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My Experience at the Southern Baptist Convention 2019

Andi and I drove to Birmingham, AL this past week to attend the two-day Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. We arrived Monday evening, June 10th, in time to be blessed by the conclusion of the Pastor’s Conference and then were present for all four sessions of the meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday. I have attempted to provide a brief overview and a few highlights from this year’s meeting.

MONDAY EVENING
We arrived at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex just prior to the last session of the Pastor’s Conference (where various SBC pastors preach sermons on a theme for that year – this year the theme was the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount). First, a quick word about the Birmingham-Jefferson Complex…

The main arena where the General Sessions took place was just that – an arena. I prefer this over a gigantic convention hall room where typically the layout is incredibly wide but not very deep. Every seat in the Birmingham arena provided a nice view of the platform and it hearkened back to Conventions from years ago (unless I’m wrong, next year’s meeting will be back in a convention hall room in Orlando, meaning the room will be extremely wide where you seem so far away from the stage and speaker).

Apart from enjoying the arena itself, the complex was a train wreck. I have never been in a more confusing building where things were disjointed, far apart, and just difficult to find. When Andi and I arrived, we asked a few vendors for directions to the Pastor’s Conference and everyone was stumped. Even the SBC Information Desk balked in trying to provide directions for us! If it were not for floor decals that pointed the way to the sessions, we would still be looking!

The first speaker we heard was Andrew Brunson, who appropriately spoke on “Blessed are those who are persecuted…” Andrew was wonderful to listen to and learn from, and a significant reason why was due to his incredible humility and meekness. Andrew openly admitted and confessed that his confinement and persecution did not elicit in him the kinds of feelings that one might expect. He thought being in prison would make him feel empowered by the Holy Spirit and confident in the Lord and thankful for his persecution and overwhelmed by the feeling of God’s grace. But alas, he felt none of those things. He discussed an “unfelt grace” where he knew the grace of God was with him but was unable to feel it. He admitted to thinking a lot about himself, his own safety and his own release. He even admitted that he thought more about himself than his own church when asked during a panel discussion if he was concerned about his flock while in prison. That is the kind of honesty that makes me listen. If we were in Andrew’s shoes, all of us would be tempted to come out on the other side and act as if we had all the answers about persecution and that we clung to this powerful experience of grace and that our hearts were broken for the people in our church. But no. Andrew was transparent about his struggles and his feelings. It was a powerful picture of real life and real people clinging to the presence of the Lord even when we are unable to feel his presence.

The final preacher to speak at the Pastor’s Conference was Jimmy Scroggins. Pastor Jimmy discussed being “salt and light” and focused on the concept of salt needing to “make contact” in order to be effective. He then went on to describe a host of issues where Southern Baptists must be willing to make contact in a way that is winsome, biblical, and promotes unity among our churches. His repeated phrase for the sermon was, “It may not be your fault, but it’s your responsibility.” Topics he hit head-on were racial reconciliation, complementarianism, women’s leadership in the local church, social justice, and more. It was an effective word to begin the two-day meeting where these issues would be prominent.

After the conference, the ERLC hosted a panel called Sexual Abuse and the Southern Baptist Convention. Russell Moore, Beth Moore, Susan Codone, Rachael Denhollander, and J.D. Greear spoke at the panel. Susan’s testimony, her first in public, was difficult to hear but an inspiration to see her strength and trust in the Lord. Rachael Denhollander spoke with a kind of surgical use of her words, precise and powerful. The panel received overwhelming support and it seemed to me and Andi that the messengers were ready to do whatever it takes to not only accept responsibility and seek repentance for the abuse crisis but also to take the necessary steps to prevent further cases of abuse in our churches.

Andi and I finished the night by picking up a pizza from a local place called “The New York Pizza.” It was one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten.

TUESDAY, JUNE 11
Andi and I arrived at the complex for the morning session and were thrilled to run into our friend and church member Susan Bryant. We enjoyed sitting together for the morning session.

An appropriate if not more subdued recognition of the United States was offered with specific prayer for the many devoted chaplains across our Convention. This was a welcomed contrast to the arrival of Mike Pence at the 2018 Annual Meeting in Dallas, which served as a significant distraction.

