Wednesday, December 20, 2006

What's Your Favorite Christmas Tradition?

Christmas is my favorite time of the year for a number of reasons. First, I love my Savior and commemorating his birth is always a joyous occasion. Second, I genuinely love to give presents to others. Ever since I bought my first Christmas present for someone else with my own money (a coffee pot for my dad - junior year of high school), I have always been more excited about seeing others open their gifts than I have to open my own. A third reason that I love Christmas is because of the time I get to spend with my family. It is during these family times that small routines become family traditions that we repeat each year.
These traditions are actually very important in family life because they help create a sense of stability for our kids (positive family times that are repeated each year). These times also create a sense of heritage within the family as our kids eventually repeat these same traditions with their kids. In light of this reality, I thought it would be appropriate for us to share some of our favorite traditions with each other as we prepare to celebrate Christmas in a few days. Who knows? Maybe we will get some great ideas from each other that will help us make this or future Christmas celebrations even more special.

Here are my two favorite memories...
As many of your know we moved frequently when I was a kid (I went to 22 different schools between kindergarten and tenth grade), as a result it was kind of hard to establish a lot of traditions. Christmas was different almost every year. In spite of the changes from one year to the next a couple of things remained constant. Prior to my teenage years I asked for a new football every year for Christmas. My father always obliged. This led to a Christmas memory I will always cherish - playing football with my Dad and brothers for hours on end. I will never forget those football games. They were great family time. Another "tradition" from my childhood was actually started when I was a teenager. One year my mom served us cinnamon rolls with orange flavored icing for breakfast on Christmas morning. We loved them and they became our Christmas morning staple. This tradition has survived. Marcie, Tyler, Brooke, and I still eat the same kind of rolls every Christmas morning for breakfast before we open gifts. It is always a special time in the Bonts household.

Do you have any simple Christmas traditions/routines your family shares that may seem inconsequential to others but are actually very special to you? I would love to hear about them.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I am back!

It took some tome to get here, but I am now finished taking my comprehensive exams at Southern Seminary. I would like to thank everyone for praying for me over the past few weeks as I finalized my preparations. Regardless of whether or not I passed all of my exams, these past few months have been some of the most rewarding of my life from an academic standpoint. I was able to expand and solidify my understanding of a number of important issues that relate to church ministry and my call to preach the gospel.

I should find out whether or not I passed in the next two weeks. Until then I am kind of like a barge stuck in the Panama Canal that is waiting to be released into the Pacific Ocean. A wide open world of ministry awaits as I pass through these gates. There is certainly a great deal of work to be done to complete my studies (writing a dissertation is no drop in the bucket), but being set free from the restraints of classroom time should for the first time since 1997 should yield fruit in my spiritual walk, my family life, and my service of the church.

Keep praying for me. I will begin to post new blog topics within the week.


Saturday, September 09, 2006

A Brief Hiatus

This November I will be taking my comprehensive examination at Southern Seminary. It is the next step in the long process of completing my Ph.D. The CrossRoad Connection will be inactive during that time. Look for bi-weekly posts to resume in early November. Until then, all of your prayers will be appreciated as I study for my exams.

I may have a couple of guest articles posted during that time. If I do, I will be sure to send out an email update.


Saturday, August 19, 2006

Your Best Life Now? A Scriptural Examination of Joel Osteen's Best Seller (Part 1)

Your Best Life Now?
Part 1

In response to a host of questions about one of the most recognizable television preachers in America, I have decided that it would be a good time to reflect upon the theology of Joel Osteen's message of prosperity and positive thinking as presented in his book Your Best Life Now. I think the best way to approach this task is to blog through his book section by section. The question we will ask of Joel, as we ask of all men who stand as preachers of God's Word, is this: "Are his claims supported by Scripture?" After all, every one of us should strive to be like the Bereans, whom Luke said were noble because they examined the message they heard against their knowledge of the Scriptures (Acts 17.11).

Here is the format I will use for the project:
1) I will summarize the section fairly and briefly for those who have not read the book.
2) I will examine his use of Scripture to see if they are interpreted properly and taken in context.
3) I will examine his claims to see if they are based upon the passages of Scripture he uses to support his contentions.
4) I will examine whether or not his claims are consistent with other portions of Scripture he did not cite (remember, God's Word never contradicts itself).
Section One - Summary
Section one of Osteen's book is an introduction to the prosperity gospel as a whole. The basic premise is this: You have not because you expect not. In other words, if you want God's best for you life now, then you must think, confess, and expect God to give you His best. The first section is filled with similar quotations:
1. "You must conceive it in your heart before you can receive it" (6).
2. "If you believe, all things are possible" (11).
3. "God usually meets us at our level of expectancy" (14).
4. "Break our of your self-imposed prison" (15).
5. "Low expectations will trap you in mediocrity. You must think positive thoughts of victory, thoughts of abundance, thoughts of favor, thoughts of hope; good, pure, excellent thoughts" (17).
6. "God wants to give you your own house. God has a big dream for your life" (35).
7. "[God] has crowned me with favor, therefore, I can expect preferential treatment [from the world]. I can expect people to go out of their way to want to help me" (39).
The list could continue, but you get Osteen's point. The reason God has not blessed you is because you have been thinking poor thoughts about your present situation. God wants to give you your best life NOW. Now that we have completed the summary of section one, we turn to the scriptural examination.
Let's begin by examining Osteen's use of Scripture. After all, this message of prosperity is supposed to be based upon God's Word. Osteen uses four verses of Scripture in his foundational chapter (one) to support his contentions: Ephesians 2.7, Matthew 9.17, Isaiah 43.19, and Mark 9.23. The first issue of note is that the author fails to give the citations for those verses in the text itself. Rather, he makes the reader turn to the endnotes if he or she wants to know what verse Osteen has cited. At first I gave the author the benefit of the doubt and just assumed that the use of endnotes was a stylistic issue insisted upon by his editor. After I began to examine the verses, however, it became obvious why Osteen did not tell you where the verses were: every verse he cited was taken out of context! If the reader merely reads his Bible while reading Your Best Life Now and is careful to read each verse he cites in context it becomes very clear that the author has not scriptural support for the claims he has madewille wil examine the two most egregious examples of Osteen's misapplication of Scripture.
The first example is Ephesians 2.7. Osteen cited this verse to support his contention that God wants to give all of us His "far and beyond favor" (5). By "far and beyond favor" Osteen means "victory, success, health, abundance, joy, peace, and happiness," which "nothing on earth will be able to hold" from us (5). Is that what Ephesians 2.7 teaches? ABSOLUTELY NOT! The point of Ephesians 2.7 is an explanation of the riches we have in Christ. Now at first glance, "riches in Christ" may seem to support Osteen's claims. If you read all of Ephesians 2, however, it becomes clear that this verse refers to the grace that God has poured out upon his children in saving them from their sin and reconciling them to Himself. NOTHING IN THE TEXT speaks of physical health or material blessings. This verse is misapplied by Osteen.
For another example, we turn to Isaiah 43.19, which Osteen cites to support the idea that we have to think differently if we want God to do something new in our lives. Osteen said, "God is always trying to do new things in our lives. He is trying to promote us, to increase us, to give us more. Yet it is interesting that God asked the question, 'Do you not perceive it?' In other words, are you making room for it in your own thinking? Are you believing for increase? Are you believing to excel at your job? Are you believing to be a more effective leader, a better parent? It's time to enlarge your vision" (10). Is this contention supported by the text of Scripture in which Osteen tries to ground it? Not if you read the passage. In this passage God is speaking of His faithfulness and mercy in light of Israel's unfaithfulness. The passage is not a call to positive thinking. It is a rebuke of Israel's failure to acknowledge their only Savior, the One who chose them and keeps His promises.
These examples are only two of a number of misappropriations of the Scriptures by the author. Careful examination of the rest of the book's citations of Scripture leads this reader to believe that Osteen has little regard for whether or not he handles God's Word appropriately.
Is Osteen's Message Consistent with the Remainder of Scripture?
The simple answer to this question is NO. Osteen tells the reader that because of God's favor we can expect great blessings in this life (health and wealth) up to and including preferential treatment by the world around us. Apparently Osteen has not read either the Old or New Testaments. No one had more favor with God than His Son Jesus Christ, yet he did not have wealth. Scripture tells us he had no place to lay his head. Health? He was crucified. What about his followers? Jesus said that the world would "hate" us because we follow Christ (Matthew 10.22) not give us preferential treatment, after all no servant is greater than his master. What of the apostles and early leaders of the church? They certainly had favor with God. Did it result in health, wealth, and advancement? Only if you rip the book of Acts and Paul's letters out of your Bible. Paul was stoned and left for dead. Stephen was stoned and died! John was boiled in oil and lost everything in his exile to Patmos. So much for the "name it and claim it" promises in the Bible. If anyone should understand those promises it would be Paul and John who authored over two thirds of the New Testament, yet according to Osteen's standards they did not understand them because they did not have "success" in ministry, were unhealthy, and poor.
Osteen fails to recognize that suffering, as much as faith, is an integral part of the Christian life (Phil. 1.29). Does God want us to have our best life now? No, He wants more than that. He wants us to have our best life for eternity. For that to happen, we must struggle in this life as we are sanctified and grow into the image of Jesus Christ. Does that mean that all Christians will be poor or unhealthy? No. One of my very godly mentors has more money that he knows what to do with. His financial blessings are a direct result of God's blessing of his hard work. God, however, is in no way obligated to bless us all financially just because we have an expectation of Him to do so! God is only obligated to keep His Word and act in a way that is consistent with His character. He has never promised to bless us all in the manner in which Osteen says He has.
Scripture provides us with a great case study in the Apostle Paul. Consider his account of his thorn in the flesh. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says that he pled with God three times to take away this messenger of Satan that "tormented" him. Certainly Paul could envision life without the painful torment. He was, after all, pleading with God to take it from him. He was an apostle, we can safely assume he was not lacking faith. If you look at Paul's statement in 2 Corinthians 10.7-10, however, the reason God did not answer his prayer had nothing to do with a lack of "vision" on the part of Paul, rather it was God's sovereign plan to keep Paul humble. What's amazing is this passage follows one of the very verses Osteen cites for the power of positive thinking (2 Corinthians 10.4)! How's that for ignoring context!
We will review the rest of Osteen's book over the course of the next couple of week's. For now it is safe to say that Osteen has two major problems. First, he consistently fails to approach Scripture honestly. Second, he consistently defines success according to the world's standards rather than God's.
I hope to have the next installment posted by Monday afternoon. Blessings.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Repentance, Forgiveness, and Authentic Relationships

