Why Change?

I’ve been fortunate to experience many cultures in the world. Most of the places I’ve been were on mission trips. It’s a humbling and frightening experience to go to a place a long way from your home and meet people you’ve never met before that think very unlike you.

I think the most dissimilar place I’ve been is India. The smell is the first thing you notice when you get off the plane. There is always the smell of smoke in the air (this is also true of Haiti). All the food is very spicy with tons of curry powder.   The people of India have a head bobble that is not up and down but kind of all around and it can mean a number of different things.   The people are so humble that few of them look you in the eye. Most of the people I met lived in extreme poverty. Many of the people had actual physical idols that they worshipped in their homes.   There are millions of gods that are worshipped in India. The roads are chaotic, filled with cars, bikes, people, cows and anything else you can imagine.   It’s hot, really hot.

In all of the diversity of this place the thing that stood out to me so clearly is all the things I had in common with the people if India. Finding common ground was not hard and when I met the people face to face I felt a great love for them. In order to tell them the message of Jesus I had to contextualize it.

I had to figure out a way to explain the Gospel message in a way that they could understand.

When I was preaching I couldn’t use the same American jokes. Those jokes didn’t make sense to them. They have a certain way to dress that is not like how I would normally dress. Our team prepared for months in advance learning little things about the culture so that we would not offend our hosts when we were there. At first it was uncomfortable to me because I had to change my preferences in order to connect with these wonderful people. I never really liked the food in India, but I ate it because our hosts, who had little to eat, gave it sacrificially. In the end, the value of the relationships I gained and the souls that were saved far outweighed the light and temporary afflictions I faced as a result of changing things that were preferential and normal to me.

This is really just what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9: 19 “Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. 20 When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law.21 When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. 22 When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.23 I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.”

When we think of change in the context of being a missionary then it seems obvious that a change in our behavior and approach is needed. When we think of change in the context of the culture in which we live we cling to our preferences.

Why?

I can think of a couple of reasons:

First, we know that when we go on a mission trip it is usually short term so we endure change for a small season knowing we will go back to what is normal. 

Second, and maybe more telling, we don’t see where we live as a mission field.We stop contextualizing and we just live. We stop reaching out to our culture and we start cursing the culture for being lost.   We want them to be like us. We see our American Christian subculture crumbling before us. This frightens most long time Christians who’ve grown up in the south.   Because of this we see our changing culture and the people in it as the enemy instead of the reason for the church.

I don’t like change unless it’s change I like. That may sound a little funny but here is what I mean.   There are some changes I like but all the changes I like are the changes I dictate in my life. I usually don’t like change when I feel like I am losing something that is out of my control.

I have heard it said that people don’t fear change they fear loss.

I work at a church and I see this pretty often. Our church has been in a season of change and some people don’t like the changes. These are good people, many of who I look up to. These are Godly people but they like what they like and sometimes changes are just hard.

It is hard to like something and have it taken away. (certain traditions, musical style, buildings, programs, musical instruments, lighting, even names, etc…)

It is hard when the church is the central hub of your spiritual and social life and it changes on you.

It is hard when your preference is no longer the church’s emphasis.

These are all hard things, so…

Why Change?

The answer is pretty simple. We change in order to attempt to better reach people for Jesus.

Changing to chase a fad is a reckless.
Changing to copy someone else is shallow.
Changing out of personal preference is superficial.
Changing to water down the message is sinful.  
Changing to upset people is wrong.

When it all gets down to the simplest level we change in order to honor God and reach people. As a Christian when we come to Christ we enter a season of change called sanctification. It’s the process of us becoming like Christ.

Less of me, more of Him.
Less of my wants, more obedience.
Less of my plans, more of His.

This whole process is very uncomfortable. Like the caterpillar struggling to free itself from its cocoon, we struggle to be more like Christ.

