Monday, March 30, 2009

"Been There, Done That" with Church?

Craig Groeschel is the senior pastor at, one of the most innovative churches in America that not only has one church on multiple campuses but some of those campuses are in other states.

Craig remembers talking with a guy on a plane about God. Craig asked him if he went to church and the guy replied that he wasn’t interested “Because I’ve already been and nothing happened.”

Craig later reflected, “Maybe he went to a ‘safe’ church. In a safe church—

The message makes you feel better.
You’re never confronted about your sin.
No one rocks the boat.
You don’t have to change.
You may never truly encounter our Holy and Life-giving God.

Reading the New Testament one finds the church filled with people who possess a dangerous faith. Though a church environment should be welcoming, the message should remain dangerous.

We’re called to leave everything to follow Christ.
We’re invited to believe God for the impossible.
We’re told to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
We’re told that to find our life we have to lose it first.

What’s church like for you? Do you primarily look for comfort or challenge? Is the worship gathering easy to miss or “can’t miss” because you encounter the presence of God? Do you yawn or yearn for the voice of God, touch of God and mission of God?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

March Madness and What's Really Important

First I smiled, then I shook my head and then I thought, “I’ve got to blog about this.”

Billie Gillispie is the head coach of the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team. For those that don’t care about college basketball, UK is one of the greatest programs in the history of the sport. Needless to say expectations are always very high that UK will contend for a national championship in the NCAA tournament.

Coach Gillispie was hired two years ago to return UK to its former glory and to get a championship. This year the Wildcats didn’t qualify for the NCAA tournament. As a consolation they were invited to play in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT). Wednesday night UK lost to Notre Dame and was eliminated.

Speculation about whether Gillispie would be fired became the immediate buzz. A story on reported the story as follows—

Asked about how he feels about all the judgment he’s facing after posting a 40-27 record in two seasons at Kentucky, Gillispie said, ‘There’s only one judgment I’ll ever be concerned about, and I hope I pass that judgment. That’s the only one I’ll ever be concerned about, and I’m really proud that that’s the only judgment that will ever have a real effect upon me, and I hope I pass that one with flying colors.’

Gillispie declined to answer when asked whose judgment he was referring to, saying it was obvious, apparently referring to Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart.

Puuleeeezzzzeeee. I love March Madness and the NCAA tournament. But the ESPN story moved from madness to craziness when it failed to “get it” that Gillispie was referring to life’s final judgment that one receives from God. I guess Billie’s statement wasn’t obvious to all.

There are many things that are more important than the wrath of an athletic director or the loss of a job. The issues of eternal life, forgiveness of sin and passing the judgment of God certainly qualify.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Is God Good...Even In Bad Circumstances?

What were you doing in 1984? What was life like? How many millions of life experiences have taken place for you since then? What if those 24 years were erased and replaced with confinement in a jail cell?

That’s the story of Darryl Burton. In 1984 he was wrongly accused and convicted of killing a man and was sentenced to 50 years in a Missouri maximum security prison. You can read more about it here and here. There’s an audio and slide presentation here.

Burton knew that he was innocent and through the years he literally wrote hundreds of letters to officials and government leaders asking for help and pleading his case. Then one day Burton decided to write a letter to God. Not even believing in God at the time, Burton wrote, “You know I’m innocent. Help me get out of this place, and I’ll tell the world about You.” Burton said that God came through and now he’s holding up his end of the bargain. Burton has visited colleges, radio stations, churches and the Missouri capital to tell his story.

Burton got acquainted with Jesus by reading the Bible. More specifically, Burton studied a so-called “red-letter edition”, which puts all of the words of Jesus in red. Burton said he just wanted to know who Jesus was and what Jesus said so he read the red verses and passages.

Burton believed and became a follower of Jesus and testified that soon the power of Christ came upon him so that he could forgive the prosecutor who paid lying informants in order to convict him. He also testified that the peace of God which is sometimes incomprehensible rested upon him.

I’m grateful for Burton’s awakening to Christ and for his exoneration. To hear how Christ came through for Burton and today sustains Burton even though he has no employment, no car, no money, etc., blesses and inspires me. But it also raises the question about the goodness of God.

We can look at the recent months of peace, provision and deliverance from injustice and say, “God is good.” But what about when Darryl Burton was being falsely accused, convicted by lies and robbed of 24 years of life in the free world?

