Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Credibility.  Credibility.  CREDIBILITY!!!

Sorry to choke your inbox.  I'm trying to blog a few times a week and not more than once a day, and two days this week I've hit you twice.  However, I've got a bit of a fuss to make to those of you who either preach and lead or who allow people to preach or lead.


I am personally fed up with the number of times when someone has risen in the esteem of the multitudes, especially among Christian preacher and leader circles, only to be brought down because they've fluffed their background.  It's beyond imaging why we keep letting this happen. 

For those of you, like myself, who are meandering your way through church ministry, do not fake your background.  Be honest.  Is it fair that the church with the nice parsonage won't consider you without a seminary degree?  Maybe not.  But if you don't have one, don't fake it.  If you haven't finished it, say so.  Be clear.  Be abundantly clear.  Put "CURRENT STUDENT" in bold or something on your resume.  Make it part of your personal narrative.  Use it as a sermon illustration.  If you haven't got a Ph.D. or D.Min. and will never pursue one, don't be afraid of that.  Say so.  If they are led by the Spirit to want to call you anyway, they will do so. 

If you are a vanilla life story, born and raised in Baptist churches, never all that bad, never all that good, guess what?  You are what the vast majority of your church will be.  Don't add in troubles you never had or experiences you didn't have.  Don't exaggerate.  Be humble, be modest.  Not falsely modest, but modest.  And don't let people assume your grandeur when you know they're jumping to an unreal conclusion.  For example, I've preached in 6 states and 2 countries.  1 of the countries is the United States.  My first sermon was to a crowd of 8 in Delaware on a youth mission trip.  Now, what am I doing claiming 6 states and 2 countries?  Allowing someone to think I'm greater than I am.

And don't get grouchy when someone questions or wants to check your background.  You don't want them to pull your credit, that's fine.  There's lots of reasons to discuss that.  But if someone needs a transcript or wants to check your criminal record, then you better be willing to let them.  If you can, make sure you are noticeable as you do school and your various activities.  That way someone will remember you were there.

Now, to those of you on Trustee Boards or Search Committees: be proactive and willing to spend some money.  Ask questions.  Be willing to offend.  Pay for transcripts and background checks.  Follow up on questions.  Call and verify experiences.  Ask for documentation.


And when questions come later that you didn't think of, be quick to demand answers.

Why?  Because it is far better to address these things on the front end than to have to clean up the damage to yourself, your organization, and anyone else after it's over. 

Check to make sure you're using quality wood and that the fence is up.  It's much easier than having to gather the herd again.



Healthcare Reform Part 2

Not that there's been any clamoring for me to follow up on yesterday's healthcare reform commentary, but here's the follow up anyway:

1.  I don't like the healthcare reform package.  It's a mandate to buy a product which will strengthen an industry without fixing the reason costs are spiraling as it is.  HOWEVER:

I.  This is not the end of American Liberty as we know it.  I think it's too far, but we already have: government run retirement called Social Security; government run schools; government run medical for seniors and the poor; government run food programs; government operated disability insurance.  All of these take from some, many, or all and redistribute.  All of these have already begun the shift to a socialized country.  Each of these creates two classes: those dependent on the government system and those wealthy enough to do whatever they please.  This is just another in a long slide towards a socialized economy.

II.  This is not the end of freedom of religion in America.  A few comments on this: your tax money already subsidizes abortion.  It's true.  Else how did a girl I knew in high school have an abortion at an Arkansas Health Department Clinic? (At least that's where she stated it was).  That there is an accounting trick to ease our consciences doesn't matter.  It's still being done.  Also, government is already involved in pushing back against any religion it dislikes.  That's why terrorists are just terrorists but recent ATF raids were on the "Christian Militia." 

And even if this does cause the government to finally lock down on freedom of religion, what of it?  Are Christians free in China, where the church is growing?  Are Christians free in Iran or Pakistan where, again, the church is growing?  Has anyone heard the Nigerian Baptists calling for a Great Commission Resurgence between being slaughtered by the Muslims there? Or is the church growing there anyway?

III.  This is not evidence that President Barrack Hussein Obama is the Anti-Christ.  An anti-Christ? Perhaps.  The Big One?  No.  When you get someone that both the Israelis and the Arabs like, then you'll be on to something.  He's a President leading America in the same direction as FDR, LBJ, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton did.  Let's not idolize FDR, folks.  He was effective as a wartime President, and his programs helped a lot of folks in the Depression, but did he protect free markets and small government?  Nope.  He's another big government tax and spend liberal.  Nothing great or greater about him.  Whether he's 1-term or 2 will show how Americans really feel.  If it's 2, then we're in trouble.

Now, I've expressed reluctance before at the "repeal it" response, but I'm going to waffle back on that.  Repeal it, fine, if you've got a better, more sensible plan.    Not just to put us back where we were going, but something.  And make sure it includes tort reform.



Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Book Review: Winston Churchill by John Perry

Winston Churchill (Christian Encounters Series)

My latest review for Booksneeze is Winston Churchill by John Perry.  It's another biography in Thomas Nelson Publishers' Christian Encounters Series.  Booksneeze provides free books in exchange for honest reviews.  Check it out at (and no, I didn't pick the name).  I've previously reviewed another book in this series, the biography written of John Bunyan. 

This biography of Churchill is, by the nature of the series, quite short.  Considering all of the aspects of any life, much less one as crucial to the 20th Century as Winston Churchill, a book this size will not cover everything.  That's neither a strength nor a weakness.  Just a fact.

To consider the value of this work, I'd like to take a look at what is included and excluded.

Included: quick summaries of the action points of Churchill's life.  This is good to provide background.

Excluded: Details of large blocks between the points of action.  For example, how did Churchill spend the whole of his time in the Boer War in South Africa?  These details are left out.  That's not all bad.

Included: An emphasis on his nanny and her role in raising him.  Alongside this are consistent criticisms of the role, or lack of role, his parents held.  This shows some insight into Churchill's behaviors.  However;

Excluded: More than one passing reference to the fact that Churchill's parents were as personally involved in their son as any other parents in their class and wealth at the time.  It's pointed out once, but then not recalled in other statements. This isn't to say that Churchill's parents were ideal, but that more balance would have preferable.  Not every time that his parents were criticized, but more often than just the once.

Included: A brief statement about Churchill's acknowledgment of God and the benefits, especially socially, of Christian beliefs.

Excluded: In-depth information showing Churchill as a devout or committed Christian.  This is a place not to be disappointed in this book.  It's very easy to assume that a Christian Encounters biography will primarily feature great heroes of the faith and detail their faith, prayers, and Christian activity.  I'd like to see a little more of that, but there might not be more of it.

So, don't look to this biography to give you an example of faith to walk in.  Look to it for what it is: a brief synopsis of the life of an individual who did, at some points, agree with and follow a part of the Christian faith.

I'd give 3 stars out of 5 to this one, since I've got to rate it out of 5 stars!  Remember: free book provided by publisher.  Read Disclosures! for more info.



Healthcare Reform

For those of you just waiting for my opinion on the Healthcare Reform Law that passed last week, as well as the embedded Student Loan Reform Law that was in it, here it is:

I don't like it.  Not that I hate sick people.  Not that I hate Democrats.  I still don't like it.


First reason: is this making it illegal to not have health insurance?  If so, why does the IRS get the power to administratively charge you more taxes for breaking the law?  Don't we get trials for committing crimes?

If it's not illegal, then we're seeing a continuation of something that my conservative friends have long done: creating a set of behaviors that are legal but "taxable."  It's a way of manipulating behavior while technically claiming you're still free to do as you please.  Why do you think there are extra taxes on alcohol, tobacco, and firearms?  It's to discourage the use while still allowing it.  It is a method used by various interests to attempt to limit liberty.  We didn't like it when it was tea, and we shouldn't care for it now.

