About Me

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Bedford, Texas, United States
Pastor of Woodland Heights Baptist Church in Bedford, Texas and former Professor of Old Testament. But mostly I am a husband of an amazing wife, father of gifted children, and servant of an AWESOME God.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Greatest Accomplishments Surrounding My Life, I Can’t Take Any Credit For!

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Galatians 6:14, ESV.

Some lessons are not fun to learn and often have to be learned over and over again. For me, humility is one of those lessons. You see, recently I have been going through what can be best described as a pity-party. Although some really wonderful things were happening around me, I wasn't able to get excited about them because the attention I thought I deserved wasn't coming at the level or in the ways I thought it should.

The thoughts that kept coming to mind during this period centered on all the things that I had accomplished and why the people I longed to notice them didn't seem to be able to. Why wasn't I good enough for them? After all, I had an earned doctorate, I am a published author, I have great kids who are respectful and accomplished (so I must be a great father), I am good at what I do…people should see me for what I am!

And that is the issue right there, isn't it? People do so often see us for what we are, or what we aren't; we just don’t like to admit what that is. For me, that is a somewhat self-centered, arrogant man who wanted credit for things that either really don’t matter or for which I deserved no credit.

What is interesting about this lesson is that it happened during a time of great things in both my personal and professional life occurring. Things that were tempting to try to take credit for. When I coupled those great things, however, with my own perceptions of unnoticed greatness, I allowed it to lead me down the path of questioning God, expressing self-doubt, and even distrusting people who I knew deep down really loved and cared for me.

Now, my tentative conclusion about the lack of attention is that it is a result of a need to learn a lesson in humility. Last night my youngest accepted Jesus as his Savior! As I reflected on his decision both last night and today I began to think about how glorious and wonderful the fact is that all of my children had given their life to Christ. I also began to think about how it is not just our own salvation that we can’t boast in (Ephesians 2:8-9), but also those where we were the instruments God chose to use to draw someone to Himself. Finally, I came to realize that all the things in life that really matter, that are the greatest accomplishments surrounding my life, are things for which I really can’t take any credit.

Many things we accomplish in life are the result of hard work. These things do in fact add to life’s enjoyment and to being able to do other wonderful things. So understand, I am not talking about taking a fatalistic tact on life or being lazy. Nor am I talking about being self-loathing or even self-depreciating. I am talking about having the healthy understanding that comes from the recognition that the greatest gifts in life - faith, hope and love (1 Corinthians 13:13) are not things we create, but things we are given by God. I am talking about being able to keep the temporal things of this world in the proper perspective next to the eternal things of God. I am talking about knowing what the greatest things in life are and knowing that those things are not ours to claim credit for. Then, when we don’t receive the attention we think we deserve. When we don’t get the rewards that we think are ours. Then we can respond with graciousness and by pointing others to the One who has accomplished those great things and we can find joy in the wonderful things, both temporal and eternal, that are happening around us. To God alone be the Glory!

My new brother in Christ and me (from a few years ago) - it's one of my favorite pictures of all time:

and here he is last Easter

Monday, August 19, 2013

When Did the Church Become a Business? Members are Guilty Too!

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”(1 Peter 1:14-16, ESV)

Believers are supposed to be different (one of the basic meanings of the word holy is “different” or “other than”). We are supposed to be different in our worldview, our actions, and our responses. We are not this because we work harder at it or because of our own efforts, but because the God who lives within us is different, He makes us different, and He empowers us to walk differently. This simple truth is at the heart of what it means to be a disciple and, by extension, to be the Church.

Why then has it become so “normal” for churches to view their work and method through the business model? This happens when Pastors usurp or undermine the God given plan of every member a minister or when they design their church structures around a business model (something that has been discussed thoroughly in other blogs). But it also happens when church members seek to dismiss Pastors and leaders without following a biblical model for such actions.

Recently a friend of mine and a fellow minister was dismissed from his position. As is often the case, the dismissal was not the decision of the church body as a whole, but was the result of a Personnel Committee’s vote (more often than not, such actions are either taken by Personnel Committees or Deacon Boards). The committee worked up a conditional severance package which was given on the condition of a signed non-disclosure agreement and then proceeded to inform the church that he had been dismissed for reasons that, “If we told you, you wouldn’t believe it.” Of course, such statements leave the impression that my friend had done something immoral, depraved, or beyond redemption, when nothing remotely close to such actions was behind his dismissal.

