"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

The Difference Between My Church and His Church

The other day I went to a fast-food restaurant and ordered a couple of salads. It was my turn to do dinner, so I did it the easy way. After arriving home, I realized the restaurant hadn't given me the condiments for my salads (dressing, nuts, etc.). I got back in the car and took my second trip across town, back to that same fast-food restaurant. Arriving home the second time, I realized that the condiment packets didn't have what should have been in them.

Argghh. Frustrating.

I didn't get what I wanted. I felt poorly served. Nobody at the restaurant recognized the trouble I'd been through, and no coupon was offered me for the hassle. In fairness, this restaurant is usually spot-on in their service. I only vented a little to my wife and then let it go, believing the restaurant staff was just having a difficult day.

When we pay for something at a restaurant, we want to enjoy it, be served well, experience comfort and convenience, and always leave satisfied. We want it all the time, no matter the cost. My heart goes out to those who own or manage restaurants. It's a tough business.

I think most of us treat churches like restaurants. 

"I want this, this, and this." I want it served my way. If I don't get it the way I want it, I'll blame those who work at my church. After a season of frustration and irritation, many Christians switch churches like people switch restaurants.

The unspoken job description of the pastor is to make everyone happy, provide excellent services, and keep members as comfortable and content as possible. Everyone wants a church that delivers the salad on time, complete with packets of condiments, and a staff that always recognizes the customers/members and makes everything convenient and comfortable.

What's your favorite restaurant?
What's your favorite church?

Non-profit religious organizations (501C-3)'s are businesses by the very nature of incorporation. If there is a leader of a non-profit (e.g. "pastor") who tells you he doesn't care if the corporate members are happy, he's not being as truthful as he could. Every pastor cares about members. He must. Christians treat their non-profit religious organization like a restaurant to not care for the customers.

However, something magical happens when Christians begin to understand that His Church is not the same thing as "my church." 

The gates of hell will not prevail against His Church.
The influential business leaders typically prevail in my church.

The leader of His Church is One who never makes mistakes.
The leaders of my church are people who often make mistakes.

The building housing His Church are people who form a Temple that He owns.
The building housing my church is made of wood and stone which members own.

His Church is composed of people from every nation, tribe, kindred, and tongue.
My church is usually composed of people who all look the same and act the same.

His Church is always motivated by sinners learning what it means to boast in Christ.
My church is mostly concerned that other people boast of us being the biggest and the best.

His Church will selflessly serve, generously give, and willingly work for the good of others.
My church will look within to see how we can make members happy, comfortable, and content.

An effective Christian leader is one who leads people to think in terms of His church and not my church. 

Or, to put it another way, when His Church becomes our priority, we stop seeing ourselves as saints singing of grace while keeping ourselves insulated and isolated from the world, and we start seeing ourselves as sinners saved by grace who become intentional and inspirational to other sinners in the world.

A church on mission is messy.

Jesus was a friend to sinners. The way to tell whether or not it is His Church or my church is whether or not sinners call us their friends.

10 years ago, no prisoners attended my church. This Sunday close to 50 prisoners will be attending His church. 10 years ago, nobody talked about the need for recovery at my church. This week dozens of men and women will gather on Thursday night to celebrate celebrating their recoveries from addictive and harmful behaviors at His Church. 10 years ago, we'd never dream of having a tatted up usher guiding people to their seats at my church. This past Sunday a tatted-up recent convert to Christ - just out of jail - guided my wife and me to our seats at His Church. 10 years ago we never would have spent money on transitional housing for the homeless at my church. In the past few years, His Church has spent tens of thousands of dollars in establishing men's and women's transitional housing.

It's messy, but it's a blessing.

As one woman said to Rachelle and me just last week: "I think His Church is the only church that would welcome a sinner like me."

If "your church" is working toward becoming His Church - and the building is not like you like it all the time, and the programs are not what they used to be, and the people don't look like you anymore; and the services don't remind you of the services you had when you were a child, and the money is spent on more outward ministry than inward ministries, and sinners actually are present in the congregation - please be patient. 

Sometimes the condiments aren't in the packet at my church.

But that may happen because His Church has left the restaurant.

Authoritarianism, Fundamentalism, and Religious Leaders Who Control Those in Front of Them

Mariam Ishag, a Christian woman in Sudan, was hanged by fundamentalist religious leaders for 'apostasy.'

In Sudan, there is no difference between 'civil' authority and 'religious' authority. The civil authorities in charge of Sudan believe it a crime to be a Christian.

Judge Abbas Mohammed Al-Khalifa sentenced Mariam to death with these words: "We gave you three days to recant but you insist on not returning to Islam. I sentence you to be hanged to death."

The Sudanese judge believes himself to be God's authority over this woman's life. He sentenced Mariam 'to death' because he believes he possesses his power and authority from the Divine. When the judge speaks, he believes he speaks for Allah.

Most American evangelicals will cringe at such abuse of authority.

However, American evangelicals need to self-examine before criticizing Islamic perversions of religious authority. Radical Islamicists carry out in this life what American evangelicals decree for the next life.

Condemnation. Judgment. Death.

The most dangerous kind of 'authority' is the kind that takes away a person's freedoms to believe, speak, and live - in this life - as that person desires.

Fundamentalism and extremism, regardless of the religion which gives birth to it, is birthed by religious leaders who claim Divine appointment and who feel the mandate to control all the people in front of them.

Tight control over others is a tell-tale sign of little confidence within myself.

G.K. Chesterton once said, "The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him."

To be a soldier set on fire from hell is to be the kind of person who seeks to control those in front (e.g. religious fundamentalism or secular humanism).

To be a true soldier of Christ is to be the kind of person who acknowledges, accepts, and answers those who ask "of the hope that is within us" and refuses to fight.

Why do true soldiers of Christ not fight their "enemies"?

Because we know that what is behind us is already saved and safe by God's grace. 

And we believe that Christ meant it when He said 'By your love for others will all know that you are My disciples" (John 13:35).

Avoid authoritarianism. Avoid fundamentalism.

The former gives birth to the latter, but Christ roots both out of His people.

Abraham Lincoln Converted to Christ at Gettysburg

I recently came across a post I originally shared 10 years ago. It's the story of how President Abraham Lincoln consecrated his life to Jesus Christ while walking the battlefields of Gettysburg. 

My heart was warmed as I read the story as originally shared by D. James Kennedy, the former pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church.  

Dr. Kennedy preached this message more than once during the course of his ministry at Coral Ridge, and I understand why. History books do not portray Lincoln's faith. It's a story, however, that needs to be repeated at least once a decade. 


TEXT"Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Romans 5:1

The most perfect speech ever uttered by mortal man was delivered on the battlefield of Gettysburg. It has been learned by unnumbered millions of children in school. It is actually an extended personification, where America is personified as a man who is conceived, born, dedicated, lives his life, engages in dangerous and perhaps mortal struggles, is born anew, and lives thereafter gloriously. Abraham Lincoln is immortal in the minds and memories of his countrymen, for on the battlefield at Gettysburg, this is what he said:
Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
The world noted, far more than he ever thought, the words that were spoken there, though Lincoln's invitation to speak was an afterthought. The orator of the day, of course, was Edward Everett, perhaps the greatest in the land, who spoke for two hours. What did he say? No one knows. Lincoln spoke for two minutes and no one has forgotten! Remarkable, indeed. But the question I would ask of you today is: Is Lincoln immortal in any other way than merely in the memory of his countrymen? That, indeed, is a great honor, but it is little felt by those that are dead. Is he immortal in the far greater sense, next to which immortality and the memory of his people is but a pale substitute? Is he immortal in the real sense of everlasting life which Jesus Christ and Christ only can give to a man, or to put it another way:

Was Abraham Lincoln a Christian?

Now I, in preaching this message, am not endeavoring to merely exhume the bones of Lincoln for some kind of belated autopsy. But rather, this is another way of proclaiming anew that Gospel message with which he struggled all of his life in the hope that as we emphasize and sympathize with his struggles with the great verities of life and death and eternity, that some of you will ask yourselves the deeper and more relevant question: Am I a Christian? Are you?

