Monday, February 26, 2007

IT'S A BOY!!!!!

Mere words cannot express the joy and excitement in my heart. As most of my blog friends and regular readers know, I am the proud daddy of four little girls, ages nine, six, four, and two. My wife is expecting our fifth child and we were pleased to discover today, my wife being nineteen weeks and five days, that we are expecting our first BOY! Notice in the picture to the left that he is waving to us and might be giving us the thumbs up; "Every thing's OK in here. How are you all out there?" Notice the little guy looks just like me, doesn't he? Wait...everybody in the blogosphere thinks I look like a car...

Imagine that, I am going to have a son! We have to go buy all new clothes, not to mention that I need to buy fishing poles (a priority), baseball gloves, balls, and bats, and I need to put a .22 rifle away. Or maybe a 20 gauge. And a chocolate lab. Matchbox cars. I need Matchbox cars! And Tonka trucks...a football, and there is this great trebuchet in the Vision Forum catalog I can now get with adequate justification..."Honey, our son needs that trebuchet!!!"

I enjoy playing baby dolls, having tea parties ["I am Mrs. Nesbitt! Tell me I look good in the hat!" (Blog satisfaction to who can name that movie quote!)], and Little People. Now it will be cowboys, army men, tanks, and mud. It's a boy! And in the picture below, you have a shot of the proof, that infamous turtle every daddy looks and hopes for in the ultrasound room! Its been "Big Macs" the last four times, but there you have it!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Miracle Baby Amillia Sonja Taylor

Amillia Sonja Taylor was born at one day under twenty-two weeks, the shortest known gestation period for a live human birth. Born at less than ten ounces and roughly the length of a ball point pen, she was born by C-section. Given little chance to live, Amillia amazed doctors when mom and dad, Eddie and Sonja Taylor took her home Thursday, February 22.

She was delivered early due to complications her mother was experiencing and MSNBC reports that:
...if doctors had known Amillia’s real gestational age, they might not have intervened. He said he thought she was at least 23 weeks, and doctors were shocked when the Taylor's fertility specialist pinpointed the exact date of fertilization.
Her gestational period was first pinpointed at twenty-three weeks, but after specialists examined her they more accurately judged her gestation at twenty-one weeks and six days. The typical legal limit for an abortion is twenty-four weeks and this has put abortion in the spotlight. Thanks to advancements in medical care and neonatology, Amillia is the youngest baby to survive such an early delivery.

This has prompted a debate among medical doctors on the viability of a baby at twenty-two weeks. Normal deliveries take place between 37-40 weeks. Amillia went home healthy at 4 1/2 pounds and 15 1/2 inches spending four months, nearly the remainder of her gestation, in the neonatal intensive care unit.

The laws will not change without a lengthy debate, but the evidence is irrefutable; a baby at less than the legal limit for an abortion is thriving now, healthy, and at home. Should therefore, the laws be changed in light of this miracle baby? Follow the MSNBC link to see pictures of Amillia at birth and on the day she went home.

(HT: Doug Phillips)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Evangelism in a Static Community

Modern notions of evangelism do not endear themselves to rural church ministry. I had considered titling this post "Door-to-Door Don't Work" but decided against it. Not only is it grammatically incorrect but I thought it would send the wrong idea. Metropolitan churches tend to use door-to-door methods and they work admirably. However, in the sticks where people do not live in subdivisions enabling you to reach out your kitchen window to your neighbor's to borrow a cup of sugar, evangelism is a lot more relational.

Emphatically though, door-to-door does work in certain contexts. It has worked to a certain degree here even though the community is essentially static. I can count on one hand how many families have moved into this community in the last five years. The prospect list therefore is not very long and so evangelism is not very proactive.

Evangelism in a rural community takes place a lot less dramatically than on the front door step having just shared a full-bore Gospel presentation. Of all the folks I have led to Christ in this ministry, none of them were folks I didn't already know to some extent. They made a commitment to Christ while sitting on the tailgate of a pickup, leaning on a post-hole digger, across the dinner table, or at the front of the sanctuary.

Evangelism to rural folks is borne of relationship. Intentional evangelism has its place and I use that method when appropriate. The cultivation of relationships is key, having spent long hours in people's homes, at the country store, and even lending a hand chopping wood. These attain an audience more easily than just the entitlement of knocking on a door.

Most of the folks in the community I serve have lived here all their lives. Transfer growth is therefore virtually non-existent. Moreover, most rural churches are territorial. Once, I proposed at a fellowship meal to some key people that I wanted to start doing more intentional evangelism and that I would like to see our church reach all the folks within a five to seven mile radius of the steeple.

