Tuesday, March 14, 2017

My Willingness to Serve

Dear Emmanuel Family,

As I shared with you last week, I have allowed my name to be announced as a candidate for the presidency of the Georgia Baptist Convention.  Your kind comments have been such an encouragement to me.  They serve as a reminder that I am blessed to pastor the greatest people in the world!

Be assured this position is in addition to my duties as your pastor.  I am not leaving Emmanuel to take a new job.  If elected, I will continue to serve here and most of you will notice no change at all.  The Lord has expanded our ministry in a number of ways but I am first and foremost a local church pastor.

It is also important to me that you understand the process that brought me to this place of service.  Andrea and I came to total peace in this matter due to several factors.  Let me share a few things about this position and the process that brings me to this point in my prayers and ministry.

First, my upcoming nomination was encouraged by a diverse group of leaders in our denomination.  In recent years, there have been several contested elections in our state.  For those of you who have watched it, you know it has ultimately hindered our efforts to unite with the gospel across this state.

Second, for the last 15 months I have been blessed to be the chairman of our state’s executive committee.  Think “deacon chairman” and you may have some idea of this role.  It has been a joy to serve in that capacity and to work alongside the Executive Director and professional staff at the Georgia Baptist Mission Board and to use appointment privileges to involve new pastors in leadership, to embrace the diversity of our state, and to even bridge some gaps that have divided leaders in our convention.

Third, as you know we give 10% of our undesignated receipts through the ministries of the state convention, namely the Cooperative Program.  You see this regularly in the bulletin and hear about it frequently at the time of offering.  This year we will give around $200,000 toward the Georgia Baptist budget of about $42 million.  Other than personnel, Georgia Baptist and Southern Baptist missions support is the largest area of our budget.  The ability to be one of the leaders in that process is frankly a wise investment for our church.  

Fourth, several months ago, Dr. Steve Parr shared that the convention’s focus in 2018 and 2019 (the years I could potentially serve) would be on reaching students 18 years old and younger in a campaign called U2019.  As you know, that generation is my passion.  In recent years we have made significant changes in connecting with our students and we have seen a great deal of success in youth evangelism, discipleship, and membership retention as high school students transition into their college years. 

Whether I’m on school campus with our students, serving with FCA, or leading weekly worship with our youth band, I am totally committed to doing “whatever it takes” to bring young people to Jesus.  I would love to take what God is doing in our student ministry here at Emmanuel and champion that cause across this state!
  
With those four reasons in mind, let me explain how I came to this important decision.

In January, I was asked to meet with a group of trusted men from both sides of our state convention's division.  These were men who had “seen things differently” in the past and whose friendships ran across the spectrum of Georgia Baptist life.  But they were each Bible-believing, soul-winning pastors who wanted to bring Georgia Baptists together for the sake of the gospel.

We prayed that God might lead us to a nominee that could help unite Georgia Baptists.  All agreed that we would use our influence to try to unite Georgia around a single candidate rather than have another needlessly contested election.  The short version is, that conversation turned in my direction and I agreed to pray with these men about my possible nomination.

Our church staff was a major part of that prayer time.  Not only are these God-called men who serve our church, they are personal friends whose counsel to me is invaluable.  They were not the least bit hesitant about a possible nomination.  I was blessed to have their full support.

On Valentine’s Day I received a text message that confirmed the entire group of pastors was in agreement that I was that “unifying nominee.”  That night, Andrea and I held hands and prayed at Reedy Creek Restaurant and over a great delmonico she confirmed her belief that this was the Lord’s will for our lives.

Partially out of respect for the transition in our music ministry, I wanted to wait until after the reception for Mrs. Paige Coker to announce this.  I did not want to do anything that would take the focus off honoring her for a job well done as our interim music director.

There are other details about my vision for a potential presidency that would be of greater interest to my pastor friends.  But I wanted you to be aware of some of the reasoning behind this decision.

I’ve often told you, the great joys of my life are to be (in chronological order) my parent’s son, a child of God, my wife’s husband, my kids’ Daddy, and the pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church.  I love you with all my heart!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Obey or Resign: A Short-Sighted Doctrine

In the wake of the arrest of a government official in Kentucky, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention has once again furthered a position that Christians who are government employees or office holders only have two options when their religious convictions are violated in the course of their official duties.  Obey or resign.

