pecaspers: a Blog in transition

April 19, 2014

Gardens, Trees, Falling, and Rising

Filed under: Ministry,My Life in General,Tallassee Tribune drafts — pecaspers @ 9:10 PM

[The following was submitted to The Tallassee Tribune as a contributed article from the Tallassee Ministerial Alliance. An edited version will appear in the April 22 edition of the paper.]

In Genesis 3, the story of the fall of man is told. It’s the history of how the first man and woman broke God’s single, simple command and the curses that came to all creation because of their rebellion. It’s a story that takes place in a garden, involves a tree, and ends with people leaving a place they should have stayed. As a result of our first parents’ disobedience, shame and fear caused them to feebly attempt to hide their nakedness and hide from God. This original sin which we are all heirs to brought separation between humanity and God.

In the aftermath, God gives both curses and blessings. The earth is cursed with thistles and thorns, making man’s work a struggle against the land. Man must now sweat for his bread. The man and all his kind will die and be buried, returning to the earth from which he was made. The woman will now suffer great pain in childbearing, and she will be under the stress of filling a role of submission with a heart-desire to rule over her husband. The man and woman must also leave the garden behind.

The serpent was cursed too, but a promise of future blessing came with its curse. God said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel,” (Genesis 3:15, ESV). This is what Biblical scholars call the proto-evangelion, the first-gospel. Here, so close to the beginning, we are given the promise that a man would come, the offspring of a woman, who would destroy the serpent though he would also be struck himself. Throughout the Old Testament, the details about this promised one are sketched out in types, shadows, forerunners, and foretellings–individuals and events that pointed to the One who would overcome the power of sin and death.

God blessed the man and woman he had created to bear His image by not destroying them outright as their sin deserved. They certainly died spiritually that day, but God mercifully spared their physical lives for it still pleased Him to work His good plan through them. God also clothed them; He made adequate coverings for their bodies from the skins of animals. Again this points to the way of things with God, blood was shed to cover man’s sin.

And so we come to the celebration of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, or Easter as it’s popularly called. Jesus was a man born of, in earthly terms, only a woman; he was outside the line of inheritance for Adam’s sin yet still the offspring of woman. The ancient serpent Satan struck him a mighty blow, it seemed at first. In a garden, this man who was the “bread of life” sweat drops of blood in anguish as he struggled in prayer over the things only He knew were about to come. This son of woman willingly submitted himself to the hands of ungodly rulers to endure pain greater than childbirth. Jesus, blameless as He was, took a punishment he did not deserve and forgave those who tortured and killed Him. He wore a crown of thorns on His righteous head, thorns which grew from the ground He had cursed because of sin. His clothes were striped from him; much of his own skin was stripped from him, too. He was shamefully hung naked on a cross, on a tree re-shaped for one cruel purpose. He died on that tree, and his lifeless body was taken down and placed in a tomb.

And in all this, he undid the curse. We began in a garden, and Jesus’ tomb was in another garden. A tomb is where a dead person is supposed to stay, but Jesus left His garden tomb behind. The great great turn around of history had begun. What looked like the end turned out to be a set up for a new beginning.

Because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we who are naturally born sinful sons and daughters of Adam and Eve can be supernaturally reborn sons and daughters of God. Because Jesus overcame death and the grave, we can know that death is not our end but have hope for the coming resurrection to eternal life. Because Jesus lived as one of us and remained sinless, we can hope to sin less and less as we live by the same Holy Spirit that was in Him. Because Jesus bore our guilt and shame on the cross, we have no reason to hide in fear from God, instead we can run to Him as our loving Father who has been anticipating our return.

The cross of Christ undoes the fall of man for all who will have it and all its glorious ramifications. This is what Easter Sunday is about. This is what every Sunday is about. This is what every moment of every day is supposed to be about. Is this what you are about? Let’s be about sharing this message until He comes again.