We change in order to reach people but where is the line?   When is the change too much? When do we need to be afraid that the church is just becoming like the culture instead of reaching the culture? These are very important questions that church going Christian people should be asking.

I believe there are at least two simple lines.

The first is the scripture. Churches must never compromise or violate the scripture in order to reach people. The message never changes. If the church begins to water down the gospel then the church is in trouble.

The second is sin. Churches must not engage in sinful activities in order to reach sinners.Jesus modeled this perfectly.   He was constantly around sinners yet without sin. Jesus preached to all who would listen, but only those who repented in faith became children of God.  The church must open wide the doors for the message to be heard, but only those who repent and believe become part of the church.

The Apostle Paul was a man that knew about changing. He went from a Jew of Jews to a man called to reach the Gentile (Pagan) world.   I am sure he had to do things that he never thought he would have to do. His life was constantly changing as he went from one area to another.

He was willing to do whatever it took to reach people for Christ. I know he was often criticized. Paul himself said, “There is a wide-open door for a great work here, although many oppose me.”

It is hard for all of us to accept change but we must be willing to ask the question of ourselves, “Am I struggling with the change because it is a deviation from scripture or leading our church to sin or am I struggling with change because I am losing my preference?”

It is ok to be upset that you lose something of the past that was precious to you, but remember that to live in the past prevents a better future.Screen Shot 2018-02-06 at 6.16.21 AM

Let’s struggle together as we see God’s church reach more people with the Gospel.

 

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The Theology of Emotion

I feel like…

I don’t think it’s fair that…

I don’t feel like God would make someone unhappy…

Christians are saturated by thousands of blogs, articles, and thoughts about what is ok and not ok to do and be in our day.   One of the more dangerous false teachings I see creeping into the American Christian world is what I want to call the Theology of Emotion.

Theology simply means the study of God.   Our culture is increasingly a generation of Christians that are basing their beliefs about God more heavily on how they feel than what God has revealed about Himself through the Bible.

If you need examples of this just go talk to most young Christians and ask them if they think living together before marriage is wrong.   Or ask them if they think homosexuality is wrong. It seems that many who claim Christianity today are more concerned with how they feel about something than what God has said in the Bible about it.

Don’t get me wrong emotions are a great and powerful driver.   Emotions are the great catalyst to actions. I love so many passionate movements going on in the Christian community such as the “End It” movement to end sex trafficking.   I love the pregnancy care centers that are all over our nation that provide options to mothers who feel like they have no options. I love the push for Christian families to be involved in foster care and adoption. These are great pictures of how God uses our emotional heartstrings to rally us around causes that are close to His heart.

If we do not feel then we do not care and we are never moved to action.

Emotions are great motivators but bad decision makers.

When we allow how we feel about any certain issue to supersede what God has revealed we become our own god and no longer trust Jesus as the authority.

One recent example I read was in an interview with popular Christian author Jen Hatmaker.   I know many women in my church that love her books. Most of what she writes is helpful and beneficial. But when I read her recent comments on the homosexual community I was taken back.

Here is what she said, “From a spiritual perspective, since gay marriage is legal in all 50 states, our communities have plenty of gay couples who, just like the rest of us, need marriage support and parenting help and Christian community. They are either going to find those resources in the church or they are not. Not only are these our neighbors and friends, but they are brothers and sisters in Christ. They are adopted into the same family as the rest of us, and the church hasn’t treated the LGBT community like family. We have to do better.”

I find her statements very disturbing.   The Christian community has the biblical mandate and responsibility to love and minister to every person, red, yellow, black, white, male, female, straight, gay, confused or other. But what she says takes this to another level.   She is taking people who embrace a life and identity that God clearly defined in scripture as a direct rebellion against Him, and associates those who embrace that lifestyle as a fellow believer in Christ.

This is anti-biblical to the core.   Jesus is so clear that when we become His followers we sign away all of our personal rights. We become willful slaves of Christ.   Here are the words of Jesus, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

Those selfish acts of rebellion no longer characterize our life.   We willingly choose to deny what may seem pleasurable and best to us in order to follow what Jesus says is best.

