the culture by arguing that it is not the degree to which we understand the culture that will make us successful, but rather the degree to which we are different from it. He argued that the quality of a church's life together is what will set us apart. He argued that the current generational deception is that figuring out the culture is the way to reach the world. Rather, he argued that the best way for us to reach the world is for them to see the Spirit's fruit lived out in the life of the congregation.

He then moved into completely disintegrating pastoral faith in statistics and judging success based on statistics. He basically argued that he who lives by the numbers will also die by the number but rather faithfulness should be the mark of success. Once again he took a swipe at the para-church business market by saying:

They are nothing more than economic interests that want to sell us stuff. We're an ideal market for folks to tell us that we'll have a successful church if we use their products. That's not true. What's true is what is in Scripture. By preaching the word. Telling them about sin. Grace shown us in Christ. Share the Gospel. We must preach the truth of God's word to God's people. That is how we will have a healthy successful church.

He then went to champion expositional preaching which he defined as:

Sermons which expound the text. Sermons that take the point of the passage, and make that the point of your message, and then apply into the life. EP is not to have your own novel thoughts about the point of the passage. It asks what is the point of the passage. It asks how you bring that point alive. It asks how that applies to their life. It is not tied to style or personality. It is not necessarily verse by verse. It could be an entire chapter. It could be and entire book. But the point of the passage is the point of your message.

He then made a great point about a distinction of preaching:

You are not called to preach. You are called to preach God's word. The minute you get away from that, you are just talking. You stop preaching God's word, your commission is gone. The truth you're talking about needs to be the truth of Scripture. Joyce Meyer can quote the Bible, but not say what the Bible is saying.

He then went on to talk a little about topical preaching:

Topical preaching will slant us toward saying what we want to say. The main point of text will not be main point of sermon. Topical preachers might lead people to be Catholics – where they depend on the preacher and not on the book.

Now I don't care who you are. Those are strong words. But if you think about it long enough, you'll discover he's right. Dever then went on to share his thoughts on pastors' and the length of service most of them have at churches:

Get rid of your bag of tricks, grab your Bible, and stay at your church. I'm not saying it's wrong to leave a church, but the faithfulness I'm talking about seems absurd and too slow. Or your view of ministry may be wrong. You may need to make a commitment to shepherding God's people.

He finished up with several things, but I think the most important was just some general advice on preaching:

Give people an idea of where the text falls in the Biblical storyline. Don't treat the Bible as a Chinese fortune cookie. Tell people how the text fits in the entire story otherwise a lot of the Bible will look and sound silly. And also, you need to have the Gospel in every sermon. Try to address non-believers and the way they are thinking in your sermons. Remember that the point is not to show your mastery of homiletical technique or to make your congregation the most learned. The point is share God's word with God's people.That's why you have a pastor and not a video feed. They see your life and they can imitate you. They know you and you know them. It's in that context that he has gifted you to apply God's word to those individuals. Also remember that the Gospel is not just individual but communal and has applications for your church as well as the individual.

Overall, a very strong address and a typical Dever message. Solid, to the point, and applicable. There are some things here that I'll pick through later, but you'll get the gist.

October 29, 2007

Missouri Baptist Convention (I)

We're meeting at lovely Tan-Tar-A resort at the Lake of the Ozarks. We arrived a bit late for the first speaker this morning Matt Schmucker – Executive Director of 9 Marks Ministries. I caught the last few minutes of his address but I think it was basically this:

The pastor's job is to preach the Word. Don't try to be relevant. Listen and preach the Word of God. Stay faithful to the Word of God and make that your soul focus.

That was the gist of the last 10 minutes of it. And it was well received by the pastors in the MBC. It'll be interesting to hear from Mark Dever to see how he follows that up. More to come…

Should Be An Interesting Day

I'm headed to the Missouri Baptist Convention at the Lake of the Ozarks with LifePoint today. As you may or may not remember, the MBC and Acts29 are not necessarily Mutt and Jeff.

This promises to be an eventful two days and there will be some blogging on-site hopefully.

