Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Elephant in the Room

Recently, there have been a flurry of articles, videos, and books regarding the church's stance on homosexuality, and more specifically....homosexual marriage, crowding social networking sites. Unfortunately, most of them are pretty extreme, and often very divisive...and that's honestly a problem, IMO. Now, bear with me here...

Churches and "Christian leaders" seem to be taking a couple of stances on issues regarding homosexuality and homosexual marriage. The first stance (and the most harsh) is, "It's the biggest sin issue facing our world, and we have to eradicate this problem at all costs" or something in that realm. The second approach is the "Just ignore the issue, and we do not have to deal with it" approach. I do not see many articles or stories out there that differ much from one of these two lines of thought. Of course, some are not quite at the polar extremes that these are...but they normally lean heavily towards one of these two camps. Obviously...the ones that seem to pop up the most are the "God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" postings. Honestly, this just grieves my spirit.

Jesus told us to go into this world and literally "as we are going," MAKE disciples. Right here in Matthew, He says:

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” -- Matthew 28:19-20

What is a disciple? A disciple is simply a follower. A follower who learns (emphasis on the word "learns" here) the ways of the one they are following. Another word for follower is "apprentice." No apprentice masters the craft he/she is learning overnight. It is a long process, often full of failures and problems.  It is through the gentle and patient teaching of the master craftsman that the apprentice hones his or her craft.  Becoming like Jesus is not an overnight process, either.  Jesus does NOT tell us to get people to "sign up" for church or "register" for His kingdom. He tells us to make followers....or to apprentice people in the faith of God.  Inexperienced people, learning to walk with the Lord. 

How can we have a conversation with someone, let alone apprentice them in the faith, if all they ever hear from us is what we are against? Somehow we have come up with a system that assigns a "value" to different types of sin. Some sin, we simply brush over, as it may be more "socially accepted." Lying, cheating, slandering, gossiping, stealing, even sex outside of marriage (all of which are defined by the Bible as sin) are often overlooked by those of us in the church. Why? Honestly, I believe that it is because we are more prone to publicly condemn sin that does not effect our own lives. I am guilty of this...it's easy to tell someone to stop drinking alcohol, because I have not ever been tempted by or addicted to alcohol. It would be much harder for me to write an article or present a message at church on selfishness, pride, anger, or any of the other things that I struggle with every day. The truth is, I believe we make issues like homosexuality/homosexual marriage a big issue, because it takes the focus off of the sin that muddies our own lives.

I am not the definitive scholar in seminary circles, but I find that God views sin in the Bible as just that...sin. Sure, there are different consequences for different sins, but from my experience as a believer in Jesus, studying the Bible, and working in ministry for nearly 20 years....to God, SIN IS SIN.  He doesn't like ANY of it!

We need to be more about showing and teaching others about the character of God, than which store we are boycotting this month. We must stop tryout to simply shout louder than those that we disagree with.   Instead of the world seeing Christians a venomous activists, they need to see Jesus. The same man who spoke these words in Luke,

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye." -- Luke 6:41-42

We tend to forget that Jesus didn't hang out in the temple most of the time. He didn't spend all of his time chatting about the latest cause. The Jesus we find in the Bible spent the majority of his time investing in HIGHLY imperfect men and women. Crooks, salty fishermen, doctors, tax collectors, prostitutes, and even church officials who were only interested in making themselves great, rather than God. Jesus loved the people around Him.

However, we can't just leave it there. You see, Jesus never compromised his own morals or beliefs when He was with people.  He didn't join these people in their sin, but His love and compassion were so evident that He was able to speak the truth of God's word into their lives.  He was the same man with his closest friends and family, as He was when teaching to large crowds. He never gave them permission to continue sinning. In fact, He called on people to repent (or turn) of the sin in their lives, and follow Him. To die to themselves and follow Him. If you continue to read in the Bible, you see the changes that come about in the lives of those He was around. They changed because of their faith and interaction with Jesus, and that was the birth of the church.

Never should we as Christians condone, or ignore sin. However, we MUST be careful not to label others or condemn them based on what they struggle with in their own lives. Jesus died on the cross for each one of us. We have to constantly remind ourselves of this. Jesus was called onto the carpet by the religious leaders of that day for spending time among tax collectors...who were common thieves in that society. This was His response:

"On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” -- Mark 2:17

Romans 3:23 tells that "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." All of us...ALL of us are sinners by nature. The difference in the life of a follower of Christ is this...we are sinners that have been saved from our sins by God's grace.  If it were not for the grace and love of God, I would not be any different than the worst sinner that you can imagine.

