Unfinished Books, Unframed Pictures, and Eternity

This is a guest post by Jesse Campbell.  He is the Student Pastor at Heritage Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida and is the Director of Percussion at Tate High School.

I am a jumbled mess of the right idea and good intentions. This is probably way too much information, but the counter next to my favorite toilet is piled high with open books; each stacked precariously on another so as to keep my places in each of them simultaneously.

One is the memoirs of a Marine Lieutenant, another a dissertation on quantum physics that I don’t really understand, another John Eldridge’s latest attempt to stretch yet another book out of the same idea that spawned Waking the Dead, another Lee Strobel’s incredible The Case for Christ, and the miserably wrinkled bottom of the stack is a registry guide distributed by Wal-Mart to parents to be. How do they know when you’re about to have a baby and do we really need two Pack & Plays? In our foyer hang sepia tone pictures of complete strangers. A few rooms over, in my garage, sit dusty boxes with ready-to-assemble shelving systems and three surfboard racks that have yet to make it onto the walls. My house has quite a few half-finished projects. So did my mind until recently.

Even highly organized people will embark on a project of some sort, only to be diverted by…well, life. The unfinished projects in my head remained so for similar reasons. I never truly nailed down my stance on the whole Calvinism (the philosophy that God predetermines who will be saved) issue until this year. I carried unanswered questions regarding God’s perspective on the dimension of time through three years of vocational ministry. I couldn’t really answer the tough questions about God’s perspective on man’s prayers until I was married (which is funny because marriage is the kind of thing you pray about A LOT). Now, it’s not as though these questions were unimportant to me. Like my partially assembled garage door opener, I knew they were of great significance to my everyday life. But, the resolution of some tough questions was interrupted by my need to compose the music for Tate Drumline’s show or pull together the final details for our ski trip. This may sound extreme, but this kind of distraction is the work of Satan in our lives. It’s not that these distractions are inherently evil in and of themselves. Rather, it’s that they are not as important as the big questions in our lives.

How did the universe come to exist from absolute void? Where do you stand with God? Is Hell a real place? Do the rebuttals to the theory of evolution hold water? If so, what does that mean for you? Why do bad things happen to good people? With all the religions of the world holding claims to the truth, how do you know which one is true? These are examples of unfinished projects that even brilliant and highly educated people will carry around in their minds for decades.

Work out the unfinished projects because your soul may hang in the balance. Take the time to put these questions on the front burner and have the objectivity to follow the evidence wherever it takes you. Letting them slip into the obscurity that life can bring could be catastrophic. One wrong turn nullifies every turn that follows it and we’re not guaranteed tomorrow. So, go back and investigate as if your eternity in Heaven, Hell, or existential void depended on it because it does. Consider the risk you take by never fully resolving these issues or never giving them a fair chance in your heart. Is adherence to atheism (the belief that nothing spiritual exists) worth the risk of being wrong? Don’t take the easy way out and put a quick fix on a paradigmatic life issue. That’s like duct taping the garage door opener to the ceiling, buying the first set of tires you see, or drilling into a wall and just hoping you hit a stud…not that I’ve done one of those things. I’ve spoken with hundreds of atheists who base their beliefs about God on false assumptions or lies about Christianity. They think that science and Christianity are mutually exclusive and some have never even heard of the field of study called “apologetics.” They cite the writings of biased and bitter “former Christians” who do not personally take the very risk they so vehemently endorse. I’ve spoken with many agnostics who, by their own admission, have simply never taken the time to adequately ponder or investigate God’s existence. With these examples in mind, does my theory about Satan’s sabotage sound a little less crazy? If there is an enemy to God, then isn’t it in his best interest to keep people distracted from the big issues like Jesus and what you truly believe about Him?

I know that, if you were to really and truly put these questions on the front burner and commit to objectively follow the evidence to wherever it takes you even if that means dramatically changing your stance on something, you’d investigate your way to Jesus. Jesus said in John 14:6 that He is the way, the truth, and the life and that no one can come to God except through Him.

