Off My Bookshelf- “Crazy Busy” by Kevin DeYoung

IMG_6984

“It’s not wrong to be tired.  It’s not wrong to feel overwhelmed.  It’s not wrong to go through seasons of complete chaos.  What is wrong- and heartbreakingly foolish and wonderfully avoidable- is to live a life with more craziness than we want because we have less Jesus than we need”…Kevin DeYoung

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been an avid reader.  Being completely honest, most of the books I enjoy probably wouldn’t interest you- and as a result, I regularly incur the (loving) mockery of my wife for my choices in “leisure reading.”  True story- I once chose a book called “Death By Meeting” by Patrick Lencioni for my beach reading on a family vacation. Still haven’t lived that one down.  But, to be fair, I am much better than I used to be at running meetings!

That being the case, though, I read what I like, and what I think will most benefit me in my calling as a Jesus follower, husband, father, pastor, and leader in God’s church.  And every now and again, I’ll finish off a book that I think to myself, Man, this one would be great to share.  Crazy Busy, by Kevin DeYoung, is one such work.  The subtitle of the book describes it well- “a (mercifully) short book about a (really) big problem.”  And what is that problem, according to DeYoung?  Unrestrained, out of control busyness that is robbing too many of us of the joy and vibrancy God intends for us in our lives, relationships, and faith.

With giving away the entirety of the work (because I’d love for you to read it yourself- in fact, I’ll loan my copy to the first person who asks me for it!), here are a few nuggets that I found especially helpful, encouraging, and challenging…

“Busyness can ruin our joy…rob our hearts…and cover up the rot in our souls” (26-30).  DeYoung makes clear from the jump that having a full calendar, inbox, or to do list isn’t inherently wrong.  There is much good to do in this world as we follow Jesus and love and serve others!  That said, often we “default” into unrestrained busyness simply because we haven’t taken the time or made the effort to order our lives with any purpose or intentionality.  We’re all busy, but we have no idea why or how.  And the results of this endless, thoughtless hurry are most often destructive to our souls and our relationships.

“Our understanding of busyness must start with the one sin that begets so many of our other sins- pride” (34).  This was my favorite- and if I’m keeping it real, least favorite- chapter in the book.  DeYoung masterfully uncovers the many manifestations of pride that often fuels our busyness.  He calls them “the killer P’s”- people pleasing, pats on the back, possessions, proving ourselves, pity, poor planning, power, perfectionism, position, prestige, and posting (i.e. social media).  And in light of all these, he asks a penetrating question- In all our busyness, are we trying to do good, or are we trying to look good?  So often, the operating principle of our lives is not to do the right thing, but to project the right image of ourselves to others.  I know I’m often guilty as charged on this point.  We must put this sinful compulsion to death.

“It’s taken me several years, a lot of reflection, and a bunch of unnecessary busyness to understand that when it comes to good causes and good deeds, ‘do more or disobey’ is not the best thing we can say” (47).  This quote comes from DeYoung’s chapter on what he calls the “terror of total obligation”- in other words, that creeping feeling that no matter how hard we work (even to the point of physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion), we are never “enough” for God or others.  I love his reminder “there is good news” for the weary- We are not the Christ, and were never intended to be.  We can rest in His finished work on our behalf and find freedom to pursue the unique gifts, callings, and opportunities He has placed before each of us.  After all, we were never made to “hold the whole world in our hands!”  God’s already got that!

“Sometimes I wonder if I’m so busy because I’ve come to believe the lie that busyness is the point.  And nothing allows you to be busy- all the time, with anyone anywhere- like having the whole world in a little black rectangle in your pocket” (83).  The book takes a refreshingly balanced approach to its evaluation of technology and its effects on our everyday lives.  It notes the good, but also recognizes the danger inherent to living in an “always on” world.  DeYoung notes wisely that the advent of modern, mobile technology has shrunk our collective attention spans to a dangerously low level; we demonstrate all the characteristics of an addict yearning for his next “hit” as we anxiously, constantly check our screens for the next digital “fix.”  If this tendency is left unquestioned and unchecked, it will invariably leave us everywhere but right here– i.e. fully present with the real people sitting across from us.

“There must be times when I don’t work; otherwise I won’t rest.  And there must be times to sleep, or I will keep borrowing what I can’t repay.  I’m not so important in God’s universe that I can’t afford to rest.  But my God-given limitations are so real that I can’t afford not to” (99).  This was personally very convicting.  I haven’t been getting enough sleep for some time now- and I know it, and I know it’s not good for me (or others who have to be around me!), but I’ve continued to perpetuate the pattern.  I know sleep doesn’t seem very “spiritual,” but the reality is that God made us physical beings with physical limitations, and to persistently deny those limitations is actually a form of God-denying, self-exalting idolatry.  After all, according to Psalm 127:2, God “gives to His beloved sleep.”

