Monday, December 05, 2011

Very Personal Life of a Church Planter: Finances

Part Two of the Very Personal Life of a Church Planter:
by Jim Moon, Jr.
This is the 2nd half of a letter I sent to church planter friends in South Florida. The first half is here

About the Very Personal Financial Life of a Church Planter
The apostle Paul notes in Ephesians 5 that most men long for respect and most women long for security. Both are ways to seek significance. Both are God-designed but sin-warped. Both respect and security will be challenged growth points during the process of church planting.

As with intimacy, finances can be a large but mostly hidden point of contention between you and your wife. You will face temptation to consider short-cuts or cheats that will provide you with the money or gratification you think you have to have. Like past sexual conduct, financial decisions made prior to starting a church plant can hinder intimacy, cut into available resources for rest and limit flexibility to give generously.

Finances are a more visible aspect of the very personal life that can impact public opinion of you and your church. Whether we like it or not, most people outside the church form their initial opinion of every pastor through the lens of what they see with TV preachers, read on the news, remember from past bad experiences or hear by way of gossip. It isn’t pretty. You are guilty by association until proven innocent by your faithfulness over time.

Take pains to set up your personal/family finances and church financial practices to be dependent on the Lord, above reproach, trustworthy and able to withstand scrutiny.

1. Avoid debt. Have a rigorous plan to pay off all consumer debt (everything except mortgage) before assessment. Seriously limit or avoid student debt even if it takes more time. The crisis of student loan debt may be the next systemic road block we face to getting church planters on the field. (See ‘I Owe U’ by Krstina Bell, TIME October 31, 2011)

It’s best to ask people to support a church planter who has paid off personal debts. Your wife should not be required to work to make payments on debt. There will be a lot of stress planting a church and you all have limited time for your marriage, family and church priorities.

2. Spend wisely within your family and church context. You and your family should live on a written budget within the context where God calls you to plant and the means he supplies you. Some planters have larger reserves and family resources than others. Be sure your spending adjusts to God’s call and provision for your family, not over-adjusts to the expectations of your culture.

There is a need to fit in. I hate TV but got cable. I bought different clothes and even learned to play golf to fit in. The temptation to get an upgraded car did pass through my mind, but really a used Accord is fine. It is wise to live on the humble side of your context.

3. Always tithe. You lead by example here. If you don’t tithe, you have no moral authority to ask others to tithe. And ‘tithe’ means 10%.

4. Save. You’ll need margin in your life and the flexibility to give to important projects. Can’t do that if you are scraping by month to month. Current wisdom is have three to six months of your expenses in reserve.

5. Raise all your support before you move or start public worship. This is your part-time job until it is completed. Raise at least 80% prior to moving to the field. Experienced fund-raisers will tell you people give to ‘anticipated vision’ so your urgent need to get support in place goes away after you move to the field and once you start public worship. If you are stuck here, find a coach who can help you.

Corporately as a Church Plant
1. Team finances. For the protection of the church’s name and those who handle the money, have a team where every role is double checked. A good sending agency will have these policies for you to follow.

Examples: Two people count the offerings, two people have access to all files, you do not have direct access to check signing or specific amounts people give. You will save yourself and your volunteers and staff much heart ache and potential scandal and rumor if you protect everyone by implementing these safeguards.

2. Open budget discussions. If you start with a launch team, discuss finances openly and frequently. Then quarterly open discussions about expenses and income build trust with those who join in after you start. People take notice when a church does not keep secrets!

3. Take offerings teach appropriately about money. Several scratch planters have found suspicions about money so high that they started public worship without taking up an offering. They opted for a locked box in the back of the worship space. This was wise for a season. However every church must be taught appropriately about money.

Take advantage of other programs to train people in budgeting, debt, spending, tithing, giving etc. Financial Peace University is more accessible to unchurched people but has only 1 of 13 lessons on giving. Crown Financial is a small group Bible study formatted series. Both are solid.

4. Preach about money as the Scriptures bring it up. Plus set aside annual times to emphasize giving. You can and should inspire people to sacrifice, but the pulpit is not the place for the nitty-gritty training so folks can get out of debt, live on a budget and free themselves up to give cheerfully. That is best done in smaller contexts and training.

And remember, tithing and sacrificial giving is part of following Jesus because it is our part of taking up our cross daily. We aren’t calling people to a life of comfort but to a life with a cross. We are called to bear one another’s burdens.