January 22, 2014

Whiners All

My son is sometimes quite the whiner. The other day he was crying because he wanted to both eat and wear some candy jewelry, which he was already wearing and had permission to eat. Another day he had a full-blown meltdown because I pulled his pants up for him. In fact, that previous sentence could have ended with a hundred different benign actions and would still have been true. Don’t get me wrong; I love my son, and he is awesome most of the time. However, he is like any other three year-old and throws a fit over little things regularly. He has plenty of time to grow out of it.

God could say the same about me. He could tell you of how often I let little things get me down. What kind of little things? It really doesn’t matter. Pain, conflict, fear, difficult circumstances of any sort are all little things in comparison to God and His Kingdom. And that isn’t me making light of whatever troubles you or I might face; it’s me inviting you to step back and get a better perspective on the suffering common to all of us and specific to each of us. This is for all of us because, if you are honest, you have to admit with me that we’re all whiners sometimes.

The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal,” (ESV). We must keep in mind that Paul had seen plenty of affliction that we would naturally categorize as neither light nor momentary. He had already seen plenty of rejection by his own people including being stoned and left for dead. Eventually, he would endure beatings, stoning, shipwrecks, and danger from all sides. However, if you back up in 2 Corinthians 4, you’ll see that Paul endures all (and encourages all Christians to endure all) because the good news is in him and his greatest joy is in getting it out.

God, in His goodness, made a way for sinful people like Paul, me, and you to be brought into a right relationship with Him through the sacrificial death of Jesus–God in human flesh. This is the message Paul suffered to spread so that people would hear it and believe it and turn to God in response to it. Paul looked beyond his present troubles in thanksgiving for those who were receiving salvation by faith in Christ Jesus through his labor; he says as much in the early part of many of his letters. As we progress into 2014 and beyond, I wonder how much more Kingdom impact we would have on those around us if we would complain less and express thankfulness more, focus on our troubles less and consider the gospel more. Let’s find out. What do you say?

[This article was submitted to the Tallassee Tribune on behalf of the Tallassee Ministerial Alliance for the January 21 edition of the paper.]

November 18, 2013

Thanksgiving TMA Article

Filed under: Culture,Ministry,My Life in General,Tallassee Tribune drafts — pecaspers @ 2:38 PM

[This is a draft of my article printed in the Tallassee Tribune on behalf of the Tallassee Ministerial Alliance for the week of November 19, 2013.]

There is this thing called the Internet; maybe you have heard of it. It’s kind of like newspaper, radio, television, video games, shopping malls, bars, and old-time country back porches all rolled into one. On the Internet, there are all sorts of places to post your thoughts. As November began, I started seeing many of my friends, far and near, post things they are thankful for. If you are on the Internet, then you probably noticed this too. In fact, I’m also doing this, but I’m a few days behind at the moment. Anyway, it got me thinking. Who are all these people thankful to?

All the people posting their thanksgivings on various social media platforms aren’t Christians. Likewise, not everyone who will gather with friends and family around a roast turkey (or a deep fried one or a block of tofurkey or whatever) in celebration of our American Thanksgiving holiday is a Christian. Some seem to be thankful to a vague notion of God which isn’t true to His character, and others seem to be thankful to the impersonal universe in general. You can’t really give thanks to a God you don’t know.

I know that when I say I’m thankful for something general–like my church or clean tap water–I mean that I am thankful toward the one true and living God who has revealed Himself through history as recorded in the Bible and through the person and work of Jesus Christ. That God is the one to whom all my thanksgiving is ultimately directed.

Psalm 100 is a great Scripture to consider as we approach Thanksgiving:
“Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the LORD, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.”
(Psalm 100, ESV)

What about you? Who are your thanks toward? Do you know the God who made you? Do you know His steadfast love that He put on display by covering for all you faults, failures, and faithlessness through His sacrificial death on a cross?

Many people are guilty of receiving God’s good gifts and turning to something or someone else to say thank you. Or, perhaps worse, they’re not giving thanks at all.

