Monday, January 29, 2007

Suspicion! Suspicion!

My favorite musical of all times is Fiddler on the Roof. I'm not sure exactly how many times I have seen it in theaters or on my own television. There are multiple reasons for enjoying it. The humor that envelopes the film is amazing. The characteristic cynicism of Tevya and Golda has me holding my sides. Quite honestly, they merely voice what most people think but are too afraid to ever say. The realization of three young ladies that marriage might not turn out the way they had always dreamt it would; and the resultant fear of the ever-moaning matchmaker. It is a story of love, family, hope, faith, struggle, revolution and much more.
At the very beginning of the movie, Tevya is speaking of the way in which balance is maintained between faith and life and his sole answer is tradition. This is the way it has always been and this is the way it should always be.
Tradition Vs. Suspicion
Now, before I am castigated about the need for tradition, let me say this; in no way should we simply cast restraint into the wind and forget where we have come from. There are some traditions that, to borrow Tevya's phrase, "if [we] bend that far, [we'll] break." But at the same time, is it not true that there are times in which things need to change? Are we to still read from the Latin Vulgate because tradition dictates it? Should we still use horse and buggy because there were Godly people who lived a long time ago that travelled in that fashion? Should we do away with chocolate because it feeds the lust of the flesh? (Or perhaps it just provides more flesh to feed...something like that.)
Granted, there are some pretty hotly debated topics these days in ministry. I'm not that naive. But what troubles me is that instead of simply singing the Tradition song of Tevya, and debating their merits, it seems that many in the convention are singing the Suspicion song and debating Christian character.
It's as if we don't know how to discuss issues rationally or logically, let alone Scripturally. Instead, every debate becomes a question of personal character. An attack against perceived liberalism. Now let me yet once again set the record straight, I am completely opposed to any view that detracts from Scriptural truth. I find no reason nor room to compromise on this conviction. The Bible Must be our final authority. Having said that, the obvious question to me is, "where is the love of Christ?" It's as if we have to keep it vailed like Moses' face for fear. Instead, it is suspicion that governs the hearts of many. Suspicion that we will somehow return to those awful days of rampant liberalism in the seminaries, the agencies and the convention as a whole. And those who see themselves as the protectors of holiness and tradition have set themselves juxtaposed to their brothers in Christ even to the degree that they plead their case before the secuar media. What a travesty!
For Example
We have within our state a church that has increasingly come into the light over questionable methods of outreach. My desire is not to justify nor condemn this body of believers, because frankly, I don't have enough information. Nevertheless, the "scandal" is not being addressed via the Credentials Committee behind closed doors, but through the secular media. Perhaps those granting interviews believe themselves to be helping to resolve the issue, but instead they are succeeding in perpetuating the problem and destroying the witness we have within our state, nation and even the world. Why? To borrow again from Tevya, "That I can tell you with one word . . ." Suspicion!
Suspicion that if they don't handle things themselves, it won't get done. Suspicion that brothers and sisters serving on the appropriate committees will have their view skewed. Now some may ask how I know these things to be so, because I was approached about serving in my current capacity because of suspicion. I was asked by an individual of extreme influence in our state if I would be willing to serve on our Executive Board because he said, "We need guys on there who have enough backbone not to be a 'yes-man' to our Executive Director." Funny, the first time I bucked this guy's leadership within the board, I was put on the "no-call" list.
It seems to me that suspicion was one of the first plagues to fall upon King Saul when he realized that God was taking his kingdom away. I believe the Bible says that he looked upon David with suspicion. It tormented him almost constantly. It is the same characteristic of an abusive spouse toward their mate. It is a poison that devours the person, relationships, and even conventions.
In our case, the result is even worse. Not only does a lost world laugh us to scorn and our critics maintain that they were right all along, but we give fuel to the fire that is building against the work of Southern Baptists. We give credibility to the foolish remarks of past presidents and their conferences. Why? Because we are more willing to maintain a cloud of suspicion than we are to communicate truth.
At least if the media is going to blast the work of the body, let's make them do their own research and stop spoon-feeding them because it serves our purpose or our side of an argument. It's time we move past suspicion and on to victory for the cause of Christ!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Dr. Page Addresses Missouri Baptists