Second reason: Are we putting more power over the life and death over American lives to the same outfit that was responsible for: 1.) Safety enforcement of Toyota? 2.)Fixing General Motors? 3.) Supervising banks and lending so that bad loans don't destroy banks? 4.)Finding Jimmy Hoffa? 5.)Making the existing tax code comprehendible? 6.)Government education? The American school systems that consistently rank mediocre compared to the world? 7.)PBS and NPR and their balanced, quality programming?

Third reason: Congress didn't read it.  So they don't know what's in it.  And they blended it with making the Federal Government the only lender for Federal Student Loans, rather than independent banks.  Brilliant.  And has what to do with health? None.

Finally: we're putting too much trust, power, and provision in the hands of Washington D.C.  Do I trust them with it?  No.  I do not. Whether it's the current politicians or the next ones, I do not.  Those controls need to remain as close as possible to the people.



Wednesday, March 24, 2010

1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings

Tonight at church, we're going to be talking about all 4 of these books.  Yes, I recognize that I'll spend 30 minutes preaching on 1 verse at times, and covering 4 books in one night seems a tall order.  It'll be fun.

These 4 books are also called by some 1,2,3, and 4 Kings, because they contain the records of the kings of Israel.  It starts with the origin of the monarchy, then covers the 120 years of united monarchy.  By the time we're 12 chapters into 1 Kings, we're into the divided monarchy.  Then we're into the decline and fall of both countries, Israel and Judah.

Authorship issues for Samuel and Kings (they're each 2 books because of the original medium: scrolls. Well, scrolls without vowels.  Insert vowels and then put it all on 1 scroll each and you'll kill yourself carrying it about) abound.  First of all, they cover a substantial portion of history.  True, Genesis contains more, but many conservatives have embraced a Moses as final compiler of records viewpoint of the authorship there.  The likely solution to understanding authorship of Samuel and Kings is similar. 

A word here about Biblical inerrancy:  We have generally held, as Baptists and a "people of the Book" that the original texts the Scriptures are without error.  There are some who take further steps to hold to a divine textual transmission, that the copies available at certain times (up until 1611) or continually until now are also without error.  There are also those who hold that the text is without error in its intent or its theology, while allowing for errors in history or science.

I, for one, accept that the original text said what God intended it to say.  As He does not lie or mislead, where the text contains obvious history or science, there are no errors contained.  Theology is understood as explained by the special revelation that is Scripture.  Now, the idea of an error-free text bears a special mention of quotations: where people speak, their words are recorded accurately.  Whether or not they were correct in what they said has to be established through their credibility and other statements.  It's much like a court transcript: the court reporter is not determining if the witness is honest or not, just recording what the individual said.

That being said, I do not hold that there has been perfect textual transmission.  I believe that God has preserved the general accuracy of the text, but He has left it to people to respectfully examine the available texts and determine the most likely textual reading to utilize.  Also, I don't think any specific translation is inspired or perfect, and if there was adequate evidence that portions of the NT, like the Gospels, were definitely originally written in Aramaic, that would extend to the Greek translations that top the textual tree.

Not wanting to bore with too many details, keep in mind that the vast majority of the text is without dispute among the available variants.  If I recall correctly, we're talking something on the high side of 90% agreement.  As a comparison, FedEx delivers packages on time and undamaged around 80% of the time, and they're considered reliable.  (ahem, there's another package company that hits 98%, and it's not the Postal Service). 

Of the variances that make up the less than 10%, most are things like spelling of names.  A quick illustration: my full name is Douglass.  Not Douglas, as most names that get shortened to Doug are.  Douglass.  Now, if you read an official story about me, say one that referenced my stellar work on jury duty last week, what would name would you see?

Most likely John, which is my official first name.  (Got you!)  However, one of the local media types in court knows me as Doug.  I signed in as John Douglass Hibbard, and you might find me referenced, as Mid-America Seminary has me down as, "Douglas."  So, name variations aren't major.

The biggest issues are where meaning is confused by textual questions.  There are not very many of those.  Generally, anything that would be called into question by a textual variant should not be the sole basis of any doctrine of the church, and fact is, they are not.  Typically these variances go to different expressions of time and place.  A major example is found in 1 Samuel, where there are additional explanations of the behavior of Nahash the Ammonite that Saul defeats. 

The books of the Kings contain the greater proportion of variances in the Old Testament.  This is likely because of the age of the sources and because of alternate texts available, like Chronicles, that discuss the same material. 

In person, we'll try to hit some of high points of what is contain in these 4 books.



Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Thirteen Tips for Leading the Congregation in Prayer

Here's a good read on doing public prayer well.  It's from someone I wish was a friend of mine....but I've never met him and so won't claim him.  He might not want me anyway.  But he's a good read, a good writer, and a decent preacher.  Although he's never, to my knowledge, broken a pulpit to make a point. (ask someone at Calvary Monticello about that.  I'll say no more.)

Thirteen Tips for Leading the Congregation in Prayer

Posted using ShareThis

Monday, March 22, 2010

Repost from Emil Turner's Blog

For those of you that don't navigate much through the blog world, I'll repost this from Emil Turner's blog on the ABSC website.  It's worth the read:

Upward Basketball is a tremendous ministry in many of our churches.  An Upward Basketball coach commits more than 3 hours a week to this program.   An AWANA worker gives a minimum of 2.5 hours a week, and an AWANA group leader gives about 5 hours a week, while an AWANA commander gives around 12 hours a week.  In addition, most of these people attend two or more services a week.

Do members have time to volunteer at church? AWANA and Upward volunteers have the time and give it gladly.  From these two examples we can learn that it is not a shortage of time that keeps most people from volunteering or serving in their churches.

How do you get people to volunteer?  To attend training classes? To work in the Sunday School or to attend on Sunday evening or Wednesday evening?

First, recognize the inverse relationship of time and commitment. The greater the demand on time, the fewer people you will involve.  This has always been true.  If you are to staff programs, populate training classes, you must first intentionally raise the commitment level of church members.

Second, in a healthy church if it is important to the pastor, it will be important to the church members. So the activity you are trying to staff or promote must be seen as a priority to the pastor.  He should talk about it in announcements, mention it in sermons, and help recruit the volunteers and participants.  If the pastor takes the time to promote and participate, he will rally the congregation to do the same.

Third, volunteers, trainees, and church workers need to eat. AWANA usually includes a meal doesn’t it?  Would there be as many workers if no one could eat at church?  This is a convenience that helps workers with busy schedules.  If I were serving as a pastor, every evening meeting at church would involve a meal.

Activities, classes, and projects that involve church volunteers should be well planned. Members should not wonder why they are present, what happens next, or why the leaders aren’t better prepared.  And every meeting should begin on time, and unless the Holy Spirit intervenes, should end on time.

Relevance should be communicated in eternal terms, rather than temporal ones. If one pupil in an adult class draws closer to God, an entire family’s spiritual future could be change.  If one of the little girls in GA’s becomes a missionary, a nation could be saved.  If a deacon visits prospects on Thursday nights, a family can be reached for Christ.

They WILL attend prayer meeting, become Outreach Leaders in Sunday School, attend teachers’ meeting, or work with RA’s if it is important enough to do so.  Pastor, church staff member, you are the one who makes it important.

From Doug: What is stopping us from implementing some of this?  How can I communicate better how important some of these things are?


