April 3, 2014

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Highlights From A Week In Guatemala

photoI spent last week in Tacana, Guatemala. I, along with the pastor of the Spanish ministry with which we partner, traveled for the purpose of preaching in a church conference and visiting various villages in the surrounding mountains.

The trip was very profitable with people saved, Christians encouraged, and my perspective realigned. I thought I would mention a few highlights, reminders, and lessons learned from the trip.

1- People in other countries get way more excited about church than most Americans. We were in 3 church services on Saturday. Each one lasted over 3 hours. Some rode in the back of a pickup truck for two hours just to be there. Others slept on a concrete floor so they wouldn’t miss it.

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2- In Guatemala, God’s creation sings His praises. We were  at 12,ooo feet in elevation which provides a great view of God’s handiwork.

3- Happiness really is not found in stuff. We met a lot of people who were very happy and who had very little. Materialism really does hurt the Church in America. It really is amazing how little they need to live and how much most Americans think we need to have to survive. With that being said, I am more thankful for toilets and showers than I used to be.

4- There are people all over the world who love Jesus and want to tell others about Him. I love to hear people sing in various languages about their Savior. I enjoy listening to how people began a relationship with Christ. It is always fascinating to hear of the love others have for Jesus.

5- I am tall…well…compared to most people in Guatemala. I hit my head on several door frames.

2photo6- Children everywhere need someone to love them. No one I talked to knew who this boy’s parents were. He kept coming up to me, tugging on my pants and would then just stare at me. He liked the candy the Spanish pastor gave him.

7- Traveling to other countries always helps to realign my perspective. No matter how much I travel my perception always gets corrected. Meeting people who face different ministry challenges, who live in a different culture, and who are striving to do right helps me to view things more correctly.

I am a firm believer that everyone needs to go on a missions trip. It really will change how you view life and ministry.

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March 23, 2014

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Issues Don’t Divide Churches, People Do!

731DisunityKilling_817491256Earlier today I preached from I Corinthians 1:10-17 which deals with the issue of conflict in the church and the need for unity. Thankfully, there is no division at LifeSpring — we are blessed in this regard, but the passage served as a warning to always be on guard against division and strife. There were a couple of points in this message that are worth sharing.

1- Issues Don’t Divide Churches, People Do.

It is not a certain issue that causes division; it is ego that causes division. It is not a certain topic that causes division; it is our human self-centeredness. The issues simply reveal puffed up egos.

It is possible to have a church with people of different backgrounds, different preferences, different tastes, and different likes and dislikes AND avoid conflict and division while accomplishing something for Christ.

People cause division in churches by allowing their pride and ego to drive their attitude and actions.

In our church we have all kinds of varying preferences on every issue. We have different personality styles, backgrounds, and likes and dislikes represented, but they do not cause division. Why? Because they are not the focus. Which means that something else is the focus, namely the cross of Christ.

2-  Godly Unity Exalts the Cross and Displays Christ.

It is worth stating that a lack of unity does the exact opposite. When the cross is in clear view, petty differences on peripheral issues are not. Let me state it bluntly. When people allow preferences on peripheral issues to cause division in the church they are demonstrating that the cross is not in clear view and that they are not focused on or concerned with displaying Christ for a lost world to see.

When Christians fail to actively pursue and protect the unity of the church, the glory and majesty of the work of Christ is diminished by their selfishness.

A lack of unity lowers the priority of the cross. Disunity and strife in a church lowers the value of the cross, it hides the love that was demonstrated on the cross, and it says that our petty issue deserve to be lifted up and highlighted more than the cross of Christ. At that moment, we and our churches are guilty of idolatry on the grandest scale.

It’s okay to have different preferences and it is okay to discuss them, but they should never stand in the way of the cross being lifted high.

Christians should actively pursue and protect the unity of the church. The joy of the Christian, the effectiveness of the church, and a focus on lifting high the cross is at stake.

Pursue Unity!

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March 14, 2014

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Is It Good That Chattanooga Is Bible-Minded?

the-most-and-least-bible-minded-cities-in-americaChattanooga was recently rated as the most Bible-minded city in America. While that may sound good on the surface, what does being Bible-minded really mean? There are several reasons why we should be cautious about this label.

1- The term ‘Bible-minded’ does not address the issue of understanding.

Simply being familiar with something is not the same as actually understanding it. Ralph Mohney Jr., president of Bible in the Schools, is quoted in the Chattanooga Times Free Press as saying that “while Bible knowledge in Chattanooga may be high, Bible understanding is likely much lower.” I could not agree more.

