Unholy Alliance: The Grand Old Party and the Southern Baptist Convention

A few years from now, in the thick of some really important election, someone will spend a lot of money conducting a survey to see who evangelical Christians will be supporting in that really important election. I could save that guy a lot of time, money and trouble. I already know who evangelical Christians will be supporting in the next really important election. And the one after that. And the next one. And so on. Here it is.

The Republican.

But, some may wonder, what if the Republican isn’t all that great? Suppose his policies don’t make much sense. Or what if he’s just a really foul individual whose entire life contradicts traditional biblical teaching?

The Republican.

For as long as I can remember, so called evangelical Christians, and more specifically Southern Baptists, have been connected at the hip with the Grand Old Party. Most won’t confess that but it’s no less true. If you don’t believe me, you need look no further than one man for the proof.

Russell Moore.

Russell Moore is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. For now. There are several influential churches and pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) who would like to see him go. Some of those influential pastors have promised to withdraw their regular funds to the SBC because of Moore. The Louisiana Baptist Convention is even working to see Moore silenced, defunded or let go.

But why? What did Russell Moore do to find himself on the hot seat?

During the last presidential election, Moore did the unthinkable. He did the unforgivable. He went public in his opposition to Donald Trump. Gasp! In that opposition to Trump, Moore didn’t then throw his weight behind Hillary Clinton. But that didn’t matter. Simply not blindly following the Republican nominee and eventual president was enough to earn Moore the scorn of the convention he has devoted his life to.

Influential leaders were worried that Moore’s vocal opposition to Trump would cost them a seat at the table. They were not, however, worried about losing their seat at the table a few years ago when, as Dwight McKissic notes, Richard Land, Moore’s predecessor said that a black males is, “statistically more likely to do you harm than a white man.” For many in the SBC, it appears to be more important to have a seat at a table in the White House than it does to have a seat at your black neighbor’s house.

Here’s the sad reality that many SBC power players just can’t seem to learn. They are a joke. A punchline. A necessary evil. That’s how the elites in Washington, yes even the Republicans, view them. And that’s the best case scenario.

I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of George W. Bush’s devotion to God. I’m no supporter but I believe Mr. Bush to be genuine in his faith. And yet, even in his White House, influential leaders were referred to as, “nuts.” Behind closed doors, of course. That’s how Washington works. Democrats need the poor. Republicans need religious conservatives. Both parties are trying to get the same thing: power. Both groups, the poor and the religious, are left worse off than before as they sell their souls for a supposed seat at the table.

Many Trump supporters have fallen into the same trap that Obama supporters did eight years ago. Back then, if you questioned the president, you were a racist, flat-earther, and a bigot. Today, if you dare question President Trump, you are an elitist who is funded by George Soros. And no proof is needed to support such claims. That was only in the old days when truth mattered. If you want to know what idol someone worships, watch how they react when that idol faces the least bit of criticism. Sadly, many in the SBC worship a giant golden statue of an elephant with the phrase Grand Old Party carefully and lovingly carved on the side.

I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church. I currently serve as the pastor of a Southern Baptist Church. I say currently because who knows what will happen to me once the Louisiana Baptist Convention gets a hold of this. Anyway, I’ve got the SBC in my blood. When I was growing up, Jerry Falwell was Moses leading us into the Moral Majority Promised Land. Madonna was the devil because of her immorality and crude language. But I’ve learned something over the past year. If Madonna ever wanted to change her reputation among my kind, it appears that all she had to do was run for president as a Republican. She could’ve gotten away with whatever she wanted. Man, she’d even be compared to King David if she said the right things about the Supreme Court.

Thank God for President Trump. He’s exposed a lot. In just a short time, he’s shown us that much of the so-called conservative media wasn’t as much concerned with conservative principles as they are with getting their man in the White House. And he did the same to the church. As one friend put it, President Trump has revealed that whatever unity the SBC enjoys is not centered around Christ and his kingdom but rather being white and Republican.