Who Bears Your Burdens?
One temptation is to put your faith in your finances. But that won't save you. Finances are a terrible savior, whether you have a lot or too little for your comfort.

Christ Jesus has taken the full weight of all your debts on Himself on the cross and knowing everything about your finances, God the Father punished Christ in your place. Trust Him, not your financial support. Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness bought for you on the cross and he will provide everything you and your family need.

Action Items:
1. What financial road blocks and speed bumps do you need to address this month? Or in your church plant ministry plan?
2. What resources do you need to find and implement for your family and your church plant in the next six months? Next year?
3. How do you need to think differently about finances in light of Christ's work on the cross?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Very Personal Life of Church Planter:Sex

Last month my friend Rick Hunter gave me the honor of speaking to Renew South Florida, two cohorts of church planters in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, about the personal life of a church planter based on Redeemer City to City Incubator curriculum.  

But what about Sex and Finances?
As I settled back home in Atlanta, It concerned me that I had not talked enough about sexuality or financial issues. These are two significant areas of temptation and struggle that need to be addressed. 

So I wrote this as a letter to the men I had just met and sent it off to Rick to distribute to the Renew network. It's a bit long so I'm posting it in two parts. The second part is here.

The Very Personal Life of a Church Planter
By Jim Moon, Jr.

In all the intense focus on prepping for the ‘Personal Life of a Church Planter’ training at the Miami and Ft. Lauderdale cohorts, I overlooked at least two topics that need attention. Sex and finances: two areas of character and skill development where readiness to plant a church needs preparation and attention. Perhaps these topics are old news to you or addressed in other training sessions, but I wanted to mention some important defense and offense to consider now.

About the Very Personal Sex Life of a Church Planter
When you start a church, or even begin to start a church, you are putting yourself, your spouse and your marriage (if you are married) in a highly exposed situation. Most all of this addresses married planters.

I won’t bother to count the number of pastors and church planters I know who are no longer in ministry because of sexual or emotional unfaithfulness or financial impropriety. These are two moral failings that will remove you from the field of battle immediately. God does forgive and the church can and should restore men who fall, but the direct consequence of a moral failing in these areas is removal from ministry for a season until (or if) the marriage survives and restoration made.

As a church planter you are highly stressed. You are working intensely. You will constantly feel insecure. You will fail in many small ways. Every idol you have will clamor for satisfaction. Everyone you know will have idols clamoring for your attention too. Sexual and marital purity is vital.

Especially because you work often and closely with women. You deal with emotions, demands and stress unlike anything you have experienced. And then you go and open the doors of a facility and invite the public. Now your life is open even more to temptation. I will spare you salacious details, but be warned the enemy of your soul and the church sends women to attempt to seduce you. I know too many stories.

So be ready to fight off anything and everything immoral and sexual that is not your bride.
She is your protection sexually. She is God’s ordained emotional and sexual protection for you alone.

Let me say this again: There is one and only one woman who can protect you, your God-given wife. Say that out loud to yourself. Seriously.

One way my wife protected me was to listen to me and realize how much I needed intimacy and sexual gratification while I was under stress and constant temptation. I had to go out on an emotional limb and fill her in on what I needed from her for protection. Do I need to be more specific?

If you and your wife have SO MANY demands on your life that your marriage is not healthy or you fail to make time for rest, or for sex, you can more easily be tempted and fall morally. This is a shameless plug for taking a Sabbath right here. TAKE A SABBATH. Or at least part of one!

What else should you do? I’m a list guy, so here goes…
1. Regularly repent from mini-moral failings. Your eyes will wander. Your flesh will lust. Women will dress immodestly (it’s South Florida) and you will look. Obviously try not to! It just gives your flesh more temptations to work through, but urgently and quickly prefer Christ’s forgiveness and run to the love of God which will satisfy you deeply. We pray ‘lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.’ Protection from sexual immorality is God’s concern for you.

2. Weekly accountability. Weekly talk with someone you trust to hear your confessions and preach the gospel to you AND who knows you well enough to challenge you. Have them ask a question like this, ‘Have you had inappropriate contact with a woman this week? in your mind or physically?’ Live meetings are better. Similar peer level season of life is helpful too.
This isn’t my first rodeo, I know you can you cheat on accountability. But in my life, I want accountability to protect me and just knowing I’m going to be asked that question causes me to pause and reconsider going down a temptation trail.

