June 29, 2007

"The Gospel Is Not Good Advice...."

It's Good News!

Tim Keller shared those words by Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones in his talk at The Gospel Coalition at the end of May. The video and audio of his address as well as John Piper and Don Carson is up and ready for your viewing pleasure.

Keller says that there are seven features of the Gospel that we must tease out into ministry. They are that the Gospel is:


And he takes almost an hour and doesn't get through them all but by the time you're done, you feel as though you've had a glance into something you really had never quite seen. If you are going to set aside one hour this week for your spiritual growth (which really is not anything at all considering all the other things you spend an hour doing) you need to spend your hour watching this talk. You will NOT be disappointed.

June 28, 2007

So What's The Church Planting Angle God's Laid On Your Heart Marc?

One of my fellow seminarians posed that question to me. Here was my answer in the very first draft. I shall meditate on it and pray that God refine it and point out its flaws and deformities to me. But it was definitely what was on my heart.

And one that will take me a while to answer and flesh out completely. My initial thoughts are what I believe God has laid on my heart is a church where we can put away our "puzzle pictures".

I know that you're reading that going "What?". You know when you go into a store and you see puzzles on the shelves. You know why people pick the puzzle they do? Because it's the one that they like the most. It's the one they think looks the "best" or is "beautiful". Or it may match an interest that they have etc etc...

And so they go home, take the pieces out of the box and try to "assemble" the puzzle to match the picture they think it should look like in the end. Our lives are not different. Every one of us, because of sin, tries to pick the picture that we want our lives to resemble, and then begin assembling pieces of our lives to try to make the picture fit. And if a few pieces seem out of place, well we just jam them in there anyway to try and get people to buy the picture we're trying to show them.

And that is what's wrong with American Christianity. We don't realize that the Gospel already paints a picture of us we can't change. We're broken, dirty, hostile, evil, depraved, nasty human beings. That's the picture that every one of us is in God's eyes. NO one is different. We're all the same. For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And yet, through the punishment and redemption purchased for us at the cross by the blood of Jesus, we all once again have the same picture presented for us "Jesus". That's who we are to follow and that's the picture and puzzle we are to display.

But yet we define ourselves in so many ways other than Jesus and what He has done for us, what He continues to do for us, what He has promised to do for us, and what He will always do for us.And what I want, and what I believe is Biblical. What I pray and sense that God has laid on my heart is to have a community that is so transformed by the power of Jesus through His Word and Holy Spirit, that their lives more and more simply display the picture of Jesus. A church where Biblical commands to love poor, homeless, and widowed and joyfully and generously embraced. A church where the Gospel and only the Gospel is accepted as the hope that we have not only for our salvation but also for our sanctification. You can never get away from the Gospel and it's ongoing role and centrality in the life of the believer.

I want a church where "style" is meaningless but "substance" carries the day. I want a church where lives and pride and agendas and evil thoughts and desires are cast aside to spread the wonder of the Kingdom of God here on Earth now, and also that proclaims the Kingship and Lordship that Jesus enjoys as we speak.
I want a church where forgiveness and grace are given freely because they have been given freely to us. I want a church where people feel comfortable confronting in love because they know that transformation is better than deterioration. I want a church where all gives freely to each as they have need. I want Jesus to be real, and to be exalted, and to cast aside a dependence on this world and the pathetic shadows
it tries to offer. Jesus is the substance and shall be forevermore.

June 27, 2007

I Placed My Order For My Books From Desiring God

In response to this sale, there were some things just too good to pass up. Here are the two books I bought today:

- Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
- Preaching the Cross

You need to take advantage of this, but I'm sure you've already heard about it through the blogosphere already. What I found hard was that I already owned MOST of the books or had the sermons for the books on my computer already. So is that a good sign or a bad sign?

June 26, 2007

When Did We Get So Lazy?

I mean seriously. It's amazing to me in today's world how many people are just plain lazy. They don't want to work. They don't understand the concept of work. They think life, rewards, success, respect should just be handed to them as if they are owed something. One word for that train of thought my friends: CRAP!

If you go to Wikipedia and look up laziness, you're going to find this definition:

"Laziness is the lack of desire to perform work or expend effort."

Amen to that! And you know here's the thing. If you have a job, whether you LIKE your job or not. Whether you think your JOB is fulfilling or not. Whether you THINK your company knows what you bring to the table or not. Whether you FEEL like you should be doing something else. Whether you SENSE you're underappreciated or not.

IT DOESN'T FREAKING MATTER! And you know why? Because you are receiving a stinking paycheck and your butt had better be busting it as hard as you can. And if you're not going all out for the place you work for, you know what that's called? STEALING. You are stealing dollars that someone else is paying you and giving them less than what they are paying for in return.

So here's a checklist to know whether you are stealing from your employer or not:

1) You spend more time on the internet looking at worthless news, items, blogs, ideas, etc than you do actually engaged in your job

2) You find ways to engage in hour long discussions about TV programs instead of doing your job

3) When asked to do work by your employer, you give less than 100% effort or give excuses as to why you are not getting your work done

4) You spend time talking to family and friends on the phone instead of doing your job. News flash: You're getting paid to work, not talk to your best friend. If you want to get paid to talk to your best friend, start a business together and you can talk all you want. Until then, do your job.

5) When asked to do work that may not be exactly what you want to do, you "creatively" find ways to not do your work and engage in the activities that "really" matter to you.

Those are five. I could come up with more. Let me say something here. In my life, I have loaded chickens, cleaned out pig pens, fried chicken, grilled steaks, worked convenience stores, stared at computer screens all day, drove until I fell asleep, put my life in peril in adverse weather conditions, etc etc all because THAT'S WHAT MY EMPLOYER WAS PAYING ME TO DO.

And as long as you are getting a paycheck, you OWE it as a Christian and as a decent human being to give your employer 100%. And if you're not, it's not your employer that you're hurting the most. You're offending God and blaspheming the name you claim as a Christian. You're a disgrace to the name that you claim. Jesus was a carpenter. The apostles were fisherman. THEY KNEW HOW TO WORK. And so should you.

Do not do your work as though you are doing it unto man, for you are doing unto the Lord. Ultimately it is him that you have to answer to. Live with it. Deal with it. And quit stealing from your company!