God likes to remind me of that fact every day. I'm grateful for this reminder. It helps me remember that I am not the center of the universe, that what God has for me is so much better than anything I could ever come up with on my own.

For many these days, homosexuality would seem to be that elephant in the room that no one knows what to do with. It has become the emotional issue that sparks endless debate.  However, I would submit that the true Elephant in the Room is our own sin...the sin (in whatever form it takes) that blinds and distorts our own view of God.   Sin that might even be deemed "socially acceptable" in our society.  Perhaps we need to focus on that first...and let God bring people into our lives that we can help along in the journey of faith that is being a disciple of Jesus.   Follow His footsteps...and He'll take care of the rest...

Saturday, April 13, 2013

How Far We've Come...

I turned 38 last month...no, not 40 yet...38.  I think the thing that is ringing so loudly within my heart is that 38 marks 20 years since I graduated high school.  That's hard to fathom...even harder to say...20 years.  I know that in the grand scheme of history, 20 years is not that long, but I have been thinking a lot about how much I have changed in that time, as well as how much our world has changed.

20 years ago, I had not ever heard of Al Qaeda, email (I know, hard to believe), never been out of the country, and still lived on a farm.  I drove a small truck with no air conditioning, and could fill it up with gas for less than $20.  20 years ago, I had no idea what God had in store for my life.  I had no idea where this farm-boy from New Mexico would land...I just knew that God had a plan...and I had to trust Him to show me the way.

I walked onto the campus at Hardin-Simmons University with a plan in my mind.  That plan involved business, making money, and doing big things...all in the name of the Lord, of course.  I started classes, made friends, and honestly had a great time.  I met some young men in Anderson Hall, our dorm, that changed my life:  Michael Kirchenbauer, Mike Southard, Eric Von Atzigen, Chris Heep, Todd Peterson, Brad McConkey, Aaron Garmon, Jason Radcliffe, Dave Bryant, Jeff Irving, Daniel Kilcoyne, Kevin Godin, Jeep Calvert, Paul Corder, and Brady Kolb.  Of course, there were a lot more people in my life, but these guys were, and still are amazing men of God.  I spent so much time talking with each of these guys, singing, playing guitar, using Radcliff's blow-gun to cause trouble, praying, laughing...and every other manner of craziness that goes on in a college dormitory.  The difference between these guys, and other typical college guys was pretty distinct...they all had an intense love and relationship with Jesus Christ. 

We spent many nights crowded in a single dorm room, or out on a patch of grass praying for one another, listening to struggles, asking for and providing accountability as we were being forged into men.  We had dumb nicknames for each other...we did a lot of dumb (but fun) stuff together...and grew together.  God used each of these men to shape me in some way.  Each has their own gifting, their own strengths, and weaknesses.  It was, and is an "iron sharpening iron" group for me.  I am who I am today, in part, due to these men.

During this time, God began to speak to me.  Through ministries that God allowed me to be a part of, I began working more and more with teenagers.  I spent three summers during college working at 10 different weeks of youth camp a summer.  I was involved in a drama team through the BSM that allowed us to travel to many area churches to work with area youth.  There was, and is, something about young people that I find addictive.  At the risk of sounding creepy, let me explain.  Teenagers are endless sources of energy.  They are creative, entertaining, and usually pretty happy.  Unlike "adults," their optimism and drive have not been dulled by the cares of this world.  Most of all, their love for the Savior, and ability to minister in all sorts of ways is incredible!  I am just so encouraged (most of the time) to be around young people! 

Back to the story...I became less and less thrilled with business classes, and even though they were going well, I didn't enjoy them.  The prospect of spending my life chasing money around started sounding pretty lame...  I wanted to do something with more meaning.  So, after the toughest semester in college, halfway through my junior year, I switched my major to communication.  At this point, I still had no real idea where the Lord was taking me...I just knew he was moving within me.  Many of these guys that I mentioned earlier were experiencing similar situations as they sought God's direction for their lives, as well.  I wish I could say that we all knew exactly where God was taking each of us, but honestly...we had no idea at the time.  God didn't reveal His plan for each of us all at once, but gradually.  We were all different ages, so some graduated and moved on, and we all eventually moved out of the dorm.  However, God wasn't done with us...He was just getting started.

