Friday, February 28, 2014

Your 501(c)(3) Nonprofit Church Is a Kingdom Tool; It Is Not the Kingdom Itself

American mainline institutional churches are in trouble. Declining attendance, budget shortfalls, and more denominational churches closing their doors than new ones opening are only symptoms of the root problem.

The root problem, in my opinion, is a common mistake made by institutional churches and those who lead them. Christian leaders sometimes make our their 501(c)(3) nonprofit institutional churches to be the kingdom of God. They are not. 501(c)(3) nonprofit institutional churches are kingdom tools, but they are not the kingdom. To be more specific, the church to which you belong is a tool whereby the kingdom of God can be advanced, but it is not the kingdom of God itself.

This is a vital distinction that must be clear among Christian leaders and people who belong to institutional churches or churches will continue to be on the slope of slow decline. We preachers deceive church members when we act as if our institutions, our budgets, our buildings, our programs, and everything else about our non-profits are equivalent to God's kingdom. When we do this, we are like an equipment manager of the Dallas Cowboys saying he owns the Dallas Cowboys. Of course, he doesn't, but the more he pretends he does by constantly telling people he's the owner, acting as if he is the owner, and promising fans of the Cowboys that if they would commit more to make his job easier by giving more, making the offices and facilities more luxurious, and then of course, never argue with the methodology of how the  trainer/owner determines what is best for Cowboy players and fans, then the DALLAS COWBOYS will win! Over time, people will begin to realize that the equipment manager is either delusional or deceived. Either way, the Cowboy base is diminished by a vocal manager who talks and acts like he's the owner. 

The key to prosperity for any nonprofit church is have leadership that is keenly aware that churches are but tools in the kingdom and all Christians, including Christian leaders of nonprofits, are simply servants/stewards in the larger kingdom.  The New Testament only speaks of the kingdom and servant leadership, not 501(c)(3) nonprofits. The New Testament only refers to the "temple of God" as the people of God, not institutional brick and mortar buildings. The New Testament only knows God's people as believers in Jesus Christ from different regions and cities, joining together as needed to advance the kingdom of God. The New Testament knows nothing about individual, institutional churches with big budgets, big buildings and a professional staff who claim to be God's priests and vicars over laity. Since the time of the apostles, institutional churches have evolved. There is nothing inherently wrong with another tool for kingdom work evolving. But the government can one day outlaw institutional churches and God's kingdom will still thrive. Institutional 501(c)(3) churches are tools to advance the kingdom, but they are never to be considered the totality of the kingdom.

How do you know if an institutional church sees itself as "the kingdom of God?" Here are a few ways to determine:
(1). If the pastor proclaims himself as your "spiritual authority" and demands obedience to his will, then you have an institutional church that has set itself up as the kingdom of God.
(2). If the pastor equates giving to the 501(c)(3) nonprofit institutional church as "giving to God," and not giving to the 501-C3 non-profit institutional church as "stealing from God," then the institutional church has set itself up as the kingdom of God.
(3). If "attendance" at the meetings of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit institutional church and support of the "programs" of the institutional church is the measurement of one's "true spirituality," then the institutional church has established itself as the kingdom of God.
(4). If leaving a 501(c)(3) non-profit church to join another 501(c)(3) nonprofit institutional church in the same city causes the leaders of the forsaken institutional church to declare the action as "sin," then the institutional church has set itself up as the kingdom of God.
(5). If people in one institutional church compete with people in another institutional church, comparing how much money is being given to missions, how many people are 'attending' on Sunday morning, how much money is (or isn't) being spent on capital improvements, and how "right" theologically the other institutional church is or isn't, then that church doing the competing has set itself up as the kingdom of God.
When times get tough for institutional churches who think they are the kingdom, the guilt and shame messages from the preacher, the rants of 'unfaithfulness' toward the 'laity' from the 'leaders,' and the pressure to do more and perform better increase dramatically. When times get tough in a church that understands the true nature of the kingdom of God, the church simply adapts its methodologies, programs and staff, without any messages of guilt and shame.

The theme of Jesus Christ's earthly ministry was "the kingdom of God." The phrase appears 53 times in the New Testament Gospels, almost always spoken by Jesus Himself. "The kingdom of heaven,” a synonymous phrase, appears 32 times in the Gospel of Matthew. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he continually proclaims the 'good news' of the kingdom of God.
"Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news’” (Mark 1:14-15).
Notice, the "good news" (literally, 'the gospel') is the kingdom of God. In fact, the apostles joined Jesus in calling the gospel call it "the gospel of the kingdom." In the New Testament gospels, Jesus uses the phrase he basileia tou theou  in Greek or ha-malkhut elohim in Aramaic. The words basileia (Greek) and malku (Aramaic) refer to “reign, rule, authority, sovereignty.”

This meaning of the phrase "kingdom of God" is clearly seen in a parable told by Jesus.  The Teacher said,
"A noblemen went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return” (Luke 19:12, NIV).
The literal translation of this verse is "a nobleman went to a distant country to receive a basileia for himself."  Notice, the nobleman didn’t go to get a new region in order to rule over that region, but rather the nobleman went to a distant country to receive a new and greater authority over the place he already lived. This is the way the word "kingdom" is predominately used in the Bible, It means "authority, rule, power and sovereignty."
"All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD, and all your faithful shall bless you. They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom [malkuth in Hebrew; basileia in Greek], and tell of your power" (Ps 145:10-11).
God’s kingdom is not so much over the place over which God reigns (for He reigns over all), but it is a reference to the display of His divine power.  Jesus declares:
"Repent, for the kingdom of God has come near" (Mark 1:15)
Jesus is announcing that God’s royal authority and power have arrived onto the scene! Mark 1:15 can then be literally understood as follows:
“God’s revealed power has come into your world. His power is now being  unleashed among you. Turn your life around and put your trust in this good news.”
To whatever extent the local institutional nonprofit 501(c)(3) assists in unleashing the power of God in the daily lives of people, then that non-profit is a tool being used by God in expanding the kingdom of God. However, God does not need our nonprofits to unleash His power. The power of the gospel resides within every person who has come to faith in Jesus Christ.

I pastor a fairly large nonprofit with a multi-million dollar budget, large buildings that require capital to maintain, and a variety of programs that require a great deal of volunteer work.  Emmanuel Enid is not the kingdom of God. If people stop giving to Emmanuel, stop enlisting to serve in our programs, and stop agreeing with our direction as a nonprofit, the kingdom of God will continue! I know that to be true, and the members of our nonprofit church know that to be true. Everything we do is measured by whether or not the power of God is being unleashed to transform lives. We must have a kingdom purpose for a program, or a building, or a staff position, or we simply won't do the program, build the building, or staff the position.

I think that's one of the reasons the particular non-profit to which I belong thrives.  We know we are but managers of a kingdom tool in the kingdom of God, and we never act as if the institutional nonprofit we call Emmanuel holds the keys to God's kingdom.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Ugly Side of the Son of God

Charles Spurgeon wrote in his commentary on Isaiah that Christians have read Isaiah 53 'hundreds of times.' Spurgeon lived in the 1800's and his assumption may have had a spark of validity in his day, but I dare say that very few followers of Jesus today have read Isaiah 53, much less studied it, more than a handful of times. This chapter from Isaiah is the greatest Messianic prophecy within the Old Testament.  It is because of a lack of knowledge as to what Isaiah 53 teaches about the Messiah, the Son of God, that a caution about the upcoming movie Son of God is in order.  I join with others in the hope that a film on the life of Christ will lead others to faith in God's grace through the Person and work of His Son. However, one of the points missed by the movie makers is the Person of Jesus Himself.