For my part, I’d like to thank you for taking a moment with me to consider how we ought to give thanks for “Every good gift and every perfect gift…from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change,” (James 1:17). Let’s praise God for who He is. Let’s thank God for what He’s done. And as often as we have opportunity, let’s point people to salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ so that they may join us in thanksgiving to the glory of God.

September 19, 2013

Can You Fix My Heart? – TMA Article Draft

Peter: “Can you fix my heart?”
Me: “Yeah buddy, I can fix it.”
Peter: “Can you really?”
Me: “Yes, I really can.”
Moments later…
Peter: “We did it!”
Me: “Who did it?”
Peter: “You did it!”

That’s a close approximation of an exchange between my son and me from the other day. His side is exact because it was so awesome that I typed into a post draft because I knew I had to write this out to share. As soon as my beloved son said “Can you fix my heart,” I knew there was a sermon illustration in there. However, it just got better and better.

This wasn’t some deep, philosophical request from my almost-three-year-old. My mom had given him a set of tangram magnets. (You know, they’re those sets of simple shapes you use to create larger shapes; you probably played with them in a math class at some point.) He was asking me to put the heart-shaped set back together. When I claimed my ability to fix his heart, he double-checked me. “Can you really?” he asked. He was forgetting two facts: (1)I’m a stinking wiz at tangrams, and (2)I’m the one who put it together the first time.

He stood close to the action as I maneuvered the pieces into position. He “helped” in the sense that as I put the pieces into place he would touch some of them, often sliding them slightly out of position so I had to nudge them back. He tried to claim that “we” did it, but he was honest enough to admit that it was really me who had put the heart back together.

If you don’t see where I’m going with this, then pay attention and get ready to be introduced to the one true and living God, the one who made you.

He throws a party in heaven every time one of us comes to him and says, “Can you fix my heart?” (See Luke 15). But we also often ask, “Can you really?” He is the one who made us in the first place. He is a master at both creation and restoration. It is His joy to take the broken heart we have and give us a new and better one (see Ezekiel 36:26, Jeremiah 17:9, Mark 7:21-23, John 7:38, Hebrews 8:10, etc.). He is also good and tender so that he endures us when we claim, “We did it!” “We” didn’t do it. He did it in us — or can do it in you. You and I cry out for the mending of our messed up hearts, but He does all the fixing. (I’ll leave it to you to discuss and discover how dead people are even able to cry out for new hearts, but that’s beyond the scope of my story.)

The point of it all is that God the Father sent God the Son to live, die, and rise from death so that all who will believe in Him can receive God the Holy Spirit, fixing our hearts and bringing glory to God. You see, God is the ultimate puzzle solver, and He is the one who put you together in the first place. Can you look at your remade heart and shout “You did it!” triumphantly to Him? It all begins with a simple, humble, child-like request to a good Father.

[This is the original draft of my article published in the 9/17/2013 edition of the Tallassee Tribune as the contributed article on behalf of the Tallassee Ministerial Alliance.]

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August 15, 2013

TMA Article Draft – Happy New School Year

[Originally contributed to the Tallassee Tribune as the Tallassee Ministerial Alliance article for the August 13, 2013 edition.]

Let me be one of the first to wish you a happy new year, a new school year that is. Next week the school-age citizens of our area will be returning to the hallowed halls of learning. Along with that return, everyone else’s lives will lock back into a steadier routine. Coworkers won’t be off on vacation, parents won’t be desperate to find daily activities to occupy their offspring, children won’t be out playing in yards throughout the day, teenagers won’t be hanging out until one day fades into the next–for the most part. Whether you have kids or not, the school year affects all of us as surely as a rising tide raises all boats.

The return to school always brings up one question year after year. What did you do with your summer? It’s the title of an essay for every student at some point: “How I Spent My Summer Vacation.” Did you go anywhere? Did you have any adventures? Did you accomplish any goals? Did you read any good books or see any good movies? Did you work your tail off because in your vocation summer is a busy season? What have you got to show for the last couple months of your life?

