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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Mentoring Takes Time

I mentioned this in my sermon this past Sunday (podcast here), but as I look back on my life, I realize that despite being active in church and Sunday School my entire life, it was really only during those periods of my life where I had a real, spiritual mentor that I experienced consistent, steady spiritual growth.  In my sermon, I mentioned three people that had a significant impact in my life – two youth pastors (Taylor and Randy) and then the man I still to this day consider my spiritual mentor, Bob.

As I reminisce about that, I also realize the great sacrifices each of those men made in order to invest in my life.  Mentoring takes time, and I was blessed to have men who were so willing to take the time to be with me – not just in a Sunday School class or youth group setting, but to go above and beyond the “traditional” call of duty.  

For Taylor (and his wife Debbie), the thing that made such a big difference was the Monday night Bible Studies.  This was my first exposure to “church outside of church.”  Every Monday night, we met at Taylor and Debbie’s house for Bible Study PLUS… and it was the PLUS that made all the difference.  We played games, had snacks, talked, laughed, you name it.  PLUS, he was always available when we had questions.  We knew we could go to him with whatever we needed.  Taylor and Debbie created an atmosphere in which we wanted to be there and we wanted to study God’s word.  The PLUS encouraged an openness to spiritual truths.  That takes commitment.

For Randy, the thing that made such a big difference was his personal investment in me (and others) as individuals.  Again, it was about so much more than just normal, traditional, youth group stuff.  He was active with and encouraged our participation in International Bible Quizzing – from which I probably learned more about God’s word in two years than I had in the 17 years before.  He cared about us as persons and spent time with us outside of church on a regular basis.  The old Hispanic saying, “mi casa is su casa,” is pretty much how he lived his life. I rarely remember him saying know to the question  "Hey Randy, can we come over?"  We spent countless Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights in his small, one bedroom apartment just hanging out and eating nachos and pizza.  The only way he could do that would be if he really, genuinely cared – which I know he did.  God only knows the number and depth of ad hoc spiritual conversations that took place as a result of his availability and willingness to be a part of our lives.

Then there is Bob.  Bob is the kind of guy that is just simply genuine.  In fact I originally did not like Bob so much because I was just skeptical that anyone could be that genuine.  I thought for sure it was all a fa├žade.  But I was wrong.  Although I had known Bob for a number of years, I really did not get to know Bob very well until we spent time together on a mission trip in 2005.  We spent a good deal of time together on that trip – and since.  It was Bob (on that mission trip, in fact) who first encouraged me to consider going to seminary – and when I did go to seminary in 2007 he taught several of my classes the first year.   Bob and I have talked fairly regularly about lots of things since then and he has been a regular presence in my life.  We have gone on a number of mission trips together and have even done ministry together at a local women's shelter.  I have taken bible study classes from him – and he has taken bible study classes from me.  He has always been a great encourager and was always available if I needed time to talk.  Even now, I know that all I have to do is give him a call and he will make time for me.  There is no question in my mind that he is supportive of my ministry and cares for me as a person.

My point in telling these stories is this… to grow spiritually, you will obviously have to be in God’s word, exercise the disciplines, etc.  However, if you REALLY want to grow spiritually, then you need to find someone who can help you through that – someone who can be a spiritual mentor to you.  Unfortunately, that takes time and commitment.  Blessed are those who find someone.  Certainly, there have been long periods of time in my life when such a person was not really available to me.  From around 1985 until after the turn of the century, I cannot say I had anyone in my life that comes close to the kind of spiritual mentor that these guys have been in my life.  Maybe that was my fault.  Maybe I just wasn't looking close enough.  But the difference in my spiritual growth - or rather lack thereof - during that period is unmistakable.  Church? Yes. Sunday School. Yes.  Growth.  Minimal.  Maybe even backwards.

I think the message for all of us here is fairly clear.  If we want those around us to grow spiritually, then we must be willing to be a spiritual mentor.  We must be willing to sacrifice and make the younger disciples a part of our lives.  We must be willing to give our time.  And we must be willing to take a risk.  Investing in someone else’s life is messy and the outcome can be a wild roller coaster ride, but that is what it will take to really disciple the younger generation.  Actually, that is what it will take to really disciple anyone – regardless of his or her age.  And after all, isn’t it worth it?  Isn’t that what it is really all about?  Making disciples for Jesus Christ.