Consider well the sixteenth President of the United States. Like the nation he described in its conception, Lincoln was conceived in the midst of great religious fervor. There was a revival going on in Kentucky in 1809 of the type associated with the evangelist Peter Cartwright. (By the way, when Lincoln was grown, he entered into a political contest with Cartwright in running for the same office.) But in the midst of a prayer meeting, young Tom Lincoln leaped to his feet in the midst of this religious fervor and began to dance around and sing. A moment or two later, a young lady by the name of Nancy, did the same thing. They were soon introduced, engaged, and shortly thereafter married. In the midst of that religious fervor, Abraham Lincoln was born to Tom Lincoln and Nancy Hanks Lincoln. Certainly a spiritually, encouraging beginning. His mother was a godly woman who sat Lincoln upon her knees day after day after day and read to him the Scriptures and encouraged him to remember it. Particularly, she encouraged him to learn the Ten Commandments. (Every parent should certainly have their children memorize the Ten Commandments.)

They had a profound effect upon Lincoln's life. He said that whenever he was tempted to do something wrong, he could still hear the clear tones of his mother's voice saying, "I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage . . . Thou shalt have no other gods before me . . . Thou shalt not steal . . . Thou shalt not kill . . . Thou shalt not bear false witness . . . " Abraham Lincoln became known, believe it or not, as the most honest lawyer east of China. As a young prairie lawyer in Illinois, when his opponents forgot or did not know some points in arguments, he would remind them. Once, when he was a shopkeeper, he walked for miles to return an overpayment of only a few cents by one of the customers. Lincoln also had a great regard for the Sabbath, as well. At one time during the war, when he was President, he went to Falmouth and there he visited with the general, who told him he was going to begin on Sunday the March to Richmond. Richmond was the heart of the Confederacy, its capital, and this well could mean the end of the war, for which Lincoln had so fervently prayed for so long. But the general brought it up because he knew of the opposition the President had toward beginning military initiatives on the Sabbath day. The President was silent for a long while. Then he said, "General take a good rest and begin on Monday morning."

Lincoln was never a member of any church. Would that the members of this church had as high a regard for the Sabbath as Lincoln did. I would like to express my appreciation to many writers who have contributed to this message. I have read thousands of stories about Lincoln, perused his entire total works, and numbers of biographies. I particularly appreciate William J. Johnson's excellent biography of Lincoln. My appreciation to the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington for sending me copies of historical documents and affidavits from their archives, and to the late F. W. Boreham, the great Australian preacher, whose Outline I would like to borrow for this message, and also, many others who have brought to my attention new information.

THE AGE OF IRON

Boreham says there were three mountains Lincoln climbed where his life was changed. The first stage he described as the Age of Iron, where he "climbed Mount Sinai with Moses" in his effort to keep the command- ments of God. He had learned the Ten Commandments on his mother's knee. Those commandments influenced his life in such an incredible way that he gave himself to studying them. When Lincoln was only nine, his mother sickened, and before she died she called him to her side and said to him, "I am going away from you now Abraham and shall not return. I know that you will be a good boy and that you will be kind to your father. I want you to live as I have taught you to love your Heavenly Father," and then her last words, "and keep His commandments."

Yes, Lincoln strove mightily to keep those commandments. But the question is: Was he a Christian? Listen to Lincoln's own words: "I am not a Christian. God knows I would be one." He said that he did not read the Scriptures like those clergymen in Springfield who opposed his election because of his skepticism. And they were right. When Lincoln came to Springfield, he fell in with some agnostic and skeptical friends who gave him, among other things, Volney's Ruins, a great volume of unbelief which attacked viciously and articulately the Scriptures. By the way, Volney's Ruins has been repudiated on every page, but Lincoln did not know that then. This had a tremendously chilling effect upon his boyhood faith, and he became quite skeptical. "I am not a Christian," he said in the Age of Iron.


THE AGE OF CLAY


The second mountain Lincoln climbed was described by Boreham as the Age of Clay, when he climbed Mount Carmel with Elijah, where he was clay in the hands of the Almighty Potter. What was Lincoln like? When he was a young man, he looked in a mirror one day and said to himself, "It's a fact, Abe! You are the ugliest man in the world. If ever I see a man uglier than you, I'm going to shoot him on the spot!" It would no doubt, he thought, be an act of mercy. What was his personality like as a young man? We've seen what he thought of himself, and of course, we can't help but conjure up some pictures of this rather unique looking gentleman. He was six foot four in a world of midgets when everybody else was far shorter than they are today. He towered over everyone head and shoulders. Of course, there were those horribly long arms, the bane of his tailors, with these gigantic hands; that uncontrollable lock of hair on his forehead; deep dark eyes; sallow skin. Indeed, he could not see what any young lady could see in him. And yet, when you look at him sitting there in that great chair at the Lincoln Memorial, you can't help but feel that somehow there is a certain grandeur about this man who thought he was so ugly.

What was his personality like? One day a young lady that he had attempted to date said, "Abe Lincoln, you are illiterate, self-opinionated, overbearing and abominably ill-mannered." (She liked to beat around the bush.) What did Lincoln do? What, gentleman, would you do in a situation like that? He determined to completely change himself, and he turned to the Scriptures. He still had his mother's Bible, and he began to read in the Sermon on the Mount and other passages in the Bible about what God intended a man to be like. Was he illiterate? He became the most literate President we have ever known. As I said, his Gettysburg Address is considered to be the most perfect speech ever uttered by mortal man, but I disagree. I think his Second Inaugural Address is far superior even to that. Was he proud and overbearing? He became the humblest President we have ever had.

Someone once asked me what I thought was his most outstanding quality. I said it was his ability to forgive anyone anything because he was himself so humble. Lincoln's humility is further seen when, immediately after the war, he went to Richmond to the home of the President of the Confederacy who was, as you might imagine, "not home." His wife came to the door carrying a little baby in her arms, the baby of Jefferson Davis. The baby reached out to the President. Of course, Mrs. Davis was astounded to see Lincoln standing in her doorway. He took the baby into his arms and was given a big wet smack on the face. He handed the baby back to Mrs. Jefferson Davis and said, "Tell your husband that for the sake of that kiss, I forgive him everything." He was an incredibly humble man.

One time during the war Lincoln went to the home of General McClellan. Now McClellan had a hearty dislike for Lincoln, but he was a good general. Lincoln wanted him to become the general of the Army of the Potomac because the war was not going well at all. When he arrived at his home that evening with an aide, the general was not home. The butler ushered them into the library, and they waited. They waited for over an hour. Finally, the general came home, and the butler told him that the President of the United States was waiting to see him. But McClellan went upstairs. Ten, twenty, thirty minutes passed. Finally, the butler went upstairs and again said, "Sir, the President is still waiting for you." In a few minutes, he came back down and told the President, "The general has gone to bed." If you were President of the United States, what would you do? Lincoln went back the next night. His aide said, "Sir, how can you put up with that ill-mannered boor?" Lincoln replied: "Why, I would be willing to hold McClellan's horse if only he will give victory to our army."

He, indeed, was putty in the hands of the Almighty, and he had done this through studying the Scriptures. Theodore Roosevelt said that Lincoln mastered only one book and that was the Bible. He had committed thousands of verses to memory--many whole chapters--and he was trying to change his life to be what God would want him to be. He was a man whose life was filled with tragedy. His beloved mother died when he was but nine. Then his sister died. The woman he loved, Ann Rutledge, could never be his. After his father remarried, every Sunday his stepmother took Abe and his sister to the Pigeon Creek Hardshell Baptist Church. Here they listened to the fiery sermons about predestination, justification, foreordination, sanctification, and the new birth. He and Sarah sat in the front row and listened to it all but he never understood it.

He was married to a woman who certainly challenged his humility, Mary Todd. Lincoln is loved by people all over the world as the wife of the most beloved President the United States has ever had. But Mary Todd never saw anything good in him at all. As far as she was concerned he had terrible faults. He walked flatfooted, she said, with his toes turned down like an Indian. Furthermore, he slouched when he walked. He was head and shoulders taller than everybody else. Maybe he wanted to join the crowd. But Mary never saw anything good in this man. Poor Mary, or should I say, poor Abraham, but humbly he endured it all to the end.