Now for the pastoral twist.

Ephesians 5:15-17 says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is,” (ESV). Did you make a wise use of your summer, and did you ask God on the front end how He wanted you to spend it? If you are like most people, you probably didn’t stop to consider what God thought of your vacation plans, your summer reading, or your bathing suit. And there’s a lesson there; Christians aren’t supposed to be just like everyone else. In context, that is precisely what Paul is pointing out in Ephesians 5. He even begins this section with the audacious instruction to, “…be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God,” (Eph. 5:1-2, ESV).

Now as worthy a point as that is, there is a greater one yet. Do you realize that you will be held accountable before God for how you spent, not just your summer, but every moment of your life? Do you realize that he finds how you have spent and will spend much of your time to be an infinitely offensive evil against His holy character? But thank God that “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” so that we might stand in his infinite righteousness before God. Being both sinless man and infinite God, Jesus was able to satisfy God’s wrath against our sin and restore to a right relationship with Himself all who will repent (turn away from sin and self-righteous attempts to be “good enough”) and believe in Him.

So the real question isn’t “What did you do with your summer?” What is important is this: What have you done with Jesus?

July 15, 2013

TMA Article – I Love the Bible

Filed under: Ministry,My Life in General,Tallassee Tribune drafts — pecaspers @ 3:00 PM

I love the Bible. Do you want to know why I love the Bible? I love the Bible because it tells me about God, and I love God. Do you want to know why I love God? I love God because He loved me first and because He is good and because He has revealed His goodness and love to me. Do you know how I came to know this? It’s in the Bible; see 1 John 4:19, Psalm 100:5, and Luke 10:21-24 for a sampling. I love the Bible.

There is no book like the Bible. The Bible is the number one best-selling book of all time. The Bible has been translated into more languages than any other book in the world. (And any good translation goes back to the original languages, so please don’t give me any of that “it’s a translation of a translation of a translation” mess.) There are more ancient hand-written copies of the Bible, in whole or in part, than any other ancient book. Most ancient literary works exist in less than ten or twenty copies which date to a thousand or more years after they were originally written. There are over twenty-five thousand ancient biblical manuscripts (with that many copies, sorting out the copyist errors gets relatively easy), the time between the originals and existing copies being as short as forty years for some New Testament books. Why did ancient Jews and early Christians diligently copy and distribute their Scriptures? It’s because they loved the Bible. They loved the Bible because it told them about God.

I finished reading the Bible for the almost fourth time last week. I say almost fourth because one time it was The Daily Bible which arranges the Scriptures chronologically and blends redundant passages together; so that time doesn’t fully count. The translation I just finished was the 2007 edition of the English Standard Version. Do you know what I did this morning? I pulled out The Holman Illustrated Study Bible, and I started reading it. But I didn’t start in Genesis 1:1, I started with the Introduction because it’s a study Bible with lots of notes, so I wanted to know exactly where the translators and editors were coming from. Do you know why I did that? It’s because I love the Bible.

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. I love the Bible. I love it because it tells me about God. And I love God. It’s not just instructions. It’s God’s story of how He created Man, of how Man rebelled against Him, of how He provided a way of salvation from our rebellion by punishing Himself in our place, of how He sent out His people to tell the world so that all might turn to Him and be saved, and of how He will come and judge the world and recreate a new home for His people to be with Him. So, I read and re-read and study and meditate on and pray through the Bible.

In this room with me, I have at least eight copies of different translations of the Bible in English, a Hebrew Old Testament, a Greek New Testament, and a small stack of The New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs from the Gideons. I have these to study from, to share, to give away, and a couple for sentimental reasons. I have them because I love the Bible. You probably have one or more copy of the Bible in your home, but do you love the Bible?