“We won’t say no to more craziness until we can say yes to more Jesus.  We will keep choosing dinner rolls over the Bread of Life.  We will choose the fanfare of the world over the feet of Jesus.  We will choose busyness over blessing (118).  DeYoung closes the book with a simple chapter called “The One Thing You Must Do.”  He doesn’t have a ten step plan, or even one particularly profound or remarkable suggestion for overcoming sinful busyness.  He simply calls us- and himself as the author- to place a non-negotiable priority on spending time every day at the feet of Jesus in His Word and prayer.  In a spiritual environment where “habits” often get a bad rap for being too routine or inauthentic, this is an important reminder that the truth is, for most of us, we do what we make time to do.  And of all the thousand things in this world we can make time for, is there anything of a more crucial priority than dedicated time with our Savior and Lord?  The Bible says no, there isn’t.  We would do well to live according to this conviction.

This is obviously only a snapshot of what’s available in this easy-to-read-but-difficult-to-apply little book.  I hope it’s as helpful, encouraging, and challenging for you as it was for me.  And remember, if you want to read more, send me an email at tblount@fellowshipchurch.cc or a personal message on Facebook, and I’ll be glad to share the book, on one condition- that you’ll actually “slow down” enough to take the time to read it! 

I’ll close with a promise from Jesus Himself- one that has long been quite meaningful to me as I seek His rest in a world that constantly tries to rob it…

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”  (Matthew 11:28-29, ESV)

Keeping Up Appearances

Mask

“Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil”…Proverbs 3:7 (ESV)

It’s been a summer of wisdom at Fellowship Church as we’ve spent the months of June and July exploring the Old Testament’s “wisdom books,” namely Psalms and Proverbs.  As we’ve made the turn to Proverbs this week, we’re zeroing in on the stark contrast at the core of this collection of pithy, memorable sayings- that between (godly) wisdom and (worldly) foolishness.

I think most of us, myself included, really like the idea of wisdom.  Certainly, if given the choice, most of us would rather be described as wise than foolish.  The problem is, though, that God’s brand of wisdom- in reality, the only true wisdom- often seems quite upside down in our world ruined and wrecked by the deception of sin.  Walking in godly wisdom can be costly in the short term- and indeed, all too ironically, may actually earn us to label “fool” from those bought in and caught up in sin’s web of lies.  Given that as the case, here’s the challenging question I want us to consider as we pursue godly wisdom this month and beyond…

Would you rather look foolish for a while, or live foolish forever?

Don’t be too quick to answer now, because while it seems like a softball of a question, our day to day life in this world often betrays the obvious.  Here are a few examples…

  • It looks foolish to many to walk according to God’s high standard of sexual purity, but in the end, the Bible makes clear that destruction awaits those who indulge their every desire for momentary pleasure.
  • It looks foolish to many to be both disciplined and generous with money and material possessions, but in the end, the Bible teaches us that freedom and joy are found not when we hoard, but instead when we give.
  • It looks foolish to many to humbly “consider others better than yourself,” but in the end, that’s how thriving relationships- be it in marriage, in friendship, in the church (or beyond)- are built and sustained.
  • It looks foolish to take risks for the sake of the advance of the Gospel- for example, in places and among people groups that are hostile to it- but in the end, God gets glory and others are set free to follow Jesus through such “dangerous” obedience.

The truth is, we live in a world that regularly runs hard down paths that the Bible calls “foolish”- and in doing so, actually considers themselves to be “wise…enlightened…and progressive.”  I’m more and more convinced that the most significant problem we face isn’t even the specific choices we make, but the deep rooted spirit of pride that underlies them.  C.S. Lewis wrote about this very thing in his classic work, The Screwtape Letters (written from the perspective of an experienced demon seeking to draw humans away from God)…

“The Enemy (in Screwtape’s language, this refers to God) loves platitudes.  Of a proposed course of action He wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions; Is it righteous?  Is it prudent?  Is it possible?  Now if we can keep men asking, ‘Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time?  Is it progressive or reactionary?  Is this the way that history is going?’ they will neglect the relevant questions. 

And the questions they do ask are, of course, unanswerable; for they do not know the future, and what the future will be depends very largely on just those choices which they now invoke the future to help them make.  As a result, while their minds are buzzing in this vacuum, we have the better chance to slip in and bend them to the action we have decided on.  And great work has already been done…For the descriptive adjective “unchanged,” we have substituted the emotional adjective “stagnant.” (138-39)

Is this not a striking depiction of the age in which we live, and the kind of thinking in which we often find ourselves caught up?  Rather than asking the “simple” questions presented by God in the Bible, we expend our energies navel-gazing and analyzing how our choices- be they about sex, money, family, politics, authority, or anything else- will appear to the observing world around us.  We so desperately want to be perceived as “wise…enlightened…and progressive” that we will often forfeit the ability to actually be these things in the eternal reality of God.

