Tuesday, December 4, 2012

What Is The BMA?

What is the BMA? It took me by surprise when a church member asked me that question. But it also reminded me that we all come from different backgrounds. I have been involved with the BMA since before I remember. My love for the BMA is part of what led me to our church, but isn’t the experience of all of our church members. For many, they developed a love for our church first. The association was not a priority for them and for that reason they may still have only a passing awareness of what the BMA is. Because of my great appreciation for the BMA, I would feel remiss if I didn’t try to increase their knowledge.

The BMA is an Association of Churches

The Baptist Missionary Association (BMA) is an association made up of Missionary Baptist churches that are conservative in doctrine. To fully appreciate the importance of the BMA, we must first appreciate the need of churches to partner together in associations. The primary reason for the BMA is multiply the ability of the local church to preach the gospel to the whole world.

Consider that the typical church has fewer than one hundred members. Most churches can’t afford to pay their pastor a full-time salary and their other staff isn’t paid at all. Such a church might be very effective within their local community, but their means won’t allow them to give much thought to the heathen in other parts of the world. Even to drive to a town a couple of counties away to share the gospel might be very costly. And yet, the BMA is sending missionaries all around the world. It is broadcasting the gospel in places some of us have never heard of. It is developing Sunday school literature with a quality that few churches could develop on their own. When a bunch of small churches work together, they can do far more than even a very large church can do by itself.

Associations also provide fellowship. One of the things I love about the BMA is that when we come together we find that we are meeting with people who have similar beliefs and experience similar problems. A church may have only one pastor, one music director, one youth minister, and those individuals may feel isolated because the other church members don’t understand the problems they are experiencing. But when the churches come together, there may be hundreds of pastors, and a several dozen other staff members, plenty of Sunday school teachers and other leaders. They are willing to share each other’s burdens.

The BMA Isn’t Just One Association

In the case of our church, the BMA is three separate associations. Our church is a member of the BMA of America, the BMA of Texas, and the Tarrant County BMA. But there are many other BMA associations. Some are in other states. Some are in other countries. Each association is independent from the other associations, and yet there is a great deal of cooperation between them.

We often think of these associations as national, state, and local (or district). Each of the three has its purpose. It is through support of the BMA of America that our church is able to reach beyond the state of Texas into other states and the world. The BMA of Texas is primary focused on the state of Texas, both in mission work and providing a conduit for communication among the churches within the state.

Local associations tend to be more about fellowship among churches within an area and increasing the ability of churches to reach the local area through mission endeavors within the local area. For small churches, the local association will often fill in gaps within their ministry. Some local associations, for example, have some form of youth ministry because the individual churches are large enough to have a significant youth ministry on their own. As churches get larger, the need for this type of program diminishes at the associational level, but they may need the association to provide things.

The BMA Has Churches with Similar Doctrine

Each church within the BMA is independent, so no two churches are exactly alike. But I’ve seen great similarity among the churches of the BMA. I have heard many BMA pastors preach and I am convinced that the BMA has some of the best preachers you will hear anywhere. They are true to the word of God.

As you go from church to church, you’ll find that what one teaches is very much like what another BMA church teaches. Sure, you’ll find a few oddballs in the mix, but most BMA churches are teaching the truth.

These days, the trend seems to be for churches to distance themselves from anything that would identify them with any other organization. You might see a sign along the road for “Truth Church” but you don’t really know if they are teaching the truth until you’ve gone inside and heard their teaching. One of the things I love about the BMA is that I have a pretty good idea of what they teach even before I walk through the door of a BMA church.

And So Much More

So much more could be said about what the BMA is. Much of my experience with the BMA has been at annual meetings with their formality and the much needed deliberation as the messengers make decisions concerning the direction of the association for the next year, but that’s not all the BMA is. The BMA is people. There are so many faces and names that come to mind when I think of the BMA. But mostly, the BMA is an organization that allows our church to help other churches carry the gospel to a lost world.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Big Rocks

Our lesson on Sunday included an illustration. A professor put rocks into a jar until they reached the top. He asked the class, “is it full?” Then he poured sand into the jar, shaking it so it would fall between the rocks. “Is it full?” He then poured water over the sand.

I’ve heard this illustration used by several preachers. Usually, they are saying to put God first, then add the other things in life. On Sunday, it was used to say that putting worldly things in your life can limit the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. But today I saw a similar illustration on Facebook. A professor filled a jar with golf balls, then pebbles, then sand, and finally beer. He used it in much the same way pastors do, but when a student asked about the beer, he told the student that it was because there is always room to drink a couple of beers with friends.

That’s the problem with object lessons. They give the appearance of proving our point, but two people can use the same object lesson to say two very different things. Where one person is promoting reliance on the Holy Spirit, another person is promoting spirits of a different kind.

We must be careful how we use object lessons. We can use them to illustrate what we are saying, but we should never use them as proof. The fact that it is easier to put the big rocks in first proves nothing about life because the way we label those rocks is arbitrary.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Don't Let Us Mess It Up

Keep us from messing up.” Those weren’t his exact words, but that was certainly the intent of our interim pastor’s prayer last night at the Pastor Search Committee meeting last night. Of all the committees I’ve served on, of all the positions I filled, serving on this committee is the one that makes me the most nervous. We have an amazing church. It is filled with great people who serve the Lord with gladness. I have great respect for the leaders within our church, both those who are serving on the committee and those who are not. Our church had a very deep pool of qualified individuals to pull from when they selected the committee. But if we were to select the wrong man as pastor, it could mess up all the good things that our church has going for it.

It was good to hear that reminder last night. I’m not wrong in feeling nervous about my ability to select the right man for the job. Though I have great respect for the others on the committee, I’m not wrong in feeling nervous about their ability in that selection. Though I believe they are among the most faithful and scripturally sound leaders our church has to offer, we are just human. But God knows who the right person is to be our pastor for the coming years. More and more, I find myself praying, “Lord, don’t let us mess it up.”

Monday, November 19, 2012

This is Thanksgiving week, here in the United States. This is the week that we follow the Pilgrim’s example and pause to thank Almighty God for what he has so richly blessed us with over the past year. I been thinking about writing about the cycle of praise on this blog and now seems like an appropriate time.

It works like this: God blesses us, so we praise him, because we praise him, he blesses us. It all starts with God, because without God choosing to bless us in the first place, we would have no reason to praise him and so he would have no reason to bless us.

Take a look at Psalm 67. It begins by talking about the blessing of God. The stated reason for that blessing is “that thy way may be known.” It then talks about God’s people praising him. But in verses 5 and 6 we see this statement, “Let the people praise Thee, O God; let all the people praise Thee. Then shall the earth yield her increase; and God, even our own God, shall bless us.” It seems to be saying that our praise will result in God blessing us.

We must not break that cycle. If we want God’s blessings, we must continue to praise him for the blessings he has already given us. God desires to bless us, but if we stopping praising him, he may be forced to withhold his blessings.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Lord, Give Us More Spiritual Fruit

I love reading this list:
  • love
  • joy
  • peace
  • longsuffering
  • gentleness
  • goodness
  • faith
  • meekness
  • temperance

You probably recognize it as the list that Paul gave of the “fruit of the spirit.” I look around us today and it occurs to me that what we need is more spiritual fruit.

When you think of spiritual fruit, don’t think of it as different kinds of fruit. Love isn’t one kind of fruit and peace another. The nine things in the list are attribute that describe one kind of fruit. Just like we as an apple is sweet, firm, red, round, etc. The fruit of the spirit is these nine things.

And like an apple tree produces apples, the fruit of the spirit is what Christians produce. It is our actions. But not all of our actions can be called the fruit of the spirit, only those actions that demonstrate love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance.

I often seen people I didn’t know and thought, “that person has to be a Christian.” What caused me to think that was the way they treated other people. They treated people with love. They were joyful. They had an attitude of peace. They weren’t quick to take offense. They were gentle. They did was right. They had faith. They didn’t lord over other people. They abstained from things they shouldn’t be involved in. We need more people like that in all areas of life. We need them in business. We need them in politics. We need them in schools and colleges. We need more spiritual fruit.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

This Can't Be For Real

I have some blogs in my feed reader that I don’t remember why I started following them. The other day, one of them caught my eye, 3 Way to Learn How to Win the Lottery. Even though I could read the entire blog in the reader, I chose to click through because I was sure it was some kind of joke. Yet, the best I can tell, the author believes what she has written.

The simple fact is, you aren’t going to significantly improve your odds of winning the lottery by doing anything that she says in this post. Theoretically, you might gain a little by studying the numbers. No random number generator is truly random and if balls are used to draw numbers, the slight differences in the weight of the balls can cause one to be slightly more likely than another. But if they change the balls, your advantage disappears.

Since the lottery is random, sticking to one game will gain you nothing. Some people have the idea that if they keep throwing their money at the lottery that eventually they’ll win. Gambling doesn’t work that way. The vast majority of the people who play will end up spending far more money than they win. The more you play, the more you lose. You can’t assume that your lucky numbers will come up eventually. Some numbers may come up more than once while some numbers will never be picked.

