Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Why makes a movie like Avengers: Endgame a good film?

Over the weekend I saw the last installment of Avengers Endgame broke the box-office raking in 1.2 billion dollar on its opening weekend. If you have not seen it nor the movie before, stop here spoiler alert! While there were a couple of scenes, I didn’t care for, the counseling scene with captain America affirming the man dating other men and the feminism push with Captain Marvel and the other “super girls.” I didn’t care for these scenes, because I feel they push agendas and add no value to the overall storyline. I did appreciate that these were rather short. Anyway, let me now shift to what I did like.

The movie was emotionally riveting, and the parts of the story that made it really good were the borrowed themes from biblical narrative either intentionally or not. Let me show you what I mean.

  • Dr. Strange is a profit. The profits in the OT times foretold of God’s plan. His plan to save man from their sins. God knew there was only one way to save humanity, and so did Dr. Strange. He looks into all possible futures and sees only one option. He tells Tony there was only one way and we are in the end game now.

  • The theme of self-sacrifice we see this from the character black widow. The Bible makes it very clear that the way of salvation calls for self-sacrifice. See Matthew 10:39.
  • The brokenness of Thor's effort falling short. Thor didn't take out Thanos in the Infinity Wars, he went for the chest instead of the head and paid the price for it. In a similar, we all get to the point of brokenness where realize we are not enough on our own works and deeds. How we react to it is key, we can either become like Thor: Drink, become fat, and play video games. Or we can embrace Christ in our brokenness. 
  • Tony Stark is a Christ-like figure. Going from the most selfish avenger to the one who performs the most selfless act. He knew that snapping his fingers would rid the universe of all time from Thanos and his evil. Remember Thanos was going to dust all of the universe and make it over the way he wanted it. A “grateful” universe who would see him as God-like.
  • Thanos is Satan. His real intention comes through in the final showdown at the end. He was going to tear the universe apart and rebuild it into a “grateful” one that worshipped him like a God. Sound like anyone else you know?
  • Nebula plays the part of Judas and illustrates a biblical theme of "the old man vs. the new man." Even though it was really herself from years It remains, she betrays the mission to save those who are dusted. The good news is she faces her former self, shows she has been transformed and dispatches her old self. While a bit more dramatic, it is clear that her "old" self is put to death a new self remains. This illustrates the biblical concept of the "old man" vs. the "new man" in Romans 6:4-6. Before she was a slave to Thanos and his bidding, but now she is free.


Monday, March 11, 2019

What Should We Pray For?

I was in middle school playing basketball for the Fall Branch Cardinals. Before every game, the coach would ask one of our players to pray. The prayer was always the same, it was the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13. I don’t know that it was terrible, but it was a tradition we did. After some time, it began to feel like a prayer rut to me. Have you ever felt like your prayer life was in a rut?

Remember that prayer is a powerful weapon that God gave us as a gift. In fact, Pastor John Piper says this about prayer, “Prayer is a wartime walkie-talkie, not a domestic intercom. God is more like a general in Command Central than a butler waiting to bring you another pillow in the den.” Of course, God is a Father, Lover, Friend, Physician, Shepherd, Helper, King, Savior, Lord, and Counselor. But let us not forget we live in a fallen world where we constantly are battling three enemies, our flesh, the devil, and the world. So, if we are to have maximum faithfulness in prayer, we must examine the content of the prayer. 

Before we look at what should be in our prayers let’s remember what shouldn’t be in our prayers, James 4:1-4 reminds and instructs us not to ask a thing to spend it solely on our selfish pleasures.  If you were to survey the prayers of the Bible that God answered you would find various patterns. The main pattern, where God answers the most prayers, concern the advance of His divine work and His Kingdom. An example of the main pattern would be Moses’ prayer for the nation advancing work through the desert (see Exodus 32:9-14). Fewer of the Bible prayers could be considered personal, like Hannah’s prayer for a son (see 1 Samuel 1:9-11). One interesting observation about would be that personal prayers do not contradict the nature and purpose of the divine work, but instead usually enhanced God’s work. For example, Hannah’s prayer produced Samuel, who holds a pivotal figure in Israel’s history (1 Sam. 1:10-20). Try this in your own prayer life. Keep a log of your prayers over a specific period. Dr. T.W. Hunt kept such a long, and he found that seven-ninths of his own answer’s prayers were primarily concerned with the advance of the kingdom work of God, and only two-ninths were personal. Hunt goes on to say, “all of the answered personal requests in some significant way accomplished a divine work that helped others and made a contribution to God’s work in the church.”[1]  Here are a few more items the early church prayed for:

•    Pray that God would exalt His name in the World. (Matt. 6:9)
•    Pray that God would extend his kingdom in the world. (Matt. 6:10)
•    Pray that God would save unbelievers. (Rom. 10:1)
•    Pray for boldness in proclamation/preaching. (Eph. 6:18-19, Acts 4:29)

[1]Hunt, T.W., The Doctrine of Prayer. (Nashville: The Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1986), 75.

Friday, February 1, 2019

When Should We Confess Sins Publicly?

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”-James 5:16

While many of us may feel conflicted anytime a public confession of sin happens, the word commands confession in verses like James 5:16. The question emerges, when does the confession of sin need to take place publicly in a local body? James reminds us that we all stumble in many ways (James 3:1). Also, while the Bible teaches that all sins are equal before God (James 2:10), the consequence of sins are not equal in this world. For example, the sin we engage in the sin of hate, it is known by God and us but perhaps by no one else. If we shoot and kill the person we hate, what follows in the church and community will be much different. Both sins are ugly, and Jesus calls them both murder (Matthew 5:21-22), but the consequences and scope of what follows differ significantly in this world. 

The same guiding principle applies to the public confession of sin. The scope of repentance must be as broad as the effect of the sin. So we should think of confession of sin through the lenses of the gospel but asking the following questions:

1.    Do we agree with God that what we have done is sin?
o    Simple but important. Many times we do not confess sin privately or publicly because we don’t agree with what the Bible says about our actions. We must overcome this first before we can move forward in forgiveness, healing, covering, and restoration.
2.    What is the scope of the consequences of the sin? 
o    As noted before, the extent of the impacts are they public or private? In 1 Corinthians 5:2, Paul instructs the church to skip the first three steps of the Matthew 18 process and put him out of the church. Why would Paul skip those steps? Because the sin was well known as sin by believers and unbelievers alike, and it was publicly known. The principle emerges here that the sin must be addressed at the scope it is known and affecting others.
3.    Do I understand that confession is a weapon to help me defeat sin?
o    Ephesians 5:11 tells us to expose “unfruitful works of darkness.” God gave us a powerful weapon when he gave us the confession of sin. When we tell others that our actions or thinking were sinful and wrong, the sin's power weakens on us. Make no mistake sin is powerful, and we are all just seconds away from most any kind. We need to battle it with all God has given us.  Not to mention it helps to defeat that same sin in others lives in the body when done publicly.
4.    Following the confession, will my church now join in the covering for the sin?
o    The gospel is always the model for how sin is handled. Once we confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive us (1 John 1:9). Once God forgives, He separates sin from us and Him as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). Romans 4:7 says that our sins are “covered” following forgiveness. Anytime one of our precious saints confesses sin; the right response is for us to do as God does. To cover a sin means we don’t talk about it anymore. We should celebrate their courage and God’s work in their life! We don’t point out their sin anymore to others in the church or outside the church. We unite in grace, truth, and love to help and bless them. Depending on the sin they may have consequences they face with the local law, but as far as we are concerned the blood of Christ covers their sins.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Things I Learned from Pastor Victor “Vic” Wallace & his lovely wife Dorothy “Dot.”

On Sunday morning, January 13, Pastor Vic Wallace preached his last sermon as pastor of Oak Hill Baptist Church in Fall Branch, Tennessee. Beginning in the mid-1950’s, Pastor Wallace began a ministry lasting over six decades of pastoral ministry including Flag Pond, Mosheim, Mountain City, Kingsport, and Fall Branch. One of the longest pastorates was at First Baptist Fall Branch, Tennessee where I met him. His time at Frist Baptist which spanned 1975-1999 & 2003, 25 years in total a rarity today. Pastor Vic lead me to Christ at the age of 12 years old when he presented the gospel clearly to all the children at VBS in the summer of 1993. After he explained it, I asked to speak with him. There in his office, he took me down the Romans Road, and I prayed to receive Christ. He also baptized my mother, father, and sister. Later when I was called to the ministry, he became my father in the ministry (see 1 Timothy 1:1). God used him to help me pick a seminary. I wanted to share the following as things I learned from watching him pastor and serving alongside him:

1.    Love your family.
Loved not only by his church family, but Pastor Vic is also loved by his wife, son, and grandchildren. He showed the ability to balance his responsibilities at home with his duties to the local body. I think he always knew that if he failed at home, he would fail his office as pastor.