I want to examine yourself humbly and honestly this week, and ask God to show you how many of your words and actions in a given day are subject to what pastor and author John Ortberg terms “impression management.”  Take a long, hard look at your conversations, at your social media posts, and at the choices you make as an individual or as a family.  Ask yourself, “Now where did I get the idea to say or do that?”  And if the honest answer is that it came from anywhere other than God or a trusted, godly source, ask yourself if you’re really walking in wisdom there, or if you are simply acting out of the fear of looking foolish in front of others.

I like the way pastor and author Mark Batterson talks about this- “If you aren’t willing (as a Jesus follower) to look foolish, you’re foolish.  Faith requires a willingness to look foolish.”  I don’t know the specifics of your situation, and where and how God may be leading you to “look foolish” in the world’s eyes to follow Him in trust and obedience.  But I do know this- It would be the pinnacle of foolishness to turn aside from His voice and “go with the flow” of competing voices instead.  The question is- Are you willing to trust, and act in accordance with, the conviction that God’s ways really are the best ways…even when that’s difficult to see in the temporary?

So back to the question we began with- Would you rather look foolish for a while, or live foolish forever?  I challenge you today to abandon the exhausting effort of “keeping up appearances,” and simply listen to the voice of the Father, trusting Him to lead you into wisdom and its benefits.  He may take you some places you never thought you’d go, but in the end, it’s a road- indeed, the only road- that leads to real life.

 

Give Me Liberty, Or Give Me Death!

Breaking chain

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery”…Galatians 6:1 (ESV)

“Give me liberty, or give me death!”  What comes to mind when you read or hear this declaration?  Is it not the rallying cry of the American Revolution, expressed famously by Patrick Henry in response to the tyranny of the British crown?  200+ years after the winds of revolution blew through the thirteen colonies to bring about the birth of a nation, there is still something about freedom– not just as a political theory, but as a lived experience- that stirs the spirit, doesn’t it?

As tremendous a thing as it is to celebrate the blessing of American independence today, though, what we find when we read the Bible’s New Testament is that liberty is an idea that far transcends- and long pre-dates- the story of a single nation-state, American or otherwise.  The Apostle Paul’s letters, in particular, contend with stubborn intensity for the primacy of the unique, unmatched freedom that is found only in a right relationship with Jesus Christ.  And nowhere is this argument advanced more forcefully than in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

To provide a bit of backstory, Paul had launched the church at Galatia on one of his missionary journeys across Asia Minor, or what we now know as the Mediterranean rim stretching from the northern Middle East into far eastern Europe.  In the time that lapsed between the church’s birth and the time of Paul’s writing, a group of false teachers known as the “Judaizers” had risen to prominence and began to lead the new Jesus followers astray.

Specifically, they argued that repentance from sin and faith in Jesus weren’t sufficient to make someone right with God, but that instead there must be additional works performed to complete one’s salvation.  These works found their roots in the Old Testament Jewish law, and included ritualistic cleansing laws, strict dietary restrictions, and circumcision (!).  There began to be an “insider/outsider” division in the church between those who submitted to such laws and those who did not.  As you might expect, this led to two major problems- deep seated disunity between supposed Jesus followers along ethnic lines, and doctrinal doubts that threatened to undermine the Galatians’ confidence in the Gospel message itself.

In light of this, Paul goes to great lengths to fight for this church’s freedom in Jesus Christ.  Recognizing that works-based religion is the “default mode” of the human heart (a thought that reformer Martin Luther would revisit over 1500 years later), Paul takes his readers back time and again to the Gospel reality that our standing before God is not- and can never be– based on any work of our own, but solely on the perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus.  As Paul explains, this isn’t just an empty theory, but something meant to be a lived experience each and every day.  So what are some of the practical ways that we experience Gospel freedom in the “ins and outs” of life in this world…

  • Gospel freedom means hope in the face of your struggles. Because Jesus has set us free from the power of sin, we no longer have to resign ourselves to a life void of deep level transformation.  Whatever your unique sin struggle, the power of Jesus Christ within you affords you the ability to overcome it and walk in righteousness.
  • Gospel freedom means grace in the face of your failures. Because of the finished work of Jesus, your failures no longer define you; His victory does!  This means that even when you fall short of God’s standard (and don’t we all?), His grace is available and sufficient to restore you into right fellowship with Him to keep you moving forward.  To experience this, of course, requires honesty, humility, and repentance.
  • Gospel freedom means humility in the face of your successes. We often don’t think of this as much, but it is no less powerful- and no less important.  Pride is such a vicious prison; it requires you to constantly “keep up appearances” to manage the image you want to project to the world around you.  Christ-centered humility frees us from such compulsive impression management and enables to serve God and others without obsessing over what they think of us.
  • Gospel freedom means courage in the face of uncertainty, and even danger. There are times when God will call you, as a part of His family, to say and do things that are well outside your proverbial “comfort zone.”  So how can you muster the courage to trust and obey in these moments?  By recognizing that your calling is not based on your qualifications, but on His; that your obedience is not made possible by your ability, but by His; and that your success is not defined by your visible results, but by your faithfulness to His

So what’s the alternative to Gospel freedom?  As Paul puts it, a “yoke of slavery.”  “Slavery” trades in the hope of the Gospel for a “try harder, do better” message that put all the focus not on Jesus, but on self.  The net effect of this is not a growing love for God and delight in righteousness, but a begrudging spirit that never can seem to measure up.  God quickly becomes a cruel taskmaster to appease, rather than a kind, compassionate Father to love.

