Thursday, June 24, 2004

Officially Godless

Last week members of the Southern Baptist Convention voted on a proposal calling for all Baptist parents to pull their children from public funded schools in favor of private religious schools or home schooling.
Thank God it was voted down.
I’ve been faced with this issue for a majority of my life.
I attended private school for two years before my parents wisely decided it would be best if my sister and I attended public school.
The private school I had attended was run by the non-denominational church we attended.
And the older I got, the more favoritism and partiality I saw given to the private school and its students.
Yet I think my mom, who has taught in public schools for 21 years, saw the favoritism turn into judgment more and more as the years progressed.
People in the church practically condemned public schools each week suggesting their school was the only choice for good Christian kids -- as if somehow attending a public school made you less of a Christian.
My mom would sit in Sunday school and listen to her classmates condemn the public system that she worked for and she had sent all three of her children to.
“The public schools are a failure,” they said. “Christians need to attend a private school where they can learn scripture and Biblical principles. Good parents send their students to private schools.”
Sunday after Sunday we heard propaganda for the private school, including from the pulpit.
I recall three large trophies sitting on the altar in front of the pulpit one week.
The trophies were in recognition for the school choir’s achievements at a regional contest.
Store up your treasures in heaven or on the altar?
It’s your choice.
This attitude eventually led to my family’s decision to leave the church.
The church they now attend is very involved in the public system through its individual members, all striving to make a difference.I'm very pleased that not all churches and certainly not all Baptist churches hold this view of retreating and leaving the public system.
I attended college for three years at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and rarely saw this one sidedness at the Baptist school.
I also attend a Baptist church where the upper grades of a non-denominational private school are taught.
I’ve been very pleased that I’ve never heard any mention of the school at church other than occasional questions during the quarterly business meetings.
Yet retired Air Force General T.C. Pinckney of Alexdandria, Va., and attorney Bruce Shortt of Spring, Texas think all Baptists should pull their children from public schools.
In addition to Pinckney and Shortt’s proposition, a statement denouncing "government schools" as "officially Godless" had been proposed by the Baptist Convention earlier this year.
That too was voted down in exchange for a watered down statement that warned “against the cultural drift in our nation toward secularism.”
You want to know why public schools are Godless?
It’s because Christians have pulled God out of our public schools
Good meaning Christians are pulling their children out of public schools left and right.
Most Christians simply have no spine – that is unless they’ve gathered to protest the latest movie or are chewing out the umpire at a church league softball game (am I harping on that issue too much?)
At the sight of trouble or problems we run away and start a Christian alternative, just so we don’t have to face the realities of the world around us.
We have our own schools, our own music, our own television stations, our own newspapers and our own media outlets. These all have a place and serve a purpose, and I'm thankful for them.
Yet we Christians were called to go into the world -- not create our own world inside a small Christian bubble.
We need to look at the examples of churches like Dr. Tony Evans’ church, Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship (OCBF), in Dallas.
Evans and his congregation offer a private school yet they have also not neglected the public schools around them.
OCBF has been a leader in faith-based reform both in the public schools and the community.
OCBF members visit two to three schools each week in the Dallas Independent School District mentoring and tutoring the students.
They’re taking time to show those around them the love Christ showed to them.
If we as Christians pull our children and families out of the public schools, who will be left?
The Christian influence is rapidly diminishing in the schools and elsewhere, yet we all ready to throw stones at the sinners living in the world around us.
Christian teachers are leaving, Christian administrators are leaving and Christian students are leaving.
Who is left to be a God fearing example?
Yes, its true our public schools are not the God fearing entities the private schools are, but what more would you expect when those who care about God and fear Him are no longer there.
Sinners will sin – I know because I’m one of them.
And without a Christ-like example how will they know any better?
Christ never expected the world to come to him. He went to them.
Denton Bible Church Pastor Tommy Nelson says he makes it a point each morning to work out a “secular gym” because with his busy ministry schedule, that’s the only contact he typically has with unbelievers. What contact will we have when we evacuate the world in search of the Christian alternative?
Christ hung out with the prostitutes, the tax-collectors, the thieves and criminals -- and He loved them all the same. Christ invited them into his inner circle rather than creating a Christian alternative.
They saw His love and accepted His message because He came to the point of their need, presented a message that was relevant to them and forgave them of their sins.
I believe that Christians who are afraid to be apart of the world and share Christ’s love with others are literally telling the rest of the world to go to hell.
Houston songwriter Seth Woods writes, “We read in the papers about the dealers and the rapers and the wars are being fought. We see those who are needy and give thanks to the banks that we’re not… We pass by the whores, the gays, the drunks in the doorways and we try to keep our eyes to the ground. We snicker at the lost and think man I’m so glad that I’m found.”
After all, someone had to tell me about Christ. Someone had to tell you about Christ. And someone needs to tell them about Christ. And how will we reach them if we never get to know them?