It was our distinct honor and pleasure to have Dr. Frank Page speak at the Monday afternoon session of the Missouri Baptist Convention State Evangelism Conference held at Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Springfield, Missouri. Dr. Page jokingly referred to a remark made about him by a friend who said, "You're not part of the Who's Who Among Southern Baptists, you're part of the Who's He?"
Well, perhaps to a degree Dr. Page is correct in that before being elected President of the SBC not many people knew of him nationally; however, make no mistake, he is proving himself to be God's man for the SBC at this time. His message consisted of one simple driving agenda, preach Christ, anytime, anywhere to anyone. He challenged Missouri Baptists and Southern Baptists alike to get beyond the petty bickering (my words, not his) and focus upon the furtherance of the Gospel.
He challenged us from 2 Kings 7 not to be motivated to share the good news as the lepers were, just from fear of consequence or guilt, but from love for God. He reiterated the need for the church to be uncompromising in its adherence to the total truthfulness, trustworthiness, sufficiency and relevance of the Scriptures. At the same time he challenged the church to recognize that apart from engaging the culture through Biblical methodology, this generation is lost.
I, for one, certainly appreciate the leadership he is showing at a very crucial time in our nation's life. He shared that he has received numerous phone calls from presidential candidates desiring to meet with him in an effort to gain either a direct or an indirect endorsement from the President of the SBC. One such candidate actually came to see him, Rudi Giuliani. They visited for two hours and Dr. page shared with Rudi the simple plan of salvation. Please keep Rudi in your prayers as he did not at that point accept Christ, but the hope is still there.
I'm so glad that we have a leader who is an example in personal witnessing. It is a challenge to me as a pastor to seize every opportunity. Dr. Page may or may not win a re-election in San Antonio this June, but I am convinced that just as God picked His man for this year, He will again pick His man for this coming year. Let us pray for whoever our president is/will be, that God grants him wisdom, discernment and a sensitivity to the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
I'm reminded of the latter half of a statement Jesus made, "for apart from me, you can do nothing."

Sunday, January 21, 2007

One of the Boys

My family comes from a rather diverse background. My father is of German descent via Kentucky and my mother is Greek via Chicago. Her dad, my grandfather Constantine Bouzanis, came to the United States as the result of having watched his father and mother hanged to death on the front porch in their little village in Greece by the Nazis who had come to take my grandfather's sister along with the other young women of the village. Connie's (grandfather's) dad refused to allow his daughter to be mistreated and shamed in such a way and so, seeing no other solution, took a knife and ended her life. For that offense, he and his wife were hanged forthwith.

Connie's brother, my uncle Bill, left the village and came to the United States through Ellis Island and earned his citizenship. Bill then returned to Greece and brought Connie over. Connie joined the army and served our country faithfully throughout the duration of WW II, and for doing so, he receive his citizenship.

Upon leaving the army, Connie went to Chicago to start a supper club. Unfortunately, being an immigrant, obtaining a loan was an impossibility. So, Connie turned to the only people who would take him in . . . other immigrants. He obtained a "loan" from some local business owners who he called the Boys. From that meager start, Connie turned one super club into several of the finest in Chicago and became very close friends with area politicians and other business owners. In fact, Mayor Richard J. Daley became a close personal friend of Connie's, frequenting his supper clubs and granting Connie with an honorary position in the Port Authority. Connie had hit it big.

He would use his earnings to benefit society. He even sent money back to his home village in Greece to bring running water into the community for the first time. He would periodically bring family members to the states and help them get established in businesses of their own. He paid for one family member to come to the U.S. and go to medical school in order to return home and practice medicine in his own village.

At his funeral visitation in the early 1980's, shortly after everyone had left for the evening, a group of men came in through the back of the building to pay their final respects to Connie's wife, Estelle. They looked like something out of the Godfather movies. When asked who they were, I was told by my parents, those were the Boys. I had seen a couple of them at different times at the restaurant, but there they were, all together. They had come to say goodbye to one of their own.