And lastly, playing often will increase your chances of winning, but it also guarantees that you’ll lose a lot more money. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the typical player spends $1,384 per year. So over 10 years, that is $13,840. Only two-thirds of the money taken in is paid out in prizes, so the typical player can expect to lose $4,567 over a 10 year period. If they were to take that $4,567 that they would lose by playing the lottery and invest it wisely, they could likely have the $13,840 dollars. If they were to invest the whole $13,840 wisely, over ten years, they could expect to have around $30,000. Put simply, people who don’t play the lottery have the potential to earn $35,000 more than the typical player over ten years.

Not only that, but most people who gain their wealth by winning the lottery will lose everything they gained within a few years. People who don’t play and invest wisely may never be considered wealthy, but they are much more likely to keep their financial well-being throughout their lives.

Monday, November 12, 2012

On Dissolving the Union

Did you hear? Texas and fourteen other states are pulling out of the Union. That’s what they’re saying on Facebook anyway. Upon closer examination, what has actually happened is that individuals from fifteen states have filed petitions with the Obama administration to withdraw from the United States of America. In Texas, it is one Micah H. from Arlington who has filed the petition. I don’t know him. Other states are Louisiana, Montana, North Dakota, Indiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Colorado, Oregon and New York. Notice that there are some solidly Democrat states in that list.

That should tell you how silly this is. Even if these petitions have the 25,000 signatures needed “for consideration” (I have little doubt they will), these states are a long way from being able to pull out of the Union. 15th largest economy in the world or not, even Texas would have a lot of issues to resolve before it could safely pull out. First, there is the issue of voter approval. There are nearly 26 million people living in Texas, so 25,000 signatures is just a small percentage of the majority needed to pull out. Most of the voters are still proud Americans, even if they don’t like the way the last election went. And many of those voters get their income from Federal Government contracts or from businesses that have built up around companies getting money from those contracts. Every large population area in Texas would take a major blow economically and would likely lose many of its residents, if Texas were to pull out of the Union.

Second, what would Texas do to defend itself? In time, yes, it would be able to put together a military, but it could take several years. It is a very large border that Texas would have to defend.

I could go on, but the point is that Obama will be out of office before Texas could be ready to pull out of the Union. And pulling out doesn’t really solve the problem. The problem isn’t the people who are being elected (not completely anyway), the problem is the people who are electing them. We seem to have forgotten that is is “We the people” who are the government of the United States. Splitting up the Union doesn’t do anything to convince the voters to make the right decisions.

Friday, November 9, 2012

My Heart Was Set On a Goat

Upon arriving home from work, I opened my mailbox to find an assortment of mail. A bill due next month. A check for the association. A few sale flyers. A gift catalog. This caught my eye. On the front of the catalog was the picture of a beautiful black girl in African garb, with a goat in her lap. I would guess her to be about eleven year old. I turned the page and there was another child with another goat. “Give a Goat” were the heading of the page and there was the price, $75 for a goat or $150 for two goats.

They’ve certainly got the right idea. People don’t like giving money to a fund. It isn’t that they aren’t willing to give, but they want to know that their money is accomplishing something. Our church recently expanded our building. I think our building fund had about $200,000 or $300,000 that had accumulated over a decade. But once we started making plans to build, people gave. We would’ve built a $1,000,000 building debt free, if the contractor hadn’t misappropriated the money. As it was, we ended up borrowing money to pay the sub-contractors and to finish the building, but people kept giving and we’re debt free once more.

So, it sounds good. I can send this organization money and it will go toward buying a goat, or chickens, or a cow, all for a needy family. But then I a saw this statement, “86% of every gift goes to programs helping children and families overcome poverty in nearly 100 countries.” Nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t sound quite the same as the rest of the catalog implies. In other words, only $64.50 is going toward buying that girl a goat.

But wait, it gets worse. In the fine print I found these words:
We promise to honor your generosity and use your donation in the most effective way possible. The needs shown in this catalog reflect World Vision projects at the time of writing, and the suggested donation amounts are based on surveys of the countries we serve. Each item is representative of the gift category in which it appears, and donations will be used to provide assistance where it is needed most within that category or to address a similar need.

Needless to say, I felt deflated when I saw that. Any money that I might send them goes into a fund that may or may not buy a goat for a family in need. I even felt like they had lied to me. I’ve given to funds before, and that’s okay, but I liked thinking that after giving my $75 that someone would walk up to a house somewhere in Africa, hand them a goat and say, “Someone in Fort Worth, Texas bought you a goat.” But it’ not like that at all.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

E Pluribus Unum

Rob Sanders recently asked in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “When will the many become one?” He was referring to the Latin words on U.S. money, “E pluribus unum” – “out of many, one.” And also the election. Though a few states may fall one way or the other, the political map of the United States has blue Democrat states on the east and west coasts with a swash of red Republican states down the middle. We are a country divided. How do we unite it once more and work together?

I’m reminded of the original thirteen states. They had their share of disagreement. We see part of this in the Constitution. The reason we have two houses of Congress is because of a disagreement. The small states didn’t want the large states to have too much power and the large states wanted power that was representative of the size of their population. The result is the Senate in which the small states have just as much power as the large states and the House of Representatives which is representative of population size.

And I’m reminded of the Civil War. That was a nasty business with brother fighting against brother. But we came through it. The union held and is stronger for it today.

If our past is any indication, even with those thing that divide us, there is still hope for our future. The question is, how do we move forward united? That is a question that I intend to give some thought.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

It's Over...But It Ain't

Well, the election is over and I can’t say that I’m completely happy with the results, but they are what they are. I keep thinking about President Obama saying, “wait until after the election” and I wonder just what we have in store for us. I suppose that is one of the problems with term limits. There is freedom in knowing that you don’t have another election to lose.

But I’m also reminded of President Clinton. When he was reelected, there were a bunch of us who were convinced that he was going to use those last four years to do some very scary things. As it turned out, he went and got himself impeached. With everything that happened leading up to his impeachment and then the trial, he didn’t have time to do many of the things we thought he was going to do.

I’m not saying that President Obama is going to be impeached like Clinton was. I’m not saying that President Obama has been spending too much time with White House interns. (I sure hope not, anyway.) But God is still on the throne, just as he was when Clinton was in his second term. Though we may wonder why God would allow some of the people who were elected to be elected, God is still the one who directs the agenda. That’s not to say that God won’t allow the things that we fear will happen, but we can certainly request his help.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Today is election day here in the United States. This year, we're electing the most powerful man in the free world. But while all the attention is on the President, there are a lot of other people running for office. What I find interesting is that here in Texas as there are a lot of Republicans running uncontested for many of the races. I suppose in Illinois and California there may be several Democrats running uncontested. I'm not sure I understand that. Couldn't the lesser party (whichever one it is) come up with someone to run, even if it is just to put someone on the ballot?

Granted, some people aren't willing to risk the possibility of winning the election because it would require them to take on the job they were elected for. If you are making good money at another job, you aren't going to risk it. But considering the number of people without a job right now, you would think that there would be plenty of people willing to put their name in the race, even if they don't really expect to win.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Why Your Friends Are Calling You Fat, Among Other Things.

A came up to me and asked, “Are you saying I’m fat? I wanted to ask you about that e-mail you sent out about green tea.” I stared back at her with a dumbfounded look on my face. “I didn’t send you an e-mail like that.”

Though I hadn’t sent the e-mail, it is very likely that she received an e-mail with my name on it. Here’s why:

E-mail messages are simply a block of data with a header specifying who should receive the message, an optional subject line, and information about who sent the message. Unlike what most people seem to think, there is nothing that prevents someone from sending an e-mail with someone else’s e-mail address in the from field. A lot of people think they’ve been hacked when their friends tell them about e-mails from them that they didn’t send. This is typically not the case.

A much more likely scenario is that a spammer has received an e-mail that someone has forwarded to their whole e-mail list. You’ve seen e-mails like that. “Forward this if you love Jesus.” Or whatever. And out it goes with a big list of e-mail addresses attached to it. The spammer knows that people are more likely to trust am e-mail if they think it comes from a friend. First, he removes his own e-mail address. Then he selects one of the other e-mail addresses as the from address. He sends his own message to the other addresses on the list as if it came from that address. Over time, he may use everyone listed in the e-mail as the from address. That way, he is guaranteed to find people who recognize each other’s e-mail addresses.

Until a scheme is implemented that forces us to identify ourselves before we can send e-mail this sort of thing will continue to go on. So far, most people haven’t been too enthused about removing the anonymity of the Internet. But with it, you may think that lots of friends are calling you fat, when they know nothing about it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

On When a Boy Becomes a Man

Some friends and I got into a discussion about 1 Timothy 2:12. On the surface, it seems pretty clear, “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” And yet, I’ve rarely found two people who agree completely about what it means. For that matter, I’ve sometimes questioned my own understanding. As the saying goes, I won’t know what I believe until I’ve blogged about it, so I’m blogging about it.