Scripture reassures us, "No one who trusts God like this--heart and soul--will ever regret it." It's exactly the same no matter what a person's religious background may be: the same God for all of us, acting the same incredibly generous way to everyone who calls out for help. "Everyone who calls, "Help, God!' gets help." But how can people call for help if they don't know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven't heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? And how is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it? That's why Scripture exclaims, “A sight to take your breath away! Grand processions of people telling all the good things of God!” --Romans 10:11-15 MSG

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Make Your Story Great

Over the past few months I’ve been reading C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia” series.
As I read the “Horse and His Boy” this past weekend I was struck again by Lewis’ amazing use of symbolism and parallelism.
In Lewis’ third book of the series he writes about a young boy named Shasta -- who decides to leave home and run away to the northern land of Narnia.
Along the way, like most journeys, troubles come.
But near the end of his journey, Shasta meets Aslan the Lion.
Aslan the Great Lion, the Son of the Emperor-over-the-sea, the King above all Kings of Narnia.
Aslan listens to Shasta’s story and then tells him he was with him every step of his journey.
Those troubles that Shasta encountered and he thought was unfortunate were the same things Aslan used to spur him on and help him to grow along the way.
After hearing this Aslan asks about his friend and why she encountered the trouble she had.
Aslan replies, “I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but their own.”
I think we can apply this quickly to our own lives.
I can think of many times I asked God, “Why did you do this for me and not them?”
We always want to know why God treats us differently than everyone else.
Yet each time God responds, “Child, I am telling you your story, not theirs. I tell no one any story but his own.”
I want to know who, what when and why -- but God simply reminds me that He’s been there every step of the way and will continue to be there from now to eternity.
He also says, “Hey -- calm down and quit worrying about everyone else. Their story is their story and your story is your story. I’ll complete each one how I see fit.”
Alan Levi writes in his song, “Things that make the story mine,”
“I’ve been working on a 42-year story, acting out a role that’s unrehearsed. Though some scenes have been sweet some others have been gory, I’m wiser now than at the very first. Between my once upon a time and my happy ever after, no stunt man steps on stage to take my falls. No one else can cry my tears or laugh my laughter. This part gets played by me or not at all... It’s those parts I’d change, those lines I’d cut, those scenes I’d refine, those things I’d remove are the things that make the story mine.”
Enjoy your story.
Enjoy the tears and the laughter.
Take it one scene at a time and make it the best story you can. And let everyone else worry about their own.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