Thank you, Taylor.
Thank you, Randy.
Thank you, Bob.

Thank you, Jesus, for sending such men into my life.

Help me to be a mentor to others.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Personal Discipleship - Guest Blogger Nathan Brown

For this week's blog, I have invited a friend of mine to be a guest blogger.  Nathan Brown is a co-worker of mine and is the Discipleship Coordinator for the Bible Methodist Connection of Churches.  Nathan developed the circles of discipleship graphic that I shared with you in church this past Sunday.  He also has a very good discipleship website: www.disciplingnewconverts.org.   In his article below, Nathan shares his thoughts about what personal discipleship looks like.

What is a Disciple?

A disciple is anyone who desires to learn from and follow after someone else. For Christians, that ‘someone else’ is Jesus Christ. He is our master, and our goal as His disciples is to learn His teachings, model His way of living, adopt His values, embrace His beliefs, and become like Him in our actions, attitudes, and words. The master-disciple relationship may sound a little strange to us today. Perhaps the best modern equivalent we can relate to and understand is the coach-player relationship. When you join a sports team, you become a 'disciple' of your coach. You place yourself under his authority and agree to do whatever he tells you. Your goal is to learn to think about the game like your coach—to model his attitudes and actions, and follow his direction. You are subject to his correction and discipline, and you work hard to earn his praise and respect. Being a member of a professional sports team is not a part-time endeavor. It affects every area of your life. It's the same way with being a disciple of Jesus. It's a life-long commitment that will require you to give 100% in order to be successful.

Personal Discipleship: What does a disciple do?

We sometimes forget that the ones who are going and making disciples are themselves disciples. This means that we must make personal discipleship a part of our daily lives. We must:

·         Take time. When we got saved, we began a relationship with Jesus Christ. As we all know, relationships take time. If we don't schedule time for personal discipleship, it won't happen. Jesus left us an example: He regularly left His disciples, went off by Himself, and spent time alone with God (Luke 5:16). We need to do the same. Find a place where you can be alone, and eliminate as many distractions as possible. Quiet yourself, clear your mind, and push the cares and responsibilities of the day to the side.

·         Listen to God. I use the phrase ‘listen to God’ because I want to emphasize that when we read the Bible, God is speaking directly to us. Most people think of reading as a solitary activity, but when we read Scripture, we have just entered into a conversation with our Heavenly Father!

