Category Archives: culture

The Dark Side of Facebook: How to Redeem It

Facebook, as we all know, has a dark side. In fact, it’s interesting to see how destructive it can be. We can all cite multiple examples of over dramatic, overindulgent attention seekers who want nothing more than to get “likes” or even “loves” to their postings.

FB cross outPersonally, I’ve seen people create fake realities on Facebook that in no way resembled their reality. I’ve counseled married couples in which one or the other engaged in an adulterous affair with an old flame that they became friends with on social media. I’ve seen countless debates over the issues of the day, multiple shares of “fake” news (the Babylon Bee is NOT a real news site, people), and drama, drama, and more drama over situations so they could try their case in the court of Facebook opinion. Selfies rule the day, and for some, selfies brutally altered by filters are, well pathetic. And, yes, whether it’s the snarkiness of Twitter or the drama of Facebook or anything else pertaining to social media, it’s ugly, it’s awful, and it’s, well, just not really social.

Yet I can’t help but want to dig deeper to find out the reason for this continuous move to the dark side by so many on social media platforms. And when you look at it, the true root cause, the core issue, is because we naturally desire to be fulfilled in something other than God. We are idolaters, fallen and depraved, lost without Christ. All of our self-righteousness, justification, name changes, and even new filtered images of ourselves will not change anything about us in our nature and our corrupt desire tries to replace God with a god. What we find, however, is that nothing will satisfy us, ever, except what we can get in our satisfaction in Christ.

This is why anything we touch, we have the potential to destroy it. That’s what sin does, it corrupts, and we need to remember that without Christ we are “children of wrath” (Eph 2:3) rather than God. Our nature comes back from time to time and fools us, wrecking our lives. This is why we can “play church,” or act as if everything is “fine” when it isn’t, because phony is easier to deal with than our harsh reality of our depravity. Our brokenness, then causes us to put on masks wherever we are, whether on social media or in front of others in real life. And the only way to mend this broken state is through a true, deep, growing, commitment to the truths of the gospel. We must have a committed relationship with the Savior of our souls.

And the gospel is where it begins. The life-changing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ will transform your thinking and your desires. You desire the things of Christ, not the things of the earth. This is how I believe that social media can be redeemed, not for the sake of being known, but so Christ can be made known in you. To be real on social media is refreshing, to be patient and kind in an anonymous environment is, well, unexpected these days. Jesus told us in Luke 9:23, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Maybe it’s time to kill that temptation for fakeness and honor Christ even in this environment instead.

Fran

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Relief is coming

This morning, I continued my reading through Nehemiah and one thing that stuck out to me was his complete dependence on prayer. When he dared to approach the king of Persia, he prayed. When people tried to discourage him, he sent up a short prayer. When he saw injustices by the nobles towards the people of Jerusalem, he prayed a simple prayer that he is righteous with God and not self righteous. And when he called the people out on their sinfulness, he prayed a long prayer of confession and repentance. Nehemiah was one of the most successful leaders of his time and his prayers to the Lord are consistently recorded. The prayers were often nothing fancy, but they were usually simple, direct, and meaningful to his situation on a daily basis.

Even more, we can see how much he depended on God’s leading through his time in prayer. Praying for him was like breathing. As he prayed, God led, and as God led, he followed in prayerful obedience. As others attacked verbally and politically, he stayed focused and firm on the calling God had burdened on his heart. His principled leadership was only going to move in a different direction IF God moved him. Nothing more, nothing less. Either way, he knew that as he followed God, relief was coming to him in some way, shape, or form.

photo-1448550603489-a7e43b0da4d2Today, we have church leaders all over who are facing attacks. Some attacks have come from persecution and through threats. Others have come from some of the supposed sheep of the flocks they shepherd. I too have experienced this sort of man-centered garbage, yet I know that any response less than biblical is amounting to repaying evil with evil. Pastor, leader, deacon, friend, don’t respond with evil, respond to evil with good. Relief is coming, and it’s coming through the workings of the Lord.

You have a calling that God has burdened on your heart. Stay focused, stay firm, and stay prayerful constantly. The greatest tool you have is not your own words of wisdom or cunning man-centered politics, but your dependence on the One who fights your battles for you. Relief is coming, relief to continue your calling as you fight the battle for the souls of men. Stay encouraged, my friend!