Jesus didn’t die for the Republican or Democratic party. And he doesn’t need us having a seat at some table in Washington. He’d much rather us represent him before the people he has put next door to us. And get this. Some of the people who God, in his sovereignty, has put down the street from us are in this country illegally. Now, we can debate how to fix that. There is no doubt that reform is needed. But it is even more clear that we are called to love our neighbors, even the ones who, “don’t belong here.” Good luck trying to do that while getting your marching orders from the GOP rather than the King of kings.

The Southern Baptist Convention needs Russell Moore. But they want someone who will tickle their itching ears. They want a man who is much like many of the pastors in their churches – a hireling. And it appears that many within the convention are willing to go to extreme measures to get that man.

Keep in mind, Moore never criticized people for voting for Trump. On national TV he said that he understood the lesser of two evils approach but that he did not agree with it. Joe Sixpack (non-alcoholic for you SBC readers) was never in Moore’s crosshairs. An immoral candidate and institutions that bent over backwards to excuse that immorality as if God could only work through one political party were. And now one of those institutions is firing back.

I am a proponent of a very limited federal government. I can pretty much guarantee you that I’m more conservative than you are. I can say with certainty that I’m more conservative than the president is. So save the liberal tag for someone else. Our government has grown larger and more corrupt every year of my life. But I’m doing just fine. That’s because my identity is found in the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, not some silly donkey or elephant in Washington D.C.

I just wish that more people in the Southern Baptist Convention could say the same.

We Need Pastors Who Bleed The Gospel

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We need pastors who bleed the gospel. We don’t need pastors who are pawns of some political party. We don’t need pastors who get their marching orders from their favorite political websites and TV stations. We don’t need pastors who are too afraid of getting fired.

We need pastors who, when beaten and bruised by their opponents, bleed the gospel.

That means that we need pastors who are more interested in following the examples of the Old Testament prophets than they are in turning a profit at next week’s offering. These are the pastors who will say the hard things, the things that were once obvious but no longer are.

A funny thing happened after Sunday night’s presidential debate. The people at Fox News and the Drudge Report were telling me that Trump won. Meanwhile, the folks at CNN and MSNBC were saying that Hillary won. That’s the thing about our current political climate. Love it or hate it, it does have a way of exposing allegiances. Sadly, on both sides of the aisle, there are those churches and pastors who have been exposed for being more aligned to a presidential candidate than the gospel of Jesus Christ. And as a result, those pastors who are supposed to be speaking against evil end up swimming against the stream of scripture and common sense in order to keep their presidential hopeful propped up.

We don’t need pastors who act like pimps prostituting out their churches in order to give Hillary Clinton another campaign stop.

We don’t need pastors who consider it their duty to defend Donald Trump no matter what because, after all, his sins aren’t as bad as Hillary’s.

No, we need pastors who bleed the gospel.

Imagine if Hillary Clinton was your church secretary and she deleted a few thousand e-mails a week or so before being questioned by the police about some shady Internet dealings she’d been involved in. Most likely, she would be fired. But, for some reason, in the eyes of a lot of pastors, such actions do not disqualify her from being the president of the United States.

Imagine if your wife or daughter worked for Donald Trump. Imagine if she was the one he was talking to Billy Bush about assaulting all of those years ago. Would you still call it “locker room banter”? Would you still say it was just words? Not likely. What is more likely is that you would try to have him fired. But, for some reason, in the eyes of a lot of pastors, such conduct doesn’t disqualify him from being our next president. We’re not hiring a pastor-in-chief, they tell us.

One of the most disturbing things I have seen in my 41 years on this earth is the degree to which some church leaders will distort or even ignore scripture just to see their candidate elected.

For some, the fact that Hillary is a woman gives her the right to sanction the murder of babies under the banner of a woman’s right to choose.

For others, the fact that Donald isn’t Hillary gives him a free pass to do or say whatever he wants under the banner of making America great again.