And They Will Know We Are Christians by our T-Shirts

I remember talking with a friend about the importance of putting a Christian fish on the back of his car. You know those shiny little silver fish that you can see on almost every car in the church parking lot.
He said he really needed to get one to as a conversation starter.
I then asked him, “How many conversations do you have flying down I-35 at 80 miles an hour?”
I’m not sure if he got my point or not. But it’s so easy to do what he wanted. It’s so easy to slap a bumper sticker on our car that says, “In case of rapture this car will be unmanned.”
In other words, “I’m going to cause a 12 car pile up when the rapture takes place, so you better get saved or avoid me at all costs on the highway.” That really says love doesn’t it?
I heard of another bumper sticker that said, “In case of rapture, can I have your car?”
Now I’ll be the first to admit I have a closet full of Christian T-Shirts (I’m even part owner of a Christian T-Shirt company).
But most of the shirts I own are now worn to threads and mainly used for playing sports or doing work around the house.
But I still remember always wanting to wear the coolest Christian T-Shirts so everyone would know that I go to church and they could ask me how to get to heaven.
But you know what?
No one ever asked me. At least not when I was wearing my “If you’re living like there’s no heaven or hell, you better be right” shirt.
No, I never had one person read my shirt and say, “Please tell me how to get to heaven.”
But I’ve had people ask.
I’ve had people see that there was something different in my life and they wanted to know what it was.
That’s the personal witness that I believe Jesus lived out each day He walked on this earth.
Jesus was not about bumper stickers or T-Shirts. He wasn’t about catchy slogans. He also wasn’t about mega-church events to invite the sinners to. He was all about the one-on-one relationships.
In Luke 15 the Pharisees judge Jesus for his ministry. “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them,” they said.
Jesus responded by telling two stories -- the story of the lost sheep, the lost coin. In each story Jesus turns the logic of the world upside down.
A shepherd leaves 99 sheep to find one. That’s ridiculous.
By the time he finds that one, it will be mauled and eaten by hungry wolves.
And by the time he gets back, wolves will have attacked the other 99 and be ready to attack the shepherd as well.
You don’t leave 99 sheep just to find one. Cut your loss and move on.
Then there’s the story of the woman with the lost coin.
When I get home at night I pull my coins out of my pocket and toss them on the dresser or in my coin cup.
I don’t count them, I don’t know how much money I’m pulling out of my pocket, I just toss the coins down.
And if I were to drop one coin on the floor, I’d spend maybe an entire three seconds looking for it. If I didn’t find it – who cares?
And if I did find it, in no way would I throw a party to rejoice with my friends. It would cost more to throw the party then the coin was worth.
The ideology behind these stories is ridiculous.
But Jesus is saying that that one person, that one coin is that important to Him. Rather than holding a big huge mega-event or crusade or party, He spent time with the one.
He left the crowds to go to Nicodemus’ house. He left the crowds to go to Zacchaeus’ house. He felt the touch of a lady in the crowd of hundreds and healed her.
He stopped his preaching in a packed house to heal a man lowered by his friends from the rooftop.
He ignored the crowds jeering Him on Calvary and made a connection with the theif hanging next to Him.
He was and is about the personal relationships and each individual soul. I think I (we) need to follow His example.
Our catchy slogans won’t lead anyone to Christ, but a personal relationship with our neighbor or co-worker will.
Letting them see the difference Christ has made in our life will be all the conversation starter we need.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Just a Comon Soldier (A Soldier Died Today)

He was getting old and paunchy and his hair was falling fast, and he sat around the Legion, telling stories of the past.
Of a war that he had fought in and the deeds that he had done, in his exploits with his buddies; they were heroes, every one.
And tho' sometimes, to his neighbors, his tales became a joke, all his Legion buddies listened, for they knew whereof he spoke.
But we'll hear his tales no longer for old Bill has passed away, and the world's a little poorer, for a soldier died today.
He will not be mourned by many, just his children and his wife, for he lived an ordinary and quite uneventful life.
Held a job and raised a family, quietly going his own way, and the world won't note his passing, though a soldier died today.
When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state, while thousands note their passing and proclaim that they were great.
Papers tell their whole life stories, from the time that they were young, but the passing of a soldier goes unnoticed and unsung.
Is the greatest contribution to the welfare of our land
A guy who breaks his promises and cons his fellow man?
Or the ordinary fellow who, in times of war and strife, goes off to serve his Country and offers up his life?
A politician's stipend and the style in which he lives are sometimes disproportionate to the service that he gives.
While the ordinary soldier, who offered up his all, is paid off with a medal and perhaps, a pension small.
It's so easy to forget them for it was so long ago, that the old Bills of our Country went to battle, but we know it was not the politicians, with their compromise and ploys, who won for us the freedom that our Country now enjoys.
Should you find yourself in danger, with your enemies at hand, would you want a politician with his ever-shifting stand?
Or would you prefer a soldier, who has sworn to defend his home, his kin and Country and would fight until the end?
He was just a common soldier and his ranks are growing thin, but his presence should remind us we may need his like again.
For when countries are in conflict, then we find the soldier's part is to clean up all the troubles that the politicians start.
If we cannot do him honor while he's here to hear the praise, then at least let's give him homage at the ending of his days.
Perhaps just a simple headline in a paper that would say, our country is in mourning, for a soldier died today.
This poem was first published in 1985 in Larry Vaincourt’s newspaper column and was then included in his 1991 collection, “Rhymes and Reflections.”