2.    Never compromise on the Word of God.
Pastor Vic served through the time our denomination experienced what has been now termed the “Conservative Resurgence.” The “resurgence” boiled down to a battle over biblical inerrancy. From the pulpit, he openly preached the Bible as the Word of God, not simply that the bible contained the word of God! He loved to quote leaders of the resurgence like W. A. Criswell. What a great example to us all.

3.    Love your church family.
While no pastor can be everywhere at once, Pastor Vic made efforts to be there for church members who were experiencing milestones in their lives: births, marriages, sickness, deaths, etc.… He showed the importance of loving people in all seasons of their lives.  He had a way to make you feel like you were the most important person to him.

4.    Love your community & be a soul winner.
He embodied lifestyle evangelism. I remember once, a man he had never met appeared to be having a hard time. He asked him if anyone had ever told him that Jesus loved him. The man replied, “No.” And he said, “On behalf of the pastors and churches in Kingsport, I want to apologize to you for that and tell you that Jesus Loves you!”

5.    Never forget the importance of pastoral ministry.
Vic always held the office of pastor in high esteem, but it was his wife that gave me the analogy which sticks with me today. When I announced my call to ministry, Dot said to me, “Travis, this is a calling and a job that is more important than the presidency of the United States of America.” The Bible tells us that pastors are a gift to the local church, and Pastor Wallace along with his lovely wife, genuinely have been that for all the churches they have served.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Does Luke 2:14 mean Peace on Earth to Everyone?

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
-Luke 2:14 (KJV)

You have probably received Christmas cards containing the above part of the angel’s song to the shepherds on the fields of Bethlehem. But most modern translations read differently for example the New American Standard Bible (NASB) reads:

"Glory to God in the highest , And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased."

And the English Standard Version (ESV) reads:

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"

Notice that the underlined portion of the newer translations are lacking in the KJV. Now don’t get me wrong I love the KJV, and I am not knocking it. In fact I always check it when I do sermon preparation. The difference between the KJV and the other translations is the difference between the nominative εὐδοκια[eudokia] in the KJV and the genitive εὐδοκιας[eudokias] in the NASB and ESV. The genitive case in Greek is used to show possession, but the function of the nominative case is to indicate the subject of the sentence. In other words, if a word is the subject of the verb it will have a nominative case ending. The new translations used the oldest and best manuscripts.

The Greek manuscripts used to translate the KJV contained a nominative, whereas the older manuscripts used to translate the modern version contains the genitive of the same word.  The literal transition would be “of good will” or “characterized by (God’s) good pleasure.” I n other words, the peace that the angles sang that  night belonged to the earth as a result of the birth of Christ is not a generic, worldwide peace for all humankind, but a peace limited to those who obtain favor with God by believing in his son Jesus (See Romans 5:1). Jesus brings peace to those who trust and believe in him, but to those who reject him their end will be judgement and he will wage war on them (see Revelation 19:11). This is why we must make the most of  the Christmas season to direct people to Jesus Christ, as we should in all seasons.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

What are the greatest changes you are facing in your church and ministry?

Recently I was asked by a member of the Tennessee Baptist Convention the question above. I began in the ministry in 2001. I have watched many changes unfold in these past 17 years. I took my first full-time ministry in 2007. Here is my observations:

1. Social Media-The options of blogs, Facebook, tweeter, and Instagram changed how we communicate. There may have been a time when you could pastor without using these tools but not today. You must be online to be a good Shepherd and know where the pulse of the culture is.

2. Widespread Use of Cell Phones and Text Messaging- This has also changed the way we communicate. We can now have change plans instantly. I think this has led to lower commitment levels. Also, text messaging has allowed for an exchange of information without commitment to talking to one another. Sometimes this is good, but other times important communication cues are lost in translation.