THE GOLDEN AGE


Then the great tragedy of his life occurred when his little son, Willie, the apple of his eye, died. He was crushed. There is no doubt that he believed at this time strongly in the providence of God, though he could not understand and had rejected much else in the Bible, especially concerning the doctrines of salvation and redemption, which he could never understand due to the way it was presented to him. But he believed in God's providence, and he was to climb now, at last, the third mountain, Mount Calvary, with Saint John. This was what Boreham describes as the Golden Age. There he was to find something he had never seen before. Was he a Christian at this time? Ward Lamon, who had been his law partner, who had been his private secretary when he was President, who had been his bodyguard for years, and who knew him intimately, said of Lincoln, “...the melancholy that dripped from him as he walked was due to his want of religious faith."

But then little Willie died, the apple of his eye, his beloved son, his little boy. Lincoln was absolutely crushed. He was so overwhelmed with grief that he set aside every Thursday to mourn his death. After some period of time, when he would see no one on that day, but wept and mourned and lamented the death of his son Willie, Dr. Francis Vinton, rector of Trinity Church, came down to Washington from New York. He was a friend of the family and was allowed in to see the President. Not wanting to beat around the bush, he told him it was not right to mourn thus over his son. He said, "Your son is alive in paradise with Christ, and you must not continue." Lincoln sat there as though he were in a stupor, and then his mind caught on to the words that Dr. Vinton had said, and he exclaimed, "Alive! Alive! Surely, sir, you mock me."

"No, Mr. President, it is a great doctrine of the church. Jesus himself said that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." Lincoln leaped to his feet and threw his arms around this pastor. He wept openly and sobbed, saying, "Alive! Alive! My boy is alive!" From that day there began a change in Lincoln that even his wife Mary noticed. His religious views began to dramatically change. There is a remarkable letter that comes to us from an Illinois clergyman who talked to Lincoln after this time. He said this to Mr. Lincoln (Again, I commend him for his boldness): "Mr. President, do you love Jesus?"

After a long pause, Mr. Lincoln solemnly replied: "When I left Springfield I asked the people to pray for me. I was not a Christian. When I buried my son, the severest trial of my life, I was not a Christian. But when I went to Gettysburg and saw the graves of thousands of our soldiers, I then and there consecrated myself to Christ. Yes, I do love Jesus."

By the way, when I preached this sermon before, someone challenged that statement. Well, I would suggest they do what I do. Go to Washington. Go to Ford's Theater. Go across the street to the Lincoln Museum; ask for The Lincoln Memorial: Album-Immortelles in the O.H. Oldroyd Collection. The book was published in 1883, and the quote is found on page 366. But if you would rather not do all of that, then simply come to my study, and I will show you a photocopied page from that book on the stationery of the U.S. Federal Government Agency charged with caring for that museum. "Yes, I do love Jesus," Lincoln said.

Mr. Noah Brooks, sometime after that, longtime friend and newspaper correspondent, said, "I have had many conversations with Mr. Lincoln, which were more or less of a religious character, and while I never tried to draw anything like a statement of his views from him, yet he freely expressed himself to me as having a hope of blessed immortality through Jesus Christ." Lincoln said that he had found the peace that had eluded him all of his life.

"Therefore, being justified by faith" he now had peace with God. When a lady connected with the work of the Christian Commission later came to see him, he said: "I had lived until my boy Willie died without realizing fully these things [about the Gospel]. It showed me my weakness as I had never felt it before, and if I can take what you have stated [as to what a Christian is] as a test, I think I can safely say that I know something of that change of which you speak; [which is called the new birth, to which Lincoln alluded in that very speech: "that this country might have a new birth of freedom"], and I will further add, that it has been my intention for some time, at a suitable opportunity, to make a public religious profession."

Dr. Gurley was pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, which Lincoln attended regularly not only on Sunday morning but also on Wednesday night. One Wednesday night he sat in a little ante room right off the chancel with the door halfway open so that he would not disturb the worship of others, but that he might partake. Dr. Gurley said that Lincoln had wanted to make a public profession of his faith on Easter Sunday morning. But then came Ford's Theater.

He had just been elected for the second time six weeks before that. His spiritual understanding had matured greatly in the year and a half since Gettysburg. Every message was peppered with Scripture and spiritual insights. "His Second Inaugural Address is not only the most spiritual speech ever given by any statesman in the world," said one of England's leaders, "in my opinion, it is a far better sermon than most any I have ever heard preached in a pulpit." And I would include, most certainly, my own.

These words from his Second Inaugural Address are carved into the wall of the Lincoln Memorial: The Almighty has His own purposes.
"Woe unto the world because of offenses! For it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope--fervently do we pray--that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, "The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God give us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.
Lincoln had been to Calvary. His heart and mind were changed. The last speech he gave three days before his death was one in which he said that he was submitting a proclamation for a national day of thanksgiving to God. He said, also, that now that the abomination of slavery was removed, the next point on the agenda would be to get rid of the curse of alcohol which had so plagued the land. In his last meeting with his Cabinet on that Thursday morning in opposition to strongly held opinions by some of his Cabinet members, he said: "There will be no recriminations against the South."

If he had lived, the history of postwar South would have been far different, indeed. His last act was to issue an edict that henceforth, on every coin would be printed the words: "In God We Trust." Lincoln had been to Calvary. That night he was invited to Ford's Theater to see a play he wasn't really interested in. He had received that very day the news that the war was over. He sat in his chair in the presidential box that was supposed to be guarded by a soldier. He had talked about the curse of liquor that plagued the land. That afternoon a man from the South crossed the street and went into a tavern and had a number of drinks. His name was John Wilkes Booth. That evening a soldier from the North left his post, crossed the same street and entered the same tavern to have a drink while the aforementioned actor quietly opened the unguarded door to the President's box and went in.

Lincoln was sitting up talking to his wife, not paying any attention to the play. He said, "Mary, do you know what I would like to do now? Now that the war is over, we could go to the Near East. [Booth stepped up behind the President] We could go to Bethlehem where He was born. We could visit Bethany where those hallowed steps were so often heard." [Booth pointed his gun at the back of Lincoln's head.] Lincoln continued, "And we could go up to Jeru.." BANG! . . . the maddest pistol shot in history rang forth.

Lincoln was carried across the street to a boarding house (which is now a museum) and laid diagonally across the bed that was too short for his huge frame. On the next day, Good Friday, he died. He was going to make his public profession on Easter Sunday. Secretary of War Stanton, when he looked down on that bed at his cold form, said, "Here lies the most perfect ruler of men that the world has ever known."

Lincoln had climbed Mount Calvary, and he had come to know the Savior. Walt Whitman concludes his great poem, "My Captain, My Captain," where he pictures Lincoln as the captain of the Ship of State which has come through a terrible storm and now lies upon the deck:
My captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still; My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will; The ship is anchored safe and sound, its voyage closed and done; From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won; Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells! But I, with mournful tread, Walk the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead.
But we cannot leave him lying there upon the deck of the Ship of State, for I would like to add one of my own: a fourth mountain that Lincoln climbed. Beyond Mount Calvary, the fourth was Mount Zion, where he went up to, not the Jerusalem in the Near East, but to the Jerusalem on high to the heavenly Jerusalem, taken there by Christ to whom he had consecrated his heart, and in whom he now trusted for his salvation. He had abandoned his trust in the commandments and in his own strivings, and now he trusted in Christ. Yes, dear friend, at long length, Abraham Lincoln was a Christian. Are you?

Prayer: "Heavenly Father, I pray that if there are any here who are still trusting in their ability to gain access into Thy heaven by keeping the commandments that they will see the utter folly of that. If there are any here who still suppose that by attempting to improve themselves they may make themselves acceptable to Thee who is of purer eyes than even to look upon iniquity, cause them to turn from trusting in themselves and to trust in Jesus Christ, who alone is their hope of eternal life that they, too, may go up to Jerusalem on high by consecrating their hearts and trusting their lives to Christ. In whose name we pray. Amen."

D. James Kennedy A.B., M.Div., M.Th., D.D., D.Sac.Lit., Ph.D., Litt.D., D.Sac.Theol., D.Humane Let.

Patterson, Pressler, Cole, and SBC Fundamentalism

I am the son of a Southern Baptist pastor, grandson of an SBC evangelist, and have pastored the same SBC church for over a quarter of a century. I'm an SBC insider.

And I feel like the Southern Baptist Convention has dodged a bullet. 

