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The Merge

Church splits are common. However, I only know of only one church that reunited after dividing, and I was part of it. “The Merge” of First Baptist Church, The Colony was official 28 years ago today.

In January of 1988 I began the Master of Divinity program at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth. I filed my resume’ in the placement office with the hopes of serving in a church during my seminary career. By the end of the semester I received a call from the newly appointed pastor of First Baptist Church, The Colony. Pastor WB had seen my resume’,  and, after an interview, wanted me to be their Youth Minister. He invited me to introduce myself to the congregation during a Sunday morning worship service.

On the drive from Ft. Worth to The Colony that Sunday morning I took a wrong turn and ended up passing by the old Texas Stadium in Irving. First time I’d seen the fabled home of the Dallas Cowboys in person. As I walked up to the church I encountered two middle school boys sitting on the monkey bars in the children’s playground. They would be part of the small youth group I led beginning in the summer. Our first official activity was to attend the Youth Evangelism Conference at Reunion Arena in downtown Dallas.

Every weekend I commuted from Ft. Worth to The Colony and built a Saturday-Sunday youth program. Over the next six months our group doubled in size, from a dozen members to a high attendance of 26. I really enjoyed working with those kids.

At that time The Colony had around 20,000 residents, many of whom were younger families, so you’d probably expect the First Baptist Church to have more teenagers. In fact, you’d anticipate more members. Our auditorium seated 200 and it was never filled on Sunday mornings. You see, something had happened to this church before I arrived.

When Pastor WB first interviewed me he mentioned that the church had exprienced a split. A large group had left First Baptist and formed a new church called Calvary Heights, which met at the local high school. They called the former youth minster of FBC to be their pastor. The old pastor of First Baptist had evidently been the source of the contention that resulted in the split, and had subsequently resigned. First Baptist had called WB to be their pastor only a few months before he brought me in as their new youth minister.

So, the church had split over a disagreement concerning their former pastor. I was leary about this when I interviewed, but once I met the youth it didn’t matter. Several months into my tenure at First Baptist talk of a merger began. Each church appointed three members of a committee, which met for several months to discuss the possibility. By the end of the year, the committee had a recommendation: Merge! Wow, I was amazed at this. However, the pastor that hired me was not so enthusiastic. In fact, WB wholeheartedly opposed the merger.

You see, the committee’s recommendation was for the 27 year old pastor of Calvary Heights to be the senior pastor of a re-formed First Baptist Church, and for 60-something WB to be the associate pastor. I would be the youth minister. I was in favor of the merger. However, I had been hired by, and called by the church to, serve under WB, and he was opposed.  During my brief time in ministry training I’d been taught that staff at a church are called to serve under the pastor. That means submit to his authority. However, I was still a member of the congregation of First Baptist Church, and the church would make the decsion here. What should I do?

I remember the meeting I had with WB to discuss the issue. He was angry with me. He accused me of undermining his authority because of my support for the merger. In fact, at one point he began to yell, then lunged at me over his desk. It was not a very Christlike display of character. However, it helped me decide what I must do.

A business meeting where the congregation would vote on the merger was scheduled for a Sunday night in December. I knew what I must do. At the appropriate time in the meeting, before the merger vote, I stood up and read my letter of resignation. Then I walked out the back door, expecting never to return to First Baptist Church, The Colony. I met with a couple of my students at the McDonald’s across the street to say goodbye. I drove back to Fort Worth that night sad and shaken.

Now, that’s not the end of the story, or I wouldn’t be writing this today. But perhaps I should explain why I resigned rather than remain and vote for the merger. My primary responsibility if I am not the pastor is to serve the church under the pastor’s authority. If I cannot support the pastor, I do not oppose him or try to undermine him, I simply seek another place of service. That’s why I resigned.