Isaiah the prophet says Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, was physically unattractive. There is no mistake in what the inspired prophet meant when he described the physical looks of the Son of God. Listen to the prophet's words:
" a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him." (Isaiah 53:2).
The new Hollywood motion picture entitled Son of God is definitely not faithful to the Scriptures in the physical presentation of the Son of God. Jesus on the screen looks like a cross between Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp. Watching "Son of God" in a theater might make young ladies wish to "kiss the Son" (Psalm 2:12) physically, rather than to embrace Him in faith. In our literal society, where the visual visceral always seems to trump eternal realities, one might walk away from the move Son of God being more enraptured with the good looks of Jesus than the good news of Jesus' Kingdom.

Lest you say my objection to the beauty of Jesus is petty, let me give you three reasons why it is important we understand "he had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him."

(1). In the real Son of God we have the "fullness of the Deity" in bodily form, and since both "males and females" are made in the image of God, the idea that God looks like Charlton Heston of the 1950's, or Burt Reynolds of the 1960's, or Robert Redford of the 1970's, or Sylvester Stallone of the 1980's, or George Clooney of the 1990's, or Brad Pitt of the 2000's, is to miss the glory that the Son of God represents in His body every human being from the beginning of time, including the weak, the deformed, the emasculated, and the ugly--both male and female. God is spirit, and when He chose to inhabit a human body prepared as a Substitute for all mankind, He chose a body with no beauty.

(2).  God humbled Himself and became a human being, not for the glory of what man seeks in this life, but for the eternal glory of what only God can give in this life and the next. The "life of God in the soul of man" is the greatest gift any man or woman can be given. This life has nothing to do with external beauty, which fades, but rather an inner beauty which is independent of facial features and bodily perfections. One would hope that Christians understand it is the inner beauty of the Son of God--the very life of God--that is needed by each of us. Were Christians to long for the inner beauty of Christ, then we would be more concerned with justice over jaundice, mercy over make-up, and our attitude over our abs.

(3).  It is what the Son of God gives to us that forms the beauty of His life, not how the Son of God looks to us. Again, the Son of God movie, by all accounts, will faithfully represent the life, death and resurrection of God's Son, but when the Son of God lived and died for us he looked "like a root out of dry ground." Those of us in Oklahoma understand both dry ground and a root plucked from dry ground. The skin of the root is brittle, the root is deformed in its looks, and compared to other roots from fertile, wet ground, there is absolutely nothing special about it. The message conveyed by the good news of Jesus Christ is that God is in love with those who have little in this life that attracts others to them in terms of beauty or power, but He is able to transform each of us into a person with the inner qualities of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

I realize that Hollywood cannot make a movie with a leading actor who is ugly. However, I would hope that Christians would not be duped into believing that their Savior looked like the actor portraying Him in the movie Son of God. It might be wise for those of us who are a part of American evangelical Christianity to at least acknowledge that the Son of God movie is more cultural than biblical in the presentation of Jesus Christ's looks.

It is faith in Christ's substitutionary life, death and resurrection, as well as a belief that the same power which raised the Son of God from the grave can actually transform me into the beautiful Son of God -- on the inside--that makes the good news of the gospel of Jesus such really good news.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Say No to The Ten Second Rule: Alabama's Prejudice Against Smaller, Quicker Football Teams

On Thursday, March 6, 2014 the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Committee will consider a proposal to radically change how college teams play football. USA TODAY writes that the NCAA Rules Committee will consider a proposal, offered by Nick Saban of Alabama, that offenses be mandated to wait ten seconds after a play finishes before snapping the ball for the next play. This ten second "delay" will allow defenses to substitute players -- all in the name of safety. However, this proposed ten second rule--conveniently not presented to college football coaches for discussion at January's 2014 American Football Coaches Association National Convention --seems designed to slow down the college football game to give bigger, slower defenses like Alabama's time to catch up with smaller, faster offenses like Oklahoma's. It seems as if Alabama and a few other colleges--teams who have dominated the college football game these last few years through their size and brute strength--are now reacting to the offenses of smaller, faster teams by attempting to change the rules.

History repeats itself.

In 1875 U.S. Army Lieutenant Richard Pratt imprisoned in shackles 75 "savage" Cheyenne, Apache, Kiowa, and Comanche warriors in western Indian Territory (what we now call Oklahoma) and transported them to Fort Marion, St. Augustine, Florida for terms of imprisonment. These Indians, prisoners of the United States government, had been arrested for their involvement in the Buffalo War, America's last Indian war on the southern plains. The Plains Indians were kept at Fort Marion for three years under the command and watchful eye of (then) Captain Richard Pratt. Eventually United States politicians became so impressed with Pratt's successes in "civilizing" the Indians at Marion, that the government gave to him the old Carlisle Indian barracks to establish the first government sponsored Indian school in the United States.  Carlisle Indian Industrial School, founded in 1879, opened with many of the sons and daughters of those original 75 "savage" Indians as students. The United States government hoped that Pratt would be able to "civilize" the sons and daughters just as he had done their fathers.

Some of the Oklahoma Indians at Fort Marion
Richard Pratt was a devout Christian man. He believed in the equality of the races in a day when America was filled with prejudice. One only has to read Pratt's 1892 article The Advantages of Mingling American Indians with Whites to understand his racial egalitarianism. Many modern educators despise Pratt because of his belief that an Indian should forsake the Indian culture of the Plains and embrace white civilization based on capitalism, Christianity and the customs of a modern America. Particularly in our present age of political correctness, where there is no tolerance for any declaration of absolute 'truth,' Richard Henry Pratt is despised. Yet, even among those who shiver at Pratt's Indian education methodology, there is a deep respect for Pratt's adherence to racial equality.  The Carlisle Indian students knew Pratt loved them, even those students who hated how he forced them to adopt personal and cultural change. To help these young Indians adapt to the cultural changes and the rigors of academic and military discipline at Carlisle, Richard Pratt focused on developing a comprehensive recreational program at the school. Pratt knew from his experience among the Indians on the Plains in Indian Territory (Oklahoma), that one of the games the Indian boys loved to play was called "hoop and spear" or "hoop and pole."

In this game, the Indians would find a  tender tree branch and bend it to form circular hoop, tying its ends together with rope. They would then wrap the hoop in feathers and roll it on the ground as opposing teams of Indian youths attempted from a distance to throw 'poles' or 'spears' through the hoop. Points were determined by the distance and accuracy of the throws. The overhanded throw the Plains Indians used closely resembled what would become the modern American quarterback's throwing motion when firing a pass to a receiver downfield. The "hoop and spear" game was extremely popular in the southern Plains. It helped develop the art of throwing a spear, a skill particularly advantageous when Indian men would go out on their tribal game hunts. Richard Pratt knew his Plains Indian boys at Carlisle were smaller than the average American boy in terms of size, but Pratt used their natural athletic skills to motivate them. He helped the boys to adapt to track and field events and other American competitive games that suited their abilities.

But the Indians at Carlisle pressed Captain Pratt to teach them the brand new game called "football."  Football began evolving from rugby as a unique sport among eastern Ivy schools about the same time Carlisle opened. With Carlisle, Pennsylvania being near the epicenter of the Ivy League schools, word soon spread among the Indians about this new game. The "Father of American Football" was a man named  Walter Camp. In 1876 Camp began attending Yale University. He was an athletic, smart man, who played his first year at Yale on the school's 'rugby' team. However, in the fall of 1876, a handful of Ivy League schools gathered at what is now called the Massasoit Convention, to draw up some new rules that would turn their  "rugby" games into what we know as modern football. Camp, one of the leaders at the Massasoit Convention, wound up playing varsity football for Yale from 1877 to 1882, the last two years as a student in Yale's graduate school. He captained Yale's football team for three of those five years, and historians credit Camp for creating the game and scoring rules for American football that are still being used today. However, even as late as 1898, American football continued to look like a rugby scrum (see the picture above from an 1898 game between Penn and Cornell). There was no 'passing,' no deceptive fake hand-offs, reverses, or attempts to run wide and fast. American football was still a game of brute force where teams plunged straight ahead in a scrum, with big, strong men having the advantage.

