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Showing posts from 2010

Totally Blowing It On a Snow Day

God gave the sign of the rainbow to assure Noah that He would never flood the Earth again.  I would like to ask God for another sign, one to assure me that He will never let it snow on Sunday again. Early on in my ministry I gave the church a sign - Wal-Mart.  If the planets ever aligned, pigs flew, Hades froze over and it snowed on Sunday I charged the church to call Wal-Mart.  If Wal-Mart was open, we would be open.  For the last 10 or so years of my ministry it has almost become another Bible verse to our congregation, “If Wal-Mart is open, we will be open.”  On Sunday Wal-Mart was open, but I cancelled the worship services.  I broke my own commandment.  I ignored the sign.  I blew it. Here is how it happened. It was the Sunday after Christmas.  As all good pastors do I asked our youth pastor to preach.  Youth pastors are heavily sought after preachers on Memorial Day, Labor Day, and post-Christmas day weekends.  I had originally planned to preach on the 26th, but I felt bad for our

James Earl Jones/ Aaron Neville Night Before Christmas

The Reasons I Rarely Go to Movies

I rarely go to movies.   I have good reasons.   Movie theaters are cathedrals of annoying human behaviors.   These behaviors would include, but are not limited to the guy who can’t open a bag but is yet ever so determined to rattle the life out of it, the people of the world who did not heed their momma’s advice to chew with your mouth closed, and the girl who whispers in decibel levels just below waterfall.   Movie theaters are built for a primo acoustic experience.   The vicious byproduct of this acoustical engineering is that it gives people that chew like a horse, whisper like a waterfall, and rattle bags like a chain gang a Dolby surround sound opportunity to get under my skin.   To amplify my frustrations with these patrons of the acoustic dungeon; God has displayed His humor by giving me an acute spinal sensitivity to each and every one of them. Last night we went to the Alabama Theater’s showing of the Christmas movie Elf.   During the Christmas season the folks at Alabama Thea

Some Stats on Recovering Christmas

Baptist Press released an interesting article yesterday on how Americans celebrate Christmas.  The article relates well to our topic this month of "Recovering Christmas."  Here is an excerpt ( entire article here ): "Overall, a little more than one-third of all households (38 percent) encourage belief in Santa, compared to 42 percent of Christian households. Just 27 percent of agnostics or those without a religious preference, 22 percent of those claiming other religions, and 18 percent of atheists encourage belief in Santa Claus." "Santa is more popular among households with children under 17 (52 percent) than among households without children (33 percent)." "Encouraging belief in Jesus as Savior is actually more common among all Americans, at 58 percent, than encouraging belief in Santa. In fact, more than three-quarters agree, 62 percent strongly, with the statement, "I believe Jesus is the reason for the Christmas season,"

Don't Ask, Don't Tell - The Day We Stopped Talking

From 1950 – 1993 the Uniform Code of Military Justice forbid homosexual men and women from military service.  In 1993 President Bill Clinton offered a compromised policy that became known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  The policy forbid military recruiters from asking about an applicant’s sexual orientation.  The policy also demanded discharge for any military personnel who claimed to be homosexual or expressed intent to engage in homosexual activity. [i]    On Saturday (12/18/2010) Congress voted to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  On Wednesday (12/22/2010) President Obama will sign the repeal into law. Opponents of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell cited first and foremost that the policy violated the civil rights of gay Americans.    Opponents also appealed to the changed American conscience and its opinion of homosexuality, more particularly its opinion of gays serving in the military.  According to an article posted by The Christian Science Monitor, 2/3 of active military personnel do not object t

Advent Conspiracy

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My friend Chris shared this information with me yesterday in response to my post " Struggling to Recover Christmas ."  It looks like there are others out there who are not wanting to be legalistic with Christmas, but at the same time are taking practical steps to do better with the season.  This is the intro video from adventconspiracy.org.  I think it really sums up what many of us have been feeling as we seek to recover Christmas.

Struggling to Recover Christmas

It is not difficult to confess how misguided we have become with Christmas.   The difficult part is figuring out how to find our way again.   We are going to exchange gifts as a family, but we have cut back.   Instead of trying to simply fill the wish list, we are trying to be more thoughtful and personal with our choices.   We have chosen a passage to meditate on and talk about throughout the season.   We are involving our daughters in missional acts this season.   But it is still busy, still expensive, and Christmas still feels as if it can be easily lost again this year. Between family, school, church, the rec. team and a few other odds and ends our daughters are involved with, it seem as if for the next few weeks there is a party every 30 minutes, each of them requiring a $5 - $10 gift.   Before you know it, you’ve spent $60 - $80 on relatively frivolous things.   I know I sound “scrooge-ish” but I guess this year my conscience has been more awakened to the materialistic waste of i

