Category Archives: Gospel

A New Journey Begins

Church HDR

Church HDR (Photo credit: I_am_Allan)

After service yesterday I announced that October 20 will be my last day as the campus pastor at the Catawba Valley Campus of The Cove Church. This has been in the works for a long time. Four years ago I sensed God calling me to plant a church … pretty much out of nowhere. After spending 6 months trying to talk myself out of it, and then trying to talk Stephanie into it, I can honestly say it’s a desire that Stephanie and I have been prayerfully pursuing ever since. After a lot of prayer and conversation with my leadership at The Cove, we believe it’s time to move forward with the next step of this journey.

This is definitely bittersweet. On one hand, Stephanie and I are very excited about what’s ahead. Church planting is incredibly difficult, but it’s also an adventure – an adventure where we will see enemies of God become worshipers of God. I have been completely unable to shake the desire. And I’ve actually tried.

On the other hand, Catawba Valley has been my church for 2 and a half years. I’ve been able to cut my ministry teeth. I’ve seen people meet Jesus and get plugged into church. I’ve seen leaders rise up to new levels. On a personal level, I had my third child while there. God has done so many good things in, through and for us during our time at Catawba Valley that I could never recount them all in a blog post.

All in all, this is a good thing. Stephanie and I are pursuing what we believe God has called us to do, and the campus is getting a great new leader – Michael Strickland. Not only is Michael a great leader, he’s also one of my best friends.

A lot of people have asked about what’s next, which is great. So I want to give an update. There are several things on the horizon, here’s a brief summary:

  1. Assessment – Stephanie and I are going to Atlanta on October 24-25 to be assessed by the Launch Network. I’ve already completed their online assessments, and I’m currently working on a packet of assignments to be completed before we go. The Launch Network’s primary role is to assess and train potential planters. Far too many men have planted churches because they believed they were called, but no one confirmed their calling, so they failed. Others may have been legitimately called, but they weren’t trained enough to be successful. Launch (as well as other similar networks) is seeking to change that and to plant healthy and reproducing churches.
  2. Recommendation After the retreat, I will have a Skype call with a representative from Launch and they will give me one of four “grades.” Option A: I will be recommended to plant. This means they believe that I am indeed called to plant a church and I will move onto the training phase. Option B: I will be recommended with conditions. This mean they think I’m called to do it, but I need to read a couple books addressing some weaknesses they’re concerned about. Option C: They think I may be called to plant a church, but I’m not ready yet and I should assess again in 2 years. Option D: They do not believe I’m called to plant a church, but will make recommendations on where I may be a good fit.
  3. Residency If I receive the recommended or recommended with conditions score, I will be placed in a church planting residency. This means I will go on staff with a church planting church for approximately a year as a resident. Once or twice a month I will go to a Launch “hub” for training. This will involve everything from choosing the city, developing a clear and compelling vision, raising funds, developing specific competencies, and more. The rest of my time will be completing that background work.
    I’m also being assessed for a church planting residency through The Summit Network with The Summit Church in Durham, NC. They are an incredibly gospel-centered church and a real leader in church planting. Their assessment and residency are separate from Launch’s, but those two networks have a great relationship with each other. They have 4 phases of assessment, and I was recently invited into Phase 2. Basically I’ve made it past the first week of American idol … Jesus style. If I make it through their assessment process I will go on staff with them for 9-10 months to be trained, and they will send me.
  4. Plant Once the city is picked, I’ve been trained, the funds have been raised, and everything is ready … we will officially plant a church. This could be almost anywhere, but right now my desire is to stay in North Carolina. I want to plant in a college town, for a variety of reasons. Outside of that, I’m very open to wherever God puts us.
  5. Or … not If I am not recommended to plant, that’s where it gets a little tricky. We know that our time at The Cove is coming to a close regardless, so we are getting backup plans ready as well. At this point, our most likely back up plan is for me to go to seminary. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my heart is in ministry, so my next step may be intensive training as I work on a Master of Divinity. I’ve already started my application for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary as well as a grant to help cover the cost.

If you’ve read this far, you obviously love Stephanie and me. I would really appreciate your prayers as we continue to pursue our calling. We know that God has his hand on our lives despite us, which is why we feel so confident in this pursuit. We have never been so unsure of where we’ll be going or when we’ll be going there. I’ve also never been so ok with being so unsure. So please pray for God to place us exactly where He wants us, to use us mightily, and to draw people to Himself through us. There’s a lot more to pray for, but that’s the big thing right now.

