Philip | Andrew | Meade

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3 Reasons Why Lists Are Good But Not That Good

I’ve noticed a lot of lists flying around the world of evangelicalism these days, especially in the area of ecclesiology and discipleship. Hey, I like lists and I like flying things, but lately I’ve been tempted to shoot a few of them out of the sky like a drone. If you are wondering what lists I’m talking about, I mean things like this:

10 Things You Should Listen For During A Sermon
4 Words To Say When Developing Leaders
3 Mistakes When Developing A Strategy
4 Ways to Attack Pride
5 Things Leaders Should Say To Their Followers

Those are but five examples of about a million that showed up in my Feedly account just in the past couple of weeks! Now listen, most of these articles offered some great practical advise for leadership development and I myself find it helpful to occasionally write blog articles using a list of objectives, observations, or calls to action (especially when I can do so in an incredibly ironic way, like this article). But I suppose I feel a little overwhelmed by lists here lately and for those who are prone to become stressed by things to memorize, here are 3 reasons why you shouldn’t worry.

1. A completed check list does not necessarily mean you have landed in the realm of success.
Again, lists can be very helpful and practically beneficial for organizing thoughts and prioritizing ideas. But evangelicalism has rightly been pushing back against a list mentality when it comes to our understanding of the gospel. We don’t do a certain number of things in order to achieve salvation and growth in the Lord is never diminished to checking off item x, y, and z; even if x, y, z are terrific things. In fact, it is entirely possible to mark every box with a check and subsequently lose sight of the ultimate goal. For example, I have great experience with critically checking off boxes when listening to a sermon only to have missed the spiritual impact of the message due to my ferocious attention to the 10 things I was looking for during the delivery.

2. Lists are never as simple as they seem.
It can be exciting to read about 4 easy and effective things to say to a leader as a follower. But then you need to check off another list of 5 things. And then another list of 10 things. And before you can turn around, a simple exercise in leadership development has become an extraordinarily complex list of 2,498 boxes to check in a plethora of growth areas. It’s like a never ending powerpoint presentation. Thus, I am somewhat skeptical of the lasting impact of an overly saturated list based model for spiritual and practical development.

3. Too many lists can diminish the importance of the subject being discussed.
I would prefer to read an insightful article highlighting one or two aspects of leadership in ways that are more developed and deeper in content than I would a quick burst of several things to do. Lists can come across as a post-it note level of thought whereas digging deeper in a main idea can generate a more curious and engaged reading of the material. At least it does for me.

So, as someone who makes lists and find them helpful, I believe there is benefit to these kinds of articles. I also believe we could see less of them being written and benefit from that as well. At the end of the day, “success” in church comes down to preaching the word, loving on people, and enjoying the pleasures of God. It’s actually incredibly simple. Just not easy.

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History Beckons The Macho Man!

March 29, 1987 was one of the most anticipated nights of my blessed childhood. That was the night of Wrestlemania III.

I was (and am) a die-hard Hulk Hogan fan. My best bud at the time, Robbie Hughes, and I would spend hours every weekend using my bed as a wrestling ring and would put my unfortunate stuffed animals in every submission hold you can possibly imagine. I would walk to the “ring” in my bedroom, rip my t-shirt apart (which I wasn’t very good at doing because I wasn’t strong enough) and proceed to wreak havoc inside the “squared circle.” Life was good.

My other favorite wrestler was Randy “Macho Man” Savage. He was usually a “bad guy” but I didn’t care. Technically speaking he could wrestle circles around Hulk Hogan and was the only other wrestler who really captured my imagination. I loved how he was so protective of his manager, Miss Elizabeth (who I and every other 11 year old boy in the country had a crush on), and yet so ruthless with his opponents. His signature move, the flying elbow drop, remains the most gorgeous and devastating move in wrestling history.

And so on March 29, 1987, Macho Man would wrestle Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, another talented wrestler who was playing the role as the good, innocent guy. But the huge story was Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant. These best friends would now be going against one another. It is difficult to explain how pumped I was for this event.

Today, things are different. There are hundreds of online wrestling websites that keep wrestling fans up to date with every little detail of the wrestling industry, both inside and outside the ring. You can watch YouTube over and over and over again to catch up on your favorite matches and most beloved wrestlers. There is even a “WWE Network” where for $10 a month you can watch the events as many times as you want, listen to industry podcasts, and keep track of all the news. In other words, the anticipation today is different than what it was in the 80’s.

Essentially, in 1987 you had Saturday Night’s Main Event to catch up on the week’s activities and you could purchase wrestling magazines at your local drug store. That was basically it. If you missed something on television, you better hope your friend saw it so he could fill you in during PE the next day at school. Yeah, it was an awesome time in some respects and the main event of Wrestlemania III – Hogan vs. Andre – was the most anticipated wrestling match in the sport’s history. It will never be topped.

