Saturday, December 30, 2006

New Year, New Blogsite

This will be my last post I suppose on this site. I am, with the help of a gifted student named Glenn, moving my website, blog, everything except facebook into one website under the name It is not quite finished, but I figured I would go ahead and mention it here since I have already started posting on it.
I am excited about this as it is a site I can manage with my own technologically challenged skills. I can also add podcasts, which is something I have wanted to do for some time.
Here's to 2007. A new year. A new blog. A renewed life.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Books Are Wonderful

I had in mind to write this extensive post concerning recent books I have read. As the semester has ended, I am reflecting on some amazing and wonderful times with students, along with a concomitant and complete disinterest in writing. But I am enjoying reading. So, instead of posting the article I planned to write (I am sure it would make the top ten posts for the Blog Oscars in the non-controversial category--the one no one reads), I will do a little annotated bib for those seeking a different look at culture than the standard tomes written from the Christian subculture. Here are a few, and I would love to hear suggestions for my reading pleasure over the break from you.
1. Naomi Schaefer Riley, who's spent time at NR and the Wall Street Journal, writing for both, as well as writing for the Boston Globe, New York Times, and others, is author of the book God on the Quad: How Religious Colleges and the Missionary Generation Are Changing America. An unbeliever, she calls the current generation of college students the missionary generation.

by Andrew Beaujon, a professing unbeliever who writes for Spin magazine. Beaujon looks at the rise and influence of Christian Rock music. Although I am curious both by some of his subjects and those he omits, this is an interesting introduction into the influence of Christian music in the youth culture by someone outside the Christian culture.

3. The most intriguing is the book I just read over Thanksgiving break: Lauren Sandler's new book, Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement. This overview by an unbeliever (and NPR reporter) of the emerging 'disciple generation' introduces readers to our nation's leading evangelical youth leaders and their followers. From the recognized to the bizarre, Sandler (no relation to Adam!) believes the current generation of youth will change America, comparing what is happening today in the youth culture spiritually to a new Great Awakening. I am not sure impressed by her historical analysis. What does get my attention is how her book, like those above, all say a similar thing: something is happening in the youth culture. Sandler is ticked about it, being a card-carrying liberal. I have been saying watch the youth, so of course I like books who make me look correct haha.
Read these for ourself and see what the reporters outside our little world of the Christian subculture say about youth. You may be surprised.

4. I have to include one other book not exactly related to the above, but one I have wanted to read for some time: Freakonomics. Just google it. From the authors' website note this quote: "Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? How much do parents really matter? What kind of impact did Roe v. Wade have on violent crime?" Intrigued? Get the book and read it for yourself.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Time for a Change

Fort Worth, Texas. I spent the day in the city known as Cowtown speaking at an event at my alma mater, SWBTS. I have not been here since 1996. I am staying in campus housing that did not exist back then. Forgive the personal nature of these comments, but this is my blog :-).
Nostalgia hit quickly. I saw the little apartment complex where Michelle and I lived as newlyweds in 1982. We drove by the street where we lived in a little cracker jack house in 1988 when Josh came home from the hospital. I walked the halls on campus where I walked for years and learned a lot.
This year has been a bit odd for me. I have been more distracted than I should. So here, alone, spending time with the Lord as I did day after day in the 80s as a student, I spent time in reflection. Some thoughts...
--I want to renew my commitment to read the Bible annually as a centerpiece of my devotional life.
--I want to spent more time with Michelle. I am going to watch some chick flicks with her in 07. Some, not all :-).
--I want to cherish more than ever my time with Josh and Hannah. I want to be very intentional in teaching certain spiritual truths.
--I want to pray more on my knees. Humility is too often lacking in my life, so I will humble myself physically.
--I want to be more active in sharing my faith.
--I plan to be more available than ever before to my students whom I love so.
--I want to prepare messages for Epicenter that challenge and inspire and teach those who come. I want to see God move there.
--I want to stop fretting over finances. God has provided too well for that.
--I want to do something about the fact that those of us like myself who are in positions of leadership tend not to be real enough, admitting our struggles and failures. We are not perfect, nor should we act like we are.
--I want to reclaim the passion for God I had when Michelle and I moved to Texas 25 years ago this January. That is what I seek. God give me the hunger, the yearning for You like I had then, or take me somewhere else so I will not pollute my students with a passionless ministry.
--I want to have more wisdom. So many come to me for advice, God give me wisdom!
--I want to know how to schedule times of ministry off campus that will: not hinder my teaching, involve my family some, be honoring to God in the use of my gifts, be useful for the Lord.
--I want to be thankful for the little things--my dachsunds in my lap, my car faithfully cranking, my family loving me.
--I want to see marked improvement in my health--eating better, exercising more. I want to live a full life for the glory of God and the good of my family.
--I want to inspire students, challenge students, and love students. Give me wisdom as a mentor, Lord.
--I want to look back a year from now and stand in amazement at the goodness of God.
God is good.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Being Like Jesus, Part 2