Also pray for Michael Strickland. He’s also stepping out on faith with a family in tow. Being a campus pastor is a great next step in ministry for him, but it can also be very difficult and discouraging at times.

Thanks for reading, I’m looking forward to updating you even more as our journey progresses.

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Oscardolatry

Academy Award

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It’s easy to read things like: “those who lavish gold from the purse, and weigh out silver in the scales, hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god; then they fall down and worship” (Isaiah 46:6 ESV) or “with their silver and gold they made idols for their own destruction” (Hosea 8:4b) and laugh at those ancient fools. Aren’t you glad we’re past that? We know better than to bow down and make sacrifices to little statues, we know they can’t do anything for us … don’t we?

Every year hundreds of actors, directors, writers, producers, musicians, and more do exactly that. They sacrifice their relationships, their dignity, and their lives trying to get a little golden statue that they believe will validate their existence. Being able to display it in their homes is a status symbol. If I have this statue I’ve proven myself … I’m somebody … I’ve made it in this world … I’ll be accepted.

The problem is that it doesn’t work. In fact, it has done the opposite for many. After winning the Oscar, many actresses lost their marriages. It’s become so common that they now call it the “Oscar love curse.” Achieving their idol has truly led to destruction.

It doesn’t stop there. Every year millions of every day people try to get into reality shows so that they can be like their favorite celebrities. If I can become a celebrity I’ve proven myself … I’m somebody … I’ve made it in this world … I’ll be accepted.

I-dolatry

Maybe you’re not trying to become a celebrity, but you’re sacrificing something to get what you believe will make you somebody. Your hope is in the promotion, the affection of a co-worker, or the house with curb appeal. You’ll do anything to get it – it’s become an idol to you. You’ll give up on time with your family, manipulate others at work to get ahead, or act dishonestly to be noticed. You believe not getting your idol will be a tragedy. You believe that, if you get it, you’ve proven yourself … you’re somebody … you’ve made it in this world … you’ll be accepted.

But the tragedy isn’t missing out on your idol. The tragedy is getting it. “Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them” (Jonah 2:8 NIV). Jesus said, “what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul” (Mark 8:36 ESV).

There’s nothing wrong with winning an award. There’s nothing wrong with being famous, getting a promotion, falling in love, or having a nice house. But if it’s ultimate, if you’re willing to sacrifice your life for it, it becomes an idol – and you’re worshiping it.

Jesus = Better

The good news is that you’re already somebody … you’re already accepted … because Jesus died for you. Tim Keller says the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is “that you are more sinful than you ever realized, but you are more loved and approved in Christ than you ever imagined.” So if you know Jesus, you’re already somebody … you’re already accepted. If you don’t, chances are He’s pursuing you and you’re running away from Him.

Idolatry is not dead, but it does kill. Don’t turn away from God’s love for you, don’t forfeit your soul, don’t cling to idols. Trust Jesus … He’s better.

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21st Century Apollos?

There’s a good chance you’re one of the 13 million+ people who has seen the video below. If you haven’t, take the next 4 minutes to watch it:

The poet’s name is Jefferson Bethke and there’s no denying that he loves Jesus. He doesn’t stop there: he loves the church, wants to care for the poor, and follow Jesus with his life. I watched another video of him on YouTube speaking to Middle School students. He was honest, vulnerable, and his theology is pretty solid. He’s building a platform, and he’s using it to make much of Jesus.

Criticism

As you might expect, he’s had criticism from all over the place. The first I saw was shared by a friend on Facebook who hated the video. This blogger totally blasted him from the point of view of a cynic who hates the gospel. That’s to be expected, and I’m not upset at a non-Christian for not liking Bethke’s video. However, I believe many will find it appealing enough to at least ask questions.

Then I saw some criticism that was far more frustrating. A well-respected Christian blogger went through his poem with a fine toothed comb and nitpicked every phrase he said. Any time Bethke said something that was remotely wrong, or could simply be misunderstood, this blogger criticized him – sometimes harshly.

One of his biggest criticisms was Bethke’s use of “religion” as a catch-all word to explain self-righteousness and hypocrisy within the church. Granted “religion” is a neutral word in the Bible, in American culture it works to describe our man-made (and pitiful) attempts to please God with works righteousness. What might seem like sloppy theology here, is actually good contextualization.

I’m all for good theology. I study it in my spare time. I believe understanding the nature and character of God is vital for a believer, and I don’t think Bethke would deny that. However, I also understand that prose is different from poetry.