So, the irony of Wrestlemania III is that the Hogan/Andre match was not the best match of the night. Macho Man/Steamboat took that honor. Now, the Hogan match was the most important match and provided the most epic moment in sports entertainment history. But that night Macho Man stole the show.

This post is not a breakdown on how incredible the wrestling match itself was. No, this post is simply to point out that one phrase uttered by Macho Man in a simple, 30 second promo right before the match set the stage for the best wrestling match of all time.

Promos are a big part of what makes or breaks a wrestler. Yes, the wrestling is important and fans today especially demand high quality wrestling and high impact entertainment. But the wrestler’s ability to “get over” with the fans (that means become likable and popular) is heavily dependent on the way they handle the microphone. Two quick examples:

The Rock was a great wrestler and was doing just fine, but it wasn’t until he started doing individual promos and wooing audiences with memorable lines perfectly executed, such as “Do you smell what the Rock is cooking?” that he really took off in popularity. On the other side of the coin, a wrestler named Goldberg was one of the most powerful, dominant, popular wrestlers in the WCW during the late 90’s. Part of his mystery and appeal was that he didn’t say a word. He just came out and beat people up and left. But then, once that started to fade, Goldberg was forced to start talking. And he was terrible. I mean, terrible. Awful. (click here for an example, but don’t say I didn’t warn you). And soon after, his appeal diminished among fans.

Back to Wrestlemania III. The biggest Pay-Per-View event of the year and the largest stage of all time – some 93,173 people were in attendance at the Pontiac Silverdome to see Hogan and Andre duke it out. The place was electric, nothing like this had ever happened before in the history of wrestling. It couldn’t get any better.

It was time for Macho Man and Steamboat to do their thing. Today before a match begins at a Pay-Per-View, there will usually be a 3-5 minute video montage that catches up the fans on why these two guys are getting ready to fight. The promos are usually very well done and get your heart pumping for the match. But back then, the wrestlers would do a live promo literally just seconds before they walked to the stage!

Here I was, counting the matches until we could finally get to the Hogan match, and then it suddenly went to a promo for the Macho Man match. He was standing with his back to the television wearing his classic, flamboyant robe. The first words were fitting; his famous, “OH YEAHHHHHH!” And then, I was BLOWN AWAY…

In 30 seconds Randy Savage delivered the most perfect promo I have ever heard. I have heard some amazing promos, but this one is the one by which all the others are judged.  Remember, an event of this magnitude had never happened before. 93,173 fans were in attendance in addition to the millions watching at home. Savage had to give his match one last “pump” before he made his ring entrance to the best entrance music ever – Pomp and Circumstance. His 30 second promo could capture the fans attention, especially at home, so that they wouldn’t go grab a snack waiting for Hogan, or he could bomb the whole thing, struggle to find the right words, and just screw it up.

He didn’t screw it up. After his promo I can remember just sitting on the edge of my bed with my mouth hanging wide open. For the next few months, I walked around just repeating this one line from his promo over and over again. I have never heard a wrestler say something that captured my attention like Savage did that night.

So what was it you ask? Well, the entire promo was amazing and I could exegete the masterpiece line by line, but let me get to the point…

At the end of the promo, when you think all he has left is a throw away line of some kind, Savage delivers this beauty:  HISTORY BECKONS THE MACHO MAN!

I think a lengthy analysis of why this is so good and so perfect would not make the point as much as simply watching and listening to it. I have heard this a million times since 1987 and it gets me every time. Just listen and see if you don’t also connect with how truly important those words were at this moment in wrestling history.

I will say this – what makes them even more powerful is that somehow Savage knew the gravity of the situation. It was as if he knew that he and Steamboat were getting ready to wrestle one of the most perfect matches of all time. It was as if he knew that people would still be talking and writing about this match some 30 years after he wrestled it. It was as if he knew that he was getting ready to wrestle in such a way that the world would never forget the name Randy Savage. This wasn’t just poetic wording. This was prophecy. And he nailed it.

So watch and listen carefully, a few times if necessary. This is the best of all time. Randy “Macho Man” Savage.

Woodrow Wilson’s War Message To Congress

When the European theater entered into World War I during the summer of 1914, Americans were less than enthusiastic about sending their sons and daughters to engage in the conflict. This position was mirrored by President Woodrow Wilson who intended to remain neutral in order to increase America’s potential as a negotiator of peace between the belligerent nations. However, by the spring of 1917, the President’s position had changed. For various reasons, including the Zimmerman telegram and Germany’s decision to engage in unrestricted submarine warfare, President Wilson gave a speech to congress asking for a declaration of war. The speech was on April 2, 1917 and is one of my favorite speeches in American history. (For what it’s worth, Abraham Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address is my favorite).

Two significant aspects of the speech stand out.