The motions presented from the floor this year were fairly innocuous; nothing too extreme or out in left field. Which, in a sense, was disappointing! Perhaps the most important was a motion by Phillip Bethancourt for all SBC entities to provide an update at the 2020 SBC Annual Meeting as to their efforts to address abuse. A couple of motions addressed a desire for the SBC to provide electronic means of nominating and even voting for SBC officers. The former is a possibility. The latter is not.

The morning session wrapped with a powerful word from Convention President J.D. Greear. He called on messengers to put the gospel above all (the theme of the meeting this year) and boldly warned pastors to avoid aligning with a political party from the pulpit so that the “other side” would not be alienated from the mission field. I especially appreciated this aspect of his address and have previously written on the danger of political speech from the pulpit, especially as it applies to the Johnson Amendment.

In the afternoon session, a panel called “Undivided: Your Church and Racial Reconciliation” was provided for the messengers and I was introduced to a sociologist and professor named George Yancey. After the panel, I was able to talk with Professor Yancey and we spoke about the possibility of him speaking at Graefenburg Baptist. His perspective was one of the most helpful and comprehensive I have heard in the realm of race relations. The panel helpfully addressed common retorts from church members when addressing race, such as, “If we talk about race, it will make things worse” and “I don’t see race, I just see humans.”

The IMB report and sending celebration is probably the highlight of the entire convention. The Convention was able to pray over 26 new missionaries who are being sent all over the world, including regions of intense persecution, to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Every SBC church member should attend a sending celebration at some point in their life. This is the core reason why the SBC exists.

The Tuesday sessions ended with new Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd confidently and movingly letting the Convention know that he was committed to the critical issues facing the churches of the SBC. The EC would be bringing a motion to establish a permanent Credentials Committee that would have the authority to address whether a church was in friendly cooperation with the SBC based on their handling of potential sexual abuse issues or racial issues. The motion would be overwhelmingly affirmed by the messengers. You can read more about the vote here.

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 12
J.D. Greear was elected to another year of serving as the President of the SBC and the messengers also heard from the 6 seminary presidents, all of whom were passionate about their seminary, their students, and their mission.

The ERLC presented a beautiful report on their work alongside the Sexual Abuse Advisory Committee that was organized last year under J.D. Greear’s leadership. A powerful time of lament, repentance, and worship preceded the report. Churches are being strongly urged to take the Caring Well Challenge and follow through on 8 steps to address the abuse crisis within the Convention. At Graefenburg Baptist, we have been working for months in two key areas related to this topic. First, we developed a strong Security Ministry Team that is working in tandem with our children’s ministry leadership and children’s ministry policies to ensure the safety of our youngest to our oldest. Second, the children’s ministry leadership has worked to review, address, and tighten our policies to make our church an even safer place for the gospel to be taught and modeled.

Having said that, Graefenburg Baptist will be following through with the Caring Well Challenge since the scope of this initiative is more comprehensive than just children. The team will be assembled over the next few weeks and the launch of our Challenge will be August 25, 2019.

Finally, an interesting and powerful range of resolutions was presented by the Committee on Resolutions (chaired by Kentucky Baptist Curtis Woods!). Among these resolutions was one on sexual abuse and, to my surprise, one on critical race theory and intersectionality! You can read a simple synopsis of the individual resolutions here.

The best part of my trip to the Annual Meeting in Birmingham? Being with my beautiful wife, Andi. The time away is an opportunity for us to be renewed and refreshed, and we did just that.

I am proud and thankful to be a Southern Baptist. There is much work to be done. Let’s move forward together.

An Optimistic View of the SBC Numbers

A recent report from Baptist Press detailed the 2018 Annual Church Profile (ACP) for Southern Baptist Churches. The ACP provides annual numbers in a variety of categories and is compiled by Lifeway Christian Resources. Here is what Baptist Press had to say:

Although Southern Baptist congregations reported increased giving, reported membership of those congregations declined by 192,404, down 1.28 percent to 14.8 million members. Average weekly worship attendance declined by 0.43 percent to 5.3 million worshipers… Southern Baptist congregations baptized 246,442 people in 2018, a 3.02 percent decline from the 254,122 reported in 2017. 

These numbers are, of course, not what Southern Baptists want to see. A few prominent SBC leaders have offered helpful thoughts on the report, such as this article from Dr. Albert Mohler.