Pastors, we have to be above this. We can’t scream, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” when one candidate blows it and call down fire from heaven to punish the sins of the candidate with whom we don’t agree. We must remain true to the scriptures. We must be consistent. But that’s hard to do when the blood of a political party runs through our veins.

We need pastors who bleed the gospel.

People won’t like it when you refuse to jump on one candidates bandwagon. I’ve been told that I’m what’s wrong with America. I’ve been told to stick to the Bible. It’s likely that we’ll hear worse. Don’t let that get you down. Never forget that preaching the word isn’t just done one day a week behind a pulpit.

We need pastors who bleed the gospel. Every day of the week.

That means that we need pastors who love the Trump supporters and the Clinton supporters while simultaneously opposing the godless policies and actions of both candidates. That’s easier said than done. Refusing to just play along and wave the flag of a political party or candidate might get you run out of town. It might lose you a few church members. Offerings may go down.

But that’s okay. Jesus called you to be a shepherd, not a hireling. A shepherd risks everything to protect the sheep. A hireling only looks out for his own interests and takes off running when the heat gets too thick.

Pastor, one day you will stand before Jesus to give an account for your life and ministry. You will not be questioned about whether or not your were liked? You will not be questioned about how appreciated you felt. You will not be questioned about what you did to swing the balance of the Supreme Court.

In so may words, you will get a question sort of like this one.

Did you bleed the gospel?

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. James 3:1 (ESV)

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The Devil’s Dictionary Of American Religious Words And Phrases

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With words and phrases, there are the actual definitions and the practical definitions. The actual definitions are the ones that have been assigned to words for centuries. The practical definitions are what we really mean. Here’s a look at what a lot of people really mean when they use certain religious terms.

Sin – an archaic term that has largely fallen out of use in modern times but is occasionally used to describe how hot it is outside or how bad people other than me are

Sample Sentence 1: “Man, it’s hot as sin out here.”

Sample Sentence 2: “Jesus didn’t care near as much about sin as today’s Christians do.”

Church – a group of people with nothing better to do with their weekends than sitting around with a bunch of hypocrites

Sample Sentence: “I’m glad I’m better than all of those people at that church who think that they’re better than everyone.”

Hypocrite – anyone who disagrees with me

Sample Sentence: “No I do not have a meth problem. I have it completely under control. Now let’s talk about all of those soft drinks you gulp down, hypocrite!”

Bible – an instrument intended for selective use in order to win an argument or prove a point; anything more than selective use and argument winning is only for hypocrites

Sample Sentence: “Well, the Bible says, ‘Judge not lest ye be not judgeth,’ so take that you block-headed little fool!”

Pharisee – any person whose devotion or self-discipline forces me to come to grips with my own lack of meaningful devotion and/or self-discipline

Sample Sentence: “Yeah, I guess he’s an alright guy but he’s sort of a Pharisee. I mean look at him. He’s been married to the same woman for over five years. Oh, and that perfect little haircut. Give me a break!”

Organic – any music, teaching, book or worship service that meets my approval and contains no unnecessary ingredients such as people, music and/or ideas that I do not like

Sample Sentence: “I love our small group because it’s very organic. I just hope no one else comes and messes things up.”

Judgmental – when one person addresses the sin of another person, regardless of the sin and no matter how horrific the sin is

Sample Sentence: “Stop being so judgmental! What I do with my neighbor’s wife at the pool hall is my business.”

Authentic – when I or someone I approve of indulges in a horrific sin

Sample Sentence: “Did you hear about him and his neighbor’s wife at the pool hall? He’s so authentic. I hope he writes a book.”

Love – when other people affirm me or someone I approve of in our sin, no matter how horrific said sin is

Sample Sentence: “I want to thank all of those who have committed to love me as I have committed to continue hanging out at the pool hall with my neighbor’s wife.”