June 25, 2007

It's Official - I'm An Acts 29 Applicant

So for those of you who don't know, I'm pursuing God's call to start a church. We're partnering with Acts 29, and for you Bible scholars who are now flipping in your Bibles to see what that is, you'll discover there is no chapter 29. Hence the name for a church planting organization.

I'm in the early stages of the application process, but as I look ahead: WOW! This is going to be quite a journey. And I'm excited, nervous, and distraught all at the same time. I've never been a part of something this big, and quite frankly, I'm convinced I can't do it. Only God will do this through me and the core team that comes to be a part of this work.

The application process is lengthy and detailed and with good reason: having the right man is more important than having the right place. They both go together, but being called to SOMEHWERE is not important if you're not the right person to do the job. And what's great about this is the refining fire that this will be for me. All of me and my family is going to be laid bare for other people to assess to see if this truly is what God is calling us to do. Please pray for us as we go through that process.

So I ask for all the help I can get. And my questions are this:

1) What books / resources would be MOST helpful as we go along this journey?

2) What suggestions / mistakes / best practices would you give me?

As you ponder that, here is an interesting 5 thing checklist that should get the party started!

June 24, 2007

June 23, 2007

Not So Fast My Friend

We are living in a culture that has completely chosen to disobey James 1:19 "be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires"

And so this story in the Baptist Press is really timely and really true. The title is Don't Jump Too Far and talks about our growing readiness to convict someone guilty before we've ever done a proper investigation. The two examples are recent: The Duke Lacrosse Case and The Guy Who Was Beaten To Death For Hitting A Child.

In both cases, justice was taken into the hands of a person or group of persons that were more interested in finding someone guilty than taking the time to do a proper investigation. One situation led to the ruined lives of three young college men. The other to the death of a person who made a mistake.

So lest we think this happens only in the world, it happens in churches and ministries all the time. How many pastors do you know that have been run off from churches due to false allegations? How many times have you seen peoples livelihoods and reputations ruined due to slanderous remarks?

Why is it that we as Christians are so ready to convict rather than be patient and make sure we have all the facts first? Consider this paragraph from the article:

Jumping to a conclusion is an emotional reaction to a presumed reality. It does not take into account facts and ignores context. Both of which are critical if one is interested in arriving at the truth of any given situation

Facts and Context! They matter a great deal. And when one or the other is ignored or not taken properly into account, a miscarriage of justice is sure to occur. A youth minister who cracks a joke to his teenage youth group. A pastor who in the passion of the moment uses a profanity from the pulpit. Instances like that happen more often than we think and instead of being quick to offer grace, we condemn and judge as if we had no sin in our lives. Truth is, if we were all so quickly judged by God, there would be no one left on Earth.

And whatever happened in churches, businesses, and alike to the conflict resolution model found in the Gospel of Matthew? I'll tell you what happened to it: LAWYERS AND PUBLIC OPINION! We fear man and what man can do to us instead of following CLEAR instructions from Jesus found in the Bible. To disobey Jesus' instructions on resolving conflict is just as heinous and blasphemous as disobeying His instructions on prayer or His instructions loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. We don't get to pick and choose which instructions we follow just because the American justice system has told us in man's wisdom that it's not the most prudent thing to do.

The lawyers and public opinion can take a flying leap for all I care. God's wisdom and God's ways matter. And if we are to ever see our churches and culture recover from the never ending harm done by gossip, slander, malicious speech and allegations, then we MUST start following Jesus' way for resolving conflict. If we don't, we are no different than the world and if we are no different than the world, then we will incur the same judgement as the world. It's that simple.

Consider this paragraph:
The Duke case proves that education does not render one immune from the propensity of jumping to a conclusion. Every time we are exposed to information, the temptation to draw a conclusion without considering facts and context is ever present

No matter how educated you are. Now matter how refined you think you are. Now matter what position you hold. No matter what reputation you think you have to protect. NOTHING, absolutely nothing, absolves you from doing it God's way. Either you do it God's way or you don't. It's that simple. From the lowest of society to the greatest, that's the great thing about the Bible, we are all bound to the same rules.

I think the article finishes with great words of advice and I'll let them close:

While innocent until proven guilty is a legal maxim that is applied to a court of law, it would a wise standard to adopt for life. The next time you are privy to a bit of negative gossip about someone, don't just jump to any old conclusion. Take some time to examine the broader context of the situation and see if any other facts emerge.

To avoid the temptation of jumping to a conclusion, remember that a person should be presumed innocent until he or she has been proven guilty. Additionally, nothing is meaningful without a context and all the facts are needed in order to have a complete picture of reality.

Jumping to conclusions has consequences, sometimes life-altering ones. "For lack of wood the fire goes out," Solomon wrote. "And where there is no whisperer (gossiper) contention quiets down." Wise words to remember the next time you are tempted to jump to a conclusion

June 22, 2007

A Harbinger Of Things To Come?

And it's official! First Baptist Church-Decatur GA has officially called a female to be it's senior pastor. As you read the article, you'll notice the facts and some commentary related to the event but I would like to focus on two things:

1 - Is It Biblical?
Based on Scripture, it most definitely is NOT. If you would like to explore to that issue more deeply and more fully, the best exegesis and treatment of the subject is found in John Piper & Wayne Grudem’s book “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood”. But the bottom line is that based on God’s model of both creation and the family, He designed both man and woman with distinct and complementary roles. To flaunt those roles, or change those roles, especially in the local church flies in the face of God’s intended design of male and female. I recently had someone respond to FBC’s decision with the words “that is awesome”. It most certainly is NOT awesome. It’s terrible. And it ignores very clear instructions and guidelines given in the Bible in 1 & 2 Timothy & Titus.

2 - What Are The Ramifications For Both Local Church And Para-Church?
Increasingly the Bible is being supplanted by both churches and para-churches and being replaced with emotion and human reasoning. If we were to use our “common” sense and our “feelings” then Paul would have no need to write Romans 12. But let’s be clear, this issue is not akin to “immersion vs. sprinkling” or “contemporary vs. traditional”. This issue is clearly dealt with in the Bible. CLEARLY. And a local church who completely ignores Scripture is setting a tremendously bad precedent. And when Scripture is voluntarily ignored in one area, voluntarily ignoring it in all areas is sure to follow and you will drift towards a Bible of your own making and a relativistic and moralistic Christian life completely devoid of the Gospel.