Fundamentalism.

In 1979, at the beginning of the SBC Conservative Resurgence, I was about to enter my senior year of high school in Fort Worth, Texas, but I remember my parents coming home from Houston ecstatic that Adrian Rogers had been elected President of the SBC. My family was friends with the Rogers' family, and Adrian's election was "a surprise" to many. 

1979 was the first time I heard Paige Patterson's and Paul Pressler's names mentioned.

During my time at Baylor University (1980-1982), I was called to be on staff at a small SBC church just north and west of Waco, Texas. By the time I was 22 and living in Oklahoma, I spent eight years pastoring two churches (Holdenville and Tulsa) before being called to Emmanuel Enid, Oklahoma in 1992 at the age of 30.

I've been in Enid since.

When Paul Pressler came to Oklahoma in the mid-1980's rallying support for the Conservative Resurgence, I drove him around Tulsa and introduced him to pastors. When SBC Conventions convened every summer, I was part of "platform security." 

I truly thought the SBC was in a fight "for the Bible."

I thought that through the time I was elected Vice-President of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma in 1994/1995. I served on the Search Committee that nominated Dr. Anthony Jordan to be the next Executive Director of the BGCO.

In 1995 I served as the last Chairman of the Denominational Calendar Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, giving the denominational report at the 150th annual Southern Baptist Convention in Atlanta, Georgia.

After the Southern Baptist Convention in 1995, I took a break from denominational service for seven years. I would sporadically attend Southern Baptist Conventions, but I didn't serve on any state or denominational boards for those seven years.  

There was one occasion when I spoke out during that time. When Southern Baptist leaders proposed the Family Amendment (1998) to the Baptist Faith in Message, I wrote a letter that the Oklahoma State Baptist paper published, a letter in opposition to that amendment. I explained it was "unwise to add tertiary statements of faith and practice to a primary doctrinal document."

Privately, I told people that the Family Amendment was poor doctrine, ignoring the text of Ephesians 5 and the command for "mutual submission" in a marriage. 

Then in 2004, I was the surprisingly elected as the President of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. After two years of service on the state level, I was nominated and elected at the Nashville Southern Baptist Convention to serve as a trustee of the International Mission Board.

I began my IMB service in the fall of 2005. 

Ugh. 

My how things had changed in the Southern Baptist Convention.

I had not been active during the years Paige Patterson was President of the SBC (1998-2000). I had not been around during the time of forced signatures of missionaries and faculty on amendments, new doctrinal standards, and a host of other demands. 

But I saw it with my own eyes in 2005 at the International Mission Board. I won't repeat the story, you can read it for yourself.

In early 2006, I received a call from a man named Ben Cole. I'd never heard of him, but Ben wanted to fly to OKC so we could meet. It was the beginning of a friendship that has lasted to this day, through thick and thin. 

We met at a local restaurant not far from Will Rogers International Airport, and Ben showed me a very thick file of astonishing things that had been done and were being done in the Southern Baptist Convention, things that were harmful to the cause of Christ.

Everything began to make sense. 

The reason I was considered a "troublemaker" at the IMB is that I was thwarting a secret agenda to remove any conservative, Bible-believing Christians who dared disagree with the direction and demands of two power brokers in the SBC.

Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler. 

Ben Cole knew them both intimately. 

These two men had been my heroes. Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler deemed friends. I couldn't figure out why I was in trouble at the IMB. I was just following my conscience and the Scriptures.

But I was in the way of an attempt to remove President Jerry Rankin, women from positions of IMB leadership, and anyone else who dared to speak a word of disapproval or disagreement with the power brokers of the SBC. 

What Ben Cole showed me convinced me that Fundamentalism was the real enemy. 

Then I watched the video below. It made me sick to my stomach. The video, made in 1999 when Dr. Paige Patterson was President of the Southern Baptist Convention, gives Southern Baptists a peek into where Patterson and Pressler wished to take the SBC.

The only sane people in the video are those formerly called liberals, the very people Patterson and Pressler called the devil.

Now Paul Pressler is going on trial in Houston, Texas. Paige Patterson has been fired and stripped of all benefits as President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. 

What is it you are looking to see in the video below? 

A cock-surety about formulaic Christianity, which is the tell-tale sign of Fundamentalism; a tone-deafness to relational Christianity, and a rule-born religion more interested in numbers than people, laws than love, and a spirit of Fundamentalism that will make the skin crawl.

I told Ben Cole he once out-Fundamentalized the Fundamentalists.

If Ben can change, so can you. 

The SBC has dodged a bullet. If only that stray bullet had shattered some stained glass windows in Fort Worth, Texas.



(Note: Ben Cole feels this post needs clarifying. Specifically, Ben feels I conflate his views of Pressler and Patterson instead of keeping them distinct. "Pressler was always courteous and kind (to me), and didn't allow my critique of Patterson to end our relationship. Pressler wasn't an ongoing militant."  I felt it necessary to add this edit to prevent readers from wrongly believing that Ben Cole has a similar view of both men. Others might feel Patterson and Pressler are similar methodologically and theologically, but Ben does not). 

Criticism Willingly Given and Freely Received

A few years ago I came across an article in the National Review called The Duty of Harsh Criticism.

The National Review has a tagline "Where intellects collide," so most National Review articles are intended to be read by intellectuals.

The Duty of Harsh Criticism was written in 1914 by a twenty-one-year-old woman named Cicely Isabel Fairfield (picture left), who wrote under the pen name Rebecca West.

Rebecca believed that was the duty of free-thinkers to listen in a disrespectful manner.

In her mind,  criticism should be the norm.

And, according to West, critical thinking has become a lost art which is in need of recovery. Listen to just one paragraph from her 1914 article:
"There is a serious duty before us, the duty of listening to our geniuses in a disrespectful manner. Criticism matters as it never did in the past, because of the present pride of great writers. They take all life as their province to-day. Formerly they sat in their studies, and thinking only of the emotional life of mankind—thinking therefore with comparative ease, of the color of life and not of its form—devised a score or so of stories before death came. Now, their pride telling them that if time would but stand still they could explain all life, they start on a breakneck journey across the world. They are tormented by the thought of time; they halt by no event, but look down upon it as they pass, cry out their impressions, and gallop on. Often it happens that because of their haste they receive a blurred impression or transmit it to their readers roughly and without precision. And just as it was the duty of the students of Kelvin the mathematician to correct his errors in arithmetic, so it is the duty of critics to rebuke these hastinesses of these writers, lest the blurred impressions weaken the surrounding mental fabric and their rough transmissions frustrate the mission of genius on earth."
It may take two or three times to comprehend the paragraph above.

I will summarize it:
"Critical readers and listeners are needed to keep professional writers and speakers sharp. Prideful, self-absorbed people despise criticism, but those who treasure receiving it and freely give it become the genuine experts." 
Could it be that one of the reasons Christian writers, speakers, and leaders are often puerile, vague, and formulaic is because we have wrongly associated criticism with evil?

Criticism must begin at the house of God.

It is to be given willingly and it is to be received freely.

Practicing the lost art of criticism is the only way to prevent "blurred impressions" of the truth of Christ.

Baptist Blues and the Interior Life of Chuck Kelley

Dr. Chuck Kelley speaking at NOBTS, August 21, 2018
In the first fall chapel service for the fall of 2018 at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Chuck Kelley, Jr., President of NOBTS, spoke to seminary students.

Dr. Kelley's words can be heard for yourself in the video posted below. Dr. Kelley, who has been president of NOBTS since 1996, began working at NOBTS as professor of evangelism in 1983. Thirty-five years of service to the SBC and NOBTS.

 Dr. Kelley is the brother of Dorothy Patterson, Dr. Paige Patterson, former President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, is Dr. Kelley's brother-in-law.

This has been a tough summer for Dr. Kelley.

In his opening remarks, Dr. Kelley said he was going to do something he's never done before in his tenure at NOBTS. "I am going to invite you into my interior life. I am going to read from my journal." 

It seems that Dr. Kelley's heart has been stricken with "Baptist Blues." Since this summer's Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas, Texas, June 12-13, 2018, Dr. Kelley has been processing "what in the world is going on with the Southern Baptist Convention."  According to Dr. Kelley, Southern Baptists across the nation have been saying to him this summer:
"I don't even recognize the Southern Baptist Convention anymore."
Dr. Kelley is blue about what has happened in the SBC. He wants people to hear how blue he is, so he read from his journal to allow people to peer into his interior life.