As the pastor of a mid-size church in central KY, I have a slightly different view of the ACP, or perhaps it would be fairer to say that I can think of a few reasons why we might be optimistic when considering a couple of the categories in which there were declining numbers.

The Decline in Reported Membership.
Southern Baptists have long been aware of their persistent membership problem. Most SBC churches have two to three times the number of people on their church membership rolls than people who are faithfully attending. Though there may be several factors contributing to this trend, the SBC has identified the most significant and the most spiritually problematic factor – the reality of an unregenerate church membership. In 2005, Jim Elliff wrote a powerful article called “Southern Baptists, An Unregenerate Denomination” where he lays out the facts of the SBC membership struggles and offers 5 suggestions on the how to reverse the trend (you can read an updated version of the article here).

Three years later at the SBC Annual Meeting, Southern Baptists voted in favor of a resolution titled, “On Regenerate Church Membership And Church Member Restoration.” Two sentences are of particular interest:

RESOLVED, That we humbly urge our churches to maintain accurate membership rolls for the purpose of fostering ministry and accountability among all members of the congregation

RESOLVED, That we humbly encourage denominational servants to support and encourage churches that seek to recover and implement our Savior’s teachings on church discipline, even if such efforts result in the reduction in the number of members that are reported in those churches (emphasis mine).

At my church in Graefenburg, KY, we are currently in the middle of a process to address our own membership problem. We are taking the time to work in multiple stages in order to have a membership roll that accurately reflects the covenant faithfulness of our flock. We are primarily engaged in this effort because of our biblical convictions on church membership, but we also find support in the Convention herself, with denominational leaders and messengers encouraging and praying for churches to restore their rolls to a regenerate status.

I say that to say this – in 2020, I have every expectation that the membership numbers we will be reporting in the ACP will be dramatically lower than our 2019 numbers. Although I certainly hope and pray that over the next several years we will see those numbers rise again due to baptisms and new members, I nevertheless see the initial reduction as a sign of health for my church, not a sign of disease. Is it possible that faithful, hard-working pastors and churches are doing the same? Is this at least a partial reason to be optimistic about the reduction of church membership reflected in the ACP? I believe it is.

The Decline in Baptisms
I have previously written on my conviction that churches should baptize children without a prolonged probationary period, a trend that seems to be gaining momentum. Nevertheless, children should only be baptized upon a credible profession of faith. Taking the time and energy to build a relationship with the child, discussing the gospel and the cost of discipleship, and walking with the young boy or girl before moving too quickly toward the baptismal waters are essential pastoral responsibilities.

The first reason for optimism listed above – that churches are working to ensure a regenerate membership – overlaps with this second reason for optimism. More pastors are taking seriously the need for credible confessions of faith before dunking children at a young age. Again, although I am concerned about the concept of extended probationary periods in order to observe fruit in a young person’s life, I eagerly affirm multiple gospel conversations and assurance of both understanding and conviction before adding another baptism to the books. If the ACP baptism numbers reflects, in part, a tendency for pastors to be cautious with baptizing our younger folks, then I am optimistic about that trend.

I’ve never been a big numbers guy although I recognize their place and purpose. We do not want to ignore the annual ACP but neither do we want to fret. God’s faithfulness is unquestionable. And so, let us continue to be faithful to preach the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ!

A Grammatical Analysis of “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” by the Pet Shop Boys

The Pet Shop Boys are a British pop-duo best known for their 80’s monster hit song “West End Girls.” The band is apparently the most successful duo in UK music history and one of their best songs is a catchy tune called “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” This article will briefly examine the grammatical structure of a famous line in the song.

“What Have I Done To Deserve This?” has two sentences (and as we will see, three sentences) that make the song memorable and are repeated multiple times. They are:

“What have I done to deserve this?” (the song’s title)
and
“How am I going to get through?”

Here is where things get interesting (and a bit tricky, so stay with me). A casual hearing of the song will cause the listener to assume that the question “How am I going to get through?” remains grammatically consistent throughout the duration of the tune. But this is not the case. The Pet Shop Boys deliver a brilliant syntaxical construction during the portion of the song where a female vocalist – performed beautifully by pop legend Dusty Springfield – seems to sing the line exactly as it is sung in the first verse. Allow me to demonstrate below:

Verse 1 (sung by Neil Tennant)
You always wanted a lover
I only wanted a job
I’ve always worked for my living
How am I going to get through?
How am I going to get through?