It is rare that I make a change in a sermon series mid-stream, but given the number of questions I have fielded in our church about the topic and the number of conflicts I have observed in area churches (and in my past), I have prayerfully decided to interrupt our walk through the book of Ecclesiastes and begin a brief sermon series on the topic of forgiveness.

While I will allow the teaching of Scripture to guide each of the sermons (as always), I do want to offer application that is as direct and relevant as possible. To do that I would like your help. Over the next few weeks I want YOU to ask questions, make suggestions, or even offer hypothetical situations that I can address over the next month in an effort to help all of us get a grasp on living lives of grace. Your questions can be anonymous if you would like. While I will post other topics over the next few weeks, I will continue to check this one for comments. If there are questions that I am not able to address in my sermons, I will answer them on the blog.

Remember, authentic relationships will never be developed in any congregation if forgiveness is withheld in times of conflict or misunderstanding.

I look forward to your questions.


By the way, Ashley Mozely took this picture at a Bats Baseball game on the fourth of July. It is me wearing my "rally cap" unsuccessfully. She suggested I use it as my blog photo. What do you think?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Losing Our Religion - The American Baptist Convention and Scriptural Authority

Ever wonder why the Southern Baptist Convention has flourished and spread across the United States (43,000 plus churches) while our former partners in ministry, the American Baptist Churches, USA (5,800 local fellowships) has not? The SBC is growing (in a number of ways) and taking an increasingly influential stance on moral issues that face our country. The ABCUSA, on the other hand, is racked with division, has seen scores of churches recently abandon long-standing cooperative relationships, and celebrates the diversity of "cultural mores" and approaches to biblical interpretation that exist from church to church. What is the difference?

If one had studied the respective histories of our denominations only, it would be temping to think that God would have blessed the ministry of the ABC-USA rather than the SBC. After all, the SBC was formed when Baptists in the South pulled out of the Triennial Convention in 1845 over the issue of slavery. The Home Mission Society had begun to refuse to appoint slave holders to serve as missionaries and in response to that refusal, Baptists in the South pulled away and began their own convention. We were wrong! Slavery was wrong. It took years for Southern Baptists to change their views on this issue, and when they did it took even longer to renounce those views. It was not until 1995 that Southern Baptists "officially" renounced our racist past and "apologized" for our defense of slavery in the mid-1800s. We were not only wrong on the issue of slavery, but often found ourselves on the wrong side of the civil rights movement in the mid-twentieth century. At our worst, Baptists spoke against the movement. Those who did not speak against the movement were silent rather than taking a strong stand in the south.

So why has God chosen to bless the ministry of the SBC but not the ABC-USA? In my opinion it is because we have remained a "people of the book;" we are committed to the authority of Scripture. Even in our mistakes (which have been significant and numerous), there has been a willingness to be guided and corrected by Scripture. Our approach and interpretation has not always been right (after all, we did try to defend slavery biblically) and sometimes change has come stubbornly, but we have been willing to submit to the Scriptures. Such a commitment allows us to find our way when we wander from the paths of righteousness. The same cannot be said of the ABC-USA. While they started off on the right path, eventually they gradually abandoned the one source of authority that led them to take a stand against slavery 150 years ago: the Bible. As a result they are now a denomination shaped as much by the culture as they are the Scriptures and are no longer willing to defend the inerrancy of Scripture, reducing it to the "final written authority for living out the Christian faith" (which actually allows for a host of fallacious approaches to interpretation and application).

As a result, the ABC-USA no longer resembles the strong, vibrant body of churches it once was. The manner in which we submit to the authority of Scriptures as the inerrant, infallible, revelation of God has drastic implications for how we approach ministry. Today the ABCUSA is torn over whether or not churches that affirm (and even ordain) homosexuals should be allowed to participate in the life of their convention. When a body of churches cannot come to an agreement over an issue such as that one, it becomes impossible to take a strong moral stance on any topic. Still not convinced? Take a look at this brief article written Russell Moore at Southern Seminary. The article is about ABC-USA "Pastor" Donna Schaper, who speaks openly about and defends the abortion she had 19 years ago, even though she agrees that abortion is murder. She says her abortion was bad, but not as bad as bringing a baby into the world that she did not "want enough." As you read Moore's summary of the situation or even Schaper's article it becomes much clearer how far we can stray when we cut the ropes that anchor us to our moorings.

In many unfortunate ways, Donna Schaper is the shining example of the face the ABC-USA wants to present to the world. A face that in many respects is no longer blessable by God.

I look forward to your comments.


Thursday, July 06, 2006

Christian Unity, Morality, and the Enigmatic Al Sharpton

No matter how hard I try, I cannot understand the approach to moral issues that the Rev. Al Sharpton continues to take in the national press and political arena. In a guest commentary on yesterday, Sharpton called African-American pastors across the country to task for taking strong stands against abortion and gay marriage while apparently ignoring the pervasive issue of racism. At first glance, Sharpton appeared to be calling pastors to task for an imbalanced approach to ministry. After all, as Christians we cannot have pet sins that we preach against (gay marriage) while ignoring other sinful issues (racism, oppression) that affect the world in which we live on just as grand a scale. If that was the intent of Al Sharpton, you would find me first in line to give a hearty "Amen!" to his commentary. As the article progresses, however, it becomes obvious that the intent of Sharpton's barbs toward his fellow African-American pastors was not to call for balance, but to call for silence.

After chastising these conservative pastors for daring to "deny a woman's right to choose," and claiming that such a position is a "narrow scope of belief" which is in the minority amongst African-American pastors, Sharpton further levels the charge that these pastors are using their theological convictions to drive a wedge through his "people" (his word, not mine). The point he made is clear, African-American pastors should not address the issues of abortion and gay marriage if speaking to those issues threatens the existence of a unified front against racism in the United States (which I will be the first to admit remains prevalent). Rather, according to Sharpton, black pastors should focus on the issues of "dire importance to the black populace as a whole" which are racism, poverty, and equality at the ballot box.

If you have seen my blog picture, you are aware of the fact that I am not a black preacher. The fact that I am an Anglo-American will lead some to conclude that I have no right to interject myself into this discussion. I disagree for two primary reasons. First, I (and other Christians) should stand with our brothers in Christ who refuse to remain silent on issues that threaten the very moral fabric of our nation. In this respect, Al Sharpton is using his theological stance in an attempt to drive a wedge between my people, the body of Christ. I will not remain silent as he attempts to do so.

