Recreational Christianity

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 16:24-25 ESV

Hobbies are big business these days. As Americans, we spend massive amounts of time, energy, and finances on our hobbies. I find it humorous how we are constantly seeking new ways to justify our worship of our hobbies. From health benefits to relational enrichment we repackage our toys to justify our obsessions.
I don’t have a problem with hobbies. As a matter of fact, I have way too many of them if I’m being honest. However, I’ve never been one to take my hobbies too seriously. I’m more of a dabbler. I pursue many different hobbies at the same time and switch frequently. I refuse to spend too much money or time on my hobbies because, well, I’m cheap busy. I wish my reasons were more mature or spiritual. Essentially, I know just enough about the hobbies I pursue to be dangerous. I’ve learned this tends to drive serious enthusiasts crazy.
Take golf for example. Several years ago some friends encouraged me to take up the game. To this day I have never purchased a club or any accessories. The only money I have spent is on greens fees. However, there were those who were more serious about my golf game improving than I was and blessed me with clubs and a few accessories. Now golf isn’t a game for the dabbling type. To attain even an average game, serious attention is required. Yet, I was happy to be a hack. All I wanted was to enjoy the outdoors, make a few jokes, make contact with the ball on my first swing at every third tee, and leave the course with almost as many golf balls as I arrived with, even if they were different ones (I am a firm believer in the gentlemen’s golf ball exchange. Your loss is my gain, as is mine yours.) To this day I am happy to go out once or twice a season, blow the dust of the clubs and remember what it feels like to swing. Unfortunately, my golfing buddies wanted so much more – silence on the tee box, use of the same ball throughout the round, and scores within a cul de sac of par. Imagine that!? Needless to say, they don’t invite me to golf with them much anymore.
As a pastor I am immersed in church life and as I look around at things today I am often reminded of my golf game. It seems as though many church attenders are content to treat Christianity as something to dabble in. Hobbies sometimes seem to take a higher priority than living out the Christian life. There are times when I get the sense my aspirations for many church attenders are much higher than their spiritual aspirations are for themselves. While I want to see them voraciously hungering to know God through prayer, His Word, and meaningful relationships with other believers, they give the impression that attending church once or twice a month and throwing some loose change in the plate as it passes is more than enough to satisfy them and God. In reality, just enough is invested to keep the dust from accumulating on their Christianity, but not enough to make any kind of lasting impact on a life.
Even a brief survey of the teachings of Jesus seems to contradict this recreational approach to our faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus repeatedly teaches that we are to prioritize him first and then allow everything else to filter through our relationship with him (Matthew 6:33). His message seems to be reverberate repeatedly that Christianity consists of enthusiasts not dabblers. If this is the case then what are we to make of the recreational approach to Christianity? Are we ignorant, are we falsely interpreting Jesus, or are we simply choosing to ignore him? Whatever the case, there appears to be a significant problem brewing among the Christian population.
A deeper look at Jesus teaching becomes even more compelling. At one point he told his disciples that following him meant denying oneself. He took things even further by explaining to those listening that following him meant taking up a cross daily. In Jesus’ culture, the cross was one of Rome’s most grotesque forms of execution that left the most hardened criminal humiliated. It was used to keep conquered peoples from rising up in rebellion, reminding them of what happened to those who attempted something so foolish. Jesus uses this image to propose a daily death, a total sacrificing of self: self-promotion, self-pride, self-exaltation, and self-comfort to follow him. Perhaps you have friends who treat their hobbies in this way. Daily taking up their “cross” and following ____________ (feel free to fill in the blank with the hobby of choice.). They sacrifice family, friends, church, health, and anything else that hinders the pursuit of their “hobby.” As extreme as it may sound to us, this is exactly what Jesus says being a Christian requires. There was a time when Jesus told his followers that Christianity would require denying family. There was a time when Jesus told his followers to let the dead bury their dead. This is hard teaching, which may be why some choose to ignore it, just like many did when Jesus first said it.
My choice to be a dabbler in golf means that I will probably never experience the euphoria of dropping a hole in one. A have friends who light up when they tell of their experience of this feat on the golf course. I’m OK with that. What I am not OK with is dabbling in my Christianity and missing the euphoria of seeing the fruit of a life completely sold out to the glory of Jesus Christ. My prayer is that I will one day have the privilege of being a part of a group of believers who, together, are living lives completely sold out to the glory of Jesus Christ and by grace, experiencing the fruit of this kind of life. If that is your desire as well, let’s lock arms. Recreational Christians need not apply!