Nice story, but so what? While my grandfather started off in the world's eyes as a nobody, he quickly became a somebody; not because of who he was, but because he was one of the Boys. Whenever he had any difficulties, the Boys would look after him. After he was gone, it was the Boys that made sure that Estelle was taken care of. They were a great group of guys. I would have been hard pressed back then to have seen any flaw with any of them. Why? Because they had done SO much for my grandfather. These guys were heroes! Some, even became legends.

Here's my point, this same "good ol' boy" group that took my grandfather in and provided for he and his family, blinded my young eyes to the wrongs committed by them. I could never think of them in a negative light because of all the "good" things they did for him, and ultimately, us. But the truth was that these men were wrong in many ways. I just couldn't see it because I felt as if I owed it to them to always speak of them in a positive fashion. After all, I wouldn't want to appear ungrateful.

Since having become involved in state and national denominational life I have seen much the same sort of blind loyalty to those to whom our conventions feel a sense of loyal obligation. It seems as if the fact that some individuals have taken a right stand on certain issues and led us correctly in a certain direction, demands a blind obedience that is never to be questioned. It seems as if issues always devolve into matters of personality rather than substance.

I hear so often statements made like, "we owe it to [so and so]", or "have we forgotten that without [this person] we wouldn't be where we are today." I am so glad that our conventions have had sound leadership in recent years that have helped us turn the tide of liberalism, but I question the wisdom behind granting Julius Caesar the title of King, even if it is behind the scenes.

Ask most anyone in denominational life, off the record of course, if they have not witnessed this firsthand. I've heard some of the kings in our state convention speak of exactly such evils on the national level while never recognizing the strangle hold they have upon their own convention. The unwritten rule is that you never speak against one of the Boys. To do so is to subject yourself to being labeled "moderate", "liberal", "Big Tent Conservative", etcetera, etcetera, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. Suggest that you support thinking differently about methodology in missions and you're an alcoholic. Indicate that casual dress might be more appropriate in some worship services and you're inviting strippers to your church. The rhetoric that is used to guard the ideas and personalities behind the status quo is appalling!

I have heard in committee meetings things said such as, "Well, [so and so] says they're okay, then that's fine with me. I figure if the higher ups approve them, then I should too." I know of an instance where one individual bucked a local king on an issue and ironically enough, our committee never received his nomination for service as a trustee even though the president of that institution assured me that his information had been presented. When I asked, I was told that no one ever saw the information.

Now here's what I'm getting at. I believe that if we are ever going to see God move in a Great Awakening sort of fashion in our state or nation, it will only happen if and when we can move past this mentality of blind loyalty to the Boys. If I may be so bold, it wasn't the Boys that brought these conventions around, it was God. To substitute one "good ol' boy" network which was liberal with one that is "conservative" is wrong.
I know that some have already called me Brutus, but I cannot with a clear conscience be a mute member of a machine that operates at the whim of an individual no matter how great they are rather than the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps I was just not cut out to be one of the Boys.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Whose Side Are We On Anyway?

With all of the recent turmoil over evangelistic methodology and general missiology, one could wonder if more time is not being spent waging war against the "brethren" rather than focusing upon the transformation of lives by the saving of souls. In my short stint on the Executive Board of the Missouri Baptist Convention, as well as my time spent on the Nominating Committee of the same, I have had more than my fair share of front line perspective. Perhaps one day I'll write a novel or more appropriately produce a soap opera entitled, "As the Stomach Churns."

