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!