Prose seeks to carefully define and explain points of truth. Poetry seeks to use the beauty of language to illustrate truth. Both are important and good. In this video Bethke is not speaking as a master theologian through prose, he’s proclaiming the beauties of Christ as a poet.

Apollos, Priscilla, and Aquila

Is the theology in Bethke’s poem perfect? No. I don’t think he would claim it is. However, I think the way some evangelical bloggers have virtually attacked him is more dangerous.

In Acts 18:24-28 a famous new preacher named Apollos pops onto the scene. He was passionate and good. He knew a lot about Jesus, but was missing some critical information. When a couple named Priscilla and Aquila heard him they wanted to help, but they didn’t do it by telling everyone the problems with his theology. They approached him, talked to him, and helped him be more accurate.

What was the result? “He greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Christ was Jesus” (Acts 18:27b-28 ESV).

Better Response

The Resurgence was the one group I saw respond to him appropriately. First they posted his video on their site saying it was “pretty good.” Then their director approached him, encouraged him, said they wanted to support him, and offered to send him some study materials. What a refreshing response.

I’m praying for God to raise a lot more Jefferson Bethke’s who look for creative ways to make much of Jesus. Men and women who meet culture where it is and bring people to Jesus. I also pray God brings along more people who will encourage and support those Jefferson Bethke’s – instead of criticizing them. Which one are you?

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The False Gospel of Santa Claus

English: Thomas Nast's most famous drawing, &q...

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I’m one of those parents. I told both of my children that Santa Claus is make believe as soon as they could say his name. It’s been an interesting process. At 2 years old, both of them have tried to convince Stephanie and me that he’s real. Their arguments weren’t very persuasive, but I applaud their efforts. Once a stranger in Wal-Mart tried to convince Noah that Santa was real and he kept looking at her funny. When she walked away defeated he turned to Stephanie and said, “Mommy, does she really think Santa Claus is real?” I think he felt bad for her.

Before you think I’m the meanest dad ever for spoiling my kids’ fun I do have my reasons. (1) I cried when I found out Santa was make believe. It was like having someone kill your favorite uncle without giving him a proper funeral. I would rather my children not go through that. (2) Stephanie and I work hard to provide for our family and buy our children gifts. I’m not real keen on a fictitious fat man getting the credit. (3) I’m working really hard to convince my children that Jesus is real, even though they’ll never see Him in person in this life. Doing the same thing for someone who isn’t real makes me a little uneasy. I don’t think it’s wrong to tell your kids that Santa is real, it can be a lot of fun for the family. It’s a matter of conscience, not black and white right or wrong. Our consciences simply haven’t permitted it.

It turns out there’s another awesome reason to let your kids in on the secret early that I never thought about. Santa Claus preaches a false gospel. Here’s what I mean. A couple weeks ago we were all in the family minivan and Noah said something profound out of nowhere. He said, “I’m glad Santa isn’t real, because sometimes I’m mean, and if Santa was real I would never get presents.”

He had a point, sometimes he is mean. For that matter, so am I. I’m frequently mean (some of you already think I’m perpetually mean for not letting my kids believe in Santa), I’m almost always selfish, and despite my job as a campus pastor I sin all the time. If getting good gifts depended on my performance I would be lucky to live in the slums. The very essence of the good news of Santa Claus is: “If you behave and are very good you will get good gifts. Remember, I’m making a list and checking it twice. Are you naughty or are you nice?” So what’s really cool is that my 5 year old prefers the true gospel of Jesus Christ to the false gospel of Santa Claus.

The True Gospel of Jesus Christ

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the exact opposite of the good news of Santa Claus. The Bible tells us that our hearts are “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.” Jesus said, “No one is good except God alone.” If we’re hoping to impress God enough with our performance to get anything from Him we’re in bad shape. Instead, because we’re deceitful, not good. And because we can never do anything to please God, Jesus became our substitute. One verse I never seem to get tired of is 2 Corinthians 15:2 that says, “for our sake, He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (ESV). The only way to be good is to be found in Christ.

God has his own list, it’s called the Lamb’s book of life. People written in that book are expected to good things, but those are done from salvation, not for salvation. In other words, Christians are created for good works, not from good works. Many of us are like young children, trying to be good enough to please God so that we can get presents. But we’ll never do it, not without Jesus. So the very essence of the good news of Jesus Christ is: “You’re not good, but I am. Trust me, believe me, and I’ll take your sin and give you my righteousness. I’ll write you down on my list, and I’ll never blot you out … even though you’ll still be bad. I know you’re naughty, but I’m perfect, and my Father will see My perfection when He looks at your flaws.”