Jesus – a great teacher who lived a long time ago and, if he were with us today, would most certainly approve of my horrific sin

Sample Sentence: “The Jesus I know would be at the pool hall with me and the neighbor’s wife before he’d ever be seen in some old church.”

So now, thanks to The Devil’s Dictionary of American Religious Words and Phrases, you can finally understand what’s really being said in the comments section.

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School Isn’t The Only Place Where The Satanists Have A Club

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They say that they don’t really worship Satan. He is, they tell us, just a symbol for their rational thought and atheism. All of that is just another way to say that they really do worship Satan. And now, they want to start a club in public schools. We were all shocked when we heard reports of this earlier in the week. That’s natural. But a deeper look reveals that we really shouldn’t be surprised that Satanists want to meet in public schools.

They’ve been meeting in our churches for years.

Satanism isn’t what you think it is. Sure, there’s an element out there that likes to sacrifice goats and drink blood while sitting around and listening to Slayer in the graveyard. But there’s another faction of Satanism that’s much harder to spot. As is usually the case with the devil’s schemes, this particular brand looks really good on the outside. To understand it better, we have to trace it back to its New Testament roots.

Things were changing in Jesus’ ministry. He was switching gears by talking to his disciples more and more about his death. For a group of people who were expecting their Master to be a mighty warrior sent to wipe out the Romans, this was absurd. So Peter pulled the Sovereign King of kings and Lord of lords over to the side to explain a few things to him. There would be no cross, Peter told him. But he didn’t just tell Jesus. He rebuked Jesus. No cross!

Jesus’ response is one of the most cutting in all of Scripture.

But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Matthew 16:23 (ESV)

It’s one thing for Jesus to tell you that you’re missing the point. It’s quite another for him to call you Satan. That’s precisely what Jesus did to Peter. But why? We know that Jesus, the perfect God Man, never sinned so this wasn’t the result of a bad temper. Jesus’ rebuke was righteous, not sinful. Satan was working through Peter to tempt Jesus to avoid the cross. He had attacked Jesus with the same temptation face to face at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry without success (Matthew 4:1-11). Now he was giving it a another shot by using one of Jesus’ closest friends. The last thing Satan wanted was the crucifixion because he knew that it meant the beginning of the end for him.

When I was growing up, my church was always having these rock music seminars where we were taught what rock and roll bands were saying backwards in their songs. It was terrifying. And, to be honest, quite entertaining. The speakers at these seminars would always devote some time to showing us Satanic art work and hand symbols, the most common ones being the pentagram and upside down cross.

If we understand our Bibles correctly, it will be obvious that the symbol which best represents Satan is the invisible cross, not the upside down one. He can work just as easily through the eager church-goer as he can through the devout graveyard dweller. Just ask Peter. And his ultimate goal for both is the same. No cross. Since the cross has already happened, he’s now doing everything he can to turn our attention from it. A quick look at many of our churches reveals that he has been quite successful.

All of those backward masking seminars and record burnings in the 1980s were no threat to Satan. He’s okay with us getting rid of pentagrams, just as long as we don’t replace them with talk of the cross where Christ was crucified in obedience to his Father for the salvation of his people.

And today, Satan is okay with our large, relevant churches and small traditional churches just so long as none of those churches spends anytime preaching about, singing of and trying to live out the cross.

They may not be wearing black, hooded robes and slaughtering goats, but the Satanists are already in the churches. And, like Peter, these proponents of the sneaky brand of Satanism probably don’t even know what they’re spreading. But it doesn’t matter. Every Sunday school or small group lesson about becoming a better person and every sermon about taking your life to the next level or getting more money are what we might call the sacrament of the Satanic church – no cross.

No doubt, Christian groups will do what they can to try to keep the Satanists out of the public schools. They’ll file petitions and contact school board members. Perhaps, before that happens, Christians should address the Satanism in their own churches. After all, it’s hard to stand victoriously against the obvious brand of Satanism on Monday when we embrace the more subtle variety on Sunday.