Xmas

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So what's the real story behind reducing "Christmas" to "Xmas?"  Is it simple shorthand, an atheistic ploy to rid the world of Christ-mas, or something far more sinister?  The answer may be less offensive than you think.  R.C. Sproul shares what X-mas may actually mean . Excerpt: "First of all, you have to understand that it is not the letter X that is put into Christmas. We see the English letter X there, but actually what it involves is the first letter of the Greek name for Christ. Christos is the New Testament Greek for Christ. The first letter of the Greek word Christos is transliterated into our alphabet as an X . That X has come through church history to be a shorthand symbol for the name of Christ." "We don’t see people protesting the use of the Greek letter theta , which is an O with a line across the middle. We use that as a shorthand abbreviation for God because it is the first letter of the word Theos , the Greek word for God

Christmas: A Candid History (Book Review)

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One book I would recommend in researching the history of Christmas is Bruce David Forbes' Christmas, A Candid History .  I usually refrain from recommending books I have not read completely, but yesterday I finally finished this one, I think.  I have used this book as a primary historical resource for the “Recovering Christmas” series and in doing so, I have not read it consecutively, but in sections.  I have criss crossed, highlighted, and notated it, and I must say it is very entertaining, easy to read, and incredibly interesting.  As far as its historical accuracy, I have found that when it comes to Christmas, as stated in my previous post, there are many versions of the legends, but always similarities.  At most every point I have cross referenced Forbes‘ information with other historians and he holds consistent with reliable sources.    The author is a fellow believer, a United Methodist, and a religious studies professor, who seems to be struggling, like many of us, with th

Researching Christmas

I want to recommend some of the resources I have used in researching for this series "Recovering Christmas." Before I do, allow me to strike a few extremes off of the list. By showing you the kinds of things I chose not to use, maybe it will not only save you some time, but also help you form a more balanced opinion of the holiday. Suffice it to say there are a gazillion websites and books about the history of Christmas. The good news is that when you pull them all together they basically offer only slight variations on the same historical episodes. If you choose to chase the paper trail of the historical Christmas you are going to have to sift through legend. When it comes to Christmas, it is difficult to conclusively verify the origins of many of the season's traditions. In this respect, Christmas is very mythological. For example, there are several legends of the Christmas tree and even more surrounding Santa Claus. Why is gift giving such a big part of the mod

The Story of Your Christmas Tree

A couple of weeks ago I shared the history of the Christmas tree in a sermon; no need to rehash it here.    Suffice it to say that the story behind how the Christmas tree made it into your living room is interesting.   If you did not hear that sermon either take a few moments to listen or do some research on your own.   The moral is that every Christmas tree tells a story.   What does your Christmas tree say about you? Our family Christmas tree says distinctly that we have two daughters.   Between the bows and balls there are princesses.   Our tree says that they played soccer, once, and because it did not go well, now we swim.   Our tree says that on Shannon’s first trip to New Orleans a few weeks ago she learned why the world loves Beignets at CafĂ© Du Monde.   Our tree is full of family crafts and pictures that make the tree uniquely us.   Our tree is our story. As I sat and thought about our tree I wondered if in telling our story, what does it say about our faith?   Does it reflec

Should You Tell Your Kids Santa Isn't Real?

There is an argument that Christian parents should not promote belief in Santa with their children for fear that when the child does come to realize there is not a Santa Claus they will also question their belief in God.   Even worse, some fear their children will stop believing in God.   A logical digression of this argument is that Christian parents who choose to “play Santa” with their children are sinning against their children and against God for propagating false belief.   So what are Christians to do about Santa? 1.        Ultimately we must observe the Biblical principles of Christian liberty and conscience.   Life is full of cultural grays, for many Christian parents Santa may be one of them.   In my observation, legalism has caused many more children to rebel against Christ than Santa.   At the same time, if a family holds a sense of Spirit led conviction that Santa is not for their home, I support that conviction.   The Christian community should be one that fosters a sense

Santa Claus (sermon audio: Sunday a.m.)

As the finale to every holiday parade and the hero of almost every Christmas movie, Santa Claus has become a beloved icon of the season. He has been given several names through the years, most notably, St. Nick. While history and legend propose ideas on the significance of this name, we know that his “sainthood” was bestowed primarily for his goodwill and generosity. However, as believers, we too have been called to be saints, not for anything we have done, but because of what Jesus did for us. As saints of God, we are to be proclaiming the excellencies of Christ. Listen to Audio

The Christmas Tree (sermon audio: Sunday a.m.)

Many of our current Christmas traditions have evolved and changed as they have been passed down through time, cultures, and even religions. The Christmas tree is yet another icon of the season that modern Christians have claimed and perpetuated through society. However, the tragedy is that we tend to evangelize our traditions much better than our faith. What are we really communicating to the world around us about this holiday, our decorations or our God? Listen to Audio

Recovering Christmas (sermon audio: Sunday a.m.)