In the meantime, I'll be pondering how to blog on this extensive article over at the New York Times. (HT: Bible Belt Blogger)

Here's a quick commentary on the the following paragraph:

So when Fox announced to his flock one Sunday in August last year that it was his final appearance in the pulpit, the news startled evangelical activists from Atlanta to Grand Rapids. Fox told the congregation that he was quitting so he could work full time on "cultural issues." Within days, The Wichita Eagle reported that Fox left under pressure. The board of deacons had told him that his activism was getting in the way of the Gospel. "It just wasn't pertinent," Associate Pastor Gayle Tenbrook later told me.

Ponder this: Does being an evangelical Christian or a Christ follower as we like to call them at LifePoint, automatically mean that you should align yourself with the agenda of the Republican party. And an even better question for you to think about:

Would Jesus have more in common with the Republicans or Democrats?

October 26, 2007

Give Me A D – Give Me An E – Give Me An E – Give Me A P

What's that spell? Depends on who you ask.

Perry Noble thinks it's about what you do and not what you know.

Jeff Vanderstelt thinks that busyness doesn't prove depth. (HT: Jared)

So which is it? Are you deep because you come and serve at church? Are you deep because you can recite the Heidelberg Confession? Can you do a lot of stuff and yet be shallow? Can you know a lot of stuff and still be shallow?

Who's right? Is James right? Is it a false paradox? Do you really have to choose one or the other? Why can't you have both?

Why are doers so resentful of thinkers? Why can't thinkers actually do something? Why can't doers actually think about something once in a while?

I've got my theories. Is deep being able to be both or all?

So many questions. So few answers. I'm finding I have fewer of them in life.

October 24, 2007

When People Aren’t Where You Wish They Were

The last few days have been challenging for me. I don't know about anyone else, but I fight myself all the time. I know that there is a man deep inside me that gets out way too often and there is the man God is forming struggling to keep the deep man under wraps. I'm a dominant personality. I'm a big personality. It is often my greatest strength. Too often, it is my greatest weakness. And the last few days have served as a reminder that I am far from being where I want to be.

One of my greatest struggles within myself is my evaluation and judgment of other people. My natural tendency is to write people off way too quickly. Because of my background and my journey of where I have come from, I can't understand why people approach life so passively. Why they sit back and just meander through their time here on Earth with no passion and no fervor. Why, although they may claim the name of Jesus, they share none of His passions and none of His sufferings. And when I encounter that, I immediately begin to attack that mentality. I may not do it forcefully but I guarantee you I'm loading up the bullets in my thoughts.

When I see folks who have been given so much yet do so little. When I see folks who have such fantastic opportunities right in front of them yet fritter them away. These things weigh on me. I have encountered this in my time of leading a ministry at a local church in St. Louis. I have seen this in employees that I led at Upward. And now I have seen this in certain people at LifePoint. And I have always struggled with the following tension:

When is it time to place a loving arm around them? When is it time to give them a firm, swift kick in the butt to the curb?

You see, Jesus didn't long-suffer with everyone. There were people that he sent away. The rich young ruler, the Pharisees, Judas, the proud, and the lazy were all folks who bore the inpatience of Jesus. There are folks and there are times when the best thing you can do for someone is to put them out. Paul said as much many times about the immoral brother. Jesus said as much when he spoke of spitting the lukewarm out of His mouth.

So what do you do when people aren't where you wish they were? Do you love them? Do you shepherd them? Do you challenge them? Do you guide them? Do you point them in the direction you would have them to go? Do you encourage them? Do you rebuke them? And finally, if all of that fails, do you forget them?

I'll tell you, God has been all over me that I am way too quick to forget them. I desire to wash my hands of them because they aren't living up to the standard that I think they should be living up to. I want to issues the ultimatum: Get on, get off, or get out! Why? Because that feels good! That doesn't require one ounce of patience or thought. That doesn't require one minute of time spent thinking about how the Spirit might be leading me to pastor someone. That doesn't require a single step toward investing something in that person that you may not get back. In short, it's easier to write them off, than it is to walk the road with them.

And God is hammering me right now to try and get me to walk the road with people. Not to tell them whether they belong on the road in the first place. He's been doing that for the last ten years. And because I'm so hard headed and stubborn, it's been hard to get that message across. But I sense that in my soul, the tide might be turning. And I'm excited about that.

What do you do when people aren't where you wish they were? You realize that you aren't where God wishes you were, but He loves you just the same and patiently walks the road with you. That's an amazing thought to live on.