This position was restated earlier today when ERLC president, Dr. Russell Moore, along with co-author Andrew Walker penned, “Need We Jail Each Other Over Marriage Licenses?”

The article states, "When an official can no longer execute the laws in question due to an assault on conscience, and after all accommodating measures have been exhausted, he or she could work for change as a private citizen, engaging the democratic process in hopes of changing the questionable law." (italics mine)

After reading the article, I tweeted that the “‘Obey or resign’ doctrine espoused by many is based on a weak hermeneutic, a secular worldview, and a flawed view of the U.S. Constitution.”

A weak hermeneutic

No passage of Scripture Is singularly controlling, making all others stand on their head and yield to it.  More bluntly, neither Romans 13 nor 1 Peter 2 in full context require complete and total obedience to all human authority.  The context, even of these oft-cited texts, deals with using civil liberty to do good and not evil.

As for his inspired text, Peter says we are to use our civil liberties as “bondservants of God.”  Peter is one who, in the book of Acts, repeatedly defied human institutions, bluntly declaring that God's laws were higher than man's.

From the earliest pages of the Bible, we read of citizens who defied governmental laws and were commended by God.

Exodus 1:17-20 - “But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them…therefore God dealt well with the midwives…”

There is even textual evidence that the midwives lied to the governmental representatives about the whole birthing process.  And yet, God commended and blessed them for their actions.  Their heroic actions led to the birth of a deliverer.

Some will say, “Yes but they were not governmental employees.”  Though that’s a distinction without a difference, I’ll concede the point for a moment and talk about a few government employees/officials.

We could speak of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  There is no record that these provincial governors (Daniel 2:49) resigned their posts before refusing to bow.

Then there’s Daniel himself.  Daniel 6:10 records, “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed (italics mine), he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days.”

Notice that the great prophet knew he was violating the law.  When he went home he didn’t pen his resignation as one of the king’s top 3 governors.  No.  He defied the king (his boss) and obeyed God.

Daniel 6:22ff records the end of the incident.  Daniel said, “My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths, so that they have not hurt me, because I was found innocent before Him; and also, O king, I have done no wrong before you.”  Now the king was exceedingly glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no injury whatever was found on him, because he believed in his God.

Daniel testified and the Holy Spirit affirmed that Daniel did nothing wrong.  Don’t miss that.  Our immutable, unchanging God stated through the testimony of the prophet and the testimony of the Holy Ghost that Daniel was blameless, all the while holding his office and simultaneously disobeying the orders of the king.

Those who believe the Bible requires an elected official to either comply or resign are simply wrong.  It's just that simple.  The only way to state that more clearly is to say it again.

Those who believe the Bible requires an elected official to either comply or resign are simply wrong.

A secular worldview

A fundamental worldview question is “Where did man originate?”  I mean, “Did God create man or did man create God?”

This worldview question intersects the matter of civil liberties on a regular basis.  Namely, “Who/What is the source of our rights?”  It appears to me that the ERLC isn’t as clear on this question as they need to be.

Today’s article states, “We must recognize the crucial difference between the religious liberty claims of private citizens and government officials.”  With all due respect, that is a fundamentally flawed view of civil liberties, religious or otherwise.

My civil liberties are inherent and unalienable.  They come from God and not the government.  The government has never given me (or anyone else) a single right. 

The government guards and guarantees rights but has never given any.  It couldn’t if it wanted to.  It has none to give.

The government protects and preserves my rights but has never provided any.  It couldn’t if it wanted to.  It has none to provide.

This is a basic misunderstanding in today’s culture.  The First Amendment doesn’t give me ONE. SINGLE. FREEDOM.  Not a one.  The prohibition is on Congress.
Kim Davis had no fewer religious liberty rights the day she took public office than the day she was born.  The notion that anyone has fewer religious liberty claims because they have a certain employer is a bizarre one that is based on a secular, not a Biblical worldview.
Kim Davis does not have a right to be a county clerk.  If legally removed, her rights have not necessarily been infringed.  But the idea that she checked her religious liberty rights, even in some small measure, at the door of the clerk's office is a troubling notion.  More troubling in this case is that this belief is held by those whose present ministry is to speak with Biblical and constitutional clarity on such matters.

A flawed view of the U.S. Constitution

To be clear, I'm not advocating a government where individuals can disregard legitimate laws and become a law unto themselves.  If Davis has done so, she isn't the only one.  That's exactly what Judge Bunning has done as well.