Be that as it may, such experiences have led me to search the Scriptures again seeking the light of Divine wisdom to shine down upon the chaos of our human condition. And, once again, I turn to the writings of the Apostle Paul (Gee I love that guy!). In his letter to the Philippians, Paul addresses the issue of unity within the body. Philippi was noted as a veterans colony. Interestingly enough, it plays a very significant role in the history of Rome. Philippi was the site of the two greatest land battles in Roman history between Brutus and Cassius (the murderers of Julius Caesar) on one side and Marc Antony and Octavian (Julius' step-son, later to be known as Caesar Augustus) on the other. These two battles were known commonly as the "two works of Philippi." [The credit for this information, though easily enough documented through numerous other sources, belongs to Dr. Alan Tomlinson, Professor of New Testament at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, who is without question the single greatest expert I know on the first century A.D. ]

This is essential to understanding the book, because when you keep in mind that the common understanding of the day in Philippi of the word "work" was a battle, then the entire letter takes on a new essence. Paul is writing to the Philippians about the "work" of the Gospel, the furtherance of the Gospel message. The problem was that in the church at Philippi there were two ladies whom Paul had at one time worked alongside in the furtherance of the Gospel, and these two ladies, for some reason, got crosswise with one another (Imagine that, I knew they were Baptist!). Anyway, Paul writes a strong letter of admonishment to the church to help these ladies be reconciled in their differences because their "personal problems" were spilling out all over the body at Philippi with the consequence that the Gospel was being hindered.

Isn't that interesting! That's exactly what happens every time that evangelism becomes the focus of the body, strife and division creep in and undermine the work which was once begun. Paul doesn't spend time telling the church how they can have greener lawns, better kids or a more meaningful quiet time with the Lord, he speaks to them about the greatest single issue plaguing the church at that moment, division. It is the cancer that will devour the Gospel witness of the body and ultimately the body itself.

A couple of months ago, a lady in our church came to me and told me that they had found a spot on her breast but that they did not believe that it was cancerous. She informed the doctor that she didn't want to take any chances (having already lost one breast to cancer); therefore, she insisted upon having a mastectomy. A couple of weeks later, the test result came back on the spot and it revealed a rapid growing malignant tumor. Had she not taken a radical step when she did, by the time they realized what was going on it may have been too late.

Paul was treating the Philippians the same way. They needed to take a radical step toward bringing reconciliation into the body. Why? Because lost people were going to a Christless eternity without hearing the Gospel while brothers and sisters were drawing lines and choosing sides. Notice that the solution was not that one of the two ladies had to leave, but rather that they needed to be reconciled.

Folks, the world knows how to fight without us giving them lessons in it. I pray that we can get past the pride that seems to pervade nearly every level of denominational life and turn our hearts back toward what we were called to in the first place...the furtherance of the Gospel.

Just my thoughts.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

My Cold Birthday

Well, these last couple of days have been very interesting. We were overcome by an ice-storm, such as we have not seen since I have lived in Missouri (1987). As I watched the reports coming in from surrounding areas, I found that we were very blessed to have electricity. We had to cancel services yesterday as a result of the extreme conditions and so I spent some much needed time with my family.

Today I turned 38. What a blessing. I have determined to take a different approach toward aging than many of my peers. I have decided that I will embrace each year with its unique challenges and adventures trusting that God will give me the strength to do all that I need to in obedience to Him. How great it would be at age eighty-five to be able to say in the spirit of Caleb, "Give me that mountain!"

I do find that as I get older, sometimes it becomes much easier to be cynical. In fact, it's kind of fun at times. But I pray that the Lord will help me to never lose my heart for the lost or my love for His body. That he will protect me from growing bitter when I see Christian brothers/sisters acting in ways that are more akin to the carnal mindset of the world. And that when I do notice such behavior and attitudes, that I will have the sensitivity and wisdom to look at my own flaws and remember that we all need a Savior.

I pray that, should the Lord tarry, in the next 38 years I will finish both of my Masters degrees and perhaps even that long desired Ph.D.. I would like to finally be able to take my wife to the Florida Keys (hopefully that won't take 38 years). I would very much like to help impact this generation with a growing passion for God and a deep desire to, in the words of William Carey, "Attempt great things for God and expect great things from God." Our state has 250,000 college students in 198 degree ganting institutions. And most of them know little or nothing about the Jesus of the Bible. I want to be a part of reaching them. And not just evangelizing them, but training them to be leaders in the faith.