Being like Jesus can be a bit tricky in a culture like ours, so filled as it is with cultural Christians, so absorbed with institutions, so obsessed with position, so given to experience over truth. John's Gospel offers a plethora of personal encounters between Jesus and individuals, some named and some anonymous. Each one opens a portal into what it means to be like our Lord.
Take John 4, for example. Following John 3, where the religious leader Nicodemus came to Jesus by night (call it "Nic at Night" if you will), Jesus HAD to go to Samaria. You know, Samaria--the place Jesus mentioned specifially in Acts 1:8--Jerusalem (where you live), Judea (your region), SAMARIA--people you really don't like, and so on. Jesus seemed to have to go places other religious people seemed to have to avoid. Where is the Samaria in your area? Who are the Samaritans? Who is being Jesus to them?
Jesus had to go there. Tired, thirsty, he sat by the well. His disciples went into town, maybe holding their noses as they went, seeking food. Read John 4 to see only the attitudes and actions of the disciples and you will observe how not to be like Jesus. They missed the point completely. How often do we mimic them?
But Jesus shows us how to love people. The Samaritan woman came to draw water at an odd time, as she lived her life ostracized from other women. When she came, this Jewish stranger graciously asked her for a drink. This anonymous woman had three strikes against her: 1) she was a woman. There were rabbis in the day who said "I thank thee God that I am not a Gentile, a dog, or a woman." Jesus apparently did not ascribe to that theory.
2) She had Samaritan blood. A half-breed, facing centuries-old prejudice, she stood before the Lord.
3) She lived an impure life. Her life story: married, divorced; married, divorced; married, divorced; married, divorced; married, divorced; shack up! She lived with a man (one would think in that culture after so many failed marriages she might just avoid men).
Yet Jesus did not see that. Compare John 3 to John 4. Nicodemus came to Jesus, a religious leader, and how did Jesus respond? Very directly: "You must be born again." On the surface one might assume Nic stood close to the entrance of the Kingdom when he encountered Jesus, yet Jesus assumed no such proximity. He came to Jesus and Jesus confronted him directly. In John 4, Jesus approached a broken, Samaritan woman with kindness, compassion, and patience. He did not so much as bring up her marital situation until well into the conversation. He sought not to condemn but to redeem; with Nicodemus, and with the self-righteous, Jesus did confront.
Jesus built rapport with the lady, using water as an analogy of salvation. Oh that we would be so secure in our doctrine AND so aware of our culture that we could translate the gospel as easily into daily conversations.
Jesus would not get sidetracked. When the woman chased the rabbit of worship location, contrasting Samaritan worship at Mt. Gerizim with Jewish worship in Jerusalem, our Lord told her worship had less to do with geography and more to do with intimacy. "The time is coming, and now is, when those who worship the Father will worship Him in Spirit and in truth." Timely words for contemporary worship as well.
As the conversation continued and the woman grew more interested, Jesus did confront her. Make no mistake, at some point when you share the gospel you must confront. Facing people squarely with issues of eternity, of heaven and hell, of knowing God or rejecting Him, can hardly be done without being confrontational. But Jesus simply confronted her in a kind and benevolent way. "I know Messiah is coming," she said. This woman sought God. She desired truth. So many unchurched do today, but are we like Jesus in our witness?
Jesus replied, "I who speak to you am He." I am the Messiah, He told her. Sounds pretty confrontational. She had to decide. Her decision was both swift and broad. She went into the city telling all the men (after all, she had been married to most of them!) about this Man. So many became followers of Christ. She became one of the first missionaries in the New Testament. Can we see the missionaries in our culture who, once meeting the One Who alone can redeem, become more effective than preachers at reaching the unchurched? After all, Saul of Tarsus hardly qualified as the missionary of choice when he went across the ANE killing Christians.
I want to be like Jesus. I want to love the Samaritans, the people I do not like, the people I am not naturally drawn toward, the people for whom Christ died. I want to know when to confront boldly, and when to confront kindly. I want to see the Samaritans in our land become missionaries in a lost culture.
I believe we are more like Jesus based on the lost people we influence than the saved people we impress. God help us to sense a Divine compulsion that we MUST go to Samaria.

