My Growing Theology

In May of 1995 I walked across the stage of Ozark Christian College to receive my college degree. I had earned a Bachelor of Theology degree with a New Testament major and a minor in preaching. This is OCC’s premium degree and it takes 5 years to earn it. I was required to take 3 years of the Greek language where I not only learned this original language but translated every word of numerous New Testament books. Part of this degree also required a special class where we had to write a weighty document on some big New Testament topic. I chose the work of Christ on the cross.

With all that education and specialized training I was sure I knew it all. I understood deep things of the Bible and doctrines that might confuse the ordinary Church member. I had an enormous amount of knowledge and all I wanted to do was share it with all the less educated people I met. I was ready for every apologetic argument and any theological discussion that came along.

Or so I thought… In the past 21 years I have realized how little I really knew that day.

Since my graduation from college I have had a lot to learn. For me, my knowledge needed to come on three different levels.

First, I needed to experience more of life to understand completely. I don’t think anyone understands God sending his only son in John 3:16 until they have a son. No one understands the book of Job until they have suffered and don’t understand why. Very few people can really understand Acts until they have experienced life in a Church. My life helps me to shape my theology. As a result I have come to not just know parts of the Bible through my head but also my heart.

Second, I needed to listen closer to what I was reading. My initial knowledge of the Bible was very black and white. Through the years I have started to see more gray areas. For example, I used to teach about Jesus as love. He was a nice guy who loved everyone. Then one day I was reading the gospels and realized he wasn’t always nice in the way I wanted him to be. He tells a follower to sell everything and he tells another who wants to bury his father, “let the dead bury the dead.” He calls one woman a dog and some religious leaders a group of vipers. What I learned was that I often imported my modern mindset onto the stories of the Bible. Over time I have learned that I needed to listen closer to what was really going on in the story.

Third, I needed to meet people who stretched my thinking. I used to caricature people from the other Churches in town. Then I met some of them. I was surprised at how good some of them knew their Bible and could explain their theology. I still do not agree with all of it, but I finally understood where other people were coming from. It caused me to ask questions about what I really believed and why. all of us need people who ask tough questions and confront us with alternate answers.

Over these 21 years I have seen my theology grow as I learn more and more about God, His word and His people. I no longer think I have it all figured out, but I keep trying. Sometimes I pull out old sermons and smile in disbelief. Not that I taught heresy or anything, but rather at how small my thinking was at the time. I suppose one day I will do the same with this Sunday’s sermon. Hopefully your theology will have grown enough that you can smile with me.

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Lessons From My Oldest Son’s Graduation

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of events. There has been a senior dinner, a baccalaureate service, the end of school, family visiting, a reception and a commencement ceremony. It seems everyday has been filled with something to bring my son through this time with joy, understanding and a general sense of accomplishment.

I have been a graduating senior two times in my life, but this is my first time as a parent. It will certainly not be my last either as I have 3 more to graduate in the next 5 years. During this experience I have watched the events with an open mind to the lessons I might learn through this celebration. Here are a few of my thoughts.

1. All of us experience life in our own unique way. Some teens want to be in the spotlight, but it is clear that my son does not. He is more introverted like me. He does not enjoy the crowds and talking with total strangers. He enjoyed graduation but is very glad it is over.

2. Most people are very generous. I cease to be amazed at the generosity of people. People have willingly given us their time to help. Other people have opened their wallet to give all kinds of gifts to my son(Thanks everyone). I know we think of the world as selfish and greedy much of the time, but my experience never seems to support that view.

3. The Church is a great family. Most of our family was not able to make my sons graduation or party. The timing was bad, my parents health is poor and some of them just couldn’t afford the trip. As a result we did not expect too many people at my son’s graduation party. We were pleasantly surprised at how many people showed up to support him. Here is the great part, almost all of them were from my Church. They loved Hunter and gave to him just because of our bond in Christ. I love the Church.

4. Take time to celebrate the moment. Ecclesiastes 3:13 says, “That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil–this is the gift of God.” I think the writer of this verse has a couple of things in mind. One, we are never satisfied. We will always think of how we could have done better. Two, we always have our mind on the next thing. The biggest question for my son over the weekend was, “What are your future plans?” It is hard to enjoy accomplishments, but when you do, it is a gift from God.

5. Time flies – so make the most of it. I can’t believe my little boy is out of high school. The time sure went fast. I am thankful for every little experience along the way. Right now I am so thankful for the class programs, the field trips, the games, the awards, the time with friends and a thousand little experiences. I thank God for each day he has given me with my son.

I know the last couple of weeks is not the end. Oh, maybe the end of high school, but not the end of my time with my son. My relationship is changing. My son is now a man. I will be interested to see my thoughts in four years when he is graduating college. How is that possible?