Para-Church ministries are at particular risk. Because para-church ministries usually define themselves theologically in broad terms in order to gain a wider audience, when issues like this arise, they are faced with tough decisions to make. They serve church bases who most certainly have differing viewpoints on critical issues such as these and sooner or later will have to make a choice. When that choice is made, they will most certainly alienate the opposing side. Such is the life of a para-church and why I believe it is impossible for a para-church ministry to define itself theologically in a meaningful way. And not being able to define who you are, and who you aren’t is a bad place to be and renders you impotent to be effective in the Great Commission. This is a thorny issue for a para-church and one they will not be able to escape. Sadly, many para-churches are ignorant of or voluntarily choosing NOT TO worry about these kinds of issues being interested instead with growing their own ministries. But to grow a para-church ministry while ignoring the Biblical faithfulness of its DNA is short sighted and contradictory to the commands of Jesus. A small but Biblically faithful ministry is more pleasing to God than a large but Scripturally ignorant one.

In the immortal words of Yoda “Once you start down the dark side, forever will it dominate your destiny”. Once you willingly choose to ignore Scripture in one area, your rebellion will most certainly start and grow in others.

June 21, 2007

To You Who Knows What Is Right To Do

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you absolutely knew what the right thing to do was, but every human bone in your body (whether it be because of fear, pride, anger, jealousy, etc) kept trying to keep you from doing it.

I would imagine that we as fallen, sinful people encounter that a lot in our lives. We’re faced with situations where we know what the right thing to do is (and in all those instances it’s the Bible that is defining what the right thing to do is) and yet our flesh keeps after us trying to turn us the other direction. It’s a battle we fight each and every day. None of us have a perfect record in this battle, but as we grow and mature in our Christian faith, we should be seeing a higher percentage of victory than defeat.

I think there are about three categories that are the hardest to do what we know to be right to do. They are:

1 – Loving Our Enemies

This is tough I don’t care who you are. Loving your enemies is a hard thing to do. And that’s why Jesus knew it would be such a mark of the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. You can’t do it otherwise. You can try for a while, but you won’t succeed in the long run without a total dependence on the Holy Spirit. He’s the only one that can enable true love, forgiveness, mercy, and grace towards those who would hurt you, betray you, persecute you. Jesus said that His disciples would love their enemies because even lost people can love only their friends. It’s Christians, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that are able to love their enemies.

2 – Confronting Injustice

How many times do you look out at the world and see injustices. Whether they are happening at a macro level (poverty, aids, orphans, abuse) or at a personal level (betrayal, mistreatment, injustice), we as human beings have a strong sense of personal preservation that prevents us from standing up for injustice. We would rather save ourselves than put ourselves at risk. No matter what the injustice, we have a hard time convincing ourselves that no matter what the cost to us, we are going to confront the evils in the world when we see them. We are extremely weak in this area. Thankfully, Jesus was not. He confronted the greatest evil in the world, it’s called sin. And he did so at the risk of his very own deity and life. He took the beating he didn’t deserve. How many times in life do we try to save our own lives while others lose theirs. We should follow the example of Jesus more often

3 – Using Our Resources For God’s Purposes Rather Than Our Own

We know we have a hard time with this. God gives us so much, and yet, we continue to put more and more of our resources into ourselves rather than the purposes of God. We feel like if we risk too much, we’ll end up with nothing. How stupid and faithless we are. We can never give to a point where we are hurt ourselves. It is when we lose our focus on the preservation of our resource and begin to freely give them to others that we find the true meaning of our walk with Jesus. Jesus could have held onto every one of His resources, but He didn’t. He gave them away. And He gave them freely. Without measure, and without partiality, and without restraint, He gave them. We should be more like Him and strive to become more giving people, especially when we have so much and others around the world have so little.

So there you have it. Three areas where we know what is right to do, but yet we don’t do it. If we would improve and pray God cause us to grow in these three areas, how much different our lives, our churches, our companies, our world would be.

June 20, 2007

The Only Constant In Life

Is Change! It's the most true oxymoron that exists out there but yet it's the one that we as people struggle with the most. We don't deal well with change. We fear it. In our jobs, in our marriages, in our churches, in our children, in anything in life. We don't like change. And as I've thought about that over the last few days, several things have struck me about this situation so many people find themselves in. So here are my reasons why we don't do well with change.

1) We trust in man more than we trust in God!

And the converse of that is that we fear man more than we fear God. Jesus said in Matthew 10:28 "Do not fear he who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul, but rather fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell". I think what Jesus is saying in that passage is that God is the one we need to reckon with, not man. God is the one we will ultimately stand before and have to give an account for every action of our lives. There is no man that has any power other than that granted to him and allowed by God.

So therefore, why should we fear change. If it is God who we should entrust our souls to, and if it is Jesus who upholds the universe by the power of His might, then why do we trust in man more than we trust in God? We trust man to provide for our needs. Yet it is God who says that we are to ask him to "give us this day our daily bread". Man doesn't provide for our needs. God does. Why do we trust man to provide for our security when it is God who promised the only true security "eternal security". Why do we trust in man to provide our emotional and relational needs when it is God who say that "He shall supply ALL our needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus". Why do we trust in many to provide for us financially when it was God who gave manna from heaven to the wandering Isreaelites?

Our trust in man is unbiblical. Our fear of man is unbiblical. We fail to embrace change because we don't have a proper view of God and we don't have a high view of God. When you know and can embrace that God is sovereign, in control, and cares for you in the most intimate way possible, embracing change really does become an easy thing.

2) We fear it!
How many people know that a change is necessary but don't initiate the change because they fear what that change will mean. They fear the loss of a job. They fear the loss of money. They fear the loss of friends. They fear the lost of status. And yet the Bible says "God has NOT given us a spirit of fear, but of POWER, LOVE, AND A SOUND MIND".

We can't live our lives in fear. Fear is nothing more than pride flipped upside down. It is a negative pride that says God won't possible take care of me therefore I need to take care of myself. Nothing more unbiblical could be said. How many folks waste their life doing something they really don't care to do, when God has called them to do something else, simply because they fear the unknown of change. It's a natural human emotion to fear the unknown. But it's in the unknown that we draw closer to Jesus. It's in the unknown that we discover the authenticity of our faith. It's in the unknown that we discover just how real and personal God is. And for those very reasons alone, venturing into the uknown is the most exciting journey you can embark on.