It’s not, “Do you have positive feelings about the Bible?” The question is this: Do you love the Bible? I’d be a bad husband to my wife if I never spent time with her; my love is evident in my actions. I’d be a bad father to my son if I never did anything with him and never said anything to him; my love is evident in my actions. God wrote a book. Do you love God? Have you read His book? Do you love His book? I love the Bible.

[Originally written as a Draft for the Tallassee Ministerial Alliance contributed article in the Tallassee Tribune in July 2012.]

July 10, 2013

TMA Artical Draft – Crazy Talk

Filed under: Ministry,My Life in General,Tallassee Tribune drafts — pecaspers @ 12:00 PM

Have you ever said something then realized that it was a crazy thing to say? Maybe you hurt someone’s feelings, maybe you claimed something outrageous about yourself, maybe you stated something with authority that wasn’t accurate, or maybe you boasted of some future plan that you couldn’t possibly fulfill. I have done that sort of thing more often than I care to admit. I’ve probably done it more than I even realize. The good thing is that I’ve gotten pretty good at admitting my mistakes and eating crow (the secret is in the sauce).

Jesus said some pretty crazy stuff, but he never had to apologize for it. That’s because He was always right. One of my favorite crazy things Jesus said is in John 8:46. After calling a bunch of self-righteous folks liars and sons of the Devil, he says “Who among you can convict me of sin? If I tell you the truth, why don’t you believe Me?” (HCSB). The response back is that they call Him a demon-possessed half-breed and eventually go looking for rocks to throw at Him when He claims to be the I AM who existed before Abraham (see John 8:48-59).

Can you imagine what the response would be if you stood up before a bunch of people who did not like you and said “Tell me one thing I’ve ever done wrong?” Some would be dumbstruck by the absurdity, others would begin shouting grievances, others would sit down with a pen and paper and get back to you later, and at least one guy would go blog about it. It can be helpful and humbling to ask close friends to point out your blind spots, but you would be crazy to offer that sort of challenge to people who already hate you. Crazy, that is, unless you really are without any flaws. If you are perfect, if you have never made a mistake, if you do all things well and only say what God has told you to say, then you are confronting people with the stark difference between you and them, between you and everyone really.

The crowd in Jesus’ day didn’t like what they heard, but they couldn’t come up with an a single sin with which to convict him. In fact, the only thing they could get any traction with when they finally sought to put him to death was that He claimed to be God and King. The trouble is that He was–and is–God and King. He came back from the dead as a proof of all His claims.

It’s a good thing He did, too. When he sacrificed Himself, He made the way for me and you to be forgiven before God of all the crazy things we’ve said, done, and thought. Because of His victory over sin and death, we can have peace with God and with one another. So the next time you are on either the transmitting or receiving end of some crazy talk, remember the one who is without sin. His blood bought us reconciliation with God. And if we have been forgiven our foolish words, then we must also forgive others for theirs. Otherwise, what we’re saying is that their sin against us is bigger than ours against God. Now, that’s crazy.

[Draft for an article published in the Tallassee Tribune, July 9, 2013]

December 24, 2012

Christmas Thoughts…

Filed under: Culture,My Life in General,Tallassee Tribune drafts — pecaspers @ 9:32 AM
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[This is the full text of an article I cut down to fit the requirements for a submission to The Tallassee Tribune on behalf of the Tallassee Ministerial Alliance.]

First, I need to make a confession. On Thursday, Dec. 20, I had had too much caffeine as I made a long drive home, and so I found myself struggling to fall asleep as midnight approached. I’m ashamed to admit that with the wind howling outside, I caught a slight case of the heeby-jeebies considering the irrational thought that just maybe the Mayans were right about some impending cataclysm. I tell you this as a set up to explain why I knew better and to show what this all has to do with Christmas.

After the flood, some 1700-ish years after creation, God made a promise as he enjoyed the sacrifice Noah made having been brought with his family out of the ark.

