Thursday, December 20, 2012

On Principle

    I love governing principles. They beat rules anytime. “Love the Lord your God with all your....” is a great governing principles. “Love your neighbor as yourself” really goes well with the first. As a matter of fact, a close reading of the Gospels would lead you to believe that Jesus was a huge fan of governing principles as is indicated by His, “but I say unto you” comments of Matthew 5. The more that I think about it, even the parables were about governing principles. The beauty of principles is that they are true anytime and anywhere.
    One of the things that I love about principles is that you don’t have to know all of the details of a particular discipline to benefit. If I understand the basics of physics, I don’t have to know what an ‘m’ or a ‘v’ or a ‘c’ stands for in a particular equation to know that “what goes up must come down”. If I understand the basics of geometry, I don’t have to be able to recite all of the theorems proving that the square of a hypotenuse is equal to the sums of the square of the other two sides to know that the ladder I’m using has to be longer than the wall its against. I only wished that my physics and geometry professors had appreciated my appreciation for the principles of their disciplines! I never got an ‘A’ on principles although I was acquainted with the principals.
    What’s really cool is that principles apply to everything, including reaching unchurched people and planting churches. Since Bill Hybels and Rick Warren planted Willow Creek and Saddleback, there have been thousands of wanna be church planters who have tried to copy them. There have now been thousands of failures with only one Willow Creek and Saddleback. Why? Replicating practices does not equal to replicating principles, therefore will not replicate success. Having attended their conferences way-back-when, I remember them learning to say, “Do not try this at home.” More churches were blown up than thrown up or grown up by attempted replication. The mega successes that do exist are because others understand the principles behind their effectiveness.
    “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” is a great church planting principle. It also happens to be a great principle for dealing with pagans or hard core atheists. We are enduring another advent-holiday-merry-whatever season and another round of victim-minded-believer rants. We can’t pray in school. We can’t post the Ten Commandments. We can’t call them “Christmas Trees”. We can’t wa, wa, wa... A neutral observer could easily reach the conclusion that the Jesus solution to every issue is forced conformity to our way of thinking, especially on non-believers. Geneva revisited. Compulsion does not equal to conversion. Simply getting all of the horses to line up at the same watering hole doesn’t prove anything other than their rear ends are all pointing in the same direction.
    It was in an attempt to answer my brother-in-laws question, “What’s this about you and Christmas?” that I realized a principle of reaching people with the Good News. Most everyone I know was exposed to some form of Jesus-based-teaching growing up, but walk away from it. The well-intentioned efforts of family, friends and God-fearing people attempting to compel them to at least practice faith even if they didn’t believe it, didn’t do anything positive to attract them to it. Rubbing someone’s nose in creamed spinach isn’t going to alter their gag reflex if they don’t like it. If we really believe that “no one comes except the Spirit draws”, we can go about our business of praying, celebrating and preaching without sounding like victims of a cultural war. Winners attract admirers while whiners attract scorn. Sounds like a great principle!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

    Even though I’m a Reformed Theologian, I’m still amazed at the providential happenstances of God’s provision. Add to that my interest in Physics and processing the quantum possibilities necessary in arranging the exponential details to bring about His desired results and you simply can’t be a “what luck” kind of thinker. The laws of probability require intentionality. If you didn’t understand what I just said, make no mistake. I’m not as smart as that made me sound!
    Kingdom work is either good/bad fortune or a divinely guided journey. If I’m playing golf and the ball one hops into the cup on the fly, I have no illusion regarding my ability. I’m okay calling it “dumb luck” as opposed to “astounding giftedness”. I understand fully the physics involved in potential/kinetic energy coupled with the geometry of angles of flight and descent that lead to a dimpled ball landing in a small cup. And no, I don’t think that God gives a rip about my golf game, unless it effects my spiritual walk and witness.
    Recently, I was responsible for assisting two out-of-town church staffers in a “get acquainted” tour of our area as they prayerfully consider partnering with prospective church planters. Two day, lots of miles, several meetings, good food and better fellowship. On their second and last day we took a walking tour of the Unites States Naval Academy in Annapolis. Since the Baptist Student Ministry Director was out-of-town for a conference, we were on our own. If you’ve never been, there’s a lot to see and ground to cover. We entered several of the historic buildings including the chapel and its basement where the remains of John Paul Jones are enshrined in an ornate coffin. Before completing the tour, our guests wanted to visit the souvenir shop for family gifts. It would certainly be more impressive than making a run to the local Walmart. That’s where need and opportunity converged in the improbable of divine providence.
    We really didn’t know where we were going. We were simply told that it was “way over there” and given some simple instructions. We hoofed it to “way over there” until we were at risk of running out of campus. The visiting Lead Pastor did the normal, “You ask around. I’m looking over there” routine. His associate and I did what men are accused of never doing: we began asking those we saw for directions. The first couple, obviously not military, said, “Don’t ask us, we’re lost too!” From a nearby building emerge a man in uniform. He courteously stopped at our approach and we discovered that he was a chaplain and a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; my alma mater. He pointed us in the right direction and then moved on as I took note on his name tag: Chaplain Carey Cash.
    You need to understand. I had been attempting to connect with Evangelical Academics in our area to accompany me to a banquet with our Turkish American Muslim friends, by special invitation. We simply don’t have those kinds of people in our church! I’m in full scramble mode. Following the encounter, I thought to myself, “Self, it doesn’t get any better than this. You just met the Chaplain at the Naval Academy who knows EVERYBODY.” I did what every red-blooded American does to make that connection: I Googled, “Chaplain Carey Cash.” Consequently, I was able to speak with him about this great ministry opportunity to reach out in-the-name-of-Jesus to our Muslim friends. Even though I went unaccompanied to the banquet, the groundwork has been laid for future opportunities.
    Kingdom work can’t proceed without God’s special intervention. It’s way too cool to be in the middle of His stream of influence. By-the-way, Chaplain Carey Cash is the great nephew of Johnny Cash and the brother of Kelley Cash: Miss America, 1987. How cool is that?