Richard Pratt (pictured left) knew nothing of the new game of football except what he'd read in the newspapers or heard on the streets of Carlisle. He resisted the pleas of his boys to teach them the game because he knew his small Indians from the Plains would have little chance at playing a game dominated by the big American boys at the Ivy League schools. Eventually, Pratt saw a football game in person and was repulsed by the brutality of the game. Many of the collegiate young men were injured during the contest, and to Pratt, the game looked like a disorganized fight. The pace of the game was slow, consisting of straight ahead runs, ending with head on confrontations between the opposing teams. Pratt had no desire to teach the Indian boys at Carlisle the game of American football because he believed they would be physically hammered.

The Indian boys at Carlisle had taken to playing intramural football during recreational times, and they continued to press Captain Pratt even harder to give them a coach and let them play competitive American football. Finally, Pratt understood his continued resistance to their pleas would be a detriment to their schooling. He told the boys, "If you keep your grades up for the entire year, I'll consider bringing somebody in next year to teach you football."  The Indians kept up their end of the bargain, and in the fall of 1893, Richard Pratt kept his promise and hired a former Yale football playe as coach. For the first six years, the Carlisle Indian football team struggled. The game didn't suit their athletic capabilities, and many of the teams they played had extreme prejudice against the "Injuns."  But in 1899 Captain Richard Pratt hired a creative, young football coach by the name of Glen Scobey "Pop" Warner (1871-1954) to lead his Indians. "Pop" Warner would be the coach of the Carlisle Indians for a total of ten years, a decade of years that would form a portion of his long and distinguished coaching career at several colleges and universities. "Pop" Warner would later say (1931):
"After thirty-six years of coaching at widely separated and differing schools as Iowa State, Cornell, University of Georgia, Carlisle, University of Pittsburgh and Stanford, the experiences that stand out most vividly in my memory are those connected with the Indian lads."
Pop Warner's coaching tenure at Carlisle Indian School encompassed two separate stints. The first time he coached at Carlisle, from 1899 to 1903, the little, fast Indian boys from the Plains continued to be punished by the big, strong college boys of the east. After leaving Carlisle to coach at his alma mater Cornell for three years (1904-1906), Pop Warner returned to Carlisle to coach the Indians a second time, from 1907 to 1914. It was during this second tenure that Warner developed a "fast-paced offense" that took full advantage of the athletic skills of his smaller, faster Indian boys.

Included in this new fast-paced scheme was the new form of advancing the football (approved in 1906) called "the forward pass," a play that took advantage of the "hoop and spear" throwing technique that the Indian boys had learned in their home territories. During this second stint of coaching at Carlisle, Pop Warner also implemented what he called "the single wing" formation (or shot-gun offense) as well as the "double wing" formation. The Carlisle Indians would dazzle their prominent east coast Ivy League football rivals with their quick feet, sleight of hand plays, precise forward pass throwing skills, and a wide-open, fast paced offensive attack. Every little boy who has ever played "Pop Warner" Little League Football, and who has ever attempted to out-flank, out-run, out-throw, or in general "deceive" an opposing defense can thank Pop Warner and the Carlisle Indians for changing football from a slow, brutal head-on confrontational game of brute strength to the fast paced, wide-open offensive game that American football is today. Using their speed and quickness and a fast paced offense, the Carlisle Indians began defeating strong, powerhouse football teams like Harvard and Army.

Sports Illustrated author Lars Anderson, in his brilliant book Carlisle vs. Army, as well as  Washington Post sports reporter Sally Jenkins, in her historical novel The Real All Americans,  both compellingly recount the greatest game ever played in the history of American football. The game was between the Carlisle Indians and the West Point Army Cadets, played on November 9, 1912 at West Point, New York. It was truly a battle on the athletic field between Indians and soldiers; a veritable war without blood. Playing tailback for Carlisle was Jim Thorpe, the greatest athlete in the history of the world, and an Indian from Oklahoma. Playing tailback for West Point was Dwight D. Eisenhower, the future leader of the free world during and after World War II. Jim Thorpe scored three touchdowns and three extra points during the game. The future President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, was injured while tackling Thorpe. Eisenhower, who was described in the press as someone "who hits the line harder than any other man on the Army team" played his last game the following week against Tufts University. President Eisenhower would later say that the image of the incredibly fast and elusive Jim Thorpe running down the field with the ball in his hands is something "I will never forget."  Sports Illustrated writer Sally Jenkins calls the 1912 Carlisle Indians "the team that changed a game, a people, and a nation."

According to Lars Anderson, Coach Pop Warner prepared his Indians for battle against the soldiers of West Point that Saturday afternoon, November 9, 1912 with a speech that rivals the greatest motivational speech ever given by a coach to his players. Jim Thorpe (pictured to the left) never forgot it. Coach "Pop" Warner, using graphic language, explained that "THIS game" was the Indians chance to extract revenge for all the cold-blooded horrors that the white man had inflicted on their people in the past. He reminded the Indian boys that "the ancestors of these Army boys killed and raped your ancestors." Warner concluded his pre-game pep talk with these words:
"On every play I want all of you to remember one thing. Remember that it was the fathers and grandfathers of these Army players who fought your fathers and grandfathers in the Indian Wars.. Remember it was their fathers and grandfathers who killed your fathers and grandfathers. Remember it was their fathers and grandfathers who destroyed your way of life. Remember Wounded Knee. Remember all of this on every play. Let's go!"
The Indians, using their fast-paced, forward passing, fake-handoff reversing deceptive offense defeated  the bigger, stronger Army football team that day 27-6. American football has never been the same since. Army, Harvard, and the other powerhouses of the day sought unsuccessfully to change the rules in order to limit Carlisle's playmaking ability, but eventually those powerhouse teams had to adapt to the opposing team's speed, or continue to lose. That's the beauty of football. It's war without blood. New tactics, new offenses, new schemes, are essential to successfully defeat the opposing team. One would expect that some would seek to change the rules to gain an advantage, but one can only hope that the game will be allowed to continue to continue to evolve on the ball field and not in the board room.

The proposal being brought before the NCAA Rules Oversight Committee on March 6, 2014 is an attempt to reverse over a century of football history. It is not for "safety" that the game should be slowed down. It is for "safety" that the game should be sped up. The shotgun, forward-passing, fast-paced offense of the early 20th century was designed to protect the smaller Indian players from Oklahoma against the big, brutal teams from the east. In light of the history of American football, it would be wise for the Rules Committee to vote "No" on the ten second rule when they meet Thursday, March 6, 2014. In closing, I'd like to give a few tidbits of information worth pondering for every football fan, particularly those from Oklahoma:
(1). In a very real sense, those 75 Indian "savages" captured by the US Army in what we now call Concho, Oklahoma and transported to Florida played a very historic role in the evolution of American football. In fact, I tell people all the time, Oklahoma has as much to do with the evolution of the NFL as any state in the union.
(2). The Carlisle Indian Industrial School was disbanded in 1918. However, the dorms, fields, and other sites of Carlisle Indian School's historic past have been excellently preserved by Pennsylvania historical societies and are worth the $5.00 entry fee. One can enter the grounds and run on the very track where Jim Thorpe trained for the Olympics and play catch on the field where the Carlisle Indians practiced.
(3). On the grounds adjacent to the Carlisle Indian School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania now sits the United States Army War College where every future general of the United States Army is being trained in the art of war.
(4). The Washington Redskins, until just a couple of years ago, always held their football training camp during the summer at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The movement to "change" the Redskins nickname of Washington D.C.'s professional NFL team is being resisted by owners of the team for purposes of tradition and history, not racial prejudice.
(5).  When the Oklahoma Sooners football team runs a fast-paced, hurry up offense under Bob Stoops and Josh Heupel, the team is probably closer to their football roots in Oklahoma than anyone realizes.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Be in Awe of Jesus and Love Yourself

I have a two-fold request for you. First, read again the title of this post.