First, President Wilson beautifully acknowledges the unique and obligatory role the United States must play in securing the freedom of nations to determine for themselves their future direction. However, he manages to highlight the significance of the U.S. in this endeavor without suggesting superiority over the other world governments. He outlines how America must enter into the conflict “for the rights of nations great and small and the privilege of men everywhere to choose their way of life and of obedience. The world must be made safe for democracy.” But to dispel any notion that America would be the boastful, independent hero of the war, Wilson emphatically announces how “our motive will not be revenge or the victorious assertion of the physical might of the nation, but only the vindication of right, of human right, of which we are only a single champion.” What a remarkable statement.

I find this balance to be extraordinarily important and challenging in leadership of any kind, and for my purposes, pastoral leadership. On the one hand, a person or a nation needs to understand the role they play, perhaps a significant role, in guiding the direction of the people. Undermining or downplaying the influence of a leadership position is not in the best interest of anyone. On the other hand, the single greatest characteristic of a leader is humility. From a biblical worldview, Jesus Christ was the greatest leader the world has ever known. And the greatest servant.

Wilson managed to assert the United States’ necessary role in the war without communicating an oppressive elitism. His determination to use the military power of the United States for the good of all people is a philosophy that has shaped foreign policy ever since.

Second, President Wilson was concerned the war effort might harm the relationship of the United States with the people of Germany. Knowing the world would be listening to this war message to Congress, the President spoke with a touching concern for the German people and viewed them in a different sphere than the evil government under which they were controlled. Perhaps even more important, Wilson wanted to make sure Americans were listening to this distinction. I believe his foresight into the potential fear that lurks in the hearts of humanity, a fear that can lead to immoral decision making, is to be recognized and commended. Several years later, a disastrous decision to relocate and incarcerate Japanese Americans during WWII would go down as one of the darker moments in U.S. history. To avoid this kind of mistake, Wilson make these incredible remarks:

“It will be all the easier for us to conduct ourselves as belligerents in a high spirit of right and fairness because we act without animus, not in enmity towards a people or with the desire to bring any injury or disadvantage upon them, but only in armed opposition to an irresponsible government which has thrown aside all considerations of humanity and of right and is running amuck. We are, let me say again, the sincere friends of the German people, and shall desire nothing so much as the early reestablishment of intimate relations of mutual advantage between us — however hard it may be for them, for the time being, to believe that this is spoken from our hearts”

There are certain presidential hopefuls in this current election cycle that it seems would not have this kind of insight or moral urgency to their decision making.

As with all presidents, Woodrow Wilson had his share of faults. But this speech to Congress in 1917 is one that deserves another reading from time to time. To read the entire speech, click here.

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Why I Recommend Lent To My Southern Baptist Church

The 2016 calendar is inching closer to February 10 which means a variety of blog articles, Facebook status updates, and Twitter feeds will be providing support for or against the season known as Lent. February 10 is Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of the Lenten season.

In order to define our terms, Lent is one of the most significant seasons of the Christian Calendar and is celebrated by a wide variety Christian traditions. Lent is most commonly associated with a period of prayer, reflection, repentance, and fasting that lasts from Ash Wednesday until Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday when Jesus was crucified. These different traditions will take different approaches to the 40 day period of Lent. Some traditions are quite strict with this season, prescribing it as a necessary part of faith and practice. Other traditions take a less stringent approach by providing resources and opportunities to prepare for Easter Sunday while keeping the door of freedom wide open if a person should choose to not observe.

I am a Southern Baptist pastor. Theologically and convictionally, I align most closely with the Reformed tradition in terms of my views on scripture, salvation, congregational worship, and church life. I do not believe a corporate gathering of believers should be bound by a strict liturgy that eliminates freedom in worship, nor do I espouse any extra-biblical tradition that would violate the core principal convictions of being saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed.

So, it would seem someone like me, a Southern Baptist pastor rooted in the Reformed tradition, would be the last person to encourage my congregation to observe Lent. But that is exactly what I have done in years past and will continue to do.  Here are a couple of reasons why:

1. Extra-biblical does not necessarily equal enslavement.
To be certain, the season of Lent is an extra-biblical practice. That simply means that Lent is not commanded in the Bible. That’s important. If Christians engage in spiritual activities that are not explicitly commanded in Scripture, we need to have a good reason from biblical principles as to why those activities are edifying to us and glorifying to God. Of course, faithful evangelical Christians engage in a host of activities that are not explicit in scripture, such as celebrating Christmas, because the freedom to worship Christ in the awe and gratitude of his incarnation certainly aligns with biblical principles.

Yet, one of the more common refrains I hear from men I highly respect but highly disagree with concerning Lent is that observing this season “leads people into slavery.” Such indictments against recommending Lent to a congregation carry several problems. First, this is a general, sweeping statement. As I have noted, the observance of Lent does not come in a one-size-fits-all package and without an understanding of how a particular church preaches the gospel of Christ, union with Christ, and freedom in Christ, a blanket condemnation of turning people into slaves through the observance of Lent is reckless. Second, those in the Baptist Lent enslavement camp are guilty of pressing back against the fundamental issue of the 16th century while living in the 21st century. I suppose it’s possible that a Southern Baptist church who encourages Lent might be endorsing a mandatory, superstitious set of regulations by which a Christian can curry favor with God, but I’ve not met a Baptist pastor yet who would ever embrace such a heretical view.