Second, as someone who spent his formative years in several housing projects, I am well qualified to speak of the social evils of poverty and racism. I know what it is to be poor (my divorced parents frequently struggled to provide the basic necessities for their three children). I have seen first hand how poverty affects young children at every level of their existence and undermines their efforts and ability to overcome their circumstances. I have also been the recipient of racism (although Cornell West and Spike Lee would deny my ability to experience true racism because I am white). As a child there were a couple of significant occasions when circumstances forced my family into dilapidated housing projects in which we were one of two or three white families in a predominantly black area. Even though I was a child, I grew to appreciate what it meant to be excluded, insulted, assaulted because I was in the racial minority. My experience led me to hate racism with a vehemence that has not diminished one iota in twenty plus years. It also gave me a unique perspective among my peers when we studied the Civil Rights movement in high school. I understand and affirm the need for continued diligence in the fight against poverty and racism in our country. I believe more white pastors should take stands against these forms of oppression in keeping with the ethic revealed in Scripture. We must, however, resist the temptation to address the social ills which affect us the most while ignoring other areas addressed by the Bible. This approach is exactly what Al Sharpton advocates in his rebuke of conservative, black pastors. Sharpton wants them to speak up on the issues of racism, poverty, and voting rights, but not to address the murder of innocents or assaults on the family.

If Rev. Sharpton was applying his hermenutics of God's Word consistently, he would see that the same Scriptures that led Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to fight to end the shackles of racism also call for all of us to defend the lives of those who cannot defend themselves, namely unborn children. The same Scriptures that compelled King to confront evil in the culture, still speak and compel men of God today, which is why we cannot remain silent on issues such as abortion or gay marriage (which threatens to undermine marriage and the family as we know it). While Sharpton has persistently attempted to paint King as one who would have defended a woman's right to abortion and opposed the war against terrorism in Iraq, the truth is we do not know how King would have responded to either of those issues. The prevalence of abortion on demand and the threat of terrorism were not even on America's radar screen during King's ministry.

Without addressing the fallacious nature of comparing the gay rights movement with the Civil Rights movement, I would instead like to ask the Rev. Sharpton why he does not consider abortion to be a "dire" problem facing the black community today. An excellent article on reveals the negative impact abortion has had and continues to have on the black populace today. For example, since Roe v. Wade, over fourteen million African-American babies have been "terminated" prior to birth, a death rate of genocidal proportions." Since 1973, more than twice as many blacks have died from abortion than from heart disease, cancer, accidents, violent crimes and AIDS combined; Blacks make up about 12 percent of the population in the United States but account for 32 percent of the abortions; and about 1,450 black infants are aborted every day in this country." Why is Al Sharpton not speaking up on behalf of these oppressed infants that cannot speak for themselves? Why does he remain silent when Planned Parenthood intentionally places a majority of their abortion clinics (62.5%) in communities with a higher percentage of blacks than that particular state as a whole? Does racism somehow trump murder? The answer is no. Should we remain silent on racism? Again, the answer is no. But neither should we remain silent on the issue of abortion. By doing so, Al Sharpton has stood passively while the enemy has worked to deplete the ranks of those who would otherwise stand with him in the fight to end racism.

If Al Sharpton really wants to see an end to racism in this country, he should return to a consistent application of the Scriptures, take a stand with evangelicals, and defend the civil rights of all African-Americans in this country, not just the ones who safely make it out of the womb.

As I read this article, I began to realize that many use the word "people" with differing connotations. Some use the word "people' to refer to specific ethnic or racial group. Others, such as myself, are convinced it is more important to identify with the "people of God" than any other group. Al Sharpton's employment of the word leads me to question whether his "people" are African-Americans or the Democratic party.

Al, it is time to submit your political views to Scripture and not vice versa.

I look forward to your comments.


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Why of Fasting: Focus

This week I have been meditating on the book of Nehemiah. God has used this portion of Scripture to make several impressions upon me with regard to my spiritual life and the direction of CrossRoad Church. As I reflected upon chapter 9, I realized that there was much we could learn about prayer and fasting as spiritual disciplines as we continue to seek the face of God on behalf of Rob Meldrum during his tour of duty in Iraq.

The book of Nehemiah is a wonderful account of how God used one man to lead a remnant of Israelites back to Jerusalem to rebuild the city. As the city and its protective walls are rebuilt, the nation rediscovers the Word of God, which had long been neglected. As they studied the Word, they were reminded of both God's miraculous provision and protection throughout their history and God's just punishment of the nation when they abandoned His directives. In response to the Word, the nation gathered in worship and celebration. In chapter nine the people in Jerusalem participated in a corporate fast. It is from this chapter that I would like to draw several principles that, if applied, will make your time of fasting a blessing in your spiritual life.

1) As we pray and fast, our focus should be drawn away from the world and toward God. In verse 2, we see that the Israelites intentionally separated themselves from those who were not of Jewish descent (the people of God). As they did, they began to pray, confess their sins, and focus on the Word of God. This provides a helpful directive for us as we seek to fast and draw near to God. Our abstention from food is intended to help us focus on what truly sustains us - God. This week as I fasted, God used the empty feeling and hunger pangs in the pit of my stomach to remind me of my absolute dependence upon God for all things. That dependence extends to the very food that I shared with my family as I broke my fast on Monday evening. I assure you that as the feeling of dependence grips you it will change your approach to prayer.

2) As we pray and fast, we should meditate upon God's patience,mercy, and grace, and covenant faithfulness which should lead us to repent of our sin. Most of Nehemiah 9 is devoted to remembering the history of the nation of Israel. The subtitle of the chapter could be "The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same." As you read the chapter, you will notice that as the Israelites are recounting their history during this corporate fast, a recurring theme dominates the chapter. God makes provision or provides protection and then Israel rebels, blasphemes God, and violates their covenant relationship with God. Through all of Israel's failures and rebellion there was one constant, God was always faithful to his covenant children. This reality has direct application for everyone reading this blog. While we have a tendency to view the nation of Israel in the OT with a certain amount of incredulity, the truth is we are no different than they were. Our history (both as individuals and as a church) is one of failure and rebellion. God stands with us in spite of our failures because He is faithful to keep his promises even when we are not.

As we reflect upon God's faithfulness and our failures, it should lead us to repent and return to the one that has redeemed us at great cost, the death of His Son, Jesus Christ. It is only as reflection and repentance take place that we truly will be prepared to intercede on behalf of whomever it is that we are praying (in this case the Meldrums). God's patience, mercy, grace, and covenant faithfulness were demonstrated supremely in the cross of Jesus Christ. As we pray and fast, we should do so with great attention paid to the sacrificial death of our substitute.

3) As we reflect on God's faithfulness it should affect how we pray. As mentioned earlier, no matter what Israel's situation, God was present in their midst. When they were slaves in Egypt, God was there. When they were meandering through the wilderness, God was there. When they entered the promised land and faced enemies with superior strength, God was there. Even when they rebelled and reaped the fruit of their rebellion in the form of exile, God was with them. Why? Because our God is a faithful God who has promised to be with us in our time of need. This great truth should govern how we pray for the Meldrum family over the next year. As we fast and pray for this family, we should pray not only for God's provision and protection; we should also pray that they would constantly be aware of God's promise and presence. No matter how difficult things may be for Rob as he serves in the desert that is Iraq, no matter how challenging life is for CJ and the kids when they 6,600 miles away from him, God is with them and He alone can sustain them through this trial. We must pray that they remain aware of God's sustaining presence and grace.

As mentioned in my previous post, as you pray, pray for Rob's safety, pray for CJ and the kids as they face life without Rob for the next year, but most of all pray that God would use this challenging time as an opportunity to glorify Himself by drawing each member of this family closer to Him.

Remember, I am praying for you as you pray for the Meldrums. Remember, we fast so we can focus.


Monday, July 03, 2006

Intercessory Prayer and the Ministry of CrossRoad Church

"CrossRoad Church is committed to the ministry of prayer. As an affirmation in our firm belief in the sovereignty of God over all areas of life, a significant portion of our corporate gatherings will be devoted to a ministry of prayer that is based upon the Word of God." Core Commitment Number Five of CrossRoad Church.

This month we launched a specific prayer ministry for the Meldrum family, who are covenant members of CrossRoad Church. As many of you know, Rob, who is in the Army Reserves, was called to active duty a couple of months ago and will be serving a one year tour of duty in Iraq. Rob, who is a graduate of West Point, already had served our country faithfully around the world after his graduation from the world's premier Service Academy. After the September 11 attacks upon the World Trade Center, however, Rob re-enlisted in the Army (the reserves) in an effort to be available if his country needed him. Uncle Sam has called and, as you read this blog, Rob is training in Mississippi in preparation of his unit's deployment to Iraq later this summer.

CrossRoad Church takes seriously its covenant commitment to pray for the members of our church. Upon learning of Rob's call to active duty, the elders decided that we need to stand with Rob in prayer as he serves his company. Specifically, we decided that our entire church needed to pray for Rob's safety, Rob's family (C.J. and the kids), and for Rob's ministry to his fellow soldiers. The manner in which we hoped to accomplish this task was by enlisting members to agree to fast and pray for the above items once a month until Rob returns. By enlisting members to pray in this manner our goal was to have someone fasting and praying for Rob everyday he was away from his physical and spiritual families. Our church has responded well to this challenge and this month our ministry begins.