Oh but how many people never take a step onto an unknown path because of fear. If you live your life in fear, it will cripple you. It will disable you. And you will always be gripped by it, controlled by it, destroyed by it. How many times in the Scriptures do we see God saying "BE NOT AFRAID". God never meant for us to live our lives in fear. He meant for us to be bold, courageous, and adventuresome.

So many people will never truly experience God because they fear the change that would have to take place. What a sad way to live. What a sad way to die.

Don't ever hold back from pursing what God has for you in life. Don't ever miss an opportunity to do something new simply because you fear change. There is freedom in change. And there is excitement in change. And there is a dependency on God in change. It's the only constant thing. And it's one of the main ways to make sure you stay close to God.

June 19, 2007

A New Day

Indeed. This day brings my first day in over 5 years that I have not been a member of the Upward Unlimited team. It is a day filled with hope, possibility and potential as I begin the next chapter of this crazy life.

Yesterday was a day I will never forget. It was a day in which God affirmed so many things that he has done and is currently doing in my life. I look forward to pursuing His call on my life to proclaim His word to a lost and hurting world.

As I reflect on 5 years with Upward, the thing that stands out most to me are the moments that God used to grow me. And the people he used to grow me. They are precious to me and loved beyond measure. God moves in mysterious ways and His ways are definitely above ours. May God's glory be the pursuit of Upward and may she seek Him with all she has.

It's exciting and unsure to be at the start of another journey whose destination is unsure. But these are the times that make you dependent on God the way you ought to be. Wholly, completely HIS! Prosperity and success so often cause our focus to shift away from God. Change and new beginnings are good ways to put you back in love with Jesus.

God, be with the Backes family on this journey. Guide us, protect us, deliver us from evil, and give us all that we need (not all that we want). And Father be with Upward! Guide her, protect her, and use her in a mighty way.

And for those who might be inclined to read this. If you know of a good church who believes in the Supremacy of God, who loves Jesus with all that it has, and who is currently looking for someone to lead the flock....I'm all ears and would love to talk with you! (THIS HAS BEEN A SHAMELESS PLUG).

The Jonah Syndrome will return to normal commentary and regularity starting now. I apologize for the absence. It was necessary and prudent.

June 15, 2007

If You Wish Upon A Star

We all know the ending to that song and I can't tell you how many times I heard that today. Today was my last and final day here at the Magic Kingdom.

It's late, I've carried a 30 pound living being on my shoulders for most of the day, everyone is asleep in the hotel room and I'm getting ready to go to bed. So what has God taught me during these days in this place "where dreams come true".

- He's made the Gospel more real to me and shown me that no matter how pretty we dress it up, nothing (including Disney World) will ever fulfill the human soul.

- He's shown me the lowest and most filthy parts of my soul. Nothing shows you your sin more than this type of experience. And nothing brings you face to face with how pathetic you are than days like these past ones.

- He's shown me that in spite of that sin, He blesses me and shows me grace and mercy nonetheless. Mercy that was purchased by Jesus at the cross. Mercy still reserved for me.

- He's kindled a new love for my boys. Holding my youngest son while he slept tonight brought me to tears. They're young, growing, little men. And I pray that God causes them to be mighty, courageous, sold out, heavenly minded, rejoicing sufferers, and bold for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

- He's reminded me of a precious wife. A help-mate like no other. And one he destined for me. Thank God for her.

- He's shown me that no matter how "big" the thrills man creates, He's going to have them "infinitely" larger both in the duration they last and the magnitude of which they consume. I had this thought watching the downtown parade tonight. You know, one day we are going to have a parade for Jesus and it will last for eternity. This lasted for 20 minutes and people will remember it the rest of their lives. Now just what is eternity with Jesus going to be like. Also, Space Mountain (you have to ride it if you haven't) provided "BIG" thrills but only for 2 1/2 minutes. Jesus will fulfill every longing of my soul for time never ending. How amazing to put Disney World in the context of the Gospel and see how pathetic and weak it is comapred to the Almighty Jesus

- He's shown me that women need to wear more clothes. Period. There's no excuse for what's happening in America. It's sad. It turns girls/women into visual prostitutes. It's appalling and dads, moms, and husbands all over America should be ashamed of themselves for either "actively" or "passively" allowing their daughters/wives to essentially wear bra and panties in full view of thousands of people. For the love of all that is relevant and holy, cover yourself up. Find your fulfillment in the loving arms of Almighty Jesus and not in the visual looks of men.

- He's shown me how much money is wasted on crap in this country. I had the chance to drop $30 today on getting my boys face painted. We didn't, but we could have. If someone tells you they cant' afford to tithe, give generously and joyfully, and support widows, orphans, and starving peoples, you call them a bold face liar to their face and don't ever regret doing it. There are billions of dollars being flushed down the toilet and God will hold us accountable for wasting his money.

- He's shown me how desperately people need the Gospel. Not religion. Not rules. Not cutesy artsy fartsy "emergent' crap. The Gospel...pure and un-adulterated. It's the only thing that will save the world. It's the only hope we have.

- He's given me ideas of what the crap it will mean will all that we are enjoying here on Earth is laid waste by fire and the new heavens and the new earth are created. What are we going to do when Disney World is destroyed and Mickey Mouse fades into oblivion because a NEW King is on the throne of his eternal castle.

- Lastly, he's caused me to be thankful for food, air conditioning, clothes, family, buses, water, medicine, beds, pillows, shoes, computers, showers, indoor plumbing, people, health, strength, and the list could go on and on. If you are an un-grateful person then you DO NOT understand the Gospel and you need to repent. The fact that you can stand up in the morning is a testament to Grace and I've seen first hand over the last few days how un-grateful we can be as people. It's disgusting. God please change me and change all of us to be thankful and grateful people for the grace and mercy You display.

June 13, 2007

The American Dream

So Jenni and I had to sit through a presentation today by Hilton on why we should invest $15,000 - $30,000 in time shares. What's really interesting is how God works through things such as these and how He did so today.