Bridge (sung by Dusty Springfield)
Since you went away I’ve been hanging around
I’ve been wondering why I’m feeling down
You went away, it should make me feel better
But I don’t know, oh
How I’m going to get through.
How I’m going to get through.

Hopefully, after looking at the two lines written in black and white, the differences between them are obvious. In verse 1 (and every time Neil sings the line in the song), the sentence is phrased in the form of a question and the blending of the word “how” and the word “am” seems to form a kind of contraction – almost like they are saying, “How’m I going to get through?” But when Dusty sings the line in the bridge, it is actually a bit different. This time there is a legitimate contraction – “I’m” – and she is not asking a question so much as she is making a statement. In fact, the line “how I’m going to get through” during Dusty’s part is not the entire sentence, but rather it is the final phrasing of a sentence – the full sentence is “I don’t know how I’m going to get through.”

This distinction is rarely noticed by the listener, as we assume Dusty is simply repeating the question asked by Neil earlier and throughout the song. And, of course, the name of the song is in the form of a question! An additional reason for the confusion is the presence of a brief delay in between the time when Dusty says “I don’t know” and when she says, “how I’m going to get through.” The delay is long enough to make the listener assume that since the phrase begins with the word “how” then it is in the form of a question. It isn’t until one recognizes that the word “how” comes in the middle of the sentence and not the beginning that the statement begins to be understood as it was intended. A final reason for the confusion stems from the strange contraction-like blending of the words “how” and “am” during Neil’s singing. The words “how’m” (from Neil’s part) and “I’m” (from Dusty’s part) sound so similar that it creates an assumption of their identical nature.

This is simply brilliant. Neil and Chris wrote the song and could have easily kept the phrase in the form of a question and thus uniform. But instead, they decided to change the emphasis ever so slightly during the Dusty Springfield portion.

And that, my dear friends, are the kinds of things that give life an extra little spark of enjoyment from time to time.

What I Told My Congregation Concerning The Reproductive Health Act

Below are comments I made to Graefenburg Baptist Church during worship on January 27, 2019. I am grateful for the help of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and their mission to help inform churches of kingdom-related issues.

In case you aren’t aware, last Tuesday, which was the 46th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the New York legislature passed a law called the Reproductive Health Act that expands abortion rights in New York. The law has elicited all kinds of reaction from both supporters and critics, with some celebrating and applauding while others lamenting the ongoing destruction of babies in the womb. Because we live in a day where information is quickly available but not necessarily well informed, I wanted to provide you with a quick briefing of what actually happened in New York.

The Reproductive Health Act made 3 primary changes to New York law:
First, the act removed abortion from the criminal code, meaning that abortions which take place during the third trimester – right up to the point of birth – are no longer a criminal offense.
Second, the act opened the door wider for who can actually perform an abortion. Under the new law, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and midwives are allowed to perform abortions.
Third, and the one that is getting the most attention, is that the act allows abortions in the third trimester – often called late term abortions – in the absence of fetal viability or if it is necessary to protect the life or health of the woman.

Before this new law, third trimester abortions were only allowed in New York if the mother’s life was in jeopardy. Now, however, late-term abortions are allowed to protect the health of the mother, which is not limited to physical health. It includes emotional, psychological, and the over-all well being of the patient. Obviously, the concern is that this dramatically widens the scope for late term abortions.

All of this is certainly difficult news to read, and from a Christian worldview, it is a direct attack against the goodness of God’s creative blessing of children. The Bible speaks clearly about how God understands life in the womb.

But here is the part I want to make sure we understand: None of this is new. Nothing that happened in New York this past week is new. Multiple states already have abortion removed from their criminal code. Multiple states already have loose requirements on who can perform an abortion. And yes, perhaps you didn’t realize, but multiple states already have little to no restrictions on third trimester, late-term abortions. Alaska, Colorado, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington DC – none of those have bans or restrictions in place to prevent late-term abortions.

January is the Sanctity of Life month. Christians are right to express regret and even anger over what has happened in New York. But where was the outrage week before last when this very thing was happening all over our country? Christians have a reputation for becoming irate over news headlines, but then show little stamina when it comes to actually getting our feet wet to make a difference. We have a tendency to wait until something new happens we don’t like, and then express our anger all over again. That isn’t good enough.