Sermons from March 21

Text: Matthew 8:5-13

Theme: Faith, healing, authority

Date: March 21, 2010 AM

Location: CBC Monticello

  1. The story itself

  2. Luke's parallel story: same story: actions on behalf of are actions by Luke 7:2-10

  3. How does the Centurion treat Jesus?

    1. Recognizes his own unworthiness

    2. Recognizes the Authority before him:

      1. Come

      2. Go

      3. Do this

      4. The centurion is aware that his command is a mere reflection of the authority of Christ

  4. How does Jesus treat the Centurion?

    1. Commends him: marveled; faith

    2. And those like him: that those will come from east and west to recline at the table with the great ones of faith

  5. How does the crowd get involved?

    1. Jewish elders have protested that this Roman is worthy Luke 7:2-10

    2. They have heard from the Roman's friends that he does not feel himself worthy

    3. Jesus points out his worthiness, but it is not because of his deeds to build a synagogue or kindness to the Jews, but because of his faith in Christ Himself

    4. Jesus also uses the centurion as a point of rebuke to the people: that some who think they're righteous won't be accounted such because they have not placed their faith in Christ

  6. How do we respond?

    1. Do we deem ourselves worthy because others do?

    2. Do we deem ourselves worthy because it suits our needs?

    3. Do we recognize the authority of Christ?

      1. If He says “Come” or “Go”

      2. If He says “Do this”

    4. Will we come and recline at the table?

    5. Or will we be cast out?

    6. It comes down to placing our faith in Christ, responding to His authority.

    7. We can't buy it, our friends can't get it for us.


Text: Philippians 2:19-24

Theme: Kindred Spirits/Alone

Date: March 21 2010 PM

Location: CBC Monticello

  1. Text

    1. Paul wants to send someone to encourage and teach the Philippians

    2. He has a problem:

      1. Trustworthy teachers are in short supply

      2. He feels the responsibility of who he sends

    3. Therefore:

      1. He won't send someone he cannot trust

      2. He will try to come himself

  2. Application:

    1. Be a trustworthy person:

      1. Look after the interests of Christ's Church first

      2. Rather for your own

      3. This includes our church: the spread of the Gospel comes first

    2. Raise up trustworthy people:

      1. We as a church have to train truly capable generations behind us

      2. Discipleship:

        1. in our homes: verse 22

        2. Within our church as well

    3. Reject untrustworthy people:

      1. Implicit in this is a warning not to waste time with those who seek selfish interests

      2. Paul needs not identify them, but you know them when you see them.

        1. Historic examples

        2. Modern Examples

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Romans 8:27

27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Romans 8:27 (ESV)

Do you catch that?  The Spirit of God intercedes for us and through us according to the will of God.  One thing I'm seeing more of as I read through Romans right now is that the will and desire of people is mostly a moot point.  The real question is whether we align our wills with the God of the Universe or not.  If not, we might be in trouble.  If we do, we have all the help we could ever ask for or need.

Thus far in Romans, I'm seeing, really, three things developing:

1.  The problem of our estrangement from God: we are not right with God by nature.  Our nature has been corrupted by sin, and that amplified by generations of repetition and by the days of our choosing.  We are, whether raised to the Law or raised apart from it, not good enough and as such are estranged from God.

2.  The provision of our adoption by God:  we were unable to make ourselves right with God.  In general, we're unwilling to do so as well.  However, God was not willing that we remain estranged from Him, and so while we distant, He sent Jesus Christ to bring us near, even at the cost of the death of Christ.

3.  The promise of our estrangement from the world: we are becoming less and less right with the fallen world around us as we grasp our adoption by God.  This bears great promise to allow us the opportunities to:

1.  See God work things together for our good.

2.  See God's glory work out in our lives.

3.  See the world attack us for our faith.

4.  See God work through us to bring more people into his adoption plan.

That's what I'm seeing in Romans, in a quick, handy outline.  What do you see?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Longshots and hopes

Just as a quick observation: since the NCAA Basketball Tournament went to 64 teams, no #16 seed has beaten a #1 seed.  For those of you that don't know, the tournament is in 4 regions, each seed out 1-16, so there is no #64 seed.

If there was one, though, it would be the winner of the "play-in" game that is played on the Tuesday of the first tournament week.  This game was created because, apparently, the NCAA promises every conference that 1 team from their conference gets in the tournament.  However, compared to the big conferences that pay people to take SATs for their athletes or write their papers for them, some of these smaller conferences just aren't athletically competitive.  The big names don't mind using them as early season cupcakes, but don't really like them taking the spotlight in March. 

So, enter the play-in game.  This way, 2 teams that no one wants to play, but the NCAA is stuck with, can play each other and get rid of one.  I honestly think, hidden deep in the books, is a rule that if the game ends in a tie, both are eliminated.  However, these 2 are considered the least of the teams in the tournament, as the winner has to immediately face the team considered the top team in the tournament.

This year, the two teams were Winthrop and the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.  UAPB is actually the only of the 4 Division I teams in Arkansas to make the tournament.  No Hogs, no Trojans, no Angry Hippos/Red Wolves.  Just the Golden Lions.

And UAPB won.  They defeated, rather the soundly, the whatevers of Winthrop.  Now, they face Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils.  Given the Coach K has already roundly beaten all Arkansas attempts to pronounce his name properly, it's an uphill battle for the Golden Lions.  They are, in effect, the #64 team facing the #1 team in the tournament.

I submit to you, it's time for the people of Arkansas to jump on a Golden Lion bandwagon.  I admit it, last week, and after they're out of the NCAA Tournament, I won't give two hoots for UAPB athletics.  We're a state that is addicted to the Razorbacks, and that's true even for many alumni of the other schools!  However, for now, these men are the only representation Arkansas has in the tournament.

Even this morning at the Drew County Courthouse, the judge presiding over the case I was in the jury pool for remarked during a lull (there weren't many, but this was a time that the lawyers were 'thinking') that he would be rooting for UAPB—"I can't find Duke on the map, but I know where Pine Bluff is" was his quote.

Let's join together, Arkansans and underdog lovers alike, and root the UAPB Golden Lions to victory Friday night against the Duke Blue Devils.  Nothing personal, Coach K, but you're in the way of the Golden Lion Bandwagon!  Hop on, everybody, here we go!!

After all, what's life without a few remote hopes?


Book Review: Start Here

As a book review for Waterbrook/Multnomah, which provided me with a free book to review for this blog.  So, here's the book:


The cover picture is linked to a purchase-enabled website if you're interested.

This book is a follow-up to Alex and Brett Harris's first book Do Hard Things.  It's essentially an effort to answer some of the questions raised in their first book and to share some of what teenagers challenged by Do Hard Things.

The book is delivered in a question-and-answer format, and is a plain language explanation of what types of hard things teenagers have been tackling in the three years since Do Hard Things came out.

I am, personally, a little disappointed in some of the hard things listed and held up as an example.  Perhaps it's because, in the 15 years since I was in high school, the expectations of teenagers have eroded worse than they were then, but some of this stuff just doesn't sound that hard.  Some of it is.  There's an example of a young man who worked a personal effort into a national fundraiser for HIV/AIDS orphans in Africa.  He started at 9.  That was a hard thing.

In fact, it's a hard and worthy thing that shouldn't be equated with simply refusing to cheat or fake a school assignment, as several of the other hard thing examples are given to be.  Maybe I'm a tad cynical, but when we equate honesty as a 'hard thing' rather than raising it as the normal expectation, we're doing teenagers a disservice.

Which cuts against the stated intent of the Harris brothers.  They want to raise the bar, challenge young people not to be useless slackers.  They should be commended in this effort, but should also not use a low bar for the examples they cite.

However, that's my perspective now, looking back 15 years on high school, and remembering the things we took on that were considered challenging.  I'm also looking at my 8, 6, and 3 year-old children and wondering just how far our standards as a nation have slipped that raising them to be honest is raising them to take on hard things.

And as I recall some of the integrity issues I saw in my time learning management in a major company, I realize that is the world we now live in.  That too often it is portrayed in our culture that honesty is too hard or that integrity isn't worth it.