What Will it Take to Reach the Next Generation

Last week I had to opportunity to speak at a high school baccalaureate service here in Adrian. There were 59 graduating seniors who attended out of the possible 60 students. Attendance was great but the overall interest was low. As I looked out over the crowd of teens I saw only three that attend our Church. I would guess there are another 5-6 that attend elsewhere. That means that out of 59 high school seniors only about 10 attend Church with any regularity. Honestly, that is above the national average.

From everything that I read, those students will go off to college and 7 or 8 of them will quit their faith by the time they graduate from there. By the best guess, of those 60 seniors that walked across the stage at commencement only 1 or 2 will have any kind of faith in Jesus throughout their twenty somethings.

Does that discourage you? Personally, it breaks my heart. Unfortunately I do not find many people in Church who really care about this generation of young people.

Here are a few things I have found to be true.

There is a general apathy about teens. Many people say, “Well, they are not my children.” Maybe for some it is “They are not my grandchildren.” There seems to be this attitude that if it does not immediately affect me then it is not important.

Youth group volunteers are rare. It seems no one wants to spend very much time and energy teaching our youth about the Bible and faith. It is hard to find people who are willing to help them in almost any capacity.

Change is very difficult. I wonder how many people in Church would be willing to make the radical changes it would take to reach the next generation. Would you be willing to make everything powered by technology? Would you be willing to change the length and format of worship? Would you be willing to change the style of music. (My children listen to hip-hop and rap). Would you be willing to sit at tables? Would you be willing to drop prayer requests or fellowship time? I can hear the people now saying, “But I like those things?” Truthfully, I agree. I like them too. But if it is not completely grounded in scripture would you be willing to change to reach our young people?

I worry about those teens who sat in that baccalaureate service. Most of them could be described with the word, “disinterested.” They have no interest in us, my question is do we really have an interest in them? I think the first step in reaching our youth is to care about them.

Just Keep Plugging Away

Very few things in life are achieved with one big event. Most things are the result of committing yourself to the day after day grind of hard work. I once read an article about a band entitled something like “Twelve Years of Work to Become an Overnight Success.” Success is usually the result of years of hard work that goes unnoticed by most people.

This is true in every area of your life including your spiritual life. People who have a deep faith with great understanding and love have achieved that through a lifetime of daily practice. People who make a great impact are those who show up everyday and every week. There really are no easy steps to spiritual growth. There is only the commitment to small sections of time set aside to do learn, pray, serve and grow.

This is also true in Churches. Great Churches are often the result of years of molding the leadership, the preacher and the people. Kingdom growth is rarely the result of one big event or one skilled person. It usually comes after years of routine programs bathed in prayer and thoughtfulness. They are usually lead by people who have failed more times than they have succeeded. Years of work and experience are the key ingredient to most of the vibrant Churches I have encountered.

Every Monday there is this temptation to give up. I know there is for me anyway. Last week didn’t go like I had hoped. There were no big breakthroughs. No one radically changed their life for all to see. It was just another ordinary week with seemingly little results. Each week I have to remind myself that it is okay to feel this way.

The key word for most of us to experience growth in our lives is this one word: Persistence.

More Unsolicited Advice

I wanted to continue my thoughts from yesterday. I have been thinking of all the things I want to tell the graduating seniors my son included. Yesterday I gave 1-10. Here are 10 more.

11. Prepare for Problems – Have extra cash in your wallet, a flashlight in your vehicle, napkins in your glove box, stain stick in your laundry area, candles at your residence and a blanket in your trunk.

12. Read Your Bible Regularly – Small investments of time will add up over the years. By the time you are a senior citizen you should know almost all of what it says. I regret not starting sooner.

13. Use Technology to Connect Not Separate – Put your phone down and talk to people. If you must be on your phone, then text, email, Facebook, Facetime, play games with friends. Technology is not the enemy, your use of it is the problem.

14. Family is Special – Stay connected to them. Your grandparents won’t be here long. Your brothers will support you when no one else will. Mom & dad love you. Your inside jokes will make your life better and bring you joy. Their love and support will hold you in dark hours.

15. Serve at Church – A volunteer Church leader is worth more than gold and diamonds. Make your pastor happy by being a strong leader when no one else will do it. It will seem thankless for many years, but one day people will call you blessed.

16. Find a Hobby You Enjoy and Do It – This will bring you joy, help you to relax, give you something to talk about and it will connect you to people with a similar interest. Do this even if no one close to you understands it or supports it. In fact, that might make it more enjoyable.

17. Invest in People Over Pets – Pets are fine but they cost money and time. Never choose an animal over a person. I have strong feelings about this. (Know that saying this will get you in trouble)

18. Keep Encouraging Notes – It doesn’t matter if you save the email, copy the text, or hold onto the card. Whenever anyone encourages you, hold those words. Throw away or delete all criticism. Let ugly words go and hold the good ones. For years I did this backward and it made me miserable.