Nor is it good enough to demonize the other side. We will not save babies by calling people names and treating them as sub-human. Remember, the reason we are passionate about this in the first place is because we believe every human is created in the image of God – including those with whom we disagree.

So what are we to do? There are political responses that are necessary and important. But I’m your pastor, and my role is not to tell you what to do politically. I certainly hope your faith in Christ guides your political action, and we need faithful Christians involved in politics. But that is not my sphere this morning.

As your pastor, I do want to urge you to get involved, and the easiest way to do that is through an incredible ministry called A Loving Choice Pregnancy Center in Shelbyville. I have gotten to know the director whose name is Diana Cahill. Just a couple of weeks ago she gave me an updated tour of the facility and we talked a good while about how the church can respond. Although there is a time and place to express frustration through social media posts and memes, the way we will rescue children is by developing relationships with men and women who are looking for help. And that requires gentleness, humility, and most of all, the love of Christ.

The Missing Element In Our Discipleship

As a new year approaches, most Christians desire a more intimate walk with the Lord. The transition from “last year” to “next year” is accompanied by hopes of a better tomorrow and plans to improve our lives through adjusted routines and habits. For followers of Jesus, this usually means resolutions to faithfully read our bibles, become more committed to church-related activities, memorize Scripture, spend additional time with family, and begin tithing to the local church.

And I think that’s great. The change of seasons – the passing of something old and the arrival of something new – is an appropriate time to ask questions and consider the quality and character of our lives. Self-reflection and evaluation is certainly a biblical concept (1 Timothy 4:16). But as we know, it tends to fall apart rather quickly.

There are many possible reasons why our new year discipleship resolutions are difficult to keep, but one of the most fundamental is our forgetfulness of the means through which we have power to pursue holiness – our union with Christ.

The last few weeks I have been preaching on the tendency in conservative evangelical theology to separate the work of Christ from the person of Christ.  By that I mean we emphasize (rightly so!) the concepts of justification and sanctification and glorification that are all possible because of the work Christ has accomplished on our behalf at the cross and through his resurrection. No doubt, those are essential truths of our faith that do not deserve to be less preached, less taught, or less modeled by the church.

But the problem is when we present these benefits of faith as “things” Jesus goes and gets for us, turning the theological concepts of justification and so forth into the primary gift of our faith, and creating Jesus as a kind of “errand boy” who runs to the cross and delivers for us a beautiful package called “justification.” What’s wrong with that, you might ask? Isn’t justification a primary gift of our faith?

Well, yes. But here’s the thing. Jesus doesn’t deliver a package labeled “justification” to us. He delivers himself. Jesus is our justification. Jesus is our sanctification. Jesus is our glorification.  And what happens when we unknowingly divorce the work of Christ from the person of Christ is the creation of a benefit-centered faith that Jesus handed to us instead of a Jesus-centered faith that Jesus is for us.  Every single blessing of our salvation – all those wonderful terms such as justification and adoption and sanctification and glorification – they are all possible because of our union with Christ. If our oneness with Jesus does not exist, then neither does our justification. If we are not found in Christ, then we are not found adopted into God’s family. All of it relies on Christ in us and us in Christ. All of it.

Consider 1 Corinthians 1:30 – “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” Jesus became to us our righteousness. Jesus became to us our redemption. Jesus became to us our sanctification. And why? Because we are “in Christ Jesus.” The work must never be separate from the person. Anthony Hoekema has said, “If Christ is indeed our sanctification, we can only be sanctified through being one with him.” (Saved By Grace).

How does this relate to our discipleship and a new year? Well, if we divorce the work of Christ from the person of Christ, we will undoubtedly divorce our work of discipleship from the person of Christ. Although we would never consciously suggest that Jesus is left out of our plans for discipleship and personal sanctification, we will become convinced that the right bible reading plan or the appropriate small group or a better church or healthier life or a increased determination will accomplish our freshly written resolutions. “It’s all for Jesus” we might say. But it’s not. It’s all in Jesus.

Whatever resolutions and whatever plans you have for 2019, I wish you the very best. If it is a new Bible reading plan, that’s great! (I have a new one myself I am excited about). If it is a commitment to a small group, that’s great! The point here is not to dissuade us from pursuing holiness. The point is to persuade us that these things will not sanctify us; Jesus is our sanctification. Jesus is both the one who provides the power of grace to pursue holiness and he is the object of that pursuit. We toil in Jesus to be shaped by Jesus to look more like Jesus.  