In an effort to prepare you for the task ahead, we will devote this week's blog discussion to prayer and fasting so that everyone will understand the theological underpinnings of our approach to this situation. I will update the blog daily, so please check in each day for additional discussion. As for questions, ask away!

Today we examine the words of Jesus in Matthew 6.16-17, "When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

In this passage of Scripture, Jesus assumed that his followers will fast on occasion. Fasting, as defined in our frequent emails about this ministry, is defined properly as the voluntary abstention from physical food for the purpose of focusing on the spiritual nourishment that is available only in Jesus Christ. If someone avoids food, but does not replace it with prayer and Bible study, they have merely gone on a diet. Please keep this in mind as you approach your task. When you fast and pray for Rob. Please do not use it as an opportunity to draw attention to yourself. Rather, let it be an opportunity to draw close to God.

Your pastors will know what day you are scheduled to fast and pray. We are keeping track for two reasons. First, we want to be able to remind you of your scheduled day in advance. We all have busy schedules and it is easy to forget commitments. This effort is very important to our church so we don't want anyone to forget. Second, not only will your pastors remind you of what day you are scheduled to pray and fast for the Meldrums, we will actually pray for YOU on that day as well. For many in our fellowship, this experience will be the first time you have ever fasted. We want God to use your employment of this spiritual discipline as an opportunity to bless you spiritually and will pray accordingly. If approached properly, this ministry should provide wonderful opportunities for spiritual growth. Hopefully fasting will be a discipline employed by all of our members will into the future. As we prepare for our year of ministry, I conclude with another reminder of a suggested schedule that may help you.

Thanks for your service to the kingdom,

A Suggested Approach to 24 Hours of Prayer and Fasting

While twenty four hours without food sounds like a long time, it is actually quite easy to fast this long. An ideal way to do it for busy folks follows...

1) Identify the day you will be fasting - (for example - the third Tuesday of the month).
2) On the previous Monday, eat an earlier that usual dinner and begin your fast that evening. Eat a good meal.
3) The next day (Tuesday) - instead of eating breakfast, spend extra time in the Word and pray. Feel free to have some juice. Pray specifically for Rob's safety that day.
4) At lunch time, spend more time in God's word and pray for Rob and the Meldrums. Pray specifically for CJ - that she would not be lonely, that she would not be overwhelmed by life as a single mother, that she would find time to maintain her devotional life.
5) As you prepare to break your fast at dinner, note the time you ate the day before. Plan to eat a little later than you did the previous day. Prior to dinner, spend extra time praying for the Meldrums. At dinner, pray specifically for his children - that they would miss their father and that God would use that as motivation to pray for his safety. Pray that they (and CJ) would have numerous opportunities to communicate with Rob.
6) As you break your fast that evening, lead your family in praying for Rob once more.
If this day turned out to be a blessing in your spiritual life, please let your elders know so we can rejoice with you!

Monday, June 26, 2006

A Great Definition of Worship

As promised in my sermon yesterday, here is the quote from William Temple on worship.

“Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of mind with His truth; the purifying of imagination by His Beauty; the opening of the heart to His love; the surrender of will to His purpose – and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin.”

The quote was taken from Readings in St. John's Gospel.

Feel free to ask questions or make comments on yesterday's sermon. I look forward to the discussion. Also, please note the links I have posted to the right under "Learn about Worship." These are great websites from individuals that share CrossRoad's passion for worship that is theologically sound.

Have a great day.


Friday, June 23, 2006

Raising Children with a Warrior Mentality

My good friend "Dewey" Brandon Wright called me today to discuss the arrest of seven Al Qaeda wannabes in Miami who were plotting to destroy the Sears Tower in Chicago. If you look at the photos of the men, one disturbing fact becomes clear rather quickly: these men were all young adults. Furthermore, the majority were American citizens and committed Muslims. Their goal? To wage jihad in the name of Allah and to "kill as many devils [American Christians] as possible." While this arrest was shocking for a number of reasons, Brandon was right to point out a lesson that should be learned by all evangelicals with regard to raising our children: there is little commitment to the cause of Christ in the church.

If you examine the typical evangelical youth group or parent, you will find that the focus is often on games, activities, daily quiet times, weekly attendance of corporate worship, etc. Education is often viewed (by parents and youth) as a means to an end. "If Johnny does well in these classes, he can get into a good college. If he gets into a good college, he can get a good job. If he gets a good job, he can live happily ever after." Christian education is viewed the same way. "If Johnny knows his Bible and is obedient to its teachings, he will be happier and a better father/husband. He will also stay out of trouble." There is a problem with this approach. Activities and games are nice - but they don't prepare children for the future. All of our chidren need education, but the goal should not be for them to live "happily ever after" or even to stay out of trouble (although we all want that to some degree).

The goal of parents, youth leaders, and pastors should be to train up a future generation of Christian Warriors with the same level of commitment to the cause of Christ that these Al Qaeda wannabes had for Allah, albeit with a different approach. We should be preparing our children to take the world for Christ, to engage the culture with a biblical worldview, and to carry the gospel of Jesus Christ aggressively to every nation of the world. Their weapons will not be bombs, guns, or suicide missions, but rather the gospel and the spiritual gifts with which God has equipped them.

When our children are young, we teach them that they exist for God's glory. Question two of our children's catechism is "Why did God make you? For His own Glory." Every child in our church can answer this question. We need to make sure they can also apply the answer. From the time they are young we need to help them view their future in terms of service to the kingdom of God. This does not mean that we push them all into vocational ministry such as the pastorate. Rather, we encourage our children to evaluate their strengths, weaknesses, and passions in light of God's Word and consider how they may use those gifts of grace to impact the kingdom of Christ.

If children are passionate about animals and want to be a vet, challenge them to go to a third- world country and teach their citizens how to be better farmers while using their expertise as a bridge for proclaiming the gospel. If they want to be doctors, challenge them to not only be the best doctor they can be, but to be a Christian doctor that works to proclaim the sanctity of human life and defend the innocent. If they want to be lawyers, challenge them to defend the rights of Christian students and professors in secular universities and public schools. If they are creative and want to be artists or musicians, challenge them to use those gifts to spread the gospel and teach the world that real beauty is found only in Jesus Christ. If they want to go into business and have an entrepreneurial spirit, challenge them to use those gifts for the kingdom. The world needs more Christian business owners who will bring the ethics of the kingdom to bear upon the world. The world needs more Christian newspaper editors, Christian publishers, Christian politicians, Christian judges, and Christian teachers. The world needs our children to grow up with the heart, knowledge, and desire to affect policy at the highest levels of society. The world also needs Christian engineers, mechanics, welders, construction workers, and yes, even coffee baristas who will view their jobs as opportunities to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who would otherwise not hear.

The world needs more missionaries. Not passive men and women that are afraid of dialogue and confrontation for the sake of the kingdom, but men and women that exude the confidence that comes from the gospel and was modeled by the Apostle Paul's ministry. Consider the words and example of Russell Moore in a blog from June of 2005...
"Why I’m Raising Violent 4 Year-Olds"
"A reader sent along an objection to my mention that I took my two 4 year-old sons to see the new Star Wars movie. The reader is upset because the Star Wars film is “way too violent for children.” Now, I did check out the Star Wars film first. I would not take my children to see Kill Bill or The Silence of the Lambs for instance (nor would I see them myself).

"Nonetheless, this is the second movie my children have ever seen in their lives. One was a tender, touching Christmas movie about a little boy who discovers that Christmas is all about believing in the miracles within. The second was a cartoonishly violent movie in which men go face-to-face with evil aliens; often chopping off limbs in the heat of battle. As I think about my film choices for my children, I will admit that I repent....of taking them to the Christmas film.

"This is because of my overall philosophy of childrearing. I am aiming to raise up violent sons.
I am not seeking to raise sons who are violent in the amoral, pagan sense of contemporary teenagers playing Grand Theft Auto video games or carjacking motorists. I want them to be more violent than that.

"I want them to understand that the Christian life is not a Hallmark Channel version of baptized sentimentality. Instead, it is a cosmic battle between an evil dragon and the child of the woman, an ancient warfare that now includes all who belong to the Child of the Promise (Rev 12). I want them to forgive their enemies, not because they are good boys, but because they understand that vengeance against the Serpent comes not from their hand, but from that of the anointed Warrior-King (Rev 19), whose blood-soaked garments don’t often transfer to the imagery of a Precious Moments wall-hanging. And I want them to exercise self-control of their passions, not because it is polite, but because they are called to struggle against the Evil One, even to the point of cutting off their own limbs rather than succumb to devices.

"The Star Wars movie offered the opportunity to talk through these issues of cosmic struggle with my boys. And to place such themes in context of what they already know from the most blessedly violent bedtime stories they hear every day: the Holy Scriptures."
To that I say "Amen and Amen!"
I look forward to your comments.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Do Dying Infants Go to Heaven?