“…The Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:21, 22 ESV)

God destroyed and remade everything through the flood. He restarted the spread of humanity over the earth by showing grace to one man and his family and saving them from the flood. He promised Himself that He wouldn’t repeat this kind of destruction, even as He recognized that mankind is inclined toward evil from the start. So the Mayans couldn’t be right because the whole idea of their calendar is based on a cyclical view of time–destruction and recreation without end–while the Bible reveals that time is linear with a beginning and always moving forward to the end God laid out before He began it all. But what’s that got to do with Christmas?

Mankind is inclined to evil, lawlessness, disobedience to God, sin. This is because everything reproduces after its own kind, and when Adam sinned and broke his relationship with his Creator he became a sinner only able to reproduce more sinners. However, after the fall of man as God was cursing the serpent (on His way to cursing the woman and the man), God gave a promise saying, “I will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15 ESV). “Offspring” here is literally “seed.” Here is the first hint at the coming Messiah, that a man would come born of the seed of woman–men have “seed”, women do not, so this is unique and puts this offspring of a woman outside the line of inheritance of the man such that this one to come is not bound by sin. And He will be struck by the serpent, but He will strike the serpent with a devastating blow to the head. Do you see Christmas yet?

Further back toward the beginning:
God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:26-31 ESV)

Man was made in the image of God to rule creation to the glory of God and to fill all creation with The image of God to the glory of God. And all of creation was spoken into existence by the word of God, and the way creation is ordered was spoken into order by the word of God. And now, it’s Christmas.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-5, 9-14 ESV)

Before He was the baby in Bethlehem, He was the eternal Word of God. After Bethlehem he grew into a man who died as the perfectly sinless Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world through his death on a Roman cross at the hands of the Jewish religious and popular leadership. After the cross, came the grave. And–glory to God–after the grave, came the resurrection!

You can visit the place we’re pretty sure Jesus was born, but you can’t visit his tomb. He’s not there and no one cared to preserve it. He’s coming again, and of that coming no one knows the day or hour, certainly not the Mayans. Will you be ready? We’re 2000 years closer, and He said He’s coming soon. Are you prepared for the real end of this world?

June 22, 2012

A Preemptive Word on the SBC Annual Meeting

What follows was originally composed as my contribution to the Tallassee Ministerial Alliance column in the Tallassee Tribune. This is the article before I or the paper’s editors cut it to fit the allowed space. I wrote it prior to the SBC Annual Meeting and it–as far as I know–appeared in the paper on Tuesday, June 19, the first day of the actual Convention.

I am a Southern Baptist. (Curious about what that means? Look at the Baptist Faith and Message tab on http://www.sbc.net.) This week, thousands of Southern Baptists are gathering in New Orleans, La. for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Because of this, you will likely hear many things in the news in the coming days about what Southern Baptists are saying and doing at the Convention. I beg you, please don’t judge us too harshly.

I’m always ashamed of some of the ridiculous things that come out of the Convention. I can tell you that someone will say something stupid about alcohol, race-relations, politics, environmentalism, homosexuality, the King James Version of the Bible, and many other issues of both major and minor significance to the general population. Media outlets will handle these things with differing degrees of malice or kindness depending on how they prefer to spin things. You need to understand that the Annual Meeting operates as an effectively open forum for anyone sent as a messenger from a Southern Baptist church. Just because someone says it at the Convention doesn’t mean much. Just because the SBC votes for or against some statement doesn’t mean that all Southern Baptists now agree on that issue–many Southern Baptists can’t even agree on what it means to be Southern Baptist. Most importantly, remember that every fifteen second sound bite you hear coming out of my SBC brethren has been ripped out of a greater context.

What you probably won’t hear much about is the real reason that Southern Baptists convene. The SBC exists so Southern Baptist churches can cooperate together in fulfilling the Great Commission. In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus says to His followers, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” (HCSB). Though we do much else, the SBC ultimately exists for the primary purpose of sending missionaries to all nations (read “nations” as people groups with distinct culture and language, not politically recognized countries) for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus.