It all comes down to what you believe about Jesus. Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. Would you put aside the less important things in your life to make this Jesus guy and your beliefs pertaining to Him a priority? Heaven is a real place. So is Hell. Jesus loves you and that’s eternally more important and worthy of contemplation than is the plot of the aptly titled show “LOST.”

A Hill on Which to Die

I still remember it like it was yesterday.  I was at the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans a few years ago.  A good friend of mine (who was more excited about the conservative resurgence than I was) had convinced me to tag along and soak in the atmosphere.  He had a contact with Judge Pressler and several others in the movement and we were invited to sit in and hear about the lives of these men, the battles they had fought, and absorb the atmosphere.

To be honest, I went for the bookstore.  The Alabama Baptist Convention used to have a fantastic bookstore at each of its meetings with great deals on books.  I was hoping for some of the same kind of interaction on national level.  However, I was quickly disappointed to learn it was just a Lifeway store set out on tables.

The Highlight of the trip came however when we had the opportunity to tag along on a trip with Judge Pressler to Cafe Dumonde.  We sat in on the conversation, asked our best questions, bought Cafe Dumonde mugs (to remember the occasion) and consumed beignets and hot chocolate.

We were blessed to be able to interact with Judge Pressler that night and throughout the convention.  I was amazed at the character and grace of a man who was both very loving and very kind to most everyone he encountered.  He talked with grace about the years of the conservative resurgence and I was surprised to later hear all the things he was accused of saying or doing.  Quite simply the accusations didn’t line up with the man I had met.

His book A Hill on Which to Die: One Southern Baptist’s Journey is his side of the story concerning the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention.  It is a very straightforward, orderly account of his life, the issues that lead to the resurgence, and the account of how things took place.  It is a great book for anyone looking to hear the conservative side of the resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention.  I give it 5 stars.

I picked up my copy several years ago when Pressler came to speak at UM and I got a copy autographed.  Recently I had the opportunity to pick it up again and actually read it.  I wish I had read it much sooner.

7 Steps of a Unified Group

My aim in writing this post is to point you in the right direction on unity.  Most often the discussion on unity is centered on how a group of people are not unified and how they should be.  The problem with this kind of discussion is that it tends to lead the group to become even more fractured as those discussing the issue of unity become frustrated with the behaviors of others (all the while missing thier own missbehavior along the way).  Supporting the following seven steps is one underlying principle: We find unity in common purpose.  For the Christian and hence the church (youth group, etc.) unity is found in Glorifying God through Jesus Christ.

Puzzling

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!– assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

(Ephesians 4:15-32 ESV)

Step One: Speak the Truth (In Love)

In Ephesians 4:15 and again in verse 25 we are told to “Speak the Truth.”  Truth speaking should always come from a heart of  love and a desire to grow and see others grow in the likeness of Christ (Ephesians 4:15).  We are not to be deceptive.  We are not to lie, manipulate or pretend in front of others about what is going on in our lives.  Speaking the truth about our selves makes us vulnerable and accountable for the sake of the larger vision (seeing more of Jesus in our lives).  Speaking the truth to others shows genuine concern and accountability.

Step Two: Be Angry, but don’t sin

People are not perfect and the truth is that sometimes you will get angry with others.  Anger is a natural emotion.  However, many people use anger as an excuse to sin against others. They justify small and petty acts of retalliation like gossiping about someone, being mean or hostile to people, or defriending them.  However, these expressons of anger rarely solve the problem, they usually create more problems like bitterness, division, and hatred.  A better expression of anger is to address the issue that has stired the anger (in an non-sinful way).

We are  told to not to let anger go beyond a day (Ephesians 4:26).  Letting anger grow and fester becomes a foothold for the devil to create more issues in our life and keep us side tracked from the greater vision of Glorifying God.  If you find yourself handeling your anger in the wrong way you need to repent and ask God for healthier ways to evaluate and express your anger.  Don’t let anger cause you to lose focus.