For 40 minutes, Dr. Kelley reads from his journal. It was my privilege to meet and get to know Dr. Kelley's parents at FBC Beaumont where I spent a week teaching at an annual Bible Conference.  I know Dr. Kelley's heritage. I believe that Dr. Kelley is a genuine man. He has a passion for the lost. He wants people to know Christ. I was interested in hearing his personal thoughts about the condition of the SBC.

But before I summarize a few of the main points Dr. Kelley made, I'd like to offer a reflection on Dr. Kelley's journal.  I've read many journals of Baptist leaders. In fact, I collect antiquarian journals of 18th-century Baptist missionaries and pastors. I'm accustomed to journals that are personal, not professional; private, not public; and passionate, not principled.

Dr. Kelley has the unusual practice of writing a personal journal in the third person as if it's written more for a lecture and the benefit of a future researcher. For example, Dr. Kelley's presumably writes this in his journal:
"This is now year 17 in the longest decline in baptisms in the history of the SBC. Unprecedented. And that decline in baptisms shows absolutely no sign it is slowing down. But what about our massive efforts in church planting? Since 2009 we have started an average of 871 new church plants a year. But, since 2009 we have lost an average of 772 churches a year, closing their doors or leaving the SBC." 
Hmmm.

Intimacy can be defined as in-to-me-you-see. 

When Presidents of SBC institutions give us "a peek into their interior lives" and we see a statistical report instead of personal self-revelation,  maybe the problem with transparency in the SBC begins with institutional leadership. That is an observation, not necessarily a judgment.

Southern Baptist leaders may have focused so much these last forty years on creating a public and artificial persona of evangelical perfection that private self-reflection doesn't occur. We seem to no longer understand that Christ's gospel shines with power through one's weaknesses, not strengths.

When we're more concerned about stained-glass window tributes than we are acknowledging our stains and troubles and exalting a Savior for sinners, we won't ever reveal our clay-jar weaknesses.

I will point out just three statements by Dr. Kelley for your perusal, but would ask that you listen to his speech for yourself:

Dr. Kelley said:
(This summer) the #MeToo movement's focus on sexual abuse became a dominant national conversation. Driven by efforts of two gay activists with Southern Baptist roots it became a dominant conversation in the SBC as well, leading to the biggest mess the SBC has seen in a very long time, the internal controversy at Southwestern Seminary.
Wow.

Dr. Kelley, has it crossed your mind that maybe people in the Southern Baptist Convention are actually concerned for people who've been intimated, abused, and cast aside by those in power?

Dr. Kelley continues:
The increasing tensions over the advance of Calvinism in the SBC, bubbled over a bit in the SBC in the Presidential election at the Dallas Convention. Although neither nominee for the presidency promoted the election as such, the election became in the eyes of many a choice between younger reformed leadership or older traditional Baptist leadership. The younger reformed candidate won, adding to the concern of many on the future of the traditional convention emphasis on evangelism and missions, and the traditional theological focus on the Bible as the centerpiece of theological conversation and discussion.
Wow, again.

Dr. Kelley, it was my privilege to hear J.D. Greear preach at his Summit Church this August. Greear, the new President of the Southern Baptist Convention,  focused his message from Ecclesiastes 3. The biblical text was central -  even the original Hebrew acrostic that probably 1% of the audience understood - and God used J.D. to move the hearts of close to 15,000 people over the course of that weekend.

Sure, J.D. Greear, like all of us, has faults; but there's no danger of the Bible losing its place as the centerpiece of theological conversation in the SBC with J.D. Greear as SBC President.

I wonder if maybe the reason there's been a decline in evangelism and missions over the past two decades is because SBC Fundamentalists focus on non-essentials of the faith. While proclaiming "We believe the Bible," it seems the Bible may have become a background prop for SBC denominational theater.

Dr. Kelley also said:
What in the world is going on? The best phrase I could use is "(I'm) bothered and bewildered about who we are, where we are going, and how in the world we will be dealing with all these things that are happening." 
Dr. Kelley does acknowledge that his "Baptist blues" may come from the knowledge that his family members are at the center of some of these controversies (e.g. Paige and Dorothy Patterson).

However, taking from the well-worn Conservative Resurgence playbook, Dr. Kelley attributes the real trouble in the SBC to "gay activism, liberalism, Calvinism, and a lack of evangelism" - and of course, nothing to do with his family.

I and others disagree with Dr. Kelley.

The stained glass windows at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary multi-million dollar chapel "immortalize Baptists who helped effect the culture change to more conservative attitudes in the Southern Baptist Convention." That is how Dr. Kelley's brother-in-law, Dr. Paige Patterson, described the stained glass windows to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in December of 2013.

The 69 stained glass windows at Southwestern's chapel include images of many of Dr. Kelley's family members.

Before we Southern Baptists criticize our Roman Catholic friends, we should remember we Southern Baptists have a tendency to canonize saints faster than Catholics do. It's never smart to make your heroes iconic and place them in stained glass before they're dead.

All of God's people have clay feet.

Roman Catholic historian Lord Acton (1834-1902) once wrote, "Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." Few realize that Lord Acton made this statement in an attempt to defeat the doctrine of Roman Catholic papal infallibility.

Southern Baptists don't have a pope. But for a number of years, Paige Patterson and his family and friends have been given immunity for their actions.

It was Paige Patterson, who with the help of David Allen,  orchestrated the removal of Dr. Kenneth Hemphill (my source: David Allen's office personnel at the time). After Paige Patterson was hired as President, he made David Allen dean of the School of Theology. When Dr. Patterson fired Hebrew professor Sheri Klouda, this blog came to Sheri's defense. When Dr. Patterson removed John Cornish for his wife's previous divorce, this blog came to Dr. Cornish's defense.  On more than one occasion, I have been able to prevent Dr. Patterson from removing those he desired gone. Several people have been harmed by decisions the Pattersons have made, with no recourse to appeal.

I've been told Dr. Kelley will be stepping down from NOBTS this October after 35 years of service to NOBTS.  It is possible that Dr. Kelley's blues have been caused by the realization that his family is no longer in power at the SBC.

Contrary to Dr. Kelley, I believe the best days of the Southern Baptist Convention's are ahead.

That's what I've written in my journal.

Reasons Church Staff Stop Attending after Leading

Carey Nieuhof writes an interesting blog about leadership. Cary is an author, motivational speaker, and former pastor. He recently wrote an article on why vocational church pastors and staff (e.g. "those who once drew a salary from the church) have a hard time attending church once they've been involved in leading one. I found his points interesting and replicate his post in full below: 



9 Reasons It’s Hard To Attend A Church

 Once You’ve Been Involved In Leading One

Carey Nieuhof


Kind of a strange to even say it, isn’t it?

Why on earth would pastors and church leaders have a hard time attending church of all things?

After all, wouldn’t leaders who have led churches be the most anxious to attend them?

Strangely, not always. You can talk to thousands of people who used to volunteer or lead at a church who will tell you they no longer attend. Or maybe they attend, but it’s just ‘not the same’.

Why?

That’s a great question.

I want to offer up some reasons I think pastors and church leaders struggle to attend a local church once they’ve led in ministry.

The common issue? Current and former church leaders who struggle with attending a local church.


Many Of Us Have Been There


If you attend church but aren’t involved, or if you’re serving right now and love it (which if you are, I’m glad!), you might not even understand why a post like this would be written.

But if you’ve ever served at a local church as a dedicated volunteer or a paid staff member, you likely have an idea of what I’m talking about.

Not attending church after you’ve led in a church is actually quite a widespread phenomenon. Just browse the comments on this blog and it won’t take you more than 5 minutes to hear from someone who used to lead in a church and now isn’t engaged at all anymore.

How does this trend of non-attending former leaders show up?

Pastors who used to lead a church who now just sleep in on Sundays and have given up on all forms of the local church.

People who only attend when they’re ‘on’ the music team, the greeting team, serving in student ministry, or speaking.

People who stop attending the moment they stop serving.

Every time I hear of it, my heart breaks a little more.

