Whoa, who saw that coming?

Whoa, who saw that one coming?  Nick Saban’s teams do not catch a beatdown very often.  The Alabama fans didn’t see it coming.  They moaned and wailed every time Clemson scored, and sounded like they were on the Titanic.  (People dying from hypothermia is not funny, but the sounds emanating from my television were akin to the sounds from James Cameron’s epic) Dabo Swinney didn’t see it coming.  Did you see his face at the post game interview?  Guy looked like he just won the powerball jackpot.

Dabo Swinney expressed his love for Jesus Christ and his belief in the sovereignty of God over his life’s trajectory.  He said, “God planned this.  This doesn’t just happen.  God planned all of this.”  What are we to make of Swinney’s acknowledgment of faith?

A friend of mine, whom I respect, suggested Dabo’s Christian joy was an attempt to placate his freshman quarterback who is also a man of faith.  There are three problems with this assertion, and we’ll skip the obvious fact that Trevor Lawrence said nothing about Jesus or God in his on field interview immediately following the game.

First, if Coach Swinney were dead set on pleasing his quarterback, why did he wait until the fifth game of the season to start him?  Lawrence was a high school legend.  It seems the easier way to please him would be with playing time rather than fake faith.

Second, Coach Swinney seems to be the most genuine coach in college football, unless you count Les Miles who said, “Death Valley is where championship dreams come to die.”  The University of Kansas football program got ten times more interesting when they hired Les, but I digress.

Third, who’s to say that Trevor Lawrence couldn’t inspire his football coach to grow closer to God?  I’ve heard Tim Tebow had a positive effect on Urban Meyer.  Why couldn’t Trevor Lawrence have the same effect on Dabo?

How should we react when a coach, or an athlete gives credit to God after a championship win?  I’ll end this post with a few suggestions:

  1. We should evaluate what they’re saying.  Are they pointing to God as their leader, or are they pointing to God as their helper?  Are they acknowledging God for being great or are they telling us that God has made them great.  There’s a big difference.
  2. We should not be jealous.  Let’s face it guys, which one of us would not love to be standing on the podium hoisting the Lombardi trophy or that weird looking National Championship stick?  I like the crystal ball personally, but I hear Alabama broke it.  I’ll be honest.  I would love it, but God did not create me to coach college football.  If I were the head coach at Clemson, we would not be bowl eligible.  We might beat teams like Iowa and Oklahoma, but those would be our lone victories.
  3. We should cut them some slack for two reasons.  First, these guys have just come off winning a championship, and they are amped up.  Second, most of these guys are not seminary trained.  The rampant emotions and the shallow theological understanding combine to make for some uncomfortable statements.  Let’s cut them some slack and look beyond their post-game interviews to how their faith is expressed in their actions.  Many of these coaches and athletes are heavily involved in FCA, their churches, and other Christian organizations.  They’re making a lasting difference in their communities.  Their post-game statements will fade into obscurity, but the tangible impact they’re making on those around them will be their legacy.
  4. How do they react when they lose?  Tim Tebow, after his team lost the SEC Championship game to Alabama said, “to God be the glory”.  I’ve not heard how Tua (I can’t even begin to spell his last name) reacted, but I hope his faith is stronger than one lopsided defeat.  We should pay attention to how these athletes and coaches react when they’re on the wrong end of the score before we make a judgment about the authenticity of their faith.

We need athletes and coaches proclaiming the name of Christ.  They’re going to fail at times (cue the Hugh Freeze comments) but we should be pleased whenever Christ’s name is mentioned.  In Philippians, Paul was faced with those who had ulterior motives for proclaiming the name of Christ.  He responded, “To be sure, some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.  These preach out of love for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, thinking that they will cause me trouble in my imprisonment.  What does it matter?  Only that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice.  Yes, I will continue to rejoice.”  When we hear Christ’s name proclaimed, let’s rejoice.

What I’ve Learned in 15 Years of Pastoring, pt. 2 (on prayer)

In this series, I’m considering some things that I’ve learned while pastoring over the last 15 years. You can check out the first lesson and a series introduction here:

Part 1: Not everybody will like you, and that’s okay.

In this post, we’ll consider Lesson #2: One of the most important things you can do for your congregation is to pray for them regularly and let them know that you’re praying for them.

Prayer and engagement with scripture are the two foundational spiritual disciplines, and they’re the foundation of pastoral ministry as well. In Acts 6, the Twelve responded to a congregational problem by delegating a specific responsibility to seven men chosen by the church, so that they, as the pastoral leaders, could devote adequate time to the word and prayer. One of my favorite verses on this subject is 1 Samuel 12:23 where Samuel tells the people: “Far be it from be that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way” (ESV).