Our founding document calls for a separation of powers which are governed and controlled by checks and balances.  In the present case, there is a legal remedy for an elected official who is derelict in performance of his/her duties.

Kim Davis was subject to any number of constitutionally-tenable responses from other branches of government and from the electorate itself.  The laws of this country never envisioned an elected official being arrested for such a breech.

Judge Bunning believed (perhaps rightly) that Davis’ recall/impeachment would be unlikely.  He further believed that fines would be paid by others, rendering them ineffective as a penalty.  That's not his call to make.  So he took matters into his own hand.

The laws of the state of Kentucky explicitly put the right to seek remedy in the hands of others.  Not the federal judge.  By his unilateral action, Judge Bunning became guilty of the very transgression for which Kim Davis now sits in jail.  He didn't like the outcome of following the law so he made his own decision.

It is not a judge’s prerogative to decide that when the legally-proscribed means will not produce his desired ends he can circumvent those means and decree an end of his own choosing.  Frankly, that judicial approach is what got us here in the first place.  It’s bad enough to have a legislative judiciary.  Must we have an executive one as well?

That is called monarchy.  And our forebears fought a war with red-coated British soldiers over that.

Some have rhetorically asked, "What if a county clerk were a Quaker and refused to distribute gun licenses?"  Then she, like Kim Davis, should be subject to the laws that govern derelict officials.

In the present matter, Davis is not limited to two options, obey or resign.  She can exercise her own religious liberty while submitting to the actual laws of the state of Kentucky.  If properly recalled or impeached, she can pack her office and go home.  Quietly.  Respectfully.  Legally.


In the meantime, those who limit her choices to only two might be well advised to reconsider their position on the basis of Biblical, natural, and constitutional law.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

My Response to J.D. Hall

J.D.,

I am writing, as you likely assume, because you included a screenshot of my tweet regarding Bruce Jenner in a recent post of yours on the same topic.  My tweet simply stated, “Grace won’t let me treat Bruce Jenner like a freak.  Truth won’t let me treat him like a girl.”

I stand by every word of that tweet.  Every one of them.

While you seem most bothered by the word “freak” and my refusal to treat Mr. Jenner like a “freak,” you must see the word “freak” in light of the other words in the tweet.

GRACE

As a fellow pastor and Bible student, I know you don’t need an explanation about the unmerited favor of God.

I would simply point out for the sake of my readers that grace and truth are not opposing forces that need to be balanced.  Too many in this debate seem to think so.  Our Master was filled with grace and truth (John 1:14).

All grace is truthful.  All truth is full of grace.

I do not believe there is any such thing as truthless grace or graceless truth although I know how those phrases are commonly used.  If it's not the truth, it's not gracious.  If it's not overflowing with the grace of the gospel, it's not Biblical truth even if it's factually accurate.  For myself, I've been guilty of sharing a lot of graceless facts through the years.

On this subject, it's important to note, we don't ultimately show grace to Bruce Jenner (or anyone else in the LGBT life) by withholding truth.

WON’T LET

When I’m walking in grace, there is an inner compulsion that simply will not allow me to act certain ways, at least not without conviction.  As a fellow believer I know you’ve experienced those times of brokenness and repentance where the indwelling Spirit made His displeasure known.

It’s not that we are incapable of sinful actions but rather we are incapable of acting in an ungodly way without conviction and chastisement.  As much as the chastisement hurts at the time, I appreciate the fruits of peace and righteousness that it yields in the end.

ME

I can’t speak for everyone.  That’s obvious.

I can’t speak for the lost church member who quotes Scripture all the while putting a black eye on the gospel.  But grace won’t let ME…

I can’t speak for the political conservative whose moral deism is leading him straight to hell.  But grace won’t let ME…

I can’t speak for a fellow believer whose hasty use of social media does more harm than good.  I’ve been guilty of that myself more times than I’d like to admit.  But when I get alone with the Master, His grace won’t let ME….

TREAT

The Christ that lavished grace on me did not treat me as I deserved to be treated.  The very nature of my sins might not have looked “freakish” to an on-looking world but they were every bit as repulsive to our holy God.  I deserved damnation and eternal punishment.  I get forgiveness and eternal life instead.

Now He calls me to a life of paradox.  A life of grace.  A life that treats my enemies with love.  That blesses those who curse me.  That prays for those who spitefully use me.  A life that doesn’t treat people the way I believe they deserve to be treated.