Given that Alex and Brett titled this book Start Here, not This is Enough, it's a good starting place.  Certainly worth putting in the hands of any teenager that is craving to be more than what the culture around them is selling.  It's also a useful idea base if you'd like to challenge a group of teens, whether church group or community group. 

Amazon, for example, sells this book for under $10, and it's certainly worth that price.  Buy a stack of them, challenge the teenagers in your life to read them between now and the summer and to use the inspiration to find a hard thing to tackle this summer.

What I'd like to see follow this would be an adult-level book, perhaps co-written with a few others, challenging adults and parents to both do hard things and to expect more out of the generations that follow.


Now, if you want to do a not hard thing: I've got a copy of this book to give away.  How, you may ask, can you get such a thing?  Simple: leave me a comment that you want it.  1 week from today, on March 24th, I'll randomly pick from all comments on both blogs and the Facebook notes and send you a copy of this book. 

If you want a bonus entry, answer this question: Was St. Patrick Irish?



If you need to read Disclosures! to see that I got this book free in exchange for the review, just click the word.  That's not a hard thing.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A little bloggy update

I've been a bit unfocused in my blogging lately.  Many experts in building a huge blog following recommend that you pick certain topics and stay on them to build up your following.  I've not taken that advice.

I also haven't taken the advice about post length.  Self-promotion, not really, giveaways, not so much, and various other items.  I don't have massively amazing layouts or anything eye-catching.  I don't even bother with paid hosting, hence the "" or "" in my web address. Why?

Well, because, as I've recently expressed, I blog as a sideline.  It's a higher sideline than the book I'm writing, which is currently in rough hideous outline format.  However, it's not the be all and end all of my time.  It's a diversion.

And that's ok.  We all need diversions.  If we can develop diversions that help our efforts in life, then so much the better.  I, for one, type better than I ever have since I've been blogging for 2 years.  I try, occasionally, to use this as an opportunity think out loud, sometimes to vent the things that I don't have the chance to say publicly, and to grind my axe about certain issues.

So, quick drive by of those issues:

1.  Can the government actually fix anything?  Should we trust them to fix healthcare? 

2.  Is it odd to anyone else that, now that 2 out of 3 US-based automakers are beholden to President Obama and his political base, Honda and Toyota are now subjects of massive, embarrassing recalls?

3.  In Southern Baptist life, why is it wrong to use percentage given to the Cooperative Program to criticize churches or pastors, but it's okay to use a 50% baseline to criticize state conventions?

4. Why does March Madness not start until the middle of March?  Honestly, could we not have started that last week?

5.  A state district court judge today said "We value liberty over money. Or at least we should."  That was well said.  Unfortunately, we don't live that very well, do we?

6.  I've got jury duty this week.  Last time, I was stricken from the panel by either defense or plantiff, I don't know.  This time, I was peremptory  challenged by either prosecution or defense.  Wondering what will happen tomorrow.  If they don't want me, I can stay home.  Honest.

7.  I've got a book coming from Booksneeze, so you'll see a book review very soon, since it's an easy read short biography.  This is so I can hopefully request a hard-read long biography that I really want.  We'll see.

That's what's going on here.  What's going on where you are?



Monday, March 15, 2010

Sermon Outlines and Audio Player

Here are the intended outlines from yesterday and the audio player of what was actually preached!


And yes, the colors clash hideously.



Proverbs 15 by Doug

Proverbs 15:8 –>We are reminded here that what is in the heart is much more important than anything else.  Sacrifices are of no use if your heart is far from God.  Additionally, too often we're not very willing to make sacrifices that are truly valuable, and having a wicked heart lends itself to really cheating.  Wicked hearts will sacrifice the things that should not be sacrificed.  Meanwhile, we see that the upright need only pray.  Why?  Because their life is based in obedience, and so they will have sacrificed along the way.


Proverbs 15:16 –>What's more important to you?


Proverbs 15:17 –>RATATOUILLE!! Not just the movie, but the meal itself.  By the way, the film is worth the watching because it actually illustrates Proverbs 15:16-17.  Ratatouille, as a dish, is a meal of vegetables.  It's considered a "peasant dish" because, well, it's for poor people.  In the film, it's the center piece dish of changing the heart of the mean food critic.  Why?  Because he remembers that he grew up eating "poor" food, but surrounded by love.  Now, he's got the best of all food, but his life is empty.  The key characters learn the same things: great food isn't great without love and friendship.  Look up at Proverbs 15:15 that the cheerful heart has a continual feast.  Put it together.  It's great stuff.  Even with rats.


Proverbs 15:24 –> Is your life moving up?  There is no neutrality---either it's going up, or it's going the wrong way.


Proverbs 15:32 –>I'm learning this lesson.  The need to accept discipline, to instill it in my own life.  It's not an easy lesson.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Only as good as the source

Earlier this week, I helped one of our students with a school project to put on a talent show to raise fund for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.  She put together a talent show featuring fellow students.  All told, it was a good idea.

The show, however, didn't come off quite perfectly.  It was organized decently, but we had some sound system issues.  You see, many of the students who were singing didn't have the right kind of music track to sing from.  Rather than an instrumental track, they were singing along with the actual album track.  Also, one of the students had put every track on a data CD that he wanted to play from a MacBook computer.

Except that the sound system, for some reason, would not pick up the incoming from the Mac.  I think it had somewhat to do with the cord that took a 1/8 inch stereo headphone out, split it into L/R, and then converted it back into a 1/4 inch stereo input.  It would be better to split it into 2 single channels, 1 left and 1 right.  Anytime you stereo input a sound board like that, you can get bizarre results.  Anyway, because of the setup, we didn't get the best sound.  The students did the best they could, but you can only do so much without your music.  And no matter what I did with the actual sound board, there wasn't much else I could do with the sound quality.

You see, with a sound system, your output will never be any better than your source.  You can adjust what the system does with the source, you can change what it's sensitive to in the source, you can amplify the source, but you cannot exceed the quality of the input.  There's also a limit to how far you can amplify that source. 

This isn't just a sound system problem.  This is a life problem.  We are trying to strive through life, and often we are unsuccessful in our attempts to walk worthy of the calling of Christ not because of lack of effort, but because we build off the wrong source.  We try to take as source our worldly culture, apply some church related filters, and turn that into a Christ-centered life.

It doesn't work.  You cannot exceed the quality of your source in life.  If your source is the world, you can dress it up some, you can filter out some of it, but you, ultimately, cannot exceed it.  You cannot create a holy version of carnality, no matter how you try. 

Nor can you over-amplify a distant voice without losing it.  It's the same reason you need to hold a microphone close to your mouth when you sing.  If you hold it far away, if the sound system gets turned up enough to pick up your voice, it will pick up all the background noise you can handle.

It's time that we as Christians began to do a few things in our lives:

1.  Make sure the most prominent voice in our lives is the voice of God.  I've taken a few shots at various social organizations and cultural phenomena that aren't bad, but simply because they have grown to have more impact on how we do church than the Bible does.  Churches survived 1950 years without copying Survivor or Starbucks.  We can probably survive on the Word alone.  At the very least, the Word has to be the primary source of what we do.

2.  We have to make sure we are listening to the Word as clearly as possible.  There are many who strive to interact with God's Word to apply it for their own purposes.  Anyone who is primarily out for political power or financial gain is going to be a quick corruption of the source that is God's Word.

3.  Consider whether we're asking too much of the tools when it's the source we're interested in.  Just as a normal sound board cannot, on the fly, pull the vocals off your favorite CD to make it a karaoke track, no amount of structured Bible Study can make bad theology good.  If you're trying to cram The Shack or some other inaccurate picture of God through your Sunday School class to make it good, it won't work.  Your source is bad.  The tools can't fix it.


All told, we've got to make sure we're on the right source.  It's not just about good preachers or easy books, nice buildings or trusted friends, it's about whether or not we're truly looking to the Word of God first.  Everything else must come from there.