Prayer… it’s that important.

A few years ago I wrote about the method that I have chosen in order to pray for those in my church, and I’ll detail it again in brief here. Not including Sundays, I typically have four days each week with time in the office. In my office prayer journal, I keep a monthly calendar that divides the households of the church into 16 days (4 days times 4 weeks). So, each day in the office, I typically pray by name for 4 to 5 households.

Then, I have my list divided into thirds. Every three months I send a hand-written card to each household letting them know that I prayed for them, encouraging them with a verse from scripture, and providing a prayer request slip they can return to me. Each family/household receives four of these cards during the year.

On the front of my prayer journal is written the line, “Pray specific prayers.” This is where those return slips are important. I already know certain prayer needs from knowing and visiting those involved with the church; but the slips give people opportunity to share specific needs that may not be publicly known. (There’s also an area on each slip that can be checked indicating whether or not the person would like their request to remain private with me, or shared on the church’s prayer list.)

But, we know human nature—not everyone is going to provide specific prayer requests. You can even ask them face-to-face and receive back only general answers. This is why I wrote that line on the front of my journal. Too often I found myself going the lazy route in response to the lack of requests: “Lord, I don’t know what they specifically need prayed for, but you know their hearts.”

That notion was challenged by a Sunday night study we did once by D. A. Carson called Praying with Paul. Carson scours through the congregational prayers in Paul’s letters. These are prayers typically about spiritual growth, knowing God more deeply, fighting for purity, remaining steadfast, having a faith that encourages others, etc.

Now, each month I choose a section of scripture and list three or four items to pray for those involved in the church. This means that even if a person is unwilling to share requests, I still have specific things to regularly pray about their faith and spiritual growth.

Obviously, I don’t have empirical evidence to support this, only what I’ve experienced, but I believe that letting the church know that I pray for them regularly has helped enhance my relationship with the congregation and the unity they experience with each other. Honestly, I still don’t think that I pray as much as I should. I have been trying to devote more time to prayer throughout my week. However, prayer is a powerful part of the life of the church and the spiritual warfare in which we’re involved. I have little doubt that spiritually healthy churches have pastors who make prayer a priority.

Pray for your church regularly, pastors. Pray specific prayers, pray the scriptures, and let your church families know that you are praying for them.

John Allen Chau–An Introspective Look

John Allen Chau was martyred while trying to bring the gospel to the Sentinelese people sometime between November 16 and November 19.  There have been numerous stories written about Chau’s martyrdom. Baptist Press wrote this story if you’re not familiar with Chau’s death.

I’d like to take an introspective look at Chau’s martyrdom.  Instead of asking questions about his methodology, we should examine our hearts.  Here are five questions:

 

  • Are we willing to be martyred for Christ?  That’s the obvious question, but it’s a tough question.  Every believer should answer in the affirmative. It’s easy to answer “yes” when sitting in a climate controlled sanctuary, a seminary classroom, or a weekend retreat surrounded by ebullient millennials.  What if Chau had asked us to accompany him? What would we have done? Would we have lectured him on wisdom and prudence, or would we have gotten in the boat with him?
  • What is our responsibility to others?  While I write this post, two sets of eyes are staring at me.  I’m responsible for them, my wife and three other kids. At what point should I be responsible, knowing that my martyrdom would leave a widow and five fatherless children? In 2010, I was preparing to go on a mission trip to Guatemala.  My wife was pregnant with our third child and several well meaning Christians counseled me not to participate because if something happened, my children would be fatherless. I was even told, “There will be time for missions later.” I was horrified and sad.  Jesus had an answer for this question. He was very blunt. He told His followers to hate their families. He used the word hate. We don’t use the word hate around our house, but Jesus unambiguously called us to surrender anything and everything that is valuable to us.  This includes our families. My answer to this question: I’d rather my kids grow up knowing their daddy was a martyr than never knowing the true cost of following Christ. I hope I never have to make that choice.
  • How are we doing in our missions efforts?  There are far too many unreached and uncontacted people groups.  Why aren’t we reaching them? Are we even trying to reach them? After Chau’s death, the Twitterverse was ablaze with disparaging comments, some from pastors and church leaders.  The question is not, should John Chau have gone to that remote island? The question should be, why, in an era of unparalleled technology, was he the first missionary to share the gospel with these people?  Also, why are there still some 3000 plus unreached people groups? We have the most powerful weapon of hope in history. David Platt said at the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention’s Pastors conference, “When will we stop telling the world to go to hell?”  