The Apostle Peter said it this way,

“So then, since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude he had, and be ready to suffer, too. For if you have suffered physically for Christ, you have finished with sin. You won’t spend the rest of your lives chasing your own desires, but you will be anxious to do the will of God. You have had enough in the past of the evil things that godless people enjoy—their immorality and lust, their feasting and drunkenness and wild parties, and their terrible worship of idols.” (1 Peter 4:1-3)

Dietrich Bonheoffer said so clearly, “the call to follow Christ is a call to die.”

My goal is not to throw stones at Jen Hatmaker or even those who identify as LGBT. The goal is to expose a larger problem that is a bitter root in the tree of American Theology.   It is the idea that we can change our theology to match the spirit and feeling of the day. The beauty of the scripture is that it is unchanging. No matter how we feel about an issue we yield to Christ.   We do not seek to make the scripture fit our feelings. This applies to all of us!   This is no indictment on any particular sin.   It is prerequisite for all of us.   I make my kids take off their shoes before they come in the house.   We must shed ourselves of all of our sins when we come to Christ.

When we come to Christ we do not have the option of holding on to any sin.   Our identity is no longer found in our activity but in our Savior.   The sex addict can come to Christ, but he must repent and turn away from his sex addiction.   The thief can come to Christ but he is no longer a thief, he now seeks to look like his Savior. He goes from taker to giver. The idol worshipper can come to Christ but he cannot bring his idol with him. He must destroy it. The homosexual can come to Christ but he no longer identifies as a homosexual. My point is not to say that Jesus followers will no longer struggle with their sin but that they will STRUGGLE. They will embrace the internal battle that is going on inside of them. They will not give themselves over to the sins of their past. The Holy Spirit inside of them will no longer allow them to be happy in their sin.

Adrian Rogers once said, “Our feelings are the most shallow part of us. God does not do His deepest work in our most shallow part.”

If you are a follower of Christ I would challenge you to read your bible more than you read the latest Christian book.   Remember that if something has been true for 2000 years of the Christian faith then God is not going to suddenly change His mind because the culture now embraces some particular sin.   The call of the Christian life is a call of self sacrifice. It is a call to lay our sins down and lay our lives down for others.

Let’s not make a golden image of god in the likeness of the American culture of our day. The world says that we should be happy and we find happiness when we do what makes us feel good.   The word of God teaches us that we should seek holiness.   When we seek to be holy, only then do we find happiness. Happiness in the Christian life is not the goal but the by-product. It’s not found in sin but often found in service.   Happiness can be briefly experienced in the passing pleasures of sin, but that kind of happiness will quickly leave you empty again. Real happiness can only last in the conscious surrender of ourselves to Christ and His calling on our lives. Get your theology from the Bible and not from your heart.

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Dear Richard Dawkins, YOU ARE WRONG

Richard Dawkins is a world-renowned atheist that is known for his polarizing stances on a number of issues. The latest shocking statement he made was in regard to women who find out they are pregnant with a child who may have Down syndrome (DS). I would not usually take the time to address something said by Richard Dawkins, but I feel that I must address this issue because his comments hold the power of life and death. He has a large audience and there are many who will agree with his statement.

Here is what Dawkins tweeted in relation to someone pregnant with a child with DS: “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.”

I believe his comments to be ignorant and murderous. What we believe about life and death, animals and humans has everything to do with our worldview. Dawkins is an atheist who believes we all came from nothing. Therefore, in his view, animals and humans have the same value and any human who cannot further the human race should be discarded. To him, people with DS are simple genetic anomalies that are the result of random chance and should be killed before they have a chance to feel pain or cause difficulty in the lives of others.

The article continues, “But faced with a stream of dissenting comments, he wrote: “Apparently I’m a horrid monster for recommending what actually happens to the great majority of Down Syndrome foetuses. They are aborted.””