Perhaps people are familiar with Bible stories instead of Bible Truth.

2- The term ‘Bible-minded’ does not address the issue of application.

Even if someone is familiar with something and actually understands it, there is no guarantee that application is going to take place. Gary Phillips, co-pastor of the Signal Mountain Bible Church stated in that same TFP article that “To be Bible-minded, you have to start with information. That’s where the survey stopped. After information has to come application. The issue is how do we live for Jesus and how we treat others around us.”

Biblical information without personal application leads to spiritual stagnation.

3- The term ‘Bible-minded’ does not address the issue of spiritual growth.

There are many people who know a lot about the Bible but who care nothing about growing spiritually. In fact, some of these people sit in churches every Sunday. Simply going to church, knowing about the Bible, or taking a Bible class does not guarantee that someone is focused on being discipled and growing spiritually.

4- The term ‘Bible-minded’ does not guarantee that people have a correct doctrinal position on the Bible.

People can be Bible-minded and not believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Simply knowing some Bible stories does not mean that a person holds to the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture. These are all crucial doctrines.

So while it may sound good to say that someone or some city is Bible-minded, we must dig deeper. Does that person or does that city understand the Bible, do they apply the truth of the Bible to their lives, are they committed to growing spiritually, and do they have a correct doctrinal position on Scripture? These are the questions we must answer.

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March 12, 2014

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The Real Problem of Fundamentalism

5.28.Top5MisusedVerses_745908093I read a blog post today by Jeff Amsbaugh in which he shared why he believes young fundamentalist pastors are leaving the IFB movement. At first glance Amsbaugh seems to hit the nail on the head. Every issue he mentions is indeed an issue. I applaud him for pointing out the reality of these concerns. They do need to be addressed.

However, most of what Amsbaugh draws attention to are, in reality, symptoms of greater problems. Until the root problem is addressed fundamentalism will continue to lose its future leaders and thus jeopardize its future existence.

So what is the root problem?

The problem that drives many younger pastors away is the abundant misuse of Scripture. Many in the IFB movement talk about the authority of Scripture, but it is clear from their practice that it is only a theory to be discussed, not a principle to be applied. (I say ‘many’ because there are exceptions.)

- The issue is not that people preach that women should not wear pants; it is that many misuse the Bible in an attempt to validate their extra-biblical preferences.

- The issue is not that some pastors are KJVO; it is that they misuse the Bible to teach a misguided view of preservation.

- The issue is not that someone prefers the KJV. The issues is that many will harp on that issue during a sermon, never preaching what the Bible actually says.

- The issue is not a version of the Bible, it is the (mis)use of the Bible.

- The issue is that many in this movement determine what they want to preach and then use the Bible as support material for their topic rather than letting the power of Scripture be communicated through careful exegetical study and faithful expository preaching.

- The problem is not that some younger pastors are leaving the “camp”; it is that many within the IFB movement prioritize the “camp” over the Kingdom.  As a result many misuse the Bible in an attempt to keep up appearances.

- The problem is not the so-called “Calvinism, looser living, and progressive, entertaining styles of worship,” however they are defined. The problem is that the Bible is misused in an attempt to preach against these items. No real sound biblical response is given by most in the IFB movement.

- The problem is not that young IFBs are being lured away by intellectual liberals. The problem is the abundance of anti-intellectualism within many IFB circles.

- The problem is that Independent Baptist fundamentalism is more known for its separation over extra-biblical issues instead of the doctrinal fidelity for which it began. Separation was once preached to warn Christians of the dangers of doctrinal heresy. Now separation is preached in an effort to keep a dwindling movement alive by being sure all IFBs agree on the laundry list of extra-biblical issues. The focus has shifted.

Many “younger pastors” simply want to get back to a focus on the Truth of Scripture. They want God’s Word to be faithfully and accurately proclaimed. They want the church to be built on Scripture, not on tradition. They want churches and leaders who are committed to a biblical theology that translates to a biblical practice of ministry. They simply want the focus to be on having a biblical ministry and a biblical life. This all requires that God’s Word be used and communicated correctly, faithfully, and accurately.

Amsbaugh is correct in asserting that it is those within the IFB movement that are driving younger pastors away. However, it is not the symptoms detailed in his post that are the main issue; it is what lies at the foundation of those issues that should be addressed–primarily the abundant misuse and abuse of Scripture.

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January 22, 2014

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10 Reasons Missionaries Struggle to Raise Support

Mission-Trip-Fundraising-Ideas-youth-group-tripsI am a pastor; not a vocational missionary. I have never been on deputation. I have never had to raise support to do what God has called me to do. So I realize that I cannot fully understand what missionaries go through. However, I can offer a pastoral perspective on why some missionaries struggle to raise support.

