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.