Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A BIG HAND FOR CB, MARTY AND ME


Several weeks ago ... it was the time when Marty Duren was the favorite target for pot-shots by folks who didn't care for his post about Jesus' humanity ... I called him. I think it was to make sure he wasn't feeling like two cents waiting for change, but it may have been to kick him while he was down.

I forget which.

The topic of lunch came up, and he mentioned I ought to throw a rope around CB Scott and drag him over to a certain Mexican Restaurant they'd previously visited, and we could spend some time breaking tortillas and solving the problems of the world (including contents). We did just that, yesterday.

CB and I chatted all the way there and back. I had a great time of it, and I think CB thought so, too. At least he was still talking to me when we got back to Birmingham. There's something about fellowshipping with brothers, when there's no agenda, no business, no goal to achieve. We talked about everything imaginable, mostly in the spiritual realm, and the same occurred over lunch with Marty (albeit only 1-1/2-2 hours worth).

In reflecting on the day, I learned a couple things. One is that, as much of a curse as blogs and email and instant information (and sometimes TMI) can be, we're living in a most blessed age. Our friendships could not have existed 25 or 50 years ago. We'd never have met. And I can guarantee you that these guys sharpen your iron like few others can.

Another thing: CB pastors a relatively small church in a Birmingham suburb. Marty pastors a similar sized church in a suburb of Atlanta. I, on the other hand, flunked out of the first year of college and never looked back. Likewise, CB's career is much more checkered, and unconventional, than Marty's, and mine has nothing to do with churches or any other eleemosynary institutions. There's also a big age difference ... Marty is today 5 years closer to my grandson's age than to my younger son's, and CB was born while I was a teenager. Yet here we sat, as brothers.

Thirdly: through blogging and commenting, we have a level play area and all have a voice that's limited only by our voice, and not by our credentials or our background. Even if Wade Burleson or Dwight McKissic had been there, only the number at the table (and on the bill) would have changed. The fact that some might pastor a megachurch would have been irrelevant.

Maybe that's what some folks resent about all this. The insignificance of position. The powerlessness of power. The irrelevancy of credentials or history. If that's true, that raises a whole lot of questions in my mind, about those who hold that resentment.

And .. for those of you who've always wondered what Marty "How'ya" Duren looks like, that's his picture back up at the top.

He'd just finished showing me the secret handshake. I think he's related to Spock.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

WILL THE REAL STRAW MAN PLEASE STEP FORWARD?

As I understand it, a "Straw Man" is an erroneous opposing position we state ... that we blame on others ... to which we respond in our argument defending our own position. Personally, I think there are a lot more "Straw Men" around than we realize.

Do you realize how many ... how few ... people you really know? I had a friend who was subpoenaed to testify for an employee of his, who was charged with murder. He gave his statement about his good friend, but the prosecutor asked some pretty pointed questions. Like .... How many times has he been in your home ... Or you in his .... How many times have you had a meal with him, not at work .... Name his children .... What is his birthday? My friend couldn't answer them.

I think the root of a lot of problems that are going on now .... At least all the salvos being lobbed over the horizon at Ft. Worth, Arlington, Enid, etc .... may be the fact that we're happy to look at a little bit of what someone writes and then form a lot of opinions about them.

We create that person in our mind. I dare say, normally, the person we create in our mind doesn't exist anywhere else. Perhaps that person is a real Straw man!

Do we really think we're that good? I think we do. I've had some controversial folks "amen" some comments I've made and I get this warm fuzzy feeling about my new friend. But let them, then, disagree with something else, or attack someone I respect, and suddenly they're a whole new person. I realize I've based my construction of this person, in my mind, on wholly inadequate information.

Ah, but we say things like "We're supposed to be fruit inspectors" when we're accused of being judgmental. After all, Paul did tell the Corinthians:

"What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside." (NIV)

Sure. That's an instruction to the church. He didn't tell me as a Committee of One.

Do I have any support for that? Indeed. Check this:

Romans 14:44: Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.(NIV)

The only way I can possibly interpret that is that the church has an overall responsibility to police its ranks, so to speak, but I'm personally not supposed to do that.

I also need to state that I'm a part of the SBC, and that obligates me to voice my concerns. Not to affect the course of history, but so that my hands will be clean if things go all wrong. I may not think I am smart enough to solve the problems of the world, but I serve a God Who is prone to tell someone something that He didn't tell anyone else. After all, He didn't send an army to warn Nineveh. He sent one guy, and He apparently didn't tell anybody else.