That doesn’t mean I roll over dead and ignore their behavior.  I just love their person.  I am to love the child molester but I’ll never let them within reach of my kids.  I am even to love the false teacher although I’d never ask him to lead silent prayer at the church I oversee.

I wish I were better at this grace-life than I am.  My tongue has wounded both friendly critic and sworn enemy alike over the years.  I request your prayers in that regard.

God will one day treat sinners as they deserve.  In His righteousness, He will do so.  But even on that great and horrible day, treating sinners as they deserve to be treated will be His place and His place alone.

BRUCE JENNER

I join you in exhorting Bible-believers to not call Bruce, “Caitlyn.”  Far different from a more typical legal name change, such as “Fred” to “Bill,” the name change from a male name to a female name in this case is inextricably linked to the transgender behavior itself.  I believe to embrace the former is to normalize the latter, even if unintentionally so.

I am grieved beyond measure that leading voices in my denomination seem to lack enough Biblical discernment to make this simple distinction.  I even wrote a lengthy satirical post to address this troubling trend.

Truth restrains me from calling a man a woman.  It’s just not true.  And therefore, it's not gracious.  Hence, my second sentence.  But that’s not the line that troubled you.

LIKE A FREAK

You make your case that you believe Jenner is a freak.  For the record, I firmly believe his behavior is sinful, strange, odd, unusual, and even freakish.  I agree with you on that point.  I didn’t say his behavior wasn’t freakish.

But grace doesn’t treat freaks like freaks. It doesn't treat jerks like jerks.  His common grace even presently treats the unrepentant far better than they deserve.  Thankfully, God’s grace didn’t treat His people like the sinners we were before His grace came.

Far from treating us like we deserved, He pressed His way up a blood-spattered path to a skull-shaped hill.  There He took my sin upon Himself and suffered under God's wrath for me.  In that moment of holy justice, God treated the Sinless One like I deserved that He might treat me as the Sinless One deserved.

The essence of the gospel involves God treating people like they do not deserve to be treated.  Should God save Bruce Jenner, it won’t be because God treated him like he deserves to be treated.  That grace, like the grace given to Mike Stone and J.D. Hall, will be unmerited to its core.

And when God’s grace is at work in me, His grace won’t let me treat Bruce Jenner like a freak any more than His truth will let me treat him like a girl.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Be Careful on the Caitlyn Issue

NOTE:  For those who do not understand satire, this article is a tongue-in-cheek way of addressing a simple issue.  Leading voices in our own Southern Baptist Convention are urging us to address LGBT issues in a way they would NEVER ask us to address any other issue.  When you replace LGBT issues with any other sin, such as animal cruelty, the flawed argument becomes obvious to most people.



It’s been all over the news this week.  From USA Today (1) to the LA Times (2) news outlets have bombarded the nation with stories about her.

Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.

All of my social media accounts have been buzzing about this story.

Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.

Some have recoiled in disgust.  The photos are particularly troubling for many.

Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.

Many Christians say, “This is not what God intended.”  Even moralists say, “This just isn’t right.”  It’s obvious that surgery will be required to address the damage done to the body.  But the real issue is a heart issue.

Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.

I’m talking about the strange and sad story of Caitlyn, the dog.

According to a June 2, 2015 story in the LA Times, “Caitlyn, a 15-month-old chocolate staffie, was found wandering along the streets of Charleston, S.C., seemingly looking for her former home. The dog probably had wandered for at least a day, or even two, seeking safety and security after being horribly abused. Her jaw was bound so tightly in thin black electrical tape that the blood flow had been cut off and her tongue was trapped between her teeth, officials said.”

41-year-old William Leonard Dodson has been arrested on various felony charges related to cruelty to animals.

But as strange as the case is, I want to issue a gentle but firm plea to my fellow believers.  Please be very careful how you address the “Caitlyn issue."

Pastors, your friends, neighbors, and church members are watching.  The way you address this matter will give them a clear insight into how you will address any issues of animal abuse subsequently revealed in their lives.  It is a gospel issue at its core.

Animal abuse is much more common than most people think.  The National Humane Society is forced to acknowledge that, “Most cases are never reported, and most animal suffering goes unrecognized and unabated. Cruelty and neglect can also cross socio-economic boundaries.” (3)

That means that statistically, you have an abuser on your Facebook feed.  It’s highly doubtful there’s no animal abuser numbered among your Twitter followers.  And pastor, you are very likely to have an animal abuser in your congregation this Sunday. 