    • How much of what God has said should we be interested in hearing? All of it! We need to have our minds regularly exposed to the entirety of God’s word. Here are several reasons why:
      •  Familiarization—getting to know the Bible. God’s people ought to have a basic knowledge of His Word. If we aren’t familiar with the entirety of Scripture, we will inevitably overlook something God wants us to know (e.g., the feast of booths in Nehemiah 8:13–14).
      • Veneration—giving God the profound respect He deserves. When we read the entire Bible, we show God that we honor everything He said, not just those parts we feel are particularly relevant or applicable to us. When Ezra read the law to the remnant in Jerusalem (Neh 9:3), they stood up for “a fourth part of the day.” Why? They were showing God how much they respected Him and His Word.
      • Manifestation—learning to accept and appreciate the multi-faceted character of God that is manifested in His Word. If we don’t regularly fill our minds with everything God has revealed about Himself, our understanding of Him will inevitably become unbalanced. For example, if we only spend time reading about God’s love, we will be horrified when God tells us how He killed Uzzah for touching the ark (2 Sam 6:1–7). If we only spend time reading about God’s wrath and judgment on sin, we will be astounded when God tells us how He restored Manasseh to the throne after he repented (2 Chr 33).
      • Orientation—knowing where things are with respect to other things. Think about geography—if you know the seven continents and where they are on the globe, then you can quickly find the area you are looking for. When we read the Bible all the way through, we gain a bird’s-eye view of Scripture that allows us to quickly locate various sections of interest. For example, we need to know where in our Bible to go to find: (a) what happened after the exile, (b) the history of the early church, (c) the law, etc.
      •  Connection—seeing the connections that exist between the various parts of Scripture. Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 is a good example of this—he starts out with Abraham and ends with the people who crucified Jesus, and he has it all connected. The Bible is like a tree—it is a growing revelation that starts with the roots in Genesis and ends with the fullness of the Son’s revelation in the NT.
    • In what order should I read the books of the Bible? I suggest that reading the Bible in chronological order is an excellent way to maximize your learning experience:
      •  Flow—Reading the Bible in chronological order gives us a better sense of the overall flow of biblical history from beginning to end. When we read chronologically, we are carried along by the unfolding story of redemption, and we gain insight into how God was working through history to bring about the salvation of men and the establishment of the Kingdom of His Son, Jesus Christ.
      • Context—Reading the Bible in chronological order helps us put each passage of scripture in its proper historic context. For example, the first sermon in the book of Haggai (Hag 1:1–13) should be read against the backdrop of the construction of the temple as recorded in Ezra 4–5 (construction started in 536 BC but it stopped after opposition by local enemies, and was not restarted until the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah in the late summer and fall of 520 BC). Also, David’s psalm of praise to God (Ps 34) is connected to the story of his escape from the Philistines in Gath where he pretended to be insane (1 Sam 21).
    •  How can I read the Bible in chronological order?
      •  I've personally tried several different chronological reading plans. I wasn’t satisfied with any of them, so I decided to create my own. You can use it by clicking the Bible menu on the website. The plan is designed to take you through the Bible in a year, and you can read the Bible in several different versions (e.g., NASB, KJV, LEB, and NET). If you enjoy listening to the Bible, you can have it read to you in the English Standard Version, courtesy of esvbible.org. The availability of this plan on the internet facilitates groups of people reading the same passage of Scripture each day.

·         Talk to God. When you're done reading God's Word, remind yourself that God has just spoken directly to you. The only polite thing to do is to respond. If a friend spent ten minutes talking to you, and then you replied on a different topic, completely ignoring what they just said, how would they feel? Yet that is often how we interact with God. We need to process what God just said to us, and then respond to Him in prayer.

·         Be accountable. Find a fellow Christian to whom you can be accountable. Humble yourself and confess your faults to them (Prov 28:13; Jam 5:16). Ask them to enter into a commitment of accountability with you. We are not meant to live the Christian life apart from the help and encouragement of the church. That is why accountability to other believers is so important (cf. Heb 3:12–14; 10:23–25; 1 Thess 5:11; Gal 6:1–2).



I'd like to know your thoughts about what Nathan has to say, so comments are welcome.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Paper Clothes

The other day I was driving home from work, and as I stopped at a red light downtown I saw a really strange site.  A man was walking across the crosswalk.  In the big city (well, in a city like Birmingham anyway), that is not an unusual site.  What made it strange and unusual, however, were his demeanor and his clothes – yes, his clothes.   His demeanor was that of a broken down, oppressed homeless person, walking with a bit of a shuffle as if he were struggling with some physical illness or weakness.  That can be unusual in and of itself, but what made it really strange were his paper clothes.  That’s right, his clothes were paper!  They were the kind of paper clothes you might see in a hospital or doctor’s office – and were blue like that as well.  The thing is, where we were – near the downtown museum and county jail – there are no doctor’s offices and the closest hospital is UAB on Southside.  Had this been on Southside near UAB, I probably would not even have thought twice about it, but here… it was out of place.

As we shuffled across the street in front of my car, he never looked up, but rather just kept shuffling and disappeared down the cross street.  Everything inside of me (at first) wanted to roll down the window and shout “Dude, what’s up with the paper clothes?”  After all, paper clothes?  They are fragile.  A good stout wind and you are likely to be walking around naked.  Let’s not even think about what will happen if it rains.  However, as I thought it over, I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps something was really wrong – that perhaps he needed assistance.  What if those were the only clothes he had?  What if he was a patient somewhere and, because of confusion or some other mental condition, simply wandered out of the hospital? 

About that time, the light changed to green.  I was in the center lane of traffic and (if I were to justify myself) had no other choice but to drive on.  In other words, I was not the Good Samaritan that day.