19. Enjoy Time Off – I once worked myself to death. It nearly destroyed my marriage and my relationship with my children. Then I left that job and no one really cared. I had killed myself for nothing. Don’t make that mistake. Work hard and rest well. Enjoy this life God has given you.

20. Pray Regularly – It doesn’t need to be long and drawn out. Thank God for food, family, friends, and all blessings you receive. Ask God for health, guidance and healing. Seek Him for direction with jobs, relationships and big expenditures. Develop a solid prayer life and it will keep you focused on the important things.

I know these two list have been a lot of material. I am also sure that I have missed some good advice. Comment about what I should add.

Unsolicited Advice

Tonight I am going to speak to a group of teenagers at a High School Baccalaureate service. I just finished my sermon and it is a short little devotional about the plans God has for us. While writing this sermon I thought of all the things I wanted to tell these teenagers. There is a lot of advice I would like to give them, but I am not sure they would care. In case they ever do, I thought I would share a little unsolicited advice.

1. The World is Small, Go See It – Growing up I thought the world was big and it scared me. Now I travel without a second thought. If you want to go somewhere, you can drive If not, there is a ticket that will take you there. Seeing the world will change your perspective on people and places more than you will understand.

2. Spend You Money On Experiences Not Things – You will never regret not owning that pair of shoes, but you will regret not going with your friends that one weekend. When you are older you will enjoy talking about all you have done far more than all you have owned.

3. Enjoy Your Youth – Run, jump, swim, stay up late, sleep in, eat some junk food, play, nap and generally relax. A day will come when none of that will be possible. You will miss it all.

4. Keep Your Mouth Shut – You do not know as much as you think you do. Listen and learn.

5. Buy Used – You do need some stuff. Avoid paying retail costs on anything. Garage sales, thrift stores, flea markets, discount racks and clearance items work just as well and save you a lot of money.

6. Give Generously – I keep extra cash hidden in my wallet for emergencies, usually they are not my emergencies. Give to needs as they come, especially to family and friends. Don’t expect repayment or you will be disappointed. Also give to Church, mission, a good organization you support, children’s programs and anything they truly helps people. Tip well too.

7. Avoid Debt – I put everything on a credit card for bonus points and free gifts, but I pay it off every month. Pay cash if you need to. Try not to borrow much except for your mortgage. The borrower is a slave to the lender.

8. Pay a Tax Professional – It just makes life easier. You do not have to keep up with all the laws and they will know deductions you never knew existed. This will pay for itself 10 times over.

9. Marry a Christian – I do not know if anyone who has ever regretted this decision. I know dozens of people who didn’t and regret it everyday.

10. Follow God’s Instruction – This will not be easy, but it is always best. This will help you avoid guilt and regret. The things the world offers you will leave you feeling cold and alone eventually. The people who spare themselves no pleasure are very seldom happy.

What advice would you add to my list?

Why I Strongly Support Children’s Church

Every week our Church asks parents to do something for one hour that I think can be the most valuable time of their week. We ask parents to sit in worship while their children go to children’s Church. I started this practice 20 years ago and I am a strong supporter of it to this day. Let me give you a few reasons.

1. It Eliminates Distractions – A small child of any age is a distraction. They distract parents from worship and the sermon. They distract everyone around them. People often argue with me about this and say, “They don’t bother me.” First, let me say that is not true. I watch you. You are distracted. Second, I will let you know that it distracts the preacher. If you do not believe this then you have never done any public speaking. One of our goals is to help people to focus on God for one hour.

2. It Helps the Children – We gear everything in Children’s Church for … children. In our regular worship I speak to adults. I talk about sin, temptation, cheating, and punishment. I talk about marriage and parenting and other adult topics that children will not understand yet. In our children’s area they get songs, lessons, crafts and even play time that is on their level. People tell me their children can handle the sermon. I tell them it is rare. Most children learn to sit still and be quiet because Church is not really for them. No wonder when they get older they say, “Church is not for me.”

3. It Reinforces Faith – One of the biggest push backs I have to Children’s Church is that people want their children to see other adults in worship. I tell them that is not what their children need. Children need to see and hear adults teaching them! They need to hear the words that their parents say being reinforced by other adults. They need to hear someone say the same things their parents say. Watching is not the same as learning.

4. Children Bring Parents – In today’s world children have a greater influence than parents. If a child says they want to do something then parents frequently bend over backwards to give it to them. This is true in all areas of life, including Church. If a child goes one time to a Church and they enjoy themselves they will want to go back. Soon the children are bringing the parents every week. The flip side is also true. If children are bored and unconnected then parents will have to drag their children to Church. One or two weeks of that and the whole family quits coming.

These are just a few of the reasons I strongly support Children’s Church. Now, it has to be a quality program for the kids to enjoy and learn. A ministry is only as strong as its volunteers. So let me encourage everyone to get involved in the children’s area of your Church. It might be the most important thing you do in your Church.