3. Learn to love ‘blinders’ and boundaries. Blinders are those leather cups worn beside the eyes of horses to prevent distraction and keep them looking forward. Develop blinders of discipline specific to your life, weaknesses and struggles about where you will not go, where you will not click, where you will not go alone. If you have struggled with internet porn, you need a specific set of blinders. If you struggle to keep your eyes pure when you are at the beach, you need a specific set of blinders. If there is a certain woman who causes you to be tempted, you need a set of blinders and boundaries. Seek out a mature Christian man to help develop specifics.

Make it a best practice to not be alone in private with a woman who is not your family. This protects from temptation and protects everyone’s reputation.

On those occasions, when you are unavoidably the last to leave an event or must give a ride to a young lady or woman in an emergency, call your wife and let her know the situation and when you will be home.

4. Gently and clearly let your wife know you need her help. She is the one and only person who can protect your heart and emotions from a myriad of temptations. And she is the only one who keep your sexual/emotional tank full.

So communicate humbly. Keep romancing her. And when you are too tired but needy, tell her that you need her help anyway. It seems wise to me to have your wife as part of all your sexual experiences, rather than just taking care of yourself. Thank her for protecting you and satisfying you. Be honest about how much you need her and when.

Single men. I know Jesus did ministry perfectly as a single man. And so did the apostle Paul. But honestly, I got married young so I have little to no experience as a single man. This is where I’m going to say find a wiser man to discuss this issue and I’ll shut up.
Abuse. If either one of you have been sexually abused, get help in order to heal. Seriously consider how this impacts God’s call for your lives.

Don’t tweet. Seriously, no need to tweet about this part of your life. I think it’s demeaning to your wife and your marriage, even if you say positive things about going on a date. Also protect your wife and other men from thinking about your wife. Let’s keep tweeting about ‘hot’ and ‘smoking’ only refer to barbeque. Really.  

Sexual intimacy in marriage is a very personal gospel issue. Your deepest idolatries and sins will fight the humility and honesty God has granted in the righteousness of Christ. Believe that you are worse than you want to admit but more loved than you ever dreamed. Right there is the key to loving God, loving your nearest neighbor and yourself.

Brothers, I hope this encourages you and leads to a fruitful life of loving and serving Christ and His church! Contact me if I can be of any help.

Suggested Action Items:
1. Do you have a solid accountability system for your protection? What can you do to improve it?
2. Have you and your wife had an open discussion about sexual temptation and the need for sexual and emotional protection in your marriage while planting? Read this together and discuss.
3. If the thought of sexual intimacy as a gospel issue causes you or your wife emotional discomfort, with whom can you speak to about this spiritual emotional issue?

Monday, September 19, 2011

More of Less Activity: In Favor of Spiritual Disciplines

Silence. Solitude. Meditation. Fasting. Simplicity.
These are as strange and alien concepts to the life of Christians in the West as a business man in a tree. At best such practices are odd, optional or only for super-Christians. Or worse, they could be construed as punitive.

However our historic Christian faith grew in grace and power as everyday believers and leaders practiced spiritual disciplines. 

On purpose. With astonishing results.

Return to Spiritual Disciplines
When I started in ministry as a 23-year-old Jr Hi Pastor just off the road with a Christian band, voice mail and pagers were cutting edge. We communicated only via phone and paper. Now we have social media, cell phones and the internet that invades every spare corner of our lives.  

My pastoral bosses encouraged me to read Foster's Celebration of Discipline and made me go on monthly prayer retreats. I did not like it at first. Now I am so glad someone showed me how and why spiritual disciplines are vital for ministry. It was not easy for me to do.

It showed me ministry is impossible to do. For me. I need Jesus to do it. In fact, Jesus said in  John 14:12-14 that we would do greater works than He did. By asking Him to do what He can do through us.

Disciplines are inconvenient, frustrating and seem counter-productive. But we managed to get ministry accomplished before cell phones, iPads and wi-fi. Apparently, even Jesus and the church ministered pretty well focusing on prayer, discipleship and a simple life.

It leads to this leading question: what kind of boundaries (if any) do you have now between the urgency of everything on your phone or tablet or laptop and your relationship with Christ? I fear our little space for Jesus makes us a mile wide and an inch deep. I'll even say it may make us hypocrites on par with Pharisees.

Will you be one who says, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or naked or a stranger' because we were too busy virtually connecting with people? (Matthew 25).