 

  • When does the gospel override planning and structure?  Do we need structure?  Yes we do. Do we need careful and diligent planning?  Yes we do. But more than planning, structure, and sound methodologies, we need passionate gospel proclaimers.  We need to be passionate gospel proclaimers. The gospel is not beholden to any structure, denomination, or organization.  The gospel and the gospel alone has the power to save. Paul wrote in Romans, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news.”  John Chau’s feet are beautiful. How do our feet look?

 

  • Will we see a fresh commitment to reach the lost?  There are unreached people groups in the farthest corners of the world, but there are also unreached people in groups in our own towns.  Will we see a fresh commitment from Christians to reach everyone with the gospel of Christ? Or will John Allen Chau’s martyrdom be a cautionary tale in how not to engage a hostile people group?  If John Allen Chau can kayak two miles in the hopes of sharing the gospel with an unknown people, then we should be able to cross the street and engage our neighbors.

 

These are the questions we should be asking ourselves.  It’s easy to play armchair quarterback to what seems, on the surface, to be a fool’s errand, but I like John Allen Chau’s method of evangelizing over and above my method of not evangelizing.  The unequivocal truth is this: A twenty six year old man dared to bring the gospel to a people he was almost certain would kill him if given the chance. He died sharing his faith. Do we even live sharing ours?

Can We Avoid Hiring Based on Race?

I’m asking this question because I used to be one of the “just hire the right man for the job” crowd.  Then, I had lunch with a millennial.  I asked him how I could reach millennials with the gospel.  His answer was blunt, to the point, and surprising.  He said, “Get a millennial to reach them.”  I expected him to tell me to be more active on social media, or tell me where millennials hang out these days.  The quickest way to reach millennials is to get a millennial to reach them.

How does this relate to the current SBC conversation on minorities in leadership?  The quickest way to reach minorities is get a minority to reach them.  I was fully  supportive of the SBC’s need to be more diverse, and to reach out to minorities.  I was, however, not supportive of the intentional hiring of minorities for leadership positions.  I changed my mind because of purpose.  Does the SBC want to reach out to minorities?  Yes.  Will the intentional hiring of minority candidates to leadership positions show that we are serious about this purpose?  Yes it will.

Some of you are going to crow at me with this phrase:  But our purpose should be to proclaim the gospel.  You are 100% correct.  If you haven’t noticed, our culture is becoming more diverse by the day.  This discussion has never been about theology, it’s always been about methodology.  The “just preach the gospel” crowd would rather bypass common sense methodological approaches for the sake of remaining comfortable.  Yes, intentionally hiring minority candidates would male us uncomfortable.  They might just suggest that we nominate a woman for SBC President.

Shouldn’t we just hire the best man for the job?  We’re lucky enough to have many minority candidates who are more than qualified to fill the five entity vacancies.  I’ve been on a search committee for the past six months, and I’ve learned there’s very little separation between the top three or four candidates.  If the candidate comes in and bombs the interview, then he should not be hired, regardless of skin color, but if the candidate hits a home run during the interview, then the committee should feel free to hire the minority candidate and make that the reason for the hire.

Won’t that decision cost a good man a good opportunity and a good job?  Yes it will, but us white guys aren’t going to have any trouble finding SBC jobs anytime soon.  There’s still plenty of white privilege to go around.  Dr. Patterson seems to have landed on his feet, and I’m reasonably certain anyone who gets passed over for these five vacancies will find a good landing spot.

Isn’t this reverse racism?  Would it have been discrimination based on age if I had taken my friend’s advice and intentionally hire a millennial to reach millennials?  Here’s another illustration:  the demographics of my hometown have changed dramatically in the last 10 years.  There is a large Hispanic population.  When my home church was looking for a pastor, I told my father, “The first thing your new pastor should do is to hire a Hispanic pastor”. He asked, “why?”  I said, “Because you need a Hispanic to reach the growing Hispanic population”.  Would it be racist if my home church hired a Hispanic to evangelize the Hispanic population?

I wouldn’t be writing this post if we only had one entity opening, but reality us we have five openings, and I’m convinced the resignations and retirements aren’t over.  Dave Miller is right.  We need to reach out to minorities, and this may be our best chance.  This may be our last chance, at least for another couple of generations.  Do we want to reach out to minorities or not?  What’s the best way to reach out to minorities?  Hire a minority to do the work.