Please understand, I know the local church is not perfect. But I honestly do believe the promise of the local church is greater than the problems of the local church. And I realize the Church (as Christ sees it) is bigger than any local church. But to pretend the local church in all its forms around the world isn’t a part of the Church is, well, just not accurate.

And a little disclosure here. Everything I’m writing about in this post, I have felt. Sometimes just a twinge, but I’ve gone there in my mind.

For the record, I intend to be part of the local church as long as I live, whether I’m paid to lead or not. But when I’m on vacation or out of town, I often slip into a local church for a service (or sometimes even the one I lead) and it’s…different. I wonder:

Could I attend here?

Why do I feel so different?

What’s going on?

Once you’ve been involved, it’s just different.

So I’m just wondering if maybe some of the things that go on inside of me might the same as what’s going on inside you or someone you know and care about.

If not, just give thanks. (Seriously.)

If you’ve struggled with this feeling before, ask yourself whether any of these 9 reasons might be part of your struggle:


1. Your Identity Is Tied To What You Do, Not Who You Are


So who are you really? A preacher? A musician? A worship leader? A student director? An elders? An usher? A group leader? A staff member?

No you’re not.

You’re a child of God redeemed by a Saviour who came for you.

So many of us define who we are by what we do. I struggle against this every day.

Before you dismiss this, do this simple test that Tim Keller offers.

“If work [or ministry] is your idol, if you are successful it goes to your head, if you are a failure it goes to your heart.”

Boom. Maybe your identity is more tied up in what you do than you think.


2. You Like Being The Center Of Attention


As Andy Stanley says, anyone who’s ever strapped on a microphone is a little like Lady Gaga; we all live for the applause. Come to think of us, many of us don’t need a mic for that.

Could it be that you’ve grown accustomed to being the center of attention, no matter how small your audience might be?

Often my decision that something doesn’t fit ‘me’ is far more a statement about me than it is about whatever I’m uncomfortable with.



3. You’ve Seen How The Sausage Is Made And Have Lost Your Appetite


Yep. Church is messy, flawed, disappointing and at times deeply hurtful.

Largely because people are messy, flawed, disappointing and at times deeply hurtful. And we live on this side of heaven.

Hurt, unresolved, breeds cynicism. And there are so many cynical former church attenders who simply haven’t addressed their unresolved issues.

Part of maturity involves realizing that I contribute to messy sausage making. I am part of the problem. And so is almost every leader who has abandoned church.

Jesus never said we would be known for our perfection. But he did say we would be known by our love.

Love owns my share. Love forgives. Love says I’m sorry. Love reconciles. Love works toward a better tomorrow.

Love sees who you really are and stays anyway.


4. You’ve Become More Of A Critic Than A Worshipper


This one’s hard. Once you’ve been on the inside, you listen ‘at’ a sermon as much as you listen ‘to’ a message.

You ask “What’s he doing here? Why did he make that transition this way? What’s up with his body language?”

Musicians critique the music. Guest services people criticize greeters. Graphic design people laugh at other designs.

And lead pastors critique everything.

What’s missing in this picture?

Humility. Submission. Grace. That’s all.



5. You Think You’re Better Or Smarter Than The People Who Merely Attend


This one’s ugly.

I don’t know what else to say about it except stop it. Really.

Okay one more thing. So maybe you are smart. Or more successful. Got that.

If you think you’re too important to help someone, stop fooling yourself. You’re not that important.



6. Somewhere In The Process, Your Personal Walk With God Tanked


Leadership is best when it springs from the overflow of our personal walk with God.

There are many ways unusual church leader struggle with God (I wrote about 5 of them here), but just because you lost your closeness to God while leading in a church doesn’t mean church is bad.

He loves you, and He loves the church in all of its weakness.



7. You’ve Forgotten You’re A Follower, Not Just A Leader


Originally all of us got into ministry after we decided to become followers of Jesus. That following should never stop.

The best leaders are actually the best followers.

A leader who can only lead but not follow is actually not a great leader. And certainly not a godly leader.



8. You’re Neglecting The Fact That You Still Have A Role To Play


I know it’s cliche, but the goal is not to attend church or go to church. You are the church.

But, for reasons outlined here, I think the church is so much stronger when we are together, not when we are apart.

While we can all use some rehab in a back row of a church somewhere from season to season, ultimately, every follower of Christ has a role to play in the local church. Even if it’s not your favourite role or a role you’re used to.

Being involved is one of the best ways to stay engaged, even if it’s not what you used to do or want to do.


9. ‘Why’ Has Died On The Altar Of ‘What’ And ‘How’


Church leadership is a lot of ‘what’ and ‘how’. I find I have to remind myself daily of the ‘why’ of church.

Why?

Because God is good.

Because he loves us.

Because Jesus gave his life for a world he desperately loves.

Because our cities are full of people who don’t know the love of Christ.

Because my life is not my own.

Because the church was Jesus’ idea.

Because grace ultimately makes all things new.

So does that help? I realize these reasons will not address every issue, and that some will flail against any organized church no matter what is said.

But so many leave unnecessarily. Maybe you’re one of them. If any of these reasons are true, what will you do about them?

I know that working through them has kept my passion and hope for the local church strong, even if it flickers in the wind some days.

Now it’s your turn. Why do you think it’s hard to attend a church once you’ve been involved in leading one? Please leave a comment.

The Path to Happiness In Life May Surprise You

A person whose life has 'crashed and burned' because of poor choices made told my wife and me that they'd just finished reading my book Happiness Doesn't Just Happen.

"I never understood the gospel," this person said.

"I've been in church all my life and never comprehended who I am by God's grace. I've been looking for something from other people. Truth is, I've had what I've needed from my heavenly Father all along, but I made other people my source, looking for happiness from them. I've now realized that what I was looking I had all along in my relationship with God."

Pretty powerful stuff.

One of the truths this person came to understand through reading my book is this:

"I am justified."


What Is Justification?


Justification is a big word almost better described than defined. Let me give you some descriptive ideas to help understand the concept of justification. 

The word itself carries as its root the word "just" or "justified." If you type on the computer you have an option that allows you to "justify" the margin --- this means to make straight.

To be justified means to be straight as opposed to crooked (see Phil. 4:15 for the use of "crooked" in terms of evil).

To be justified also means to be right. If I were to say to you that the Dallas Cowboys will win the Super Bowl because of their deep talent, you might say I was dreaming. But if the Cowboys actually won the Super Bowl next January you would say I was "justified" in what I said last October.

So again, when I am justified, I am right and straight instead of wrong and crooked.

Justification carries with it the idea of being as you ought to be. The Puritans would use "oughtness" as a synonym for "righteousness." So, when I am justified, I am declared by God to be righteous or as "I ought to be."

So, combining all the descriptive ideas from above, let's give a working definition for justification.
Justification --- is the declaration of God that I am as I ought to be; that I am considered by my Creator as "right, straight, and perfectly rightteous."

 How Can I Be Justified? 


The problem with justification is that truly honest people know that they aren't as they are never as they ought to be.

I will never be one-hundred percent the best pastor, the best father, the best man I could be. Ever. "There is no one righteous (e.g. "as they ought to be"), no not one" (Romans 3:10).

So how does God declare me something I'm not?

Here is the key:
“Abram believed in the Lord; and God counted it to him for righteousness”  (Genesis 15:6). 
This one verse is repeated several times throughout the Bible “Therefore, it [faith] was credited to him [Abraham] as righteousness” (Romans 4:22). “Abraham believed God and it [his believing] was credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3), and “faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 5:3). What does this verse, repeated several times in Scripture, mean?

Abram is called by the Apostle Paul "the father of all them that believe" (Romans 4:11).

What happened to Abram when he believed God, is exactly the same thing that happens to us when we believe what God says about us in Christ.

Listen to what Paul says:
"Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more I consider everthing a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not have a righteousness of my own that comes from my obedience to the law, but a righteousness that comes from God and is by the faith of Christ. . . " (Phil. 3:7-9 NIV).
Does it mean my faith in God becomes my righteousness? 

Absolutely not. Our righteousness is Christ's righteousness credited to us by God. We have no righteousness of our own.

Does it mean the kind of faith you have in God determines the amount of your righteousness?