God was good then also. We can conclude that God is good all the time because God’s goodness is not dependent upon how well life’s circumstances are experienced.

Good is qualified by its relationship to purpose. A good pen is one that writes well. But if I try to use that same pen as a scalpel in surgery it will be bad because it is not made to surgically cut open human flesh. A pen is made to write.

If we think of God like a genie who exists to make our lives easier or to fix our problems or to protect us from harm or injustice, we will have to conclude at times that God is bad because life is hard, problematic and full of unjust hurts.

But God doesn’t exist for us and the manipulation of our circumstances. God exists for Himself. To say that God exists for Himself is not to say that God is selfishly self-centered or egotistical. Rather it is the height of wisdom and love for God to exist for Himself.

If God is the most important and necessary Person in the universe, and if God is absolutely needed so that all of creation exists and is sustained, then the most important thing that can happen for any of us is for God to be God for God’s sake.

So, back to the particular circumstances of Darryl Burton, if the most important thing that could ever happen for Burton was that he would unjustly go to jail and in that dark place come to discover the wondrous light of God and receive eternal life through Christ, then God was good when Burton was arrested and God was good when Burton was released.

God is good in my health and sickness, in my wealth and poverty, in my connectedness and loneliness and in my joy and sorrow. The apostle Paul discovered this and declared that he “gloried” in his weaknesses (sorrows, pains, disappointments, injustices) because in such broken times he saw how sufficient God is (see 1 Corinthians 12). Paul declared that he had experienced it all and had learned to live in God’s peace and be content in every circumstance (see Philippians 4).

God is good…even in bad circumstances.

Friday, March 20, 2009

God Will Provide...Unless

Several years ago I felt impressed by God to plant a church. As the launch date approached I was praying one day and asked God, “What should be the name of this church?” Immediately God brought to my mind the 23rd Psalm which in part says that the Lord is my Shepherd and He leads me to green pastures and quiet waters. I began to reflect on those opening verses and green pastures became “meadows” and waters became “brooks” and thus the name of the church, Meadowbrook. In my very next thought (word from God) it occurred to me, “as a shepherd provides for his sheep, Meadowbrook will be a place where God provides.”

For 19 years Meadowbrook has been “a place where God provides”. I’ve been privileged to see a lot of God’s activity and miracles.

With that background you can see why the March 13 Wall Street Journal article, “God Will Provide—Unless the Government Gets There First” grabbed my attention.

Bradford Wilcox, professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, declares that secularism seems to be on the march in America. Citing the Trinity College study that I posted about March 9, Wilcox highlights a recent study of 33 countries that found an inverse relationship between religious observance and welfare spending. Countries with larger welfare states, such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark, had markedly lower levels of religious attendance and trust in God than countries with a history of limited government, such as the US, the Philippines and Brazil.

“For many centuries, average citizens and local communities have often relied upon the support of religious organizations to meet their various social needs, including assistance for the poor, counseling in times of crisis and education for the young,” says Anthony Gill from the University of Washington. “But as the welfare state has expanded, many people have found that they can get these same services from government without having to give a time commitment to the local church.”

The current government revolution of cradle-to-career education and cradle-to-grave health care would reduce the odds that Americans would turn to their local religious congregations and fellow believers for economic, social, emotional, and spiritual aid.

Obviously practical services and support are not the only reasons that people have turned to churches. Many are motivated by a need or desire to have a personal connection with God. Nevertheless, Dr. Wilcox’s article raises concern that increased numbers of Americans in the near future may not approach closeness to God or to a community of faith through the “door of practical need” and thereby miss experiencing “God as Shepherd” who provides for His people.

Our greatest need is for personal relationship with God. Our lesser needs have often helped us to see our greatest need. It appears that increased government programs will bring increased challenge to the church in getting our message out that “God will provide”.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Cindy Winters and Christ's Power

Sunday morning, March 8, Pastor Fred Winters was shot and killed while delivering his sermon to his congregation. First Baptist Church of Maryville, Illinois, near St. Louis, was gathered for worship when 27 year-old Terry Sedlacek walked down the aisle firing a .45 caliber pistol. At this writing the motive for the shooting is unknown and apparently no one in the church knew Sedlacek personally.