This sort of maneuvering is not restricted to the church (I have seen it repeatedly at SWBTS where I taught), and truth be told, believers in any walk of life ought to avoid this type of dishonesty. But it is an especially egregious act coming from an institution that is supposed to be different and driven by godly principles of integrity rather than human motivations of self-preservation.

Not only do such actions violate clear instructions of how to deal with leadership, should problems be present (Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. (1 Timothy 5:19-20, ESV)), but they also ultimately will undermine that church’s ability to function appropriately and to trust each other.

I have been in the unenviable position of having to dismiss staff before; once because of moral failure and once because the budget could no longer support the position that the person held. In both cases I was careful to fully inform the congregation of why the action was being proposed, to allow for full questions and in the case of the latter example to allow the full church to vote on the decision and to do everything we could to provide a generous, public severance package for the minister in question. I am not saying there is never a cause for dismissal – even on grounds that are more “administrative” than “spiritual” in nature. But what I am saying is that we have a mandate as a holy people to do things differently: to be open and transparent in all our decisions and dealings and to be honest in all our reasons and explanations…especially when Scripture gives us specific instructions of how to deal with a given situation.

Our calling is holiness. Our method is love. Our authority is Scripture. Our impetus is the Gospel. Our empowerment is God Himself. Let’s not sell our God or ourselves short in how we do things!

BTW – My knowledge of the actions surrounding the dismissal do not come from the minister himself, who has to my knowledge been faithful to his non-disclosure agreement, but from relationships I have with other people in the church connected to both the Personnel Committee and the greater church body.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What the Children in Africa Re-Taught Me - Worth versus Entitlement

I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.(Philippians 4:12) 

For a lot of people, Philippians 4:13 is their favorite verse, "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." Indeed, it is a powerful statement of God's power manifested through us as we live our lives.  But more recently the verse immediately preceding it has drawn my attention. 

I recently had the privilege of being able to serve on a short term mission trip to Zimbabwe. The primary focus of the trip was to work with orphanages in Harare, spending time with the kids and letting them know that Jesus loves them. As is often the case with short term trips like this, I likely received more from the trip than I was able to deliver. 

As I went from orphanage to orphanage during the week, I was struck by how content the children were in so many ways. They certainly wanted things (candy, toys, attention) when it was made available, but I noticed that even when they didn't receive it, they went about their activities with a happy attitude.  In reflecting on this, I think there are at least two probable causes behind this reality...the fact that they are children and the fact that they have come through deprivation, not to expect anything as their own.

The first is certainly heartwarming and perhaps a part of the child-likeness we are called to as believers (Luke 18:17). Children live life very much in the now. This has the negative impact in their failure to express patience, but it has the positive implication of being generally content. I have seen children spend hours with little more than a couple blocks of wood or in my youngest's case a long piece of yarn, simply content with what they have and with no complaining. It's only the introduction of some expectation that generally moves a child from contentment to anxiety. A sense of entitlement creeps in and contentment is lost.

Which brings me to the second part of the orphan's reality. It is indeed heartbreaking that the children have to do without so much...especially a mom and dad to love them! I don't believe the loss of a sense of being worth something is part of God's plan for anyone. God created us in His Image. He sent His Son to Die for Us. He loved us while we were still in rebellion to Him. He is LOVE! But I do believe that there is something to learn from their lack of a sense of entitlement and their appreciation for even the smallest gestures of time and love.

Too often we think we are entitled to things that we really aren't entitled to. That is, we confuse "worth" with "entitlement." The former is an outside value placed on us by God, the latter is an inner sense that grows out of pride and self-centeredness. In reality, we aren't entitled to anything - whether it's a bigger house, more comfort, a full stomach, or even salvation itself. Until we realize that, contentment will evade us and the full joy of the salvation we have experienced will allude us.

The children in the orphanages in Zimbabwe hopefully saw the love of Christ and the worth He places on them through our visit and that of others.  He places a great worth on all of humanity. For myself, I hope in the days ahead I continue to learn the lessons of contentment by remembering that while I am worth much in the mind of my Creator, He doesn't owe me anything.

Thanks Tyler Downing for the pictures below!