Friday, November 10, 2006

A Dose of Perspective

I love what I do, but sometimes I am tempted to feel a big guilty. After all, I get to teach the most amazing students how to tell the most amazing news in history, and I get paid to do it. And, due to the kindness and efforts of evangelist Bailey Smith, who secured the funding for the chair I hold named in his honor, I am not much of a financial burden to the school or the convention (don't worry, I am sure I am a burden in other ways).
I have been a pastor. I love pastors. I teach many. I used to say "those that can, do, and those that can't do, teach." But some folks can teach. That is my calling, and my passion, and I get up most every day amazed that God lets me do what I do. Beyond my teaching, some of my students hang out with my kids, providing great examples to them, and Michelle has times to meet with and be a blessing to some of these precious young ladies here.
Last Saturday night and Sunday I enjoyed the fruit of my labor as a teacher. I spent time with Barry Murry, a former student who has, with his family of five, labored six years in Maine. I rejoiced to see about 200 people gathered as I preached Sunday morning, meeting in an elemntary school.
I just read the report on the "50 most influential churches in America." I thank God for them overall. But I have personally been more influenced by Lakeside Community Church in Maine than that 50, and I have preached in some of them. Something wells up within me about a man who plants his family of five in a foreign culture, builds a strong ministry (if not economically then biblically, which after all, is the point). In our utilitarian culture I am refreshed to see a family serving the Lord for the simple reason that called them to a place to stay until God moved elsewhere. Refreshing and sometimes rare.
I met people with amazing conversion stories. I heard a testimony of remarkable answered prayer. I got a little glimpse of the Acts again. Maybe we spend so much time grinding an AX that we forget about the ACTS. Or maybe that was really cheesy :-). But my heroes are my students who have gone to the tough places, the uncharted mission fields overseas, the off-the-beaten path places in the US, and those who have taked stagnant or dying churches and led a gospel revolution. Praise be to God that number is niether small nor declining.

This picture shows from left to right, the son of the couple on the right, pastor Barry, me, and a precious couple named Tina and Bruce. Bruce has more piercings than a pin cushion. Bruce met Jesus this past spring. Bruce and Tina had attended Lakeside a couple of years back. Like a pastor should, Barry visited them and led Tina to Christ. Bruce was none too happy. Still, they attended for about a year. All this time, and time previously, Bruce had been in an affair and used illegal drugs. They stopped coming to church for some time but appeared one Sunday last spring. Tina knew about the affair and planned to divorce Bruce. Barry set up an appointment to visit Bruce once again. The night before their 5 year old daughter asked Bruce to read a book to him for the first time in a long time. Bruce had never once opened a Bible. The book was a children's version of the Prodigal Son. As Bruce began to read it his pager went off, the signal from his lover to meet her. For the first time, he cut off the pager. He read the story and began to weep. The next night Barry spoke to Bruce, who was now a broken man. Barry asked him if he had ever heard of the Prodigal Son. At this point in the story if you do not see the hand of God at work you must believe in evolution or some other knuckleheaded theory :-).
Barry led him to Chrit. Last Sunday I met one of the most changed men I have seen in a while. His wife Tina deserves an award for longsuffering. She is a precious, helpful, kind woman, and finally Bruce sees this. Their kids have a new dad without having their mom go through with the divorce. That is the power of the gospel. It will take the power of the gospel to reach the Bruce's of this world. And, it will take the Barry Murry's of this world to be their pastor. Pray for Barry and his wonderful family. They are heroes to me.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Being Like Jesus, Part One