"We can't do that," was the immediate reply. It was not because they were afraid to tell other folks about the love of Christ but because if we followed through with a five to seven plan we would encroach upon another church's "territory." Territorialism is indicative of the mutual concern and care that rural folks tend to have over one another, often absent in metropolitan areas.

The fear of anything that might threaten that community is a hurdle to evangelism and a wise minister will not attempt to overcome that community but rather work with it. Community is what the church is to foster; why not use the existing structure and build upon it?

Farmers help other farmers at harvest; people give generously when others are going through a crisis; businesses are supported faithfully because they are local, not because they have competitive prices. Anything that builds community is welcomed and that which threatens it is fiercely opposed. So to be effective in outreach, being a part of the community is an absolute essential.

Glen Daman in his useful book, Shepherding the Small Church, quotes Steve Bierly:
The small church has a bad reputation for being "against growth" because it balks at plans coming out of the church growth movement. But smaller congregations have been unfairly labeled. It's not that they are against growth; its that they are against changing characteristics that make them unique. Small congregations aren't opposed to bringing men and women to Christ, but they are opposed to becoming mega-churches. They don't want to be asked to become something they are not.
Evangelism in a small community is difficult and often bears little fruit. Focusing only upon results fosters discouragement and amotivation. But one must focus not on temporal fruit, but rather the fruit that remains. And that makes laboring in this vineyard worth it.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Pastor Steals WHOLE Church

(Post updated.)

I have heard of stealing sheep, but the whole church? This is ridiculous.
For nearly a decade, members of Ripon's [CA] First Congregational Church bared their souls to Pastor Randall Radic. But clearly it didn't work both ways. There were certain things he wasn't telling them.

That became obvious a year ago, when Radic pleaded guilty to betraying his flock and secretly selling the church and its rectory out from under them. He used the money to buy himself a brand-new black BMW and a laptop...


"This is a town with a lot of faith," said Navid Fardanesh, president of the Ripon Chamber of Commerce. "People had a lot of trust in him, and unfortunately he took advantage of the situation."

First, Radic faked documents giving him possession of the parsonage, and used the property to take out about $200,000 in personal loans, prosecutors said. Then he forged papers saying he had the power to sell the church, and sold it to a couple for $525,000.

I do not know what to find most extraordinary...this pastor's bravado; the naivety of the couple who bought the property; or the fact that the new pastor lives in a motor home. You can read the whole AP report here.

(HT: Ken Fields)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

How do Rural Church Folks Spell Love?


A new blog friend and frequent commenter, Heather, posed a question in the comment thread in my last post. I think it deserves attention. She simply asked, I'd enjoy hearing hear about how you lead your people to be a loving church (or how the Lord is guiding you in that direction)!

One simple caveat: the things I do, I do not not prescribe as normative for every ministry. The things that I do, though very simple, are what work in the context of ministry in which I serve.

Once while preaching on parenting I talked about spending time with my children. I made the point that my children really do not care what I do with them, just as long as I spend a long time doing it. Once is never enough with them, and to quote my father-in-law, if once is good, fifty times has to be better.

I discovered that principle in ministry to rural church folks as well. While studying in seminary, the pastoral ministry professor taught a lot of simple principles. These were inculcated and erroneously filed away as normative. Don't sit on the bed when making hospital visits; visit, and give the impression that you will stay a while, but only stay a few minutes; follow-up once on sick and surgery patients; never give a gift to a church member.

Many of these principles were taught in the interest of good time management. However, life moves a lot slower in the hay fields of Virginia. I discovered that visitation is important. Granted, it gets tiresome and there is only so much visiting I can do before I tire of it and I am ready to do more proactive ministry.

Yet, when handled appropriately, visitation can be proactive. Most folks, especially the aged, enjoy a visit from their pastor. When I go, I plan on staying at least an hour; I stay longer yet I visit less. Relationships are not built in a few moments but over time. How do you get to know somebody you do not talk to? So, to leave after only a few minutes is seen as an insult; the visit is interpreted as condescending patronization.

Therefore, I try to take advantage of the time. A good pastor friend calls these kinds of visits "tea and crumpet" visits; but I see the inherent value in them. I turn the visit to spiritual discussions. I ask simple, probing questions, such as, "What has God been teaching you lately? Has any passage of Scripture stuck in your mind recently? How can I pray for you and your family?" These questions always lead to sharing about family struggles and perfect opportunities for discipleship. It leads the discussion to biblical solutions for problems, examples to uphold and prescribe, and sometimes, revealing of sin.