On this Independence Day, my hope and prayer for you is that you’ll live in the freedom that Jesus has made possible for you through the Gospel- and that the result will be ever increasing joy for you, and ever increasing glory for God in and through your life!

The Southern Baptist Convention Takes On The Alt-Right: What Happened, Why It Matters, and What It Means For Us

I Am A Man

Last Wednesday, at its annual gathering in Phoenix, Arizona, the Southern Baptist Convention overwhelmingly approved a resolution condemning all forms of racism in America, targeting specifically what has become known over the past year as the “alt-right” white nationalist movement.

This was undoubtedly a significant moment for a body that was- tragically, but truthfully- born and built in the 19th century on an expressly pro-slavery position, and has a checkered history on issues of racial equality and justice.  At the same time, for those who have been paying attention not just to the SBC’s past but to its recent present and seeming future, the move shouldn’t be all that surprising.  Last week’s resolution marked the third consecutive year that the body has taken up the cause of racial reconciliation in its gathering, immediately following last June’s condemnation of the Confederate battle flag.  The convention is growing more diverse in more ways than one, and rising SBC leaders- while maintaining a steadfast commitment to biblical authority and traditionally held convictions- have proven increasingly eager to speak out prophetically on a broader range of social and moral issues, with none more prominent than race.

So why are we talking about this anyway?  Two reasons…

1- Southern Baptists represent America’s second largest organized Christian body, surpassed only by Roman Catholics, and are therefore a leading voice of influence among American Christians, especially in the Southeastern US.

2- Fellowship Church is affiliated with the SBC, meaning that we voluntarily hold to the convention’s statement of belief (Baptist Faith & Message 2000) and that we voluntarily contribute financially to the convention’s collective missions and ministry efforts across North America and around the world.

That being the case, I think it is vitally important that we (a) understand what happened last week in Phoenix, (b) identify why it matters, and (c) consider what it means for us as followers of Jesus gathered together in this community.  First, take a few moments to read the full text of the resolution for yourself…

RESOLUTION 10
ON THE ANTI-GOSPEL OF ALT-RIGHT WHITE SUPREMACY

WHEREAS, Scripture teaches, “From one man [God] has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live” (Acts 17:26); and

WHEREAS, The Psalmist proclaimed, “The earth and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, belong to the LORD” (Psalm 24:1); and

WHEREAS, The Apostle Peter said, “God doesn’t show favoritism, but in every nation the person who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him” (Acts 10:34–35); and

WHEREAS, Our justification before God is based on faith in Christ Jesus alone and not in our ethnicity
(Galatians 3:27–28); and

WHEREAS, Scripture proclaims that Jesus is purchasing by His blood believers “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9); and

WHEREAS, Throughout eternity we will gather with a “multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language” in worship of our risen Savior (Revelation 7:9); and

WHEREAS, The Baptist Faith and Message conveys that all Christians are obligated to make the will of Christ supreme in their own lives and in human society, opposing all forms of racism, selfishness, and vice, and bringing government and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love; and

WHEREAS, We know from our Southern Baptist history the effects of the horrific sins of racism and hatred; and

WHEREAS, In 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention repudiated “historic acts of evil, such as slavery,” committed “to eradicate racism in all its forms from Southern Baptist life and ministry,” and “genuinely repent[ed] of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously or unconsciously”; and

WHEREAS, In recent years the Convention has nominated and elected individuals from a variety of ethnicities, including electing our first African-American president in 2012; and

WHEREAS, In recent resolutions the Southern Baptist Convention called on “all Christian men and women to pray and labor for the day when our Lord will set all things right and racial prejudice and injustice will be no more” (2014); expressed continued grief “over the presence of racism and the recent escalation of racial tension in our nation” (2015); and urged fellow Christians to discontinue using the Confederate battle flag, acknowledging that it is “used by some and perceived by many as a symbol of hatred, bigotry, and racism, offending millions of people” (2016); and

WHEREAS, More than 20 percent (nearly eleven thousand) of our cooperating Southern Baptist congregations identify as predominately non-Anglo and for the last three years more than 50 percent of Southern Baptist new church plants have been predominately non-Anglo; and

WHEREAS, B&H Academic recently published Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention, highlighting our continuing need to root out vestiges of racism from our own hearts as Southern Baptists; and

WHEREAS, Racism and white supremacy are, sadly, not extinct but present all over the world in various white supremacist movements, sometimes known as “white nationalism” or “alt-right”; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 13–14, 2017, decry every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we denounce and repudiate white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as a scheme of the devil intended to bring suffering and division to our society; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we acknowledge that we still must make progress in rooting out any remaining forms of intentional or unintentional racism in our midst; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we earnestly pray, both for those who advocate racist ideologies and those who are thereby deceived, that they may see their error through the light of the Gospel, repent of these hatreds, and come to know the peace and love of Christ through redeemed fellowship in the Kingdom of God, which is established from every nation, tribe, people, and language.