Expect More from Parents and Pastors
A pastor friend of mine just posted the following:
(Name) is going off the grid for a week for a silent retreat. Yup. No cell, not FB, no Angry Birds, no TV to numb or distract me. No agenda, not planning, no strategizing- just a whole week to meet with Jesus. I'll either go completely crazy or meet Jesus. We'll see.
I applaud his decision! And I say MORE of LESS!

More of less should be normal. Not considered newsworthy or radical or neat if you can spare the time. 

Don't you want to meet Jesus, no matter what it takes? 

What We Need
Our churches in Atlanta and in the West need more power of the Holy Spirit. More prayer and intercession. More trust in God than trust in skill and effort. What we need more grace-filled discipline.

When I parachuted in to do a scratch multi-ethnic church plant, there were a million things to do, but I taped a quote from Eugene Peterson to my computer monitor. 

It says, 'Busyness is laziness.' Busyness is substituting the good things for the highest, most excellent things. Meeting with Jesus ought to be our most excellent task. 

Do I get too busy? Yes. Am I not getting enough done? You'd have to ask the leaders of my church and our church planting network.

I do not hold myself up as an example. I hold up Jesus as FAR MORE WORTHY of our time and pursuit than anything else - including ministry, comfort and child-raising.

Pastors, fathers, mothers, your church and your family need you to turn off the 24/7 distractions and meet with Jesus - regularly, purposefully, intentionally. Replace the good things with excellent. Quiet, solitude, simplicity, fasting will deepen your experience of Jesus' grace.

This is not earning your salvation. This is experiencing the transformation Jesus' wrought by His salvation.

It's hard at first. But it's the best thing you can do with your time.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How The Help Helped Us Become (More) Bi-Cultural

On vacation in July, my wife and daughters all read The Help. and I'm man enough to say I read it too. Though all the main characters are women, it isn't 'just a chick book' but it's a rather a stimulating book about our recent past prior to and during the civil rights movement. Another pastor I respect wrote a great review I don't need to repeat.

I wanted to comment on the tag line for the movie. It's change begins with a whisper. But I think the result of 8 or 10 women in our English-speaking congregation reading and discussing The Help for their book club has revealed and spurred on some change. And it shows how we are making progress in our mission to be a justice-seeking, reconciling, bi-cultural, multi-ethnic church.

The Setting of Our Change
Sunday July 31, we got back from vacation to witness an historic Sunday for Crosspoint Encuentro Church. Our Pastor to Hispanics for the last few years, Hector Guzman, an immigrant from Mexico City, preached in Spanish to our English-speaking congregation for the first time. (He was translated by a 2nd generation Puerto Rican man in our church). He spoke as one who knows us well and who loves us crazy Americans but had some good corrections and some needed insight into our vision to be unified - one church two congregations. He was right on and we needed to hear from him!

The Background of Our Change
When we started 8 years ago, the vision was always for a multi-ethnic church. But, as you may know, I'm a white guy from Tennessee. I really had nothing in my family (except some racially-mixed adopted cousins but that is a whole other story) or in our staff to show visibly our desire to be not 'just another white church.' So we just kept holding the door open, telling all the people who visited (most of whom were white) that it's our vision and aspiration to be a church of many nations, races and languages.

So miraculously, three years into the church plant, God brought some bi-lingual people - the Mateos, Santiagos, Rodriguezes - and through them, six years in, the Lord sent us the Guzmans to start a second Spanish-speaking congregation.

The Problem with Change
It is a challenge to start being a bi-cultural church after its always been a mono-cultural church! We had been somewhat multi-cultural and multi-racial in our first six years but adding a second language requires a significant amount of  work and sacrifice so that we can truly be ONE church, instead of two churches that like each other.

Over the years we have held combined worship services. I spent three weeks at language school improving my Spanish. I attend all the Encuentro worship services I possibly can. In our English worship services, we sing one song a week with Spanish. Some of our people are making friends slowly during our education hour when both congregations are in the building together. We send a van around to pick up families. But it seems like we have a long way to go to be unified like a family in Christ.

The Help is Helping Us Change 
We are beyond whispering now! When these ladies read and discussed this book, I was told it led to some deep and perhaps surprising discussion! When Lisa Payne spoke to me after hearing Hector preach, I was shocked at what they had discussed the night before at their The Help discussion.

She said it made them ask, 'Do we do this same sort of thing today? Are we prejudicial in our treatment of Hispanics? What is it like to raise children in a sub-dominant culture?' Wow. Wow!

Only the gospel could have prepared all these English-speaking women (who are quite diverse themselves) to look at themselves and ask such an honest and hard questions!