On Monday morning I received a call from a congregational leader, perhaps one of the deacons (I don’t recall), informing me that my resignation had not been accepted. Ok, what, how could they refuse my resignation? This leader continued: WB had quit, stormed out the back door (and broke the glass on his way out!), the congregation had voted to merge, call the pastor of Calvary Heights, as pastor and me as youth minister. My objection to supporting the unstable and unChristlike WB was eliminated when he quit. I chose to serve the newly merged congregation under the new pastor, Bill Wilks. I would serve alongside two wonderful men: Morris Seay, education minister, and Ralph Baxter, music minister. It was like being called to a new church, except I got to keep the youth I’d worked with over the previous months.

The first official day of the merger was Monday, January 9, 1989. I remember the date distinctly because it was listed on so many records as the date people had joined the First Baptist Church. I had nine youth in attendance the last Sunday before the merger. On the first Sunday after the church reunited we had 90 youth!

There is so much angry energy expended when we disagree with one another. Divorce, political division, church splits and many other examples abound. It’s like the power of an atomic bomb, the destructive power of which was unleashed by the USA at Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. Those bombs worked by splitting atoms. However, there is exponentially more energy released when atoms unite in nuclear fusion. That is, when atoms unite.

When the church unites to do God’s will, His power is released, and people are saved, delivered and healed. Our families, our churches and our nation need to come together in the name of Jesus. I believe that will only happen when we who claim to be Christians actually follow Jesus, and allow the Holy Spirit to fill us so that we have “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

“… walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”  The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ephesians 4:2–6.

 

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An Open Letter to Lifewell Church

Dear Lifewell Family and Friends,

We must become a healthy church in order to be a growing church. The alternative is to die a slow death. You must become a healthy Christian or you and your family will struggle spiritually, and that will have a negative effect on every area of your lives. Our culture is toxic. It is destructive to all who are not saved. We are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus.

The church is not a shapeless entity, or a big institution. The church is you and me, called out and called together. We are committed to each other, and we meet regularly to worship, learn together, and to support, challenge and hold one another accountable. ARE WE DOING THAT, LIFEWELL?

Attending church occasionally is not the same as being the church. I have tried and tried to plan, program, pray, preach, and prod you to do more than attend church on Sunday morning. Some of you are amazingly committed, and others are more consumer Christians, attending when its convenient and comfortable. Some of you strive to support what Lifewell does to reach out beyond our little group. Are you one of those ? Do you support Lifewell as your church?

In October, as some of you know, I went to Orange County in California to attend a conference at Saddleback Church. It was a last minute decision. You see, I’d been given the opportunity to visit a relative and that fell through. There was an invitation in my inbox to attend the Purpose Driven Essentials conference. I wasn’t interested. I’m not a conference attender. Also, been there, done that on the Purpose Driven Life. I read the book. I also read the Purpose Driven Church. I taught on the Purposes in 2012, and we did Warren’s 40 Days in the Word campaign. It was somewhat successful. However, I seem to attract a good number of contrarians and independent minded people. Some of these weren’t excited. Some left the church within the year. So, I backed off emphasizing the Purposes, even though I’m convinced they are biblical principles.

I felt led to go to the conference. It was the first time Rick Warren himself had taught it in a decade. I didn’t learn new things, but I sat for four days and “drank from a firehose.” I was immediately and persistently convinced that our church has fallen short of God’s plan for us.

You see, I too, have been a contrarian and an independent-minded thinker. I don’t like populism. I don’t jump on bandwagons. I was given the assignment to read Warren’s Purpose Driven Church over 20 years ago in seminary. I didn’t fulfill the assignment because I thought he was just reaching a bunch of rich white people in Orange County and so his methods wouldn’t work for the ministry God had called me to. I prefer to chart my own course, to make my own way. And I prefer to do everything myself. This is prideful and limiting. A pastor-teacher is called “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” I have tried. I have taught. However, I’ve also done most of the ministry myself. Pastor Craig has helped immeasurably, as have a number others. However, my eyes were opened when Rick Warren stated: “If you do it all yourself, your church will never grow above about 75 members.” Well, that’s us. To confirm this, Pastor Craig made the point the Sunday I was gone, “Pastor Darryl does everything around here.” This must change.