Step Three: Be Generous…Work to Share with Others

Ephesians 4:28 reminds us that we are not to steal, but rather work hard so we will have something to share with everyone else.  Too often people come looking for what they can get, rather than what they can give.  In nature parasites are identified as creatures that take from thier host, but never offer anything in return.  If we all come to the group as parasites looking for what we can get, but never offering to others we have missed the point of growing in Christ likeness.  We are to work hard to so we have something to offer everyone else who is there.  You will find the more you serve and meet the needs of others, the more your needs are met.

Step Four: Watch what you Say

Paul says in Ephesians 4:29-30 that we should guard out mouths.  You do not glorify God by using your words to teardown, belittle, and destroy the efforts of others.  You grieve the Holy Spirit of God when your words are designed to tear down.  You may have a different preference than others on certain side issues, but you do not have  to verbally assault everyone who holds a different opinion than you.  When you talk about or too your group it should be to build it up, not to tear it down.  (By the way, this includes talking about all those people who are “in the way” of your group being unified).

Step Five: Put Away Bitterness

Bitterness is a disease that is rampant in our churches and congregations today.  Bitterness happens when you disagree with someone (rightly or wrongly) and you hold  a grudge.  The grudge grows and festers to effect the way you see that person.  What started out as a small dissagreement between two people is all the sudden blown up into a larger scale drama where the person you are holding a grudge against can’t do anything right (in your eyes).  Bitterness causes us to lose focus on Glorifying God and growing in Christlikeness and focus on small and petty disputes.

Step Six: Be Kind

The goal of a group is to work to gether to glorify God.  Kindness goes a long way in helping others to feel accepted, invited, and part of the project.  Kindness can disarm the wepons of the enemy.  Deal with others kindly (they way you would want to be treated).  When you deal withpeople who are not  on task with the goals or mission of the group treat them kindly.

Step Seven: Forgive

This is probably the hardest step to take.  If you have been wronged it can be difficult to forgive a person for what they have done.  I’ve written more on forgiveness here.

Forgiveness

The idea of forgiveness can be a hard one to handle.  It is not always easy to forgive or even to ask for forgiveness.  Sometimes it seems like it is easier to harbor a grudge or exact our revenge than to forgive.  However, forgiveness is not just an option but it is a mandate for the Christian life.  We are told repeatedly in the New Testament that we are to forgive others as we have been forgiven in Christ.

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned...

Peter once asked Jesus just how often he was supposed to forgive his brother.  He thought he was being generous when he asked, “Up to seven times?”  Can you imagine his shock when Jesus replied, “up to seventy times seven.”  Then Jesus told this parable.

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”  (Matthew 18:23-35 ESV)

The point of this parable was to show the heart of God in forgiveness.  God does not forgive grudgingly because He is obligated.  He gives it freely!  Our God is a benevolent God!  He lavishes His grace and mercy upon the most unworthy people.  Just as the master did not owe his servant forgiveness of the debt, but had compassion and forgave the debt anyway, so God forgives us our debt of sin through Christ.

But when we are recipients of such extravagant forgiveness we are supposed to live with the memory of that forgiveness and let if affect the way we deal with others.  This servant got it all wrong when he saw the extravagant grace the master was capable of, yet still forced his fellow servant into prison to pay up.  When you receive abundant mercy you are to show abundant mercy.

In the same way there was another time that Jesus told a story of extravagant grace to teach us about forgiveness.  Do you remember the story about the lost son found in Luke 15?  A young man goes to his father and asks for his inheritance and leaves home.  Once he has been away for a while and has spent all his money he finds himself feeding pigs and even eating their slop just to get by.  He remembers his father’s house and how well the servants there have it and he determines to go home, not looking for forgiveness, just a place to work so he can be clean and eat a good meal.  But when the father sees him in the distance, he runs to the boy and orders a feast in his honor.  We understand the father in that parable to be God and the lost son to be a repentant sinner.  The boy had taken his inheritance and gone.  He did not deserve a feast.  He did not deserve a warm embrace.  He did not deserve his father’s forgiveness.   Yet, when he topped that hillside and the father saw his form in the distance … he ran!  When a repentant sinner comes to God, God is always quick to forgive.  He lavishes his grace upon us when we do not deserve anything from his hand.

