May 25, 2017
I worked for a local grocery store throughout high school in Sioux Falls called Hy-Vee. It is an employee owned regional store that is concentrated in the upper Midwest. Hy-Vee was always a customer centered store. As employees we were expected to be friendly. If a customer needed help finding an item, we took them to the item. We smiled - in fact that was the slogan back then. Why do I mention this? It is not just to walk down memory lane.
My niece Kelsey graduated from high school last week and I was blessed to be able to return to attend the graduation. While back home I visited a Hy-Vee (in case you were wondering it was the one at 26th and Marion Rd in Sioux Falls.) I was shocked at what I found. The stores have grown to include much more than they did in the late 80s and early 90s. (Though they are still frying up some great fried chicken.) The stores seem brighter. They were a lot larger as well. But there was some other things that I noticed. Something more important seemed to have changed though. The focus on customers and customer service seemed to have at least taken a back seat, if not vanished.
I shopped at about 5 pm, it was quite busy in the store. There were SEVERAL employees working this Friday afternoon. What is so shocking is how those many employees worked. I passed no less than 15 employees through various departments. (I walked the entire store looking around.) Not one single employee smiled, asked me how I was doing, or if I needed any help. I even walked past one manager two times looking for protein shakes. He never looked up from stocking his display. I finally was tired of hunting the protein shakes and found an employee. I asked her where the protein shakes were. "In the health section." Clearly I did not know where that was or I would have found the crazy shakes 20 minutes before hand. I wandered for a bit more and finally happened upon the health section and protein shakes.
There are several lessons that I took away from my shopping trip that day. One of them that I want to talk about today on this blog relates to church. Walking into this new grocery store, not knowing where anything was, not knowing anyone that worked there was sort of an intimidating venture. I definitely was a bit apprehensive and frustrated at how hard it was to find some things. The employees, including the managers, had become so comfortable with their routines and list of jobs to complete that they ignored the very reason for them being there - their customers. You see not only did no one speak to me, no one spoke to anyone. Could this be how it is for people when they visit church for the first time? I dare say, "Yes." I am occassionally guilty of it. Folks in my church are occassionally guilty of it. We get wrapped up in the things we are doing, we forget why we do what we do. At Calvary we want people to feel welcomed when they come. We recognize that it is a stressful and intimidating thing to visit a church for the first time. That is why we have guest parking right at the front of our building. That is why we have greeters to welcome people. That is why members of the congregation speak to one another and especially those that are new. A smile, a welcome hand shake, and the other things that we try to remember help us to present the message "You are wanted and welcome here at Calvary. We love you. Jesus loves you. We are glad that you came." When churches (and grocery stores) lose their focus on guests, it won't be long until they are out of business - just ask the Shakers.
May 12, 2017
Time Magazine recently ran a cover story that asked the question "Is Truth Dead?" While many in our society want to question truth, we need to understand the reasons for raising the question in the first place. Christians understand that there is absolute truth and recognize that God's Word - the Bible - contains that truth. God's truth is certainly found in other places as well though. I believe it was Augustine that proclaimed "All truth is God's truth." Certainly God is the author truth, not of lies and falsehood. That is where the rub comes in. You see if society recognizes the reality of truth, they must also recognize the reality of God. However if truth is made to be relative or even non-existant then the problem of God is solved - He just simply does not exist. In our current cultural situation, where truth is left to the individual we are seeing some horrible and terrifying results of this ungodly cultural trend.
Something else has transpired as we have wrestled with the matter of truth though. We have lost a sense of civility and decorum. This can be seen throughout our nation from the Capital all the way through America's Main Streets. If someone does not agree with you they are the enemy. They are evil. They must be silenced or destroyed. This crazy philosophy has no place in the Kingdom of God or in any civilized society. Because we are made in the image of God, whether we choose to acknowledge that or not, we are of great value and worth. So are all other human beings. For that reason alone, God's people are called to love and be kind to others. We must remember that the "Golden Rule" is a biblical standard, not a postmodern pop-psychology phenomenon.
The Church must remember this truth as it interacts with those who are Christians and those who are not. Unfortunately salvation and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit do not always mean that Christians behave in a Christ-honoring and loving way like they should. One of the frequent criticisms of the church is hypocrisy. Jesus put it another way. "How can you love God who you cannot see when you don't love your brother whom you can?" When we are not able to show love and grace to our fellow man, perhaps it is because we have not received it from God ourselves. We cannot share something that we do not have.
Church - Let's be busy speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) this week.
April 26, 2017
I have been invited to come to a Christian Bible college and seminary in Ukraine to teach a group of pastors for a week in January 2019. I am very excited about this. I will be teaching a course on pastoral leadership January 11-18, 2019. You can help support this mission trip by clicking the link below. Any size gift would be greatly appreciated. More than finances though, would you join me in prayer? Help me pray that finances will be raised, I will have clarity as I develop lessons and sermons.
God is so awesome to use His people who are willing vessels. When we are walking with Him and surrendered to Him He will bring various opportunities our way. Some may be in "far, far away lands." Most though will be right in our back yard. We must always be ready to say a word for the Lord and to lend a helping hand for the Lord to those in need. What opportunities is the Lord opening up for you?
You can also support electronically under Online Giving on our church website, or send a check made payable to:
Calvary Free Will Baptist Church
6165 Billings Rd.
Columbus, GA 31909
Be sure to put on the memo line of the church it is for "Pastor's Mission Trip". A receipt will be sent to you from the church.