I believe we’ve taught people the truth. I’ve offered our church the necessary content. However, I’ve failed to consistently provide step-by-step directions for growth. The 5 Purposes of Fellowship, Discipleship, Ministry, Mission and Worship are that structure. We need to follow this biblical pattern for health and growth.

I came back to Texas filled with new motivation to help our church become healthy and grow. I intend to take what I (re)learned regarding our Purposes and implement it at Lifewell. I don’t want to try to make us like Saddleback. I will not be a copy of Rick Warren, or any other pastor. In fact, Warren explicitly states that he doesn’t expect other churches to copy Saddleback. These Purposes are biblical principles to be applied in each context.

I’ve already begun a teaching series, which I’ve titled Moving to the Center of God’s Purpose for Your Life. This is more than a sermon series. The teaching on Sunday will speak to the question found in Warren’s book What In the World Am I Here For? (the Purpose Driven Life). I’ve purchased books so that you as an individual may do daily devotional readings. and so that small groups will be able to learn and discuss. I WANT EVERY SINGLE COVENANTED MEMBER OF LIFEWELL CHURCH TO PARTICIPATE. I am asking you to read daily devotions for 40 days, and become part of a small group for seven weeks. We will start this in our existing groups this month, and I’d like to have more groups form. If you are not a member of our church, you are still invited to get involved.

As soon as the material arrives I will make a mini devotional book available to everyone for free, which includes the first three chapters from the book What in the World Am I Here For? If you choose to make the 40 day commitment to learn, you’ll need to purchase the book (copies available for $10) and get into one of our small groups.

The principles we are teaching are not new, and they are not original. They are biblical and true, and if you will allow the Holy Spirit to speak God’s Word to your heart through this process, you will become spiritually healthy, and our church will too. The result should be growth. I pray 2017 is our best year yet, Lifewell!

A Death Must Come

This year a death must come,

And may it be sudden.

For the only way to live

Is to die to me. 

Beyond humility, 

This death to Self

Will set me free. 

Suicide is selfish,

And self-denial too,

So I speak of something else. 

Crucifixion!

Not mine but Christ’s, 

Which was not His,

But mine. 

Identification. 

“I have been crucified

With Christ, and

No longer do I live, but

Christ in me.”

The Son learned obedience.

The Reason for Jesus

Maybe you’ve heard someone say, “Jesus is the reason for the season,” and he really is. Jesus is the reason for Christmas. But do you know the reason for Jesus? I mean, do you know why Jesus came to earth to be born?

Nobody knows the exact day that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but we do know that a miracle happened over 2,000 years ago when God chose Mary to be the Mother of His One and Only Son. December 25th was chosen as the date to celebrate his birthday long ago.

Would it surprise you to know that Jesus existed before he was born? That’s not true of you or me. Every human being, except Jesus Christ, came into existence inside their mother. But Jesus has always been the Son of God. His existence didn’t begin at his birth. When baby Jesus was laid in the manger, he opened his eyes and looked out upon the world for the first time as a human being. Before that, the Son of God was with his Father in heaven. Jesus came to earth to become one of us, lived a perfect life like none of us, and then he died on the cross and rose from the grave for all of us. God showed his love by sending his one and only Son.

You see, Jesus knows what you and I are going through down here because he experienced human life: happiness, sadness, weakness, weariness, pain, and finally death. He knows what it feels like to be a human being, and he cares about all of us.

“Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood… it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.”
Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013), Hebrews 2:14a, 17–18.

Jesus became a human being so that he could take away our sins. Everybody does bad things, and we call those bad things sins. Every time we do wrong we make God unhappy. Whenever you sin, you hurt God, you hurt yourself, and you hurt other people. When Jesus died on the cross, he showed us just how much it hurts when we sin.