Peculiar People

We church attenders are a peculiar people.  We have an interesting way of doing things.  On any given Sunday we can be found singing songs about our devotion to Jesus with lyrics like, “It’s all about you,” and “Not to us,” or “All to Jesus I surrender, all to Him I freely give.”  But within a few moments of singing these lyrics as a prayer of commitment to God we turn around and evaluate our worship experience based on very self-centered standards.  We are currently in the middle of a series at MorningStar entitled, “Worship Mix: The Weight and Wonder of Worshiping Together.”  So far we have spent 7 weeks talking all about God.  So one may be tempted to ask, “Is this series really about worship or is it about God?”  To which I would respond, “Yes!”  See, we must be centered on God if we are going to call something worship of God.  I see every head shaking affirmatively right now and many of you yawning at the simplicity and familiarity of that statement.  Of course anyone who has been a church attender for any amount of time knows that…but knowing is only part of the equation.  I know I need to go to the dentist every 6 months to get my teeth cleaned in order to promote my overall health, but I haven’t been for…ehem…much longer than that.  I think the same is true for us when it comes to worship.  When we evaluate worship by standards other than “it’s all about You, Jesus,” then we are revealing we know but we…ehem…aren’t practicing what we sing.  OUCH!!  It hurts, I know, because I have to admit guilt on this one myself.  This was driven home to me with particularly pointed clarity in a message I listened to this week.  The pastor’s name is Louie Giglio and he is speaking from John 3.  I would encourage you to listen to the whole message, but if you only have about 5 minutes follow this link and watch the message from the 11minute 30 second (11:30) point to the 16 minute 20 second (16:20) point.  I pray that it is as challenging and life changing for you as it was for me when it comes to our evaluation and assessment of churches and services.

http://www.passioncitychurch.com/watch/#20110703

Show ’em Jesus, mark

Worship Mix: The Weight and Wonder of Worshiping Together summer teaching series

On a regular basis people who seek to follow Jesus Christ gather together for something we call “worship.”  Some gather secretly risking their lives while others gather publicly openly sharing their faith.  Though the profession of these gatherings is the same; to “worship,” the methodology can be as vastly different as chocolate and vanilla.  Yet, we all claim to be worshiping. This summer series will look at the topic of worship through the lense of Scripture.  We will explore the weight and wonder of worshiping together in hopes that we will more fully demonstrate through our gathering for worship, all of us, focusing on all of God, in the shadow of the cross.  Audio messages and pdf outlines for this series can be found by clicking on the following link:  http://www.morningstardayton.org/resources/audio/series/info/worship-mix-weight-and-wonder-worshiping-together

Something Old, Something New teaching series

This mini-series will look at two passages from the book of Matthew in which Jesus addresses the relationship between the old and the new.  As we dig into these two parables of Jesus we will gain valuable insight about our attitude to both the new and the old.  Audio and outlines of these two messages can be found by clicking on the following link,  http://www.morningstardayton.org/resources/audio/series/info/something-old-something-new

Associate Pastor of Family Ministry Search Team Presentation

This audion clip is from Sunday morning, June 13th at MorningStar Baptist Church.  The search team has spent the last six months prayerfully seeking to fill this pastoral position at our church.  This presentation is a report of their process.  After the presentation the search team turned the process over to the congregation who will take part in the candidating weekend and then vote.

 

Why Family Ministry?

The following audio was recorded on a Sunday morning at MorningStar Baptist Church.  The church is seeking to step out in faith and hire an associate pastor in an area that they have never explored before, family ministry.  As the church forges ahead the leadership is continually seeking to help the church to understand and fully embrace the what it means to be a church committed to family ministry, what family ministry “looks” like, and why we are convinced that family ministry is crucial to the future of ministry at MorningStar Baptist Church.  Many thanks to those who have helped shaped my view of family ministry including: Voddie Bauchham, Mark DeVries, Brian Haynes, Reggie Joiner, Timothy Paul Jones, Jay Strother, and Steve Wright.  Just to name a few.  If you are currently considering the place and shape of family ministry in the church I pray these resources are helpful.

 

WhyFamilyMinistry

The Power of Mixing 2 Great Things

The following is an article written for MorningStar Baptist Church’s monthly newsletter, Revelations.  Much of the content is an adaptation of concepts found in Reggie Joyner’s book, Think Orange.  Pray for us as we seek to fill this critical pastoral position in our church.