It has become fashionable in our Americanized version of Christianity to say things like "I want to be like Jesus." Todd Agnew recently challenged the understanding of the phrase with a song. I particularly noted this line: "But my Jesus. . . would not be welcomed in my church. The blood and dirt on his feet would stain the carpet." We tend to think being like Jesus means being cool, or hip, in a religious sort of way, or most often, we think of being like Jesus because it gives us a certain feeling of security.
I believe the Bible clearly teaches eternal security. I am not so convinced it teaches temporal security for the follower of Christ. I also think we confuse the two. But more on that later. I want to look at the simple concept of being like Jesus as a leader in regards to a statement made early in His ministry in John 1:35-39. Jesus asked two curious disciples of John following Him, "What do you seek?" "Rabbi, where are you staying?" They replied. Jesus' answer is the point: "Come and see."
Jesus invited people to hang out with Him. Not unlike his Lord, Paul did the same thing on his missionary journeys, taking people with him.
When I was in seminary I learned a lot of things. It seems fashionable for ministers today to be down on seminaries; after all, we have developed a culture of saying three or four negative things for every nice thing (resembling more the noise of the 24 hour news networks than men of God), so why should seminaries be left out? So I will resist the urge to join the movement of whining like a mule and choose to recall a very significant moment in my training. You see, I look back on my time with great memories, and with great joy, and with gratitude for all I learned. One of the most profound things I ever heard came from a pastor who spoke in a class. He simply commented about how he had learned the importance of taking people with him when he traveled. Now that does not sound too profound, does it?
That statement changed my philosophy of ministry. I became a pastor soon following the day I heard that statement. I made a commitment to take laypeople with me every time I went just about anywhere, unless I wanted to take only Michelle with me.
It did take a little while (I am from Alabama and I am slow) to figure out the importance of this as a professor. But learn it I did. This fall has been amazing. Over the years I have taken hundreds of students with me on trips. This fall I have taken many students on trips with me, including:
A couple of students to Statesville all the way back in August
Four students to Rocky Mount on a Sunday
More recently:
Walter went with me to a local church in Raleigh
Seven--Lauren, Alie, Kyle, Ron, Shonica, Tyler and Rachel, went with me to Hilton Head (see their picture)

Five--Vanessa, Vlad, Steve and Beth, and Skip joined me when I spoke at East Carolina U
Not to mention Barry and Brett joining Josh and me for the debacle known as the UNC football game.
Today Barry will accompany me to Liberty U where I will speak in five classes over two days.
I am certain I left some out, but my point is this: so far this fall I have been able to spend quality, rich time with almost two dozen of the finest students on earth. Away from class. Talking about all kind of things. It cost me no time away from my family, it added excitement and joy to my traveling, and all along the way I got to teach (I am always teaching). Before the semester is over I will have taken over 30 students with me on various outings. That doesn't include the weekly group I meet with or the many times on campus I visit with students.
My point is a simple one. I want to be like Jesus. And Jesus liked to hang out with people. His approach to discipling was less about a class with a curriculum and more about teaching in the midst of ministry. I want to be like that. If teaching were merely being a talking head imparting facts to memorize, I would find something else to do. The classroom is a part of teaching for me. But teaching must be more. In fact, tonight at Liberty I will meet with a group of students I know for coffee and fellowship. I guess I have the spiritual gift of hanging out. If so I got it from my Lord.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Blogging at Its Best

I have to tell my friends who frequent my little corner of blogdom about what has become my favorite blog. Just go to Now there are others I read with various levels of agreement, encouragement, perplexity, or even disagreement. But this is my favorite.
Nathan is a brilliant PhD student at SEBTS and our archivist. Most importantly he is married to Leah and is a new Dad to Georgia.
I had the privilege of learning from Nathan and his peers (I learned more than I taught) in a recent PhD seminar. Nathn's blog demonstrates all the best a blog can be. He deals with real issues in a convictional way. But he has certain traits I find of great appeal in a blog:
He is humble (some blogs seem to me to be hinting as if they were God's gift to the world in solving all issues--too much hubris, too little humility)
He has a sense of humor (check his blog on Russ Moore--okay most blogs have a sense of humor, but the humor is often intended for a certain subgoup of readers in agreement, and does as much jabbing at others than actually providing humor).
He is brilliant but doesn't flaunt it (check out some of his posts on Baptists in history)
And most vital to me, he deals with real issues in an angaging and helpful way. His original article and responses to his post "Why I don't want to be a Southern Baptist sometimes" are in my view the best I have read related to the SBC. I can say that this is the only place to this point I know I will be quoting in a forthcoming book. Wow, quoting a blog in a book, that is something I never thought I would do!
And by the way, Nathan is an unashamed Calvinist and I am not. Yet we are friends and colleagues and have wonderful respect for one another. I value Nathan as a friend and brother. We are simply adults, which is why we can get along.
I understand there are those who want to write off the blogs as unhelpful or irrelevant. I disagree. However, I also think no small amount of narcissism exists in the land of blog. I firmly believe as more and more get into the blog, world wise judgments will be made by readers about various blogs, just as wise readers of newspapers know the slant taken by the NY Times, etc, and wise readers of books know the prejudices of authors and publishers, and learn how to eat a good fish and spit out some nasty bones. In other words, I think over time the cream will rise to the top. And Nathan's blog will be some fine cream for a long time.
By the way, Nathan did not know I was doing this, so if you read this Nathan, you cannot control everything in the blog world, now can you? :-)