pecaspers: a Blog in transition

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.]

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?

October 10, 2011

Judging Others

“How about you worry about you, and let them worry about them?” Whether working with young people in church or substitute teaching, that’s the kind of thing I tell students who are complaining about something little another kid has done. And I do mean little; “He’s in the wrong seat,” “She’s talking,” or “They aren’t doing their work.” If he’s in the wrong seat, let that seat’s owner come to me about it. I can hear her talking, and you yelling across the room that she’s talking is a much larger disruption. If you are busy telling me about other people not doing their work, then you apparently aren’t doing your work either. You make sure you are doing what you are supposed to be doing, and leave it to me to make sure everybody else is doing what they’re supposed to do. That’s part of my job, not yours.

“Judge not, that you be not judged,” (Matthew 7:1, ESV). That verse is probably quoted or alluded to more often than John 3:16 is. Most people pull it out when they’ve done something wrong–or continually do wrong as their lifestyle–and don’t want to be held accountable for their actions. When a Christian merely tries to call sin sin, the cry is often, “How dare you judge me/him/her/them! Jesus said, ‘Judge not!'” It doesn’t surprise me when non-Christians get this wrong. I’m horrified, though, at how often I hear God’s people misuse this teaching. This portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount continues as follows:

“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 (Matthew 7:1-5, ESV).

Jesus’ point isn’t that you can never say anything anyone does is wrong. His point is that you better have the big issues in your life under control before you try to help a fellow Christian with his problems. Take the log out of your own eye, (pay attention, now) then you will see clearly (See clearly to do what, Jesus?) to take the speck out of your brother’s eye! Get it? You make sure you have yourself under control, under the Holy Spirit’s control, so that you can help your brother. For more on this, check out Galatians 5:12 through 6:10.

Christians aren’t to “judge” others in the sense of declaring a final verdict as if we had all the information and were the ultimate authority. Jesus will be the final judge in that sense. However, we must “judge” in the sense of distinguishing between good and evil, sin and righteousness, and sometimes even good and best. With individuals, we must judge in keeping with the law of love, that we love others as ourselves. Most people find it far easier to try to correct others than to actually control themselves. Have you dealt with your planks? When you see a speck, are you trying to help in love or are you just looking for an excuse to poke someone in the eye?

Speaking of which, I think you’ve got a little something in there…

September 11, 2011

9/11 for the Tallassee Tribune

It’s Sunday night, September 11, 2011 as I write. It’s Tuesday or later when you’re reading it. It was Tuesday on September 11 ten years ago. I don’t know what the Tallassee Tribune had in it that day; I wasn’t a Tallassee resident back then. I was a student at Auburn University, and I remember that day in more detail than any other day in my life. It’s safe to say that you probably remember that day with graphic clarity as well. My facebook feed attests to this as it is currently populated by memories, pledges to never forget, and references to that day which changed this nation forever in many ways. Back then, there was no facebook, no Twitter, and texting hadn’t truly gone mainstream. In 2001, most of us still got our up-to-the-minute news from old-fashioned T.V. and radio.

Among the teens I know, they don’t remember much. They were in second grade or younger, but even they knew something big was happening. Many of my peers’ accounts follow this pattern: I was in class when somebody told us that planes had flown into the World Trade Center. Some classes were canceled, some were held in defiance of the terrorists’ intention to disrupt our lives, but Auburn University gave everybody a free pass to skip class if they chose as I recall. I was in the Auburn University Marching Band then; that was the only class I went to that day. Almost all of us came, but no one seemed to know what to say when we got there. We began practice by playing the national anthem, and then we rehearsed because we had to be ready for pre-game and half-time on Saturday.

Everyone everywhere seemed to be struggling with the dual realities that things were never going to be the same, but things had to get back to normal even if it was a “new normal.” In the wake of 9/11, people flooded into churches. People wanted hope, comfort, to mourn, maybe just to not be alone. Whatever the case, they came. Some were coming back, others for the first time. Some thought 9/11 was going to propel us into an awakening of the gospel across our land. That’s not what happened.

Part of that “new normal” was the same spiritual complacency that we had before. The people who had run to the Church for various reasons, all left for one reason, the same reason that people usually leave the Church. They didn’t know God. They came to a church to meet some need–maybe it was met, maybe it wasn’t–but eventually they stopped coming because nothing held them there. That is a far greater tragedy. People came into our churches and did not hear the life-changing gospel and were not everlastingly introduced to the one true and living God. Equally condemning is that many people have come to our churches for years because some need is being met other than their need for a saving relationship with the Creator.

The reason any Christian church exists is to make disciples of Jesus Christ by baptizing them in His name and teaching them to obey everything He commanded, which includes that they themselves are to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). That is our purpose, and we might as well close our doors if reproducing disciples are not being made no matter whatever lesser good we might be doing. On the 100th anniversary of 9/11, all those people who poured into our churches will be dead. It won’t matter what we did for them if we did not simultaneously introduce them to Christ. A man who turned to the church and found momentary comfort but did not repent and believe will be no better off than one who turned to alcohol.