Last night our men's Discipleship Challenge Group concluded their look at the doctrine of election with a question and answer time. During that discussion (led very well by Pastor Brandon Wright) the question of dying infants was raised. The question specifically related to how the doctrines of election and salvation by grace through faith alone bear on the eternal fate of infants who die.

This question is a great one. Consider the clearly revealed teachings of the New Testament:
1) We are born marked by the stain of original sin (the imputation of Adam's sin).
2) The wages of sin are death and eternal separation from God in Hell, a fate that awaits all who do not receive the benefits of Christ's substitutionary atonement on the cross.
3) Those benefits are received by grace through faith.

In light of the these truths, what happens to an infant who dies? Many wonder how an infant, who by definition cannot have saving faith, could possibly go to heaven? The same question could also be applied to those who are mentally challenged, who never reach the point where they can discern right from wrong or comprehend the gospel.

CrossRoad Church believes that all dying infants go to heaven, but we cannot reach that conclusion because we cannot bear the thought of an infant going to hell. We must consult the Scriptures to see whether or not this is taught. Several years ago, R. Albert Mohler and Daniel Akin co-authored what is the most accurate and succinct article I have ever read on this topic. In the article they deal with the tough question and do an excellent job bringing the Scriptures to bear on those questions. I have included a link below. I invite you to read the article and then return with your questions and comments.

Enjoy your reading: The Salvation of the 'Little Ones': Do Infants who Die Go to Heaven?


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Our Direction as a Church

Over the next few days, we will review the mission and vision for our church. I invite you to review the text below and ask any questions you like about their application in our specific setting of Southern Indiana, specifically Floyd County.

Our Mission Statement (This is why we exist - our purpose)
“Crossroad Church exists to glorify God by making disciples.”

CrossRoad Vision Statement (This is how we hope to accomplish our purpose).In submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and his Great Commission imperative, we as members of Crossroad Church share the following vision, expressed in the seven core commitments of our fellowship:

CrossRoad Church is committed to expository preaching. As a church, we absoultely are committed to the inerrancy of Scripture and affirm the words of the Apostle Paul who taught that all Scripture is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3.16-17). We will develop a preaching and teaching ministry based on the historical, grammatical, and Spirit guided study of the Scriptures in their context, with an eye toward contemporary application. We are committed to expository preaching which seeks to honor the authorial intent of every passage of Scripture.
CrossRoad Church is committed to aggressive evangelism. In order to participate in the fulfillment of the Great Commission, we intentionally will seek to proclaim the gospel throughout Floyd County, southern Indiana, and the entire world, so that God might glorify himself by drawing lost sinners to faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. This evangelism will take place through:
o Intentional evangelization strategies directed toward the unchurched members of our community.
o Service ministries intended to address felt needs (counseling, literacy programs, family coaches, etc.) in order to build relationships that afford us the opportunity to proclaim the gospel to those who would otherwise not hear.
o Church planting as a means of evangelism. We will seek to plant other churches in Southern Indiana for the sake of reaching as many people as possible with the gospel.

CrossRoad Church is committed to equipping all believers. We will develop an environment in which all believers are fully equipped for the work of ministry with the goal that every person in the church will be presented complete in Christ. Such training will include, but not be limited to, discipleship in the areas of:
o Baptistic Doctrine – CrossRoad Church is a Baptist church, which, by conviction, is committed to historic Baptist distinctives. Accordingly, we will labor to insure that all of our members are trained in sound doctrine.
o Personal Bible study – all members should be able to nourish themselves spiritually through proper study of the Word of God.
o Personal Evangelism – All Christians are called to participate in the fulfillment of the Great Commission of Jesus Christ, therefore all members should be equipped to share their faith (1 Peter 3.15).
o Servant Leadership – Our goal as a fellowship is for every member to reproduce themselves in the lives of others (following Christ’s model of duplication and discipleship). We will therefore approach discipleship with that goal in mind.
o Christian Parenting – Given that we live in a society that is growing in both its opposition to the traditional family revealed in Scripture and its dysfunction as a result of its ignorance of Scripture, CrossRoad Church will make it a priority to equip parents to raise their children in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord.
o Christian Stewardship – We will be a church in which all members are taught the basic principles of good Christian stewardship and are expected to employ them. We will commit our time, talents, spiritual gifts, and financial resources to the church and the mission of Christ.
o Vocational training and mentoring for future ministers of the gospel – As a part of our discipleship ministry, CrossRoad Church will partner with students of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to help provide mentoring and equipping opportunities for those called to vocational ministry.

CrossRoad Church is committed to engaging worship in spirit and truth. We will strive for excellence in every aspect of our private and corporate worship. Our worship leaders will teach members to seek to glorify God in every aspect of their lives – a life of worship. While our corporate worship experiences will be designed to be understood by unbelievers, its primary purpose will be to lead believers to encounter the living God of the Bible.
CrossRoad Church is committed to the ministry of prayer. As an affirmation in our firm belief in the sovereignty of God over all areas of life, a significant portion of our corporate gatherings will be devoted to a ministry of prayer that is based upon the Word of God.
CrossRoad Church is committed to authentic fellowship. As a church, we will teach and model mutual accountability and support among the membership. We will help each other bear our burdens (Gal. 6.2) through prayer, friendship, encouragement, material resources, and where necessary, loving church discipline.
CrossRoad Church is committed to cultural engagement. We believe that the church stands in continuity with the people of God in the Old Testament and as such, the cultural mandate should apply to our ministerial objectives. As a result, we will work to engage the culture with a biblical worldview as God presents our fellowship with opportunities to do so. We will seek to infiltrate and change our culture by living as salt and light in obedience to the Sermon on the Mount.

Above all we pray that God would glorify Himself by using CrossRoad Church to bring revival to Southern Indiana.

I look forward to your comments.


Friday, June 09, 2006

What is a Mature Christian?

Earlier this week we discussed the importance of discipleship in the church. In the post I clarified what should be a primary aim of all churches: to help all Christians grow in to spiritual maturity. That post, however, begged a very serious question: what is a spiritually mature Christian? Do we judge spiritual maturity by knowledge of the Scriptures, length of time a person has been a Christian, Christlike character, or offices held in the church? Is it even possible to judge whether or not someone is a mature Christian?

The answer to the last question will help us answer the previous questions. Yes, it is possible to judge whether or not someone is a mature Christian. In fact in several passages of Scripture, we are commanded to do so. Scripture is clear that we are to carefully examine prospectve candidates for the positions of pastor/elder, deacon, and teacher in the church. When those passages are considered, three primary areas of measurement are provided.

First is chronology. An example of time's importance can be found in 1 Timothy. When Paul advised Timothy about pastor/elder selection, he stated that the candidate should not be a recent convert, because a recent convert would not be mature enough for the position. These qualifications (with the exception of ability to teach) are not unique to pastors. Men were to be selected that exemplified Christian ideals for the rest of the church, so we can learn a universal truth from this passage. The emphasis on time does not mean that everyone who has been a Christian for twenty years is mature. It merely reminds us that we do not mature as Christians over night. It takes time to grow in grace. Sanctification is both instantaneous and progressive for the Christian. That is, there is a sense in which we are "set apart" for God's purposes at the time we are saved (instant). The Christian also grows in sanctification over time. As individuals grow in their relationship with Christ, they are increasingly set apart (intentional split infinitive for you grammar nazis) for God's purposes. This reality is accomplished in two ways. First, as we grow in both our understanding of what God desires for us and our obedience to those desires we mature. Second, as we encounter trials in life and persevere through them we mature (See James 1). Just because one has been a Christian for a long time does not imply that they are spiritually mature. This short statement by Paul just reminds us that growth takes time. If you are a young Christian struggling in your walk with God, just continue to invest yourself in the practice of the spiritual disciplines and persevere through hardship. Growth will come.

A second area of measurement when considering the question of spiritual maturity is knowledge of the Scriptures. We must be careful when we discuss this topic. Scripture does not teach that knowledge of God's Word is equivalent to spiritual maturity. In fact, the New Testament is replete with examples of of men who knew the Scriptures well but were, in fact, a long way from a close relationship with God. One need only read Jesus' numerous critiques of the Pharisees to see that knowledge does not equal maturity. The fact that someone can know the Scriptures and not be mature does not alleviate the importance of learning the Scriptures. The Word of God is central to our growth as Christians (Romans 12.1-2; Colossians 1.25-29, etc). We must grow in our knowledge of God's Word, but we must resist the temptation to become Pharisaical in our approach to such knowledge. This last statement leads us to the third are of measurement when considering the question of spiritual maturity.