I have a confession.  I like to mix foods.  I have another confession.  The mixtures don’t always turn out.  Sometimes it flops, but when it does it’s tastebud bliss!  For example, Wendy’s frosty’s and French fries, soft pretzels and stadium mustard, sausage and syrup just to name a few.  These combinations may not appeal to your tastebuds, but I’ll bet to some degree you do the same (how many of you eat your eggs with ketchupL).

What I have learned from my culinary combining adventures is that oftentimes combining two great things can make them even greater.  It’s a principle God established at creation when He instituted marriage, making the two humans “one flesh”.  The wisest man that ever lived validated it as well when he said, “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Eccl. 4:12).

At the heart of our search for an associate pastor of family ministry here at MorningStar is this conviction that combing two influences will make a greater impact than either influence can alone.  Our desire is to combine the influence of the church and the family in raising up future generations for the glory of God and the advance of His kingdom in the world.  We are looking and praying for a man with a passion to continue to guide us on the journey of becoming a church that synchronizes church leaders and families around a master plan to build faith and character in our sons and daughters.

Our current task is one of prayer and understanding.  Praying that God will continue to lead us in this process to the man who passionately understands and embraces the direction God is leading MorningStar.  Understanding as clearly as we can the principles that will drive our family ministry approach and what it will potentially look like in the days ahead.  So let’s lock arms together and faithfully continue on this adventure for His name and renown!        

High Yield Investing

           

        I’m starting to think a lot more about investing than I did a few years ago.  For one thing I’m older and realizing that someday I may retire, but in order to do that I’ve got to have something stashed away somewhere.  I also have a family now and I am thinking about their security if something were to happen to me.  Needless to say I am trying to learn a little more about the investment world and put together a portfolio that will reap healthy dividends which will give me and my family a sense of long term financial security.

            I’ve had different people share with me differing opinions concerning where my greatest investment potential lies.  There have been those who have strongly recommended real estate and others the acquisition of land, still others have proposed putting my investments in gold, and others have thrown the word ‘diversify’ around quite a bit.  Though all of these have their benefits and, of course subsequent draw backs, I have found an investment with far greater potential than any of these.  It’s an investment that promises multiplying yield not only within my lifetime but in the lifetimes of my children and my children’s children.  Now that is an investment opportunity that I am ready to jump into with both feet. 

            This is an investment that is not primarily financial and it is not focused on the financial security of my family.  It is an investment that capitalizes on the greatest investment potential we have as human beings, but it is not real estate or gold or diversification.  The greatest investment we can make is in the spiritual and moral development of the next generation.  This is an investment potential given us by the God of the universe, that if heeded can reap infinitely high yield but if ignored has devastating results.  It is an investment strategy that God lays out for us in what is known to orthodox Jews as the ‘Shema’ which is found in the fifth book of the Old Testament, Deuteronomy.  There God admonishes in chapter six verses two and three, “…you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and ?that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.”  The principles and promises found within this investment strategy still hold true for us today.

            I recently came across some statistics that showed the estimated percentage of each generation that are considered evangelical Christians.  That would be individuals who adhere to such beliefs as Jesus deity, His death on the cross and subsequent resurrection, and the resulting salvation that comes to mankind only as a result of His death and resurrection by grace through faith.  In each of the last four generations there has been a steady decline in the percentages.  In the generation that went through the great Depression it is estimated that 65% professed to be evangelical Christians, but the estimation for this generation that is currently filling our school halls is a mere 4%.  In just three generations things have taken quite a nose dive.

            Maybe it’s time we as parents and families take more time thinking about the moral and spiritual development of our children than their financial security.  We and our children can have all the money in the world but Jesus put it best when He said, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).  There is only one investment on the planet that promises eternal yield and not just temporal.  You may have heard it said, “you can’t take it with you,” which is a statement that rings true for every investment you make except the one which is in the spiritual and moral development of the next generation.  Do you have a living and abundant relationship with the God of the universe through the shed blood of Jesus Christ?  Are you passing it on to your children?  I assure you it’s an investment strategy you will never regret adding to your portfolio.

Journeys & Destinations

This was originally written specifically for the church I pastor but thought is might be helpful for all of us.  So I figured I’d share.

I had the privilege of hiking through Clifton Gorge earlier this week.  For those of you who have been there I’m sure you agree that it is a privilege, and with the foliage changing color it is nothing short of breathtaking.  We were all lighthearted as we started our little hike and the kids were joking around and laughing so in the spirit of things I jokingly said to Mackenzie and Ethan that there was no laughing or smiling allowed because we weren’t here to enjoy ourselves but to get this hike over with so we could say we did it and move on to our next destination.  Of course Mackenzie rolled her eyes because sclifton gorgehe knew I was kidding and just kept right on having fun, we all did. 