———-Above Is the First Draft, Below Is the Draft I Submitted———-

It’s Sunday night, September 11, 2011 as I write. It’s Tuesday or later as you read. It was Tuesday on September 11 ten years ago. I don’t know what was in the Tallassee Tribune that day; I wasn’t a Tallassee resident back then. I was a student at Auburn University, and I remember that day in more detail than any other day in my life. You probably remember that day with graphic clarity as well. My facebook feed attests to this; it is currently populated by memories, pledges to never forget, and references to that day which changed this nation forever in so many ways. Back then, there was no facebook, no Twitter, and texting hadn’t truly gone mainstream. In 2001, most of us still got our up-to-the-minute news from old-fashioned T.V. and radio. We stayed fixed on them for days because we didn’t know what else to do.

In the wake of 9/11, churches were flooded. People wanted hope, comfort, to mourn, maybe just to not be alone. Whatever the case, they came. Some were coming back, others for the first time. Many thought 9/11 was going to propel us into an awakening of the gospel across our land. It did not. Part of the “new normal” was the same spiritual complacency from before. The people who’d run to the Church for various reasons all left for one reason, the reason people usually leave the Church. They didn’t know God.

They came to church to meet some need–maybe it was met, maybe it wasn’t–but eventually they stopped coming because nothing held them there. That is a far greater tragedy. People came into our churches and did not hear the life-changing gospel and were not everlastingly introduced to the one true and living God. Equally condemning is that people have come to our churches for years because we meet a need other than their need for a saving relationship with the Creator, and too many of us are OK with that.

The reason any Christian church exists is to make disciples of Jesus Christ by baptizing them in His name and teaching them to obey everything He commanded, which includes that they themselves are to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). That is our purpose, and we might as well close our doors if reproducing disciples are not being made no matter whatever lesser good we might be doing. On the 100th anniversary of 9/11, all those people who poured into our churches will be dead. It won’t matter what we did for them if we did not simultaneously introduce them to Christ. A man who turned to the church and found momentary comfort but did not repent and believe will be in hell with everyone else who did not.

There’s plenty of retrospection going on, and rightly so. But we in the church need to look forward and to look to Christ and His purposes. We sing, “This is my Father’s world, o let me ne’er forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” ‎Greg Key, a youth pastor friend of mine posted this on his facebook wall: “We are no closer to Jesus now than we were 10 years ago.” I fear he is right. But what will you do about it?

May 16, 2011

Don’t Send Your Kids to College and away from God

The end of the school year is approaching. In the coming months, many of you will be sending your children off to college for the first time. Many more will be sending one or more back to college. Some of you are the ones who’ll be going away. And most of the rest of you reading this article have a grandchild, nephew, niece, cousin, other relative, neighbor and/or close family friend who will be in the collegiate mix as well come August. Don’t let the Sunday before they (or you) go off to college be the last time they (or you) regularly attend a church until they (or you) are married and have children.

That may sound like a strange thing to say, but that’s what happens more often than not. You go to college, and nobody makes you get up on Sunday morning so you don’t. You’ve never had to pick which church to go to because you’ve always gone to the same one–or at least to whichever one your parents took you to–so you just don’t go to one at all. You’ll go to the church you grew up in when you’re home, but you are home less and less often the longer you are in college. Then you graduate, and you get a job somewhere new, and you don’t find a church when you move there because you are completely out of touch with God and being out of touch with His people doesn’t bother you anymore. Somewhere along the why you have a kid, and you remember VBS and Sunday School and you start taking your kids to whichever church has the best Pre-school and Children’s ministry in the area.

However, what you should do is this: go to church the first Sunday you are at school, keep going until you find a place where you can get involved, become a member of that church, and get yourself equipped “for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until [you] attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that [you are] no longer [a child], tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes,” (Ephesians 4:12-14, ESV).

I suggest you start with a church of the same denomination you grew up in, but don’t be afraid to visit a church of another denomination or a non-denominational one. Find a congregation where the Bible is taught faithfully, where there are older people to mentor you, and where there are younger people for you to help out as well. Don’t use some mid-week student Bible Study as a substitute for a real church. Student ministries are great, but the Body of Christ is broader than the 18-25 year-old age bracket, and you need cross-generational relationships for your benefit and theirs.

Some of you are terrified by this whole idea. The rest of you know someone who would be terrified by it. It’s funny how the people who cry “foul” when someone suggests that church membership means that you have a responsibility to be involved, ought to give generously, and will be held accountable for how you live your life, are the same people who think that it is some form of spiritual treason for people to move their church membership from where they grew up to where they are now. That’s the worst kind of hypocrisy. Either church membership means something to you and you’ll be an integral part of a local church wherever you are, or it means nothing to you and it shouldn’t bother you when people leave a church they once were part of to join another one where they live.

Regardless of what you think, church membership matters to God. The Bible clearly teaches that members of a local church are like members of a body. An organ cut-off starts to rot pretty quickly, but an organ transplanted can live and add life to a new body. Would you rather see your college students live and grow in another church, or rot because they are cut off from the life of their childhood church?

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