Is It Still Relevant?

First, I will not entertain the notion that the verse no longer applies, either because the social climate is different today or because Paul was talking about one particular church. There are people who have tried to make that argument, but I tend to think they just don’t like what the Bible says. So, going into this, my assumption is that there is at least one woman living today who should not be teaching at least one man who is currently living.

Is It Just a Husband and Wife Thing?

One of the arguments I’ve heard is that this verse only applies to a wife teaching or usurping authority over her husband. Part of the reasoning that the words translated as woman and man are sometimes translated as wife and husband. I find this interpretation to be incorrect because it would require that 1 Timothy 2:8-10 also apply the same meaning to the words. It would read something like, “I will therefore that [husbands] pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. In like manner also, that [wives] adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but (which becometh [wives] professing godliness) with good works.” It would also require us to ignore the purpose of the book of 1 Timothy, which was to encourage Timothy (and now us) to hold fast in teaching sound doctrine. And right after this passage, Paul goes into the qualifications of a pastor. Everything indicates that Paul’s statement has a broader reach than just to the relationship of the wife to the husband, but how broad?

Does It Apply To Any Female Teaching Any Male?

Taken to the extreme we could say that Paul is saying that no woman should teach any male of any age. The words for woman and for man in the verse sometimes are interchangeable with our words female and male, extending from conception to death. While that would simplify things, I don’t believe that was what Paul was saying because there is a precedence in the Bible of females teaching males. In 2 Timothy 1:15, we have these words, “When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and they mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.” Timothy himself was taught matters of faith by two women and Paul praised them for it. And we have also the case of Acts 18:24-28, in which we see the great preacher Apollos being taught by a woman when Aquila and Priscilla taught he what had happen after the baptism of John. So, Paul isn’t forbidding women to teach in all situations, just in the one that matches the context in which 1 Timothy was written.

Is This Limited To The Church? What About College Classes?

I’m convinced that Paul was talking about how to do church in particular and what he says about women here doesn’t apply outside of that setting. As I mentioned before, he praised women for teaching men outside of the church, but he would not suffer them to teach men in this verse.

Is This About Women Teaching Doctrine?

When we look at the complete context, it is fairly easy to make the case that Paul was talking against women teaching doctrine in the church. First, once you get past the introduction in 1 Timothy 1, you see that Paul’s big concern is the teaching of “sound doctrine” and people straying from that teaching. The last verse of chapter one is talking about delivering two people to Satan because of blasphemy. Chapter two begins with a “therefore.” So the stuff in chapter one is the reason Paul is calling for men to pray for all men (including the politicians we don’t like) “lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.”

It is at this point that he likens women dressing in modest apparel to men praying without wrath and doubting. The silence he speaks of for women is translated as quietness in other places and so he may be referring to their modest appearal and shamefacedness. It appears to be a continuation of the same thought when he says he won’t suffer a woman to teach or usurp authority over the man.

This is the area of this subject where I struggle the most. I know of women who are highly intelligent and well versed in doctrine. I know of women who are excellent teachers. The thing I keep asking is why Paul says it is wrong for women like that to teach men.

Well, even if I can’t completely make sense of it, Paul explains his reason. 1 Timothy 2:13 says, “For Adam was formed first, and then Eve.” Simply put, it is a matter of the way God created the world. He didn’t form Adam and Eve together, which he could have done. He didn’t form Eve first, which he could have done. Instead, he formed Adam first, showing us how he intend the order of authority to be.

But it isn’t just authority. Paul continued to say, “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” What Paul seems to be saying is that there is something about the nature of a woman that makes her a more susceptible target when Satan wants to push false doctrine.

We don’t have to take this to be a bad thing. Women tend to desire to appease those around them more. In other words, they are easier to get along with than men. Men tend to put more emphasis on logic and are more likely to take a firm stand on a doctrinal issue.

Why Then Are Women Allowed to Teach Women, but Not Men?

If it is about a woman not leading the church astray by what she teaches, then it seems like she could lead it astray by teaching women and children just as easily as she can by teaching men. That seems to put the emphasis on authority and less on doctrine. A woman teaching doesn’t necessarily equate to false doctrine in terms of what she is teaching, but a teaching position is a place of authority. Given that God wants men to be the leaders in the church, a woman having a position of authority over them ruins the picture God is trying to paint.

Where Should We Draw The Line?

If it is okay for women to teach male children, there must be a line at which we say that there is a point at which that boy should be taught be a man and not a woman. I suppose the simpliest answer is to say that that line is when a boy becomes a man. That answer is simple until you try to determine when a boy becomes a man. The United States government says it is when he is 18. The insurance industry leans more toward 25. A boy reaches sexual maturity somewhere around the age of 12. Some people suggest around the age of 30, since that’s when Jesus began his personal ministry. I suppose, we could even say 80, since that’s when Moses took on his role of leader.

While it’s not the job of the United States government to define our doctrine, I think the fact that they have set adulthood at 18 is significant. While parents are slow to admit that their children have grown up, when a young man reaches the age of 18, he looks at himself as an adult, whether his elders do or not. We might think he isn’t a man until he is 22, but if we put such a man in a class taught be a woman, the thing he will learn most clearly is that we see nothing wrong with a woman teaching a class with men in it.

I think back to the first time I signed up for college classes. I was still in high school at the time and less than 18. My mother went with me because when my sister had gone to college there were things that school had asked the parents to sign, even though she was over 18. The lady I had gone to see about enrolling came out of her office to get me. My mother stood up to go too, but the lady said very nicely, “You can wait here.” That was when that first apron string broke. And all through college, though I kept them informed of what I was doing, I never asked permission. So, 18 seems like a good place to draw the line to me.

My great-aunt, however, drew the line at a much younger age. She would teach male children, but she didn’t believe it was appropriate for her to be teaching teenage boys. In some ways, I can see where that might be a good approach. There are preachers who were pastoring a church when they were teenagers. We might argue that teenage boys aren’t as mature now as they used to be. Maybe, but is that the fault of the teenage boys or the fault of those of us who have lowered our expectations? Jesus was confounding the religious leaders when he was even younger. I don’t think we can expect every teenage boy to pastor a church or teach a class. For that matter, I don’t think we can expect that every adult man will be able to pastor a church or teach a class. But one of my concerns is that young men aren’t taking on the role of leadership because we’re not telling them that they’ve reached the point where it is time for them to do so.

As I recall, when I was a teenager, church leadership wasn’t something I sought to do but rather something that was forced upon me. I had a few positions that I didn’t want, but Dad wouldn’t let me back out. It wasn’t until after I had taught several classes, led the singing a few times, and conducted a few business meetings that I realized that I enjoyed doing it. I look back at those parts I hated giving at the youth meetings, and I wish I had the opportunity to give them again.

In Conclusion

While the Bible isn’t as clear on the subject as I would like, I believe God expects us to pay attention to what Paul wrote about it. Perhaps the reason God didn’t tell us at what age we should call a boy a man is because it isn’t constant, but when a boy is old enough to have a family and when he is old enough to take on responsibility for his own survival, it is probably time for us to start calling him a man, if not even sooner than that.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Cheap Computer

There’s an article going around titled What Happens When Computers are Cheaper Than LEGO Block?. The premise is that because computer hardware is so cheap there will be a renewed hacker movement. You can literally walk into Radio Shack and walk out with an Arduino board for less than $40. And yeah, that probably means a trip to Radio Shack is in my future.

Let’s be honest. For most people, this means nothing. If you’re hoping to replace your PC, this isn’t what you’d buy. But if you want to build a robot in your garage, or if you want to create a special controller for your Christmas lights, this might be the brain you need for the project. This computer is for hackers. And those hackers just might be fathers working with their sons on a really cool project in the garage.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

What They Don't Do

When defining a character, it is more important to ask what the character won’t do than to ask what a character does. We often question what motivates a character to take a particular action. The problem with that is that we end up thinking of some action and then struggle with finding something that would persuade the character to take that action. What, for example, would cause a woman to kill her children? Or what would cause a man to leave a wife that loves him? It isn’t easy to come up with an answer.

So how does turning the question around help? For one thing, it causes us to develop the motive before the action. Suppose a woman has spent all day listening to her children yelling at each other. What will she not do? Most women won’t kill their children in that situation. But they might be short with their husbands.

Now, consider who we are as people. We might talk about the things we do, but the things we don’t do are far more interesting. What if a person were born without the natural ability to have inhibitions. If that person say a five dollar bill on the table, he would pick it up. If he wanted more cake, he would eat it. If he saw a woman who attracted his attention, he would rape her. That’s the nature we all start with. Children have to be taught not to just take whatever they want.

It becomes interesting when we consider why a character doesn’t give in to his natural desires. Why does the character practice abstinence? Why does the character marry one woman and remain loyal to her?