Our victory will not be found in a court room or a school board meeting. It is found rather at the cross where Jesus won an eternal victory for his people.

We are, be definition, a people of the cross.

Anything less is simply Satanic.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. Colossians 2:13-15 (ESV)

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Ten Things You Need To Know About Georgia

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Every single body of water in the state, including swimming pools, is where the movie Deliverance was filmed. Of course, no one knows for sure where in Georgia it was filmed but if it’s ever discovered that they made it in North Carolina, the entire state of Georgia will cease to exist.

If a man uses his hand to swat away a gnat, he’s from the northern part of the state. If a man can carry on a perfectly good conversation with ten thousand gnats swarming around his face, he’s from the southern part of the state. If a man doesn’t know what a gnat is, he’s from Atlanta and should not be trusted.

For people who live in Atlanta, there are four parts of the state – Inside the Perimeter, Outside the Perimeter, the lake and South Georgia. So by their geography, Turner Field is in south Georgia. That’s why the Braves are moving. To get away from all of the gnats.

Bo Duke gets thirteen percent of the popular vote whenever there’s an election for governor.

The top three college football programs in the state are as follows.

1.) The University of Georgia

2.) Georgia Southern

3.) Valdosta High School

Duck Dynasty is fake. The moon landing is questionable. Professional wrestling is 100% real.

If you live in a small town and you can’t find your teenage son, he’s hanging out in the Piggly Wiggly parking lot.

Tomatoes are not bought. They’re grown in the backyard or in a bucket on the front porch. You don’t buy peaches at the store. Your cousin brings you over a few when he gets off of work at Lane’s. The best watermelons are bought off of a trailer on the side of the road.

Everyone goes to church. It’s not that they’re religious or anything. It’s just that they can’t play on the church softball team if they don’t show up every Sunday.

Most famous country music singers from Georgia have no idea what a gnat is.

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Suppose That You Are The Chairman Of Your Church’s Pastor Search Committee

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Suppose that you are the chairman of your church’s pastor search committee. Most of the handwork has been done. You’ve figured out what type of candidate you’re looking for. You’ve put ads in all the right places. You’ve reviewed resumes. Finally, your search has been narrowed down to two people and you get to meet with them individually today.

Both men somehow managed to meet the standards that your committee has for its new pastor. They’re both young, married, look like a superhero, have 3.5 kids, have all the right letters after their last name and they drive a Buick. Classic pastoral traits.

Your meeting with the first candidate is over lunch and he leaves a fantastic impression. He’s well-dressed and personable. He convinces you that preaching the Bible would be a priority in his ministry. But that won’t be all. This candidate would be a busy pastor. He tells you about all of the ministries he has begun at his current location. There’s the men’s Bible study that he leads on Monday nights. Tuesdays are devoted to a cutting edge outreach program. The Wednesday night program at his church has grown exponentially during his time. On Thursday nights he meets with elders and other key leaders while he devotes his Friday nights to leading open gym. On Saturday nights, due to all of the growth at his current church, this pastor leads a worship service aimed at reaching younger adults who otherwise might not attend on a Sunday morning. And, of course, Sunday nights are devoted to small groups, one of which he hosts at his home.

The old line about a pastor only working one day a week is far from true for this candidate.

Eventually, conversation moves to his family. He tells you how much he loves his wife and 3.5 children. He speaks glowingly of his wife’s hard work of raising the children while he devotes himself to the many ministries of the church. After some small talk, the meal is over and the committee promises to call within the next week.

The second candidate meeting is over dinner. He leaves a different kind of impression. While talking about his current ministry position, his responses are short and to the point. He spends a significant portion of his time preparing sermons and Bible studies but he also frequently checks in on the sick and does quite a bit to lead his church in engaging the community.

This candidate finally starts to say a bit more when you ask him about his family. Like the previous candidate, he talks about how much he loves his wife and children. But he goes into more detail describing all of the nights they spend going to practices, ballet recitals, school meetings and just playing games at home together as a family. There aren’t really all that many evening church events on this man’s iCalendar.