This presentation was great. As a matter of fact, a guy named Ron Johnson was our presenter and he did a great job. He wasn't slick. He wasn't high pressure. He was genuine. When I shared with him at the beginning what I did, he was very interested in hearing more about Upward. Things would end up taking a dramatic shift.

You see, the whole pitch is that you are in hell here on Earth and you need Hilton to relieve you of that hell. Buy their timeshares and you can go to over 7,000 different places, stay in luxury, love life, relax, regenerate, and at the end of it all you could have "The Life".

I have to say, it was very appealing. Very tempting. Very luring. As we sat down at the table where the "deal is closed", Jenni and I talked it over when given the chance and decided to "turn" down the deal. What happened next, I could never have predicted.

You see, Ron lost his wife 28 years ago to suicide. I lost my mother 5 months ago to suicide. Both were bi-polar. Both struggled. Ron spent the entire presentation telling us about his vacations (not pridefully, just describing his life). He told us his plans, where he is going next. 27 days in Rome. 12 days here. 14 days there. All because Hilton's timeshare was so wonderful. And we come to the moment of truth and Ron asks us what our decision is.

We had the option to tell him a lot of things. "Costs too much", "We don't vacation that much", etc etc. But that wasn't at the heart of why we said no. We said no because there is no timeshare, no vacation, no amount of travel, no place here on Earth that can do what the Gospel does for me and even come close to who Jesus is. And when I shared that with Ron, it was as if 1 of 2 things had happened:

1) He was really mad at me because I had just insulted him (I don't know if I did but I hope not)
2) He got hit square between the eyes with what he was putting in his life as a functional savior.

I shared with Ron that my life's goal is to do all I can possibly do to live a life that makes an eternal difference. And while that might mean I don't see all the destinations here on Earth, it does mean that I want my life to count when I stand before Jesus. I told him that to me, vacations weren't the end all be all of my life. And while I could do this (we really could have had we chosen to do so), in the end it's chasing a mirage, a fake.

You should have seen the look on his face. He excused himself from the table, came back a few moments later and asked if I knew the parable of the talents. He truly didn't know and I was able to share with him the meaning of that parable. He then left, got the lady from corporate and it was all over in 5 minutes. No more discussion. No more anything and it ended abruptly. He politely shook hands but you could tell was in a hurry to leave.

It's a dream folks. There's no amount of money, vacation, power, fame, success, comfort, luxury, or anything that can replace the Gospel. And I pray every person who has bought "The American Dream" comes face to face with its absurdity and repents of it.

I can say that today I felt Christlike hurt and love for Ron. He was truly a great guy. I'm going to leave him a message and see if he'll let me have his email address. I hope we get a chance to continue the discussion we started today. He was knocked for a loop today. I hope I get to see where he lands.

Disney World is truy a land where dreams come true. For so many, it's simply a hollow and worthless dream.

June 12, 2007

I'm Going To Disney World

And not only that, I'm staying in a hotel right in front of it practically. It's been a REALLY long day so I'll share some thoughts on the brain before I head to bed here in plush Orlando!

- This trip is once in a lifetime. Why? Because at no other time in my life will I spend the kind of money that I'm spendig in these 5 days. We've taken very few family vacations in the nine years Jenni and I have been married, and this one is truly an exception to the norm for us.

- If you ever think you are a strong spiritual person and that you have your act together, you need to spend 11 hours at Universal Studios with a 7 and a 3 year old. Here's a fun game, count how many times you say "stop it". If you're over 50 like I am, you're definitely saved by grace alone and a dirty nasty sinner.

- Note to self - NEVER park that far from the entrance to the park again

- American consumerism is out of control and we as a nation are out of control. Now I realize that sounds disingenious since I'm down here, and you probably have a point there, but I actually caught myself today thinking about how much money goes into places like this and yet there are 115,000 orphans in the United States. If I have anything to do with it, there will be 114, 999 sometime in the not so distant future.

- I don't care how hot it is, we have GOT to start teaching modesty in our churches. My boys will need a NOAH sized miracle to stay pure through their teenage years if today is any representative of what they will see out of women in the next 20 years.

- I love my boys. There is no better teacher of theology. And no better reminder of the grace of God than my boys. God has used them in ways I never dreamed possible. And most of the time it's to remind me of how much I don't have it together.


- Is the NBA really basketball anymore?

- If you're coming to Orland0, wear comfortable shoes!

- If you ever wonder whether we need more churches or to share the Gospel message, come here and spend a week. Look at all these people and think the thought "I wonder if they know Jesus?" It'll change your perspective entirely.

That's it for now. More to come and hopefully some pics. MIC-KEY M-O-U-S-E!

June 10, 2007

Sunday Morning Sabbath

The Lord's day is a day of rest, therefore, here are some readings sure to help you laugh, relax, and enjoy the Creator today!

- Prone To Wander - Lord I Feel It!

- When Did You Walk The Aisle?

- Name It And Claim It Actually Works!

- I Don't Have A Square To Spare

- Why Can't We Just Say NO Anymore?


June 09, 2007

Baptism As A Spectator Sport

In response to this posting a few weeks ago, here is the follow up synopsis to the "Baptism Sunday" the church had.

In response to whether he thought the day went as he expected it would, the pastor responded:

Absolutely not. I wish I could say that my faith was so strong that I expected the stampede we experienced. But I must confess that it wasn’t. In truth, I was worried that the response would be very light. I was hoping and praying that we’d have at least 20 or 25 people come forward to be baptized. 30 would have thrilled me.

We had over 85 people come forward and be baptized on H2O Sunday. It was absolutely incredible. I cannot explain exactly what happened, except that it was a flood of people I never expected. Some of them I knew and had spoken with in the past about their relationship with the Lord. But most I did not know.

One lady got to our church early Sunday morning before worship started; some of our other ladies met her when they arrived for their Connection Point group. She shared that the Lord had been working in her life recently, and that the Holy Spirit impressed on her that she should come to "XXXX" and get baptized that Sunday. She had no idea we were having a special baptism Sunday. She was baptized during the 10:45 service.

We also had an 89 year old lady baptized. Everybody stood up and cheered for the longest time – while she was slowly making her way into the baptistry pool, and while she was getting back out. People shouted and cheered during every single one of the 85+ baptisms. Our deacons said they could hear the cheering and clapping in the choir room (in the church basement, underneath the Worship Center) every time it happened, as they were counseling the baptism candidates and getting them into and out of the dressing rooms.