We look at characters in a situation and we have expectations about how they will react. If they do what we expect, it isn’t very interesting. If they do the unexpected, then we are interested and want to know more.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Chick-fil-A and Respect

To catch you up, a few days ago a press release from The Civil Rights Agenda (TCRA) claimed victory over Chick-fil-A, saying that “In meetings the company executives clarified that they will no longer give to anti-gay organizations.” This left many of us scratching our heads and asking the Chick-fil-A company for an explanation. Chick-fil-A obliged us with a lengthy statement that I will summarize as saying, We’re going to continue with the same policy we’ve always had. [1]

Within that document is the statement “The Chick-fil-A culture and 66-year service tradition in our locally owned and operated restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their beliefs, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.” That statement is not new, but it is essentially the same wording that TCRA references when claiming victory.

What is Really Going On?

The last part of the statement just clarifies what they mean by “every person,” so it really comes down to what is meant by respect. It is quite likely that what Chick-fil-A considers is different from what TCRA assumed they meant. It is also likely that that TCRA considers to be a gay-hating organization is not what many of the rest of us classify that way. So, when Chick-fil-A used wording stating that they would treat homosexuals with respect and would not support anti-gay groups, TCRA claimed victory. But now, TCRA is upset because what Chick-fil-A meant and what TCRA heard were two different things. Chick-fil-A intends to go right on supporting organizations that strengthen families. Some people consider those organizations to be anti-gay. If you look at the science behind it, you could even classify youth organizations as anti-gay, if you wanted to. Nothing does more to prevent homosexuality than to put children in situations where there are people of the same sex who show their love for them as people rather than as an object to abuse.

What Does Respect Really Mean?

We can respect a person who is homosexual without supporting him in the choices he has made. It is much like the respect I have for Barak Obama. I respect him because he is the man the people of the United States elected as President. I respect him because of his ability to lead people. I respect him as a human being. I do not agree with his policies. I will not vote for him in the next election. I can respect a homosexual man because he is a human being. I do not, however, agree with his life choices. And if he goes so far as to force himself on children, I would not be opposed to the death penalty. And yet, even while waiting for his execution, I would love to see him accept Christ as his Savior.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Concerning Elder Rule Among Baptist Churches

In recent years, there has been a push among some Baptists for elder ruled churches. Even among some BMA pastors, I’ve heard people say, “it’s the biblical way.” So, I went looking to see if I agreed with that claim. I found that there are some rather lengthy papers written about it. I intend to get to the point much more quickly.

What Is An Elder?

When referring to elder rule today, most people are using the term elder to indicate a church member who serves on a board that oversees the business of the church. You won’t find this definition in the Bible. The only support you will find in the Bible for anything near this definition is 1 Timothy 5:17, “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the Word and doctrine.”

The thing that makes this verse controversial is the word especially. Some people believe that it implies that there can be those who rule while they “labor in Word and doctrine” and those who rule, but don’t “labor in Word and doctrine.” George W. Knight III says, however, that the word translated as especially in the King James has the same meaning as that is. It sounds different when we read the verse as “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, that is those who labor in Word and doctrine.” Now it appears to be giving us a definition of who an elder is rather than defining two different kinds of elders.

In reading through the New Testament, what we find is that elder, bishop, and pastor are words that all refer to the same office. You never see the phrase “elders and bishops,” “bishops and pastors,” or “pastors and elders.” So, if elder rule is biblical then it must be that it is the pastor who is supposed to rule, not some elected board of governors.

How Should An Elder Rule?

It is common practice among some independent Baptist churches and certainly among some denominations for the pastor to be in charge of everything. Until recently, this practice has been much less common among associational Baptists. Going back to 1 Timothy 5:17, what we see is that to rule is to “labor in Word and doctrine.” The early churches didn’t have a system in which the pastors (sometimes they had several) were gathering together and make a lot of decisions. Initially, they didn’t seem to think there was a need for that sort of thing. They were gathering in people’s houses, so there weren’t as many decisions that the church was responsible for as what we have today. It wasn’t until the conflict with the Grecian widows (Acts 6) that they realized there was business to take care of. At that time, the elders ask the church to choose deacons to make sure the widows were being taken care of, so the elders could continue to give themselves to “prayer and to the ministry of the Word.”

A preacher is certainly a man to be respected and by nature of the fact that he is standing before the church and teaching, he is a leader. But his primary responsibility is to study the Bible so he can teach the church members how they ought to behave. If he is doing that well, then he doesn’t need to make the administrative decisions. Those who are making those decisions will have learned from his teaching what it is that God would have them to do.

But Does That Men Democracy?

Every church has respected leaders. These are often the pastors, the deacons, the Sunday school teachers, and other highly visible people. If these leaders are teaching what God would have them to, then when the monthly business meeting comes around, the members of the congregation will try to vote the way God would have them to. So, there’s nothing to fear from congregationalism, in and of itself. If you do have reason to fear that the congregation is going to go against the will of God, then it probably started with bad leadership. So why would you want to hand power over to a board of leaders who have been leading the congregation astray anyway?

Perhaps you aren’t convinced. What did Jesus say? In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus dealt with the issue of a bother who has trespassed against us. “Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that ‘in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church; but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican.” Notice that the church is the final authority on the issue. He didn’t say to go to you pastor, though your pastor may be one of the one or two. It is the church that has the authority to exclude this man from their fellowship.

The size of a church often makes it necessary to use committees and boards to get things done. You simply can’t call the who church together every time you need to buy toilet paper. But the biblical model is one in which every member has the responsibility to seek God’s will and all members as a body have the final responsibility to make decisions concerning the church. Elders are not to be a board with little input from the underlings, but they are to be equals with the rest of the church members. Elder are to lead by what they teach and the examples they set, not by lording it over the church.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Only God Can Make a Baby

This video shows the development of the human body from conception to birth. Truly, only God can do this.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Let's Get Our Audience Right

Who is your audience? Many times, we an author sits down to write, he thinks of someone to whom he is writing. As he weaves his yarn, he thinks of that person sitting across from him and he is just carrying on a one-sided (usually) conversation. But though we might write to that person, that person is not the audience who will receive the book.

I began thinking about the average church size. 59% of the churches in America have fewer than 100 people who attend. There’s nothing wrong with that. I have known many small churches and have a great love for them. But think about the Christian books you’ve read that were written to help in the ministry of churches. How often do we see them reference things that we simply do not find in small churches? Occasionally, you’ll find a book written specifically for small churches, but I’ve read some of those and have often thought that the author didn’t get it. Instead, what you find are books written to churches with hundreds in attendance.

The problem is that we authors tend to write to the people we want to read the book and not to those who will actually read the book. Add to that the problem that an author must have a platform for a traditional publisher to publish the book. The typical church is not considered a good platform, while a mega-church is. The result is that people who are out of touch with their audience are writing books better suited for a small subsection of their audience.

What we authors need to do is to figure out who makes up the bulk of our audience and fall in love with them. Instead of assuming that our readers attend a larger church, let’s assume they attend a small church. Case in point, consider books about Sunday School. I’ve read books that talk about class size and when to split a class, etc. They had some very good ideas, and our church is large enough we might be able to use some of them, but some were an impossibility for even our church. I thought about some of the small churches I’ve been in. Those books provided no benefit for a church who has three classes, Adult, High School/Middle School, and Grade School and under. I’ve been in some churches were their average morning attendance was less than the authors thought was an ideal class size. Those are the people authors need to be writing to because those are the people who make up the bulk of their audience.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

On Religious Hostility

— A federal judge threatened “incarceration” to a high school valedictorian in Castroville, Texas, unless she removed references to Jesus from her graduation speech.

— City officials prohibited senior citizens in Balch Springs, Texas, from praying over their meals, listening to religious messages or singing gospel songs at a senior activities center.

— A public school official in St. Louis physically lifted an elementary school student from his seat and reprimanded him in front of his classmates for praying over his lunch.

These statements all just three of some 600 in a recent report on religious hostility. The report claims, “America would be unrecognizable to our Founders.” I’m not sure that true.

Our founding fathers were no strangers to religious hostility. I remember reading about Patrick Henry attending a trial in colonial America. The story goes that two Baptist men had been arrested because they were preaching outside of the authority of the religion in that area. Patrick Henry argued for their release by pointing out that these men had been arrested for preaching the Bible. They were released, but that doesn’t change the fact that prior to the First Amendment people were hostile to religious beliefs that opposed their own.

And what of the Danbury Baptists? They wrote a letter to Thomas Jefferson because they feared the First Amendment was treating religious liberty “as favors granted and not as inalienable rights.” These are not the sentiments of men who did not know religious hostility.

Let’s face it. Religious hostility exists and has always existed in America. Though we have enjoyed freedom to practice the religion of our choice these many years, the First Amendment does not have the power to remove hostility. That “wall of separation” has taken a beating over the years. But it is still there. It has been weakened at times, but it is still there.