If we do wrong we also have to pay for it. If you steal something, then you have to give it back. If you break something, then you have to pay for it. That’s the right thing to do. We also deserve to be punished when we do wrong. If you steal you could go to jail for it. When Jesus died on the cross, he was punished for our sins. But Jesus never sinned! He never told a lie, never stole, never disrespected his parents, never cursed at anyone, or hit anyone. From the time he was born in the manger until the time he died on the cross, Jesus never sinned. That’s why he could take the punishment for all of our sins.
“Christ had no sin, but God made him become sin so that in Christ we could become right with God.”
The Everyday Bible: New Century Version (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2005), 2 Corinthians 5:21.

So, that’s why Jesus was born: to show us how much God loves us, and to pay the penalty for our sins. You and I sin, don’t we? We really do need Jesus. We need him to take away our sins and to help us to live better lives. Jesus wants us to live well. That’s one of the reasons our church is called Lifewell. He also wants all of us to go to heaven to be with him some day.

Jesus came back to life after he died for our sins, and showed himself to his family, friends and followers. Then he went back up to heaven to be with His Father. He is alive and can never die again. That’s why we can pray to Jesus, and that’s how we can have eternal life in heaven. The Bible says, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

You see, you are the reason for Jesus.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Why don’t we pray right now and call out to Jesus. Let’s thank Him for being born and for dying on the cross.

Dear Jesus, we love you and we believe in you. You were born in a manger. You grew up, but never sinned. When you were a man you died on the cross for our sins. We believe you came back to life.

Now, you pray. Call on Jesus to save you and give you eternal life.

Jesus, I ask you to come into my heart, take away my sins. I love you and I want to live my life for you.  

Amen.

The Son learned obedience.

Radical Economy of Grace

Christ’s Radical Inversion of Social Values
General Comment on Luke 6:27-38

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  (Luke 6:27-36)

“You reap what you sow…”
“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth..”
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
The Law of Karma in Eastern religion.
The above represent expressions of the natural law of reciprocity, which is the ruling principle for economic and social relationships in the natural world.

In his commentary on Luke Joel B. Green recognizes two types of reciprocity in societies. The first is “balanced reciprocity,” which is: “the direct exchange of goods of approximately equal value within a relatively narrow period of time” (Green, “The Gospel of Luke” from The New International Commentary series, p. 202). The second type Green calls “generalized reciprocity,” wherein: “the exchange is essentially one sided, altruistic, the giving of a gift without explicit stipulations for any reciprocation in kind” (ibid. p. 202).
The generalized type is always found among the members the nuclear family (parents and children), but in some cases and cultures it is seen among members of the extended family.
Jesus challenged the world system, commanding his disciples to extend generalized reciprocity beyond the trusted boundary of family into the hostile territory of our enemies. As Jesus’ disciples we are to love our enemies by doing good to them, praying for them and blessing them, even though they may curse us. This is no lofty, unattainable ideal, but Christ’s expectation for all Christians all of the time. This teaching of Jesus alone, if followed seriously, could radically transform every society in which it is practiced.

Jesus came to radically transform the economy of the world system. He did not merely teach his disciples, challenging them to live differently. Jesus came to earth to pay the massive debt owed by every person as the result of sin. “The wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23a). Jesus cancelled the sin debt owed by all people when he took it upon himself, then suffered humiliation, beating and the death of crucifixion. Jesus established a new economy based upon grace. That is the fundamental feature of the Gospel. When Jesus Christ paid all debts with His act of love on the cross, he provided an inexhaustible, super-fund of good merit from which every person may draw when they confess sin, repent and put faith in the Savior.

We are called to extend the grace and forgiveness we have received to everyone we meet.