3. Overcoming Legalism –For many years living a holy lifestyle was stressed, but sometimes at the expense of getting the gospel right. Many of those in my generation, Gen X and younger, need help to recover from the scars of legalism. I once wrote a blog answering a question about if it is ok to have a tattoo. I didn’t think much would come of it, but it resulted in the most viewed blog I have written to date. We have to remove the legalistic packing the gospel has been wrapped in if we are going to be effective in reaching out to others.

4. The influence of 24-hour news and shock jock radio –I remember when 24-hour news was kicked off during the 9-11 attacks. I think that the constant bombardment of news, mostly bad has affected our churches and communities. In the culture, the divide between the right and left are more distant than ever. And both sides are becoming more militant in their stance and lack of toleration for the other side. In fact, this has led to an inability to disagree on anything agreeably. The only groups are those who are for us, and those against. The effects of these groups continue to polarize our culture and churches.

5. Waiting longer to join a local Church-It is now not uncommon for an individual or couple to wait up to 1 or 2 years before they enter a church. This may be because of past hurts, and sometimes they just want to “serve God” not joining the membership at all.

6. The pornification of our society- No longer only accessible in movies and magazines, Pornography is now piped in through phones, iPad, PCs, and tablet devise. Also, it is no longer just for men.

7. Increase in Drug Additions- When I first entered into the ministry the empathies was on staying away from alcohol, but ask any police officer today, and they will tell you pills and harder drug additions are a bigger issue. Our area has one of the highest NAS baby births in the USA.

Monday, October 1, 2018

What are the greatest challenges you are facing in your church and ministry?

The biggest challenges facing our church I think are in two categories: Internal (challenges from within the church culture) and External (Challenges form the culture on the church). Let me start with the internal challenges:

  • Fear of the Unknown- In our area the tried and true methods are the most trusted, but the tried and true deliver the same results. Innovation is not valued highly, part of the mountain culture I assure. I think that if you were to ask the average Carter County resident what they fear, they would say "leaving this area." This would be due to the fact that they don't know if they could survive outside this county. Our community in many ways remains in a time warp, lagging some 20 or more years behind many of urban settings in the US. Sometimes this is good, but sometimes it hurts us.
  • Love of Comfort- In many ways this goes hand and hand with the first one. I think that people don't want to try new ministries or models of ministry because they are comfortable with what they have. While we are all guilty of this, it is especially true in this church. We all love comfort food, and to churches there are comfort ministries: Three to thrive, Sunday School, etc... The mistake made here is to mistake the practice for the biblical principle.
  • Inability to Relate or Understand the Unreached- Flowing from an inward focus, the inability to see what the church does through the eyes of someone who is lost. Our Church needs to understand who the unreached are, what they are thinking, where they gather, and why they are not coming to church. The longer we are in church, this gets harder to do.
  • A Balance between "Come and See" and "Go and Tell" outreach- Perhaps it is because the church has spent so much time and energy on its building or perhaps it is bad teaching. But we need a balance between inviting them to come and see what we have to offer, with going and telling what Jesus has to offer. The church often times doesn't see the value in going and telling. The attitude is, “if they want us, they know where to find us same place we have been for 75 years.” Praise God this is not what Christ's attitude towards us!
  • UnGodly Marriages-These are burning up the church. Marriages that are in trouble. Dealing with them takes a great amount of time and energy, sucking life out of a pastor and church. Even marriages we think are “OK” are not as good as we hoped. It is life draining to deal with these. Usually by the time they reach my desk the “eggs are out of the cart and smashed on the floor.” Can we as pastors put the eggs back together?
  • Lack of Commitment to the Local Church –People see the church in one of two ways: either “what can it do for me” or “what can I do for her?” For me this is one of the most cutting. I have had to watch people I would have once counted as very good friends leave the church over petty issues. I often think they are trying to solve internal problems with external solutions. I am not sure how to help them and minister to them when: 1. I am hurt by their actions and lack desire to minster to them, 2. They don’t want me to minister to them in some cases.
  • Legalism-Legalism is a “peculiar kind of submission to God’s law, something that no longer feels the personal divine touch in the rule it submits to.” And just as in the story of the Prodigal Son, we are much more likely to find the legalist near the Father’s house than out away form it. Legalism involves superimposing moral standards that are either non existent in the word or of minor issue. Joyful holy living has been replaced by something more ugly. The unreached pick up on this and run from it.