As the ones who benefit from the protection of that wall, we need to stand behind it and support it. When the government threatens to limit our freedom, we need to push back. When religions attempt to use the government for their own purposes, we need to push back. We need to strengthen that wall so that religion remains “a matter between God and individuals.”

Monday, August 27, 2012

Vision Comes From The People

It is not the responsibility of a leader to decide where to go, but to show people how to get there. I’ve used this space to talk about leadership before. Not long ago, I wrote about the misuse of the word vision by Michael Hyatt, Jack Welch, and John Maxwell. I argued that vision in the truest sense is a vision sent from God. But let’s take a step back and look at their kind of vision.

As you know, a lot of people are trying to develop a vision. We hear about things like vision statements. Once you have a vision statement you are supposed to cast a vision. Then people are supposed to follow you like cows to the feed trough. While that sounds good, people don’t always do what you tell them they ought to do. Take church, for example. For centuries, we’ve been telling people they ought to go to church. Some do. Some don’t.

But I’m reminded of the wagon trains that used to head out west. Who in their right mind would leave Missouri to ride across Kansas in a wagon? And yet, there were men who led many people, not only across Kansas but some went all the way to California. What vision casters these men must have been.

Or not. The thing is, these men didn’t have to try hard to get people to follow them. They didn’t go knocking on people’s doors looking for people to go. Instead, the desire for adventure, the hope of a better life, the quest for gold all played a part in persuading people that west was where they wanted to go. The men who led them just got in front of them.

No matter what example we look at, great leaders aren’t the ones who spend a great deal of time persuading people that they know where to go. Instead, they get in front of people who are heading in that direction and guide them along the way. What that means is that vision doesn’t come from the leader. As far as the leader is concerned, vision comes from the people he is leading. The people may have gotten that vision from God or they may not have, but the leader is simply guiding the people where they want to go.

No so in the business world, you might say. But think about it. A leader who leads his company to success isn’t leading his workers to do something they don’t already want to do. What worker is there that doesn’t want to see his company succeed? Most workers have a general idea of what success for the company looks like and that’s what they want because it keeps food on the table and diapers on the babies. If the company sells books, well, the employees know that selling more books is what success is. What they are looking for is someone who can tell them how to work together to sell more books.

That, I believe, is where many leaders fail. Instead of trying to tell people where to go, they should be helping their people overcome the obstacles that are keeping them from the vision they already have.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Now Where Did That Come From?

Our God isn’t big enough. When I pulled into a parking space at church, I noticed a single white flower growing next to the parking curb. The rest of the grass was trimmed to perfection, but there was that one lily that sprang up in the night and had bloomed. It was a beautiful flower, though it grew where no gardener would’ve planted it.

Later, I saw about ten of these wild lilies growing in the median. They were bunched in a cluster right next to the road. They were not centered in the way a landscape designer would have placed them. They were just there.

Ask a child who attends Sunday school how they got there and he’ll likely respond, “God planted them.” Now we, being older and wiser, know that a seed must have fallen on that ground. The seed grew and the flower bloomed. When the seed fell, they fell in a cluster around where the first seed had fallen, giving us those ten lilies growing in the median. But we smile and assure the child that “yes, God planted them.”

In our wisdom, it is easy to forget the lessons we learned as a child. Now, when we think of God planting something, we don’t just accept it as true. We imagine God squatting down by the road and pushing those seeds into the ground. “Of course he didn’t do that,” we think. And what an odd place to plant flowers. God knows as well as landscape designers that they would look better if they were centered in the median. Or why place them there at all? Why not plant them next to a church building? So, after giving it some thought, we conclude that God didn’t actually plant the flowers. Seed fell and flowers grew.

Who are we to say where God should plant flowers? And what makes us think that God is like us? We don’t like chaos. Growing up, my father taught me to till the garden in straight rows. We want our corn in a straight row. We want our beans in a straight row. The tomato plants should be placed an equal distance apart. It’s better that way. So when we see a random placement of flowers, it isn’t were we would have put it.

But to say that God must plant his flowers in a straight row is to make our God too small. Since we know that God planted those flowers (even a child knows that), what does that tell us about God? Expand your view for a moment and don’t consider just that cluster flowers, but consider the whole landscape. Grass, growing in a field. Trees, covered with leaves. Mountains, formed from odd shaped rocks. Look at a single blade of grass, a single leaf, or a single rock and you might question why it is where it is. But look at the whole picture and it is beautiful. Even the human body is made up of billions of cells that seem to grow in random places, but out of the chaos comes something amazing.

In our limited ability, we need order so we can understand and keep track of what we’re doing. God, in his infinite ability, can take chaos and turn it into something beautiful. God knows where every flower is placed. He knows where every seed will fall. He is able to direct them at will, or just let them fall. It may seem random to us. We might have thoughts of how it can be done better. But we can’t argue with the results. What might appear to us a God throwing a bunch of seed to the wind and letting them fall turns into a beautiful landscape that is far better than anything we’ve ever designed.

Our God is so big that there is order in his chaos.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Cost of Doing It Right

Last Sunday, our church celebrated 55 years with Gaylan Henry as our pastor. That was also the date of his retirement. 55 years is a long time, so we made a big party out of it. I filmed the worship service and the celebration service and my plan is to make a commemorative DVD.

Currently, I’m in the process of securing permission to use the music from that day on the DVD. There are also some images for which I need to secure copy permission. Individuals or groups sang or played songs on ten different occasions. There was also a slide presentation with music in the background. The congregation sang three songs. But some of the songs were actually medleys, so rather than one song they were two songs arranged in to one. And while our church often uses live instruments, we also make use of sound tracks for some of our music. For one medley, I’m not dealing with just one copyright holder.

Let’s take a look at who I’m dealing with. First, there is the person who holds the copyright to the arrangement. He had to add some music to get the two pieces to fit together. But he didn’t own the copyright to the original songs, so I have to get permission from those guys as well. Assuming all three will grant me a license, that gives me a right to use the piece, but only if we were singing and playing with instruments. Since we used sound tracks for the medleys, I need a license to sync the sound track to the video. Fortunately, the sound tracks are often produced by the same people who publish the arrangement, but that isn’t always the case.

It appears that I may need as many as thirty separate licenses to produce the DVD. For one license I saw, the example rate on a website was 25¢ per song per copy with a minimum of $20. Multiply that out and we’re looking at $7.50 per DVD just for licenses with a minimum of $600 for the project. Add to that about $5 for packaging and we’re at $12.50. I’m not looking to make a profit, but I’ll probably round up to $15 or $20. The difference will end up going to covering the cost of the minimum fees (I don’t expect I’ll sell all 80 copies) and my video equipment. I’ll be doing good if I break even.

On a related note, someone asked me about posting the video online. I told her it would probably cost more than the DVD. Based on the rates I saw on one website, licenses would end up costing me $1,800 for six months. That doesn’t even include the other costs associated with putting it online.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Does This Scare You?

One of the most basic doctrines of Christianity is that though we are born sinners, there is a way for us to change. That’s a scary thought for some people. How often have we heard people say, “I was born that way” or “I couldn’t help myself?” They say the words hoping that we’ll say, “we understand. It can’t be helped. Keep doing what you’re doing.” But that’s not what a Christian says. Instead, the Christian says, “I used to think that way. I used to think that I couldn’t keep from doing the things I did. But then I met a man who changed my life. You don’t have to continue doing what you’re doing.”

Recently, there has been one sin that has gotten a lot of attention and some people have said that it is “hateful” to tell people that they can change. But why should our focus remain on that one sin? I suppose it is more difficult for us to think that we were “born that way” when we talk about other sins, and yet, we do tend to be predisposed to other sins as well.

No child is born an adulterer, this is true, but there are things about certain people’s personalities that tend to lead them in that direction. Or consider the thief. A child may not be born a thief, but some children begin to steal at a very early age. Some have started even before they really know the difference between right and wrong.

So, for whatever sin problem you might face, the message of Christianity is, “You don’t have to keep doing that.” That’s not to say that the moment you accept Christ you will be completely without sin. We still struggle and we may do so for the rest of our lives, but with the help of the Holy Spirit it becomes easier. What a blessing it is to look at the lives of the aged and see how much better are they are for those who accepted Christ.

Monday, August 13, 2012

What I Did This Weekend

After 55 years, the pastor of our church, Gaylan Henry stepped down from the pulpit yesterday. I don’t know if it is a world record for a pastor to pastor one church for that long, but it is certainly a difficult feat to accomplish. Few people are anywhere near that point.

For me, it was a busy day. We had more people at church than we’ve ever had. It looked to me like we had about twice as many cars as we have parking spaces. The sanctuary was filled to capacity and we had an overflow area where they had to bring in additional chairs because we hadn’t set up enough initially.