Blogging v. Preaching I

This morning, as I was headed to church, I began thinking about the differences between preaching and blogging. It was kind of a follow-on thought to a conversation Ann and I had the day before.

Saturday, we were at church so that she could practice the song she was planning to sing this morning at church. While she was working on that, I was tinkering with the sound system. I do this for two reasons. The first is that it keeps the church sound man hopping on Sundays. Sometimes hopping mad, but always hopping. The second is that we're striving to record our Sunday services so that we have both a taped record of what happens and we digitally record them on my laptop. These digital recordings become our church podcast.

The challenge is that I'm the one who understands the digital recording software and the laptop used for it. I am, however, a wee bit busy during the Sunday services, especially the sermon part, which is what we record to podcast. (We're cautious of doing the singing due to copyright laws.) So, I only have time to try and get it doing what I want it doing is when someone else is singing, talking, preaching, or the like. As I don't typically have someone else preaching when I'm here these days, that's out. It's too zany to keep running up and down during the rest of the service, and it's pretty distracting at that.

What Ann and I talked about after I spent some time on that was the fact that our sound system, as it's configured, is inadequate to the task of both doing good live sound and making a fully satisfactory recording. If we spent a little bit more money here and there, it might get better, but it's just not up to the task. However, the one thing that we cannot do is destroy our live services for the sake of the recording. While we find there are some people interested in the recording, it's not our primary purpose to put out a web worship service.

Just like it's not my primary purpose to blog. Both of these activities are not inherently bad, and can extend the impact of our church and my own preaching/writing well beyond Monticello.

However, just like I can't demolish our sound system or insist we spend $5,000 to install a parallel recording system, I can't spend all my time blogging. It's fun, but blogging isn't pastoring. This is both good and bad for the blogging.

It's good because I'll do things when I blog that I won't do when preaching. I'm generally more inclined to preach a series through a Bible book and take whatever comes. Other preachers pick topics, but I try to do whatever the text is about. When I blog, I'll blog on a topic. I'll take an illustration and find a way to make an application. I've been trying to dial back the politics in my preaching, but not so much in my blogging.

It's bad because sometimes I let the axe I have to grind in my blogging distract me from doing sermon prep work. It's bad that I am sometimes more concerned about my blog reader stats than my church's health. It's bad because I'll assume that people have read my blog and they haven't. Then I'll say something, expect them to understand and they don't. It's also bad because the truth is, I'm not paid to blog. I'm paid to pastor. Now, you can slice that however you want to, but there was not one person at Calvary Baptist that voted to call me as a pastor and hoped they would get someone with hip, updated web content in the bargain.

They called on me to provide solid, sound Biblical preaching and teaching, guidance and counsel, to this church. So, that's my first purpose. If I can use blogs and podcasts to help with that, then I will. If they get in the way, they've got to be discarded.

How about you? What things are you doing that are, in fact, a distraction from what you are supposed to be doing? What ways have you perhaps made secondary issues your main focus? Allow the tools and secondary activities to help with your goals, but don't let the side lines of life pull you off your path.

Stick with what you know you're supposed to be doing.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Restarting when you fail

Those of you who know me, know that I once attempted to attend seminary at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary.  Due to a variety of circumstances, many of which were my own choices, I didn't finish.

That's been a frustration for me for the 6 years since I gave up.  It just feels like failure when you aren't able to finish something you start.  Especially when you can see all the ways it was your own fault you couldn't do it.

So, I've been trying to find ways over the past few years to finish my education.  I had a false start with Gordon-Conwell Seminary, but UPS decided not to pay the tuition reimbursement benefit on it, so I couldn't afford to keep going.

Ann and I considered going to Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and had gathered information about it.  The biggest hitch?  Well, I'm a pastor in Monticello, Arkansas.  Louisville's a beast of a commute from here. 

We started looking at all the options that involved doing distance learning, so that we wouldn't have to leave.  We feel it's important to us that we honor the calling to serve our church where we are right now.  That's not to downplay residential study, but one thing we feel Calvary does not need is another pastor for less than 24 months.  They didn't call us here to be a place filler for that length of time.

So, we wanted something we could start via distance.  Even better would be something that could be finished via distance too.  Except that you can't get a well-respected degree without setting foot on campus.  It's just not allowed.  That, and we want at least part of the community experience.  So, that greatly reduced our options.

Into the picture comes the influence of Dr. Emil Turner, the ABSC Executive Director.  He and I were discussing my lack of degree, and he strongly encouraged me to look back at MABTS.  Then there came a few meetings at various conventions with Duffy Guyton, who is now the Dean of Admissions at Mid-America.  Between the two of them, they convinced Ann and I to look back at the idea of MABTS.  Then, MABTS strengthened their distance option, allowing for the possibility that not only could I start, but I could finish my degree with only being on campus for a certain number of 1-week intensive terms while taking online classes the rest of the time.

So this leads to me having to swallow my pride and return to the scene of my failure.  This was not an easy step for me.  However, we've now gone through the process of praying through this, of considering other options, of hoping for other options, and then I applied.

To be honest, I was kind of hopeful they'd reject me.  Really.  Because that would let me off the hook for making the difficult choices about school and I could just pass the blame onto someone else for my not having a degree.  The choices to study, to make the personal financial cuts to pay for it, to take the responsibility for my own success or failure.

Well, now that's shot.  This week I received my official acceptance letter from the Registrar's Office.  On top of that, according to the website, I can do 43 of the 89 hours I need via online courses.  If I can still count the 20 I already took, that makes 63 out of 89, so I will only need 26 hours in intensives, which comes out to 9 weeks on campus.  Of course, now I've got to figure out how to balance the cycles of what classes are offered when, and splice it together.  Plus, I've got to find tuition money, book money, and some software money (those of you who think MABTS is backwards: they require people to learn how to use Logos Software, which is the leading Biblical Studies software.  Of course, leading=expensive).

All that to say, I'm back near to where I left off.  I think sometimes, while there is grace for failure, the only way to actually move forward is to go back to where you left off and start again.  Why?  Because in far too many ways we people want to blame others for our failures, when we really didn't hold out when we should have.

Why go back?  Because if you were doing what God called you to do, and you quit, you've got to pick up the pieces and go finish it.  That's part of being his disciple.



Friday, March 12, 2010

Proverbs 12 by Doug

Proverbs 12:8 –>I think when you look at this, it doesn't preclude the perverse minded man being praised.  He just gets to add despised to his resume as well.  When you consider some of the men of history that we don't remember with fondness, we still praise their effectiveness.  It's hard to tell how Germany fell to what it did in 1935-1945 without realizing the skill of Hitler or to fail to note the effective brutality of the Roman Emperors.  The question for us is: will we use our insight well or be perverse with it?


Proverbs 12:16 –>Learn to hold back your anger.  Then, take it to the Lord and let Him revenge it.  By concealing it, you avoid dishonor.  I've got to learn this better myself.


Proverbs 12:24 –>Are you willing to work?  Why is it that we seem to think that attaining to leadership and greatness should entitle us to not work?  True, focus on what you alone can do, but the diligent will rule, not the slacker.

Book Review: John Bunyan

Book review time!  Today, thanks to the good graces of the Booksneeze program, you'll be learning about the book John Bunyan from Thomas Nelson's Christian Encounters Series.  What's it look like, you ask?  Here you go:

John Bunyan (Christian Encounters Series)

This book, which was provided free in exchange for the review, is linked above on Amazon, which is an affiliate link, all of which is discussed at length in Disclosures! 