Now it’s time for your committee to make the final decision. While the two candidates have a lot in common there is one thing that separates them. The first candidate is highly dedicated to the ministry of the church over any thing else in life. The second candidate, while certainly devoted to the church, values his ministry to his wife and children over any church ministry.

So which will it be?

The church man or the family man?

When Paul lists the qualifications for pastors in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, he does so in an interesting way. Most of the qualifications he lists are character traits. And those character traits, apart for “able to teach” should be true of all Christian men, not just pastors. In this list, Paul really only gives one responsibility, one thing that the man must do as opposed to the other things that he must be. And this one responsibility has nothing to do with being an entrepreneur, a visionary or a great story teller.

He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 1 Timothy 3:4-5 (ESV)

According to Paul, the most important responsibility that a pastor has, under his devotion to Christ, is his responsibility to love and lead his family.

Find a super-busy pastor and behind him you’re likely to find a church that praises him for doing what they like to call “the Lord’s work.” But behind them, you’ll find an abandoned wife and bitter children who resent him for failing to do what the Bible calls the Lord’s work.

Two candidates.

You only get to pick one.

Which will it be?

The one who devotes his life to the church’s work or the one who devotes his life to the Lord’s work?

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When We Talk About Divorce

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Churches are all over the place when it comes to divorce. Some pastors are sure to get a few amens on the topic so they preach against it every month or so. Others never mention it because the big money people in their church have been married a couple of dozen times.  Wherever you or your church fall on that spectrum, there are a few things that you need to remember.

I grew up in a house that was devastated by divorce. I know all about weekend visits and awkward phone calls. I do not write this as someone who read a book about divorce. I write it as someone who has lived it. I hate divorce. And God does too.

But we must be careful with our hatred of divorce. Yes, it is a sin but like most other sins, just because you have been impacted by it does not mean that you are the guilty party.

I’ve heard a lot of women whose husbands have walked out on them describe the anxiety, loneliness and condemnation they have felt walking into a church building. Whether true or not, they have told me, it sometimes feels like every eye in the house is directing its judgmental gaze toward them. Sadly, in many churches such a scenario is all too true.

The same is true for many men. The stereotype for them is that it was their laziness, drunkenness or infidelity that led to the divorce. I know many men who, though far from perfect, made great sacrifices to save their marriage and family. But it didn’t work. And so along with being abandoned by their wives, they get the added joy of being shunned by their church.

When we talk about divorce, we need to use a surgeon’s scalpel rather than a bully’s club. The scalpel can be painful but when used properly it brings healing. The club just knocks people around. We all know about the guy who loved getting drunk and sleeping with strangers more than he loved his own wife. But we must not forget about the hard-working, Godly husband who comes home one day to the surprise of a note from his wife telling him to jump in a lake and to have fun with the child support payments. One of those men needs strong correction and discipline from his church. The other needs love and assurance. They both need grace.

The Church must not follow the example of presidential politicians on the campaign trail. Trump, Clinton, Sanders and the rest can afford to paint with broad brushes on complex issues in order to appeal to the base. We can’t do that. We must speak to and love the individual in a way that is appropriate for the occasion.

There are a lot of broken hearts out there. Some of those wounds have been self-inflicted and others came like a shot from an assassin. But whatever the situation, God’s grace is sufficient. If we are serious about loving our neighbor we will do the hard work that comes with being vehicles of that grace.

We can’t do that if we are content to simply preach to the choir. And we can’t do it if we’re too scared to share the hard things the Bible says about painful issues. But we can do it if we take the time to know someone for who he is rather than who he used to be married to.

Divorce is painful.

I hate it.

So does God.

But God is the Master of bringing beauty from painful things.

May we who carry the name of Christ be used by him in that process.