2. Lenten observance does not endorse legalism.
The great H.J. Kuiper, an influential editor of The Banner from 1928-1956, helped provide a balance to Lent by endorsing some elements of the season he found worthy while expressing concern over other elements. One of his concerns was that Lent would promote the spiritual disciplines for one brief time of the year but then cause Christians to become lax in their walk with the Lord the remaining year.

Although I appreciate Kuiper’s concerns and find them much more plausible than the enslavement argument, they are nevertheless misplaced. Although Lent itself is not commanded in Scripture, Feast Days most certainly were. The primary intent of the Feasts were to set aside a period of remembrance and personal piety for what the Lord had done and was doing. Was God suggesting his people “forget” the Lord their God during the periods in between the feasts? Of course not.  Today we see a plethora of helpful (although I would admit too many) 40 day emphasis literature and bible studies. Sometimes it is right and helpful to focus ourselves during a period of time on an area of our Christian life. I can’t think of a better time than the weeks leading up to our Savior’s death and resurrection.

Does the idea of fasting, prayer, and repentance lead to legalism? This is nonsensical. What is magical about the word “Lent” or the 40 days before Easter that would cause these disciplines to become legalistic? If that is our approach, then we must never instruct or encourage our people to fast and meditate on the cross at any time of the year. Which is foolishness and unbiblical.

3. We must not become enslaved to a specific tradition.
I read an article last year describing how a person in the Reformed Tradition should not observe Lent because the season conflicted with the traditional interpretation of church life and practice within the Reformed camp. That’s scary stuff. When we base our church practices and spiritual growth solely on what a particular tradition points to, then we become slaves to a tradition and not to Christ – the very thing the Reformation protested against.

4. Practically speaking, the denouncement of Lent becomes laughable.
I had a good chuckle last year when IMB President David Platt called on all Southern Baptist leaders to guide our people into fasting for the IMB Great Commission work. His appeal to pastors fell within the time frame of the Lenten season. I wondered how my fellow SBC pastors and leaders who had come out strong in opposition to Lent would handle Platt’s request. Would they lead their congregation to fast for the IMB with a big asterisks that says, “This has nothing to do with Lent. You will not be enslaved or become a legalist by doing this.” The point is that if calling our people to prayer, repentance, meditation, and fasting during the 40 days before Easter is frowned upon, then we are frowning upon essential spiritual disciplines. The issue is not if we lead our people into these practices, it’s how we lead them into these practice. If we lead them by saying these are “necessary,” then there is a problem. But that is true for any time of the year, not just Lent. If we lead them by saying these are “worthwhile,” then there is benefit.

5. I want my congregation to grow closer to Jesus.
Graefenburg Baptist Church exists to “Glorify God alone by transforming lives in Jesus in order to love more and serve more.” The two key words in our mission is “in Jesus.” We spend a lot of time, well virtually every Sunday, reminding ourselves of the power of the gospel and the utter futility of attempting to live the Christian life apart from the power of Christ in us. And yet, we are a people who pursue holiness. Dependent Responsibility is what we call that. Dependent on the power of Christ in us, but responsible to pursue Jesus. What that means is that we will call our people to obey. We will call our people to engage in the disciplines. We will call our people to pray, to read, and to worship. But we will call them to these things based on the power available to them in Christ, not in themselves.

That doesn’t take a back seat during Lent. We don’t change gears and suggest that over the next 40 days, everything we have learned together about the gospel and our dependence on Christ is put on pause. On the contrary, we teach that based on the power you have in Christ, pursue him these few days leading up to Easter. How could I not take advantage of this incredible time of the year to help my people on their journey?

In conclusion, if you are not convinced of the benefit of Lent and think it isn’t for you, then here is my advice…don’t do it! You have that freedom in Christ! But I encourage you to pick up a book on the cross (how about this one), and grab a family worship guide through Lent (my church will be providing one on February 7), and meditate each day on your identity in Jesus, and by all means, get to worship on Sunday mornings.

Enslavement? I think not. The joy of Christian living? Yes. Yes indeed.

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How Do I Know If I Am Depending On God Or Myself?

When I talk about discipleship and living the Christian life, I will frequently reference the necessity of “Dependent Responsibility.” To daily bear fruit as a Christian disciple requires personal responsibility – we are called to strive for holiness (Hebrews 12:14) – but also dependence on the power of Christ – we can never do this alone (John 15:5). Most Christians I encounter are attempting to do things by their own willpower, forgoing the grace available to them for the task at hand. There are others, however, who espouse the common cliche of “let go and let God” so fully that they forgo any personal responsibility to get up and do something.