 

My Christmas Eve Devotion 2018

Oh come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant. Come ye, oh come ye to Bethlehem.

It is a classic Christmas carol and a wonderful song we sing every year. But is this the only group to whom the invitation to come and experience Jesus is given? To the faithful, to the joyful, and to the triumphant?

Now, I mean no disrespect to the beautiful song at all – to be certain, Christmas Day is a day of faith and joy and triumph. But my hunch is that for some of us worshiping in Graefenburg, KY on Christmas Eve in 2018, there might be a sense of our own lack of faith, or perhaps very little joy, and maybe we feel more defeated than we do triumphant. And so what shall we do with this invitation that beckons the faithful, joyful, and triumphant to come to Jesus?

Yesterday before Sunday School I was hanging out in the cafe and it was a beautiful morning of greeting one another and exchanging gifts and lots of laughter. I saw one of my favorite people and said, “Merry Christmas, how are you?” And at first she wanted to reply with a typical, “Merry Christmas, I’m doing great.” But she stopped herself and let me know that she wasn’t feeling all that joyful at the moment because of a conversation she had with a family member. And we talked for a bit and she went on to her class, no doubt thinking that she was betraying the spirit of the season which is joy and happiness and spreading Christmas cheer.

But tonight, just hours before Christmas Day, I want to read for you one verse that, I hope, will put the invitation to come to Jesus in perspective. The prophet Isaiah hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus testified to his arrival. And here is part of what he said:

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Isaiah 9:2

You know, if it is the middle of a hot, summer day and the sun is shining down with its brilliant light, you might not even notice if I flip on the switch to a flashlight. But if you are searching for something that eludes you and you are covered in darkness, the illumination from a flashlight will be a great relief. You see, there is a reason why we make Christmas Eve services a candlelight service. It isn’t because it adds a touch of charm and beauty to the service, which it certainly does. But because we are reminding ourselves that Christmas Day is about the shining of a light into our lives filled with darkness. That Jesus is, in fact, the light of the world.

And that means that if today your world is filled with darkness. If you are struggling to find faith. If you don’t know where your joy went. And if your victory has been swallowed up in defeat. Then the invitation to come to Bethlehem is for you. For the great light of Jesus is most beautifully and powerfully seen when it shines in our messy, chaotic darkness. Jesus lived on earth, died on a cross, and rose from the dead to save you. To forgive you. And to change you, forever. And that means you can come to him or return to him right now.

Sam Allberrry is a pastor who earlier this year sent a message on Twitter that my wife forwarded to me. I loved it so much that I tucked it away to use as the closing to my comments to you tonight. He said,

“Oh come all ye faithless, joyless, and defeated. Come ye, Oh come ye to Bethlehem. Christmas is for the weary, for the messed-up, and for the broken. If your life isn’t instagrammable, Christmas is for you.”

Do you remember that friend of mine I told you about a moment ago? Who told me she had a difficult conversation with a family member and it was causing her not to have as much joy? She sent me an email this morning. I asked her permission to read part of it to you. The subject of the email was “Yesterday’s Joy” and she says:

“I wanted to say I was sorry for unloading my burden on you yesterday. In responding to your joyous greeting I could not lie. In sharing my burden your joy was spilled over to me and I was able to be in Bible study and worship with a lighter heart. After worship that joy was shared with others in Merry Christmas wishes, in hugs and ‘I love yous’. So even though I wanted to say I’m sorry I guess I’m not because Joy was shared in a way that it would not have been otherwise. And I believe by sharing my burden your joy was increased, if not then at least now as you know that that Joy was carried onto others.”

Bethlehem has never been a place of much comfort for those who fake it. But for the ones who come to Jesus in all their brokenness and sin and shame, the light truly has come.

And joy can come in the morning.

Christian, Do This Before Posting A Facebook Meme

Facebook memes are incredibly popular. I suspect about every other post on my Facebook wall is a meme that has been shared by a Facebook friend. Sometimes they make me laugh. Sometimes they make me thankful. But usually, they make me wonder. 