If I really believe God is running the show down here, I have to believe that He's going to have the folks that He wants, running things . I hasten to add that He's free to either honor an organization if it serves Him faithfully, or to bring it down like a house of cards if it won't. And who am I to figure which He's doing?

But .... one thing I must not do is to think for a moment that the high-profile players in all this are the same guys that exist in my mind and that I've created by what I've seen in Blogville. With a few exceptions of folks I've gotten to know reasonably well via other means, those "Straw Men" simply aren't there.

Let alone running things.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

PRIDE GOETH BEFORE SOMETHING-OR-OTHER

Or maybe several somethings-or-other.

I've been chasing around after God since the early 1960's, which is a long time. That's relevant in this, as I learned early on that the Bible said what it meant and meant what it said. And it was God doing the saying, too.

That does include the statement that we do various agricultural activities down here, but God does the growing. In fact, God is the cause of all good things, especially including the Spiritual ones.

One of the things I noticed about the Southern Baptist Churches with which I'm familiar, is that many are proud of what they do. They post attendance and offerings and all sorts of other stuff. Hence it's no surprise that we hear superlative terms here and there throughout the SBC, like "The world's largest protestant denomination", or "The world's largest missionary-sending group", or "Claiming 16 million members". Our church, one time, announced the "World's largest block party".

Don't I even recall someone referring to the IMB as the "crown jewel of God's missionary outreach?"

Why do we say things like that? Do we think that a new record in Sunday School impresses the same God who saved 3,000 people when Peter stood and preached a short simple sermon at Pentecost? Do we think God does a "mighty work" when 3 couples join our church by transfer from another SBC church? Particularly when 100 new members might increase attendance by 20 or 30?

Oh, I know. ... the old "trust the Lord and tell the people" thing. In response to that, I wonder how many people (A) remember the offerings and attendance after they leave church, and (B) call to inquire about the numbers if they missed attending one Sunday. With 16 million members and something under half of them there, churches ought to be swamped with calls about that.

The defeat of the Integrity in Membership resolution did more than anything I've ever seen to let the real light shine out from under the basket. And the silly, inane "reasons" offered in response were simply ludicrous.

SO: why is this going on? Perhaps ....

We're so proud of the purity of our doctrine that it's become an idol of sorts and we'll prove it by tossing out folks who don't go along with the interpretations of the few.

We're so proud of our numbers in attendance that we announce and publish them .. but we keep them as far away as possible from our membership numbers so no one will make the connection. Why don't we start publishing ... instead of attendance ... the number of members on our rolls, and the percentage that was there on Sunday. And let's publish the percentage at the prayer meeting, too. And maybe how long we actually prayed.

Didn't Jesus say something about what "His Father's house" would be called? What it would be known as?

We spend a lot of money making our buildings not only big enough for our assigned task (Good Thing) but also beautiful. We say we want to "glorify God". Didn't He say that He doesn't live in buildings made by hands? The times of worship that absolutely rocked my world have been in ...

A Russian church in an old converted theater building. Let's just say the porcelain facility did not have a normal seat on it. But oh, the praise....
A Latvian church in an old musty building where people simply got lost in worship .. and occasionally fell over when I prayed for them....
A Russian apartment where God put 3 worship leaders together at 1am and we had church well into morning...
A little church on a hill overlooking Kingston, Jamaica, where the instruments are on their last legs but the praise is fresh and vibrant every Sunday...
A small room at Kingwood Church where we got on our faces before God and people stepped over me to go pray with someone else...

It's easy to say "all glory to God" when we're about whatever we're doing. And it's true and worth doing. But the issue of pride and arrogance, it seems to me, goes way beyond that, and I see more of it around me and in me than I wish were there.

Proverbs 16:18: Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

As I look around at the IMB parameters, the Integrity of Membership issue, the McKissic flap, the Joshua Convergence et al ... I have to ask:

What's it coming before, this time?

Friday, October 13, 2006

HE HID IT, SO THAT I WOULD FIND IT


We went to Las Vegas to see the sights. Hotels may be pretty, and all, but Peg had never seen the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, or ridden through a real life desert. So we went.

The day before this picture, we'd driven to, and through, the Valley of Fire State Park. That's a beautiful place, and full of evidences of the power, glory, and magnificence of the God Who created it. Peg and I enjoyed it immensely.

The day of this picture, we took one of the day-trips to the Grand Canyon. We rode on one of the little 20-passenger Scenic Airlines planes, that flew us the hour or so to the Canyon.

The day before, as we toured the Valley of Fire, I kept thinking of the song "He Hideth My Soul". Everywhere I looked, there were giant rock formations, which could only have been made by The Creator. But the Grand Canyon took that thought to inexpressible heights.