March 03, 2017
A new Hollywood movie came out in theaters last weekend based on the book The Shack by William P Young. The book caused a great stir when it was released a few years ago. A storm of controversy is brewing about the movie as well. The basic background to the story is a man's young daughter was kidnapped and presumably killed while the family was on a campout at a park. It understandably causes problems within the family, especially between the mother and father. One day the dad gets a letter inviting him to Shack. He ends up going and there meets "God." And this is what the controversy is about. The book and the movie both portray the Father and the Spirit as women. Jesus is still a man.
There are a couple of points that I want to make to maybe contribute to the discussion surrounding the movie. Before I do though let me say that I have read the book but have not seen the movie and I am not sure that i will. As we talk about this movie we must remember at the very outset it is NOT a Christian film. I do not know the state of William Young's relationship with God. I do think that the film does not claim to be an evangelical, conservative story. It is certainly not. It is a Hollywood movie tale about the themes of love and forgiveness - something that certainly Christians should have something to say about. We should not expect non-Christians to believe like Christians. (You have had your head in the sand if you think they do.) There is another fact though that merits discussion. All people are made by God in His image. As the psalmist declares, "I [we] am fearfully and wonderfully made." Because God created and formed us, we all have some common characteristics that are true of all people. One of those common traits is an interest (either positively or negatively) in spiritual things. Very few people are truly neutral about spirituality. Some are absolutely against spiritual anything. Some wonder if there is a God why do we not see more of Him? We were created as spiritual beings so this movie/book touch something that all of us deal with. Everyone has to wrestle with questions of who God is and the relationship that we are to have (or not have) with Him.
I think that this film (as the book has done) opens some doors to have conversations about spiritual matters. As an evangelical Christian there are some things that I believe about God that are very contrary to this story. However, that does not mean that I am not willing or able to have a conversation with others that have some differing ideas from the story. That is good and healthy by the way. A good book or movie should get people talking. Perhaps if we talked more and argued and belittled less we would have more time for forgiveness and love - things that Jesus lived and preached about a great deal.
February 22, 2017
Leslie and I went last week to see the new movie A Dog's Purpose. The movie has recently gotten a lot of bad press which is very unfortunate. One big controversy was from some activists who edited a clip to make it appear that one of the dogs in the film was being mistreated and subjected to cruel conditions. Of course, the truth eventually came out and it was shown that the dog in question was not forced to do something it did not want to do nor was it mistreated. Another controversy came from some Christians who slammed the movie because it promoted reincarnation. While technically reincarnation was mildly portrayed in the story, it was not a movie that was advancing a position about reincarnation. It is a movie - a story. It uses the experiences through the lives four or five dogs to cause us to examine "what is our purpose?" In the end we find that there is indeed purpose to this life. A Dog's Purpose is a very good MOVIE. It is not a theological treatise but rather seeks to be good entertainment. Good entertainment by the way makes us laugh, but also shares a point. The point is not that we are reincarnated. The point of the movie is that we all have purpose - help those that we can and love well. While as a pastor I think that there is a bit more to it than that, but I certainly can give a hearty "amen" to the premise that we are put here for a reason.
I think that we can get far to worked up about things that we lose sight of what really matters. Not only is that happening with movies, it is happening in our society at large. We are unfortunately a very divided country. It is okay to have disagreements. However we have been sold a lie that says "if you disagree with me, you are my enemy." This is crazy. It is good to have differences, and even be passionate about those differences. However, when we allow our passion for an issue to turn into hatred and contempt for other people we are headed down the wrong path. This is not just coming up in politics, but in our society at large. Perhaps the prescription that we need is take a chill pill and go have dinner with and see a movie with someone we disagree with.
February 12, 2017
February is the month where "love is in the air." Everywhere you look there is the color red. Red balloons, red hearts, red bears, red roses, red candy...And to be sure the price increases of these items during this month will have your bank account seeing red. ;)
This month I want to talk about one of our core values at Calvary Free Will Baptist-being a church that is love centered. What exactly does this mean to us? Those of us who call Calvary home have found first hand how the love of God can change a life! We know that it can, because it has changed ours. We are not perfect because we know God, but we are loved. We want others to know that too. The Bible says that God loves everyone! Paul says, "God demonstrates His love toward us in this: Christ died for us while we were yet sinners." God does love you. He loves you just exactly as you are.
However, we need to take note that God's love is not a license to sin. Nor is it an excuse to do what we want. God does love you - just as you are - but He does not want you to stay just as you are. He wants the very best for you - because He love you!! One of God's most basic character traits is certainly love, but His love is governed by His holiness. You see the holiness of God is God's supreme trait. He is love but He is also holy. Because God is holy, He is bound to punish sin. The message of the gospel is this: God loves us so much that He came and paid our sin debt for us! Jesus said, "No greater love has a man than this, to lay his life down for his friends." The good news of the Gospel is that God loves us so much that He paid our sin debt and makes it possible for us to CHANGE. We are never "stuck" somewhere or in something. There is always a way to get out of the trouble we find ourselves in. However the solution to getting out of our mess is not found in ourselves. It can only be found through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus shows that He loves us by dying on the cross for us, but also by calling us to leave the things that hinder us and drag us down and find freedom that comes from knowing Him.
One last point about God's love. Once we have received it, we cannot keep it to ourselves. We are called to pass it on. Jesus said, "They will know that you are my disciples by your love for one another." Did you notice that? Jesus did not say they will know you are mine because you go to church on Sunday morning. He did not say they will know that you are mine because you do good stuff. He said, "They will know you are mine by your love." What draws people to Christ? Love. God's love. How do people find God's love? Through those that have already received it sharing (passing) it along! The church is called to love as God loves. That does not mean just accepting people and ignoring their sins. It means welcoming everyone and helping them to find wholeness in Christ through love.