Neither approach works. Discipleship takes both responsibility to pursue Christ and dependence on God for that pursuit.

A common and very good question is – how do I know if I am depending on Christ? How can I tell if I am attempting to do this on my own and thereby neglecting the “Dependent” aspect of my walk with Christ? It’s a great question because most of us would never seek out a path to discipleship that is void of God’s power. That is obviously not our intent. But it happens so frequently. Usually daily. So how can we know?

There are several ways, I think, to access how you are doing in the dependent department. But none are more powerful than this….

As you are reading this right now, how much time have you spent in prayer today? Or perhaps a better question is, have you prayed at all? The nature of your prayer life is your number one indicator of how well you are depending on God. Whether we would admit it or not, a lack or lessening of prayer is a clear picture of our intent to live this day by our own willpower. And it is a recipe for disaster.

So, want to depend on Christ’s power more for your discipleship and growth? Want to live the Christian life like you’ve never done so before? Start with prayer. Start with prayer. Start with prayer.

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The Force Awakens and the Noetic Effects of Sin – *Mild Spoiler Alert

*The below commentary contains some mild spoilers concerning one of the main characters, Finn. Read at your own risk.

This article will attempt to do two things:  Provide a simple summary of my thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Awakens and discuss one specific theme of the film from a biblical worldview.

Star Wars has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I have watched the original trilogy dozens of times and the journey of Luke Skywalker to the status of Jedi Knight is a beautiful thing to behold. So much so that in spite of more accomplished light saber duelists or perhaps wiser and more emotionally stable Jedis, the final moments of Return of the Jedi leaves me convinced of Luke’s superiority over any Jedi that ever lived. To quote the great Brett “The Hitman” Hart, Luke is the “the best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be.”

Do not count me among the millions of Star Wars fans who love to vilify the second trilogy of films, Episodes I-III. There are certainly aspects of the films, especially Episode II, I do not care for, but the portrayal of Obi-Wan Kenobi by Ewan McGregor was masterful and Liam Neeson as the convictional Qui-Gon Jinn was iconic. But still, Lucas’ decision to abandon more traditional special effects and models in the prequels for the digital universe left an important visual  element of the original trilogy missing.

J.J. Abrams brings that element back in The Force Awakens and it is probably the single greatest reason I was thrilled to be watching and, at times, tearing up during the film. Droids from Episode IV are seen walking about, physical sets and models dominate the film, Star Destroyers look like Star Destroyers, and the strange juxtaposition of archaic simplicity with sophisticated Sci-Fi technology was back and executed with perfection.

Watching Han Solo and Chewbacca return to the Star Wars saga was breath taking. I’ll admit it took me a few minutes to get comfortable with an older Han Solo, but once his character became infused with the story line, things felt less awkward. I wonder if my future viewings of the original trilogy will be impacted by what I now know about Han Solo from The Force Awakens.

I think my only real criticism with the movie, and it is minor, is the speed at which things fall into place for the unfolding melodrama. Abrams keeps the action moving so quickly that it seems he is almost paranoid of taking too much time to let situations, conflicts, relationships, and plots fully develop before pushing them forward. I wasn’t thrilled with the physical appearance of Supreme Leader Snoke, and you could make the argument for Abrams relying too much on Episode IV for his movie. But, those things are so minuscule it isn’t worth dwelling on them.

The ending of the film was perfect. I have never left a theater more excited about the next film in an installment.

Plenty of folks have weighed in on the larger worldview issues embedded in the Star Wars franchise. This article from Peter Jones at Ligonier Ministries is a good overview of the big picture for understanding Star Wars from a Christian worldview.

What I found to be fascinating was how a major theme of the film connects to what is known as the “noetic effects of sin.” The noetic effects of sin refers to the way our minds have been impacted by the fall of Adam. Romans 1:21 is helpful:  “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Human reasoning has not been completely destroyed by sin, although it has been severely darkened and, apart from Christ, will lead a person into futility.

This leaves humans in a helpless situation. Something must happen in order for the light to break through the darkness. Paul describes that “something” in 2 Corinthians 4:6 when he says, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” This clarifies several things. First, Paul makes a connection between the mind (knowledge) and the heart (the wellspring of life). Second, Paul speaks of the necessity of God’s action in shining this light in our hearts before our minds can grasp the “knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” This is clarified in 2 Corinthians 4:4 – “…the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Third, God’s light-shining initiative is necessary for the knowledge of the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, but human reasoning is not all together ruined by sin. There is still an ability, even among unbelievers, to understand good from evil.

Now we turn to Finn. Here is a man who was raised from birth to serve the First Order and has been indoctrinated with their evil intentions. He doesn’t have a name and is known only by his Stormtrooper identification number of FN-2187. He is respected among his superiors as a person with unlimited potential to advance in the First Order hierarchy. Every second of his life has been spent in service to First Order causes with exceptional results.