CBS Morning News recently interviewed Rev. Winters wife, Cindy, who apparently feels forgiveness for her husband’s killer and compassion for Sedlacek’s parents. She credits the power of Christ for empowering her heart with forgiveness and compassion.

Watch CBS Videos Online

I believe in the power of Christ to comfort and to forgive. However, in the first couple of minutes of Cindy’s interview I was concerned about how much reality had really hit her heart. By the end of the interview it was clear to me that not only was Cindy in touch with reality but that God was also empowering her to be an inspiring example of the difference it makes to have a personal relationship with Jesus.

I don’t know the Winters family or anyone in their church but there is deep love in my heart for them. I pray for Christ to continue to be glorified in this story and for His healing touch in their hearts in the months to come.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

For Many It Is a Time of Loss

This morning I heard a high school senior speak of the loss of his dad to brain cancer. Later I spoke with a middle aged man about the loss of his once lucrative job. Last week I spoke with a man who lost his family because of an addiction. I received an email from a woman who has lost her health to an incurable disease. Another friend has lost job, income, home and security because of an accident.

If you’ve been following the story of Ponzi scammer Bernard Madoff then you may have had your jaw drop as I did when I learned that one of the investors that Madoff ripped off was Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel who is reported to have lost $22 million of his personal funds and $15 million of his charity’s fund. Once poor, Wiesel had become rich. Now he is no longer rich.

As I often do when I hear of loss I question, “How would I handle it if I had that loss?” When reading of Wiesel’s loss I immediately thought, “I’d be okay as long as I had Jesus in my life.”

Once again without particularly intending to I revealed to myself the true Treasure of my life; relationship with Jesus Christ.

Do the same reflection. What if you lost your spouse, child, health, or wealth? It would hurt. It would break your heart. It would perhaps take your breath away and demand tremendous life change. But, with God’s help we can not only survive but meaningfully move through any of life’s losses. I use the word “meaningful” because one of the promises of knowing and following Christ is that He will never waste a loss or sorrow that we experience. Somehow and some way Christ can take our losses and pain and use it for good, to make a difference for someone else.

That’s something to ponder in a day when loss is all around us.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Why the Increase in "No Religion"?

According to a study by Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. that sampled over 54,000 people, adults in the United States are less Christian and less religious.

Fifteen percent of respondents said that they had no religion, an increase from 14.2% in 2001 and 8.2% in 1990. Other indicators were 30% of married couples did not have a religious wedding ceremony and 27% said that they don’t want a religious funeral. About 12% said that they believe in a higher power but not in a personal God espoused by monotheistic faiths.

Apparently religious populations have also shifted. Catholics from the Northeast have migrated in significant numbers to the Southwest. Now the Northeast is the least religious part of the US, surpassing the Northwest. In Vermont 34% claimed “no religion” which is a greater percentage than any one religious group in the state.

Growth in the number of Muslims reached .06% of the US population and growth in the number of Buddhists slowed. The number of Christians in the US was 76% compared to 77% in 2001.


I can’t speak for other faiths. However, I may have some insight regarding Christianity. I believe there are significant numbers of those who bear the name “Christian” who don’t truly have a living connection with God through Christ. What difference does that make? According to Jesus, His plan for carrying out His mission of connecting men and women to the living God was through the contagion of His followers (see Matthew 5:13,14; John 20:21; Acts 1:8).

In other words, if I don’t have the flu, most likely you are not going to get the flu from me. Evangelism has become such a distasteful experience for everyone involved because it has become a packaged program that seeks to “sell” people on Christianity. The word means bearer of good news. If a religious person tries to sell a non-religious person on his brand of faith that is not true evangelism. That’s proselytizing or making converts to your way of thinking and living. That truly is not what following Jesus is about.

For hundreds of years sharing the good news about Jesus has been described as one hungry beggar who found bread, telling another hungry beggar where to find bread. I found life, sustenance, healing, direction, forgiveness and most of all, relationship with a Holy God through my faith in Jesus. It IS my greatest treasure in life. For me to tell you about the great treasure is loving of me. For me not to tell you of the treasure is selfish and unloving.

I have no problem with those that want to be non-religious or followers of other religions. That’s the freedom of being an American. I respect and acknowledge that right. However, I find it tragic that many may never have a good glimpse of Jesus and what it means to follow Him because they’ve yet to be around a person that has the “real deal”.