So, John Bunyan, by Kevin Belmonte is today.  First, I've never read any other biography of Bunyan.  I only recently finished reading Pilgrim's Progress, which is a missing piece of life I'm glad to have filled in this year.  Since all I know about Bunyan is that he wrote Pilgrim's Progress and that he was in prison for 12 years when he wrote it, I'm not qualified to comment on Belmonte's historical accuracy.  I'm going to assume that, as a Thomas Nelson book, the editors didn't let it out without historical fact-checking, all the facts are accurate.

As such, I'll address book format and readability while assuming Belmonte knows his revolutionaries from his royalists. 

Belmonte begins his work by providing some of the historical background to the time period of Bunyan's life.  This is a strength of this work.  Many biographies fail to adequately develop the reader's understanding of the world in which their subject person lived.  Belmonte does a good job with this.

Also done well is the pacing of the book.  Belmonte does not plod about while telling the story of Bunyan's life.  If there is any complaint related to the pacing of the story, it is too quick.  This is likely due to the book's size.

The book is pocket-sized.  Well, I don't know if that's the official description, but it fits well in a suit-coat pocket or a jacket pocket.  The overall page count is 196, counting index, prologue, and everything.  As such, not everything about Bunyan's life can fit.  It just cannot.  My life is mostly dull, and I doubt that you could write my own life story, including background on contemporary events,  in 196 pages without leaving out parts.

The main criticism the book might draw is that Belmonte doesn't spend much time on the depths of Bunyan's spiritual walk.  This is true.  However, this is a strength of the work.  We have a tendency to apply the 'halo' effect on heroes of the Christian faith.  In Bunyan, we have a great hero: a Baptist preacher sent to jail for preaching!  His faith and doctrine must be great!  Belmonte does a good job digging beneath the halo to provide a more earth bound picture.  This is still a little disappointing, because if a person unfamiliar with Bunyan's faith read it, they wouldn't know the depth of his faith.

However, all in all, this book is worth reading.  It won't take very long, and will open the reader's eyes to the historical situation of Bunyan's life.  I'd certainly recommend a longer, more in-depth treatment of Bunyan's life and theology for further understanding, but you've got to start somewhere.  Here's a good place.



Once again, free book, unbiased review.  Check out BookSneeze's program for details.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Being Contrary

It's not just a hobby, it's a way of life.  At least for some of us.  It doesn't matter whether we have better ideas or not, we know bad ideas when we see them.  Or we can punch holes in mediocre ideas, whether there's merit to those ideas or not.

And it's probably time to work on breaking the habit.  While giving something a rigorous examination and citing problems with any given plan, idea, or system is appropriate, there's no reason to do it just for fun.

It's a danger that I'm struggling with. Why?  Well, let's see…

In politics, it seems that there have been, for the last several years, many ideas worth simply skewering and going on.  It hasn't gotten any better lately.  You've got health-care reform, CPISA, baby sling warnings, financial stupidity, and corruption.  What's not to be contrary with?

In Baptist life, there's plenty to pick on.  There's the debate over the GCRTF report (or the lack of debate), the apparent coming elderly boxing match between Morris Chapman and Jerry Rankin (or not), our slow drift towards hierarchal elites running what's supposed to be a priesthood of all believers doctrine-holding group, and the ever-present Calvinism arguments.

What's the common thread?  One that I'm seeing, and trying to corral in my own behavior, is to sit back, poke a hole or two in someone else's argument, and then move on like I've accomplished something.  I wrote a blog post a few days ago about bad data and bad conclusions.  I used a Baptist life example for it.  I stand by it, because I think I was right, but it took several rewrites to tone it down where it is.  What I was after was to raise a question without attacking the people involved.

Down in, that's part of where we need to get to.  There needs to be the recognition that even our worst of opponents can bring forward good ideas.  Whether it's Speaker Pelosi actually backing good legislation or someone in the SBC with a good idea, even though I might not like him or her personally, we need to be willing to let those good ideas come forward.

When the bad ideas come out, we need to evaluate them and stop them based on the merits or lack thereof.  It shouldn't be something that we enjoy doing.  It's the necessity of evaluating ideas and keeping the good and tossing the bad, but to just tear down others should not be a source of pleasure.

And, for crying out loud, people, if something has to be done and you don't like the idea presented, FIND ANOTHER IDEA TO PRESENT!!!  This is why I'm frustrated with the Republican Party of which I've stopped being a registered member.  This is a constant frustration to me as a church leader in Baptist life.  We have too many people ready to say why one idea won't work but who will not offer one that they think will.  While being the party out of power in politics entitles a certain amount of negativity, in churches we don't have time for this.  In politics, really, we don't have time for this either.

Be contrary as much as you like, but remember two things:

1.  When it's your idea, you're fair game too.

2.  If you knock down this one, help find a replacement.



Proverbs 11

Looking at Proverbs 11:8 today:


8 The righteous is delivered from trouble, and the wicked walks into it instead. Proverbs 11:8 (ESV)

I find this interesting to consider.  At first glance, this appears to tell us that righteous people won't have problems and the wicked people will get them instead.

Except that life shows us that this understanding isn't true.  This week alone, I've read of Christians being killed for their faith in 3 separate countries.  In Pakistan, 6 people were killed while at work with Compassion International, an organization that feeds starving children.  It's hard to doubt that the wicked walked away from trouble while the righteous went undelivered, like a UPS overgood.

However, if you throw in the Biblical definition of righteousness, we start to get a better understanding.  Take a look at Isaiah 53:6 :

6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:6 (ESV)


and again in Romans 3:10:

10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;

Romans 3:10 (ESV)


So, even though we would account many people as being righteous, a Biblical standard does not.


Yet this hardly seems satisfactory.  How could we worship a God who deemed that everyone should receive nothing but trouble?


Here's the glory of the Lord in the answer: when we accept Christ, it is His righteousness that counts for us.  Take a read at Romans 5:1:

5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:1 (ESV)


That "justified" reflects a couple of things, but the most relevant right now is that followers of Christ as given credit, by the grace of God, for the righteousness that Christ has.  His right-standing in the Law of God counts for us.


In light of eternity, the righteous are those who have the righteousness of Christ credited for them who are delivered from trouble.  They are delivered from the wrath of God.  Which, all in all, is a good deliverance to have.



Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Romans 8:1-2

Life in the Spirit

8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

Romans 8:1-2 (ESV)

While many wiser minds have sliced and diced these verses, I'm going to add my 2 cents worth.  Why?  Because that's one of the great things about blogging.  I can write on the same subjects as great men like John Piper or Emil Turner or even what Martin Luther published.  Of course, my stats show an important truth about my writing, but that's ok too.  I write, hoping I'll be read, but also for my own edification.  It is funny, though, to see all the emails telling me how to make money from blogging.  Right. That's really going to happen.

So, Romans 8:1-2?

I.  Notice the now

If there is now no condemnation, then there was condemnation then.  And it's gone.  If you are in Christ Jesus, the condemnation that was is no more. 

That doesn't change the reality that there remains condemnation that those not in Christ Jesus have to face.  We could bicker about whether that's fair or not.

Or we could tell the world about Jesus and let them make up their own mind.  Start with the person next to you at breakfast today.

II. Notice the who

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  It's about individual people.  Christ does not remove the condemnation for businesses, nations, organizations, or even churches.  This is about people.

Not that those organizations are inherently bad (except, perhaps, Congress) but rather that they cannot be the be all and end all of our effort.  If we labor to remove the condemnation from our nation without leading individual people to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we're pushing a rock that will not move.

III. Notice the law

We as believers are still bound to a law.  This is not a popular idea, but it's a true one.  While we are freed from the law of sin and death, the law that crushes, we are made free to follow the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus.

This means we are free, but not to just bounce about and do whatever we choose.  We are, rather, free to do what we were made for in the first place! God created us to worship Him with all we are.  We were made for eternity, and this law frees us to live for that purpose.  We ought not reject it.