Second, mentally set aside any preconceived notions you have of what it means to be a Christian. I am about to blow away everything you've ever been taught by mainstream religion. You should know my standard of truth is God's word, not religion or the opinions of man. My allegiance is to Jesus the Anointed One, Emmanuel Himself, God among us, and not to a church, a denomination, a religion, or any confession of faith, historic or current.

So here we go.

Contrary to what you've been taught in church, the measure of your adoration of Jesus, and the only way you will ever truly love others, is to love yourself.

Now I know that most Christian teachers try to make you think that you are nothing but a worm; a vile, wretched sinner that causes God to want to puke when He thinks of you. I know that the institutional church has sought to ingrain within you a feeling that you must perform to get God to like you. Because of the dogmatic assertion that you are worthless, churches define spirituality,  preachers claim spiritual authority, and both churches and preachers demand your conformity. 

Yet when Jesus was approached by a young Jewish attorney and asked "Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus responded, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matthew 22:36-40).

According to Jesus, if you do not love yourself, you will be unable to love your neighbor. More importantly, it is impossible to love God "with all our heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" until you are captivated with God's love for you. Everyone knows from personal experience that real, genuine heartfelt love is drawn from a heart that is being loved!. The soul that is loved unconditionally, radically, faithfully and steadfastly is magnetically drawn to love in return. Until a human being comprehends God's radical love in Jesus, a human being will never radically love God because of Jesus.  We love Him because He first loved us.

Don't misunderstand. There is a subtle difference between loving yourself and demanding others love you. Loving yourself means you are free from the pressure that others love you. What does it matter if others reject you if Jesus loves you and you love yourself?  Demanding others love you is a tell-tale sign that there is actually no self-love. Crazy as it may seem (I call it "upside-down-wisdom"),  the more you seek love the less you self-love.

I propose to you the reason the institutional Christian church often leads members to personal bondage is because followers of Jesus have never been captivated by God's love in the remarkable truth of an obscure verse in Hebrews.  Many would say John 3:16 is the most important verse in the Bible (and, without doubt, that verse is beautiful!), but I propose that Hebrews 8:13 is the most important verse of Scripture because you can't fully appreciate the love of God mentioned in John 3:16 until you comprehend the glorious truth of Jesus in Hebrews 8:13. 
"When He (Jesus) said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear." (Hebrews 8:13)
The night before Jesus died, He took a cup of wine and said to His disciples that this wine represented His blood which is shed so a "a new covenant (agreement)" might be made between God and His people. Jesus came to shed His blood to cause"the first (covenant)" to become "obsolete" and "disappear."

Wow. Think about that. The first covenant, that is the Old Covenant with Israel (found in the OLD Testament), Jesus caused to become obsolete and disappear. Everything in the Old Covenant--Temple worship, the male priesthood of Israel, sacrifices, the feasts and festivals of Israel, the Law, and all other things associated with Israel's ritualistic worship of God in the Old Covenant-- became obsolete and disappeared because of the person and work of Jesus.

Jesus Christ "fulfilled the Law," every jot and tittle of it, and then abolished it. There are no longer any Temple rituals. The Law of Israel is obsolete. There is no Sabbath day any more. Believers find there rest every day in Jesus. The people of God are no longer the Hebrew people only; every ethnicity forms His people. The priests of God are no longer just males, for females share in the eternal priesthood. The Temple of God is no longer in Jerusalem, for "you are the Temple of the Holy Spirit." The festivals are no longer in effect for Jesus fulfilled the festivals. Jesus abolished and caused to disappear the "Old Covenant" with Israel.

Then what good purpose does the Law (Old Covenant) serve? The Old Covenant is the shadow that points you to the appearing of Jesus Christ,  and it is the "schoolmaster" that takes you by the hand and leads you to be taught by the Teacher. Jesus' miraculous birth, sinless life, substitutionary death, and powerful resurrection cause you to see HE fulfilled the Law for you. You come to see your absolute inability to be righteous before God by your conformity to any Law, and you come to rest by faith in Jesus! If you read the Old Testament and see a set of laws for you to keep, then you have missed Christ and the New Agreement He instituted with His blood. If you ask, "But what motivates a believer to love people (and therefore not steal, not envy, not lie, etc...)?" I respond, "It is the comprehension of the love of God for your soul through Jesus which translates into loving yourself,  which spills over into loving others as you love yourself" (II Cor. 5:14). Being in awe of Jesus leads to loving yourself.

Any pastor who takes Old Covenant rituals and practices and brings them into the New Covenant, slapping Christian terminology on those Old Covenant rituals and practices, is deceiving believers and leading them away from 'the rest' that comes through faith in Jesus Christ's work. For example, if you've been taught that the church building is "the Temple of God," then you have been misled. The person who comes to rest in the work of Christ is the Temple of the living God. Everywhere you go, God is, because the life of God is in you. If you've been led to believe that if you don't give 10% to your church then you are "stealing from God," the pastor of your church is misleading you. God actually owns all that you have, and you are but a steward of it all. Give as the Spirit of God leads you, wherever He leads you, because the institutional church this side of the cross is not the Old Covenant Temple of God prior to the cross. If you have been led to believe that only males can be teachers and proclaimers of truth and that only men can lead, then you have been duped into believing that the Old Covenant principles of male priesthood are still in effect, and you have missed the New Covenant principle that every believer, whether male or female "is a priest unto God." If you have been taught that there are people with "spiritual authority" over you, then you have never seen the truth that Christ alone possesses all authority in the New Agreement and dispenses His authority through the gifts of the Spirit and the servant acts of His people, not the positions and titles bestowed by fellow man..

Jesus Christ ended the Old Covenant and initiated a New Agreement.  That's the purpose for which Jesus came. 40 years after the first Passover, Israel entered into Canaan. 40 years after the Lamb of God died at Calvary at Passover (fulfilling the Law of Passover in His death)  the Temple in Jerusalem and all Old Covenant rituals were destroyed so that believers in Jesus entered totally unhindered into their spiritual rest. The Law that was "soon to disappear" in Hebrews 8:13 God officially became obsolete in 70 AD with the destruction of the Temple. Daniel (in his scroll), Jesus (in His Matthew 24 prophecy) and John in the book of Revelation all predicted the same thing: The Old Covenant would come to an end through God's judgment and divorce of the Hebrews for their infidelity. But the wonderful Good News is that God did Himself what no sinner can do. To be a Christian simply means you enter into an eternal rest through faith in what Jesus did for you and become so overwhelmed by the love of God, that you love yourself BECAUSE God loves you and you begin to love others as you love yourself in Jesus.

Hang your hat on this: If God Himself came to die for you, if God Himself gave His life for you, if God Himself shed His blood to redeem you, if God Himself--the God who flung the stars and holds the earth in its orbit--if this God deemed you worthy of coming to earth, fulfilling the Law in your place, dying in your stead because of your sin, then the love of this God in the death of Jesus should be sufficient enough to convince you that you are indeed someone very, very special. I propose to you that only when you are utterly captivated by what Jesus has done for you will you become overwhelmed with the value, worth and dignity of your person.

If God loves you, then nobody and nothing can separate you from His eternal love. If God loves you, then it is truly unbelief to deny His love. If God loves you, then to hate yourself is to hate God. God died for you while you were yet a sinner, but it is the love of God for your sinful soul that makes you valuable. God loves sinners, not the self-righteous.