And only pressing into the Gospel and Scripture and each others' lives will lead us to further answers about the issues. I am deeply excited about how The Help discussion is helping us make progress!

We Aren't All Better Now - But We are Changing at Different Speeds
And now more people are investing themselves in the questions, the issues and the struggle to be united as a diverse church. As your pastor, it's so encouraging to see!
  1. One Saturday after their The Help discussion, the ladies book club re-assembled to invite Hector and Cecy and me discuss issues immigrants face living under a dominant culture. The answers were not neat or easy. It makes us uncomfortable. But it was good. (more in future posts).
  2. Pastor Jose Mateo (who is a 2nd generation Puerto Rican) just joined our pastoral staff as a volunteer to develop Outreach and Discipleship in our two congregations. Though he thinks and speaks English mostly, he can bridge both cultures in a way that neither Hector nor I can.
  3. Sunday 4 people who's primary language is Spanish will lead 18 English-speakers in beginning to learn or improve their Spanish. Our hope is this will develop an appreciation for each other's lives, cultures, families, worship songs and maybe deeper friendships as we learn to obey the Lord together.
  4. Next month, in our bi-monthly combined worship service, Hector will preach instead of me.
  5. I posted a resolution some of us have made about welcoming immigrants into our church. Its posted here on this blog.
I wonder what else God will do with and through Crosspoint Encuentro as we continue following Him together?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Resolution about Welcoming Immigrants into Our Church

Over the last few years as we have sought to become a truly bi-lingual and mulit-cultural church, it has come to our attention that there are few churches, in our denomination anyway, who have any official written statements that welcome Hispanics (yes, even people without documents) into their churches. There is a fertile and strategic mission field right here in our city!

I know we are stepping into a hornets nest, but since we have many immigrants in our church membership and we want to reach more, we realized we need to start thinking and writing about this issue from a pastoral perspective. The recent Georgia law House Bill 87 (HB87) and the heated argument about immigration and deportation has only sped up the process for us. 

Scripture has much to say about immigrants, sojourners or aliens. So this resolution starts with a 16-point summary of what the Bible says about immigrants. The nine resolutions are our attempt to address some key issues first in our church, Crosspoint Encuentro Church.

I would be interested in talking with others who have or want a similar statement about welcoming immigrants into their churches.

May 25, 2011

A Resolution from Concerned Pastors and Elders of Crosspoint Encuentro Church
Regarding Welcoming Immigrants into our Church

  1. God is the Sovereign King over all the earth and all governmental authority is subject to His authority and rule,God, after the Fall, subjected Adam and Eve to an immigrant status upon removal from Eden, (Genesis 3:23) and,
  2. God sent Abram to be an immigrant with his family (Gen. 12:2) sojourning in a strange land, then made His covenant with Abraham while he was an alien (Genesis 17:9),
  3.  the children of Israel, through God’s divine providence, were immigrants in Egypt for generations (Gen. 50:22-26), were led out of Egypt by Moses, an immigrant (Ex. 2:22) and celebrated the first Passover in Egypt with converted strangers and sojourners (Ex. 12:43ff) who were led out of Egypt with Israel.
  4.  God audibly and repeatedly commanded His people to give aliens/sojourners with them Sabbath rest (Ex. 20:10; 23:9, 12), identified them as former aliens and commanded His people to not mistreat or oppress sojourners/aliens among them (Ex. 23:9),
  5.  God commanded His people to maintain the same regulations for non-native born people as native-born (Num. 9:14 and Num. 15) and required equanimity in temple worship (Lev. 17 and 19),
  6.  God charged the courts of His people to judge righteously between fellow countrymen and aliens living among them (Deut. 1:16) and promises to defend aliens along with the fatherless and widow because He loves the alien and provides for them through the generosity of His people both directly and through the tithes of His people (Deut. 10:18, 24:14-21, 26:12-13),
  7.  God curses the man who withholds justice from the sojourner, as well as the fatherless and widow (Deut. 27:19),
  8.  Christ Jesus immigrated to earth from heaven,
  9.  in His humanity Christ was an immigrant, persecuted by his fellow countrymen,
  10.  we were all alienated from God and strangers to the covenants of promise without hope except through God’s grace by faith alone (Eph. 2:12)
  11.  through Christ’s sacrifice in our place, He became our peace, made all believers one, broke down the dividing wall of hostility, created in Himself one new man, and by His reconciling work on the cross will make all things new in heaven and on earth by His blood (Eph 2: 14ff, Col. 1:20-22)
  12.  his people are and will be from every nation, tribe, tongue and people united in Him, heirs and sons – neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Gal. 3:26-29),
  13.  all of God’s people are citizens of heaven first and citizens of a nation on earth second (Phil. 3:20)
  14.  there is no human governmental authority outside of God’s sovereign will and all government is established by God (Rom. 13:1-7) but does not supersede the government of God,
  15.  legal status is not a requirement for salvation or church membership,
  16. ministers and elders of God’s church have a moral duty to speak against injustice.