The third area of measurement is spiritual fruit. Jesus taught us that we would be able to tell the genuine from the counterfeit by spiritual fruit (Matthew 7). Jesus taught that someone that does not produce Christlike fruit is not a Christian! Spiritual fruit is produced over time as the Word of God is learned, applied, and internalized by those that have been redeemed. This reality is what separates the Pharisee from the mature Christian. Both have knowledge of the Word of God, but the mature Christian has internalized it and begun to produce the fruit of a Christlike character: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5.22-23). These character qualities are not the only ones mentioned as spiritual fruit in the New Testament, but they definitely give us a head start in developing an understanding of what fruit looks like. If we were going to try to visualize what the process looks like, we can imagine an equation:

Knowledge of God's Word + Internalization + Obedience + Time and Trials = Spiritual Maturity (The production of spiritual fruit).

Now I know the equation is not perfect, but it does provide a little help for someone that may not have considered previously the question of spiritual maturity and growth. One last note, although we are required to study and obey and to place ourselves in a position to grow spiritually, ultimately spiritual growth is grace gift from God. We will not all grow at the same rate or in the same way. God is sovereign and He will graciously decide how He will bless in accordance with our obedience to His commands.

What do you think? Have I missed anything? I have tried to keep the post short, so I could not go into as much depth as I would have liked. Has this post raised any questions you would like answered? Feel free to ask. I look forward to the discussion.


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

No Child of God Left Behind

You are probably familiar with the education initiative that President Bush helped enact for public schools: No Child Left Behind. The premise of the initiative was that too many children were falling through the cracks of our schools and were not being prepared to contribute to life in American society. Whether or not the program is working is a topic for another post. Bush's assessment of the state of public education was correct.
In my small group this past week, we studied a passage of Scripture that reminded me of the sad state of affairs in many Southern Baptist Churches, the first chapter of Paul's letter to the Colossian Church. Paul wrote in Colossians 1.25-29:

I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you
the word of God in its fullness--the mystery that has been kept hidden for
ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God
has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this
mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim him,
admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present
everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his
energy, which so powerfully works in me.
Paul's goal for the Colossian church was to admonish and to teach the whole counsel of God so that everyone would be presented perfect (spiritually mature) in Christ. In other words, Paul was adamant that no one would be left behind in his effort to disciple the Christians in this church. By implication (from this text and a host of others) we can conclude that God desires every Christian in every church to grow into spiritual maturity. At a time when approximately 50% of Southern Baptists do not even attend corporate worship on a weekly basis (the numbers don't lie - attendance in worship is usually around half the total membership on any given Sunday across our convention), it is obvious that we are a long way from accomplishing the goal Paul elucidated in this passage of Scripture.

If that is God's desire that every Christian should grow in to spiritual maturity, then it should be the desire of every church. That includes CrossRoad Church. That is why CrossRoad Church took the radical step of requiring every member to participate in a discipleship program when we launched as a church in September of 2005. We want every member to grow into spiritually strong, mature disciples of Jesus Christ. Spiritual growth does not happen by osmosis. It happens as the Spirit works through the Word of God when it is preached, taught, studied, and applied. You will not grow if you are not studying the Word of God, hence the requirement for membership. We want all of our members to be growing Christians.

I have counseled a few prospective members that initially were a little intimidated by CrossRoad's membership expectations. "Aren't your requirements a bit extreme?" We don't think they are. First, we do not have a Sunday evening corporate gathering, because we do not want to overwhelm our members with "meetings." Second, what is extreme about expecting all of our members to grow in Christ's likeness? If you do not want to grow, our church probably is not the best fit for you. "What if I don't have time to participate in a discipleship program?" If you do not have time to grow in Christ, practice the spiritual disciplines, and meet with your brothers and sisters in Christ then you are too busy. We understand, however, that sometimes our schedules providentially hinder us from participating in the discipleship programs of the church. That is why all of our pastors are available for one-on-one discipleship. If you cannot attend at one of the set times we have established, we will rearrange our schedule to fit yours! "Can't I grow sufficiently in your corporate worship service?" That is a great question. As much as I would like to think that my preaching satisfies all of your spiritual needs each Sunday morning, I know that that is not the case. We all need to participate in a small group environment in which we will be able to ask questions about specific issues. Those opportunities just are not provided in a large group setting such as corporate worship. Additionally, you will never get to know your fellow church members well enough to encourage them and receive encouragement from them if your only exposure to the church is on Sunday mornings.

So now you know one of the reasons why CrossRoad Church approaches membership the way it does. Our goal is "No Child of God Left Behind."

What do you think? Did I miss something? Still disagree with our approach? We have several members that have been involved in discipleship groups for close to a year now. We would love to hear what YOU think about our efforts to help you grow in Christ's likeness. I look forward to the discussion.


Friday, June 02, 2006

A Word About Gossip, Part II

Last week, I posted a brief article about gossip with the intent of providing a definition for our readers/church members that would help them distinguish between what is acceptable in our speech/actions and what is unacceptable. In that article I promised to provide some biblical guidance about wholesome speech. Although this list is by no means exhaustive, I hope it proves helpful.

Characteristics of Godly Speech

Godly speech should be truthful. Ephesians 4:25 reminds us that we are to "put off falsehood and speak truthfully to [our] neighbor, for we are all members of one body." To save space, I contemplated leaving this first characteristic off the list. Afterall, we all know that God expects us to speak the truth don't we? Yes, truthfulness would seem to be an obvious choice, but given the age of relativistic morality in which we live, it helps to have a reminder of the importance of truth. Godly speech does not lie - either about someone or to someone.

Godly speech should be loving. Scripture not only compels us to speak the truth, but to speak to the truth in love (Eh 4.15). Truth by itself can be caustic. It must be tempered with love. For example, we have experience times in church life when a well-meaning but misguided young Christian embarked on a ministry assignment in a less than ideal manner (think of a new Christian woman working as a greeter that has dressed inappropriately). There are three ways to handle that situation. We can ignore it and say nothing. This response actually fails the young Christian because it is a failure to disciple the person and teach all that Jesus commanded. Second, we could walk right up and address the issue in a cold, heartless manner. This would qualify as speaking the truth, but it would be done in a way that would probably create discouragement and hesitancy in future ministry. That would be the truth without love. The third response, would be to gently sit that person down, away from the situation, and lovingly explain what was wrong and how they might do it right in the future.

Godly speech should be edifying. I have already alluded to this point in the previous paragraph, but it deserves additional focus. Paul's letter to the Ephesians provides additional guidance on this topic. In 4.29, Paul wrote, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." Later he would say, "Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving (5.4)" The point is clear. Godly speech builds others up; it edifies. If you are concerned about whether or not something qualifies as gossip or godly speech, just ask whether or not you think it will build someone else up in the Lord.

Godly speech should be encouraging. Encouragement should actually be a goal of our speech! It is one of the primary reasons I established this blog. I wanted to encourage our members as they continued to grow in their understanding of what it means to be an authentic family of faith! In Hebrews 10, the author of that text commands his readers to "consider how [they] may spur one another on toward love and good deeds," and again says "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-- and all the more as you see the Day approaching." Encouragement and edification are related, but they are not the same. It is possible to edify someone by teaching them what is correct or appropriate, but to do so in a way that does not inspire them to greater service in the church. Scripture actually compels us to encourage one another to love and good deeds.

So when we are faced with a question of whether or not my speech is appropriate, I have to ask myself, "Will this encourage the person I am speaking with to greater use of their giftedness in the kingdom?" Don't misunderstand me here, this last characteristic does not mean we should all turn into Christian versions of Stuart Smalley: "I'm OK, you're OK, and doggone it, people like us!" It does mean, however, that we keep our goal in mind when we speak. Even a rebuke for a public sin should be given with the intent of drawing (and encouraging) that person to forsake their sin and return to the fold of God's fellowship from which he or she has strayed. The goal is to produce repentance, reconciliation, and eventual restoration, not to publicly lambaste them and make them think God or the church will not have them back.

Well there you have it. Four short guidelines for godly speech. What do you think? Did I miss something? Was there a stronger passage of Scripture I could of included?

I look forward to joining you in the discussion.


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Does the Whole World Need to Know?

The comment was too good to remain buried at the bottom of the blog. In reference to an earlier post, which detailed our church's efforts to help a member in need, someone asked:
Shouldn't good deeds be left unspoken? Is it right to help someone and then talk about it? Don't get me wrong it sounds like you all really helped out somoene, but does the whole world need to know.
That is a good question. In fact it is one that produced quite a bit of debate amongst some attenders of CrossRoad Church prior to our launch. "Should we let the world see what we are doing or should we keep it on the down low?" The answer depends guessed it...your motives.
When we were preparing to launch our church, we had a few vocal attenders that thought it was wrong to take up a public offering because others could see who was giving to the church. The discussion then turned to Matthew 6.1-4, where Jesus said

1 Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Taking that verse to the extreme, some concluded that any "visible acts" of righteousness should be avoided (thus the disdain for a public offering. This conclusion raises a question, "Was Jesus' intent in this statement to ban all public acts of service or celebration of said facts? Given the context of the Sermon on the Mount as a whole, I would say no.