A disciple is nothing less than a person who has been baptized–identifying with Jesus Christ in His death, burial, resurrection–and is being taught to obey all that He commanded. The only reason one gets baptized and seeks to learn and obey is because he or she believes the gospel. Simply put, the gospel is the good news that God exists and He is good, that all mankind has rebelled against Him in sin, that Jesus is God-become-man who suffered in our place the punishment for our sin so we could have a relationship with God, and finally that we are all accountable before God to turn from all our own attempts to please Him and rely solely on what He has already accomplished in the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So remember, don’t accept the spin the talking heads on cable news and internet bloggers will put on the SBC Annual Meeting. Feel free to ask of what you hear, “How does this serve to advance the gospel?” But before you throw stones at me and my SBC friends, ask the same question of every aspect of your own life. “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory,” (1 Corinthians 10:31, HCSB). Oh that we would all be all about the gospel for the glory of God. You are welcome for all the opportunities to bring this gospel naturally into your conversations with your lost friends, relatives, co-workers, and complete strangers that our Annual Meeting will provide you.

Addendum: I am happy to report that I was largely wrong in my expectations for the Convention. I watched/listened to the vast majority of the meeting via live streaming and didn’t hear nearly as much nonsense as expected–hardly any at all, in fact. The importance of the gospel and our Great Commission was this year’s main focus, but Fred Luder’s election as our first Black president is what seems to be getting all the press. That’s pretty good, I’d say.

December 19, 2011

Red and Green

Red and green are the colors of Christmas. Red because of the bloody reality of a virgin birth, because of the bloody reality of a death by crucifixion, because of the blood of the lamb who takes away the sin of the world. Green because of the new life which Christ came to bring, because of the eternal life that he paid for with his death, because of the promise of a life that never withers and never fades and never ends–evergreen.

Red and green are the colors of Christmas. Red because of the oppressive debt you’ll incur buying toys your kids won’t appreciate but will break in a couple of weeks, because of the hue of your screaming daughter’s face when she doesn’t get the pony she wanted, because of the color your son will see when he shoots his eye out with his new BB gun. Green because of the money you’ll spend on presents and food and cards and decorations, because of the envy that drives so much of your children’s wish-lists, because of how sick you are from all the constant go-go-go of the holiday season.

Red and green are the colors of Christmas. Red because that’s the way your eyes will look the morning after you get too deep in the “Christmas cheer” at that party. Green because that’s the way your face will look after you expel some of that same “cheer” singing carols into the porcelain megaphone.

Red and green are the colors of Christmas. Red because that’s what color Santa Claus wears. Green because that’s what color Christmas trees are. Why does it have to mean any more than that?

We’re all going to be donning lots of red and green in the coming days. In fact, your decorations have probably been up for weeks. The question we need to ask ourselves is what sort of red and green are we using. What’s your red and green mean? But wait, you can’t answer yet. You have to wait until it’s over.

I doubt there is anyone reading this article who is saying to himself or herself, “I’m only celebrating commercialism, greed, and over-indulgence this December 25. It’s got nothing to do with worshiping Christ.” However, the truth is that there is often little proof that we did otherwise when we look back after the day is gone. So I challenge you not to think too highly of yourself but to consider yourself, and how you celebrate this Christmas, with sober judgment (Romans 12:3). Let us examine ourselves, and how we celebrate this Christmas, to see if it puts on display our faith in Christ and the glory of God (2 Corinthians 13:5).

How will you celebrate the coming of Messiah this Christmas? Will you gather in worship with your church? Will you take your visiting family members with you to church? Will you give generously to help people in need? Will you read the story of Christ’s birth from the Bible? Will you spend money you don’t have to give presents to people who don’t really need them? Will you keep your family away from church because Christmas inconveniently falls on a Sunday this year? It’s not what you say about Christmas; it’s what you do that matters (James 2:14-16).

Red and green are the colors of Christmas. What kind will yours be?

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