These days time is a precious commodity. In these days when communications are instantaneous, drive-thru windows are the norm, what's new is hot, and the old is not quite so good anymore, there remains a place for visitation. Relationships have eternal consequences and most of the time, the fruits of those visits are not seen. Time and time again, I have proven Jim Elliff's words true. In the article I referenced last post, The Rural Church Dilemma, he says of the lack of "visibility" in rural church ministry:
Remember that you are entirely unaware of the impact of your ministry. For instance, you may teach older adults without much visible impact. But one of them, perhaps a grandparent of an unconverted child, may receive stimulus from your ministry that makes her a true witness to her grandchild. Her witness, prompted by your stimulus and instruction, may be the very thing God uses to bring that child to Him. She may not even be aware of her impact. In fact, it may not come to bear until after she has passed on. The grandchild, in time, may one day marry a believer and raise up children who also become believers in another part of America. Do you really know what that will mean in terms of eternity? Do you know what it means in terms of generations of believers? What if, three generations down the line, one of the Christians in this line is instrumental in the evangelization of an unreached tribal group? Did you see that when you taught that grandparent on a sleepy Sunday morning? Likely not. Don't forget that Jesus said, "I will build my church." The time you taught that grandparent might be far more instrumental in the building of the universal church than ten years of ministry in some large city church with all its innovations and activities. You cannot know how God will work for sure, yet you can be confident that it would be a total surprise to you how significant your labors are. Therefore, "sow in hope."
This is what I do; I "sow in hope." Serving a church with a regular attendance of about 85, I thankfully know a little bit about every person in our church. Mega-church pastors, even mid-sized church pastors, cannot say that.

More posts on this topic forthcoming...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Love and the Rural Church

I am pastor of a mid-sized rural church. We are literally about six miles from a gallon of milk and often the ministry can be pretty lonely. I found this article, The Rural Church Dilemma, by teacher and writer Jim Elliff to be especially encouraging. This is a helpful quote about how rural churches can be very loving churches.
Be energized by the concept that your church could become the most loving church in the world. I find this compelling. There will be many things your church may not be. It may not be the most educated church or the most innovative church, or the most evangelistic church, etc., but it can be the most loving church. There is nothing to stop that from happening except your lack of determination and/or the will of the people. Love, after all, is the sign of maturity as a church. Now, if you are seeing this, you will find ways to encourage love. This will mean that you will work out ways for people to be in your home, and in the home of the other church members. You will think of ways to get people to really know the insides of each other. Sheep need help to overcome their reserved nature. They will need to be commended for acts of love, just as Paul often did. You will need to set the pace and demonstrate a passionate love for the people. Dream about this. And, my experience is (and the Bible's teaching is) that this is a powerful way to witness. The love of the people of God for each other is, as Francis Schaeffer said, "the final apologetic."

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Commitment: Part of the Problem?

To commit to something means to devote oneself or pledge oneself to the doing of a certain thing. When that term is used it often expresses a desire on the part of the one making the commitment to stand firm for that commitment.

How often Christians use that term to express their relationship to God; "I am a committed Christian." However, in our culture of laxity and drive-thru lifestyles, commitments are often too easily abandoned. If something that is more attractive presents itself, we readily turn our backs on that prior commitment and then commit ourselves to the doing of that other thing.

Commitments are typically made with a few caveats. I commit as long as it does not interfere with soccer practice on Tuesday evenings; I commit as long as it does not cause me to do serious introspection; I commit as long as I can be arbiter of how long the commitment lasts; I commit as long as situations and circumstances do not change; I commit as long as this thing to which I commit brings accolades and lauds of praise; I commit insofar as it does not put me out; I commit as long as it is convenient.

I am persuaded that the Bible really does not teach commitment, at least not our American idealistic understanding of it. Consider:
Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let Him deny Himself, take up His cross, and follow Me." Matthew 16:24
Christ was not calling for commitments. He was calling for absolute surrender. Surrender is purely antithetical in our rugged individualistic lifestyles, our DIY mentalities; yet surrender is exactly what Christ calls for. A commitment presupposes that you can question the thing to which you have made the commitment. Christ demands unflinching obedience.

When Christ said to His disciples that they must take up their crosses, they were not woefully ignorant of what He was asking of them. They had witnessed too many crucifixions for that. They understood that He was calling them to a life of unwavering obedience and absolute surrender to His will for their lives. If He called them to die, then so be it. And they were to find joy in it.

How easily we check out when the going gets tough. We commit to give God our all but when something less than appealing jumps in the way, we head for the hills, checking out on that commitment. Church not going the way you like it, the way you think it ought to? There is another one down the street. That relationship struggling? Go elsewhere. Mentoring that baby Christian not as easy as you thought? The fledgling ministry floundering? Obedience to those commands just too tough? Pastor, do you have your resume in your inside coat pocket?