Therefore, the man or woman that hates himself cannot love others. But the man or woman that becomes captivated by the love of God in Jesus Christ cannot help but love himself. Ironically, when you love yourself deeply, you are able to love others radically. 

Therefore, stop performing and start trusting Jesus. Stop condemning yourself and start loving yourself. Stop slapping Christian terms on Old Covenant rituals and start wrapping your arms of faith around Jesus. The radical love of God is seen in Jesus coming to make the Old Covenant obsolete and causing it to disappear.

He's done that - so now rest in Him and love yourself. I have written it down theologically, but this man, Jefferson Bethke, raps it poetically. Before you reject what he raps, think through Hebrews 8:13 again.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Five Acts of Spiritual Chivalry for Christian Men

Chivalry has its roots in European middle ages when knights lived by a code of conduct. The word comes from the French term chevalerie which means horse soldiery, but over time chivalry evolved into a term meaning an honorable code of conduct for all men, particularly regarding a man's treatment of a woman. Some consider chivalry unnecessary in our modern society, but it's been my pleasure to teach my three sons the importance of certain acts of chivalry because of the worth and dignity of a woman.

It would be worth studying Christian men who understand basic chivalry in public and any connection with how they spiritually, emotionally, and verbally treat women in their home and church. I have no statistical data, but I would be very surprised if those men who treat women with dignity and respect in public did not also treat women with proper dignity and respect behind closed doors. Obviously, anyone can be a hypocrite, but I find it difficult to mistreat my wife in private while always opening doors for her in public, taking my place next to the street as we walk on the sidewalk together, pulling out her chair for her, and gently placing my hand in the small of her back as we walk into a room.

I do not believe I have ever heard anyone use the term spiritual chivalry. Chivalry would be different from spiritual chivalry in that the former addresses physical actions, while the latter concerns itself with the inner attitude and heart  of men toward women. Again, there's bound to be some connection between acts of chivalry and spiritual chivalry, but in order to help measure the heart and attitude of a man toward women, I've catalogued five measurements of spiritual chivalry for Christian men. The first three are toward women in general, and the last two are for that special woman in your life.

(1). Refuse to denigrate women in general with the spoken word, even in joking. 
Christian pastors are the worst at violating this particular code of conduct. To practice spiritual chivalry, a Christian man will never use the female gender as the basis for a joke. Jokes that play on stereotypes (blond jokes, wife jokes, etc...) may cause some men to erupt in great laughter, but they will never cause a creased smile in the Christian man who respects women and admires their dignity and worth. Jokes about handicapped children never cause a parent of a handicapped child to laugh. Likewise, jokes about alleged female deficiencies will never cause any man who values women to laugh.

(2). Take interest in the opinions of women by listening, never interrupting.

Too many Christian men make the mistake of believing that a woman has nothing to teach a man, or that women should be silent in the presence of men. Sadly, some Christian men even try to claim that the silence of women in spiritual environments is ordained of God. On the contrary, any church or organization that actively seeks to silence women becomes a dysfunctional and diseased assembly. The full-orbed image of God is only seen in men and women and when some churches insist that men only should lead or teach, then you end up with a church or home with half the power, half the wisdom, half the creativity, and half the effectiveness. Spiritually chivalrous Christian men encourage the involvement and participation of women.

(3). Set physical boundaries with women that are stated and clear, never to be violated.

In a world that has no concept that sex is a symbol of the sacred, men sometimes make the tragic mistake of not establishing clear-cut physical boundaries with other women at the very beginning of a professional relationship. The spiritually chivalrous Christian man will establish appropriate physical boundaries around other women and will always abide by them. These boundaries are what I call "professional distance." This act of spiritual chivalry causes a sense of spiritual security within other women. For an understanding of what the lack of appropriate physical boundaries looks like in a Christian organization, read  The Gothard Files: A Case for Disqualification.  Here is a key principle for married men: A spiritually chivalrous man will be warm, intimate and open to other women in the presence of his wife, and physically and emotionally distant from other women when his wife is not present with him.

(4). Give specific verbal praise of the significant woman in your life and never criticize her publicly.

Some men have said to me in counseling, "I can't help criticizing my wife. She has been so cruel and mean to me, I feel myself filled with resentment and bitterness." I respond: "Isn't it a grand thing that Christ does not treat you in the manner you treat your wife?" 'Even while we were yet in our sin, Christ died for us.'"  Hurt people hurt people. Read I Corinthians 13 Next time your wife begins to criticize you, rather than defend yourself, take a moment and ask "What is going on inside of my wife? What has scared her? Where is she hurt?" When you can begin to look at your wife with unselfish eyes, then you will be able to praise her regardless of her performance, and refrain from criticizing her regardless of her condition.

(5). Pray for the significant woman in your life, and as the Spirit leads, pray with her.

A spiritually chivalrous man will not see prayer as an act as much as he does an attitude. "To pray without ceasing" means that you have a continual awareness of Christ's presence in your life, at all times, and in all places. It's difficult for a Christian man who practices spiritual chivalry to ever mistreat his wife (or girlfriend if not married) because "Christ is right here with me." More importantly, when a spiritually chivalrous man understands Christ's continual presence with him, that man becomes sensitive to the needs and problems of the significant woman in his life. How can he not? The Creator of the universe loves him and is with him. The spiritually chivalrous man takes the matter of concern to the Lord immediately, and when appropriate, pauses with his wife (or girlfriend) and prays with her. Spiritually chivalrous men are sensitive to the needs the women in their lives.

In Summary:

Spiritually chivalrous men in their relationship with women...

Stop denigrating
Start listening
Set boundaries
Speak praise
Sense problems

My boys read my blog. Kade, Logan, Boe, you have done your dad proud in terms of your chivalry! Now I ask you to join with me to become the most spiritually chivalrous men we can be in order to honor Christ and the dignity and worth of the women He has placed in our lives!

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Uncomfortable Nature of Kingdom Work

Last Sunday, February 9, 2014 Emmanuel Enid had a guest evangelist preach at all three of our morning worship services. Contrary to our normal custom, all three services featured the same style of worship rather than separate traditional and contemporary worship services.  A ten minute segment from the third worship service is posted here (see above) to give you a feel for what the worship was like on that day. To familiarize yourself with our guest speaker, evangelist Scott Camp, you may go here. Several adults and young people made public professions of faith in Jesus Christ during the three services. Each of them has a story, all of them gripping. One fifty-five year old man was in tears as he explained how desperate he was that morning, and how Christ had saved him. A woman in her seventies told me, "I asked Jesus into my life this morning and He has already lifted the burden off of my shoulders." One young man had been coming to Emmanuel for weeks with his girlfriend and when Scott Camp gave the invitation in the third service, he was the first one down the aisle to receive Christ as his Lord and Savior. The bear hug he gave Scott Camp after the service was amazing. Don Burris runs our jail ministry, and he brought twelve offenders Sunday morning. Nine of them received Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Though Emmanuel Enid baptizes on average one hundred people every year, last Sunday was the first time in many years Emmanuel Enid had what some label as "an altar call." We are preparing for an Easter Event at the Enid Event Center, a time when we will be inviting people who need Christ to attend an Easter service in a non-traditional venue, so the worship services at our church this past Sunday, February 9, 2014 were designed to introduce our people to the evangelism team that will lead us on Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014.