And I don’t just mean you mega-church pastors.  I’m talking about the secret abusers who teach Sunday School at New Ebenezer #27.  I’m talking about the choir member at Mountain Look Primitive Baptist Church and the usher at Greater Macedonia AME.  I’m talking about US.

I beg you, be careful how you speak, tweet, and post about animal cruelty. Be aware that the testimony of the gospel in the animal-abusing community is at stake with every word, click, and keystroke.

Animal abuse takes on many different forms and expressions.  Of the nearly 2,000 cases reported in the last statistical year, about 65% involved dogs, 18% involved cats, and a full 25% involved horses, livestock, and other domesticated animals.

I know what some of you are saying.  I grew up in the church.  I know all the clich├ęs.

Yes, the Bible says, “The righteous man cares for his animals.” (Proverbs 12:10).  But we must also be careful that we do not become unloving, needlessly dogmatic, and hurtfully judgmental in declaring what the Scripture says about animal cruelty.  Saying that righteousness requires a man to care for his animals is, well, awfully narrow.  Such statements necessarily imply that animal cruelty is unrighteous.

Now, as believers we understand that animal cruelty is not righteous.  But people in your realm of influence may have taken a different view.  We will never convince the modern, culturally-savvy animal abusers of our day that animal abuse is unrighteous if we tell them that animal abuse is unrighteous.  If we declare our message, we will lose the credibility to declare our message.

See, this post isn’t even really about Caitlyn.  It’s about the William Leonard Dodsons of this world.  The William Leonard Dodsons of your town.  The William Leonard Dodsons in your church.  Honestly, it’s about the William Leonard Dodson that lives in each of us.  In those dark, quiet, hidden places that you don’t talk about at your Sunday School social.

It’s so easy for us to share a post, write a tweet, and click the “like” button as we arrogantly exalt ourselves above the Caitlyn issue.  For a small minority, it’s about their hatred of animal abusers.  For others, it’s a subconscious desire to deflect attention from the animal hater that lurks in each of our depraved hearts.

I mean, who among us can honestly say we’ve never wanted to harm the neighbor’s screeching cat?

Who among us can say we’ve never wanted to shoot the neighbor’s barking dog with a BB gun…or worse?

Who among us has never considered contacting the dog catcher or the local pound with a reckless disregard for the euthanasia that most certainly awaits the culprit?

When the neighbor’s dog poops in your yard or their cat leaves claw marks on the hood of your mini-van, who among us hasn’t muttered under their breath, “I’d like to get my hands on that varmint?”

When you said it with your mouth and thought it with your mind, you are as guilty as the nationally-vilified Mr. Dodson.

If you dare say, “I’ve never wanted to harm an animal,” then that’s all the more reason you should speak slowly…and tweet even more slowly.  If you’ve never known the inner confusion and struggle from animal-abusing desires you tried to hide and suppress, you have no business speaking to this issue.

Simply put, if you have EVER wanted to harm an animal you have no room to speak.  If you have NEVER wanted to harm an animal you have no place to speak.  In either case, only God can judge William Leonard Dodson.  And we’re not God.

Rather than throwing around our Proverbs 12:10 verses, we should remember Matthew 7 and John 8.  Judge not lest ye be judged.  Ye without sin cast the first stone.

Without grace we'd be just like him.  Cat-killers, dog-deserters, and maybe even bird-beaters.  Our animal-hating depravity may not have manifested itself in full measure but if we recognize its presence in the ugly corners of our soul we will speak more softly and much more slowly about another man taping a dog's mouth shut and leaving her alone to die of starvation and heat exhaustion (an act I chronicle here only in the most loving and compassionate way).

William Leonard Dodson is created in the image of God.  Be careful that in your denunciation of his actions that you don’t lose sight of the Imago Dei that resides even within Mr. Dodson.

Pray for Caitlyn and William.  And pray for yourself.  Especially that self-righteous part of you that wants to declare animal cruelty is wrong with reckless disregard for how your words hurt those who live in the animal-abusing community.

Perhaps Providence has allowed this issue to come to the forefront of our national consciousness to remind us all of a simple truth:  We are all broken and depraved William Dodsons in desperate need of grace.