So whether you tell your kids about Santa or not, I hope you have a great Christmas. But I hope you’re lifting Jesus higher than Santa. I hope you and your children remember the gospel of Jesus Christ all year long. I hope to see your name on the same list mine is on … the Lamb’s book of life.

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What is freedom anyway?

Police Sketch of David Berkowitz, "Son of...

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Between the Summers of 1976 and 1977 David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz brutally murdered 6 people and injured 7 others. He was caught and confessed to, at least some of, the murders in August 1977. He was tried and given 6 life sentences, for a total of 365 years in prison.

In 1987 he became a Christian after reading Psalm 34:6. Ever since then, he has taken a life of ministry seriously. He’s not going to seminary or planning to become a pastor, but he works with other inmates inside the prison. He has been eligible for parole 5 times since 2002, but it has been denied because he refused it.

He’ll be eligible for parole again soon and already plans to refuse it. In a letter he wrote earlier this month he said, “I have no interest in parole and no plans to seek release.” He went on to say, “I am already a ‘free man.’ I am not saying this jokingly. I really am. Jesus Christ has already forgiven and pardoned me.”

Free? Really?

A “free man?” David Berkowitz really considers himself to be free? He definitely has a different definition of freedom than most of us. We would still be haunted by guilt and miserable in prison. Granted, he didn’t say he’s glad to be in prison, or even that’s where he would choose to be. He never said that he was in the best circumstance possible – he said he’s free. He’s free from the guilt of his past. He’s free from condemnation from God (Romans 8:1). He’s free to spend his time “sharing my story of redemption and hope with those on the outside.”

The Bible says, “so if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36 ESV). Freedom in Christ isn’t constrained the way physical freedom is. When the Son has set you free, you really are free. When you’re really free, it doesn’t matter how captive others think you are.

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Winning my daughter’s affection

My daughter never liked me much. At least not until recently. Beginning when she was a baby, she would always want Mommy more than Daddy. Her big brother Noah and I had always been tight, but Hannah was making me work for it.  I quickly developed a bad case of LE (lactation envy). I was certain that, if I could have a more active role in feeding her, things would change. But I digress.

This post has far more to do with my response than Hannah’s rejection. I never liked it when Hannah ran away from me or reached for Mommy instead. It was painful to hear her cry when I picked her up. However, I never responded to her rejection with rejection – I pursued her.

Woo, woo, woo

I knew Hannah avoided me because she didn’t know me. She didn’t know that I loved her more than any other man ever will. She didn’t know that I made sure she had everything she needed. She didn’t know that my eyes glowed every time I talked about her. She didn’t know … anything. So I showed her.

Little by little her Daddy reservations whittled away. She would let me hold her longer without crying. She would laugh when I tickled her and she even started reaching for me. Just a few weeks ago Stephanie and I picked her up from church. She saw me walk in, screamed “Daddy” with a huge smile on her face, ran past Stephanie and leaped into my arms. She was getting it.

The Father’s pursuit

The Bible says, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside” (Romans 3:10b-12a ESV). We all respond to God the way Hannah responded to me as a baby. God knew that, left to ourselves, we would never look for Him. Left to ourselves, we would run away from Him, or rebel and fight Him. He knew what we didn’t know.

He knew that He loves us more than the people whose approval we sacrifice to get (Psalm 36:7). He knew that only He could provide us with what we need (Philippians 4:19). He knew that we bear His image, so He treasures us more than the rest of His creation (Genesis 1:26-31). So He pursued us … and He showed us.

Remarkably, He started this even before Jesus defeated Satan, sin and death on the cross, “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). So the cross wasn’t when God started pursuing man, the cross was where His pursuit got most personal.

So if you know the God of the Bible, it’s because He pursued you (John 6:44). If you’re wrestling with who He is and whether you really want to follow Jesus, it’s because He is still pursuing you. That is just a glimpse of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

***I’m spending some time at the beginning of my quest as “perfectly fractured” to explain some basic beliefs I hold and the goals of this site. Since perfectly fractured is “thoughts on culture, worldview, the gospel and more . . . but mostly Jesus,” it seems proper to explain why these thoughts are important. To see the first two posts in this series check out Broken Beginnings and Pardon me, your Imago Dei is showing.***

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