Well, I just thought I would pass along some thoughts as I reflect upon where I am in life's journey and anticipate where I am headed. I pray that the Lord blesses you with the fulness of the vision He has granted you until the day we see Him together in glory. Amen!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Missiology vs. Theology?

I don't guess that I get it! I hear so many of my peers in ministry speaking of the evils of modern missiological thinking. It is as if in their minds there exists this dichotomy between solid, conservative theology and a Scripture-centered, culturally relevant approach to missions. In fact, the battle lines are drawn so exactly that, should one dare to even step near the edge of the status quo, it is reasonable to expect ostracizing and marginalization. We live in a day in which minsters are more afraid of being labelled than they are impassioned with a white-hot fervor for the Gospel. What has happened to us?
Perhaps what we need is a New/Old perspective. In the early days of the church, a crisis arose among the leaders as to how to handle the "new" believers. Why? Because they weren't like the rest of the believers...they were gentiles...Greeks. They dressed different, they acted different, they even violated the known Jewish customs and laws. There was such an intense division between the Jews and Greeks that the issue of unity became a major underlying theme of most of the books of the New Testament. Some, who equated the teachings of men with that of Scripture, were imposing laws and customs upon those new believers to such a degree that the essence of the Gospel message was being lost. What had started as a doctrine of salvation by grace through faith had deteriorated into a doctrine of salvation, or at the very least, perseverance by works. It was in response to this false teaching that the Apostle Paul addressed his first letter, Galatians.
In this book, Paul explains very emphatically, and rather harshly I might add, that the essence of the Gospel is the work of Christ and not the work of man. The church would call a council at Jerusalem to address this very issue and it would be determined that, saving only a couple of instructions, the Greeks were not to be bound by the traditions of men or the laws of the Mosaic covenant. But they were, in fact, free!
What's Freedom got to do with it? Well, Scripture very clearly states that it was for that purpose that Christ set us free. However, freedom seems to scare us, that is, at least those of us who have held to our systematic theologies like Linus did his blanket. What about all the rules? What about the law? Well, ironically enough, Jesus fulfilled the law. Complete. Done. However, Paul knew that someone would seize upon this very point and take issue, so he asks this question, "What then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid." Never in Scripture are we told that we may do something contradictory to the very nature of God.
However, how soon we forget that we could never attain to Christ's holiness, that's why it was a gift. It is almost as if some would say, "Thank you Lord for saving me, I'll take it from here." As believers in Christ, we don't act differently in order to attain to holiness, but rather because we have been made holy by the only One Who is holy. And so we learn to live in the light of the new creation Christ has made us.
The issue is not forsaking the truth of Scripture in order to accomplish some desired result as if the end would somehow justify the means, that is as long as the end is salvation. Rather, it is a matter of throwing-off those man-made trappings that in effect shroud the very heart of the Gospel itself and lead the victim back into a life of legalistic bondage. That's not freedom!
Confessions of a one-time blanket holder. Such ideas terrified me for years. The last thing I ever wanted to be was a liberal. I thought that if you didn't use the King James when you preached and prayed then you might not get pardoned. (Like the alliteration? Anyway...) I thought that music had to be mm. 70-85 and performed with a twang in your voice. I thought that if you didn't have a quiet time 7 days a week you were in sin. In fact, while I am being somewhat fasiscious on these things, I was dreadfully terrified of not being the spiritual person Christ called me to be. And, consequently, I demanded that everyone I met live by the same standard that I myself could never attain. Talk about miserable!
That was the same predicament that Peter found himself in when he was eating with the Greeks and then saw those from Jerusalem coming, and so he withdrew from the Greeks. This was such a fierce violation of his Scriptural mandate that Paul addressed him to his face.
Back to the Future. That is exactly what is taking place across our state and even our convention. Those who are recognizing what it takes to reach a lost world with the Gospel are being ridiculed and condemned by those who cry "holiness, holiness", a standard that they themselves could never attain. And the cost? An entire generation of people lost and on its way to a Christless Hell because we are more concerned about foods offered to idols than the souls of men! God help us!
It is time that the church rethink its missiology and its theology to insure that they are both Scriptural. The world is at stake.