Heaven's no. Then you would have different levels of "spirituality" in the church (by the way, this is exactly what happens in 'works' oriented congregations).

The verse "Abram believed in the Lord and he credited it to him for righteousness" means that my faith in God is my connection to God’s righteousness which is in Christ.
"My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus name.
On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand."

What Happens When I Understand "I am justified"? 


 Dr. John Gill used to say, "God sees no sin in His people because of the righteousness of Christ." 

Dr. Gill did not mean that God's people have no sin experientially because we all do. He that says he does not sin deceives himself (I John 1:8). 

Dr. Gill also was also not saying that God doesn't see sin with His omniscient eyes and takes disciplinary steps to correct or discipline His children because of it. 

In fact, if any person is without this chastening from God, that person is not God's child. 

But according to Gill, the discipline of God's children has not one ounce of God's judicial or righteous wrath in it --- His discipline is laced with love and joy, is always corrective and compassionate in nature, and is never punitive, hateful or condemning.

Gill was simply saying that a holy God absolutely delights and enjoys the presence of His people because they have been connected to the righteousness of Christ by faith.

The wrath of God has been propitiated, and for those who are "in Christ," a righteousness that is outside of them (Christ's righteousness) is given to them as a gift. This is what enables God to declare them "justified;" believing sinners are "righteous" in the eyes of God, and He relates to them with the same joy and acceptance as He relates to His eternal Son.

Until people can come to the place that they give up ALL HOPE of being right with God by their own personal obedience, they will never fully enjoy the benefits of being justified by God

Here are a few of the delights of justification:

1. The understanding that "I am justified"  gives me incredible PEACE.

Luther said understanding justification was like entering a paradise of peace with God. He called it the foundational doctrine of the church. Paul said, "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God” (Romans 8:1).

2. The understanding that "I am justified" gives me SECURITY.

"He [God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Corinthians 5:21).

My righteousness does not shift like the sands of the seashore. It is not dependent upon my temperament, my faithfulness, or my good works. It is found "in Christ."

Some ridicule justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ by calling it "imputed nonsense" (John Wesley), and come up with "methods" or "methodical" ways (methodism) that people can become more righteous.

The great Methodist George Whitefield opposed Wesley's method of progressive righteousness and preached the gospel of the righteousness of Christ and the doctrine of justification by God's grace all along the colonial seaboard in the 18th Century. His preaching led to what we know as The Great Awakening.

We need another awakening in evangelicalism.

3. The understanding that "I am justified" gives me FREEDOM.
“You will not need the approval of others. You will not need the ego-supports of wealth or power or revenge. You will be free. You will overflow with love. You will lay down your life in the cause of Christ for the joy that is set for you. Look to Christ and trust him for your righteousness” John Piper.
John Bunyan, the writer of Pilgrim's Progress, struggled terribly before he came to a settled faith in Christ. Here's what he wrote:
"One day as I was passing into the field . . . this sentence fell upon my soul. Thy righteousness is in heaven. And methought, withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God's right hand; there, I say, was my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, he wants [lacks] my righteousness, for that was just before [in front of] him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, "The same yesterday, today and, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).
"Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. I was loosed from my afflictions and irons; my temptations also fled away; so that from that time those dreadful scriptures of God left off to trouble me; now went I also home rejoicing for the grace and love of God." (John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, [Hertfordshire: Evangelical Press, 1978, orig. 1666], pp. 90-91)

4. The understanding that "I am justified" allows me to FORGIVE. 

The reason forgiveness is so difficult for many is because there's not a sense within of being forgiven and fully justified.

If I know God has wiped my slate clean, then I can freely wipe the slate clean of the one I love.

God warmly embraces the sinner who trusts Him. God enjoys the presence of the ungodly who are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. As my father loves to say, "God has your picture on His refrigerator door." You are as you ought to be in His eyes.

The evidence of how much you believe in God's warm embrace of you is how warmly you embrace other sinners who express that their faith and their hope is in Christ.

But some will surely object by saying, "God hates SIN, and so do I."

The Bible tells us God loves sinners and embraces those who embrace Him. This is a faithful saying and worthy of your full acceptance (I Timothy 1:15).

God embraces you. Yes, He will always gently, efficiently and eventually remove you from your sin with Divine tenderness --- because sin is a destructive and deadening influence in your life --- but He warmly embraces you and sings over you with joy.

Your sin has already been dealt with by Him.

"If I believed what you just taught, I'd live like the devil."

No. Just the opposite.

No person ever fully grasps the eternal love of God for His people in Christ Jesus and comes away unmoved. It is the love of God for us through Christ which constrains from sin internally.

Rather than trust the work of God in the justification, the legalist will place emphasis on extrabiblical and external rules out of fear.

But the graced believer who enjoys his justification by God's grace is quite comfortable in the righteousness of Christ and will resist any attempt to add duties or laws to be "holy," or maintain "righteousness" in the eyes of God.

I am a child of Abraham.

My faith in Christ "is credited to me as righteousness."

I rest in Him.


Fear Is Removed When Great Joy Squeezes It Out

Fear is an emotion that cannot be removed by logic.

Fear must be displaced by another emotion to be removed. 

And there's only one emotion that guarantees the removal of fear in your life. 

Great joy. 

Let me show you evidence of this from Scripture. 

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem as "King of kings" the apostle John tells us that He took possession of a donkey, sat upon it, and then said to the inhabitants of Jerusalem: 
"Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion, your king is coming, seated on a donkey's colt" (John 12:15)
Jesus was quoting Zechariah 9:9. But Jesus makes an important change from what the prophet said. Zechariah declared:
"Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! Youur king comes to you... riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
Which is it? Should the people of Jerusalem "be not afraid"? or should they "Rejoice greatly"?

Answer: Both.

Fear is only displaced by the presence of joy.

The next time you begin to feel fear creeping into your life, remember the only remedy is to find something over which you can truly rejoice.

Tip: Finding joy in the things of this life is a guarantee that fear will return, but finding joy in the eternal God who created you and loves you is a permanent panacea for fear within.
"Rejoice in the Lord, and again, I say, Rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4). 
Next time you are afraid about the future, rejoice in the goodness of the Lord your God who is sovereign over the future.

Next time you are afraid of rejection, rejoice in the Lord your God who promised He would never leave you or forsake you.

Next time you are afraid of failure, rejoice in the Lord your God who directs the steps of His people and even uses our failures for His glory and our good.

Next time you are afraid of being unable and incapable, rejoice in the Lord your God who enables you to do all things.

Next time you are afraid of anything, rejoice in the Lord who is over everything.

Six Strategies for Hearing Rather Than Being Heard

The saying, "God gave you two ears and one mouth, so you should listen twice as much as you talk" rings true in my experience.

I see relationships fall apart because each partner worries more about being heard than hearing.

Businesses go bankrupt because managers focus more on getting their point across to customers than getting to know and listen to their customers. 

Churches shrivel in membership because pastors spend less time listening and more time talking.

Google the subject and you'll find much more emphasis on how to effectively make a point than how to efficiently receive a point made.

I'm working hard on properly hearing because listening is not natural to me.

Truly hearing others involves discipline, self-control, selflessness, and a host of other characteristics defined in Scripture as "the fruit of the Spirit." 

In other words, good listeners are of God.

When I am focusing on being heard, I pay special attention to make sure I am understood. It's all about me. 

If I don't feel heard, I get louder. I'm not sure why that is - maybe my personality - but I've learned that the volume of my voice is directly proportional to the content of my character.

Self-centeredness isn't something I hide well. It's attached to the tightness and tenor of my vocal chords.

But not everybody is like me.

Others will pull away or shut down when they feel they aren't being heard.

Instead of pressing in like me, others would rather shut down. 

However, shutting down also guarantees that the other person isn't being heard too.

So a greater desire to be heard than to hear will manifest itself in multiple ways. But each manifestation springs from the same root disease.

Self.

Every one of us consumed by selfishness doubles down to get our point across by either pressing in loudly or shutting down quietly. 

I'm working on becoming a good listener.

I want to be selfless in communication.

Below are six strategies - mental and practical - that I'm working on to better hear others instead of concentrating on being heard by others.