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To The Mother Of The Baby Who Won’t Stop Screaming In Church

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Dear mother of the baby who won’t stop screaming in church,

I know that it must be hard for you. I’m sure that you feel like everyone in the building is looking at you. Some of them probably are. You want to be a part of the worship service but your baby doesn’t. Where do you draw the line? At what point do you get up to leave?

You don’t.

Well, at least not as quickly as you may think. I realize that there are times when you just have to take your kid out. But at least while I’m preaching, I’d rather your baby and her funny noises stay.

I’ve been preaching long enough to hear my share of annoying and distracting noises during worship services. I’ve heard the sound of older kids whispering. That’s distracting. I wish they would leave.

I’ve heard the sound of cell phones. I’ve heard one go off while Taps was being played at a funeral. I’ve even had a guy answer his phone when it rang during one of my sermons.

“Hello!”

“I’m in church. Call back later!”

That was distracting. I wouldn’t have minded if he had left.

I guess this means that I’m not the greatest preacher in the world but I’ve even heard the sound of sleeping while I preach. You know, loud snores, heads hitting pews and that sort of thing. It would have been okay with me if those folks would have walked out and found the nearest bed.

All of these noises are distracting and annoying. But there is one sound that is even more distracting and annoying and it has nothing to do with your baby.

It’s the sound of silence.

Don’t get me wrong. Silence has its place, especially in a worship service. But I’ve been in plenty of churches where the sound of a crying baby hasn’t been heard in decades, even in what used to be the nursery. When I hear your child cry or make some weird noise, it reminds me that the church has a future.

I can’t think of a better place for your kid to be, as fussy as he is, than in the presence of other believers who are singing songs to Jesus and listening to the preaching of his word.

I am confident that God will give you wisdom on when exactly you need to take your baby and his crazy noises out into the parking lot. In the meantime, don’t worry about distracting me while I preach and certainly don’t worry about the lady who keeps turning around and making devil faces at you.

That cute little bundle of energy, tears and screams will one day be too big to sit on your lap. Maybe later on in life he’ll even be a leader in the very church where he made noises as an infant. If so, I hope that he’ll remember some of what I said years before when he was fussing on a Sunday morning.

If I never hear another cell phone go off again while I’m peaching, that would be okay.

But if I never hear another crying baby while I preach, I don’t know if I could carry on.

So keep your baby in the building. He needs to be a part of what’s happening. And our church needs to be reminded of it’s future.

Sincerely,

Your Pastor

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Something To Consider Before You Start Counting How Many People Were At Your Church Last Sunday

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He was a traitor.

And a thief.

Jesus could have told him anything. What Jesus chose to say to him shocked most everyone there. It was just two simple words.

“Follow me.”

That comes from Matthew 9:9. The following verse, however, is not in the Bible.

Jesus saw a man sitting at the tax booth and he said to him, “Take up your tax booth and follow me.”

Grace doesn’t work that way. Jesus came to save us from our sins, not affirm us in them. The world, and even some claiming to be Christians, would have us to believe that real love looks beyond the sin and accepts the person as is. That’s not what Jesus does. He told Matthew to leave it all behind. God, in his grace, meets you where you are. Grace never asks you to get your act together first. Grace never waits for you to make the first attempt at change. But when your life is invaded by grace, you will change.

Matthew was no exception.

When he heard the words of Jesus, Matthew obeyed but not by going on a short term missions trip. He didn’t find the nearest orphanage and get to work with the soup distribution. He did probably the last thing you would expect a new follower of Christ to do.

He threw a party.

There was quite the crowd at this party. Other traitors and thieves were there. There were even people who just wore that general old label of sinner. The Bible doesn’t jump out and say why so many sinners showed up to the party Matthew threw for Jesus but if you look closely, you can see it.

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. Matthew 9:10 (ESV)

I’ve been in churches my whole life. I’ve seen a lot of gimmicks used to get people in the doors. When I was a kid, Newt Gingrich showed up to my church on friend Sunday. We also had pack a pew Sundays. Other churches give out free gas cards to the first 50 people in the door or have raffles for iPads. Numerically speaking, these schemes usually work.