Where do you live?  Are you on the right side of now? Are you focused on who?  Are you living in the right law?


Bad data leads to bad conclusions

I've been trying to avoid too much digital ink spilled over current internal Southern Baptist Convention goings-on.  That's for several reasons.  One is that I'm not spending near as much time on that as on other issues in life.  Why?  Because I doubt that anything I say about the SBC influences anyone, but I have a family to lead, a church to minister to, and a digital audience that probably just doesn't care.

However, something I read in Baptist Press yesterday caught my attention.  For those of you that don't know it, we Southern Baptists decided last year that, perhaps, we needed to examine how we operate to see if there are better ways to work together to allow more of the funds we put into missions to actually be used… spread the Gospel.  So, we took a very Baptist approach to the problem: we appointed a committee to examine it.  Well, we approved a committee.  They were then appointed by the SBC President.

Well, the committee just released it's preliminary findings, and made some recommendations to make major changes in the way our North American Missions are operated.  The plan is to defund a large portion of how those missions are operated, and restructure the whole program.  It was based on data that showed that we were paying for more missionaries in the area that is commonly known as the "South" than in the rest of the US and Canada.  This was provided to the North American Mission Board last summer, and the committee used this data to recommend major changes.

There's just one problem here.  The data's inaccurate.  Well, not just slightly inaccurate.  Apparently, the initial figure that 2 out of 3 NAMB missionaries are in the South, and that 2/3's of the money is spent in the South, was close to reversed.  75% of the money, and 53% of the missionaries are out of the South.  Now, whether or not that's adequate is a whole different question.

It is, however, hardly the problem that was attempting to be solved.  Why?

It is because bad data will almost certainly lead to bad conclusions.

This is why decision making for us is so hard.  We often act on bad data, and therefore make bad decisions.  Many divorces happen because bad data is brought to the decision to marry in the first place.  Job dissatisfaction comes because bad data caused us to take the wrong job.  Churches aren't pleased when they find the hidden issues in a pastor's past.  Bad data.  Companies fail because of missing the point on the information.

However, it's not always possible to get the best, complete data before you make a decision.  Should you try?  Certainly.  I'm not sure how the elite brain trust that was evaluating the SBC didn't double-check the numbers.  Certainly if they read this, they'd fry me if I had a misplaced comma, much less an error of that magnitude.  But we don't know all about everyone or everything.  Ann and I are currently evaluating seminary possibilities.  We'll make the best decision we can, and then we'll go from there.

For the believer in Christ, the first point is to make sure we seek God's direction, since He knows what we don't.

This should be obvious, but it's not.  And it's not always easy, because the Lord God Almighty still doesn't send personal emails from Himself.  He sends them sometimes through people, but then we question whether He prompted it or just people's own thoughts.

Extremely important is how we handle learning that our data was wrong and our conclusions were incorrect.

Many conclusions can be adjusted.  Right now, our conclusion is that I'll have time (and we'll have money) for me to attend seminary by distance.  If we discover that it's going to be twice as expensive or twice as time-consuming, we'll revisit the decision.  I once took a job believing I could do it.  I failed, utterly.  (I was a salesman. Who sold nothing.)

When churches or businesses begin to make decisions based on data that is wrong, they need to re-examine if they're still on the right track.  Same thing with SBC committees.

Some decisions can take a while to get out of….you can't just bail out on a job without a new one (or some savings)! If you vote in a politician based on data that says he's good, and he's not, you've got to wait for the next election and then vote them out!

Some decisions you have to live with.  Your marriage isn't what you wanted, but you're committed to it.  You've realized, now, that you don't really like kids.  Well, you can't eat them, so you've got to feed them, raise them right, and get them on their way.  Even if you have to get help because you know you can't handle it after all.

The one thing you cannot do is ignore that the data changed.

You still have to reconsider your conclusions, you still need to contemplate what has changed.

You may be bound by your word to the conclusion.  You may be bound by contract or by law.  You may simply be so emotionally vested that you won't change your mind under any circumstances.

Yet, if you doggedly refuse to even reconsider, you are bound for trouble.  If your conclusions are intended to lead others, your integrity is at stake.  If your conclusions are just about your own life, your strength to stick with them is at stake.

Any direction you look, if it's an important enough to decision, it's important enough to get it right.  Even if you have to do it twice.



Proverbs 9

Proverbs 9:8:

8 Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you;
reprove a wise man, and he will love you.

Proverbs 9:8 (ESV)


This verse is highlighted to me today, as I'm at Preview Days for Mid-America Baptist Seminary.  I'm hoping to finish my M.Div. through their distance learning program here, and wanted to take the opportunity to come see the new campus.


You see, I attended this seminary before.  I didn't finish, and I don't know that we parted on the best of terms.  I, personally, left upset.  I don't think anyone with the seminary noticed I left.


Some of what I learned and received while I was here the first time was easy, and some was hard.  Some was encouraging, and there was some that easily qualifies as a rebuke or as being reproved.  What's reproved?  Corrected, shown the truth in contrast to your own ideas.


I didn't always take kindly to the reproval.  Point of fact, I left here with very little love for MABTS or for several professors.


Now, I'm back, hoping they'll take me back, realizing that one of the things I need is to learn, to grow, and to build the relationships that seminary fosters.  Will I get some reproval while I'm at it?  I'm fairly certain I will.  I'm also certain that I need it.


All to that say, I'm hoping this is evidence I'm maturing a little, moving past the fool and into the wise man a bit better.  I know I need that more than the Greek or the Hebrew, although I really want all the learning I can stand.



Monday, March 8, 2010

Happy Birthday Ann!

This blog will now temporarily depart from any normal posting to talk about someone very important.

She's incredibly good at keeping up with all the household stuff.

I, on the other hand, would lose my head if it weren't attached. It would follow my mind wherever it has already gone to.

All that being said, today is my lovely wife's birthday, and she's spending it traveling with me to Memphis.  There are precious few things in this world that matter more to me than her, and that she doesn't consider it a bad birthday just because she gets to spend it all with me is such an amazing picture of her graciousness and beauty that I can't hardly explain it.

And you should read her blog.  It's at (I got her the domain name for her birthday.  Well, there's supposed to be some web design with it, but I'm having to learn that as I go, and it's harder than it looks.)

Happy Birthday, sweetie.  Sorry I didn't make a cake, but I'll try and make it up to you!

Love, your extraordinarily blessed husband.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

March 7 Sermons

I used handwritten outlines this week for sermons, so I'll not be cut and pasting them here, although I really want to stay in the habit.  Here's the audio player that's normally on the church blog to listen to them, if you're interested:

Med School and Seminary

I've recently confessed to you, my dear reader, that I've taken to watching Scrubs, a medical sitcom that used to air on NBC.  There's currently a spin-off like version on ABC, but it's kind of like AfterMASH without the chemistry.  Or that season of the A-Team when they were actually working for the government.  However, the original has become one of my current favorite shows.

As I'm one of the bigger nerds I know, when I start learning a little about something, I'm often curious about learning more.  When we were in a Boston Legal habit, I read up on law firms and law school.  Now that we're on the medical side, I thought I'd learn a little about medical school. 

I've long known that medical school and seminary are somewhat similar it terms of the academic structures.  They are both graduate professional schools, both take much more than the 30 hours a typical MA takes, and are highly specialized in their teaching.  Medical school is actually the only graduate program that I can find that takes more academic hours to finish than an M.Div. from seminary takes.

The real difference, though, isn't the academic load.  It's not even the academic work.  (Sure, organic chemistry is hard.  Want to swap for some Aramaic or maybe family counseling?  To each their own.)  The biggest difference is that a medical school degree is practically worthless without a substantial amount of supervised work in the field.