It is critical to note that despite some initial procedural difficulties getting the resolution to a floor vote, support for this statement and the convictions it expresses was, by all accounts, unanimous among the near-5,000 voters present.  In other words, this is no “fringe segment” of the convention, but rather a solidly representative group of Baptist leaders and laypeople from across the entire nation.

This is obviously a significant statement saturated with Gospel truth and anchored deeply in God’s Word.  Before delving into why the “alt-right” movement is described above as not only racist, but also “anti-Gospel,” let me clarify what a convention resolution is and is not.  Given that all Baptist churches exist autonmously- that is, outside of any formal hierarchy- resolutions are non-binding on individual congregations such as Fellowship.  They are position statements, not orders.

In Baptist life, it is our opportunity- and let it be noted, our responsibility- to examine all such statements through a biblical lens and respond to them accordingly.  That being the case, how should we think about- and even more importantly, what should we do about- this strongly worded, much talked about resolution at an individual and local level?  Let’s consider this together…

  • Most significant (in my view) is the resolution’s incisive identification of “alt-right white supremacy” as not only inherently and thoroughly racist, but “anti-Gospel.” That’s a pretty serious charge, wouldn’t you say?  So does it hold up to biblical scrutiny, based on our understanding what the “Gospel” is?  I would answer, without hesitation, yes.  Here’s why…
    • The Bible teaches that all men and women were created in God’s image. This places all racial and ethnic groups of equal value before God.  None are inherently superior- or inferior- to any other.
    • The Bible teaches that the fundamental problem of our lives is sin– not the absence of a particular racial or ethnic identity, be it white or any other. All have sinned.
    • The Bible teaches God’s solution to our sin problem is seen in the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. Even setting aside the fact that Jesus Himself was not white, it is critical to recognize the racial and ethnic universality of His saving work.  His sinless life is credited to all who believe, regardless of race; His sacrificial death is sufficient for all who trust, regardless of ethnicity; His victorious resurrection is a triumph for all who surrender, regardless of national identity.
    • The Bible teaches start to finish that God is deliberately building a church and a Kingdom that is global in scope, encompassing “every tribe, language, people, and nation.” His Kingdom transcends all earthly kingdoms and overcomes all earthly barriers.  Such a beautifully diverse Kingdom magnifies His glory supremely.
  • Thinking practically, it is not difficult to see how racist or nationalistic ideologies undermine the local church’s ability to faithfully fulfill her mission, or (in the positive) how potentially powerful it is when a local church commits to reflect and pursue the far-reaching, God-glorifying diversity which our Creator intended. Particularly in the tense, divisive days in which we live today not only in our nation, but across the globe, it is a phenomenal “counter cultural” witness to the watching world when the church is a leading voice and example of what racial healing, unity, and cooperation can look like through the power of the biblical Gospel.

That said, how can you put into practice individually- and how can we put into practice corporately as a church- the convictions expressed in this resolution?  This is admittedly a long haul conversation, not something that will be solved with a quick fix of any kind.  But here are a few ideas of stir our thinking today…

  • We must first recognize and repent of any racial or ethnic prejudice that exists within our own hearts and minds. So often, especially on hot button issues such as this one, we all too quickly look to point the finger at others without “keeping it real” about our own struggles.  I get that it can be incredibly uncomfortable to own up to your sin, but we simply cannot move forward with any integrity or influence without first getting our own house in order before God and before others.
  • We must also become- much as the SBC has done nationally- become a prophetic voice in our community as to the “anti-Gospel” of all racism, and in this cultural, specifically of “alt-right white supremacy.” Where we encounter it- be it within our own congregation, or in the community at large- we must be bold in confronting it as a grievous sin and pointing to the Bible’s clear teaching on the universality of the image of God, the problem of sin, and the solution of the Gospel.
  • We must work hard to understand- and empathize with- the unique challenges and struggles experienced by minority groups. I believe this happens through the intentional cultivation of relationships with those of diverse backgrounds, as well as a willingness to ask questions that may not have particularly easy or comfortable answers.  We simply must have the humility to listen to those who are different than us, and seek genuine understanding before self-justification.
  • We must always, always, always anchor our words and actions firmly in God’s Word, not our own opinions or the sway of surrounding culture. It is easy to get swept up in the emotional frenzy of a social media driven world, but our convictions as Christians ought to run much deeper than simply the controversy of the week.  As the SBC resolution demonstrates with tremendous clarity, this is without question a Gospel issue, and one that is undoubtedly worth fighting for.  But to do that faithfully, we must do the work necessary to understand why that is so- not just because it makes us feel good, or feel like we “fit in” to our cultural surroundings.
  • Most of all, we must maintain a steadfast commitment to our God-given mission- “to make disciples of all nations.” Racism and nationalism simply can’t be harbored in our hearts if that mission is going to be pursued and completed.  To reach all, we must love and value all- just as God does. To teach all, we must come eye to eye with Bible’s clear teaching on these issues- and be prepared to be “doers of the Word, not hearers only,” while calling others who identify as Jesus followers to do the same.  Further, we must commit ourselves to making the most of every opportunity for cross-cultural partnerships in this global mission, not viewing or treating our minority brothers and sisters as mission projects, but rather as mission partners.