I filmed the worship service and the celebration service in the afternoon. I’m planning on putting it all on DVD, so I have quite a bit of work left to do. My next task is to acquire permission from the copyright holders to use the music. I suspect that won’t be a problem, as long as I’m willing to pay the royalties. But it requires different licenses for a DVD than it does to use music in a worship service.

Friday, August 10, 2012

No More Post-Christianity

I keep hearing that our society is a post-Christian society. In others words, we used to be a Christian society, basing much of our lives on what churches taught, but not anymore. While I’m sure that’s true, isn’t it time for us to stop thinking of ourselves as a “post-Christian” society and begin looking at ourselves as a “pre-Christian” society?

What’s the difference? Sure, it doesn’t change anything about our society. Many people will still be antagonistic toward Christianity. The difference is one of hope. When I think of us being a post-Christian society it makes me think, “Things just aren’t as good as they used to be.” When you turn it around and see it as a pre-Christian society, I begin to think “Things aren’t great, but with work they will become better.”

Our goal should not be to survive in a post-Christian society, but it should be to change our world in such a way that our society is once again a Christian society. What we once were, we can be again. Just because people failed to train up their children in the way they should go does not mean that we have to keep doing that. It is a challenge. Yes, it is definitely a challenge, but with God it is possible.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Where Business is Booming

Recently, I’ve heard several stories of businessmen who have taken a stand for the their Christian faith. In each case, there have been people trying to pressure these men to change the way they do business. There have been pickets and boycotts and whatever they thought would work. An yet I keep seeing one simple statement, “business is booming.”

We must not forget what a great God we serve. Our God can take the actions of a lost world and turn them to our good. Let us not forget that “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) It should come as no surprise to us that business is booming at companies where the enemies of the Christian faith are in opposition to the views of the owners.

So let this be a lesson to the rest of us. Let us not compromise on our walk with the Lord. It won’t be easy, but if we are serving the Lord as we should, he will bless us and use the actions of our enemies to help us.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

If You Have a Watcher, You'd Better Have a Reason

Watchers – characters who work from the sidelines, influencing other characters to take action. Dr. Who is one example of a character like this. Though he is also the main character, his actions are such that he watches out for the people of Earth and makes an appearance when they need him. He always has people with him who he encourages to take action, putting them in danger, when he himself really has nothing to fear.

That’s one of the interesting things about watchers. They usually have more knowledge of the situation than anyone else and yet they seldom reveal what they know. If we include a watcher in our own writing, we’d better have a reason why the character doesn’t reveal what he knows. Perhaps it is because he doesn’t want to worry people. If you knew that the world was about to explode, would you create panic by telling them or let them go on their merry way? What’s the point of making their last few minutes miserable? Or maybe the character is the type who is trying to teach those he watches. Suppose the character is from a distant planet and he crash-landed here on Earth. He fears what would happen if he reveals what he is, but he has a desire to educate the people of Earth.

I’m sure there are many different reasons a watcher would not reveal all he knows, but to not have a reason could be disastrous. I’ve always wondered about why Cinderella had to leave the ball at midnight, for example. The story doesn’t tell us why the fairy’s magic didn’t work past that point. So we begin to think that it is silly that it didn’t. The thing that saves that story is that it makes for a better story to have the prince go out looking for her. It makes us forgiving of the problem.

But most of us aren’t writing the next Cinderella. Rather than relying on the rest of the story to cause the reader to overlook the problem, it is better if we develop a reason for the watcher not to reveal all or use all his power.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Leader Who Had No Vision

If you don’t have a clear vision, no strategy will save you. – Michael Hyatt

Good leaders create a vision, passionately articulate the vision, and relentlessly drive the vision to completion. – Jack Welch

I believe that there’s no such thing as a leader who doesn’t have a vision. – John Maxwell

Recently, my employer went through the mid-year review process. They also combined it with career discussions, so I had the opportunity to sit down and talk about the direction of my career with my boss. There are a couple things it made me realize. First, I’ve had very little say over the direction my career has gone. I’ve moved from position to position within the company because they needed someone willing to do the work, not because I felt like a change in position would be good for my career. The second thing I noticed is that not only has my career not had any direction, I don’t know where I want it to go. That’s probably not the best thing to tell your boss, but it is true. If I have had any goal, it has been to help those around me get the task at hand done. The only time I went looking for a new position was when the job I was doing got so inhospitable that I couldn’t take it anymore.

You get the idea that my career has been boat without a rudder. And if you read the quotes above, you get the idea that my problem is that I don’t have a vision. I especially like the one by John Maxwell, because I’m about to tell you about a man whose life was very much like my career has been.

This man was born in a time when the king was killing children of his race. When he was very young, his mother put him in a basket and let him float down the river, hoping that someone of the more favored race would take him in. Who should find him, but the king’s daughter. She took him in and raised him as her own. He had thoughts of protecting his people, but no clear vision. One day, he saw an Egyptian hitting a Jew and he killed the Egyptian. Later, when he saw two Jews fighting, they feared he would kill them too. So, he fled to the wilderness and spent forty years doing nothing but herding sheep. As I said, no vision. His vision seemed to get on track one day, when he saw a burning bush and God told him to lead the Jews out of Egypt. He traded sheep for people and spent another forty years wandering around the desert. He had no vision. He never picked a spot and said, “We’re going over there.” No, he waited for the cloud to move. When the cloud moved, everyone picked up their tents and followed. And yet, he was one of Israel’s greatest leaders.

You see, there are two different kinds of vision. There is the kind of vision like what the three guys above are talking about and there is the biblical vision. The biblical vision is the kind of vision we see in the burning bush experience and the kind of vision we see in Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” One kind of vision the guys above are talking about is having a goal your team can shoot for. The biblical kind of vision is about having faith and following God’s direction, even if you don’t know where you will end up.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m in the desert herding sheep. I’m doing what needs to be done. Sure, there are some things I would like to accomplish, but I’m still waiting for my burning bush. I’m waiting for God to appear to me in a vision. I’m waiting for God to give me direction. The conclusion I’ve come to is that that’s okay.

The reason it’s okay is because God’s been good to me the whole time I’ve been waiting. Who knows, maybe my burning bush will appear and I will have the opportunity to lead some people by following a cloud. And if, when that time is over, I can look over into the land where they are going and leave them in the hands of a man like Joshua, that is not a bad thing.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Is There Really No Wall of Separation?

In a 2010 debate between Delaware Senate candidates Chris Coons (D) and Christine O’Donnell (R) there was a disagreement concerning schools being permitted to teach creationism as a competing theory to evolution. Coons made the argument that the First Amendment has been interpreted by the Supreme Court to imply separation of church and state. O’Donnell interrupted and the following was the exchange:
O'DONNELL: "Let me just clarify, you're telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?"

COONS: "'Government shall make no establishment of religion'"

O'DONNELL: "That's in the First Amendment?"

I’m conservative, a Christian, and I voted Republican straight down the ticket in the last election, but I’ve got something to say to my fellow conservatives. When we become so focused on winning the argument that we fail to consider what we’re saying, we are in danger of losing the freedoms we hope to protect. I’m not sure who started it, but a favorite argument from pastors and politicians is “the words separation of church and state don’t appear in the Constitution.” No, they don’t, but what does appear there and what does it mean?

Amendment I: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Now we all so know that the “wall of separation” phrase comes from a letter from Thomas Jefferson to a Baptist association that was concerned that the First Amendment was evidence that the government was taking upon itself the power to grant churches the right to worship and could take it away. To alleviate their concerns Thomas Jefferson wrote to tell them that he believed the First Amendment erected a wall of separation between church and state. The reason the Supreme Court would even consider this letter is that it establishes what the founding fathers thought they were writing into the Constitution when they wrote it. But for now, let’s throw that out and consider what the First Amendment really says.

"Congress shall make no law…"

The first thing we see here is that the limitation is on Congress (later applied to state government as well) and not on churches or individuals. If we take that statement alone, we might assume there is no “wall of separation.” Congress can’t interfere with the church, but churches can do what they want.

"…respecting an establishment of religion…"

In other words, Congress can’t set up a State church. They can’t tell you that it is okay to go to church, as long as you go to the state church. They can’t pick one religion and say it is right and all the others must go.

"…or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…"

Just as they can’t tell you have to go to worship a certain way, they also can’t prevent you from worshiping as you please. In this way, there is certainly a wall of separation that prevents the government from controlling religion.

Church Run States

Is there a wall of separation that goes the other way as well? Because the First Amendment doesn’t limit the power of religion, we must take more into consideration. The first thing we should ask is what happens when a church asserts its power over government. Let’s say that church A has decided that God wants crucifixes hanging from every stop sign. (Silly, yes, but I’m trying to make a point.) So out they go and hang a crucifix on every stop sign they find. They don’t ask for government funding, they just do it. We could possibly argue that Congress can’t make them take them down because it would require a law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. But church B believes that crucifixes are idols and should be destroyed. Now we have two conflicting religious views with Congress stuck in the middle.