Since that day, I can’t seem to get that poor guy and his paper clothes out of my mind.  I can easily justify having not taken any action; but like the teacher of the law the day Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, our responsibility is not to justify ourselves, but to go out and do likewise – that is, be a neighbor.   I’m not really sure what I could have done for the paper clothes guy, but I have had to repent of the fact that, rather than trying to figure out if I could do something, I justified myself.  It would have been an inconvenience; it might have even been risky; but it still would have been the “neighbor” thing to do.

Being a good neighbor to the strangest of strangers can be all of those things – inconvenient, risky, and possibly even dangerous – but that is our calling as Christians.  Allow me to give you another example – one in which I did not justify myself, but rather passed the test.

The other day – about a week or so before I saw the paper clothes guy – I received a phone call.  The man claimed to be someone who visited our church back on Easter; and frankly, I only have a vague, back of my mind, shadowy memory of the guy.  He needed to talk because (allegedly) his mother in Florida had been killed by a drunk driver and he was having difficulty dealing with that.  This is understandable as such a tragedy can have a profoundly negative impact on one’s faith.  After counseling with him over the phone for well over half an hour, the shoe finally dropped.  The man was looking for money.  (Allegedly) He and his family were trapped in a small town in Florida after, on their way home, their vehicle threw a rod.  He had enough money to buy a bus ticket for himself and his wife, but not enough for his two little girls. 

Normally, if you contact our church in need of money, we are probably going to refer you to our benevolence ministry partner, Serving You (www.servingyou.org) – unless of course it is an emergency.  Because we are to be good stewards of the resources God has given us, we partner with Serving You because they have the infrastructure in place not only to vet the legitimacy of a person claiming to need help, but the ongoing programs and counseling to help get the person solidly on their feet again.  This way, we are not just giving a handout, but rather are giving a helping hand.  Of course, if it is an emergency, that is a different story – and of course this was going to be an emergency.  The gentlemen needed the money THAT day because the bus only ran through that small town every other day.  If they missed the bus that afternoon, it would be two days before they could catch the next one (which, of course, means more hotel and food expenses as well).  He, too, was wearing paper clothes – at least methaphorically.

To be honest, I had no way of knowing whether this was a legitimate need or (an extremely elaborate) hoax.  So I said a quick prayer asking God for the wisdom and guidance to know what to do.  I even called several folks in the church to see if (a) they knew him or (b) at least remember his visit.  Only one had a similar, vague memory like my own, but no one I talked to that day knew him.  I had to rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and so God gave me the peace that – even if it were a hoax – wiring him the money was the right thing to do.  So I agreed to wire the money and asked that he contact me when he got home so that we could get together and talk about his situation further.  Clearly, their family was in both spiritual and physical need so, in addition to spiritual counsel, I wanted to put him in touch with Serving You.  The last time I heard from him was a text that afternoon confirming that he received the wired money.  Since then… silence.

I have texted, but have received no reply.  I have tried numerous times to call him.  However, all I get is a message saying the number is not receiving incoming calls.  My suspicions (at least those that result from having half a brain) are at a pretty high level, although in my spirit, I still have this calm that he was not legitimate, but also that I did the right thing in helping him.  It was a big risk on my part, but my conscious is clear that I followed the prompting of God.  Better to be cheated than to be in disobedience to God.


Here is the thing.  Every day we cross paths with people who are wearing paper clothes.  We all have those times where our situation is so fragile that a stout wind or rain would leave us naked.  And yes, of course, I am speaking metaphorically.  For each of us to be neighbor like the Good Samaritan, we have to love our neighbor enough to be willing to take risks for him (or her) – even the strange ones – even the ones we don’t know.  That takes a great deal of faith on our part, and while we have a responsibility to be good stewards of the resources that God has given us, sometimes we just have to step out and be inconvenienced. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Pray For Your Pastor

This week’s Pastor’s Blog is not about the church, not about our mission, and really it is not about anything I have preached about over the last few months.  In fact, this week’s Pastor’s Blog is a bit self-oriented.  I say it is self-oriented rather than self-ish, because honestly as a pastor, it is not just for my benefit, but for the sake of the entire body of Christ.  And to those reading this who are not a part of my congregation, I say that everything in this blog will apply as much to your pastor as it applies to me.  This blog post today is a plea, and that plea is simply this: PLEASE pray for your pastor.  Allow me to elucidate – to explain the reason for my plea…