The character of God is marked with the ability to forgive great debts and likewise the character of a Christian is marked with the ability to forgive and seek forgiveness.  Paul admonishes the Colossian believers in Colossians 3:13b, “even as Christ forgave you, so you must do.”  He also told the Ephesians in Ephesians 4:32, “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”  Each time the appeal for forgiveness is based on the character of God to forgive us.  We should forgive others, because we have been forgiven a greater debt.  In forgiving others we are displaying the character of Christ!  We are called to a lifestyle of extravagant grace.

We are to be like God in our forgiving.  This is tough stuff.  It is not really easy.  I wish it were.  The thing that enables us to forgive is not found with in us, it is rooted in the character of God!  I am free to forgive others debts against me because I have been forgiven my debt.

My Story: A Trial that Proves a Faulty Faith (Part 2)

flickrcom-photos-flakstad-2681169006When I was 14 years old my life took a sudden and unexpected turn.  My family had moved from Montana to North Alabama.  My father now only worked one job being a full time pastor.  We were settled into the school system and began  enjoying life in the south.

Then I came home one day to find out that my dad had had a stroke and was in the hospital.  We visited him over the following weeks.  Many times I chose not to go because I didn’t want to see my father in such a helpless position.   He began the road to recovery only to be asked for his resignation a few months later.

At the time I blamed myself.  Around the same time he had taken me out arrowhead hunting one afternoon and he ended up being late to an important meeting.  I internalized what I perceived as the attack on my father as being my fault.

A Different Kind of Suffering

In the times past all the suffering that we had endured seemed impersonal.  My parents had seen two miscarriages.  We almost lost my mom and brother when he was born.  We were poor and trusted God to meet our needs. Yet, now I was faced with what appeared to be a very personal and direct attack on all that I understood to be right in the world.

There is no greater insult to a young man than to defame his father in front of him.  I chose to reject God and the church.  I hated God and rebelled against him in all that I knew to do. I did not know it, but my faith was being tested to prove I was not all that I thought I was (I Peter 1:6-7, II Corinthians 13:5).  I had been riding the coattails of my parents faith, but there comes a time when each person must trust Christ on their own (Ezekiel 18:21-32).

My Rebellion

I had a friend who would drink and so I asked to be included the next time he went out.  I began getting drunk on a regular basis.  I was mad at God for letting my dad get fired and I was mad at the church for being so full of hypocrites.

For a time we  would hang out in my parents back yard getting drunk in a cabin on the river.  We didn’t have a great way to dispose of the alcohol containers (I’m sure my dad would have noticed them in the trash can), so we cut a hole in the bottom of the cabin floor and stuffed all the empty containers in the hole.  Eventually there was no more room to hid the beer cans and vodka bottles.  My dad found out we were drinking and we had a “come to Jesus” meeting.

I hated disappointing my dad and knew a great way to get out of some of the trouble I was in was to “repent” of my sin.  I was genuinely sorry for what I had done, but mostly I was just ashamed that I had gotten caught  (I Corinthians 2:10). I set about to hide my shame by building a reputation of good works.

At age 18 I became a student minister.  I thought that if I was just good enough, God would be pleased with me.   I was wrong (Ephesians 2:8-9). I thought I could earn God’s favor, but its a gift that has to be given.

It would be years before I would really discover what a relationship with God was really all about.

Want to know more about the Christian message and how to become a Christ follower?  Click the link below.  Be sure to follow it to the end that is where the truly good news is shared.