Take a few moments to consider these carefully. I really believe every relationship you have will improve by remembering and working on these six principles:


Strategy 1:  My working on listening is an exercise in trusting.            
My need to be heard arises from my harmful desire for control. God is in control. I am not. When I seek to control the conversation by making sure I'm heard rather than ensuring I'm hearing, I exalt myself to the position of God. It is idolatry for me. I worship myself. Listening well is a sign that I trust God to work all things for good instead of trusting myself to control all things for good. 
Strategy 2: Transformational change is caught, not taught. 
Typically I find myself getting louder and trying to get my point across when I want someone else to change. I want them to go my direction or stop their petition. I'm convinced that I'm right, and I'm prepared to fight. It's taken me a long time, but I've finally come to the realization that leadership is modeled, not messaged. The reason Scripture gives character qualifications for church leaders is that people change by the imitation of what they see modeled, not by the dictation of what they hear messaged. In other words, good listeners begat good listeners.

Strategy 3: My need to be heard reveals a pressing need for validation, but hearing well flows from an inner and settled sense of validation.
"I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am." (Philippians 4:11).  Those are Paul's words to the Philippian Christians. The two words "whatever circumstances" are not in the original. The words are added by English translators because Paul would in the next verse (Philippians 4:12) describe all kinds of different circumstances. Paul's content if he's "poor, or in prosperity; hungry, or not."  I would add "heard, or not heard." My contentment in life comes from who I am, not from how others feel about me. Paul would later declare:  "I am who I am by the grace of God" (I Corinthians 15:10).  Working harder on getting my point across reveals my need to be validated by others rather than resting in the validation that comes from God's grace in me (e.g., "I am loved; I am forgiven; I am guided; I am blessed; I am ...).

Strategy 4: I must drive out all other "ings" when listen"ing."
Since I am who I am by the grace of God (and not my own merits), when people are talking with me, I must trust that only God can bring about any needed change in their lives (not me), and because I am confident in who I am in Christ, I will listen even to those who wish to show me where I need to change. In my trust in God, I will drive out all other "ings" when I am listening. I will drive out shaming, judging, moralizing, directing, warning, advising, persuading, agreeing, defending, shifting, and every other "ing" so that I can become a powerful and potent listener and connect with you.

Strategy 5: A solid connection is a source of safe direction.
I will sometimes hear parents say, "But my kids. They aren't listening!" Usually, the pain in a mom or a dad springs from a desire for their kids to avoid making the same mistakes that their parents made as teenagers. But listen, mom; pay attention, dad. Tires fly off a car on the highway when the connection is broken. Work on tightening the bolts of good listening and kids will find themselves attached to parents motoring in a safe direction on the highway of life. This principle of connection applies to any ministry, business, or non-profit leader.

Strategy 6: I must ask sincere questions and remember answers to hear well.
While working on these strategies of listening well, I met a man at a social luncheon for a civic organization. He introduced himself to me and through the course of the lunch, seated with six other men, I listened intently as the new acquaintance detailed how his wife was getting along through her cancer treatment. A couple of weeks later, I met the man in a parking lot, greeted him by name, and then mentioned his wife by name and inquired how she was doing in her cancer treatments. He updated me. I met once again a few weeks later, called his wife by name inquired whether she was responding well to her new round of treatments because I knew they'd started that week. He looked at me carefully for a few moments and said something I'll never forget: "You really care for me, don't you?"
I've discovered through implementing these six listening strategies that my two ears are a much better prescription for loving people than my one mouth.

The King, Chris Clayman, and a Trashy Parking Lot

I'm reading the autobiography of missionary Chris Clayman. The book is called Superplan.

It's excellent. 

Many of us spent a few of our early years as a Christian fearing that God might call us to the mission field. "From here to Timbuktu" was the phrase we'd use to illustrate how far we feared God might send us.

Chris Clayman actually moved to Timbuktu, Africa to share Christ with the Bandogo people. 

How does a 23-year-old caucasian from Georgetown, Texas wind up in Timbuktu? 

In the book, Chris describes how he grew up in a "strong Christian family, a supportive community, and a modest but well-provided lifestyle." He attended a Christian university (Abilene Christian).

Chris assumed the safe and secure Christian experience of American evangelicalism.

In college, however, Chris came to understand what it means for Christ to be King.

It happened like this.

Chris was in a local park in Abilene, reading his Bible and praying. He noticed a man sitting in a van nearby. Chris felt God telling him to go talk to the man about Jesus.

Uncomfortable at attempting to converse about Jesus with a complete stranger, Chris rearranged his Bible so the man could see the cover (Holy Bible) and quietly told the Lord, "If You want me to talk to this man, prompt him to leave his van and start a conversation with me on the bench."

Within minutes, "the man rolled up his window, started his car, and drove away."

While many Christians might not be bothered by an experience like this, Chris was crushed.

Chris felt dissonance in his life. His beliefs aligned with the Bible. His Christian peers and church family would call Chris a "committed Christian." But Chris realized in that park that he'd sanitized the radical Jesus of Scripture into someone who would never ask His followers to do anything uncomfortable.

Like many evangelical Christians in America, Chris considered Jesus as a life coach who's guidance and instructions are more like a suggestion. Rather than serving the King of Kings and doing what Jesus said without hesitation, Chris worshipped himself.
"You want me to go talk with that man, Lord? It's too uncomfortable for me. If You really want this man to know You, make him come to me." 
Chris realized that his Christianity had become more about himself than Christ.

So Chris called a friend and asked if he could pick him up and go to a local coffee shop to talk. The friend, a fellow college student, named Sam, agreed. The two drove to the coffee shop, but they didn't make it inside. There in the parking lot, seated in the car, Chris poured out his heart to Sam.

He confessed his half-hearted devotion to Christ and his love for comfort more than the Kingdom. He told Same that he was only giving lip service to Christ as Lord.

As Chris shared, he "began to see that knowledge of God and the Bible is only as useful as the obedience that results." Verses like "If you love Me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15) began to come to his mind. And, more importantly, these verses began to make sense to Chris.

What it meant to be a follower of Christ was becoming clear.
"If anyone would choose to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me" (Matthew 16:24).
That night was life-transforming for the Abilene college student named Chris Clayman.

When the conversation ended, the coffee shop had closed. It was time for Christ and Sam to leave the parking lot and go home.

What happened next is why Chris wound up in Timbuktu. Chris explains in his own words:
"As we exited the parking lot, my eyes fixed on the trash strewn across the lot. "Pick up the trash,' God commanded. 'Pick up all of it.'
Did I hear an audible voice? Was it a deep impression or stirring within me? All that I can say is the command was clear--if not audible, clear enough to be audible. I had spent the last few hours ranting about the radical nature of following God and vowing to follow and obey Him even if doing so seemed crazy. I assumed such vows related to talking to strangers at parks, choosing where to live, or making social and vocational decisions. But picking up trash in a parking lot?!
I did not turn the car around. Who would know anyway? I proceeded onto the street, my mind and heart racing - wrestling - with the command I had received. "It doesn't make any sense! This is crazy! Who does this? What will people think? The parking lot will just be dirty again the next day!"
I advanced no more than 30 yards when a confident resolve won the short, intense battle in my soul. I knew God was testing me. Would I do what he asked me to do even if doing so seemed crazy? I turned to Sam in the midst of the sudden U-trun and said, "I can't explain this to you right now, but I have to clean up the parking lot."  I parked the car.
On my hands and knees in a parking lot that could fit several hundred vehicles, I began picking up cigarette butts and other trash. I cannot remember how long I cleaned. Two hours? Three?
About halfway through, thinking who knows what, Sam joined me and, without a word, began picking up trash with me. By the end, our hands were stained and dirty. For some reason, we knew teh cleaning needed to be done by hand. After we had disposed of every cigarette butt and fast food wrapper, Sam and I sat and stared at the trash-free parking lot. We knew the ground would be littered again in a few hours. We knew our work was meaningless to the world - but for us, the space had become holy ground. 
I think we even took off our shoes."
When we speak of the Kingdom of Christ, we mean the place where Christ the "King" has "Dominion."

Kingdom means "The King's Dominion."

Chris' story is a fresh reminder to us all that Christ is King.

And history is His Story unfolding.

Let's be the kind of Christians who love people unconditionally, serve others sacrificially, and follow Christ radically.

That's what it means to be Kingdom people, from here to Timbuktu.