We Resolve…
1.      We resolve to pray for immigrants and their families out of concern for their souls and well-being. We will pray as well for our US governing authorities – local, state & federal – who are responsible to God for their personal, legislative, executive (including enforcement) and judicial decisions in regard to justice and mercy for all people.  We will urge people to pray for the US electorate to consider immigration issues according to God’s Word so that His Word is exalted and obeyed as US immigration policy is debated and decided.  And equally important, we will pray for other nations’ governing authorities who will also one day answer to God.        
2.      We resolve to welcome all immigrants into our church for relief, assistance, development and the hearing of the gospel.
3.      We resolve to accept anyone who meets the requirements of faith in Christ alone by faith alone, they shall be welcomed into full membership in our church, regardless of legal status before the US government or any state in the Union.
4.      We resolve to disciple and train immigrants to ‘glorify God and enjoy Him forever’ and treat them with dignity as image bearers of God.
5.      We resolve to prepare all church members and attenders, whether immigrants with status or without, or citizens of the US, to live as missionaries wherever God may, in His divine providence, send them to live, work and worship Him.
6.      We resolve to protect and teach all children, regardless of status or citizenship, to love God, receive Christ by faith and follow the doctrines of our holy religion.
7.      We resolve to work for the protection of the weak, oppressed and alien during legal proceedings and to urge our political representatives to develop a just and equitable means for immigrants whose status has expired to be reconciled and/or acquire legal status according to the laws of the USA.
8.      We resolve to educate English-speakers in our church about the issues, challenges, problems and struggles for immigrants and to educate Spanish-speaking congregants about their rights and duties as a sojourner in the USA.
9.      We resolve to prepare any immigrants under our care who are not currently under proper status to comply with the laws of the US and if they are unable to rectify their status, prepare them for the potential return to their home nation and accept these consequences peaceably and with grace.

Under the Grace of God and to His Glory Among All Nations,

Jim Moon, Jr. – Pastor, Crosspoint Encuentro Church Smyrna GA
Hector Guzman – Pastor, Crosspoint  Encuentro Church Smyrna GA
Jim Payne – Pastor, Crosspoint Encuentro Church Smyrna GA
Gordon Hwang – Elder, Crosspoint Encuentro Church Smyrna GA

Friday, August 19, 2011

'It's All Good' Tolerance Trend in Morality

"Whatever makes you feel good."
"I'm not judging."
"It's your life and your choices. There are no absolutes."

All sound so tolerant but really aren't tolerant of anyone who disagrees or takes exception to them.

And the irony is the last quote is this: The statement about absolutes IS an absolute.
The postmodern insistence on tolerance is winning over the Christian Church.Our biblical illiteracy and lack of spiritual confidence has caused Americans to avoid making discerning choices for fear of being labeled judgmental. The result is a Church that has become tolerant of a vast array of morally and spiritually dubious behaviors and philosophies. This increased leniency is made possible by the very limited accountability that occurs within the body of Christ. There are fewer and fewer issues that Christians believe churches should be dogmatic about. The idea of love has been redefined to mean the absence of conflict and confrontation, as if there are no moral absolutes that are worth fighting for. That may not be surprising in a Church in which a minority believes there are moral absolutes dictated by the scriptures. 
The challenge today is for Christian leaders to achieve the delicate balance between representing truth and acting in love. The challenge for every Christian in the U.S. is to know his/her faith well enough to understand which fights are worth fighting, and which stands are non-negotiable. There is a place for tolerance in Christianity; knowing when and where to draw the line appears to perplex a growing proportion of Christians in this age of tolerance.
Who wants to be tolerated anyway?

Don't you want MORE from life than being tolerated? I want to be loved.
Real love requires constancy. It requires truth and faithfulness. Or it was only love to the degree that one was tolerated.