The resolution to this problem is that church A has no say over whether a crucifix should hang from public property and neither does church B. The government makes that decision based on things that don’t deal with religion (such as safety concerns) . So while both churches are free to express their opinion and to make Congress aware of non-religious issues that might sway their decision one way or the other, the belief that God wants something a certain way or the belief that there is no God can’t be the basis of a law.

To me, that demonstrates that there is a wall of separation that goes both ways. Congress can still make laws that churches must obey, such as how many people can be in a building, as long as they apply universally to all organizations. Likewise, churches can seek to influence Congress, as long as other organizations have the same ability.

Overall, I believe that is a good thing. There are religions that I wouldn’t want controlling Congress and I certainly wouldn’t want Congress telling me what to believe.

Friday, August 3, 2012

It's Not About the Victims

Some of the families of those killed in that Colorado theater have said that they “do not want” the death penalty for the man who did it. Good for them. At least I think it is good for them until hear some people say that they think it would be better for him to spend the rest of his life in jail thinking about what he did. It makes me think that they don’t believe he’ll have to think about what he did if he goes to hell. But that is more of a faith problem and has nothing to do with whether the man should be executed for his crimes or not.

While the Bible tells us in Genesis 9:6, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed,” it also says in Numbers 35:31, “Ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death.” Often, it seems like people have the idea that murderers should be executed so the families will get justice. God doesn’t take satisfaction in the death of a murderer and neither should we or the families of the victims. Instead of letting families continue the practice of a revenger of blood taking the life of a murderer, God set up cities of refuge to which a person could flee after taking a life (or being accused of taking a life), so that he could have a fair trial. If capital punishment is about the victims, God sure has a funny way of letting them have their revenge.

It isn’t about revenge. It isn’t about the families. It isn’t about the victims. It is about justice. If someone kills someone, they deserve to die. God is just and he will not let sin stand. As a people, we need to see that justice is carried out fairly and justly, so that we recognize the consequences of our sins. If our government doesn’t do it, then God will be forced to do it. The danger of that is that when God does it, he may use a broader stroke. If God’s judgment comes to murderers, then we may see his judgment in our lives as well.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Web Hosting is NOT Your Biggest Cost

A church website hosting company recently posted an article stating that web hosting is the biggest cost of a church website. It became clear that they were promoting their own services when I saw the following list:

Take these example costs from a variety of church website providers. The number you see is the monthly cost.
  • Mychurchwebsite.com: $49-$119
  • Buildachurchwebsite.com: $54-109.95
  • Clover sites: $20
  • Siteorganic.com: $99-299
  • Faithpulse.com: $59.95
  • Sharefaith: $14.99 (Best Value)

My first thought when I saw this list was that these are annual costs because my own church is paying about $80 a year for web hosting and I know there are other hosting companies that have even more economical rates, if you are really looking for the lowest price. But these are monthly rates and that means that Sharefaith is charging more than twice as much as you really need to pay. Even so, $180 a year isn’t really that bad if you’re putting the website to good use. But is that really your biggest cost? It may well be if you use the $3,588 a year figure given for Siteorganic.com, but it doesn’t seem like it should be.

While I’m not saying that we must spend more it strikes me as being like buying someone a birthday gift and spending more for wrapping paper than for the gift itself. Hosting a website is a necessary service and a valuable service, but if webhosting is your biggest investment, I wonder about the value of what you’re putting on the web.

Don’t Forget the Volunteers

One problem I see with churches is that they forget the value of volunteer labor because it doesn’t show up on their financial report. This is a shame because many church members give more to the church through their labor than they put in the offering plate. Suppose the church webmaster donates an average of eight hours of time each week. If you were paying him $25 an hour, that would be $200 a week, or $10,400 a year. Even at $7.25 an hour, it works out to be $3,016 a year. That’s a little less than the $3,588 figure from above, but webmasters are paid closer to the $25 an hour rate than they are to minimum wage.

The Cost of Royalties

The other thing to consider is the cost of the content that you place on the website. Some churches like to post video recordings of their worship services on their websites. We won’t count what you’re paying the pastor, since he would get paid whether you post the video or not. What we must consider, however, is the cost of the music and other copyrighted material that is included in the video. My understanding is that CCLI doesn’t apply to posting video online. Even if it did, CCLI only applies if the number of copies is less than a given percentage of the congregation size. And a lot of music doesn’t fall under CCLI at all. So, if you want to post video legally, you’ve got to get copy permission for the music used and you’ve got to pay the fees. That also means more volunteer time.

Add it all up and you quickly see that web hosting is not your biggest cost. In fact, the amount you spend on webhosting is a minor concern when we look at other costs.

What other things might cost you more than web hosting?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day

Today is Chick-Fil-A Appreciation day. I’m looking forward to a chicken sandwich for supper. But if they have so many people stop by that they run out before I get there, that would be okay too.

I really like this, because instead of having to show my support for Christian values by not doing something, I get to show my support by taking action. I’ve always hated boycotts because I don’t shop at many of the places that I’m supposed to be boycotting anyway. But I can go buy a few more chicken sandwiches. And though I don’t think I could eat chicken sandwiches all the time, one of the things that impresses me about Chick-Fil-A is that they serve quality food. Their sandwiches are among the best. Their ice cream tastes like homemade. Their lemonade is the real stuff. Even their diet lemonade tastes good. Where else can you get diet lemonade? And it isn’t enough that they just have it; it is good.

So it doesn’t put me out at all to buy a few more chicken sandwiches. It’s a little out of the way of my normal trip home, but I’ll manage. Considering that some elected officials are trying to run Chick-Fil-A out of their cities just because their owners stand for Christian values, it is the least that I can do to go a little out of my way to patronize Chick-Fil-A today. If I had the time and money, I would like to visit the Chick-Fil-A restaurants in Boston and Chicago and anywhere else that their elected officials are trying to ban them, just to show them that some of us still believe the First Amendment applies.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

It Will Wait. Or Will It?

Never do today what can be put off until tomorrow.” I don’t know who first said that, but I often find myself doing it. I set up these tasks in Outlook to remind me when it is time to do certain things. That’s helpful when it may be a year between each time the task must be done. The only problem is that Outlook has a snooze button. Rather than doing the task when it pops up, I put it off a few days. I have one task that I’ve been putting off all summer. One task was scheduled to show up at the first of July. I didn’t actually do it until yesterday.

The thing is, I hate procrastination. I put something off and the whole time I’m telling myself that I need to get it done or it will be late. It is so much easier when I just do the task and get it out of the way. I know this, but I still put things off. And it’s not like there are other things that are pressing for my time. Occasionally, that is true, but I could make time for the things I need to do and then I would be free to relax while I did the things I want to do. I’m going to work on that—tomorrow.

What do you tend to put off until later?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Do You Respect People's Opinions?

Do you respect other people? Do you respect their right to have a different opinion than you? Of course you do. But do you respect their opinions? Before you say yes, stop and think about that one.

We respect people because they are our equals. We all came into this world with nothing and we will leave it with nothing. When it is all said and done, we’re all the same. We respect people’s right to have a different opinion because we recognize that we ourselves are sometimes wrong. Even if we know that all evidence supports what we believe, we can appreciate that other people may have trouble accepting the proof that exists.

But respecting another person’s opinions is something different. Respect refers to esteeming or admiring something. It carries with it the idea that we value the thing we respect. It makes sense for us to value people. It makes sense to value a person’s rights. The question is, how do we measure the worth of an individual opinion?

The court system has no problem measuring the value of an opinion. The opinion of an expert witness is valued above that of someone who has read a few books on the subject. Eye witness testimony is valued above hearsay and the opinion of someone who just thinks things should be a certain way is rejected completely.

We encounter opinions daily. Everyone has a right to his opinion, but the value of his opinion must be determined by the source of that opinion. Our respect for a person’s opinion should not be based on how well we like a person or the fact that they agree with us. Sadly, that happens far too often. True respect for an opinion should come from the value of what supports it.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Dealing With People Who Hate You

I left a comment on a recent news article, “I was not aware The Jim Henson Company supported homosexuality. I’m very sorry to hear that.” This brought the ire of some homosexuals who had also read the article. But they used words like bigot and homophobic. One of them took it upon himself to tell me that no one cared about me either. This after he had already told someone else who had commented on the article that no one cared about him. I’ve come to the conclusion that some people hate me. They really, really hate me. And they don’t even know me.

How are we to deal with this? By now, you’ve heard that the Bible teaches that we are to love everyone. If you haven’t, just go look at your enemy’s website. He’ll be sure to tell you that. But let’s look at what Jesus said:

Ye have heard it said, “Thou shalt love they neighbor, and hate thine enemy.” But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. – Matthew 5:43-45

That’s what it says, but what does it mean? First, be fond of them. That’s hard for us to do, but that’s what Jesus tells us to do. Though we don’t like the lifestyle they lead and we don’t like the way they treat us, we should never wish anything bad to happen to them. Why? Because that’s the way God is. Did you know that the Bible says that God doesn’t want anyone to go to hell? He is the one who sends them there, but he doesn’t want to. One of our greatest joys should be that those who hate us become our brothers in the family of God.