To be clear, the memes I am referring to are not the humorous ones or the silly ones, but the ones with a certain kind of “life message” embedded in them. These are the ones I see most. And they make me wonder. I wonder if the person sharing the meme has given any thought to the underlying message of what they are sharing with the world. Something might sound good at the moment and it is so easy to click “share.” But should we?

Here is my one-step process for deciding whether or not to post a Facebook meme:

  1. Is the message in the meme consistent with the gospel and supported by Scripture? 

Here is what we should think when posting a meme: could I immediately post a passage of Scripture in the comment box below the meme that affirms and supports the life message of the meme itself? Or, to put it another way, could I post a passage of Scripture that contradicts the message of the meme I just shared? If the answer to the first question is “no” or the answer to the second question is “yes” then don’t post the meme.

Here are three common themes of memes I regularly see that I would strongly suggest we never share again:

If someone hurts you, then that person doesn’t need to be in your life any longer. Cut them off.
I’m just so broken hearted as to how often I see this general message in memes shared by Christians. It is so devastatingly contrary to the gospel and everything that Christ has done for us. Imagine if Jesus took the advice of this meme as it pertains to us. Wow. (Romans 5:8)

Only you have the power to change your life and make good choices. 
I know, it sounds so motivational and empowering. But this is the message that causes deep depression and discouragement because people begin to wonder why they actually don’t have the power to change themselves. There must be something wrong with me, they will think, since apparently everyone else has this self-power to change. But we don’t. None of us do. Only Christ in us empowers us to do anything eternally good.  (John 15:5, Hebrews 11:6).

Follow your heart wherever it takes you.
Sounds great. Except for this and this.

The problem with these “life message” memes is that there is no larger context for them. When a meme says to follow your heart, there is no context for describing the necessity of a heart that has been transformed by Christ. When a meme says you have the power to change your life, there is no context for the dependence of Christ in us that is necessary for any real change.  Thus, these kinds of memes are ambiguous and largely unhelpful.

I might add that many preachers are essentially standing in the pulpit on Sunday morning and speaking one big, giant meme. Sounds motivational, but isn’t based on the Word of God.

At the end of the day, this is about our ongoing development of a Christ-centered worldview. That everything – absolutely everything – is filtered through the message of the gospel.

Including our memes.

My Favorite Magic – Post #1

The first “real” magic trick I can remember being performed for me personally was in a small Gatlinburg, TN magic shop. The close-up trick was called the “Fantastic” and it was a color changing stick that amazed me. I purchased the trick (my parents did actually) and I still love performing it to this day.  That started in me a deep love for magic and the history of magic. I have read a significant amount on the history of some of the most well known and beloved magicians (and some who the world has never heard of!). I am fascinated by magic in part due to the nature of communication between the magician and the audience.  A great magician is a great communicator, leading the audience to hear and see precisely what the magician wants to be heard and seen. For example, the American magician Harry Kellar was such a master of communicating on stage that he once remarked how “a brass band playing at full blast can march openly across the stage behind me, followed by a herd of elephants, yet no one will realize that they went by.” More than expert technique, that is the part of magic that I find irresistible.

What I want to do in this series of posts on my blog is not write about the history of magic or share my own personal journey through the amazing hobby (such as, I owned an online magic store for two years). Rather, I simply want to post a few videos of some of my most favorite performances, ranging from very old to very new, in no particular order. I will briefly describe what I find to be mesmerizing about the illusion and then let the trick speak for itself. I hope you find this to be a lot of fun, and perhaps even open your eyes to the wonderful world of magic. I have plenty of reading suggestions and even magic trick suggestions for those who might like to try their hand at fooling their friends or family.

The first trick I want to showcase is by a magician that most have never heard or seen. His name is Hans Moretti and he was a German magician who became a legend among other magicians for a few of his stage illusions. The trick that captivated me was his “Cardboard Box” illusion. Most of us are familiar with tricks that involve swords being thrust into some kind of cabinet with the magician escape unharmed. But Moretti did it like no one else. Not only was he getting inside a cardboard box as opposed to an elaborate looking cabinet of some sort, but it was members of the audience who were invited to come and thrust swords into the box! Moretti’s specific secret for how he performed this illusion remains a mystery, and the trick continues to amaze me with a very surprising ending. Take a look and enjoy!

 

Me and My Friend Jay

I like this picture.