Fran

What Does God Even Want??

As I have enjoyed moving from winter to spring, I have been thinking a whole lot lately about the way that God has revealed Himself to us over the time line from His Creation to His New Heaven and New Earth. One question comes to mind: as we know God, what does He want from us? Let me explain…

He began with His general revelation, that is, the heavens and the earth. He spoke to and through the patriarchs, gave the Torah to Moses, and corrected the people of God through the Prophets. Finally, God spoke through Himself incarnate in the person of Jesus, followed by His Spirit-breathed Words from the Apostles and the early church. And what is remarkable is that every time He spoke, He spoke of the gospel, that grace from Him that is available to us all. The world and the Word reveals the glory of God! What a wonderful thought!

So what does this mean for you and me? Again, what does God want? Well, it means this:

  • Even though we cannot see Him fully, God desires our obedience.
  • Even though we may not understand Him fully, God desires our obedience.
  • Even though we are unable to live life Christ fully, God desires our obedience.

Get the picture? The key is that God wants us to operate on what we know. Jesus said,

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be expected” (Luke 12:48).

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We grow, and we obey even more with that in mind. We grow more, and we are expected to do more. It’s called sanctification, and this is an important part of being a follower of Jesus.

So grow. Grow in the Word, in prayer, in serving, and in sharing your faith in a real way.  And remember, as you go into worship this weekend, take what you hear and see and follow Him even more. Let His light shine from you to others as a sweet sacrifice of praise to Him. And as you do that, He will get all the glory!

Have a great Sunday!

Fran

 

Pastor, Are You Chasing the Wind?

“Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind…” Ecclesiastes 2:11 NIV

I get to travel quite a bit to talk with church leaders across the Upper Midwest. I’ve spent time in all sizes of churches, from the smallest of urban or rural churches to the upscale megachurch with multiple sites and services. Although there’s been some great research done on growing churches, I can tell you for my own observation that there’s a difference between leaders who are growing on a foundation of Christ and those who are just “chasing the wind” through their own efforts. In fact, I have seen a few commonalities in healthy, growing churches regardless of the context or size. Let me give you a quick list with no order of importance:
  1. A commitment to expository preaching. I’ve seen some really good expository preaching in which the pastor will take a passage and allow the structure of the passage to be the basis of the message. He takes time to explain the passage and the context, both at the time that it was written and the application for today. This is sorely needed in our culture today.
  2. A clear path for discipleship. I am amazed at how many church leaders have no real idea on how to disciple believers on an ongoing, systematic basis. The healthy churches that I have seen know exactly how to take a new believer in Christ through a process of growth to become more like Jesus. Find a process and work it.
  3. An authentic love. One of my favorite pastors does not buy into the CEO mentality as he ministers to his congregation. He spends time with his people, he fervently prays for them, and he also takes time to study so that he can pour into them in his pulpit ministry. He has boundaries, but his people know that he loves them. By the way, he ministers to about 1,500 people in his congregation each week.
  4. A priority on missions and evangelism. Church members focused on going and telling usually don’t major on the minors in the inner workings of the church. They know that their leaders are Godly, praying, loving men of the word and they trust them. They are much less likely to micromanage day-to-day affairs in the church. They also see their leaders right next to them as they do some of the grunt work, as they go out on mission trips and as they share the gospel.

That’s what I’ve noticed. Note that I never talked about hype, worship style, or any “cool factors” related to ministry. That’s because these are secondary issues that usually don’t matter over the long run. In other words, I’ve seen healthy, growing traditional churches in the middle of a cornfield as well as healthy, growing, super contemporary, polished churches in a suburb. The point is that the church will change the method but not at a price.

And this brings me to the possibly convicting news. I’ve noticed plenty of unhealthy disasters where the leadership has tried to “chase the hype,” even going as far as compromising the message (intentionally or not) in order to somehow try to stay relevant with the culture. This includes turning to shallow material that a member can pop into their living room like a Netflix movie and call it discipleship. Or making major cultural changes in the church arbitrarily and without communication. Or discarding the basic foundations of teaching for children and replacing it with moralistic, hypercool content with a verse of scripture slapped on it) that focuses on fun instead of the Gospel. Fun is, well, fun, but let’s not abandon the treasure of the Gospel just to entertain people.