It's not the med school that really weeds out people that shouldn't be doctors.  It's the internships, the residency time, the having to actually be glared at by another doctor while you practice the various basics of medical work.  We don't often do that with ministers.  Some denominations may encourage that, but we Baptists have no structure for anything of the sort. 

For example, I started my first pastorate with no supervision or outside accountability.  All that could have happened was the church could come together and fire me if they wanted, but things had to get bad before they would do that.  Meanwhile, I'm honing my skills as a pastor, and the church is what's being scraped to get there.  Even though I had worked in various staff ministry roles, none of them carried an intentional effort to prepare for a different role.  Partly because it's hard to be a good youth minister for a church if you're really only there to fill a resume block or if it's intended just as a temporary spot until you can move up.  Or at least we assume it is.

Another aspect of difference, at least from what I can tell of reading about teaching hospitals and medical school systems is that you are highly unlikely to go through the system without having to teach someone below your skill level.  Specialists train general practitioners, who in turn train residents who train interns, and even interns show med students a thing or two.  (Meanwhile, nurses know everything, but that's another story.)

In other words, you don't go long before you have to communicate the lessons you're learning to someone else.  Still under supervision, still under evaluation, and still learning more and more as you go.  But you have to get started training those who will come after you, to both cement the lessons in your head and to insure the perpetuation of the knowledge.

Yet we have this tendency in Baptist ministry to hunker down by ourselves.  First of all, you can get through seminary without having to teach anyone anything.  In fact, you've got to be either well-connected or exceptional to even have the opportunity to teach anything in seminary.  Second, you can actually enter ministry with no education or practical training for it.  Finally, you can cut off your learning any time you want to. 

Should you? No.  Do I want outsiders controlling our churches?  No.

I can't help feeling there's got to be a better way, even for us independent minded Baptists.  It seems that we have either too much pride or too little confidence to adopt a system that used internships and residencies in most Baptist life.  Maybe it's both.  We're too proud to think we need to keep learning, and too scared that our congregations will like the intern better than us.

I know the medical system isn't perfect.  I know that there are gaps in the learning process.  After all, my own doctor did part of residency at the Med in Memphis.  I doubt that he learned everything about small-town private practice while working at the Med, although I'm highly confident in his trauma skills after that.  I know we can't create "Teaching Churches" without being very cautious.

I do think that one thing we need, though, is to find a way to model and teach one another better than we do.  The reason we in the Southern Baptist Convention need a Great Commission Resurgence is partly because we church leaders spend too much time being on guard against each other, and too many church resources go into reinventing the same wheel the church down the street made.  We have too many young pastors that falter over lessons they could easily have been taught by an experienced pastor.  Except that neither pastor's church wanted him to "waste his time and their money" sitting down together talking about such things.

Ministry has to become about expanding God's church, even if we have to swallow some pride and spend some time on it. 


If you're curious why I'm just now watching a show that debuted in 2001, it's this: we've just recently canceled our cable TV, and now have just hi-speed internet.  So, we watch stuff that's on DVD.  We'd watch the things that Netflix streams, but I think our local internet provider blocks Netflix's IP address to try and force you to pay for cable.  Anyway, prior to this past 18 month stint with cable, if it didn't come in with an antenna, we didn't watch it, and NBC never came in clearly, so we never watched Scrubs.  Caught an episode on Comedy Central one night, and now we're hooked.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Comparative Standards

I'm sitting here sipping my second day's supply of Green Mountain Coffee's Los Nacientes Special Reserve Coffee.  It's a remarkable coffee.  In fact, my "I can't stand coffee though I love the smell" lovely wife even took a sip because of the scent.  It's the first time she hasn't immediately spit out what she tasted and grabbed for the closest thing with a strong flavor to clear her palate.

Personally, I'm really enjoying the coffee.  It's a good flavor, great aroma, and it's not too acidic or too bitter.  It stands alone nicely. 

What I'm thinking about as I drink it is all the times I've thought I found a coffee that's better than another.  I first found that I prefer Maxwell House to Folgers, then that I liked the Dunkin' Donuts brand at Wal-Mart.  Then I tried the Millstone flavored coffees.  Then I started on Cameron's Coffee, which was miles ahead of the previous.  Now, thanks to slick marketing tactics, I've tried Green Mountain's Coffees.  And they are great.

How does this matter?  Well, when it comes to coffee, it's a taste thing, but there's been an increasing exposure to what's good and what's even better.  I have frequently had a cup of coffee I thought was the best I would ever taste only to try something different that was even better.

This is fine when it comes to coffee.  I'm probably maxed out at this point, since increasing coffee quality any more will require a major upgrade to the coffee budget, but I'm sure there's even better coffee out there than what I have in my possession.  Besides that, it's entirely subjective whether you like this better than that, and some people don't drink coffee for the flavor anyway. They only need to inject the caffeine into their system.  That coffee has a flavor is a moot point.

Our own lives, though, work a little differently.  Or at least they ought to.  We have a tendency, though, to settle for a comparative best instead of a real best.  We compare our lives to other people, and decide we're better off or not, and then stop.

We do this in our marriages, and determine we're better than someone else's marriage, so we'll just settle for that.  We do this spiritually and decide we're a little better than the next guy and stop there.

Rather than comparing, there's a better way.  God's word shows us how we can be, and gives us the path to get there.  Want your marriage to be what it can be?  Crack open Ephesians and do what it says.  Want your spiritual life to be what it can be?  Read, follow, obey. 

We do this in our churches as well.  The church I serve right now as a few problems.  Some of them are related to the economy.  Some of them are related to a lack of obedience to God's commands.  Some of them may be related to their pastor. (Trust me, I've lived with him for years.)  Yet we have a tendency to excuse those issues with a "well, all churches have their problems."

True, they do, but we aren't other churches.  We can be better than that, because we won't stand before God to answer why weren't better than Pauline Baptist. We'll answer for why we haven't been all that He called us to be.  If we will seek His word and follow as churches, we'll stand out in obedience.

Probably even more so than my coffee stands above Maxwell House.



Thursday, March 4, 2010

Surely, you can't be serious

There's a story near the end of Joshua that has always struck me as, well, odd.  It's in Joshua 22.  The verses that really draw it out are

The Eastern Tribes' Altar of Witness

10 And when they came to the region of the Jordan that is in the land of Canaan, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by the Jordan, an altar of imposing size. 11 And the people of Israel heard it said, “Behold, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh have built the altar at the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region about the Jordan, on the side that belongs to the people of Israel.” 12 And when the people of Israel heard of it, the whole assembly of the people of Israel gathered at Shiloh to make war against them.

Joshua 22:10-12 (ESV)

Let's think about this.  The people of Israel that have grumbled and complained against God.  That, before much longer, will turn away from God completely for a little while, are currently ready to go to war over the construction of an altar by people within their own nation!

We're going to be real quick to be judgmental here.  It seems woefully immature to go off attacking your own people over an altar they've built.  Especially when you find out that the East Side Tribes (those that lived on the east side of the Jordan River) built it to remind themselves and the West Side Tribes that they all serve the same God. 

Yet we do the same things.  We find small details of behavior or finer points of doctrine or even just the labels we attach to ourselves.  Then, we attack.  We attack over ridiculous things.  Without seeking the heart, without examining the real situation. 

Part of the reason for the East Side Altar was fear over the attitude of West Siders, yet do you see the West Siders considering the possibility?  No, they immediately assume the worst of their own brothers, their fellow God-worshippers

In what ways do we strap on swords to attack within our own churches, our own circle of believers?  We have got to learn to focus on what matters the most: the worship of Almighty God and spreading His word so that, since "At the name of Jesus every knee will bow," people have the opportunity to start bowing now and not face judgment for not having done it.

It's time to stop having these arguments that, if we were watching from outside, our response would be "Surely you can't be serious! Arguing over that?"

We need to get serious about what matters.


And stop calling me Shirley.



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