This is my friend and colleague Jay Padgett and this is us doing what we do quite often – visiting a church member together.  On this particular occasion, we were in the Frankfort Regional Medical Center to have prayer with a dear friend. Unbeknownst to us, as we left the hospital, the husband of the patient we had just visited snapped this photo from their hospital room. It shows Jay and I walking side-by-side, wearing our overcoats (this was last winter), making our way to our vehicle to move on to the next visit.

I’m thankful for my friend.  And this photo of us silently walking to our car on a crisp, cool winter day sums it up nicely. If I have any say in the matter, Jay and I will serve the Lord and the church together until God puts us on the sideline.

And while I’m talking about my friend Jay, I want to express thanksgiving for my friend Philip Coleman. Pastor Phil Coleman is sharp as a tack and doing an incredible job reaching families and parents with gospel-saturated guidance and instruction. He and I are often found discussing weighty heart issues about families in our congregation either in our office or on the phone late at night and I am deeply grateful to the Lord for his leadership and friendship.

I’m certain that many pastors across the country have a staff they are in tension with and struggle to connect with. But the staff at GBC truly are together for the gospel in more ways than one. They are blessings, and if you are a member of GBC, I hope you recognize and give thanks for Pastor Jay Padgett and Pastor Phil Coleman.

The Bright Future of the SBC

The 2018 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention was not without its share of challenging moments. Motions were made to fully defund an SBC entity, to remove all Executive Committee trustees from one of our seminaries, and to remove Vice President Mike Pence from speaking to the messengers. From one perspective, I suppose a Southern Baptist could walk away from this year’s meeting a bit discouraged and concerned. But I’m encouraged and excited.

Here’s why…

Some SBC voices are expressing concern about a growing number of Southern Baptists who are increasingly vocal and practically engaged in important issues such as racial reconciliation and the treatment of women. There is irony here. Often those who are unconvinced about the wisdom of emphasizing these kinds of issues will express their discontent with phrases such as “cultural Marxism” or “social liberalism.” And yet, from my perspective, those working toward these issues are demonstrating a zealousness for God’s Word that is undiluted with any political or societal influence. On the other hand, the concerned group – those who are lamenting a perceived rise of capitulation to culture – are themselves embracing the marriage of a political mission with the Great Commission. Some of us who love our country and respect our vice president were hanging our heads in disbelief as a stump speech for President Trump was delivered only hours after hearing passionate sermons about the SBC’s mandate to align ourselves only and always with King Jesus.

And yet, I’m optimistic because there was noticeable tension in the room during the Pence speech. There was uneasiness. Although the vice president received standing ovations and many were enthusiastically behind his speech, I sensed the room was awakened to both the danger and the damage of any political presence in a convention hall devoted to the blessed task of making disciples of all nations. This awareness combined with the election of President J.D. Greear ensures that we will not be hearing a stump speech at the 2019 Annual Meeting in Birmingham from any politician or political party. That, I hope, will set a precedent for years to come.

I’m also encouraged by the passionate and unified principles on which the SBC continues to stand. Part of what made the Pence arrival so unfortunate is because it unnecessarily distracted from the overwhelming unity in the SBC on the most essential issues. The authority and inerrancy of Scripture, the exclusivity of Christ, the necessity of discipleship and evangelism, the work of NAMB and the International Mission Board, a priority of planting churches, and a commitment to the Cooperative Program are all positions that are rock solid and uniformly held by Southern Baptists. That is reason to rejoice.

Another encouraging aspect of this year’s meeting was the convention’s brokenness by recent developments in the SBC, especially as it pertains to the treatment of women. We heard and saw genuine repentance, multiple motions, strong seminary reports, and future collaborations to help the SBC make progress in these areas. Alongside this, on difficult motions that were potentially divisive, the messengers voted correctly. For example, the messengers correctly and overwhelmingly voted against a motion to remove all Executive Committee Trustees from the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Finally, I left the annual meeting this year excited and thankful to be a Southern Baptist. I left anxious to get back to my church that I love so much and be a better pastor. I left even more convinced of the need to evangelize the lost. I left with a renewed spirit after sitting under the preaching of the word. I left with the hope of the gospel that was once for all delivered to the saints.

So yes, the meeting this year had its challenging moments. But the future is bright for the SBC. I’m excited to see what the Lord will do.

 

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