Jesus Christ said, 'Greater love has no one than this than he lay down his life for a friend.' And then the next day, he did just that. He laid down his perfectly obedient life for sinners.

And that required a perfect morality in order to display a proper love. that is the Truth and the Love the church is called to demonstrate in every culture.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Word to My Church about Youth Group Going to the Movies

Today our youth group leader sent this email out to our parents about seeing X-Men First Class and it provided a great teaching opportunity. Hope it helps you.

Gene said: I know I've told quite a few people this, but just so everyone's on the same page - A couple years ago, we went as a group to see Transformers 2, only to be uncomfortably surprised by the amount of inappropriate material contained in what should have just been a good movie about giant robots. That seems to be a recurring theme, unfortunately.
That's why we no longer go to the movies as a [sponsored] group activity. However, we're not taking any kind of stand against movies; we're just leaving the ball in your court!

I've heard varying reports of the amount of questionable material in X-Men: First Class. So, please check any of the various reviewing outlets and handle the situation as you would any other movie your
family would see.

Pastor Jim's response and follow-up:  
Thanks!Hey youth parents, I'll take a risk here and make some comments.

Elizabeth and I saw this Xmen movie. It was a very entertaining movie for adults but the PG-13 rating is there for a reason. There is no explicit nudity but women are scantily clad in more than one scene. I think the Lord's name was taken in vain F word was used but not excessively. The violence level is high but it is based on a good v. evil theme.

Websites like MovieGuide will give you superb details. I have written for them in the past and highly recommend them as THE MOST THOROUGH REVIEWS. (save the link on your computer. You'll use it!) 
If you as an adult like seeing movies, the details can spoil surprises.

So now you are asking, 'Why does my pastor and his wife see a movie like this and/or let their children see movies like this?' Good question.

1) About children and teenagers. We don't try to over-protect our children. We give them choices and talk through those choices with them when they are young teens because they are going to have to stand on their own as adults in a few short years. Check out the recent sermons on parenting if you missed them.

We were MUCH more careful and had age limits for certain movie ratings and enforced them consistently with all 3 of them. Elysia is almost 16 and she still has not been allowed to see an R rated movie.

We thought 13 was a good time to start seeing pg13 movies and then discussing the content. (Movieguide is great at helping you as a parent recognize the worldview and moral teaching of a movie - even 'safe' movies like 'Free Whilly' (it was about a boy and a whale) needed to be discussed because it promoted a pantheistic point of view!)

You as parents must lead your children. Remember the sermon about parenting? We must support each other's decisions without condemnation.

2) About us as adults. This gets a little dicey if you want a pastor who follows all the rules really well. It's even more complicated because we have people from different nations, backgrounds, convictions and upbringings in our church. But let me plow on.

I am personally convinced that seeing movies is an area of personal liberty, like smoking or drinking alcohol. You may not be at the same place that I am and I will be happy to discuss with you.

Part of our decision to see movies or do other worldly things is to be missional to my friends. It is how I interpret the 'become all things to all people' and 'be in the world but not of it' in Scripture.

Many of my friends whom I love and want to receive Christ will see this movie and I want to build bridges to them.

Does it trouble me when women are portray as objects in movies? Yes. A lot. Do I personally struggle with lust? Yes. That is why I see movies with my wife. We talk about stuff I struggle with and she helps me by being my only source of beauty and satisfaction.

3) What does this mean for you?
Be wise. Talk to other elders and fathers about their views of personal liberties and get brothers (and your wife if you have one) to hold you accountable. And train up your children to be wise.
Train them to talk back to the message of the movie - or the video or book or blog or FB chat.

Be missional. Do what you can do to reach your friends who are lost without Jesus. Be as normal as you can without hurting your conscience.

Trust God and talk with your church. The Lord will be faithful to His promises and we will be faithful to each other and learn together how to raise our children together.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Carson's Solemn Vows and Those Taken Before God Between Crosspoint Encuentro and Her Officers

Last Sunday April 3, 2011, I was part of the commission to ordain and install my friend Rev. Carson Pittman (front row, 2nd from left) as Associate Pastor of Atlanta Westside Presbyterian Church. 

As I read the vows on the screen behind Carson, as I heard Pastor Walter read them aloud, Carson could barely keep it together. His sincerity caused me to look into my own heart. I was struck by the depth and significance of these vows. Carson takes this so seriously and so should we all. He was moved to tears several times throughout the night. This man's overwhelmed state got to me. I'm an easy mark when it comes to Jesus and His church. 