Over the last several months, I’ve been putting a great deal of thought into what exactly it means to be a good pastor.  Why?  Quite simply because I want to make sure that I am a good pastor.  A pastor, being an under-shepherd for the Good Shepherd (Jesus Christ), ought to seek and to strive to be a good shepherd himself.  It just seems, however, that everywhere I turn, I see massive failures in ministry on the part of pastors.  I think about the leadership failure that led to the absolute collapse of the Mars Hill movement with Pastor Mark Driscoll and I am saddened.  I think about the moral failure of Billy Graham’s grandson, Tullian Tchividjian, and I am saddened.   I think about any and all ministers of the gospel who may have found themselves outed by the Ashley Madison hack – and I am saddened.    I hear all kinds of stories of pastors who have had some form of failure either from friends or in the media – and I am saddened.  Then I realize that I too have personally known pastors who have acted in the most ungodly manner, who have had moral failures, or who have abused power.  And while justice would suggest that I be glad their true colors have been revealed, I am instead… saddened.  I wish it were not so.  I wish their colors did not have to be revealed.  It makes me think – are there any good pastors left out there? More importantly, how do I make sure I do not become one of these who fail so miserably?

Don’t get me wrong.  I know there are lots of good pastors – and I know many of them.  Hopefully none of my pastor friends who by some miraculous chance may be reading this will think that I am referring to you.  You should know that I am not.  I know there are still armies of good, Godly men out there serving in the Kingdom.  However, sometimes the strife and division that goes on in churches and the leadership failures that become so public have a tendency to weigh me down and make me question how I will avoid the same traps.   It’s not that I am feeling sorry for myself like Elijah was when he was being pursued by Queen Jezebel.  It’s more like a concern – yes even perhaps a moment of weak faith – in which I wonder if I can have what it takes to be a “good” pastor.   You see… I know myself… and I know I am just as capable of failure as the next guy.

This is where my ponderings, however, take a turn.  In musing over this bleak train of thought, I began thinking about the leaders in the Bible and I remembered something very important about them.  They were all human.  That’s right.  Not a single one of them – with the exception of Jesus Christ, of course – was somehow superhuman or divine.  They were all descendants of Adam just as I am.  Consider a few of them and their situations.

Abraham was a liar and a coward – until he placed his faith in Yahweh.  Jacob was a cheat and a thief – until he wrestled with Yahweh.  Moses was a murderer and a coward – until Yahweh revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush.  David was an adulterer and a murderer until he repented and threw himself on the mercies of Yahweh.  Solomon was a philanderer and an idolater until he realized that the chief end of man was to fear God and keep his commandments.  Elijah was perhaps one of the greatest prophets but ran in fear and wanted to commit suicide after his greatest victory!  I could go on and tell of Noah’s drunkenness, of Gideon’s cowardice, and of Samson’s pride – and lest we forget, Peter betrayed Jesus three times.  That’s why I love the Bible so much – it is sooo real and raw and doesn’t sugar coat anything.

Your pastor is no different than any of these men in the Bible – we are all humans capable of failure.  However, there is a very subtle difference in some of these stories versus others.  Many of these failures in the Bible came before these men fully surrendered themselves to God.  As such, they can be said to have experienced a sort of redemption before being elevated into leadership.  I will tell you that I, too, have had many failures before surrendering completely to Jesus Christ and being placed in a position of leadership.  Frankly, there are not enough words to express my gratitude for the redemption I have received.  

However, some of these stories are not so clean.  David was already King when he failed.  So was Solomon.  In both cases, the consequences were catastrophic.  David lost his son and then his kingdom was plunged into a Civil War that resulted in the loss of yet another son.  Solomon ended well, but his failures resulted in the kingdom being ripped from his family and so Israel was forever divided thereafter.  In other words, the failures that came after these men had been placed in leadership did not just affect them – it affected everyone around them.