All in all, it was an absolutely extraordinary day. I really can’t explain how it happened, except that God did it. Next week during our morning services, we’re planning on presenting a special video with some highlights of the day.

The saddest part of the whole article is the statement - "Most of them I did not know". How sad is it when we are now no longer content to do "hit and run" evangelism, but now feel we have to take it a step farther and do "hit and run" baptism. It is a sober, serious, experience. It is being "buried with Christ in death, and raised to walk in the newness of life". It is an important time and act of obedience and a public profession to follow in Calvary's road.

And now we've gone so far as to baptize people we don't even know. But take heart, there was 3 minute counseling going on downstairs before they came to the baptismal pool. Whew, thank goodness, those 6 - 8 week classes or even 6 month classes to prepare for baptism are way too long. We're so good now we can do it in just a few minutes and you're ready to be dunked.

I'm not against someone being baptised rapidly after conversion, but if people sat for years without getting baptised, what makes you think they now understand the Gospel that they have received and therefore understand and truly believe in the Jesus they're professing to follow? This is a dangerous practice and one I'm sorely disappointed to hear about.

June 08, 2007

Which Skin Does She Have?

It's an amazing thing to be a parent. God grows you so many ways and gives you so many insights you wouldn't have otherwise.

We're sitting in a restaraunt the other night, and my son and my wife are talking about a girl a few tables over. My wife is unsure of which one Trey is talking about. Jenni uses the name she knows best. There are girls who are white and girls who are Asian at the table in question. And then my son asks this question: "Which Skin Does She Have?"

Now that may not provoke many deep thoughts in you, but it sure did in me. You see, he is 7, and he doesn't have the slightest inclination that race / ethnicity should make any sort of difference in our relationships with others. He asked a question which got me to thinking and my analysis is this:

To him, skin is just a covering. It doesn't define who that little girl was, who that little girl is, or who that little girl can be. It was just a covering. A way to help him identify which girl my wife was talking about.

I think that's probably the healthiest outlook you could ever have when it comes to diversity. A soul is a soul. People are people. Environments are environments. The color of our covering does not define who we are. It is merely a descriptor. It is merely an additional tool to help explain us to someone. Who is Marc? He's 6'4", 300 pounds, white, brown hair, blue eyes, and EXTREMELY good looking. That's the outside description.

Who Is Marc? (The Inside Description) It would take volumes and more whitespace that I have here to accomplish that. But I guarantee you, the pigment of my skin would never grace the description of who I am at my core. We need to learn to see others and different cultures in the way my 7 year old son saw them. Which skin do they have? You could change the skin, but never change the person.

You're exactly right my son. You're exactly right!

EXTRA: For Further Reading About Talking To Your Kids About Race - See This Article By Thabiti

June 07, 2007

Are You Cursed?

That's essentially the question Adrian Warnock takes up on his blog today after an interview he did with the authors of "Pierced For Our Transgressions".

Evidently the interview caused some uproar and Adrian uses today's blog post to explain his interview but also not to back down.

So here's the question to ask yourself, and he forces you to ask as well.

Is what you believe about what happened on the cross essential to your salvation?

June 06, 2007

I'm Going To Keep Talking Till I Make You Believe

Have you ever had those times as a parent where you realize in the middle of something happening in your family that God has presented you with one of those divine teachable moments.

We had such a moment over the past weekend. We're riding in our van to go eat and my son and wife are arguing about which episode General Grievous dies in. For those of you who are NOT STAR WARS fans, General Grievous is as his name would indicate a villain the in saga and is felled by a Jedi-Knight named Obi-Wan Kenobi (hero). The argument was over which episode (there are 6 movies in the Star Wars saga) it happened in.

My wife believed it was Episode 2. My son INSISTED it was Episode 3. For the record, I sided with the offspring because I've learned never to go against my son when it comes to his A) memory of movies and B) video games.

Okay, you're waiting for the teachable moment here I know. Here it is. My son was really crushed by the fact that my wife wouldn't believe him. I mean hurt. He took it as a personal insult and it bothered him a lot that she just wouldn't listen to him and agree with what he had to say.

So I said to him "Trey, you're not responsible for whether or not she believes you, you're only responsible for telling her what you think is true. You're also responsible for making sure that you ACTUALLY believe what you say is true. As long as you do that, you can't make her believe what you do"

And there it was. A proverb straight from the mouth of Marc. I couldn't believe it. And then I thought, you know, that's is exactly how we are supposed to approach evangelism in the Christian life. I had just finished reading "9 Marks Of A Healthy Church" and it was still fresh on the brain.

Now you gotta understand, I am the type of person who really wants to change other people. I mean, when I hear a belief that is untrue, wrong, or just stupid, it drives me up the wall and I want to engage in an immediate, vocipherous, and protracted debate about why that belief is wrong, and at the end of debate, I EXPECT you to change your attitude. If you don't, then most times I leave the debate frustrated and hurt, just like my son did. Which is probably why I've never been extremely effective as an evangelist. As I read somewhere this past few weeks, I may have won an argument, but the real question was did I win a soul.

And too many times, we shy away from an evangelistic opportunity because we're afraid we won't win the argument. We're afraid that the person won't change and we won't see the "result" of our effort. However, that is not ours to do. Paul planted, Apollos watered, God gave the increase. If that person is going to change, it will be because of a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, not because of our ability to debate, argue, or persuade.

On the flip side of that, we have made way too many false converts because we felt we had to win the argument, and so we manipulated the debate, pushed too far, and put people into a position where we won, they lost, they accepted Christ, and hallelujah thay are now going to heaven. Problem with that is, they may have never experienced a true regeneration. They may just have mentally assented to losing an argument and cowered to your consequence of losing the argument.

Remember, you are only responsible for presenting and sharing the whole Gospel. The rest, praise the Lord, is up to God. I'm really trying to let this sink in and I hope that God uses this to make me more effective in His work.

For the record, MY SON WAS RIGHT!

June 05, 2007

God: 7 - Repentance: 6 - Jesus: ZERO

That's the word count from this article by Frank Page leading up to the Southern Baptist Convention.