Perhaps part of the problem is commitment and perhaps it is derived from the fact that commitments are not typically kept. Perhaps it is that one commitment leads to another commitment which leads to over-commitment and then the weary, overzealous Christian flames out underneath the burden of keeping all these commitments. These things are not a sign that one's life is surrendered to the lordship and authority of Christ.

Here is an idea: tell them "no" and then see what happens.

Christ did not commit Himself to the cross. He was surrendered to it. His Father's will is what held sway over Him; not some mealy-mouthed commitment. That is why He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Lord, not My will, but Your will be done." As long as Christians remain committed and not surrendered, their lives will bear little or no spiritual fruit. Surrender is what produces the fruit that remains.

Commitments do not carry you through the tough times. Commitments weigh you down even further, like a millstone around the neck. But to be surrendered to the Lordship of Christ even the difficult times bring joy because you then completely understand that this thing (you fill in the blank) can be worked out for your good. Surrender also gives you the faith to stand firm even if that thing does not work out for your good.

Consider that Sunday School favorite, the story of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. They refused to bow down to an image of gold. They answered and said to King Nebuchadnezzar,
"We have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us form the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up." Daniel 3:17-18
Commitment just says "but." Surrender says "but if not."

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Snake Handlin' Done Right

What do you do with a sixteen foot anaconda? You kill it!

At least that is what sixty-six year old Joaquim Pereira of Brazil did when he found the snake wrapped around his eight year old grandson, Mateus. Mateus was playing with friends near a creek on his grandfather's ranch in Cosmorana. Joaquim bludgeoned the constrictor for half an hour until he released his hold on the boy, finally killing the monster snake. Normally very afraid of humans because they kill the large creatures on sight, they will attack the unwary. Follow the link to see pictures.

Wow. And I was aggravated the other night because I had to put out a mouse trap.

(HT: Doug Phillips, via CNN World)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Cinderella: Greeting Card Trollop

Do you pay particular attention to items that are for sale that are targeted toward children?

Today, my family and I were in WalMart (I know, I know). We were searching for the latest flimsy cardboard cutouts that they might give them to their friends next Wednesday in the name of Valentine cheer. As I perused the seasonal aisle of Valentine's flotsam, I began to notice a trend among several of the boxed sets of cards.

The boys' cards were what you would expect; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Superman, Spiderman, and Pirates of the Carribean, your standard testosterone inducing fare. However, many of the girls' cards were along the same level. They were hormone inducing, but not for the same reasons as the boys' cards.

The girls' selections were comprised of notably, Disney Princesses, such as Cinderella, Ariel (The Little Mermaid), and Belle (Beauty and the Beast). Tinkerbell of Peter Pan had her own box and then there were the Bratz; radical, pre-adolescent change agents.

The Disney characters were noticeably different from what I remember from my childhood and adolescent years as well as recent family viewing. Cinderella was not what these cards portrayed her to be. In the film, she was innocent, virtuous, chaste; an unspoiled maiden, the envy of her wicked stepsisters. Cinderella was not the trollop brazenly and voluptuously brandished across those children's boxed sets of Valentine's Day cards.

Without being overly descriptive, Cinderella was posing in such a way to betray her "best" features; a hand provocatively slung back on her hip; slyly leaning forward in a much bustier dress than she wore in the classic movie; all accompanied by a mischievous "come hither" look. The Tinkerbell cards were much worse, some of her poses offering a soft porn flavor.

The departure from the childlike innocence of the original movies to parallel the erotic love often associated with Valentine's Day is especially troublesome, particularly on a child's set of cards to be handed out to other children. This is not the same Cinderella that scolded Bruno the dog for dreaming that he was chasing Lucifer the cat; "That's bad!" Cinderella insisted.

Cinderella would also say "that's bad" to how a slick greeting card company turned her sweet, chaste demeanor into provocateur rather than further dignifying her as the patient lady in waiting that she most assuredly was; not to mention the simple fact that the cards are aimed at sale to children.

The message that this sends to young girls is obvious; chastity, propriety, and modesty are no longer virtues. It may not be implicit on the face of each and every little card, but the seeds of impropriety and immodesty are being sown and they cannot be denied nor overlooked.

Cinderella is the wrong character to impose this kind of licentiousness upon. Tinkerbell might have been crafty, sneaky and even downright mean; but Cinderella? The Bratz seem to have been created for the express purpose of instilling sexuality and a mall mentality in the minds of young girls before the age of nine, but Cinderella? The extrapolation is sickening.