This is precisely what makes it so sad when a preacher experiences a significant failure.  It doesn’t just affect him.  It affects the entire flock.  I want to avoid that kind of failure with all my heart.  I know that I will never be without sin as long as I remain on this earth.  I also know that at some point there will be something about which I will certainly fail.  However, there is much that can be worked through and not every failure disqualifies a pastor or destroys and divides the flock.    But God forbid that I should ever fail so fantastically that it sends the body of Christ entrusted to me into a tailspin.

Being in ministry means being in a war – a spiritual war.  Satan and his minions will do everything in their power to destroy the effectiveness of the church and, as the flock’s shepherd, the preacher is always his primary target.  I praise God that greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world.  I praise God that he has overcome through the cross and the power of the blood.  But I am not so arrogant that I do not accept and acknowledge that I, too, am a man just like Elijah.  I am capable of great acts of faith – just like Elijah.  But I am also capable of great acts of cowardice – just like Elijah.   And every other pastor out there – no matter how high profile or famous he may be – is in exactly the same boat as am I.

Therefore, I plead with you to pray for your pastor. 

Pray that God would put a hedge of protection around him. 

Pray that God would strengthen his resolve. 

Pray that he would remain faithful. 

And then after praying for him, perhaps give him a word of encouragement now and again, because I assure you… he probably needs it. 


And never forget this… if he really is a good shepherd, he is praying for you too.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Great Commission Ramblings

After this past Sundays sermon (Link:https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-kh4rc-585edf),  I thought I might need to clarify and expand upon something I said about the Great Commission.  During the sermon, I said that the Great Commission was not just a call to World Missions.  That is true, but I don't want to imply in any way that it is not a call to world missions at all.  In fact, if you look at what Matthew 28:19 says, it says to make disciples of "all nations".   More specifically, the call to missions is to all ethnic and cultural groups. That can mean anything from a race of people to a nation to a tribe or even to a community or subculture.  The Great Commission's scope to make disciples reaches to every sect or subgroup of humanity.

Too often we tend to be somewhat selective about those we determine to reach out to with the gospel.  To some, they have no problem going across the ocean on a short term mission trip and sharing the gospel to a stranger, but they have a problem (or simply don't have the courage) to invite their coworker to a bible study - or even more boldly, to start one at work.   Whether we are afraid of failure, afraid of what people will think, or simply ashamed of the gospel within our own culture, we simply don't carry out the Great Commission at home.

On the other hand, some people don't agree with going on mission trips when there is so much still to do here in our own Jerusalem.  I actually had someone recently accuse me of abandoning/neglecting my own flock because I went to Uganda on a short term mission trip (no, it was not someone from Pawnee).  First of all, I was only gone for one Sunday and 10 total days.  I wonder how often that person misses church for far less noble reasons?  More importantly, though, that kind of thinking displays a gross misunderstanding of the Great Commission and the mission of the church.  A Pastor's responsibility is to take care of the local flock entrusted to him, but part of that responsibility is both to teach and to show by example the full extent of the mission of the church.

Acts 1:8 gives us the complete scope of the Great Commission:

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

In other words, as I said Sunday, the Great Commission is a call to everyday missions... AND it is a call to deliberate missions outside our Jerusalem.  There are opportunities for us to make disciples at every point in our lives and we can make specific opportunities to make disciples in contexts outside our normal lives.  These are all important and, to be direct about it, we could all do a better job of it.

Let us not fall into the trap of "lifestyle evangelism" - which is a crutch by which most Christians think, but would never say, "If I am just good enough in my behavior, I have been a witness."    Well, you have been a witness for sure, and whether it is a good witness or a bad one is debatable, but what is not debatable is the fact that lifestyle evangelism alone will neither save the lost nor disciple the spiritually immature.  Romans 10:17 says (paraphrased) that faith comes through hearing and hearing through the word of God.  At some point we have to start sharing and teaching the word.


Well, I know that much of this week's blog has been rambling, but let me just end with this though that was shared to me some time ago by a pastor friend of mine.  Since the mission of the church is to make disciples, my friend says that every Christian should either be (a) being discipled, (b) discipling someone else, or (c) both at t he same time.  I agree completely.