As we were flying back, we flew directly over the canyon. I sat there looking at the canyon, and the words of that hymn simply echoed and echoed in my mind. In the background, the plane's intercom system was droning on about how "nature's architect" .... the Colorado River and several million years .... had formed the canyon. Which accounts for the fact that I took off the headset and just took pictures out the window. It was then that God spoke.

He said ... referring to the foolish notion that some "natural phenomenon" had created all that ...

"I made all this, and I love you".

I could not speak. I simply sat there and started to cry. For 20 minutes, I couldn't speak .... I couldn't philosophize ... I couldn't do anything but sit and be transfixed by the magnificent display before me, and the presence of the Lord within me.

Peg asked me what was wrong. All I could to was wave my hand at her, which she understood completely. I simply couldn't let the moment pass without doing something, so I grabbed a barf bag and wrote the words ....

"He hideth my soul in the cleft of the Rock

That shadows a dry, thirsty land

He hideth my life in the depths of His love

And covers me there with His hand

And covers me there with His hand."

I had church at 8,500 feet over Nevada, and nobody but Peg and me had a clue.

In a world full of fine theology and exegesis, of modern techniques and slick programs, user-friendly services, multi-million dollar buildings, meetings with thousands in attendance, I cannot help the feeling that we need more church at 8,500 feet and less of the stuff that the world can duplicate. I know I do.

I want the Rock of my Salvation to be as real and as solid ... or moreso ... than any other rock God ever created.

Monday, October 09, 2006

WINE .. OR WHINE .. THAT IS THE QUESTION

I think the SBC is getting old. I say that because, as I've gotten old, I've noticed that one of the commodities I'm short on, is attention. I can only seem to focus on one or two things at once.

There goes my life-long ambition to be a juggler.

There's been a lot of ink, and more verbal adjectives, about wine than the subject (in and of itself) warrants IMO. But not a lot about "WHINE".

Whining ... pity parties ... lamenting the events of one's own life ... has been in abundant supply across blogdom. We wring hands and wail when kids are flunked for taking a stand ... when we cannot serve in a particular place we want to be .. often couched in the frame of where God has burdened us to serve ... when higher-ups make pronouncements we disagree with ... when the SBC moves in a direction we don't like.

All this because things don't go the way (a) we want (b) we said they would (c) we understand (d) will "benefit" us.

Can you think of any "hand wringing" in the New Testament? Where was the wailing & moaning about Stephen's murder? How about Paul's pitiful cries when he knew he was about to bite the big one? Maybe you've seen some stuff I haven't, but I simply do not recall seeing that in the Bible. What I do remember is rejoicing and victory.

Some years ago, a friend of mine had a particularly hard time with something that happened to her, in connection with her education. It was understandably very upsetting to her, and I could not blame her for how she felt. But my mouth opened and I said "What if what has happened to you in this is exactly what God has in mind for you?" That question seemed to have a positive reaction in her.

Same question ought to be asked now. What if the narrowing of the parameters ... seeming negative effect on missions ... the disqualification of missionaries for not signing the BF&M ... the threats to missionaries who "cooperate" with some non-SBC group in starting a church ... what if all that is EXACTLY what God has in mind for the SBC and the IMB?

Oh, we're big to espouse that God is omnipotent (and all the other om's) ... that He is sovereign ... but we're less apt to state that when things don't go the way we thought/expected/predicted. We need to get our head around the thought that God is Who He says He is and that all this stuff is NOT going to stop Jesus from building His church. Goodness gracious, didn't we learn anything from Job's trials?

If my supposition is correct, man wouldn't like that as we would be forced to admit we'd run our agenda in, replacing God's agenda. I have no idea why we'd do that, but I do know that God would've told us that was happening if we'd been asking Him all along. And I don't mean just the usual opening and closing prayers that seem oriented at getting God's blessings on what we do. Asking HIM to "AMEN" our decision.

Wow. I never thought of it that way. I seem to've said something I never thought of, again. Hmm....

Let me state specifically that we ought to point out what we see are ungodly, or misguided, or self-centered decisions, to the appropriate people. Those things need to be brought to their attention. But when we do that, we need to understand that our victory is in the telling, not in the results. And only then if God has placed us in a position where it is appropriate for us to do so. When conviction falls on us and we cannot rest until we obey.

Right here and now I am asking God to keep me from ever asking Him to "Amen" what I simply decide on my own. I want nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else, than God telling me what He wants me to do.

Nothing else will do.

ps: I apologize here if this seems to be oriented at any one person. It's not. Except maybe at me.