It is a massive task to attempt to take on such a weighty issue in a limited space like this one, but my hope and prayer is that what you’ve read here today will spark in you a response of repentance (where it is needed), compassion (because it is always needed), and a humble, passionate commitment to engage this issue through a Gospel framework.  I encourage and challenge you to take some time this week to dig into the biblical teaching on this issue on your own.  Allow God’s Word to speak for itself, and be ready to receive it and put it into practice as it does!

If you have additional questions, or would like to engage in further conversation on this issue, I encourage you to contact me at tblount@fellowshipchurch.cc

The Happiest Place On Earth

Magic Kingdom

I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!”…Psalm 122:1 (ESV)

“We’re going to Disney World!”  Last Christmas morning, that was the big announcement in the Blount household.  In 147 days, to kick off our summer break, we would be spending a few days in what has commonly been called “the happiest place on Earth.”  Two weeks ago and four days ago, that countdown ended, and we took our long awaited trip…and it did not disappoint!  It was an exhausting week, to be sure, but one filled with so many special surprises and memorable moments for our family.  It did these parents’ hearts good to be able to enjoy this unique blessing with our kids.

So much can be said- and has been said- about what Disney does well, but the single thing that struck me more than any other was just how happy those working there seemed to be.  Despite the fact that they were working in very crowded conditions, and amidst the oppressive Florida heat and humidity, it was as though they counted it a genuine privilege to serve their guests- millions of them annually- with joy, passion, and excellence.  Add to this the staggering reality that it requires upwards of 75,000 cast members to keep the show running every single day, and their ability to build and sustain that kind of culture becomes all the more impressive.

Reflecting on our family’s experience as we returned home, here’s the question that I haven’t been able to shake since-
When was the last time I was as committed to serving God and others in the way that Disney’s cast members were committed to serving meSpecifically, when was the last time I showed up to Fellowship Church on a Sunday (or any other time, for that matter) with the humbling sense that I am even allowed and afforded such a great privilege?  When was the last time I approached my calling- which is of eternal weight and significance- with the same level of joy, passion, and excellence displayed by those hosting others on a temporary vacation?

You may have noticed those words- “joy, passion, and excellence”- and connected them to one of our Core Actions at Fellowship- look alive.  God’s Word makes clear that we ought to approach Him with such a spirit- “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!  Serve the Lord with gladness!” (Psalm 100:1-2a)- and additionally, that we ought to demonstrate the same attitude in our dealings with one another- “Through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13b).  When we do these things in these ways, God’s rightful glory is magnified- and others’ lives have the potential to be impacted for eternity!  Here are just a few simple, practical ways that you can look alive this week as you show up at Fellowship…

  • Pray before you arrive that God would prepare your heart to truly worship Him as He deserves and desires.
  • Participate fully and passionately in every opportunity afforded you- singing, praying, giving, hearing God’s Word, and responding to it.
  • Serve with a smile- whether that be in an “official” role on one of our Serve Teams, or simply as one actively searching out opportunities to meet needs in the lives of others.
  • Go above and beyond (there’s another one of those pesky Core Actions!) whenever, wherever, and however you can. Don’t just look to do the “bare minimum” for others- give them your best, in whatever unique situation you find yourself.
  • Introduce yourself to someone you haven’t met before- and take the time to really take an interest in who they are and what they’re all about. Don’t be hurried- look them in the eye, listen to their story, and ask God how you can best love them.
  • Look for reasons to be grateful instead of reasons to be critical.
  • Walk away asking God with an open heart, open mind, and open eyes and ears for how you can carry such a spirit into the remainder of your week at home, work, and wherever else you go.

There’s no question for our family- We left Disney bought in to the hype; it met and exceeded our expectations with very few exceptions.  I look forward to the next time I can visit.  And why is that true?  Because of the people who made it happen.  Next time someone shows up at Fellowship Church- or in your life Monday through Saturday as a follower of Jesus and a member of FC- will they be able to say the same thing?  Friends, we have much more to offer the world than just a great week of vacation memories.  Let’s look alive this and every week so that our great God might be glorified and our world might know and experience real life in Him!