And all the Christians walk away from the church service that day talking about the big crowd as evidence for how God worked.

Only God didn’t work.

The gas card and the iPad did.

Sinners weren’t coming to Matthew’s house because of some gimmick. We can’t know all of their reasons but, simply put, they came to Matthew’s house because Jesus was there. The church could learn a lot from Matthew.

There’s more to following Jesus than getting a crowd. Any organization can draw a crowd with free iPads and $200 gas cards. Here’s a cutting edge, relevant idea for you. Perhaps it is the presence of Jesus, not the presence of gadgets and gimmicks, that really impacts sinners.

For years, the church has used the world’s methods to draw a crowd. The church has even tried to act like the world in order to make the world feel more at home at church. And it has worked brilliantly at drawing crowds. Just no so much at making disciples.

Your church may have 5,000 people in it or it may have 5. Either one is fine. But there is something more important to consider before you start thinking about who all was at your church services last weekend.

Was Jesus there?

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Twenty Years Later: Grace, Forgiveness And Redemption

One of the things that I like best about a good church is the promise that when you show up, you’re going to be hit with a message of grace, forgiveness and redemption. A few Sundays ago, that happened before the official worship service had begun.

Once a month I meet with a group of men before church on Sunday mornings. We talk about how bad our teams got beat the night before and we eat. Terry is our leader. He’s a retired Atlanta police officer. He had the Little Five Points beat. Little Five Points was weird before it was cool to be weird. I love hearing Terry speak to us. His words are always encouraging, enthusiastic and drenched with grace. Hearing Terry is good for me.

But on this particular Sunday, I didn’t get to hear Terry’s words of encouragement. No, this time Terry had someone else speak for him. He was a friend that neither one of us had known for very long. For once, Terry got to be the one listening with the rest of us. This one was definitely worth the listen. You never really know how much you don’t know the people you know until you hear their story.

Our friend told of growing up with feelings of hate and rage. Hate towards certain groups of people. Rage because of the way the system was or was not working. Eventually his hate and rage came to a head. A couple of decades ago, that hate and rage led this man to a parking lot where his gang was squaring off against their enemies. Somehow, the man who was now a member of my church and who was talking to us while we ate doughnuts with our sons, was in the middle of that street fight all those years ago.

This was an ugly street fight. I guess they all are. People were hurt. One man went to jail. The man who was speaking to us. But for him, the next few days spent behind bars made that street fight worth it all. His boss paid the money to get him out of jail. When he got out of jail, his boss met him with grace, forgiveness and redemption. Under God’s sovereignty, those three things came together in a beautiful collision that would change this gang member’s life forever.

While my friend was telling his story he held up a yellowish piece of paper. It looked old. It was. It was the form he had gotten the night the police put him into jail. He still keeps that form as a reminder of what God saved him from. It’s a reminder of where he could be today if God hadn’t intervened.

When the story was over and we all started to head our separate ways, I found Terry. There was a question that I had to ask him about the former gang member who was now a friend, brother in Christ and member of our church.

“Terry, most of the trouble he got into was on your beat, Little Five Points. What are the chances that the two of you ever crossed paths all those years ago.”

Terry looked at me like he had seen a ghost. My friend who had just finished telling his story of grace, forgiveness and redemption looked like he was about to cry.

“I was there that night,” Terry said with his usual enthusiasm. “That’s my partner’s signature at the bottom of that yellow sheet of paper.”

And, twenty years later, the cop and the gang member were standing in the same church building, eating doughnuts. Together.

That’s how grace works. It takes former enemies and shows them that they have much more in common than they ever imagined. They are both enemies of God. Neither are beyond the grip of God’s grace, forgiveness and redemption.

Sometimes God sovereignly allows us to see how our paths of sin, grace, forgiveness and redemption come together at the cross.

Even some twenty years after a seemingly random street fight.

Even before the official worship service begins.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (ESV)