Over time Christians have claimed and transformed the holiday of Christmas as their own. In truth, this celebration is rooted in secular festivals of the winter season. While it is a good thing to redeem the culture and even its holidays for the cause of Christ, in our actions, we have disconnected our lives from the very one we claim we are celebrating. We are instead now connecting more with our chosen holiday- Christmas, Easter, Sunday, etc. than we are to its substance, the gospel. These holy days should be a time of remembrance and preparation for our Christ who is no longer a baby, but our returning conquering King. Listen to Audio

Chrismons

Last week I spent time with family for Thanksgiving.  For the better part of this week I have been in New Orleans.  I am a little behind on posting.  Tonight I have just enough time to offer a suggestion that pertains to our current series on Recovering Christmas, and point you to a related website.  Last Sunday, as part of the sermon, we talked about the history and evolution of the tradition of the Christmas tree.  I drew attention to the idea that our Christmas trees tell a story.  I challenged everyone to evaluate their Christmas traditions, especially their tree, and see if it includes your story of conversion.  Another idea that may add meaning to your Christmas tree is the Chrismons.  I was not familiar with the Chrismons until my time as pastor of Lantana Road Baptist Church in Crossville, TN.  Each year the church held a traditional service that involved decorating the sanctuary Christmas tree.  When I think ornaments, I think silver balls, bells, garland, lights, and candy

Non-Christian Historians and Non-Historical Christians

Historians who are not Christians and Christians who are not historians often make two critical errors. Error # 1: Historians who are not Christians believe that unearthing an inaccuracy within Christian tradition grants liberty to also attack the Biblical text. For instance, if historians can prove that the Christian holiday of Christmas does not have the origins most Christians assume it to have, then they also have warrant to doubt that the birth narratives of Jesus contained in the Bible are also suspect.  This is the glaring error of the History Channel and most books about the history of Christmas. Error # 2: Christians who are not historians may assume something traditional to be Biblical. Christian holidays are full of this type of conjecture. Ironically many of our traditional errors and biblical remixes are due to our sacred songs. The Christmas season is full of songs so familiar to us that their images have made it into our nativity scenes, but they are nowhere to b

Recovering Christmas

On Sunday I will begin a series of 6 sermons on “Recovering Christmas.” My ambitions may exceed my abilities (or the time allowed), but in this series I am trying to draw together several themes: 1) What are the historical roots of Christmas as we know it? How did the holiday evolve into its current forms? I will trace how the Christian church tried to influence what was at one time a purely pagan ritual and infuse it with the gospel. Did you know that historically Christmas was more like modern day Mardi Gras so much so that the Puritans banned its celebration in the colonies? Is Christmas returning to its pagan heritage? Has it ever really forsaken it? How can we infuse Christmas with the gospel again? 2) What parts of Christmas are Biblical, what parts are merely traditional, and what parts are completely commercial? Some people may think that some of the elements we associate with Christmas came out of the Bible when in actuality they come from sources such as Charles

A Random Act of Gospel

Just in case you haven't seen this clip.  The Opera Company of Philadelphia calls this a "random act of culture" but think of what is really happening here.  People in a retail environment are suddenly inspired to begin singing about the omnipotent reign of Jesus Christ, Lordship, and salvation.  If only we as a church could become this inspiring!

Generational Friendships

Because our society is so mobile our roots are not very deep.   It is difficult to make and maintain meaningful friendships.   Sharing common interests is not as rich as sharing common stories.   People bond over common interests, but it takes years for people to share common stories.   Chris Altman is one of the few people on the planet with whom I share common story.   I wrecked his mini bike into the side of his house.   We have been chased by a bear.   We played on the same soccer team.   We were there the night Eric Rudolph tried to blow up the Olympics.   Our stories began to be shared around 1982, through an elementary aged boys class at New Liberty Baptist Church.   This weekend I got to experience how that relationship has come full circle in so many ways.   On Sunday I had the opportunity to preach at the church Chris serves as youth pastor, Roopeville Road Baptist Church in Carrolton, GA.   We only see one another a few times over the course of a year, but even still our kid

Vicarious

Athletics is a powerful medium of communication. We know more about our favorite quarterback than we do about the people who live on our street. The language of sports is vicarious. It is "our team" and "we" always play against "them" even though most of "us" are only watching. Without touching a ball or getting off the couch "we" either win or lose. Our fate is tied to our team. To spare the loss of a great deal of life, ancient armies often employed the use of "the champion." The champion of one tribe would combat the champion of the other. Based on the outcome of two, an entire tribe won and an entire tribe lost. The most infamous example of the clash of the champions is the Biblical story of David and Goliath. Goliath, the Philistine champion, called out the nation of Israel and tied the fate of the entire nation to one. Israel had no champion, they had a David. Goliath got plunked in the head. The Philistines lo