And then it all changes. When we encounter Finn, we find a man who is reluctant to carry out the orders of his superiors. He seems more intent on saving lives than he is killing them. How is this possible? How can a man who was raised without a name, born and immersed solely in a world of evil and hatred, feel compelled to defect to the “light” side of the battle? What was his motivation to switch sides? And where did that motivation come from?

In the biblical narrative, this question is most difficult when asked in reverse. God as Creator-King designed a world without blemish, one that was pronounced “very good.” And then something went horribly wrong. Somehow one of God’s created beings defected and switched sides. Except there was no other “side.” Of all the questions I receive from curious church members, children, and my own family, the most difficult is the question of Satan’s fall. How could a sinless being with no knowledge of evil choose evil? I don’t know. I chalk that one up to Deuteronomy 29:29; “the secret things belong to the Lord.”

The issue of Finn from a biblical worldview is easier to answer. God’s grace through general revelation has enlightened humanity to know something of the doctrine of Imago Dei – being created in the image of God. The noetic effects of the fall are devastating, but have not prevented humans from understanding at least a partial moral compass of God’s design. The reason is because humanity has the image of God stamped on our hearts, or as the author of Ecclesiastes put it, “…he has put eternity into man’s heart…” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

The power of Imago Dei helps make sense of Finn’s sudden and otherwise incomprehensible turn from the only world he knew, a world of evil. Additional revelation is needed before Finn can comprehend where he belongs in the world; at the beginning he simply wants out of the First Order. He wants the killing to stop. He wants to flee from the evil and do what King David desired in Psalm 55 – ride on the “wings of a dove” and fly far, far away. But as additional revelation enlightens him to the cause of the Resistance (Rebel Army), Finn begins to be shaped into someone other than a deserter of evil. He begins to be shaped into an agent for good.

It remains to be seen in future films if the franchise will answer the lingering question of why Finn decided to defect, or if they will leave it alone. By doing the latter, the filmmakers are unknowingly pointing to an important biblical doctrine. Humanity is not incapable of discerning good from evil in a general sense. But something more is needed to be who we are designed to be. Something more is needed is pull us completely out of the darkness and into the light.

If we exit the “galaxy far, far away” and travel back to reality, God has a specific agenda. His agenda is to “deliver sinners out of the domain of darkness and transfer us to the kingdom of his beloved son” (Colossians 1:13). That deliverance takes a special kind of revelation – the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

May the peace of our God in heaven be with you all.

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The Email I Woke Up To This Morning

This morning I woke up to an email from our church financial secretary. She was updating me and a few others on the totals for Graefenburg Baptist Church’s “Christ for the World Offering.” A little background. . . .

GBC has an annual offering during the season of Advent called “Christ for the World.” As you might expect, this is a missions offering with every penny being used to support Great Commission causes all over the world. The total offering collected is divided into these percentages:  75% to Lottie Moon (International Missions), 15% to Eliza Broadus (Kentucky Missions), 5% to a local Shelby County ministry, and 5% stays at GBC for our Acts 1:8 Team to use on mission opportunities.

How does a pastor walk the line between thanksgiving and pride? Between encouraging church members for a job well done without sending a “you can stop working now” message? One option is simply to say nothing. That would take care of both the pride and motivation issue. But I don’t think that is very pastoral. I think church members need to occasionally hear how they have been a faithful blessing.

So, this morning I woke up to an email from our church financial secretary. You see, our Christ for the World offering goal is well beyond what a church our size “should” set. Well beyond. To look at our goal is to think, “if they only meet half that goal, they will still be giving in amazing ways.” After reading this email from the financial secretary this morning, I was reminded of what I had received in the mail just a couple of months before. I received a few certificates from the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board about our missions giving in 2014.

























What about that email from the church financial secretary? Well, she was letting me know that over the course of the month we have already raised 92% of our CFTW goal. And for that, I say “thank you” to all our church members and regular attenders. Your commitment to the Great Commission is overwhelming. But, I also say to you, “we haven’t met our goal yet!” There is still work to do.

I want the Lord to keep me from pride. But if there was ever an area where the temptation to be prideful was so sweet, it is in the bragging on my church family for this commitment to their church life. Keep it up.

Soli Deo Gloria!

How I Prepare a Sermon

Sermon preparation and delivery are a weekly part of my life. I can think of all kinds of words to describe the process of writing a sermon:  Consuming, intimidating, humbling, necessary, cherished, difficult, privilege, and so forth. I am occasionally asked about my process for writing a sermon, so I thought I would outline my basic approach. Every pastor has different methods for sermon preparation; there really is no right or wrong way. It takes time to discover what works best for each individual pastor, and the guidance of a mentor is usually very helpful, at least it was for me during those first few years of preaching.