My message to you: stop chasing the hype. You’re not going to grow disciples by trying to be cool. Look at what you’re doing and allowing to be taught by word and by deed. Spiritual growth is a slow, steady, ongoing and patient process, so take your time with others just as God worked in you to make you more like Jesus. Yes, you can have content to help you in the process of growing disciples while still being relevant to the culture of your community. Yes, you can do some awesome and creative things outside of the box to reach people where they are. But don’t forget the fundamentals, okay? Remember, when the leadership is focused on the word, discipleship, love, and missions, God will use His Spirit to produce a great deal of fruit.

Otherwise, you’re chasing after the wind.

Fran

Not of the past, of the future

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he richly poured out on us with all wisdom and understanding. He made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he purposed in Christ as a plan for the right time—to bring everything together in Christ, both things in heaven and things on earth in him.” –Eph 1:7-10, CSB

There is a very clear trend today for people to somehow, someway, try to make themselves feel special. They get overly and outrageously dramatic, they get excessively emotional, abandoning logic, reason, and most importantly, the counsel of the Word of God. They attempt to be “snowflakes” of their own making, the centers of their own universe, where self and egotism reign and manipulation ensues. It’s the “me” generation on steroids, instantly publicized by social media.

Tough words, right? Well, then hear this: You are special. You are unique. However, you are NOT to be individuals of your own making but you are called His workmanship made for His glory (Eph 2:10). You might blow it, mess it up, and willingly sin, yet God knew this, loved the mess that you are, and set your feet on the rock. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, not to be a player on the stage of life in some drama, but to be a part of the great story that God brings to humanity. And when you get selfish and self centered for a moment, remember that Christ forgives the past, redeems the present, and promises a future in Him.

It’s time to take action, stop following the culture of the day and turn to Christ instead. Let His Word in, let His wisdom ring true, and let Christ change you to live not for yourself and your own life, but for the Almighty Creator and His will. He has always been at work, will you join Him?

Fran

On the phone… Again?

It was really, really convicting. I looked through pictures that my wife had taken of our family gatherings and there I was, phone to my ears, talking away and oblivious to the life that was taking place around me. My family was growing up without me and my phone was becoming my family. Here’s what’s worse: that was 15 years ago, and phone technology has definitely gotten more intrusive!

It’s easy to blur the lines between family and daily tasks, whether it’s ministry or the workplace. However, setting boundaries is a necessity for healthy families and for a healthy life.

Ecclesiastes 9:9 says to “Enjoy life with the wife you love all the days of your fleeting life, which has been given to you under the sun, all your fleeting days.”

This principle applies to life with others in your family and with your friends as well. We know that we are not supposed to necessarily play all day but there is a time to turn off work and to turn on a time for rest and family. So what do you do? How do you set boundaries so that you can enjoy life with those you love the most?

  1. Spend some time in the word and repent of your carelessness with your loved ones. This speaks for itself but be sure to place your priorities where God would have you to place them. Remember, your first calling is always to your spouse and family.
  2. Turn off the phone or put it in another room. You don’t need to be accessible 24/7, and you can always check your phone later. And please, resist the temptation to check your phone!
  3. Realize how fleeting the moments are in life. Your family will grow up quickly. Your children will have children. Your influence on their lives will eventually wane. Take in every moment you can with them and keep in mind that your work or Ministry will exist long after you are gone. In other words put it all in perspective.
  4. Have some deep conversations that are intentional and express how you feel. Since I travel quite a bit now in my ministry, I have made it a priority to call, visit, and spend time with each of my family members. It’s not perfect, but my time is more focused and intentional and I think (hope) that they have seen this effort.

That’s what I have for now. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you put boundaries and spend more time with your family.

Fran

So this happened…

My practice lately is that when I am out of town for LifeWay, I take extra time to visit churches on Wednesday nights to study the Word and enjoy the fellowship with believers. This week gave me another opportunity, and after looking up a church nearby on their website (yes, this is why you need a website for your church), I went to that church last night.