As we were driving home I was thinking about how much fun we had and remembered my sarcastic comment to the kids.  It got me thinking about how often we approach life with that mindset.  We focus so hard on the just getting things done and reaching the destination that we fail to see the joy of the journey.  We completely ignore the privilege of being right where we are at and how breathtaking God’s handiwork is all around us.  Being a goal setter I don’t want you to think I am saying that we settle in and don’t seek to move forward, we have to keep moving forward, but we also have to remember that, quite often, the destination isn’t nearly as sweet if we’re miserable when we get there. 

I hope you have been enjoying the journey here at MorningStar as much as I have.  It is such a privilege to be a part of this fellowship and sharing life together.  Your stories and your passion have taken my breath away countless times over the last several months.  And I’ve heard those stories and shared that passion as we’ve been journeying to our destination of being a multi-generational church that simply and clearly communicates the unchanging gospel in the ever changing culture around us.  I hope you are just as committed as I am to reaching that destination but I also hope that are having just as much fun getting there as I am.

Castles in the Sand

        The beach and I just don’t get along all too well.  This has nothing to do with my like or dislike of everything about the beach because, actually, I do like most everything about the seashore.  The problem is not everything about the beach likes me.  When God passed out the genes for, “skin that has the ability to bronze in the rays of the sun,” He took every ounce that could have been mine and gave it to some other guy who already had his fair share.  Yep, I’ve been blessed with fair skin that fries up like a Maine lobster under the baking rays of the beach.    Rather than my skin bronzing like the beautiful people of the world I become one big freckle in the sun. 

            In spite of my woes with the sun I always loved heading to the beach with my family as I was growing up.  My mom would saturate me with spf 45 from head to toe.  What followed were hours of fun in the sand and surf.  My dad and I would body surf the waves until I no longer had the energy to make my way back out into the ocean through the pounding tide.  Then, in an effort to restore my energy, we would search for seashells, after another dousing of sunscreen of course.  Finally, after one final slathering of 45+, we would cap the day off by building a sand kingdom.  They were sand kingdoms in my eyes anyway.  In the eyes of the average passer by I’m sure they were nothing more than a few lumps of sand, but in my imagination they were medieval kingdoms filled with knights, damsels, dragons and villains.  Yet, no matter how elaborate the kingdom and how carefully dad and I built the empire it inevitably disappeared by morning.  Nothing we did could assure longevity for our creation.  If the countless bodies trekking up and down the beach didn’t do in our castles made of sand then the looming tide and the insistent wind guaranteed disaster.     

            When I reminisce about my times on the beach with family I am struck by the absurdity of building castles out of sand for the castles sake.  There are many things about those times of being covered in sand from head to toe, because sand sticks to sunscreen like gum on the bottom of a shoe, that I wouldn’t trade for all the tea in China.  I assure you the creation itself is not one of those things.  I may have been very proud of some of the kingdoms we came up with on those hot summer afternoons, but even as a boy I knew they wouldn’t last.  I knew that if I put my happiness in my kingdom of sand lumps that my happiness was guaranteed to last about as long as those lumps of sand.  When the castle washed out to sea so would my happiness.  That was an easy lesson for me with a tangible sand castle, but not so easy with some other things I thought would bring me happiness but ended up being as fleeting as a castle made of sand.sandcastle

            Many of you may remember the children’s song that includes the following line, “the foolish man built his house upon the sand.”  Though we call that a children’s song I wonder if it wouldn’t be beneficial for us to keep in our repertoire as adults.  Most of us recognize the foolishness of building a house on a foundation of sand, but like me, the principle loses something when we try to transfer it into other arenas of life.  Though we are well aware of the cliché, “you can’t take it with you,” we often find ourselves trying with all our might to prove this statement untrue, don’t we?  Our sand kingdoms come in all different shapes and sizes, from the drive for success to the drive for pleasure to the drive for wealth but no matter how you slice it, they are all still lumps of sand when we build for the building sake.  And still we build.  Then stand back with chests puffed out coercing all passers by to ogle at our incredible kingdom, which in our imagination is far greater than the reality others see.  And in the end, what we find time and again is that sand kingdoms get washed out to sea along with all the hopes we placed in them.  If we are looking for a firm and lasting kingdom to put our hope in then we don’t need to look any farther than the last verse of our familiar children’s song.  Lasting hope comes not from castles built on shifting sands but houses built upon the Lord Jesus Christ.  “So build your house on the Lord Jesus Christ.”