Love Without Limits?

Line Sand

It is the wide love of God for us that leads us down the narrow road of love.

That’s the bold assertion that we made last Sunday as we launched into the last segment of Jesus’ Sermon On The Mount through our new series, The Right Way.  We zeroed in on the radical breadth of who God loves, how God loves, and why God loves- and what that should mean in the lives of those of us who have received that love through Jesus.  We learned that God’s life changing love is available to all– which means that ours should be too, including (but not limited to)…

  • Those of other racial, ethnic backgrounds
  • Those of other religious faiths (or no faith at all)
  • Those of other political opinions
  • Those of other economic statuses
  • Those of other moral convictions and lifestyles
  • Even those who have wounded us deeply

This list is undoubtedly uncomfortable to consider- and even more so to put into practice.  But as we said on Sunday, while it may be improbable, if the Gospel is true it is not impossible!  After all, if a holy God can love rebels like us (and the Cross of Christ proves that He has), then surely His love can flow through us into the lives of anyone in this world.

But this raises a tension for us, doesn’t it?  How are we supposed to love those with whom we deeply, profoundly disagree?  I’m not talking about petty disagreements, but the “heavy” stuff of life- matters like the sanctity of all human life; the nature of marriage, family, and sexuality; the appropriate response to social and economic injustice; the authority of the Bible; and the truthfulness of the Gospel.  How can we reconcile God’s command to love like He does without compromising core level convictions in the process?  Is this even possible?

I believe God’s answer to that question is a resounding yesbut to get to that yes, we’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do.

I firmly believe that when it comes to the issue of “love”- and what “counts” as “love”- we’ve been sold a lie.  This is a lie that I believe originated in secular thinking, but has deeply infiltrated the thinking of many in God’s church.  What is it?  That love equals agreement, acceptance, and affirmation.  In other words, “If you love me, you’ll agree with me, accept me without hesitation, and affirm my choices without question.”  We see this kind of thinking play out most explicitly when it comes to questions of sexuality, but I believe it informs the way we think now about just about everything.

The lie itself probably shouldn’t surprise us.  But what is truly tragic is to the degree to which supposedly Bible believing, orthodoxy affirming followers of Jesus have bought it without question, and have abandoned centuries of consistent Christian teaching and veered into questionable- and I believe destructive- territory, all because they’ve adopted an insufficient definition of love.  What we must come to see is that a “love” that merely agrees, accepts, and affirms without question or evaluation is actually profoundly unloving– and ultimately ungodly.

The way I see it, we’ve missed the boat on this thing in two directions- both of which arise from this same poisonous root.  Some in the church have blurred the lines between right and wrong, between truth and error, between sin and righteousness.  Others, to the opposite extreme, have taken those lines- as revealed in God’s Word- and used them as weapons to insult, exclude, and elevate themselves over others in self-righteous judgment.  But in both cases, the same lie is in play- in the former case, if I love you then I must agree with you, and in the latter, if I disagree with you I don’t have to love you.  So what, then, is the alternative to these two “ditches”?  Again, as it always is, the Gospel is our guide.  Consider…

  • God makes the truth clear- and so should we. God doesn’t play “hide and seek” with us on issues of right and wrong.  While His Word may not address every potential nuance we face in life, it is decidedly not lacking in clarity on the big questions we face on a day in, day out basis.  It is critical as the people of God that we understand this revealed truth well and express it clearly as we have opportunity.  Now we must be humble here, recognizing that while God is infallible, we are not- which means that we need to keep pressing in for rich understanding and right application.
  • God demonstrates active love toward those who reject His truth- and so should we. At one time, all of us rejected God’s truth- apart from His gracious intervention, “there is no one righteous- no, not one!”  And yet God was gracious, kind, and compassionate toward us- so much so that He sent Jesus from heaven to earth to pay the price for our sin and provide us an opportunity to repent of that sin, and to trust and follow Him.  As 2 Peter 3:9 declares, “God is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”  This heart ought to be reflected in the way we approach and engage with those who reject God- just as we once did.
  • God was willing to endure suffering to see others rescued- and so should we. This is the most stunning aspect of the Gospel- that the holy God of heaven would willfully submit Himself to unjust suffering so that His enemies could know His saving love.  Crazy as that sounds, that’s the standard that He sets for us too- not that we would literally go to the Cross to redeem those with whom we disagree, but that we would be willing to be misunderstood and mistreated for the sake of the Gospel.  This isn’t only true for those in hostile global contexts, but also for those of us in everyday life in a culture that is increasingly emboldened in its opposition to the truth revealed in God’s Word.  What if, instead of virulently fighting for our “rights” (although I am a big believer in religious liberty for all), we went the second mile to seek to understand our “enemies” and guide them toward true satisfaction and freedom in submission to our Creator?  There is no guarantee how that ends up, but the clear witness of God’s Word is that that’s our calling and responsibility.