Way of  the Master

3 things you should know before you judge your friends

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.  (Matthew 7:1-6 ESV)


1. You will be Judged by the Same Standard you use with others (7:2)

It is easier to apply a stricter set of rules and regulations to others that it is to ourselves sometimes.  We see others faults much more clearly than our own.  We can be pretty harsh critics and most of us can be pretty good at fault-finding.  Think about this though, we should be expected to be judged for our faults to the same degree that we judge others.  I don’t know about you, but this makes me back off the need to be a harsh critic sometimes.

2. Sometimes the sin you see the most in others is the same sin you struggle with (7:4).

Ever notice how both the speck and the log were in the eye.  It’s easy to call out people who have sin in the same areas that we struggle.  This past week I have heard so many people condemn a girl about getting pregnant outside of marriage (don’t get me wrong… sex outside of marriage is a sin).  Though she is repentant she will feel shame for a while, her sin has become obvious to the world and is no longer private.  However, some of the people who seemed to take a perverse pleasure in her dilemma had requested help earlier for their struggle with pornography.  It’s easy to see in others the sin we struggle with.

3. It is difficult to do the right thing with the right motives (7:5).

It might be the right thing to lovingly confront a brother about his sin.  ( I would want to be confronted about mine.) However it can be difficult to do it in a way that glorifies God and does not promote your own ego.

.  .  .  .  .  .  .

People try to be righteous (right before God) in three different ways.

  1. Some try to do as much good as they can hoping God will overlook the bad things they have done.
  2. Some point out the flaws of others around them and say that since they are not as bad as others they must be okay.
  3. Some come to God knowing that there is nothing that they can do on their own and so they humbly trust in what Jesus Christ has done for them to save them.

The first group points to their deeds, the second points to their lack of bad deeds, the third points to Jesus Christ as a their source of Righteousness. Which group do you think is actually right before God?


When Church People do Bad Things

from-flikerSo here is the deal.  Most Wednesdays I teach and part of our strategy of discipleship is reteaching.  Which means that we challenge our students to take what they learn on a Wednesday and introduce it into conversation or get two or three of their friends together for a small groups Bible study using the Revelation Application Guide as teaching guide (its something we are working on and not a finished product).  So what better way to readdress the issues we discuss than to put up a blog post on Thursdays that highlights what we have learned on Wednesdays?

When Church People do Bad Things

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.  But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” – Matthew 18:15-17

It’s Not about You

One of the best things that can ever happen is for a believer to truly understand that it is not about being offended or hurt, but about individual relationships with God and each other.  Many times we are too easily offended because we love ourselves too much.  Self-love is not what should motivate us to seek out a right relationship with our brother in Christ, it is God-love.

For this reason it is important that that offended party (or the one who witnessed the brother in sin) go to him.  You should not wait for an apology before you attempt to reconcile with a Christian brother.  This models the way that Christ has come to us (Romans 5:8).

You Should Go Alone

It is not about you when someone has sinned against you.  It is about their relationship with God.  You should approach them about their offense in private in a way that makes much of God and minimizes your pride.  You should not use the world of social media (Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, etc…) to defame the person who has offended you.  You should seek to reconcile things in the peaceful quiet of a one on one conversation.

The Goal is Restoration

The aim is to gently and persuasively pull your brother back into right relationship with Jesus Christ and others.    The gospel is preached and the drama of redemption is played out when we lovingly confront our brother’s sin for the purpose of restoration.  Real love does not allow sin to go unchecked but holds others accountable for the purpose of godliness.

I love my daughter and because I do I will prevent her from doing things that will cause her great harm and pain.  It is love to restrain and compel my three year old daughter that playing with knives is wrong.  It is hate to let her contently play with knives to the point that she causes serious harm to herself or others.  In the same way love compels us to reach out to our brother in sin and bring him back into the fold (Matthew 18:12-14).

. . . . . . .

Obviously there is a lot more to this passage that I have time for here.  We can pick up the debate about the later stages of this process later, but in the meantime check out some of the following passages that address this issue.

  • Matthew 7:1-7
  • Galatians 6:1-2
  • Romans 12:19