Obviously, much could be said about the struggles of churches and about pastors not understanding missions. I have written much about those issues already. This post is focused specifically on the missionary.

I have talked with hundreds of missionaries. In fact, last year I was contacted by over 200 missionaries looking for financial support. Through these conversations I have made several observations about why some missionaries struggle.

Here are the top 10 reasons why missionaries struggle to raise support.

1- The Missionary Has an Identity Crisis.

You cannot be all things to all people. Trying to raise support from churches from every philosophical corner will ultimately slow you down. Be who you are. If you are not hyper-conservative or issue focused, don’t go to those churches. You will probably lose their support eventually anyway. Be who you are and don’t go to those churches you know will take issue with some of your stances.

Also, be sure your sending church shares your ministry philosophy. If it doesn’t, it will hinder your missions efforts.

2- They Talk Only About Themselves.

Once you gain an opportunity to actually talk to a pastor, the temptation is to give him as much information about your ministry as possible. I understand. You have made 75 phone calls and no one has taken the time to listen to anything you have to say — no one cares about your ministry. Finally, a pastor will talk to you. Resist the urge to flood him with info. Take a minute to ask about his ministry. Ask how you can pray for them. Trust me, the pastor will take notice.

3- They Are Drama-Queens.

You don’t have to manipulate a pastor into supporting you. In fact, attempting that will probably backfire. Using the dangers of your field as a tool will get you nowhere. Constantly highlighting the potential struggles as a means of drawing some emotion-based response is futile. It’s not that we don’t care; we do. It’s that we don’t want you to attempt to use potential dangers or struggles as a fund-raising tool. We don’t want to be manipulated. And most pastors realize when that is happening.

We know your life is hard, we know missions is a challenge, we know you have needs, we know there will be struggles, but lose the drama.

4- They Are Lazy.

Some missionaries struggle to raise support because they are lazy. They are unwilling to do the work. This may sound harsh, but if you are not willing to put 40 hours a week into getting to the missions field, I doubt you will put 40 hours a week in when you are on the missions field.

Also, don’t confuse preparing materials for deputation with deputation. Some missionaries spend far more time creating videos then they do contacting pastors. I know technology is important. Do it and do it well, but don’t let the tail wag the dog.

5- They Are Unwise with Social Media.

Social media can be a great tool. But if you are unwise in how you use it, it will cost you support. Pastors will look you up on Facebook, Twitter, or on any other social media platform available. They will form an opinion of you from what they see. If you are constantly complaining, talking politics, or sharing crude jokes or stories, pastors will stay away.

I’m not saying not to use social media; I think you should. Just be smart.

6- They Criticize Pastors and Churches to Other Pastors.

It is amazing how missionaries I barely know will criticize other pastors and churches to me. Even if I agree with the point you are making this is a turnoff. Reserve those conversations for your pastor or a  close friend, not a potential supporting pastor you barely know.

7- They Have No Vision — or Cannot Communicate it Effectively.

The missionary who cannot communicate his or her vision in under 3 minutes will struggle. I know that communicating the details of your vision may take more time. But you typically are not going to have more time in your first conversation. Spend time refining your vision. Practice communicating it.

I can’t catch your vision if you cannot communicate your vision. And I am probably not going to stay on the phone with you for 2 hours while you try. And I am definitely not going to have you come to our church and allow you to lead them on rabbit trails either.

By the way, simply saying that “I am going to a country to win people to Christ” is not a vision.

8- A Lack of Consideration.

I have been in churches where a pastor has given a missionary 5-10 minutes to present their ministry to the church. 30 minutes later the missionary is still going strong.

As one pastor said, “If you can’t tell time, I can’t count money.”

Be considerate of the pastor’s time.

9- They Are a Salesman.

Salesmen typically talk too much. They don’t know when to back off. They are always over the top. They are pushy. They always have something to add. They think they are always right and always know best. When a pastor receives a call from this person, they are usually not going to be interested.

Don’t confuse salesmanship for passion and energy. There is a difference.

10- They Are a Robot.

Out of the over 200 missionaries that contacted me last year, 90% sounded the same, had the same pitch line, and left the same voicemail. Honestly, many of them were boring, mundane, and forgettable. I’m not suggesting that you be over the top, but please be yourself.

I am sure there are other hindrances to support-raising, but these are a few that seem to plague many missionaries.

Are there any you would add?

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