To summarize, when it comes to the idea of “love without limits,” what we find is that there are limits to what we can in good conscience agree with, accept, and affirm– but that there are not limits to the actions we take to see those held captive by sin’s deception set free by the grace of God.  I want to encourage and challenge you today to consider which of the above “ditches” you are most prone to stumble into, and to instead walk in God’s supernatural strength to love others even when it is messy- just as you yourself have been loved by this God.

 

Tell A Better Story

Book

Last week, I had the great privilege of traveling- along with Pastors Kirk, Brian, and Griff- to Atlanta, Georgia for three days of refreshing, energizing, and challenging training for pastors and leaders.  The theme of the conference we attended was For Our Neighbors, which- if I keeping it completely real with you here- didn’t do much for me initially.  After all, I figured, I’m already a pretty neighbor-ly guy.  Tell me something I don’t already know!

Well, as is often the case in life and faith, often what we need isn’t the revelation of something new, but rather the repetition of something old.  And as we traveled back home on Friday evening, I was pretty confident that God has said exactly what He intended to say to me in our three days away.

You don’t need me to tell you this, but it hasn’t been the easiest, most pleasant year in our community- or in our nation, for that matter.  We’ve stared down- and continue to face today- a potent combination of challenges, from natural disasters to racial tensions to political drama to the everyday maladies that come our way in this broken world.

I have my stories.
You have your stories.
We have our stories.
And in the midst of that turmoil, we all have a choice to make- particularly so as the people of God, called by His name.

Can we tell a better story?

Ryan Leak, one of the presenters at last week’s event, said something striking about the current state of affairs in our world- “If things are as bad as we say they are (and they may well be!), then now is the best time we’ve had in a long time to make a difference for good.”  Do you believe this?  If so, does your life as a follower of Jesus reflect that?

Let’s face it- It would be very easy to wither under the onslaught of sin’s effects in our lives and in our world today.  It would be easy to complain and condemn.  It would be easy to hunker down and isolate ourselves.  It would be easy to descend into the battle using the world’s weapons and ways.  It would be easy to give up the fight altogether.  Chances are, we’ve all tried on one or more of these strategies at some point.

But if we believe our own message as followers of Jesus, then we should be neither surprised by the state of the world we’re in, nor cynical about God’s ability to bring restoration into even the most broken of situations and circumstances.  And as His representatives and ambassadors this side of heaven, it’s our responsibility and opportunity to speak that truth- and to live it too!

Can we tell a better story?

Here are a few ways I believe we can, starting right now…

  • When literal storms rage (and they do!), we can be on the leading edge of caring with compassion for those afflicted and impacted, working to help them put the pieces of their homes and lives back together. By the way, this is one we’ve seen firsthand in a powerful way over the past nine months…but the need isn’t behind us yet.  Consider coming out this Saturday, May 6 for our next Geaux Day to serve families still rebuilding!
  • When storms of moral confusion rage (and they are!), we can point with conviction and compassion (both as essential) to the gracious design of a Creator who is working not for our harm, but rather for our joy. Even as we are often misunderstood and mischaracterized, we can stand ready to welcome the world-worn “refugees” of a sexual “revolution” that has left in its wake far more victims (especially women and children) than victors.
  • When storms of racial tension rage (and they are!), we can work to build bridges of empathy and understanding among different groups, seeking healing and reconciliation in real relationships with others. As followers of Jesus, we have the unique opportunity to demonstrate to the watching world the power of a Christ-centered diversity that finds its power in a shared identity that doesn’t deny our differences, but does transcend them.
  • When storms of political division rage (and they are!), we can steadfastly refuse to take up the world’s weapons of hatred and hostility, and instead contend for Christ-exalting convictions while at the same time demonstrating Christ-like character. We can hold up our ultimate allegiance to a King and a Kingdom that transcends the temporary, and hold to the confidence that He is indeed sovereign over all the affairs of humankind, even when that is tough to see.  On this basis, we can trade in the “pocket change” of temporary political wins for the bottomless riches of His eternal victory- and then work in love to see light overcome darkness in the meantime.
  • When storms of spiritual aimlessness rage (and they are!), we can bear witness to the wanderers that there is an Answer to all their longings- and His name is Jesus Christ. We can demonstrate that it is in Him alone that the peace, purpose, justice, joy, hope, and love for which we’re all searching can be fully and finally found.

Friends, as the people of God, called by His name, we have a better story.  God has given that to us in the person and work of Jesus Christ in the Gospel.  He now calls us to raise our voices and proclaim it in word and deed to the watching, wondering, wandering, weary world- not simply as a religious story confined to our pews and pulpits on Sundays, but as a rescue story released in power through every corner of our lives every single day.  That’s our opportunity.  That’s our responsibility.  That’s our privilege!

Will you tell a better story?