I was a bit confused when I got out of the car and headed into the building. The front door was, well, in front, yet I saw everyone else going through the back door. I soon followed the crowd and went into the back door and was greeted by an older man with a big smile on his face.

“Welcome!” he said with a big grin. “Come on in to our recovery ministry!”

I quickly realized that I was heading into a celebrate recovery meeting. I stammered, “b-but I’m not doing that. I’m looking for the Bible study.”

“Well, this is what we got!” He enthusiastically said. “Come in and maybe you’d enjoy it! There’s worship and a testimony too!”

“Okay, I will!” I replied, and went into the sanctuary.

The sanctuary was old and worn out, showing its history as a once thriving church but now reflective of its declined neighborhood. The people inside, however, seemed to be excited to start as the countdown wound down on the screen prior to worship. Looking around, I saw a diversity among us of many socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnicities. The countdown went to zero, and at that point, I didn’t know what to expect.

What I soon experienced was nothing less than heartfelt praise to The God who healed them of their addictions. Men and women alike were singing about Jesus their healer, as they proclaimed to God and to the world their deliverance from the sin that so enslaved them. I heard the words sung with old, raspy voices, with thick Latin accents, and best of all, with whispers from the heart. All in all, it was a powerful testimony of the Messiah, an amazing display of joy!

The pastor told me later that there were “only” about 100 people that would come to worship on a Sunday in that church. However, what I saw went beyond Sunday and into the rest of the week. I saw a church that expanded the kingdom, to seek and save those which was lost, and to love their neighbors as themselves. This church, long in heart but short of resources, were the hands and feet of Christ. This is a healthy Body, healthier than many churches much larger and with more resources.

This is because they have the Spirit of Christ and rely on Him as they fulfill their calling. May we see their example and may we all do the same!

Grateful for the gospel,

Pastor Fran

Heroes…

Luke 10:29, “But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘and who is my neighbor?’”

Witness the power of Hurricane Harvey and its after effects. CNN stated that as much as 11 trillion gallons of water has fallen so far with more to come. These events seemed so far fetched for our 4th largest city, it seems as if this is more suited for a Hollywood movie screen than the TV screen, but there it is.

What is amazing, or maybe not so amazing is the response of a few local heroes. Risking their own safety, many have gone out to their neighbors to lend a hand and get people out of the danger of the rising floods in their homes. These are great stories!

But what about us? Are we to sit and watch? Absolutely not! Jesus told us as much when He was asked who His neighbor was and responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Anyone we encounter in need is our neighbor and we show our love for God and people by taking action!

Not convinced? Place yourself in the shoes of a Houstonian right now. You’d want help from anyone, anytime, anyway, right? Of course you would! Good neighbors are needed, right now!

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to step up. We may not be able to bring boats down there, but there are plenty of other ways to help. Here’s one site offering good, sound choices for you: https://www.namb.net/send-relief/disaster-relief

Most of all, let’s pray for our neighbors!

Fran

Must Reads for Monday!

Here’s some great articles to browse through as you start your week. The theme I picked for this week is harmony and reconciliation:

Why I’m staying in the Southern Baptist Convention

The Myth of Equality

Black church conference: nurture, fellowship & praise

How White Christians Can Stand in Solidarity with Minority Brothers and Sisters

Should you work hard? 

​”Don’t wear yourself out to get rich; because you know better, stop! As soon as your eyes fly to it, it disappears, for it makes wings for itself and flies like an eagle to the sky.” Proverbs 23:4

Far too many people wear themselves out on the rat race for the almighty dollar. They think that they are doing something good, but the opposite is often true. They work, eat, sleep, work, and maybe, just maybe get rest on a weekend or a vacation here or there. But is this what God wants? 

We are called to work and work hard, yet there needs to be joy along the way. When God created the universe, it was a six day workweek with a one day rest, yet you get the sense that it was a joy for Him. Each day He looked at His work and declared it to be good (the last day very good). 

So is it biblical for us to work hard? Absolutely! But work must be a joy, and this is done when you see the purpose of what you do as compared to the overall picture. Working for money as an end is fruitless, it flies away anyway. Working for the Lord, however, is a blessing, and when we do anything for God and His glory, we will be more satisfied on his daily basis. 1 Cor 10:31, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.” 

Pastor Fran