What bothers me most is not what Richard Dawkins said, in fact I would expect him to say that, I am bothered by the fact that most people who find out they are going to have a child with down syndrome do choose to abort their child. In some places the statistics are as high as a 90% abortion rate! 90%!!! That is genocide. This could very well be related to the fact that when most women prenatally test for Down syndrome and the results come back positive, what is explained to her is a list of all the things that will be wrong with her baby (when in fact, it’s a list of things that MIGHT be wrong, and many issues can be corrected with surgery and therapy). Obviously not in all cases, but as a whole in our mainstream medical community, abortion is very much encouraged with these mothers and they are led to believe that they are doing “what is best.”

Why abort the child? I think people abort their children for a few reasons:

They think it will be too hard to raise a child with special needs.
They think their child will have no quality of life.
They believe it will cost too much.
They think their child is a curse and will ruin their life.
They believe their child will be destined to a lifetime of ridicule.
They just don’t want to spend the rest of their life taking care of someone else with special needs.

I would like to remind everyone that the hardest things we do in life are the most rewarding. Those who make a great impact on the world are not those who say, “I want the easiest path” but those who decide to do what is right and best in spite of the personal cost to themselves.

Back to the issue at hand, Richard Dawkins and anyone who believes that people with Down syndrome are not as valuable to society as “typical” people are dead wrong. I would argue the opposite to be true. Perhaps people with Down syndrome are some of society’s most valuable members.

Most people assess value in terms of production. Value in the world is assessed in questions like: What can a person produce? Are they a great worker? Are they a great thinker? Are they strong? Are they beautiful? Are they talented?

I want to explore that there are other, perhaps greater, measures of value. What about things like faith, hope and love? Producers are important. Thinkers are important. Doctors, teachers, firemen, secretaries and 1000 other jobs are important. While all of these professions are vital, I have found that the greatest need that people have is to feel love, experience hope, and have faith in something.

The unique genetic makeup of people who possess DS seems to allow them to possess superhuman amounts of faith, hope, and love. Surely we cannot lump every person with DS into the same category, but I believe this generally to be true.

Every person I have ever met who has DS that I took the time to talk to has made me feel better. They made me feel accepted. I felt no judgment from them. The one thing I felt from every person with DS is love. To say people with this special and unique gift should not be given the chance at life because they may have some physical and intellectual challenges is ludicrous. Every single one of us has something wrong with us. There are no perfect people. Eugenics is a dangerous game that leads to the kind of atrocities that Hitler committed.

On a personal level, I have an amazing 8-month-old little girl named Joy who happens to have Down syndrome. When she was born I experienced the most painful and intense emotions of my life. Most of it could be boiled down to fear. I feared what most people perceive about people with Down syndrome. Before Joy, I would have thought that having a child with DS would be one of the worst things that could happen to a family. I WAS DEAD WRONG! Joy has been our family’s greatest gift.

Joy has her challenges. My wife and I are constantly concerned with her health and development. We want to give her the best chance in life that we can. I am telling you no lie when I tell you that she is pure JOY. She brings so much joy into the lives of everyone she touches. She has yet to meet someone she doesn’t like.

If you or someone you know is pregnant and have recently found out that you might possibly have a child who has Down syndrome, please, from the bottom of my heart, please give that child a chance at life. Do not let your fear nor the untrue societal stigma keep you from giving your child life. Talk to parents who have children with DS before you make a decision to kill your baby. I would be glad to talk with you about it. IMG_1762IMG_5161  IMG_3069

Ty’s Faith

We had a group of strong men come to First Baptist Greensboro called Team Impact.   These men went into the local schools and shared a message of hope with the students and invited them to come to the nighttime program we held at First Baptist.   Kids and adults alike love the show.  The men break bats and bend steel bars.   They do all kinds of crazy things and then they share the simple message of the Gospel.   The response is amazing each night as lost people come to know Christ.