I prefer to preach through books of the Bible. I know that sounds fairly basic, but you might be surprised how seldom such a thing happens. A topical sermon series can be a very good thing, but I prefer to preach topical sermons when a particular issue is pressing or to break things up a bit. For example, this past spring the Supreme Court of the United States was ruling on a historical case concerning same-sex marriage. That was a fitting time to preach a topical series on marriage. But for the most part, I will pick a book and preach it. Of course, the glorious truth is that when you are committed to preaching through books of the Bible, you will inevitably hit the topics anyway.

I will usually do nothing in preparation for Sunday’s sermon on the Monday before. Having preached usually twice in the previous 24 hours, my brain needs a break from the process on Mondays. On Tuesday I will read through the text to be preached two or three times. I will not mark anything in the text or begin studying, but will just read and soak. Wednesdays are usually pretty silent for me in terms of preparation.

Thursday is my day for the majority of preparation. On Thursdays I will try to accomplish these things:
1. Mark words, phrases, or actions that jump out at me. I may not use all these words or concepts in my message, but I will begin marking basic words.

2. Trace the argument. This is probably the most critical step for my sermon preparation. I learned the process of tracing the argument, or “arcing” as it is sometimes called, from Dr. Tom Schreiner during my time at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. It changed the way I prepare sermons and changed the way I study the Bible. The process is not easy and takes a lifetime to master, but oh goodness it is so helpful. Tracing the argument is a way to better understand the thought and structure from a biblical author by paying careful attention to the propositions used to piece sentences and paragraphs together. It is at this stage that I begin to get a sense of where I want to go in my sermon because I get a better sense of where the biblical author is going in their writing. This process is especially helpful for the Pauline epistles. For those who want a taste of what tracing the argument looks like, you can read this basic overview from Dr. Schreiner himself.

3. Consult commentaries. After tracing the argument I will consult a variety of commentaries on my passage. I use different commentaries for different books, but will almost always read through Calvin’s Commentaries if available. For my current series in Acts I have been using Darrell Bock’s commentary on Acts in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.

4. Listen to sermons. I will try to watch or listen to one or two sermons on the text I will be preaching. Obviously this isn’t so I can copy their sermon, but it serves as a kind of commentary for me – to see how other pastors have dealt with the information in the text. Plus, it is edifying to sit under preaching before I do the preaching.

5. Write the sermon. At this point I will jot down the basic outline of the sermon. I used to manuscript my entire sermon, but I stopped doing that a few years ago.

6. Memorize it. After I have my points and direction, I will memorize my sermon, especially in the areas where I transition between points. I think those transitional areas are some of the most important parts of a sermon for quality delivery. I will take my outline in the pulpit with me, but usually will only look at it for quotations. Knowing the sermon backwards and forwards is incredibly important to me. Although I have it memorized, since I am not tied to notes, the delivery does not sound wooden. (At least I hope it doesn’t!)

Piecing the furniture together and memorizing it are typically tweaked all the way up until late Saturday night and even early Sunday morning. I typically arrive at my church office about 6:00 am on Sunday morning to finalize where I want a phrase or illustration.

So that is my basic approach to sermon preparation. At the beginning, at the end, and all in between is the necessity of prayer. The real challenge is “letting a sermon go” after I have preached. That is so difficult to do. But necessary.

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Back To The Future and the Sovereignty Of God

In case you haven’t noticed the numerous photos on Facebook highlighting the important date of October 21, 2015, let me fill you in. October 21, 2015 is the day Marty McFly traveled into the future in order to straighten things out with his family in the remarkable film Back To The Future Part 2. For the record, Back To The Future Part 2 is my favorite film in the trilogy and one of, if not the best, sequels in movie history.

All literature with a time travel theme will inevitably ask a series of philosophical questions. A handful of those questions that come up in the BTTF trilogy include the ability to force two people to fall in love, the ethical issues at stake when utilizing time travel to make a profit, and of course, traveling in time to correct a perceived wrong. And doesn’t that seem nice? I suppose if we had the ability to travel ahead in time and correct bad things from happening to our family and loved ones, most of us would be engaged in time travel on a regular basis.

But what I suspect most of us who are followers of Jesus Christ tend to forget is that God has allowed us to be time travelers already. Yes, God has given us something far greater than a souped-up Delorean. The reality that awaits us in our future should have a tremendous impact on the reality that is ours in this moment.

How has God enabled time travel for Christians? Read these verses again slowly:

“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
1 Corinthians 15:51-58

Yes, dear friends, we are time travelers every time we read the glorious truths of our future in Christ. Sin? Gone! Death? Gone! Decay? Gone! Pain? Gone! Perfection? Ours!

This isn’t a possible outcome. It isn’t a 70/30 chance. This is the future of those who are found in Christ. This is what awaits you. You have been given the gift of time travel, and there won’t be a single thing you will want to correct.