So let me get this straight. If Jesus is the image of the invisible God, and all things were created by Him and for Him, and He is the firstborn of all things (creation, church, redeemed people), and in HIM all things hold together, then should it be Him we focus on.

And isn't part of focusing on Him simply mentioning his name. Isn't it because of the shed blood of Jesus that we are able to repent and have peace with God in the first place. Isn't Jesus the starting point rather than our own self will?

The wrong diagnosis continues.

Jacob Vs. Esau

Isn't it amazing, and this really is true in life, that no matter who our parents our and no matter what our common upbringing may be, that two siblings can come to radically different conclusion about the nature of life and it's meanings.

Christopher Hitchens recently wrote a book titled "God Is Not Great - How Religion Poisons Everything" that is causing some uproar and now his brother Peter has come out with an article speaking out against his own brother.

You really do have to read this article as it is truly amazing. One of the things that I find most striking is the similarity it has to my own family situation in many ways. I love my family dearly, including my brother, half-sister, and step-brother. We have endured many trials together and those trials have brought us extremely close together even though we see each other all at once very infrequently.

But this article might as well have been written about me and my siblings. While I don't think they would claim to be atheists (at least I think they wouldn't), they have very little use for faith at all. Since my conversion at the age of 20, we have been on extremely divergent paths and the gulf of our worldviews has done nothing but continue to widen. I wouldn't say that it's caused us to have animosity for one another, but more of a "cordial" tolerance of the opposing viewpoints.

The really curious thing is how to explain all of this. We all essentially grew up in the same situation. Faced the same set of circumstances. Had the same parental influences (for the most part), lived in the same area, enjoyed the same comforts of life and yet I am extremely passionate about my faith (not perfect about it, just passionate) and my siblings are simply not. How then do you explain it? Why does environment have such different effects on people?

My wife's father has a pet saying that he uses quite often which says "They didn't have a chance", referring to people's environment when it is bad and using it as a pointer to why someone has led a messed up life. I've always in some sense really disagreed with that. Jacob and Esau had the exact same Creator, the exact same parents, the exact same situation, yet before they were ever born "Jacob have I loved, Esau I have hated".

My belief is that it is God who gives faith, and it is God who gives the ability to believe and be passionate about Him. Now the larger question is and the one to ask yourself and think about because it will lead you ultimately to the Gospel and "Amazing Grace".

Why did God pick me and not my brother?

June 04, 2007

I Think Homosexuality Is The Only Sin Left

Or at least that's the impression you would get if you were to go to the Baptist Press' website. Here are three articles on the front page at the same time:

- Aussie Homosexual Bar Bans Heterosexuals From Bars
- New Poll Shows Greater Acceptance Of Homosexuality In The US
- Strategist Named For Homosexual Outreach

Note some headlines you probably won't see anytime in the future:
- Strategist Named For Gluttony And Laziness Outreach
- New Poll Shows Most Christians In American Churches Can't Name Any Fruits Of The Spirit
- Christian Spending On Bigger Housing A Real Problem To Caring For Orphans And Widows
- "Hit And Run" Evangelism Leading To Cheap Converts? What Shall The Convention Do?

But those are just a few I suspect won't be written anytime soon. Do you realize careless financial practices, malice, gossip, church splits, cheap grace, lazy orthodoxy, out of control television viewing, lack of self control, gluttony, etc etc are far bigger problems right now.

Have you ever thought about the fact that if you had Christians who were being transformed by the renewing of their mind (God's Word) and that even understood ONE THING about interpersonal relationships that your homosexual outreach efforts would be outstanding. Why is it we feel the need to target all this effort on ONE MINORITY group.

Is it wrong? Yes. Should they stop? Yes Will They Stop? Probably Not Why? Because they're lost and they're supposed to act that way. What did you do when you were lost? Were you a choir boy? Did you have your act together? Is that why Jesus chose you? The answer is we ARE ALL alien and hostile in mind towards God and stand condemned apart from Jesus Christ.

Why is it that it is so much easier to point a cannon at lost people and demand they stop than perform surgery on your dead, lifeless, pointless, hopeless, mean spirited Christians? Take the log out of your own eye so you can remove the speck. Introduce resolutions and outreaches to your current churches whose knowledge and practice of Scripture is paper thin.

You wanna see communities transformed? Wipe all your church membership rolls clean, interview all your members again, find out which ones are saved and not saved. Kick the non-saved out until they get saved, and get your saved ones serious about the Gospel and living for a "hope laid up for them".

June 03, 2007

54 Years And Still At It

Meet Richard And Jeanette Hayward. I'm glad that I did. As I was standing in line at a Chick-Fil-A last night, I came across these two standing in front of me waiting for their food. I made a comment about him making sure he had her home by 10:00 so her dad wouldn't be mad and that started off a conversation and a blog post that I want to share with you.

These two have been married 54 years. You read that right - 54! In a world where some marriages don't make it to 6 months, this IS AN ANOMALY. THIS DOESN'T HAPPEN EVERYDAY. So when you come across something like this you take the time to investigate it and enjoy it. You see if you can learn something from it. You find out the story. Well here is their story.

They met because of a blind date. Richard actually went on a blind date with Jeanette's roommate. He didn't care for the roommate much but thought that Jeanette was kind of swell. They met in Madison, WI and he married her over 1,000 miles away in Odessa, TX. He was a chemical engineer with Phillips and that was just what they had to do. They went from there to travel the world. Bartlesville OK, Germany, Belgium, Greenville, England. Richard said that when he took early retirement, they thought of all the places they had lived and which one they liked the most and they chose Greenville.

They have 3 children and 6 grandchildren, one of whom (granddaughter) is on staff with Crusade For Christ on the campus of Virginia Tech University. I asked Richard if it had been an interesting year for her, and he said "interesting" was one word for it. Richard and Jeanette attend First Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC. It sounds like a great story at this point. But one thing made it an all too real human story.

You see, Jeanette has had Alzheimers for the past 5 years. She didn't respond really well to any of the conversation that we were having, but she looked at him with a loving gaze, despite the fact that her mind was deteriorating. I asked Richard what the hardest part of her having this terrible disease is and he said "The Loneliness. It's hard watching someone you've loved for so long leave you right before your eyes".

But you could see that he loved her. And he was never going to leave her, no matter what happened. As he walked her to the car, he put his arm around her and guided her. It was a perfect picture of love, our walk with Jesus, of true Christian sacrifice.