I was not the only one moved by this holy moment. As the Westside congregation, a church I helped give birth to, I was equally moved by the depth and meaningful sincerity of the vows taken by the congregation. It took me back to the day in January 2007 when Crosspoint made these same vows. I too was moved to tears. 

And I am again as I write these words.

Church, this is deep.
God is calling forth a movement of His Holy Spirit in some new churches in Atlanta and He is crossing hereto seldom approached barriers. In these churches Jesus' gospel is all the good news that matters. Not race, not class, not ability, not looks, not power, not hipster coolness. Jesus is King. And He's awesome.

Sunday April 10, I will be referring to the following vows. Read them. Think about them. It may seem boring at first. But think of what this means.

Consider again (or for the first time) the covenant, the trust and the honor we have of being a church so loved by our Savior Jesus Christ and so well led by His Sovereign Kingship.

1. Vows Taken Before God by the Officers of Our Church and Declarations about Their Roles

  A. All Officers (Elders and Deacons) Take These Same Ordination Vows:
1. Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as originally given, to be the inerrant Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice?

2. Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you further promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine, you will on your own initiative, make known to your Presbytery the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of this ordination vow?

3. Do you approve of the form of government and discipline of the Presbyterian Church in America, in conformity with the general principles of Biblical polity?

4. Do you promise subjection to your brethren in the Lord?

(Book of Church Order Chapter 21 Paragraph 5 and Chapter 24 Paragraph 5)

  B. Teaching Elder’s Take These Distinct Ordination Vows:
1. Have you been induced, as far as you know your own heart, to seek the office of the holy ministry from love to God and a sincere desire to promote His glory in the Gospel of His Son?

2. Do you promise to be zealous and faithful in maintaining the truths of the Gospel and the purity and peace and unity of the Church, whatever persecution or opposition may arise unto you on that account?

3. Do you engage to be faithful and diligent in the exercise of all your duties as a Christian and a minister of the Gospel, whether personal or relational, private or public; and to endeavor by the grace of God to adorn the profession of the Gospel in your manner of life, and to walk with exemplary piety before the flock of which God shall make you overseer?

4. Are you now willing to take the charge of this church, agreeable to your declaration when accepting their call?  And do you, relying upon God for strength, promise to discharge to it the duties of a pastor? (BCO 21-5)

  C. Ruling Elders’ and Deacons Take These Distinct Ordination Vows:
1. Do you accept the office of ruling elder (or deacon, as the case may be) in this church, and promise faithfully to perform all the duties thereof, and to endeavor by the grace of God to adorn the profession of the Gospel in your life, and to set a worthy example before the Church of which God has made you an officer?

2.   Do you promise to strive for the purity, peace, unity and edification of the Church? (BCO 24-5 (#4 &6))

  D. At the conclusion of the Ordination of Ruling Elders and Deacons, the Following is Declared: 
I now pronounce and declare that ____________________ has been regularly elected, ordained and installed a ruling elder (or deacon) in this church, agreeable to the Word of God, and according to the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America; and that as such he is entitled to all encouragement, honor and obedience in the Lord:  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen. (BCO 24-5)

  E. At the Ordination of a Teaching Elder, the following is Declared:
I now pronounce and declare that ____________________ has been regularly elected, ordained and installed pastor of this church, agreeable to the Word of God, and according to the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America; and that as such he is entitled to all encouragement, honor and obedience in the Lord:  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.  (BCO 21-7)

2. Congregations’ Vows Taken Before God at the Ordination of Officers:

  A. Vows Taken by Congregation in Receiving/Calling a Teaching Elder:
1. Do you, the people of this congregation, continue to profess your readiness to receive _________________, whom you have called to be your pastor?

2. Do you promise to receive the word of truth from his mouth with meekness and love, and to submit to him in the due exercise of discipline?

3. Do you promise to encourage him in his labors, and to assist his endeavors for your instruction and spiritual edification?

4. Do you engage to continue to him while he is your pastor that competent worldly maintenance which you have promised, and to furnish him with whatever you may see needful for the honor of religion and for his comfort among you? (BCO 21-6)

  B. Vows Taken by Congregation in Receiving Ruling Elders and Deacons:
Do you, the members of this church, acknowledge and receive this brother as a ruling elder (or deacon), and do you promise to yield him all that honor, encouragement and obedience in the Lord to which his office, according to the Word of God and the Constitution of this Church, entitles him? (BCO 24-5)