On Saturday night of the Team Impact Crusade my whole family attended.  The date was February 22, 2014.  There was a very large crowd and Ty was so excited to be part of it.  We were sitting in the back and there were tall people in front of us and this made it difficult for 6 year old Ty to see.   There was an open chair a few rows up so we told him that he could go sit in it.  So there he sat, by himself, locked in on the strong men of God.

Since before Ty was born we have prayed for him.  Our prayer, first and foremost, has been that he would trust Jesus for his salvation.   I have tried to be diligent in teaching him the Bible.   From a very young age he has understood that Jesus, God’s perfect Son, came to this earth, lived a perfect life, and then gave His life that all who believe might have eternal life.   When Ty was two years old he had already memorized John 3:16.  I have never been a preachers kid but I am sure there are a lot of stresses involved.  So many people expect so much of you that sometimes you feel like you have to be perfect.  Charyl and I have tried to be careful to allow Ty to make his faith his own and decide to follow Jesus when he was ready.   This is a challenge as a parent because for our own security we want them to trust Christ so our souls can be at rest about their eternity.   But, God has no grandchildren so the decision to follow Christ must be personal and not because mother and father want you to.   Ty for many years has known in his head but only God would know when that would transfer to belief in his heart.

The Preacher/Team Member that Saturday night was a friend of mine named Shonn Keels.  Shonn did a great job of clearly explaining what it meant to put your trust in Jesus.  Shonn used a simple chair for his illustration and he talked about knowing in your head and believing in your head that the chair would hold you up is not the same thing as putting your faith IN the chair.  Shonn then sat in the chair and illustrated that now he was putting his faith IN the chair.  He used this illustration to parallel faith in Christ.  He said many believe in their mind that Jesus is God’s son who came to die for their sins but few have put their faith IN Christ.  He challenged the crowd to trust in Christ and surrender completely to Him.

Shonn then gave a clear invitation to those who trusted in Christ that night to show the world by coming down to the front of the stage he was preaching from.  Ty is normally pretty shy around large groups of people so I really did not expect him to do anything.  As the pastor of the church I was on the stage with Shonn and there I saw my little boy coming forward.   My little 6 year old, on his own, with no prodding from his parents or peers was making his profession public.   The counselors came and took everyone off to the counseling rooms.  I specifically did not go with Ty as I wanted someone else to hear Ty verbalize his faith.  Charyl was able to be in the counseling room with Ty.   Here is her summary of what happened:

“Tonight I experienced a very precious moment. The gospel was presented tonight, as it always is at the conclusion of every Team Impact event. When the invitation was given for those to come forward who prayed to receive Christ, Ty walked to the front by himself. (It was interesting he did not walk down last night, when given the opportunity.) Ty has been raised in the knowledge of Jesus his entire life, so I wanted to make sure that this was a decision he was truly making…not just because he thought it would be neat, or to please his parents and that it was not just “head knowledge,” but that he was internalizing it. I was able to counsel with him and asked him why he went forward. He said, “God led me to move forward.” I then asked him what was said tonight that spoke to him. He said, “That Jesus is more than just a man on a cross. He came to this earth as the Son of God and was not sinful like we are, and although we are the ones who deserve it, He died for our sins.” Can’t argue with that! I was amazed at how thoughtful and serious he was about it. At the end of the counseling, Mrs. Evelyn asked him to pray, and it was so sincere. He said, “Dear God, thank you for this path you have led me on and the path you have for my future.” I’m so thankful that even at the age of 6, Ty seems to have a great level of maturity in spiritual matters. God is good, and I do too believe that God does indeed have a great future for Ty to do a great work for Him!”

We are so thankful for all that God is doing in our little boy.  We pray that he will grow up strong in the faith.   We pray that our three little girls would follow Jesus and trust Him with their lives as well.

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