I have been pastor of Emmanuel Enid for twenty-two years. Every message I give includes an invitation to trust Christ. However, I don't give "altar calls" in the traditional manner most Baptists give them. It's not that I believe altar calls are wrong or sinful, it's that the methodology I've chosen as a pastor is just...well...different. I invite people to turn to Christ during the message, and then we invite those who've given their lives to Christ to stay afterwards and tell us what God has done. Emmanuel Enid experienced something last Sunday that was unusual in recent years (an altar call), and it made a few people that I love and respect very uncomfortable. Two or three went on Facebook and expressed their displeasure publicly. One young lady whom I respect, a high school senior who feels God's call to be a missionary, has never before heard her pastor give an altar call at Emmanuel. She wrote an "Open Letter to Emmanuel" on Facebook.
"I was definitely disappointed in my church today.   
When worship seems like a performance and the speaker seems to care more about conversions than relationships, the church is going backwards, not moving forward. Emotional manipulation is not what coming to Christ is supposed to look like.  People can be "converted" or "say the prayer" all they like, but it won't save them.  Only Christ truly saves them.  Today truly did sadden me because the people that I have thought about asking to the Easter service mean so much to me that I do not want them to perceive the church or Jesus Christ as manipulative and do not want them to be manipulated into accepting Christ and not understand what being a Christian really means.  It cheapens salvation to only focus on the fact that it saves you from eternity in hell.  It is so much more than that.  It is the bridge between you and God.  It means that you admit that you are no longer in charge of your life and surrender yourself to Christ's control.   
My prayer for Easter Sunday is that people will not be emotionally manipulated, but will actually receive Christ because God is truly working in their lives and has finally called them to himself.  I am also praying that people will not be turned against the church or more importantly Jesus because of what is talked about and how it is presented."
A few other church members also expressed their displeasure with what happened Sunday. I've taught our folks at Emmanuel that their pastor has no hierarchical spiritual authority over them, and they have every right to question, to disagree with, and to even criticize their church leaders and their pastor. I'm glad this young lady felt the freedom and had the courage to write what she wrote about our church. I responded to her on Facebook in this manner:
"C____, one thing I love about our church is that we have raised young women, like yourself, to be strong, intelligent, and wise! Keep on speaking your convictions, loudly and boldly! Also, be sensitive that others may feel differently - particularly the 30 or so who publicly professed faith in Christ today. I know one of the men gave me a big bear hug and said "this is the greatest day of my life." What is uncomfortable for some, may be very thing needed for others. Thanks, again, for being a strong, confident and bold young woman! Our world needs more like you."
In this age of social media, it is often easier for people to communicate via the Internet than it is face-to-face.  I have no problem with those who feel the freedom to express their displeasure about Emmanuel or me via social media. Frankly, discussion and disagreement over an important subject like this one is healthy for God's people! If nothing else, Sunday's worship service, the message, and what happened at  Emmanuel is being discussed by people. It's a good thing that folks are talking about the worship services at Emmanuel, even though some of the discussion arises out of discomfort with what happened. When people think through what they don't like about worship, then they are thinking through issues instead of simply doing churchy things by rote.

I am going to do something unusual in this blog post. On most occasions I write about subjects in general, but today I'd like to address the particular discomfort some felt Sunday at Emmanuel with the methodology of calling sinners to come to the front of our meeting place to profess their faith in Jesus Christ (some would call the altar call "manipulative"), the style of communication adopted by the guest evangelist (clear, but forceful), and the difficulty some members are having with an emphasis of inviting people in need of Jesus to an Easter Event to hear the same evangelist preach.

(1). For a while now I've felt we at Emmanuel are too comfortable and a little too self-oriented in our worship. We like that Wade Burleson speaks 28 minutes, that the worship service fits "my style" of worship, and that everybody is made to feel at ease at Emmanuel. We are large enough to offer various styles of worship in different services on a typical Sunday, but this past Sunday we had one style--a style we will be using for the Easter Event. That may have caused some people to be uncomfortable. The avoidance of discomfort is not one of our purposes at Emmanuel! On the contrary, I believe it is essential every now and then for us to be shaken out of our comfort zone in order to be reminded that the Kingdom of Christ has very little to do with our comfort and everything to do with Christ's reign over us.

(2). Evangelists in the Kingdom of Christ have been given the gift of evangelism. I am a teacher with the gift of teaching. All Christians are called to be soul winners, but there are some who are particularly gifted to motivate Kingdom people to win souls. Even I need a fresh reminder from evangelists that unless I am continually building relationships with people in need of Christ, and actively and intentionally telling my lost friends of their need to receive Jesus Christ as their Savior and King, I am no different than the man who sits in his posh house and dines on sumptuous fare while he watches his neighbor's house burn to the ground through his kitchen window. Evangelists stir our hearts to notice the spiritual condition of those we love. Yes, I believe God saves His people. But I believe He uses His people as instruments to deliver sinners through telling them the truth about Jesus Christ. I believe when we have no desire or joy in seeing the lost come to faith in Christ, we have lost our Kingdom focus. Evangelists like Scott Camp, a friend of mine for many years, have burning hearts to see the lost saved, and their gift of evangelism can energize our church to become more active and intentional in our evangelism.

(3). For six months I have been praying for--and preparing our staff for--the Easter Event. I believe it can be the greatest evangelistic outreach for our church since Franklin Graham came to Enid in 1993. One of the persons saved at that 1993 was Judy Bonnet, a lesbian who gave her life to Christ at the Franklin Graham festival and then spent every day of her life until she died of cancer helping other people come to know the saving power of Jesus Christ. The entire purpose of our 2014 Easter Event is to invite lost, un-churched people to an Easter service where they will hear about Jesus Christ. This is not your grandmother's Easter at Emmanuel. We are praying that God will save hundreds of people who will hear the Good News for the first time! Scott Camp, saved while in jail for drug and alcohol problems, is precisely the kind of person who can reach people with the Good News on Easter. If I have said it once, I've said it a hundred times: This 2014 Easter Event is not like any past Easter service at Emmanuel Enid. The focus is totally, one-hundred percent different. Not everybody is going to like or accept change, but I believe this Kingdom event is needed in our church and in our community. It gets us focused on our friends and family who are lost.

(4). Because we believe and practice grace, those church members who do not wish to participate in the Easter Event will be loved and accepted as they are. Our members are always free to attend other churches on Easter Sunday or any other Sunday. We are not a cult. Follow the Spirit of God, and if the Spirit is leading you not to participate in Emmanuel's Easter Event then don't participate and have no guilt. The Holy Spirit is far more important for the direction of your life than any pastor. All I ask is that before you give in to any discomfort over inviting lost people to the Easter Event that you take it to the Lord in prayer and listen to Him.

(5). Some who were uncomfortable during the worship services this past Sunday (February 9) and are choosing not to participate in the Easter Event might respond that they too are concerned for the lost, but it is the manner and method of the evangelist that bothered them, and that is the reason why they don't want to participate in the Easter Event. They say, "We are used to hearing from you about grace, God's grace in saving sinners, and the tactic and methodology used by the guest evangelist during the message and the invitation (i.e. "pray out loud," "come to the front," "turn and ask the person next to you, 'Do you know for sure you are going to heaven when you die?" etc...) made us very uncomfortable!" My answer:
"The Apostle Paul said, "I become all things to all people in order that I might win some." If you truly believe, as I do,  that God will never fail in saving His people, then you must understand that the same God who used a donkey to speak His word to Balaam can use whatever means He desires to speak to sinners. Last Sunday, February 9, 2014, God spoke to the hearts of many men and women through an evangelist that is not your pastor. You are uncomfortable with his methodology? I understand. Let me ask you a question: 'Are you rejoicing in the salvation of those nine Department of Correction offenders? Are you happy over the conversion of that electrician who has been brought to church for two months by his girlfriend? Do you delight in the salvation of the woman in her seventies that morning? Of course you do! Then why are you allowing your personal discomfort over another's methodology to overwhelm your joy for the salvation of several people? Kingdom work at times will make Christians uncomfortable."
By the way,  I'm not unsympathetic to any concerns over evangelistic methodology. I have written in the past on the very subject of altar calls. I have said over and over that true Christianity is measured in changed lives, not numbers. When is the last time you've ever heard me talk about numbers? I'm talking about numbers now because the goal for the Easter Event is to invite lost people to come so that the 4,000 seat arena is filled! We are asking God that there be many "professions of faith" at the Easter Event (far more than there were this past Sunday), and it is our responsibility as a staff to disciple and follow-up on all these new professing believers. Time will tell whether these hopeful converts are truly converts, but at least we are getting excited about seeing lives changed.