How can we do this? Is Jesus calling us to be dishonored doormats? He is calling us to be like Himself. As the Roman soldiers drove the nails into His hands, Christ prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Yet how will we have the courage to do this? Jesus said, “if someone takes your coat, do not stop him from taking your shirt. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes something from you do not demand it back” (from Luke 6:29-30). Are we to give over our possessions simply because immoral people demand it? Are we to give up our homes to the homeless? Are we to spend all of our valuable leisure time “going the second mile” for ungrateful people (see Matthew’s version of Jesus’ message, in 5:41)? Who will protect me? Who will take care of my needs? The Father will provide for and protect me.

We do these things as we abide in Christ. We ask for wisdom from His Holy Spirit before we act rashly, or refuse to act on the basis of self-protection and selfish motives. We are to act without concern for ourselves. Instead, we act: 1) in obedience to Christ’s command, 2) with discretion from the Holy Spirit, 3) in the true best interest of the other, whether friend or foe, family or outsider, honest or criminal.
This is God’s agape’ love. We can do it because we have a God and Father who promises to repay and care for us. In fact, when we act in obedience to Christ’s command and teaching, we are abiding in Him and thereby actively placing ourselves in the care and favor of His Almighty Father, and ours (cf. John 15:5-10, Psalm 41:1-3, Isaiah 58:1-10).

Relevant quotes from Green:

“Jesus rejects the life of obligation and debt (see Luke 4:18-19). In its place he first posits a generalized reciprocity, the sort of open-handed sharing characteristic of families, and urges that actions typical among kin be the norm for interaction with all persons. But he also envisions a form of ideal benefaction: give to others without expectation of return, and God will give to you…
That is, in redefining the world for his followers…Jesus posits as its foundation his image of God as merciful Father (Luke 6:36)….That is, Jesus declares such behavior demonstrates that one is a child of God” (ibid. p. 270 & 271)

“Love is expressed in doing good—that is, not by passivity in the face of opposition but in proactivity: doing good, blessing, praying and offering the second cheek and shirt along with coat” (ibid. p. 272).

Christ came to radically transform every relationship. Stating all of this is one thing, but I must learn to live it and do it every day, and so must you if you are a follower of Jesus Christ.

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Seeking the One

When we are young the world sparkles with promise.
Life abounds within and surrounds us;
Death is unknown, or very far away.
There is little need to seek,
for everything comes to us:
life, love, hope, beauty and truth.
But lies find us too,
often clothed in selfish desire.
Then, in floods ugliness, violence, abuse,
and finally: death.
The world loses its allure.
What follows are days,
long and many, of malaise,
and petty pleasures to drive away
despair and existential dread.
Is it possible to recover our childlike wonder,
I wonder?
I may fool myself into believing so,
but the world is the same soul killing thing.
Everything ends in death.
Everything?
I do not like death;
and I don’t believe in it, either.
No, I know it exists.
In fact, it is inexorable:
for all but One.
Sane, good women and men
report that One died, was buried,
and returned to life.
They saw Him and I seek Him,
and I want His gift of eternal life.
No, not this mundane malaise,
but childlike life that never ends.
There are those who would call this
Delusion.
But my heart is not dead yet,
even if I am disillusioned.
It seems to me that the real delusion
is belief in this world,
or worse:
Believe in your self!
No wonder we seek to medicate,
anesthetize, deceive and distract.
Self is a pitiful little god,
impotent and in need of illusions to prop it up.
I have hope,
but not in this world.
I have faith,
but not in myself.
I continue to seek, but not for wealth,
power, pleasure or fame.
I seek the One who came from above,
and became a son of man,
sparkling with a glory that pierced the gloom.
This One was rejected by all the exalted believers
in Self.
He was crucified, buried and left for dead
outside their sanctimonious city.
Then He rose.
I reject death as my destiny.
I seek the One in order to overcome
the inevitable end of everyone.
I don’t want to be everyone.
So I press on to pursue the upward call
of the One.