Throwing Our Children Off a Cliff, For Sports

History knows the Spartans as tenacious warriors.  Legend holds that the Spartans were so dedicated to war that any male with a physical abnormality was thrown into a pit known as Apothetae soon after birth.  At the age of 7, boys were removed from their homes to be raised by the state for next 12 years in a strict disciplinary academy aimed at producing physically elite males.  In Sparta these academies were called agoge.  In Greece they were called gymnasiums. Validating these stories is historically difficult, nonetheless, this is the stuff of legends. A June 25, 2006 article that appeared in the money section of the New York Times explores the growing costs of raising athletes.  Across America sports academies are becoming big business as parents are willing to spend thousands of dollars to give their children a competitive edge.  According to the article, some parents confess to having spent upwards of $30,000 over the course of several years on specialized athletic training and c

Conditioning

To be successful, athletes spend inordinate amounts of time conditioning. The body must not only be able to endure, it must also be able to respond. Muscle fitness and muscle memory work hand in hand to keep the athlete consistent and efficient in motion. Paul appreciated athletics. Immersed in Hellenistic culture, athletic competition was an important part of his Roman life. Paul borrowed from the principles of sports and applied them to Christian discipline in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. Success in the Christian life demands conditioning. I in no way desire for this conversation to be a wholesale condemnation of sports. I believe sport plays a vital role in culture, health, the rejuvenation of the soul, and the enjoyment God desires for us to get out of life. Historically athletic games have played a vital role in our relationships with one another as nations. Sport has its own language. It creates a unique spirit of comradery and commonality. As a pastor I would be remiss

Gyms and Temples

Hellenism is a historical term that refers to the conquest of Greek culture over foreign peoples. It was the reason the Romans had a pantheon of gods that were little more than Grecian transplants. Jupiter was Zeus without a toga. The world appeared to be diverse. Ethnically it was Jewish, Persian, Egyptian, Assyrian, and Roman, but mentally the world was quickly becoming Greek. Antiochus Epiphanes was a Seleucid ruler who controlled Palestine from 187 to 175 BC. While he initially allowed the Jews to observe Torah his agenda was to conquer them religiously and culturally through Hellenism. He replaced the Jewish High Priest with someone who looked like them, but thought like him. The replacement of the priest was not popular, but it was critical for cultural shift. Re-imagine God, make Him a voice of the emerging culture, then replace Him under the cover of night. In his Old Testament Introduction, Temper Longman refers to another aspect of Antiochus' agenda of cult

Judgement (sermon audio: Sunday a.m.)

One day we will all stand before God and give an account of our lives here on earth. We will find ourselves in one of two courts, the judgement of the redeemed or the judgement of the lost. At this point, there will be no going back, there will be no changing sides. You will either spend an eternity with Jesus as a new creation in his perfect heaven or in everlasting conscious punishment in the lake of fire. Today is the day of salvation; today could change everything. Listen to Audio

We Bought a Factory

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We bought a factory.  Our 3.5 year relocation project took our church from a 66,000 sq ft.  80’s style, traditional mega-church to a 30,000 sq ft. auto factory.  The purchase of this factory is the fruition of a vision God gave us and something He taught us while we waited to move.  Our vision is simple.  We desire to be a debt free church who pours more money into missions and community ministries than we spend on ourselves.  The lesson God taught us is to fulfill the vision we must make efficient use of space.  We accepted the challenge and bought a factory.  We will remodel as the funds become available.  Every space we create will be versatile.  We will not dedicate any one space to a single use.  Our offices are classrooms.  Our auditorium is a fellowship hall.  For the first two years our senior adults used a space during one hour, the preschool occupied it the next.  What a metaphor of regeneration!  Nothing is convenient.  Everything is symbiotic.  It requires constant change

He Leads Me Into Crisis

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The former RBC campus at 12th court God will not lead us into temptation, but He will lead us into crisis.  As C.S. Lewis pointed out about his allegorical lion Aslan, God is good, but He is not safe.  Psalm 23 is refreshing.  It is a Psalm of restoration, but it is also one of crisis.  If read in context, it is laced with trial and danger.  He leads me beside still water because the rest of the pools have gone dry.  He makes me to lie down in green pastures.  Just a few weeks from now the grass will be burnt to a crisp beneath the intensifying heat of the sun.  We move from crisis to crisis.  He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  Sometimes sheep eat food in places where they themselves could easily be eaten.  The only reason they survive is because of the shepherd.  He leads us to eat in crisis.  He is not safe. He moved us from crisis to crisis.  When we moved here 8 years ago we did not know that we would be moving here to move.  We moved here to help th