Consider the Words of Christ in in Matthew chapter 5:

14 You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on
its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let
your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your
Father in heaven.

Given these words "that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven," it is impossible to conclude that Jesus wanted us to keep all good acts a secret. The bigger issue being addressed is hypocrisy.

So in response to our good friend that left the earlier comment, the answer in this case is yes, the whole world does need to know. They need to know that God is good. They need to know that His Spirit has brought a group of unrelated people together in redemption and created a bond so tight that we will do whatever it takes to help each other bear their burdens in this life. The world needs to know see tangible evidence of God's love, compassion, and even providence toward his children. By celebrating what God has done to provide a repaired vehicle for our family in Christ we are hoping to do just that. We are not proud of what we have done (which would be hypocrisy and violate Matthew 6.1-4); we are proud of what God has done.

Thanks for a GREAT question. I look forward to hearing from you again.


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A Word About Gossip, Part I

Last week I provided a post that dealt with the issue of conflict resolution. In my article, I cautioned everyone to avoid gossip. Gossip does not resolve issues; it only makes them worse. As Proverbs 26:20 teaches us, "Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down."

In response to my comments about avoiding gossip (both here and elsewhere), I have been asked to define gossip. After all, it is difficult to avoid a particular behavior if you can't define it. I threw together some random thoughts this morning for you to review. I would eventually like to publish this as an article somewhere, so if you feel that I have left anything out, please let me know.


A Word About Gossip
Few attacks of the enemy are as destructive in the life of the church as the presence of unmitigated gossip. It is a poison that defiles, weakens, and divides the church. Because gossip is such a threat to ALL churches, we must be prepared to defend our family of faith from its negative consequences. I will approach this task in two installments. First, I will help you learn to identify gossip. Second, I will provide biblical guidance about wholesome speech.
A biblical definition of gossip reveals several different aspects of our speech that must be considered.

First and foremost, gossip is malicious speech, intended to spread vitriol about someone else. In Ephesians 4.31, the Apostle Paul commands the church to "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice." These are behaviors that are unacceptable for someone that has been redeemed by Jesus Christ. Again in Hebrews 12:15, we are commanded to "See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many." Christians are commanded to keep their motives in check and to protect the church from themselves when they are angry. A question you can ask yourself if you are unsure if speech qualifies as gossip is this, "What is my motive for sharing this information or concern about someone else?" If your motive is hurtful, spiteful, or intended to express frustration with someone else, you are better off keeping it to yourself.

Second, gossip violates a confidence. In Proverbs 11:13, we learn that "A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret." This truth is affirmed by Proverbs 20.19 as well, "A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much." The point is clear. We should avoid speech that shares information we are not permitted to share. The second question to ask is, "Do I have permission to share this information about someone else?" In order to keep confidences we must be careful to avoid the ubiquitous "prayer request" which is really a guise to pass along "juicy" information. If you need to pass along a prayer request that includes information that is either sensitive or privileged, leave the person's name out of it. If you feel the need to give guidance on how to pray, leave the details vague enough that your prayer partners don't know who you are talking about. God is omniscient. He will know the name and details of the prayer request as it is offered without being told.

Third, gossip creates division in the church. Proverbs 16:28 teaches us that "A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends." Later in the same book, Solomon reminds the reader that "A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much (20.19)." Not only are we commanded to avoid divisive speech, we are commanded to avoid those who partake in it as well. The reason to avoid the man who talks too much is that he can have an adverse affect on how we a particular situation or person. A final question to ask when you want to know whether or not your conversation qualifies as gossip is "Does this conversation create unity in my church or will it lead to division?" As a church, we must work to protect the unity of our fellowship at all times.

It is important to remember that the proverbs are divinely inspired general principles, nt absolute universal laws. In other words, there may be situations when they do not apply. For example, if a friend mentions that they are contemplating suicide, it would be acceptable to violate that confidence for the sake of intervention. In this case your concern for and value of human life would trump the need to keep the information confidential. Basically, the issue of motive would outweigh need for confidence.

I haven't touched on every issue, but I think this provides a start for the discussion. What do you think? Have I left anything out? Is there a hypothetical situation you would like me to address? Are there verses on which you would like me to comment?

I look forward to hearing from you soon,


Monday, May 22, 2006

Reflections on a Great Weekend

This past weekend was such a blessing to me personally. We had our second annual CrossRoad Crawfish Boil (with over 75 in attendance), we had a great worship service Sunday morning (in spite of the technical difficulties), and we were pirviliged to baptize two folks into the fellowship of our local church. What a great weekend!

The Crawfish Boil
Yes, that is my son in the picture above. It is hard to believe that God can use these little critters (crawfish - not kids) to produce fellowship among the saints such as we experienced Saturday afternoon. But fellowship is what we had. I received and cherished the opportunity to learn more about my brothers and sisters in Christ, I got to meet some of your friends and family who were visiting from out of town, and I got to feast on crawfish cooked perfectly by Stephen Lukinovich. A special word of thanks to Stephen who footed the bill to ship sixty pounds of live crawfish up from Louisiana for our special event. We had twice as many folks as last year. I look forward to reaching out to even more next year.

The Gathering
For those of you unfamiliar with CrossRoad's terminology, "The Gathering" is what we call our corporate worship service. It is a time when the saints gather to worship our creator as a body of believers. This Sunday was just a great day in the Lord. The hymns chosen by Todd Weedman taught us great theology and led us to reflect upon the majesty and holiness of God. We had a wonderful opportunity to pray for the Meldrums. We also had more first time guests join us than we have had on a single day since our launch back in September. I appreciate the way our members are striving to live missional lives and reach out to our community. Don't forget our media ministry. If you cannot get someone to join you for a worship service, perhaps you can get them to listen to a particular message on CD as they drive to work. Good job folks, Let's continue to reach out to our community with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

One of the greatest blessings of being a pastor is having the privilige to baptize new believers in Jesus Christ. The event itself is a testimony to God's work of redeeming lost sinners and provides a beautful picture of the gift of grace wrought in the life of the new believer. Sunday, as we baptized Maryn and David, I was reminded of the command to make disciples. Baptism is but a small portion of the Great Commission. Our work was not completed in their lives because we baptized them into membership in our church. Our work is just beginning. We now have an obligation to teach all that Christ commanded (that is discipleship in a nutshell, see Matthew 28.18-20).
David Breeden gets baptized...

Maryn Meldrum gets baptized...

The contrast in situations with each of these baptisms should serve as a reminder to approach children's baptisms with great care. David, who has been saved for over ten years, was baptized yesterday because over the course of the past few weeks he had come to the conclusion that he was "baptized" as an unbeliever when he was a child. Baptism is an ordinance of the church and is for believers only. If we baptize children that do not understand the gospel and have not responded savingly to the gospel, we risk giving them a false sense of security with regard to eternal life. Maryn is an example of a child that both understands and has responded to the gospel. The need to be careful does not mean that we should not baptize children or receive them into membership. We just need to proceed with caution.

I look forward to your comments or testimonies about baptism, fellowship, or how this past weekend was a blessing to you.
Yours in Christ,

Friday, May 19, 2006

Reflections on a Week as a Single Parent

My wife has been gone on a business trip since Monday. As I sit here waiting on her flight home (which has been delayed - again), I must say that I now have a greater understanding of the destructive consequences divorce has in the home. For the past week I have been a single father with two lovely children. As far as kids go, mine are fairly tame and follow parental guidance well. In spite of their (mostly) good behavior, this week has been a nightmare. There just is not enough time in the day to do all that needs to be done raising a family if you are on your own.

I have somehow managed to get through this week. I got the kids to school on time (well at least I did twice). I fed them high quality breakfasts of pop-tarts and diet coke in the car on the way to school (late). I made sure they got their homework done, prayed with them, played with them, and genuinely let them know how much our home suffered without their mama. I managed to accomplish all of this because my job as a pastor allows me certain perks (like studying for sermons at 2:00 a.m.). I have no idea how single parents with inflexible schedules managed to get it done. My guess is that many of them manage to get by, but that's about it. If this week has served any purpose in my life, it has been used by God to reaffirm the importance of healthy, two-parent homes in developing godly children. God just did not intend for us to do it by ourselves. I know. I know. We can all point to examples of single parents that have gotten it done on their own. They are the exception. Even if it is possible to raise healthy children in single parent homes (I will be the first to admit that I am not Mr. Mom and so my view is skewed), that approach is less than ideal. There is a reason Scripture includes numerous admonitions to both husbands and wives to be involved in the rearing of godly children: it is a two person job.