Second, bless them. To bless someone is to make statements desiring or expecting good to come to a person. Blessing is the opposite of cursing, which is to make statements desiring someone’s harm. We can’t get behind everything those who hate us do, but we can look for the good things they do and wish them success in those things.

Third, do good to them. Perhaps it is like a family member you don’t get along with, but you buy them a gift for Christmas every year anyway. It isn’t enough for us to just bless our enemies, we need to put our words into action. When we see them in need, let’s help them. As you know, I love the story of Hosea and I used it for the basis of For the Love of a Devil. One of the things I love about that story is that even though Hosea knew that his wife was with other men, he went right on taking care of her. When she refused to accept his help, he went so far as to give to her lovers so they would be able to support her. It wasn’t the situation he wanted and he wasn’t willing to accept her actions, but he did good to her anyway.

Fourth, pray for them. Don’t you think it odd that Jesus would put prayer as the last thing? So often, we talk about how prayer should be the first thing we do and yet, Jesus put it last in this situation. This isn’t a prayer asking God’s will in how you should deal with your enemy. Jesus already told us how to deal with them. There’s no need to pray about that. I believe the reason prayer shows up last is because it is at this point that prayer is all you can do. The word translated as “despitefully use” also means “insult, treat abusively, revile, accuse falsely, threaten.” That’s typically what we see when our enemy is someone leaving a comment on a social media website. Persecution implies a physical action that would make someone flee.

My experience with revilers on websites is that they don’t listen. No matter how nicely you try to respond, they have their mind made up and they will attack anything you say. Even when you agree with them on some point, they will attack because they assume that you are only agreeing so they will let their guard down. If people won’t listen. If people refuse to acknowledge our desire for their good, there really is nothing more we can do but pray. It is within God’s ability to soften the hearts of our enemies.

It is not our place to punish our enemies for their sin. We are to leave that to God and the government structure he has put into place. We are not to encourage people to sin and there is nothing wrong with us saying that what they are doing is wrong, but we need to give special consideration to what it means to love them. It is so easy for us to write them off as evil beyond redemption, but what we really need to do is to demonstrate a better way.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Novel Witnessing Through Villains

Many Christian authors have the idea that they will use their skill at writing to win the lost for Christ. It may be that they don’t like the idea of knocking on a stranger’s door or maybe they fear teaching a Sunday school class, or maybe the just feel that is the best way to use their talent. I can’t say it is a bad idea, but how do we do it?

I’ve seen a few bad examples. Overall, I enjoyed Lori Wick’s novel, The Princess, but I hated the come to Jesus scene. It seemed to me that everyone in the book was saved, so somewhere in the middle of the book Lori Wick introduces a character who isn’t. He is a young boy and he has a family member in the hospital. He does little to move the plot along, but he gives the main characters the opportunity to tell someone how to be saved. I particularly hate that because during what could arguably be the most important scene a reader could read, the reader is anxiously wondering how long before the author will get back to the story.

How do we fix this?

When we realize that it is the villain that is supposed to be the most like the target audience we can start to see ways to witness through the villain. If our target audience is a lost person, then our villain is also lost. Rather than coming out and saying, “our villain is lost,” we should show that he is lost. How? Consider 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” Don’t say he’s lost. Say he’s a thief. Say he’s an adulterer. There are ten types of sinners listed here. Pick one and say he’s that. Or better yet, show it through his actions.

But don’t go overboard. Don’t make him the worst sinner. Make him look like your reader. If he is a thief, don’t have him still the crown jewels; have him “borrow” his neighbor’s yard ornament and not return it. Have him take office supplies home from work. Have him do the things your reader does. Then, through the story, show the problem of his sinful nature. Grow his thievery into something bigger and show how he is hurting your protagonist through his actions.

Now, because he is the villain and not the protagonist, when the opportunity comes to share the gospel with him, do so, but have the villain reject it. Let his sin grow worse and worse, so that it is harder and harder for the protagonist. And when the end comes, let the protagonist succeed and leave the villain utterly defeated. Leave him with no hope. Allow the reader to come to realize that if he continues down the path he is on that he also will end up defeated and without hope. Then, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, we can hope that he will realize that what he needs to do is to accept Christ rather than reject him as the villain did.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Villain Is Me

How often have we heard that the reader must identify with the protagonist? He must be a likeable character—save the cat and all of that. But what about the villain? We often see villains as evil itself. And as we think about the perfect villain we may come up with a character that we despise in the worst sort of way. This is not the way to write a book.

The villain is the most important character in a story. Even when he isn’t in a scene, he is driving what happens. Look at Satan, the great villain of the Bible. Remove him and the story would be very different. Eve would’ve never eaten the forbidden fruit. Job wouldn’t have suffered. Israel wouldn’t have turned against God. Jesus wouldn’t have died. Victory over dead would have never occurred. But with him there, we see how great a victory it is that Jesus accomplished. We may question why God has allowed Satan to do what he does, but that may be our answer. Satan shows us contrast between evil and good.

Now, stop and think why that is important. If we identify most with Jesus, the protagonist of the story, then Satan is just an evil person who causes us trouble. If, however, we identify most with Satan, then we see that the contrast points us in the right direction. It begins were we are and shows us victory that will lead us into what we will become.

When we look at normal villains, we find that the purpose of the villain is not to cause the protagonist trouble, but the villain shows us who we are. As we cheer for the protagonist to overcome the villain, we begin to realize that the villain is me. For the protagonist to win, he must defeat the person that we are. It introduces a change that should take place in our own lives.

Think of the superhero stories in which the villain is bent on taking over the world. Our hero puts a stop to it and the story is over, but look at how we identify with the villain. We may not want to take over the world, but we often consider what we would do if we were in charge at work or in some other organization. We want to implement our ideas and show people how much better it would be. The villain taking over the world has just pushed that to a greater level.

Or consider a jewel heist. Hopefully, you’ve never robbed a jeweler, but have we not considered what life would be like if we had more money than we have now? Just how much could we get away with? But we don’t really identify with the gumshoe because we don’t go around solving crimes. And we don’t really identify with the victim because that would make it too close to home. I learned a few years ago that people who have gone through divorce didn’t care to read my books when my protagonists dealt with that issue. The villain is me.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Who Is the Villain?

Those of you who read yesterday’s post know where I stand on the Chick-fil-a issue. I’ve probably said more than enough on the core issue, but as a writer, I see something more interesting at play here. Who is the villain?

Often, we think of the villain as the bad guy who eats nails for breakfast and has no purpose other than to make the life of the hero difficult. In real life, that character doesn’t exist and we certainly don’t see it in the Chick-fil-a situation. Let’s look at the cast of characters. First, there is Dan Cathy who said nothing about homosexuality at all, but stated that they were guilty as charged in their support for the traditional family. There is the news media, who took that statement and turned it into a statement about homosexuality. There is Lisa Henson of The Jim Henson Company who has decided to terminate The Jim Henson Company’s relationship with Chick-fil-a. Lastly, let’s consider Boston Mayor Tom Menino, who today is taking heat from the Boston Herald Editorial Staff for saying that he would block permits if Chick-fil-a tried to build in Boston.

Dan Cathy, seems to be the media’s choice for a villain in this situation. At least he did until they saw what an outpouring of support he was receiving for his stand. Whether you see him as a villain or not will largely depend on the point of view from which you write the story. Is this a story about guy who has the courage to stand up for what he believes, or is this a story about people who want to be allowed live the lifestyle they choose?

The New Media, could fit the bill when you consider that Dan Cathy’s statement said nothing about homosexuality, but there again, it partly depends on the point of view from which you write the story. They were just trying to sell newspapers. What’s wrong with that?

Lisa Henson fits the bill if you see her as the person who is yanking toys out of kids hands. But look at it from her perspective. It appears that she believes support for the traditional family is a harmful attitude. When I remove the nature of the issue involved from consideration, I admire her for standing up for what she believes. She’s doing nothing more than what Dan Cathy is doing. They just happen to be on different sides of the issue.

Mayor Tom Menino is probably the closest thing to a character who “eats nails for breakfast.” I don’t know if Chick-fil-a has plans to place a restaurant in Boston, but Mayor Tom Menino has made a preemptive strike. But he may have good reason. He is the mayor of a city that has 50,000 homosexuals or about 12% of the population. Considering that the major cities are dealing with only about 3% of their population being homosexual and the country as a whole has less than 1% percent, I kind of see why he would take the stand he did. If he is relying on that 12% to swing the vote for reelection, he won’t want to offend it.

I believe this tells us something about writing. The villain of a story is defined as much by the theme of the story as he is by his actions. Every villain believes himself to be a good guy, but he is a villain because he stands in opposition to what the writer claims is good.