Why contort Cinderella? Why defame her good nature, undermine her humility and ridicule her femme sole? She could easily be the poster-girl for chastity and purity. I know the answers to my questions. If it can be instilled in the minds of girls at a young age that sexy, provocative dress, sly backward glances, and flirtatious body language "works" and gets them what they want, then why not start early? Its what boys look for and what they expect, isn't it? Cinderella was communicating the way girls ought to look and act, and chaste is not it.

Nevertheless, my girls did not notice Frankenrella. Thankfully, they were more interested in the barnyard animal, Care Bears, and bug-eyed house pet cards.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Just How Biblical is the Sinner's Prayer?

This post is essentially thinking out loud about something I have been pondering for a while. I thought by posting this I could get some feedback and evaluate my thoughts. Someone may have already addressed this adequately. I hope I am not splitting hairs too finely, but here goes...

When I came to Christ as a teenager, I prayed a prayer similar to what you find in most Gospel tracts:
"Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am sinful and I need your forgiveness. I believe that You died to pay the penalty for my sin. I want to turn from my sin nature and follow You instead. I invite You to come into my life. In Jesus' name. Amen." Steps to Peace with God, Billy Graham
I know that countless others have prayed this prayer to initiate their life with Christ. On the surface, the prayer seems theological enough--there is acknowledgment of need, confession of sin, the substitutionary nature of Christ's death, and repentance, all biblically necessary for receiving salvation.

However, is there anywhere in the Bible that someone prays for their initial salvation? I don't think so. I do not want to say that if an apparently Scriptural practice, if it is not chapter and verse, that it is immediately unbiblical. There are a lot of modern constructs used in Christian life and practice that though they do not have a biblical precedent it does not make the usage of them sinful. Nevertheless, there is no notion of a sinner's prayer in the Scriptures.

God has outlined the plan of salvation clearly in the Scriptures. And from that plan, there is no mention of prayer being a prerequisite. The plan goes like this:
  1. Hear the Gospel message (John 5:24, Acts 15:7, Romans 10:14).
  2. Believe in Jesus as the resurrected Son of God (John 3:16-18, 11:25-26, Romans 10:9).
  3. Repent of sin (Matthew 3:2, Luke 13:3, Acts 17:30).
  4. Confess Christ before others (Mark 8:38, Romans 10:9).
  5. Be baptized as an outward testimony and as an act of obedience (Matthew 3:13-15, Acts 9:18, 16:33).
  6. Live faithfully and steadfast as a Christian (Matthew 10:22, Hebrews 3:6, 14).
Of all the conversions recorded in the New Testament, there is no witness to any kind of prayer to receive salvation. There are nine conversions in the book of Acts alone and all follow this plan.
  1. 3,000 on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41)
  2. Simon and the Samaritans (Acts 8:9-12)
  3. The Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-39)
  4. Saul/Paul (Acts 9:1-19 & Acts 22:3-16)
  5. Cornelius’ Household (Acts 10:44-48)
  6. Lydia (Acts 16:11-15)
  7. The Philippian Jailer (Acts 16:16-34)
  8. The Corinthians (Acts 18:1-8)
  9. The Ephesians (Acts 19:1-7)
There are also the conversions recorded in the Gospels (for example, Nicodemus, the woman at the well, the Gadarene demoniac, Zaccheus) where similar patterns are evident, though they do not follow the pattern from the book of Acts.

What I am not trying to do is impose a rigid rule upon the salvation experience, for each person's experience coming to Christ is different. However, it seems that a pattern can be discerned from Scripture that is noticeably devoid of prayer of any kind. I do not think prayer as a matter of course cannot be part of the initial saving process. The concern raised in my mind is what the usage of the sinner's prayer has done to discipleship. Has the church overemphasized the usage of the prayer to the effect that it has the opposite effect on maturity?

The prayer seems to truncate the primary Christian discipline of discipleship as well as the most noticeable indicator of salvation; that one continues in the faith. I have served in church long enough to garner enough empirical evidence to see that those who have prayed the sinner's prayer, if it is not solidified with discipleship, the prayer then becomes an end unto itself. The sinner has then staked his eternal soul not on the merit of Christ, but a tenuous prayer.

The sinner's prayer, often used as a substitute for the dirty work of discipleship, can even be prayed again if one does not "feel" saved, purely contrary to the Scriptural teaching on salvation.

So, just how biblical is the sinner's prayer?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Quote of the Day

"Christianity is neither creed nor ceremonial, but a life vitally connected to a loving Christ."

- Josiah Strong, 19th century preacher