I did not fully know that God wanted me in the full-time ministry until I was already out of college, and newly married.  I had an idea that He might take me that direction, but nothing was certain...that is until I met Randy.  Honestly, I couldn't tell you his last name.  He was at a youth camp that I attended, and had been the pastor at a little church outside of Abilene...and asked me if I knew anyone interested in being a part-time youth pastor.  Long story short, Randy put me in touch with them, and a few weeks later, we were moving out to the thriving community of View, Texas...  It was an interesting church.  We had about 82 in worship on a good Sunday, and I had about 12-15 youth in the community that came.  We met some amazing people in that little community...and some not-so-amazing people...but God was working in us.

After Amy graduated, she received a job offer back in my home town of Clovis, NM.  We felt God calling us to Clovis, and since it had insurance, and a real paycheck, (I was selling cars at this point...and ministering on the side) it wasn't a tough decision.  Within a year, the youth pastor at our church in Clovis resigned.  I had found work at a bank (you know, I had all those business skills and classes), but it was NOT where I wanted to stay for long.  Our church called and asked us to consider coming onto their staff full-time...and we were off.

We spent some amazing days working in 3 different churches in Clovis.  We met some absolutely amazing people that have continued to shape our family (our two daughters came along during our time there) to this day.  God took us on mission trips, camps, Disciple Now weekends, youth-led services, service projects, and a TON of time spent with one another.  The love we have for so many people in that area is HUGE!

I would be lying if I said everything has been perfect through all of this journey.  We have faced some intense spiritual and financial struggles in the ministry (that'll be a shocker to any of you in the ministry...:) ), and have SERIOUSLY considered walking away from it on several occasions.  There were a few people who were placed in our path that we did not expect.  People who did not share or understand our vision for ministry.  These were the folks that brought about some of the darkest periods of our life in ministry.  Through it all, God has always remained the same.  He had given me an amazingly Godly wife, parents and brother, in-laws, plus the guys I mentioned earlier to lean on.  He also brought men into my life like Nick Watts and Mike Martindale.  Men who have been in the ministry longer than me, but treat me as an equal...men that I HUGELY look up to...and call friends.  Nick walked with me through some extremely dark days...many phone calls...many notes of encouragement...talks at his house...and just making me laugh!

2 years ago, God threw us a curve ball.  He asked us to move to Austin...and compared to any place I've ever lived...this place is HUGE!  I am so amazed by our church family here.  We have a great staff, very supportive youth parents, TONS of volunteers (it's like a magical dream for ministers!), and a passion to see the lost come to know Jesus.  They have been super patient with us as we learn and grow into our roles here in this new city.   We are so thrilled to be a part of Hillcrest Baptist Church! 

God has also allowed us opportunities to travel around the world to do ministry.  This door opened up about 2 years ago.  We have been to Budapest, Hungary...Chiang Mai, Thailand...and Prague, Czech Republic...all in the past 2 1/2 years!  God allows us to teach and lead worship for youth conferences in these places...which has been amazing!  Through this ministry, God has allowed us to work with fellow ministers all over the world!  He has even opened the door for us to take a group of our own youth and adults back to Hungary for 2 weeks of missions this summer.  We are SO looking forward to that!

20 years...in that time, God has done so much in my life.  I now have an amazing family...amazing friends from all over the world...and we really ARE doing something with meaning.  We have seen countless lives changed by the power of Jesus.  We have seen our students grow up to be ministers, themselves...to feel the call to the mission fields around the world.  I pray that there are even better days ahead.  While our world is changing and becoming less stable, the opportunities for sharing Jesus are skyrocketing....

...and the men that I've mentioned here...each one of them has a role to play in these ministries...  Many of them are pastors, youth pastors, missionaries, working with drug rehabs, musicians, police officers, you name it...and all of them are still running after our Savior, Jesus.  I thank God for these men...(and listen, there are a TON of Godly ladies that have shaped my life, as well...but I have a special place in my heart for these guys)...and pray that in another 20 years, we can look back and see what God has done with a bunch of goofy dorm guys!