Take for example the man whose life was radically changed by Jesus Christ this past Sunday, so much so that he grabbed several Easter Event advertising pens and left Emmanuel and went "to the most wicked place I could think of" and passed out all the pens to the employees of the sex shop. That man told me he was overtly and utterly rejected when he issued his invitation to the people there to attend the Easter Event, but he's so excited about the Easter Event that "I'm going back next Sunday after church with another stack of pens."  By the way, this is the same man who tried to kill himself before he met Christ. Now he can't wait to go see his lost friends and invite them to the Easter Event. That's powerful. Of course, not everybody has responded like this man to the prospect of inviting people to the Easter Event. I understand that not everybody is affected the same. It doesn't mean one person is better than another.

Let me tell you a true story. I was speaking to evangelist Scott Camp several weeks ago over the speaker phone with Rachelle listening. I told Scott, "Listen, Scott, when you come to Emmanuel Enid
on February 9, 2014, I do not want you to give an altar call."

Scott was very quiet. Dead silence on the phone.

"Scott, I know that to tell an evangelist not to give an altar call is like telling a duck not to swim. But listen, I know my people. I know what makes them comfortable. I know how they think. If you give an altar call, some will be offended because they've never seen it done and they will think it is manipulation. I know your heart. I trust you. That's why I'm asking you to come to Enid on Easter, but on February 9, I'm asking that you motivate our people to invite their friends to come to the Easter Event on April 20, 2014 and then close in prayer and turn it over to me. At the Easter Event in April, you can close the service the way you usually do with a traditional altar call."

To Scott's credit he said, "Okay pastor, I'll do whatever you ask."

A few weeks later, in my time alone with the Lord, the Spirit spoke to me and convinced me I was wrong in placing restrictions on Scott for February 9. I called him back and said this:

"Scott, the Lord has changed my mind. You are the evangelist. I am a pastor. I am asking you to come and do what you are gifted by God to do. Follow your heart. Do as you desire in terms of an altar call. Truth is, our people will see what it will be like at the Easter  Event. If some don't like it (and some won't), then it was not meant for them to be at the Easter Event. Our purpose is to get the lost to come to the Easter Event, and it would not be right for people to come to the Easter Event and not know how it will be! February 9 will show them."

Was I right in changing my mind about the altar call? I think that question should be answered by those who gave their lives to Christ Sunday. I'll be talking to them this week as we give them John Blanchard's newest book "Meet the Real Jesus" and tell them about the "New Believer's Class" we will be starting. I think I know what they will say. The success of an evangelistic service cannot be measured by whether or not members were comfortable. The Easter Event will be successful if people come to know Jesus Christ. We are not designing the Event for church members to be comfortable.

(6). I have been so convicted that this Easter Event is needed by our community that I went to a friend and asked him to fund it. It's not cheap, and when I told him how much we needed, he responded, "How can you put a dollar amount on the price of one soul?" and then gave me $10,000 more than I asked. As we reach out to those in the community who do not attend church on Easter, one of the things we will be doing is making sure anyone and everyone who comes to the Easter Event has something to eat. People from our church who work in the New View Apartments, those who minister to the homeless in the parks on Tuesday night through Forgotten Ministries, and a number of our volunteers in the Celebrate Recovery classes that we host on Sunday night have told us that offering a meal after the service for families will help. Thus, in cooperation with the city, we have confirmed 2,000 box lunches for anyone who wants to stay at the Event Center and eat lunch after the Easter Event - for free! Of course, many of our members will be going to restaurants or to their homes after the service, inviting their guests to join them, but for anyone in our church who desires to eat at the Event Center with those they invited, we will be providing lunch. This isn't about "numbers." It's about seeing souls saved, and we are doing all we can to make that Event accessible to all socio-economic and racial groups in our community.

(7). Ultimately, it's my responsibility to cast vision for this event. I have the vision, but only the Holy Spirit can transmit what I feel from my heart to yours. Julie Davis woke up 2:30 am Monday morning and felt impressed to write something down and give it to me. I woke up at that same 2:30 am hour Monday morning and felt impressed to pray for Enid and for the Easter Event. Here's what Julie wrote to me, giving me permission to use it however I deemed best:
"If our lives were to flash before our eyes on a cinema screen, we would all instantly see our sinfulness and come face-to-face with our need for mercy. Last Sunday at Emmanuel Enid, many experienced being caught by Christ's convicting grace, and were saved.
For this, we celebrate the power in the conviction of sin, and the peace these men and women now have, as result God's Grace that soften and saved!
This is a moment marked in time, and in the life of our church, where the Divine Love of God melted hearts down, and His hand extended hope to the lost. I believe the Holiness of God was displayed for us to see, as His loving and powerful presence drew these new brothers and sisters into His Great Hall of Faith, where He displays His children as Trophies of Grace.
Thank you Emanuel for reminding us once again, that Amazing Grace and it's sweet sound, is a two-sided coin. Because of the wretchedness of sin, God's mercy comes down to rescue us into the transforming folds of His grace, where we are forever saved, sealed, and made new.
Let us not stop here while the momentum is still rich. We've been called to such a time as this and there's work to be done. Let's not apologize for providing and creating an atmosphere in our church where forgiveness ushered in and The Spirit of God moved in the hearts of men and women.
And let us never forget that throughout time, God as our Loving Heavenly Father, has used many gifted Evangelists and Worship Leaders as instruments that help tender the hearts of His prodigal children, while He ushers them home to a forever relationship with Him.
 Celebrate what God Almighty has done today!!!
Let us come around our new family members and invest in the opportunity to disciple them in their journey of faith; where relationship with Jesus, The Father, and The Holy Spirit, can continue to grow in grace, and hearts and lives are forever changed!
Be blessed! Julie Davis
On my way to Emmanuel's building on Sunday night to do some Think Ministry interviews, I called our pastor of singles and evangelism. I asked him, "Kevin, do you feel like what happened this morning has empowered our people to catch a vision for the lost and invite them to the Easter Event."

He didn't answer.

I asked him again, thinking Kevin didn't hear me. Then I realized why he wasn't talking.

Kevin was weeping. I got emotional too. His passion moved me.

When Kevin got control of his emotions he told me he was torn up over the spiritual state of his own family. Kevin didn't grow up in a Christian home. He's burdened for the salvation of his parents, his siblings, and all his nieces and nephews. "I'm going to invite my entire family to come to the Easter Event. I want them to come to know Christ. I don't want my family to end up in hell."

May God grant a renewed passion in our hearts for the lost of Enid. May He pour out His blessings on Emmanuel's Easter Event for His name's sake and the advancement of His Kingdom.

We just finished our staff meeting today. God is up to something big at Emmanuel Enid. Be prepared for some discomfort. Kingdom work sometimes requires us to leave our comfort zone.

I love you all.

Wade Burleson
Pastor, Emmanuel Enid

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Bill Nye and the Devolution of Man

Last night I watched the Ken Ham and Bill Nye debate LIVE and was captivated on several fronts. First, the electronic medium of the debate was through Live - You Tube.  You Tube is changing the game regarding broadcasting LIVE events, and pastors and churches need to be aware of the incredible technology available for FREE - as long as your church's You Tube account has 100 subscribers. Over 500,000 people from several nations watched the Creation vs. Evolution debate LIVE via You Tube. The sphere of our globe has genuinely flattened when it comes to communication, and it is to the advantage of anyone with a message worth sharing to understand and to use such a powerful medium.