You see, love is not about being perfect. It's not about thinking someone else has to be perfect. If you wait to love someone until you've got your stuff together, you'll never love anyone because you'll never have your stuff together. And if you only love someone as long as they have their stuff together, you'll never love anyone for 54 years because people don't stay whole their entire lives. We all go through broken times and broken roads. We all slip and fall and the greatest part about marriage (if it's to the right person) is that when you fall, you have someone to guide you and hold you.

So is our walk with Jesus. He never asked us to have our stuff together in order for Him to save us. As a matter of fact, it's in our brokenness that his salvation, mercy, and grace are made all that much more sweet. Jesus never expected you to be perfect. He knew you weren't. That's why He had to atone for your sins. He loved you despite your inperfections, hostility, and deteriorating mind and attitude.

Thank you Richard and Jeanette. Thank you Jesus for them. Thank you for our time together last night. God, grant me the strength to love (action, not verb) Jenni for 46 more years. And when one, or both of us, lose our minds, please give us the courage, love, and sacrificial spirit to keep guiding the other to the car.

In Jesus Name I Pray,

June 02, 2007

I've Finished Reading "Nine Marks Of A Healthy Church"

Ok, so I know I'm really late to the party on this one but I just found out who Mark Dever was several months ago so give a guy a break.

For those who don't know who he is, you need to find out who he is and read this book. Mark Dever is the pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington DC. As a result of this book has come an organization called 9 Marks which you can visit here.

IF every pastor in America read the book and at least took the meat of it to heart, it would bring another Reformation to the church. And we are in desperate need of Reformation here in the United States.

So what are the 9 Marks? I'm glad you asked. I'll post them here along with some teasing quotes from each of the chapters. You have to get this book and go to the website. Your church can't afford for you not to.

Mark 1: Expositional Preaching
What does this all mean for our churches? Simply that the preaching of the Word must be absolutely central. It shouldn't surprise you to hear that sound, expositional preaching is often a fountainhead of growth in a church.

Mark 2: Biblical Theology
If we are to be a healthy church in such times, we must be especially careful to pray for leaders in the church to have a Biblical grasp of and an experiental trust in the Sovereignty of God. Sound doctrine, in its full, biblical glory, marks a healthy church.

Mark 3: The Gospel
These other messages -- "I'm OK, You're OK" "Whatever you think of as love is God", "Jesus Is Your Friend", "You Should Live Right" --these messages are messages other than the Good News Of Christianity. They are half true at best and are dangerously untrue when they are relied on as the Christian Gospel. But this good news of Christ's death the Cross as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of all those who would ever turn and trust in Him--this Good News is not make-believe. This Good News if for real!

Mark 4: Biblical Understanding Of Conversion
And so, our churches have come to resemble Elks Clubs And Moose Lodges more than churches of the truly regenerated. The cause of such a negative witness among reputed followers of Christ, must be in some part due to the unbiblical preaching of conversion by many pastors--with blame to be shared with the church congregations that have allowed them to do that.

Mark 5: Biblical Understanding Of Evangelism
According to the Bible, evangelism may not be defined in terms of results or methods, but only in terms of faithfulness to the message preached.

Mark 6: Biblical Understanding Of Church Membership
If you commit yourself to a church, you commit yourself to a local body of people who will try to help you work through such problems.

Mark 7: Biblical Church Discipline
What we actually need to do is to close the front door and open the back door. If we really want to see our churches grow, we need to make it harder to join and be better about excluding people.

Mark 8: A Concern For Discipleship And Growth
According to Edwards, while all these things may be evidences of true Christian growth, the only certain observable sign of such growth is a life of increasing holiness, rooted in Christian self denial. The church should be marked by a vital concern for this kind of increasing godliness in the lives of its members.

Mark 9: Biblical Church Leadership
Instead of searching for leaders with secular qualifications, we are to search for people of character, reputation, ability to handle the Word, and who display the fruit of the Spirit in their lives.

June 01, 2007

Barbara's Story

While not the most theologically complete treatment of the subject, she tells a compelling story and one that every woman considering an abortion should listen to.

Romans 8:28 - For we know that God works all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to his purpose.

Do You Know Where The Missing SBC Members Are?

Denny Burk has a great blog posting on the interview he did with Tom Ascol from The Founders Blog.

You really need to read the article if your're a member of a Southern Baptist Church and check out all the links at the bottom of the posting as well. Here's an excerpt:

Ascol notes that the claim that there are 16 million Southern Baptists is off by about 10 million (maybe more). Only about 6 million of the 16 million show up to church in a given week. In a recent interview in the Washington Post, Ascol says, “The reality is, the FBI couldn’t find half of those if they had to” (Washington Post). I hear that same statistic quoted very often by people in the news media (for example, here),
but everyone in the know understands that the number is a sham.

I agree with Dr. Ascol and a growing chorus of others who maintain that these numbers indicate that Southern Baptists are in the midst of an identity crisis. We call ourselves Baptist, but we do not retain the most distinctive feature of Baptist identity: a regenerate church membership. If Baptists have been anything, they have been people who understand the Bible to teach that the local church should be composed of believers only. Unlike Israel of the Old Testament, Baptists have understood that the New Testament church is not a mixed multitude of believers and unbelievers. Only those who have been born again by the Spirit of God are eligible for baptism and membership in a Baptist church. But we have not been living up to that biblical standard.

So Your Church Goes Wacko And Goes Astray From Sound Doctrine - What Do You Do?

Currently in the "sphere" there are two, yet opposing, points of view being presented to this very issue.

For Leaving The Church - Brian Thornton (Voice Of The Sheep)
- A Stranger They Simply Will Not Follow

Against Leaving The Church - The Centurion
- Bringing The Pet Peeve Home

So after reading their arguments, and carefully taking into consideration what each is saying, what would you say? Is it Biblical to leave a local church because the teaching in such a church goes astray?

Said At Southern Seminary (Blog Launch)

Tony Kummer (a chap I recently met and was pleased to meet) along with many esteemed others at Southern Seminary have launched a new blog called creatively enough "Said At Southern". It really is an impressive feat and one that I will look forward to reading on a daily basis.

Stop by and check it out. And make sure you subscribe!