I love the conclusion Paul makes from his time travel: Get to work! Don’t fear! Don’t back down!

Why wouldn’t we? We have a front row seat in the Delorean, the car has already accelerated to 88 mph, and the future we have seen is a future of complete perfection in Christ, and nothing can change it. Nothing.

So the next time you are afraid to share your faith with a stranger, don’t forget your trip to the future. The next time you are concerned about being reviled, don’t forget your trip to the future. The next time you are concerned about past sins, don’t forget your trip to the future. The next time you think your life is being lived in vain, don’t forget your trip to the future.

What grace God has given us! We know how it ends! So,

No fear.
No fear.
No fear.
Get to work.

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When Our Children Disobey

Disciplining children is one of the most challenging duties for a Christian parent. The methodology for discipline varies, usually branching off from a parent’s view on corporal punishment, and knowing the right times to discipline versus the right times to be lenient is difficult to balance.

But why do we discipline in the first place? Like so many other aspects of our lives as followers of Christ, we tend to jump straight to the doing without first considering the motivation, or the “why” of the action. And the “why” question is always a theological question.

I suppose the quickest and most obvious response for pondering the reason we discipline our children is simply to say, “because they disobeyed me.” That is certainly a valid response. Scripture repeatedly speaks of the goodness in obeying and honoring the instruction of a parent. But what is it about parents that makes a child’s obedience to them so important?

It seems that failing to understand the reason we have authority over our children can lead to two disciplining errors. First, if the motivation behind our discipline stops with the authority vested in us as the ones who gave birth to a boy or a girl, then our discipline will eventually turn into a type of revenge. We will take the offense of disobedience more personally than we should because, after all, “we brought them into this world and we can take them out again.” Parents can eventually feel they are inherently owed obedience or perhaps are even worthy of obedience because of who they are as the child-bearing ones. In this way, correcting a child is correcting a personal attack against you, the parent.

Second, if the motivation behind our discipline stops with the authority vested in us as parents, then we might begin to see our discipline as less and less important to the well being of the child. I recently read how some parents encourage a certain level of disobedience in order to foster “individual, free thinking” and “personal autonomy” in the development of the child. After all, since we the parent are the only ones who are offended, that can easily be shrugged off in the interest of helping a child think for themselves.

Among many others, here are two reasons why those thoughts are in error and disobedience must not be tolerated in a Christian home.

1. Requiring obedience is a gospel issue.
I think we sometimes believe, either consciously or subconsciously, that expecting obedience and disciplining in the light of disobedience is more of an Old Covenant concept. That the wrath of a parent will be poured out on those unfortunate children who dare to disobey. But obedience is a New Covenant, grace-filled, gospel issue. Obedience is not the opposite of grace. Obedience is not by default legalistic. Consider these gospel minded verses:

  • “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
  • “through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of the nations.” (Romans 1:5)
  • “we take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)
  • “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him.” (2 Thessalonians 3:14)

Thus, when we expect our children to obey our instruction as parents, we are teaching them something far greater and far deeper than simply respecting another human being who happens to be older than them and responsible for birthing them – we are teaching them a gospel mandated desire of God, a desire that brings him pleasure when fulfilled. The goal of parenting is not to raise independent children, but to raise children who are slaves to Christ. Parents should think “gospel” when struck with a disobedient child and not strictly personal disrespect.

2. A disobeying child is disobeying God.
The depths of concern for disobedience go even further. It is incomplete to suggest that a child needs discipline because they “disobeyed me.” All sin, every single one, is ultimately an offense against God and not ultimately an offense against humans. Humans, of course, are certainly capable of deeply hurting and deeply harming other humans, including the relationship of a child and a parent. I am not downplaying the pain and offense that can come as a result of a wayward child. And yet, that pain does not stop with us, but rather is more deeply an offense against the infinite moral purity of God. And unlike human parents who have a very narrow scope of judging and punishing, God will righteously judge with eternity in view.

Ephesians 6:1-4 makes this clear. Children are instructed to “obey your parents in the Lord.” Parents, likewise, are instructed to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” A promise of well-being and blessing for the child is connected with the premise of both instructing in the Lord and obeying in the Lord. God does not judge and correct solely because a parent was disobeyed. God judges and corrects because He was disobeyed. Although we might have a tendency to either discipline too hard because we feel a personal offence or not discipline enough because we are willing to overlook the offense, the more significant issue is how God will view the offense. And surely no Christian parent would want their child to be found in disobedience to God. When we speak instructions to our children, our own authority is really pretty worthless. We, like them, are rebellious sinners in need of a Savior. But our authority in Christ carries eternal significance, so much so that we dare not neglect the discipline of a child.

So, with whatever method parents choose to discipline their children, our first concern must be with the “why” of discipline. And that is both a gospel issue and an offense against God issue. Both of those are very much worth the difficult time it takes to discipline a child.

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