Second, Al Mohler has done a very good job pin-pointing the problem with last night's debate. Nobody's mind was changed. The starting point for both men (and their supporters) was too far apart. It's like two runners who enter a race that is to be run in two separate stadiums. The start line, the race itself, and the finish line are so far from the other runner, that the spectators aren't exactly sure where to look. Ken Ham believes "in the beginning God created" and Bill Nye believes "by chance-the universe evolved from nothing."   Ken Ham is a six-day creationist and not all Christians (as Bill Nye pointed out) agree with his interpretation of a six-day duration of creation. But at least those Christians who do not hold to six-day creationism do hold to Intelligent Design. Bill Nye's "molecule to man" evolution is in another arena of thought altogether. I would enjoy a debate between two Christians who disagree over six-day Creationism more than I enjoyed last night's debate because at least those debaters would be sparring in the same stadium.

Third, what struck me most about Bill Nye was his insistence that Noah could never have built an ark like the one described in Genesis because some of the finest and greatest engineers and boatmen attempted to build a similar wooden boat several millennia later after Noah and those modern ship builders could not accomplish their task.  Nye deems Noah a cave man and modern men geniuses, so the story of Noah and the ark must be myth. Of course, Nye's evolutionary philosophy teaches that mankind is evolving to greater and higher forms of intelligence.

Nye, however, needs to put his science cap on and do a little observational science to test his philosophy of evolution. He might be surprised to find man is devolving, not evolving. Sure, technological advances occur at a greater rate than ever, but the nature of man is such that mankind is devolving intellectually and spiritually. Had the ancient Egyptians had our base of scientific knowledge, their stunningly engineered pyramids would have orbited the earth.

It takes only a moment to prove devolution. Take linguistics as an example. The languages of man devolve. They never evolve. Isaac Newton, in my estimation the greatest scientist to ever live, believed it essential for children to learn the classical languages (Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Greek, etc...) before the age of twelve.  Newton, like my dear friend George Ella, believed superior human languages are in the past. Language is devolving. The oldest languages, like those of the ancient Sumerians and Hittites--and particularly the language of a Shemitic tribe called Hebrew--are highly complex and inflected languages. The Greek language did not evolve from grunts and groans and cave drawings to Homer's Illiad. Neither did The Song of Solomon evolve from Hebrew stick figures. Hebrew love poetry from Solomon is eloquent and extremely complex, surpassing the Hebrew literature of today. The languages of mankind have devolved over the centuries. Where are the Hebrew Solomon's of today? Where are the Greek Homer's of today? Where are the English Chaucers and Shakespeares of today?

George Ella, writing on the life of the English educator William Cowper,  shows the how teaching children from an evolutionary philosophy is detrimental: 
William Cowper would harshly condemn the way children are prevented from reading early and correctly in today’s schools. Parents are now scolded for teaching their children to read and write before entering school. Cowper would see this (scolding) as a further neglect of family life and abuse of family privileges and duties, and thus a form of child abuse. Cowper would accuse modern schools of adopting an evolutionary approach to language learning, drilling in arbitrary sounds, syllables, morphemes and phonetics instead of teaching words in a sense contextThis is an unscientific attempt to substitute grunts for language and thought.
For Cowper, the best way to learn to read was the ‘story’ approach, whereby children are confronted with complete sense units such as The Lord’s Prayer or a parable or short Biblical account. Old Lob and Mac and Tosh carried on the ‘story’ method during the early nineteen-forties, but the post-war period went to extremes in experimenting with impractical systems. Happily, the story method is again being introduced into schools throughout Europe. Learning by meaningless sounds, syllables and phonetic fantasies has failed.
In Cowper’s day there were many learned autodidacts such as John Newton the great preacher, Thomas Scott the commentator, William Carey the missionary and Professor of languages, Captain Cook the mathematician and explorer, John Gill and John Brine the Baptist leaders. Newton learnt mathematics and Latin by writing in the sand during his slavery. Scott taught himself languages whilst working as a grazier, Carey learnt whilst mending shoes and Cook gained his schooling through practical experience. Modern education rules out such learning completely as pupils are seen as vessels to be filled rather than organisms able to nourish themselves given the right means. Fed with seven or eight lessons a day, children cannot find the muse and leisure for independent thinking and growth. Each child is taught to write in the same way, to read in the same way and to take in the very same facts. Often, only when school ends for the day do they begin to think for themselves. Many are then too exhausted to bother or homework destroys their coming to grasp with what they have learnt. School guidance nowadays means absolute control and the pupil has no liberty in dealing with the curriculum forced on him. He must like it but cannot lump it.
One of the results of the "molecule to man" evolutionary approach to the education of children is a failed educational system. A belief in evolution turns children into cavemen where educators grunt at them. Teenagers turn into tawdry targets of leisure and intellectual laziness that educators tolerate. It's hard for the modern educators to understand that children in America and England just two hundred years ago were expected to read and learn the Bible and study and learn Greek and Latin in elementary school. The devolution of man continues.

One day William Cowper saw an article condemning John Newton (author of Amazing Grace) for proposing that all life and learning should begin with the Bible. Cowper wrote a searing poem against the folly of those who condemned Newton for his educational approach:

“These critics, who to faith no quarter grant,
 But call it mere hypocrisy and cant
 To make a just acknowledgment of praise,
 And thanks to God for governing our ways,
 Approve Confucius more, and Zoroaster,
 Than Christ’s own servant, or that servant’s Master.”
Bill Nye's mockery of Noah as an ancient caveman with an inability to engineer a massive wooden boat for the protection of life from the judgment of a flood is consistent with his worldview of evolution. Nye's evolutionary philosophy has blinded him to the important truth that man is devolving over time, not evolving. The only hope for us all is a return to God and His Word.
Noah engineered an ark of stunning efficiency that surpasses the abilities of modern wooden ship builders, and even Noah's eloquence in preaching to the scoffers of his day far surpasses any poor attempts by modern preachers of righteousness, including me. The devolution of man affects us all.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

"How Many More" by Bob Cleveland

With the announcement Sunday, February 2, 2014 of actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman's death by drug overdose, we are confronted with another famous person who dies prematurely. A poem comes to mind by my friend Bob Cleveland, a poem that beautifully asks a few important questions. Bob wrote the poem five years ago after the death of Chris Farley and while contemplating the deaths of people like Chris, John Belushi and River Phoenix. The words Bob used in 2009 are as appropriate today as they were then.


How many more will have to die
Before the Lord tells you and I
In words we can’t misunderstand
That we all live only by His hand

And furthermore we’re in a war
With Alcohol … and Drugs .. and more
That overwhelms our spirits so
And leads us to that land of woe
Where the famous die and friends are grieving
For talented and loved ones leaving
This world and going who-knows-where
With pain that’s more than they can bear

God does not trifle, as we have seen
It’s not that He is ever mean…
But rest assured that He is just
And those who do not in Him trust

And give Him sway, in truth and fact
Live only by His gracious act
Of mercy undeserved and free
That He can stop whenever He

Decides that it is fit and meet
To sweep abusers off their feet…
As Chris and John and River know...
To where they never thought they’d go.

So time has come: don’t take for granted
That seeds by which your deeds you’ve planted
Won’t sprout and grow and put to sleep
The life you thought you’d always keep,

And too late come to see the facts
That you and others by your acts
Have drawn the curtain to a close
Much sooner than you might suppose.

How many more will have to die?
Not mine to say, but I know that I
Will not be one of those who do…
The question is … will one be you?