In light of this awakening, I am as committed as ever to including the following elements in the ministry of CrossRoad Church.

1) We must reach out to single parents and their children in an effort to show the compassion of Jesus Christ and help strengthen their homes. Children in single parent homes do not get to see healthy interaction between husbands and wives which helps build a foundation for stable homes in the future. Girls may not have female role models from which to learn. Boys may not have (healthy) male role models from which to learn. Kids that grow up in this environment basically start out life with several strikes against them. Healthy families must build strong relationships with these broken families that allows for encouragement, mentoring, and support.

2) We must teach frequently on marriage and relationships in our church. Older couples with healthy marriages must mentor younger couples and newly weds. Younger couples and newly weds must be willing to learn. We must refuse to marry couples in our church unless they submit to pre-marital counseling and that counseling should be geared to actually equip them to live in a marriage that brings glory and honor to God.

3) We must stand with couples when their marriages are in trouble, remind them that God hates divorce, and provide godly counseling and support to help them stay together.

4) We must encourage the men in our church to be men. Many marriages fall apart today because the "man" of the house is just another child that the mom needs to care for. A healthy home needs more than an adolescent in adult's clothing with a decent paying job. The lead characters from "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "According to Jim" may be humorous to watch on television, but they aren't integral parts of strong marriages in real life. Our wives need godly, responsible men that take the biblical admonitions to care for their wives and raise their children in the Lord seriously.

What do you think? Have I missed anything?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Where was the Church?

"Where was God when...?" The words never fail to sting when I hear them. I usually encounter this phrase in my efforts to reach out to discouraged or disgruntled "formerly churched" individuals. The only aspect of these encounters that amazes me anymore is the frequency with which I am confronted by this claim that "God wasn't there for me when I needed Him." The line of reasoning employed by many that make this claim is fairly easy to follow. At some point in their past, they encountered a difficult situation in life (loss of a loved one, loss of a job, destruction of a marriage, etc.). During this difficulty, events were not resolved to their liking or in their timing, so they concluded that God was not there. If that is not the case the feelings of depression, loneliness, or anxiety were often enough to disillusion them with regard to God's goodness, providence, or presence.

My initial reaction in these types of situations used to be to immediately come to God's defense and remind the individual(s) of His sovereignty and purpose over and through trials in life (James 1.2-4, Romans 8.28ff). The longer I have been in ministry however, the more I have come to realize that this all to common reaction is more than just the expression of frustrated and immature Christian (as true as that may be). I have also come to view these cases and claims as an indictment of the local church. The more I minister to the "formerly churched" and listen to their stories of despair and confusion, the more my heart cries out, "Where was the church?"

Now, before we go any further, let me say that most of the time the claim that "God wasn't there," is rooted in an inadequate understanding of who God is and how He works. For some reason many in the world today have developed a view of God that has reduced Him to favorite neighbor status on Halloween night. You remember the favorite neighbor don't you? They were the family down the street that always had the best candy and gave it away in liberal amounts. All you had to do was don your mask, knock on the door, hold your bag out, and get lots of goodies. Regardless of what TBN's preacher of the week claims, God doesn't work that way! When life gets tough, you can't just throw on your "Christian mask," knock on God's door in prayer, and expect "goodies." We'll save the remainder of the discussion about God's character for the future, but let me remind you that James clearly teaches that for a trial to accomplish the purpose of producing godly character and maturity, we must persevere through that trial.

In spite of numerous commands in Scripture to persevere, we must not forget that one of the means God has given to help us persevere is the local church. Scripture teaches that God will not place more temptation on us that we can bear. Scripture, however, does not call on us to bear this temptation on our own. Rather, the explicit teaching of Scripture is that we are to lean on one another as we journey together to grow in Christ's likeness. Examples of this teaching occur in Galatians 6.1-10, 1 Thess. 4.18, 5.11, 5.14, Hebrews 3.13, and Hebrews 10.25. Other examples can be seen in Paul's repeated sending of teachers to specific churches for the express purpose of encouraging them to persevere in their work of the gospel (Ephesians 6.22; Colossians 4.8; 1 Thessalonians 3.2).

In Galatians 6.1-10, the Apostle Paul provided the church with clear guidelines for "Life Together" (the title of an excellent book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer). In this brief passage, we learn several important truths that should promote and protect the health of the church. First, we learn that we have a responsibility as Christians to mend relationships in the church that have been fractured by sin (6.1). Using the language of a doctor setting a broken bone, Paul commands the church to restore wayward members. This task is accomplished through gentle and loving confrontation of sin (and as we learn elsewhere in Scripture repentance on the part of the sinning person). Everytime we encounter someone that has fallen away from the church and claims that God wasn't there for them, we should ask ourselves, "Where was the church?" If sin had so skewed their view of the church and the world that they walked away from God's people, why weren't God's people there to stand in the gap?

The second truth we learn in this passage is that we have a responsibility to bear one another's burdens (6.2). When life overwhelms us, we should be able to rely on the strength of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Life Together should be a life that is shared. It is the life described in Acts 2 where the early church sold possessions in order to give to those who had need. When life so overwhelms someone that that they begin to falter under the weight of their burden, we as brothers and sisters in Christ should be there to help shoulder the load. There should never be a situation in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ when someone loses a loved one, loses a job, sees their marriage begin to crumble, or is diagnosed with cancer and begins to question whether or not God is there because they are by themselves in the midst of that trial. They should see His presence everywhere they turn as the body of Christ begins to rally around them in support and encouragement. Again, when we encounter someone that has obviously quit following Christ because they quit fighting the good fight, we should ask ourselves, "Where was the church?"

The third truth we learn from this passage is that we have a responsibility to carry our own load (6.5). The word for load here is different than in verse two and contextually can be interpreted to understand that it refers to every Christian's responsibility to grow in Christ. This load is similar to the pack that a soldier would carry on a journey. It may be difficult to carry, but with the grace of God it is a manageable load. Whenever I encounter someone with a faulty view of God's providence who has decided to lay down their cross rather than bear it, I still ask "Where was the church?" Were they equipped with a biblical worldview and the means/knowledge to employ the spiritual disciplines so that they would persevere through difficulty? Did the church do its job of "teaching all that [Jesus] has commanded" in discipling new Christians? If trials produce not only godly character, but perseverance itself (James 1.2-4) then we must be careful to walk with new Christians because they have neither.

The fourth and final truth we glean from this text today is seen in verses seven through ten.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction;
the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

You reap what you sow
. Many Christians know this text but they strip it from its context. For proper application of this final truth, you have to remember what Paul has said in verses one through six. Churches reap destruction when they fail to restore broken relationships and bear burdens (their own and others'). This work is hard work. That is why Paul admonishes the Galatian church not to become weary in doing good - especially to the family of believers.

"Life Together," it is a beautiful sight to behold. Over the past few weeks our church has had numerous opportunities to share the load of our brothers and sisters. A member is diagnosed with breast cancer and the women's ministry commits to fast and pray frequently for healing and spiritual growth through the trial, to help with the housework until treatment is over, and to provide meals and childcare whenever needed.

This past week, as a church, we were able to help a family that has experienced a number of financial difficulties over the past few years as they have pursued the ministry to which God has called them. Two years ago a vehicle that had purchased in 2002 developed severe engine problems and quit running. For a reasons we won't go into, the warranty would not cover the engine. Regardless of the reason why they couldn't get the vehicle fixed, there it sat in the parking lot of the service department for over two years, useless. They honored their promise to pay on the note for the car and as a result were forced to make do. Over the past month, members of CrossRoad Church, recognizing a need (a burden), rose up and sought to help shoulder the load of this couple that is new to our church but already dear to our hearts. A mechanic in our fellowship mentioned that if we could get an engine, he would install it free of charge. Behind the scenes, members began to collect the money to purchase the engine. Our mechanic (with permission of the dealership) "kidnapped" the vehicle, towed it to his shop, and installed the engine. We presented the vehicle to our family in Christ this past Wednesday evening (hence the picture of the Jeep Liberty at the top of the blog). They were speechless. They had no idea we had set out to help. As the husband sat there in shock, the wife (who was weeping) simply said "God is good."

He is good. And He is there, in the midst of their trial (and the cancer patient's trial), through the action (and even confrontation) of the church. In the past few weeks, as I have shared with friends about the blessings of belonging to CrossRoad Church, many (both members and nonmembers) have said, "I have never been a part of a church like that." What a shame. As I read the New Testament, it seems that it if we were more diligent in applying Scripture, we would all belong to churches like this one. CrossRoad Church has a long road ahead as we seek to become the local church God wants us to be. We are in our infancy as a local body of believers, but I praise the Lord that he has surrounded me with brothers and sisters in Christ who are committed to sharing their lives and pushing me to be all that I can be in Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria,