Creative Biblical content at the intersection of life and faith.

Brian is the author of #TheWalk, a contributor to the Faith, Hope, and Love Daily Devotional, a pastor, and teacher.  Brian speaks regularly for various groups and events.  FeelMyFaith.com began as a writing project in 2007 and has expanded into the media outlet of Brian's ministry.

Conversational Gospel (The Real Meaning of the Great Commission) Part 5

(Continued from Thursday)

To further demonstrate my point of the conversational nature of proclaiming the gospel I want to offer you some simple observations about the conversational nature of spreading the gospel.  I give you two examples:
  1. The prophet Jeremiah - The Book of Jeremiah is unique in that he is one of the premier prophets, yet there are no visions and there are no miracles.  The nature of His calling and His messages is really rather common.  All of Jeremiah’s prophecies are based on simple observations of everyday life. 

    Jeremiah 1:11 - What do you see?  Jeremiah answers, an almond branch.  This means he is simply walking a path he has probably travelled many times before, but God calls his attention to see a message in something he has grown accustomed to seeing everyday. 

    Jeremiah 1:13 - What do you see?  Jeremiah sees a boiling pot.  This is probably someone out in the open doing some sort of work that boils water and it is either boiling over or spilling.  God uses something that is once again, along the way, to speak into Jeremiah’s life and help him enter a conversation about his town.

    18:1-19:15 - This is probably the most well known of Jeremiah’s prophecies, but notice it is a conversation with God about Jeremiah’s town and people over something that happens everyday, a potter making pottery.  In the normal movements of making and molding pottery God has a conversation about the nature of Israel’s heart.  In chapter 18, as long as Israel stays pliable, soft, God can mold and reshape the nation.  Yet in chapter 19 if they harden against the message judgment will be final, they will be broken to pieces and beyond repair.  These are powerful images that birth powerful messages.  Yet we cannot miss the fact that these are conversations with God about things that happen in Jeremiah’s town every single day.
  2. Jesus and the parables - Luke 10:25 - The language of the parable is everyday “life-speak.”  This is not church lingo.  This is not religious rhetoric.  Jesus shared the gospel by telling stories.  These are stories told on the road, and along the way.  These are not proclamations from the pulpit, nor are they sermons.  They are stories that are told in conversations that begin with such mundane topics as, “How was your day?” or “Did you hear about ______’s son?” or “May I ask you a question?”

    We make a grave mistake to believe that the venue for bringing people to Jesus is the church worship service.  While God may use this venue, this is not the primary place people come to Jesus.  People come to Jesus in the highways and hedges.  The church is a foreign country to the lost.  It is full of foreign words and concepts.  It makes no sense to anyone in the world except church people.  The proclamations made in the church are necessary, but to the common Christ-less man they are not very user friendly. 

    This is why it is so dangerous to not only equate evangelism to bringing someone to church, but to also equate evangelism to sharing a pre-packaged “church” message.  Evangelism is not a presentation.  Evangelism is a conversation.  It is story-telling.  Evangelism is helping people to see what God is doing in the everyday.  It is pointing out almond branches.  It is having conversations about boiling pots.  It is going to the mall and talking about how clay pots are made.  It is talking about a father whose son left home and blew his inheritance.  Evangelism is about talking about lost coins.  It is watching shepherds deal with sheep.  Evangelism is the story of the search.  It is talking about life and introducing people to God.

    Conversations about God are not easy things.  Whenever we go to speak to people about these things there is a level of fear because it seems to intrusive.  How do you bring God into a conversation at the ball field?  How does the gospel become the discussion at Kroger’s?  This is why we must not allow evangelism to become the work of the institution - inside the church house and relegated only to the preachers and teachers.  What I do on Sunday is NOT what you should do on Monday.  You cannot disrupt baseball practice and give an exposition of Matthew 28.  That is NOT the place for the outline.  When we talk about God people have their own ideas and they become very defensive.  So how do we get around the seeming disruption of sharing the gospel and yet bring it into the conversation?

    I love the way Eugene Peterson talks about Jesus‘ masterful way of using conversation to bring people into discussions about Spiritual truth.  Jesus did not forsake preaching and teaching, but He knew the proper venues.  In his book Tell it Slant Peterson writes,

    “When Jesus wasn’t preaching and when he wasn’t teaching, he talked with men and women with whom he lived in terms of what was going on at the moment - people, events, questions, whatever - using the circumstances of their lives as his text.  Much as we do.  Preaching begins with God:  God’s word, God’s action, God’s presence.  Teaching expands on what is proclaimed, instructing us in the implications of the text, the reverberations of the truth in the world, the specific ways in which God shapes in detail the way we live our daily lives between birth and death.  But unstructured, informal conversations arise from incidents and encounters with one another that take place in the normal course of going about our lives in families and workplaces, on playgrounds and while shopping for groceries, in airport terminals waiting for a flight and walking with binoculars in a field with friends watching birds.  Many of the words that Jesus spoke are of this nature.  Most of us are not preachers or teachers, or at least not designated as such.  Most of the words that we speak are spoken in the quotidian contexts of eating and drinking, shopping and traveling, making what we sometimes dismiss as ‘small talk.’”
The point is simply this.  We have exiled evangelism from the simple conversation and in doing so we have not only failed to do what Jesus did, but we have failed to fulfill His commission and just make disciples along the way, as you go, while you eat, shop, play, and live.
We need to look around us and realize that discipleship is not to be quarantined to the church house.  Discipleship takes place in the highways and hedges, underneath the signs.  Bringing people to Jesus takes place behind the windows that advertise how much meat will cost us this week.  Discipleship happens in stores in which everything must go!  The gospel is spread where people are.  This is the place where God, in the gospel, collides with life.
I leave you with this.  Genesis 28:16.  Jacob is in the desert.  He is on the run from his angry brother Esau and in the middle of the night he has a dream.  God shows him a ladder that connects earth with heaven.  An otherwise barren place becomes a place where God intersects with humanity.  Jacob wakes up and says, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.”  
I think that is a common problem for us.  God is having a conversation with our town that is all around us.  Look at the signs.  Look at the almond branches.  Go to the place of the potter’s wheel.  Enter into the conversation.  Every sign, every business, every slogan has a story behind it.  It is a conversation with us.  They are inviting us to talk, to respond to the message.  Let’s do what the Great Commission has told us to do - just live life, just go!  But while you are going and living  - tell the story of God.  We are not going to forsake visiting, outlining, or teaching.  But if we do not become conversational we are not “disciple making” and we will not be effective.  Let’s go into the venues of life where we can answer people’s questions.  Let’s develop relationships with people so that conversations about Christ begin with simple questions like, “How was your day?”  Invite them to know you and in so doing to know Christ.  Enter into the conversation of making disciples.

Full Manuscript - http://www.libertybaptistchurch.ws/images/Conversational_Gospel.pdf

to be continued
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Conversational Gospel (The Real Meaning of the Great Commission) Part 4

(Continued from Wednesday)

With this sermon I want to accomplish two things:
  1. I want to prevent us from throwing out the baby with the bath water.  I am not saying we should not visit, share Bible verses, learn outlines, or offer classes.  These things are not the cause of our failure.  We need to be intentional and make visits.  God uses visitation to spread the gospel.  We need to learn Bible verses and outlines.  These are tools that give us confidence and help us process and communicate theological truth.  We need to offer classes in the church building.  God uses classes to help people become informed disciples.  What I intend to do in this regard though is to challenge us to see these expressions as part of a process rather than as an end in themselves.  Without a personal discipling relationship at the core of these things, they are simply mechanical processes that will not make disciples.
  2. I want us to realize the conversational nature of discipleship and commit ourselves to entering into those conversations with the people of our town.
Back to our word study of the Great Commission.  There is only one imperative; one command.  Make disciples.  There are three participles.  A participle implies an ongoing activity.  In English we often express the nature of this action by adding “ing” to the verb.  So the Great Commission actually looks more like this:
  • As you are going - Going refers to living life, taking your kids to baseball practice, eating at the diner, buying in the market, conducting the activities of everyday work and life.  Jesus did not command us to go anywhere any different than we go on any given day.  The problem in our churches is not a lack of going, but a total lack of the realization that we already are.
  • As you are baptizing - While the term certainly pictures the act of immersing a person in the water, it is the meaning of baptism that is important here.  We are constantly challenging people to come out of the world and identify in a radical way with the Messiah by forsaking the old life and uniting with Him.  This is no easy task, but it is not enough for us to simply tell people about Jesus.  It is not enough for us to persuade them to even like Jesus.  It is not enough for us to ask them to pray a prayer and be baptized.  We must ask them to repent, to turn, and to begin a new life in Jesus.  Baptism pictures the death of the old self a a new resurrected union with Christ.
  • As you are teaching - Teaching carries the sense of an ongoing instructive conversation that helps a person unlearn the former life, learn the new life, and create new parameters for living.  Teaching takes place in the context of life, not necessarily in the classroom.  Teaching can be done by anyone who is willing to invite another into their world and show them how they walk with Christ.  Teaching is not about filling in blanks in a workbook, nor is it about gaining knowledge for the sake of knowledge.  Teaching is about changing habits and demonstrating real life in Christ.  
The sense here is that making disciples is a conversational business.  We may share an outline, but we need to be personally interested in people.  We may have classes, but we need to be sure they are in the context of equipping an ongoing conversation.  We may invite a person to church, but the pastor’s sermon does not need to be the end, but the beginning of a discussion.
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Conversational Gospel (The Real Meaning of the Great Commission) Part 3

(Continued from Tuesday)

The problem is very simple.  We are not making disciples.

  • We are asking people to come to church.
  • We are sharing an outline.
  • We are asking people to believe in Jesus.
  • We are trying to grow churches.

WE ARE NOT MAKING DISCIPLES.  If we are not making disciples we cannot call ourselves a GREAT COMMISSION CHURCH no matter how many times we go out, no matter how many times we share, no matter how far away we go, no matter how many classes we teach, and no matter how many people attend.
This is a painful realization that is difficult with which to come to grips.  Personally it took me a long time to not only see this, but once realized it took an even greater amount of time for me to stop doing this.  I simply knew of no other way.  To be honest, I am still working out all the ramifications of this in practice.  Yet, I know that something in my life and relationship with the lost must change from where I once was to something that more accurately reflects what Jesus told me to do in the Great Commission.  
What I am certain of is that I cannot give you a great report with large numbers of people who have believed upon Christ.  But I can tell you stories of several men, and where they were a few years ago.  I can tell you about the times we met and talked and learned to live life in the context of Christ.  I can tell you now that they are following Jesus and asking others to do the same.  I can tell you where the men I discipled are now.
What I cannot tell you is where most of the people are that I shared an outline with or simply prayed with.  There were hundreds of them that actually prayed to receive Christ.    I know where very few of them are now and I have no assurance that the vast majority of them are following Christ today.  I asked them to believe.  I asked them to enroll in the church program.  I did not ask them to follow Jesus.  I did not show them what this meant.  

Full Manuscript - http://www.libertybaptistchurch.ws/images/Conversational_Gospel.pdf

to be continued
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Conversational Gospel (The Real Meaning of the Great Commission) Part 2

(Continued from Monday)  

This being the case, a more Biblical understanding of the Great Commission turns our evangelistic process on its head.  I would submit to you that our unbiblical understanding of evangelism has resulted in:
  1. An approach that measures success in “deciders” rather than in “followers.”
  2. An approach that ends with the decision.
  3. An approach that is presentation oriented.
  4. An approach that is impersonal.
  5. An approach that is unnatural (it is unlike any other way of interacting with human beings).
  6. An approach that is not working!  It is not working because:
    1. Church people grow weary of doing it and eventually don’t.
    2. Church people feel guilty if they don’t do it.
    3. Lost people are not responding to it.
    4. It assumes a high degree of prior knowledge of the gospel and as such is becoming more and more irrelevant in an increasingly Biblically illiterate culture.
    5. It does not allow anyone to explore what it means that Jesus is the Christ and learn what it means to follow Him.
    6. It does not result in fully devoted followers of Christ, but rather very fickle church members who are uncommitted, undisciplined, uneducated, hypocritical, and in the end non-existent when difficulty arises. 
The problem is very simple.  We are not making disciples.
  • We are asking people to come to church.
  • We are sharing an outline.
  • We are asking people to believe in Jesus.
  • We are trying to grow churches.
WE ARE NOT MAKING DISCIPLES.  If we are not making disciples we cannot call ourselves a GREAT COMMISSION CHURCH no matter how many times we go out, no matter how many times we share, no matter how far away we go, no matter how many classes we teach, and no matter how many people attend.

Full Manuscript - http://www.libertybaptistchurch.ws/images/Conversational_Gospel.pdf

To be continued

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Conversational Gospel (The Real Meaning of the Great Commission) Part 1

Title:  Conversational Gospel
Series:  Signs
Text:  Matt. 28:16-18
Matthew 28:18-20 is probably one of the most well known Bible verses in evangelical churches. This is our mission to go into the world and share Christ with people.  When you study  the passage word for word it has an interesting break down that is often missed in our translations. The common understanding of the passage is that our mission consists of several components:

1) Going
2) Discipling
3) Baptizing
4) Teaching
Because of the way we understand the passage the church has developed a more
institutional approach that often looks something like this:
1) Going - is expressed in mission trips and visitation programs that are most often built
around a canned approach to sharing the gospel message. The success is
measured in converts. “We had 15 people saved” and so forth and so on.
2) Discipling - is expressed in a set aside time of teaching, a program of offered classes,
etc. The purpose of discipling is to help a person gain a certain degree of
understanding. In this sense success is measured in what one knows or by how many classes one has completed.
3) Baptizing - is something a church does to its converts that is viewed as an
initiatory rite of passage. Once a person is baptized, then they are a member.
Success is measured by merely participating in the act of being baptized.
4)  Teaching - is the ongoing process of instruction that the church offers.  It is most often done by its most gifted congregants who become “teachers” or pastors.    We trust the teaching to them.  The place of teaching is inside the church building. In this sense there are very few if any discernible differences between discipling and teaching.

So we see the Great Commission as being something very command driven and numbers oriented. If I am to win people to Christ I must go, teach, baptize - institutionalize. The goal is to get a person into the program of the church.
It is here that a careful study of the words used in the text reveals something very interesting. There is only one command in the Great Commission. Do you know what it is?
The most popular answer is “Go.”  Yet you may be surprised to know that “Go” is not the command. Jesus is not commanding us to go anywhere.  You may also be surprised to know that Jesus is not commanding us to teach or to baptize. The only thing Jesus commands us to do is to “make disciples.” What is a disciple?
Here are some perspectives that may help us get a sense of the word:
  1. A historical example - A disciple was someone who devoted his life to not only learning the teachings of a master but mimicking his life.  A disciple would leave his former life and attach himself to the teacher.  In that format he was not only able to hear what the teacher had to say, but he was also able to see how the teacher lived out his teaching in the public square - at the market, with the family, raising children, in good days and bad.
  2. The literal definition is one simple word - learner.
  3. The modern “slogan” or definition that is most popular and memorable to us is to describe a disciple as a “fully devoted follower of Christ.”
I think what is important to note here is that we are not thinking of evangelism in terms of “conversions” as if it is fulfilled in a moment.  The concept of evangelism that is true to Jesus‘ commission to us is disciple making, which is something all together different than simply persuading someone to believe.  We are not merely asking someone to pray “a sinner’s prayer.”  Jesus did not simply ask us to believe or to pray, He called us to follow.
Notice in the gospels when Jesus is calling his first disciples together; notice the term here; He did not call on any of them to believe upon Him or to pray to Him.  Jesus called them to “follow” Him (Mark 1: 16, 2:14).  He was asking them to leave their former life of fishing, or tax collecting, or whatever had defined their life to that point and attach themselves to Him as master.  They would now take the next three years to learn life “the Jesus way.”  They would not only listen to His teaching, but they would observe His life, and learn to live it out in the public square.  In the end the measure of success would not be the decision they made in the beginning, nor would it be how much they learned, but rather it would be whether or not they were willing to die for Him in the end.  He did not measure the success of His mission on how many people raised their hands in response to His invitation.  He measured the success three years later on whether or not they were willing to stay with Him to the cross and carry on the mission long after His death; until their own death.  

Full Manuscript - http://www.libertybaptistchurch.ws/images/Conversational_Gospel.pdf 

(To be Continued) 
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The Perils of Paradise Lost

Milton described the perils of our present world simply as paradise lost.  In each of us is not only the desire to live, but the desire to live in a pleasurable place.  Yet we contend with our vulnerabilities.  Children should never get sick, but they do.  Accidents are surprising twists of reality, sinister interruptions of the good life.  We don’t want them to happen, but they will.  We travel familiar paths everyday and take it for granted that we will always make it from point A to point B, then one day we don’t.  Such is life in paradise lost.
The world was not supposed to be this way.  God created a world in which we could enjoy His rest (Gen. 2:1).  Rest, in the Gen. 2:1 Shabbat sense, is not to be thought of as physical exhaustion, but as paradise completed.  Rest comes from the will of God being fully satisfied.  Man was created with full access to life.  It is the life you have never experienced but your soul can never forget.  This is why accidents are so disappointing and sickness seems so unfair.  You were created for paradise.  This world is chaotic and confusing because it is so foreign to the cravings of our soul.  We want life to be good.  Before paradise was lost life was very good (Gen. 1:31).
The Woman gets a bad rap because she believed the devil’s lie, “You will not surely die (Gen. 3:5).”  But let’s be honest.  We still believe the devil’s lie.  We have yet to come to grips with how awful life can be in paradise lost.  An even more ironic twist to the scheme of Satan is that when people die we become angry, not at the deceiver, but at the Creator.  God was honest.  Eat the fruit and you will die.  It was the devil who lied - but we still believe he was right; die - we shall not!  This is why we are so apt to blame God; because we never believed Him in the first place.
So onward we trudge in paradise lost, confused, disillusioned, and angry.  As awful as life can be and as vulnerable as we all are, we must take hope that one day the curse will be conquered in Christ and the redeemed will enter into God’s rest (Heb. 4:9).  The danger is that we will continue to believe Satan’s lie; that its God’s fault we die, blame Him.  If we continue in this line of thought we have not once bitten the forbidden fruit, we have made a feast of it.  Paradise lost is not the world that God intended and it is not the world that will always be.  God will redeem a people for His own possession and He will create for them a new world (Rev. 21).  This is the good news of the gospel.  
Until paradise redeemed we must contend with paradise lost and if we are to be saved we must wake up from the lie.  People die.  We are vulnerable.  Satan has deceived us.  God was honest that if we disobeyed life would be this way.  With whom should we be angry?  
God has sent His Son into the world to save the lost (Luke 19:10); the exiles from Paradise 1 (Gen. 3:22-24).  That’s us.  What makes coming to Christ most difficult is that we have a hard time believing we have lost anything at all.  When life goes wrong we believe it is God who has lost His mind, not we who have sinned and lost paradise.  Faith calls us to awaken from the deception, to trust Christ, to contend with the world, and to strive to enter the rest - Paradise 2 (Heb. 4:11).  And this we should choose to do if we desire to be rescued by grace.  Understanding the nature of living in paradise lost, being honest about our vulnerability, and being careful on whom we place the blame.     
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:18–25 (ESV)

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James Canupp Coming to Liberty

I know many people in the congregation at Liberty are Southern Gospel music fans.  I know I have only been your pastor for a day and a half, but I wanted to get things rolling quickly.  Therefore, I give you James Canupp!  I hope you enjoy and I would like to know, which Sunday you would like for us to schedule him?

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Election? (Just Ask)

What is the doctrine of election? Is it Biblical?

The doctrine of election speaks simply of God’s choosing.  While God may choose people to do or be certain things (ie. David as King 2 Sam. 6:21), the greater act of God’s election is His choosing of a people for salvation.  
Election is definitely a Biblical doctrine that can be readily found in both Old and New Testaments.  While the word “election” may not be used or rendered to English in every case, the act of God’s electing is apparent, especially in the Old Testament.  In the Old Testament Israel is the most prominent example (Deut. 7:6).  We also see the heritage of election traced back to the patriarchs in Genesis as God chose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to be the family of blessing for the whole earth (Gen. 12, 15, 17, Isa. 41:8).  In the New Testament we see Jesus introduced as the “chosen” of God (Luke 9:35, 1 Peter 2:4,6).  Interestingly, the word “chosen”, in most cases, is a translation of the Greek word “electos.”  In the New Testament those chosen by God for His salvation are referred to as “the elect (Matt. 24:22, Rom. 8:33).”    
Election is a Biblical doctrine that if misconstrued can do serious damage to our understanding the nature of God, salvation, and the nature of the church.  Where most of the theological debate is centered is not as much on “election” but on the knowledge of God.  What does it mean that someone is predestined?  How did God know?  Did He know the choices they would make or did God destine them for His choosing?  Another strain of the debate here is that if God has chosen or elected some for salvation does that necessarily mean that He has chosen others for destruction?  But you didn’t ask, so I did not want to bring us into all of this :)!
Wherever one falls on these issues there is no debate that election is certainly a Biblical doctrine.  Thanks for asking.
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The Dirt Series

">The Dirt Series from Brian Branam on Vimeo.
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A Short Trip Down a Long Road

Last summer we drove to San Diego, CA and back.  It took us 14 days and we logged almost 6,000 miles.  Yet I can recall 100 great stories and 1,000,000 images from that trip in my mind in about 30 seconds.  I guess this is why everyday is 24 hours no matter how you approach it, but looking back makes life seem as if it happens way too fast.  
If I could sum up my ministry here at Ridgecrest it would be to describe it as a short trip down a long road.  There were times it seemed as if we would never get there and like impatient children we pleaded with God, “How much longer?”  By the calendar we have been together for about 9.5 years, but looking back it doesn’t seem long at all.
When a pastor enters a new situation the focus is on what must be done for the church.  The agenda is on where the church is headed.  What will be its new direction?  Where does it desire to be?  We call this vision.  Personally I can look back and realize there was another journey on the agenda of God.  He had a vision for me.  In the end where did He desire for me to be?  It was a long road.
I can say that I am at a much better place now that I was when I came here 9.5 years ago.  Our congregation has experienced a geographic relocation.  I have experienced a spiritual one.  The church has bought and sold campuses.  My soul has been humbled and my faith reconstructed.  When I came here I thought it was the church that had a long way to go.  Looking back now I realize that I was the one who had the greater distance to travel.
I am thankful for those who remained faithful and loyal.  You have extended great grace to me throughout these years and your love for me makes it very difficult to leave.  Yet we must continue to go.  There is another long road ahead for each of us.  
For the rest of my life I will recall 100 great stories and 1,000,000 images from Ridgecrest in my mind.  The mind replays memories at odd times.  Walking down halls.  Listening to the radio.  Driving down the road.  Eating a biscuit.  We see, hear, or smell something that reminds us of an episode in the past.  Memories are manufactured films in our brains that have been removed from time.  Our mind takes a minute to think about nine years.  It was a short trip down a long road for which I will be forever grateful.
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Random Thoughts on Friday (2/10)

I am not a handyman, but when you are trying to sell a house you are motivated to fix things. For the past three weeks I have been repairing things I should have done 9 years ago. When you are not accustomed to stuff like this it is amazing how the little things can make you feel like a real man. I installed a new motion detector light over our garage. Our neighbor Ramone is an electrician, but I didn’t ask him to help because I’m a man. Yet after the whole thing was wired it wouldn’t come on. So I did an unmanly thing. I went down and asked Ramone why it wouldn’t work. “Well, its broad daylight right now. I bet if you cover the sensor the light will come on.” He was right. You the man Ramone!
This week is my final full week as pastor of Ridgecrest. I am not quite sure how to feel in this moment. There is a deep mixture of joy at what is next, but sadness that an important chapter of my life that is coming to a close. I know a large part of the memory of my ministry here will be associated with relocation. I hope it was about more than that. It was for me. These 9 years have been a spiritual relocation in my life. I am a much better man, pastor, and follower of Christ than I was when I came here in 2002. I will probably blog my thoughts throughout the coming week. Sometimes I can write much better than I can talk.
Ed Stetzer posted an insightful article about a decision made by officials in New York City to evict all churches that are renting space in public schools. It is amazing how quickly we are losing religious freedom in our country and the state is gaining freedom to discriminate against the Christian church. Last year people opposed a Muslim Mosque occupying a building in New York City. It was all over the news and the opponents were made to look like the devil, enemies of religious freedom. When the Christian Church gets the boot no one says a word. Read about it here: http://www.edstetzer.com/2012/02/big-apple-big-mistake.html
Have a great weekend.
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On the Good and Bad Economy (Reposted)

While listening to the radio today there was a repeated theme of government entitlements and bailouts.  In June of 2010 I wrote an article in response to an article that appeared in TIME magazine.  Since there are so many new readers to FeelMyFaith.com, and since we are in an election season, I thought it would be apropos to repost it.


Michael Crowley’s entry into this week’s TIME magazine, “The Good and Bad Economy” outlines the difficult agenda of economic recovery facing the Obama administration as it deals with not only conflicting economic data but also with an electorate sharply divided philosophically on how to end the current recession.  There is a looming fear of the “double dip,” that after some signs of growth our nation’s economy will shrink once again.  Although the nation’s economy has “double dipped” a few times since, the dreaded “double dip” is most often associated with 1937 “when a U.S. economy fighting its way out of the Great Depression crashed a second time, requiring the massive industrial effort of World War II to rejuvenate it.”  In any historical period the “double dip” signals a long excruciating recovery from recession.
Even after an $862 billion stimulus package, soon to run out, the economy remains in peril.  The Obama administration, left minded economists, and Democrats believe that without more government stimulus spending, massive layoffs and budget cuts are a certain future.  “But Obama and his advisers know their hands are tied.  Polls show that voters either don’t understand – or don’t buy – the long established economic theory ofJohn Maynard Keynes, which calls for more government spending (even if it means running up deficits) to help the economy through hard times.  Instead, the public is in the mood to smack big Washington spenders hard this November.”
There are two assumptions that permeate this entire article: 1) If you are against the left/Obama/democrat agenda for economic recovery it must be because you are ignorant and 2) the government is the only answer.  I resent both of those assumptions.  True, I do not know who John Maynard Keynes is, but I manage a church budget and most of the people in our congregation manage their finances both at home and in business.  From my own experience borrowing money may serve as an immediate stimulus to my living room or my driveway, but borrowed couches and cars come with much larger price tags and longer periods of payment than ones paid for with actual cash.  I understand this reality clearly.  While the working man may not understand macro-economics, he is forced to manage his own paycheck week to week; if indeed he is currently drawing one at all.  It is presumptuous to assume that if the electorate “smack big Washington spenders hard this November” that they did it without really knowing why.
The Bible has quite a bit to say about economics both at a personal and national level.  People need jobs.  Man is meant to work.  None of us should expect something for nothing (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12).  The entitlement philosophy that pervades our current culture is burdensome, debilitating, and an economy killer.  People need to work.  Indeed this is the central burden of the recession.  How do we put Americans back to work?
The Bible outlines two approaches, one Egyptian (sort of) and the other Jewish.  According to Genesis 40 and 41, Joseph (serving as Prime Minister of Egypt at the time) interpreted dreams that led to the nation storing up during 7 years of prosperity.  Good economics.  After prosperity, there was famine.  In an agrarian society famine=recession.  When 7 years of famine struck the land the people ran out of money.  To stimulate the economy the people exchanged their personal wealth and businesses (land, livestock, etc.) for a government bailout check.  The end result was a massive exchange of private ownership for government control (Genesis 47:23-26).  When the government is the answer to recession the result is an exchange of power, from private ownership to federally funded, heavily taxed, and regulated institutions.  Those who are against the left/Democrat/Obama doctrine of recovery via government spending are not ignorant, but fearful of a less privately owned and more government controlled America.  What has happened to the banking system in recent days is only a first fruit of what could come from reaping such philosophy.  It is the slow, methodical death of the private sector and the expansion of government.      
The other Biblical paradigm is the Year of Jubilee outlined in Leviticus 25:13-17.  The economic philosophy of Leviticus 25 guaranteed there would be no bad loans.  It protected both the lender and the borrower.  The idea here also emphasized private ownership and personal worth.  It gave people a right to wealth while at the same time protected the poor and encouraged generosity.  Instead of penalizing success it created a climate in which everyone had an opportunity to succeed.  To recover or to succeed, one needed only an opportunity to work.
The government, through regulation and deregulation creates an economic climate.  Yet, Biblically speaking it is not the duty of government to create wealth, it is rather the duty of government to punish evil, protect human life, and assure its citizens that they can live quiet and peaceable lives (Romans 13:4, 1 Timothy 2:2).  When the government becomes the coffer of the people the end result is an undue tax burden, the exchange of private wealth for government control, and people who either do not have a mind to work or who do not have the opportunity to work.  People need loans, fair ones, private ones instead of government ones.  Much of this recession can be blamed on bad loans created by a bad governmental ideology.  Why repeat what has already failed?  These loans not only put the lender at risk, but the borrower as well.  The greatest evidence of this is in the collapse of the housing market.  Instead of more stimulus spending and loans for bureaucratic pet projects, American business needs less of a tax burden and more opportunity to employ people who can, in the spirit of Leviticus 25, relieve themselves of debt (from good loans), work in the private sector, and build personal wealth.   
Biblically speaking the path to recovery is through hard work, not government bailouts and stimulus spending.  According to Biblical texts like Genesis 47 and the lessons of history at large, the American people have every right to fear big government spending.  It is not an issue of ignorance, but one of precedence. 
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Bible Versions - The Bad Ones (Just Ask)

Question:  Are there any "bad" versions/translations of the bible? (KJV, NIV, etc.) 
Why does Ridgecrest use ESV?
When it comes to Bible versions there is a wide range of understanding from totally oblivious to militant.  Before I became a serious student of the Bible I was firmly in the oblivious category thinking that the different labels we used to designate Bibles KJV, NIV, NASB were simply brand names.  KJV was to the Bible what NIKE was to shoes.  You have the gold standard KJV=NIKE and then you have the rest NIV or NASB = Reebok or Adidas.
In my journey from oblivious to being someone people asks about Bible versions I have met the militant.  The militant would include people who believe that since the KJV was good enough for Paul, it should be good enough for the rest of us :).  Personally, I find those who argue passionately for the KJV as the only preserved Word of God to be misguided and divisive.  If the KJV is your personal favorite that is one thing, but to say it is the only version of the Bible ordained by God opens up a pandora’s box of ignorance and errors.  
I said all that to say this - I will try to answer your question concisely without getting into the entire debate over versions or the entire dynamic of how we bring a text from Hebrew and Greek into the language of the people which is, in our case, English (which is its own massive yet fascinating discussion).  Yet in doing so, please understand there is much more that should be said and there is also a wrath I expect from the militants to which I will not be able to respond adequately on this forum. 
In answer to your question, yes, there are “bad” translations of the Bible.  I would say this is the case for two reasons:

1.     There are versions that are poorly translated.  This may be so for the following reasons.
  1. The translators did a poor job handling the original languages. AND/OR
  2. The end product is difficult to understand for a contemporary audience.  The point of translating the Bible is so that people can understand it.  When the people fail to understand a translation we have failed to achieve the purpose of translation.
2.      There are versions that are theologically misguided. It is impossible for one to perform the task of translation without bringing to the table his or her own experiences and presuppositions.  This does not mean that every version of the Bible is then necessarily corrupt, but it does mean that if we are to render a faithful translation of the text that it should be done with careful critique and the checks and balances of the church at large.  This being the case we should be careful of:
    1. Versions that are strictly denominational in nature, as it may be a version that simply seeks to affirm a particular set of beliefs or theological leanings.
    2. Versions that seek to attract a particular cultural sub-group such as teenage girls or people who love rap music.  I have seen some examples of this and the end result is nothing but unholy gobbeldygook (itself a word that needs no translation).   
    3. Versions that have a decided theological agenda whether it be to give us an image of “god” more palatable to modern culture, a certain philosophy, psychology, or political agenda  or perhaps a version that seeks to remove negative language references such as sin, wrath, or judgement.  This is nothing short of carving images and the end is pagan idolatry.
With this said what I seek in a Bible translation is one that is readable, understandable, and faithful.  I want to know that a large group of scholars have applied a great deal of work to it with an even greater degree of oversight and accountability.  These are the reasons I am currently using the ESV (English Standard Version).  That is not to say that I believe that the ESV is the “best” in all points, but I do believe it satisfies the criteria as well as the best few and far better than most.  For a good article on the ESV translation follow this link:  http://www.esv.org/esv/translation/about/  
Ridgecrest as a church has not chosen the ESV as the “official” Bible version of the congregation, but it is the version that I have chosen to use week to week in the pulpit.  As a result many of our people have also purchased the ESV and many of our teachers choose to teach from the ESV (which is not required of them).  Personally, this is a choice I made in 2008 after studying the ESV for a year.  Prior to that time, I preached from the New King James Version (NKJV).  
If I could make one ringing endorsement for the ESV it is the ESV Study Bible.  I am not a “study Bible” guy.  I find them cumbersome yet lacking.  The Bible is a big book.  Adding notes to it makes it mammoth.  Thus it is difficult to say a lot with a little (which seems to also be my trouble with this blog).  The end result then, for most study Bibles, is a mammoth Bible with lots of notes that say little to nothing at all.  What I love about the ESV Study Bible is that every note and article seems to be precise and the end result is a set of concise notes along with the text that are capable of helping anyone become a serious Bible student.  
Thanks for your questions.  Keep them coming.  
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Being Organic

Life is agricultural.  No matter how industrialized or technological the world becomes the principle of sowing and reaping is inescapable.  We are organic at the core.  Much of who you are can be attributed to decisions you made many years ago.  Something in the past was planted in your life, your character, your personality, your circumstances - today you eat the fruit.
Being organic has its positives and negatives.  When it comes to the negatives we would rather keep them hidden below the surface.  The problem here is that in an agrarian world, what is buried will soon grow.  Your sins will find you out (Num. 32:23).  The fruits of past sins are bitter herbs indeed.
The positive to being organic is that we can sow things into the soil of our soul that will, given time, become life giving.  Saving $10 per week will give you $1,000 in two years.  It is easy to waste $10 a hundred times.  It is hard not to need $1,000 just once.  In an organic world a little bit (the seed) can go a long way (the fruit).  We reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7)  
What is the little bit (the seed) that you can sow into your marriage/business/finances/family/community today that will make a big difference in a few years (the fruit)?  What bad habit, that has brought you nothing but bitter herbs, can you remove from the soil of your soul?  What can you replant in its place that will become life giving to you in the future (Eph. 4:25-32)?
The good news about being organic is that a field full of weeds can become an orchard full of fruit if it is given work and time.  What you choose to do with the dirt will make all the difference!  

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Random Thoughts on Friday 2/3

Shannon and I celebrated 15 years of marriage this week.  The official wedding anniversary gift almanac says that this is our crystal anniversary.  I did not buy Shannon crystal.  Instead I bought her tickets to Wicked.  This is our wicked anniversary.  Strange to hear a preacher say something like that.

I am continuing to trudge through the massive biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  He was a gifted theologian with an amazing story.  There are plenty of books about his life that will help you get the jest of who he was without reading the most recent 500 + page edition.  I'm not saying the book is bad, it is just really, really, really detailed.  At this point I am too far in to put it down and I have too much pride to quit.  There is just something nerdy cool about saying you read a 500 page biography about a German theologian.  Another thing keeping me in the book is to see how many casual conversations I can drop the name Bonhoeffer into and share an obscure fact about his life.  If you are having a hard time finishing a book, make it a game to keep you in it.

Greg Garrison at the Birmingham News wrote up a nice article this week on the response of area churches in the cleanup effort.  You can read it on al.com here:  http://www.al.com/living/index.ssf/2012/01/birmingham_area_ministries_chu.html
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Storage Sale

On Feb. 10 - 11 (8 a.m. - 2 p.m.) Ridgecrest Baptist Church (www.rbconline.net) will hold a storage sale.  We will offer a massive inventory of items which include children's furniture, church furnishings including pulpits and a communion table, drama and stage items, electronics, various construction material (doors, ceiling tiles, etc), and tools.  For more information visit our Facebook page.

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One Week After the Storm


There are only two seasons in Alabama; football season and tornado season.  Actually football season never really ends here.  The teams only play 11 games but the fans talk about them 365 days a year.  Tornado season usually takes up about 8 months of the year.  There will be tornadoes somewhere in Alabama every week of the Spring and Fall; you can count on it.  Kansas has nothing on Bama.  The Wizard of Oz was supposed to be based on Dorothy from Tuscaloosa, but everyone knows the wizard behind the curtain of Bama is The Bear.  No surprise there, so they moved the plot to Kansas just to keep the story interesting.
A white Christmas in Birmingham is the unicorn of holidays.  In 2010 Bama had snow on Christmas day.  Last winter brought us lots of snow, another oddity in Alabama.  Then came Spring/tornado season part 1.  Tornado season is always dangerous in our state.  Last April it was devastating.  All of us have been weather paranoid since April.  We did not have snow this past Christmas, but we had thunderstorms just a few days into the New Year.  Lightning in January is another weather unicorn.  This past week only continued the rare weather that seemed to begin Christmas of 2010.  In the third week of January a series of F3 tornadoes ripped through our state.  The fact that it happened in January, once again, makes it a rare event.  This year the storms did not wait for Spring.  But this time the tornado was different for me and my family.  Not because the storm came early this year, but because this storm had a familiar face.
When tornadoes hit Alabama we watch it on the news and if it is within proximity we load up the following Saturday and go help.  You go to hurting people, but they are people you have never met and will probably never see again.  As devastating as the April tornadoes were to our state, and as much work as we did at the time, my heart grieved for the people impacted, but I did not know any of them.  I helped them, but I did not know them.  When the tornadoes hit our state last Monday night, they hit just up the street from my house.  I know dozens of the families impacted.  13 families in our church were affected.  My daughters go to school with children who are sharing story after story of what happened at their home.  When I watch the news I see people who I have met on a ball field, people who once attended our church, people I see almost every day.  In April I helped and watched people in North Smithfield, Tuscaloosa, and little towns all over the state.  This week it has been Jane, the Tice’s, Ms. Trice, Cheryl, Patsy, A.P. and Toni, the Bohan’s, on and on.  The guy on the news is Ken.  I remember when his kids were small.  His brother-in-law was our youth pastor.  This storm did not hit my house, but it severely damaged my home.
I still do not know what it feels like to look at your own house and all that’s left is a pile of debris.  I have no idea what it must be like to lose a daughter in a storm, but I was closer this week to understanding those feelings as I have ever been before.  None of it happened to me, but it happened just up the street.  The first house we put on offer on when we moved here was destroyed last Monday night.  We were one signature away from “that” house being “our” home.  I moved bricks and tossed debris at one house while a group of men crawled beneath the pile trying to salvage anything of value they could find.  I knew the people in the pictures they were pulling from the rubble.  I saw chairs and tables crushed beneath the walls of living rooms and dens where I have led families in prayer many times.  This week was a reminder that in a moment everything changes.  One storm blows through your community and in 10 minutes every scene that has been familiar for 9 years becomes barely recognizable.
Tornado ravaged areas all look and smell the same.  If you have seen one, you have seen them all.  Yet the world is so huge that the storm always seems far away.  Tornadoes happen, but they happen somewhere else.  Then it is your street, your family, your friends.  No one is immune.
Many people view the Bible as a narrative that occurred a world away and in another span of time.  Our world seems so different now than then that the two could not possibly intersect; then suddenly they do.  The Bible is honest about a world created with good intentions but ruined by sin.  Because of our rebellion in the garden the world that was created to sustain our lives will sometimes fight against us and take our lives.  Because of sin the story of the Bible is full of storms.  Because that story continues with us the storms will continue as well.  The storms remind us that the story of Scripture is not that far away.
After the storm we rush in, desperate to save a life.  We become desperate to make things right.  Yet ultimately we realize that insurance helps us recover but it does not help us redeem.  I visited a man in the trauma unit who told me that this was not his first trip to the hospital after a storm.  No matter what we rebuild we know we may be hit again.  Our rescue efforts, volunteer cleanups, and insurance policies can make the moment somewhat better but we are powerless to ultimately make it right.  We are incapable of looking any of our neighbors in the eyes and saying, “I promise, this will never happen to you again.”  It is a cruel reminder that we cannot save ourselves.  We need good news.
The Bible is honest about the storm and it is confident about redemption.  Along with the angry palpitations of our planet there are also promises of hope.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.  Romans 8:18-25
The good news is that the world was not supposed to be like this and because of Christ it will not always be like this.  The difficulty is in the waiting, but we do not wait hopelessly, we wait with hope.  Waiting hopefully does not mean we passively subscribe to Christ and wait patiently to die.  Waiting with hope means that we live for Him now.  Waiting hopefully means we must realize that recovery is not simply about extending Christian charity, but about spreading the gospel message.  It is calling people to repent of sin and submit to Christ as the ultimate expression of hope.  Some may charge that calling for repentance at at time such as this seems cruel, but if we merely rebuild homes in Jesus’ name, we have redeemed nothing.  All we have done is recovered and rebuilt something that may be destroyed again.  The message of the gospel is that in Christ we enter into a new hope that will sustain us in the storm because we know one day He will come again and return the world to right.  We wait for Him to come then, but in the waiting we live for Him now.  The promise of the gospel is that one day Christ will end the terror of sin.  When sin ends, so will the storms.  In the weeks to come our task is to rebuild, but our call is to tell.  We must rebuild homes, but we must also give people hope by sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
These are our neighbors.  These are our friends.  This is my community.  Jesus Christ is our hope. 
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Hypocrites and Tornadoes (Just Ask)

Question:  I am dealing with people in my family not wanting anything to do with church because of hypocrites. I need help in this area.  What can I do?
The word hypocrite comes from a Greek word that means “an actor on a stage.”  It describes someone who is able to play a role in a certain context, but who lives a very different life “off stage.”  This is certainly true of many people in the church.  The Bible is honest about their existence.  We also know that Jesus did not shy away from using the word in His confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 23).  We certainly have warrant to use our common sense and discernment to recognize people who are hypocritical.  They are not difficult to spot.
The existence of hypocrites in the church, however, does not give one warrant to reject the church.  Some would say that they can follow Christ without the church.  This concept is foreign to the New Testament.  Biblically it can be argued that one cannot follow Christ without the church.  Therefore, it may sound more noble to reject the church because of its hypocrites, but it is really foolish.  
Not going to church because there are hypocrites is like saying you will never again eat bananas because there are brown spots.  Yet exposing the illogical and foolish nature of the argument may only add to your frustration or sorrow in dealing with your family over this issue.  The best you can do is to continue to proclaim the gospel to your family and live it out before them.  Don’t be a hypocrite!  In the end it is important for your family to know that the hypocrite and those who despise them are all in the same boat, sinners in desperate need of Jesus.    Those of us who are not hypocrites are merely more honest sinners than they.  Jesus died for all - the honest sinners and the hypocrites alike.
Question:  What is Ridgecrest (the church I serve as pastor) doing as a whole to help the victims of the tornado?  I know other local churches have groups together and designed teams to go and volunteer; what is RBC doing?
This has certainly been a surreal week in our community.  13 homes in our church family have suffered minor damage to total destruction.  One family in our church suffered injury and has spent the week in the hospital.  Since the storms members of the pastoral staff, deacon body, and membership at large have been extremely active in our community helping families remove trees and salvage belongings.
This weekend there will be several opportunities to serve.  If you will contact the church office This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. we can share with you some specific work sites where you may volunteer.  We are also encouraging our people to partner with other works, churches, and organizations in our area.  Responding to a storm of this magnitude is a team effort.  No one can do it all alone.  Below are a few listings and opportunities that have been passed along to me.
The Birmingham Baptist Association - sending out teams daily, contact:  http://bbaonline.org/
ClayRidge Baptist in Clay is looking for volunteers to carry meals into Centerpoint on Friday and Saturday.  They especially need men to help through the weekend to help make delivery more secure.  There are also debris cleanup crews meeting and leaving from the church parking lot.  
The following note comes from Jae Skinner, one of our members and a teacher at Erwin Elementary:
Hey! If you don't have to work, we need HELP AT ERWIN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL moving classrooms for the Centerpoint teachers. If you can come help, please do! I (Jae) will be there at 8:00. Call me 966-7133 and I will get you plugged in somewhere. Trying to get the school ready for kiddos so they can get back to a normal routine!
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An Open Letter to My Congregation

There is no easy way to say goodbye to a group of people whom you sincerely love.  With a great deal of sadness a meaningful chapter in my life closes and with a great deal of anticipation a new one begins.  Since October 27 of 2002 I have faithfully served as pastor for the people of Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Trussville, AL.  On February 22, 2012 I will begin a new assignment as pastor for the people of Liberty Baptist Church in Dalton, GA.
In times like these we feel an array of emotions.  Shannon and I, from the time we realized this move was immanent, have experienced a range of feelings from anxiety to excitement, from sadness to joy.  Birmingham is very much home for us.  Until recently, even through some of our most difficult struggles, we never considered leaving Ridgecrest.  It took a great deal of convincing through prayer for us to accept this move.  We did not approach anyone at any time about going anywhere.  Yet the whole thing has been very providential and God’s call for us is unmistakable.  We love this area and its people.  We think its funny that you talk college football 365 days a year and that the sports guy on the news shares stats from practice.  Only in Birmingham will people have their homes destroyed by a tornado, but still be sure to have plenty of Milo’s sweet tea on hand.  We will miss living in a town with a 1:1 ratio of BBQ joints to Baptist churches.  We will miss your gigantic iron statue of a guy in desperate need of shorts and your milk jug yard torch things at Christmas.  Indeed there will be some in our congregation who are simply saddened while others may feel angry and betrayed.  However you feel, I assure you of this.  Shannon, the girls, and I love all of you and I count it a great honor to say that I have served you as pastor. 
Vision and leadership is not only about seeing where you are going, it is also about being honest about the end.  The worst mistake a leader can make is to continue leading past his vision.  While I see many great things ahead for Ridgecrest, God has made it clear to me and to my family that our assignment here has ended.  Over these past 9+ years, together, we have experienced no small changes.  Our path to where we are now was no easy one.  We have bought and sold property.  We have made difficult decisions and taken responsibility for the consequences.  We have dared to do something most people thought would not work in purchasing a warehouse on less than two acres of property and making it a launch pad of missions and ministry.  None of it has been easy and everything we have done has come in rapid succession.  There is yet more to do in finishing the final phase of our current campus and in realizing the financial vision for missions and ministry God has given us.  The vision itself is not over, but God has shown me clearly that it is time for another voice of leadership at Ridgecrest.
In recent years God has blessed Ridgecrest and it has become a growing congregation once again.  It is difficult to leave those of you who are new to RBC, especially those of you who are rising up to leadership.  We have some promising men and women in our church that I believe will become crucial to the church continuing to increase.  To these I charge you to keep your hand to the plow and don’t look back.  Yet I want to also express how difficult it is to leave another group of people, those who did not quit.  No matter how long God gives me to serve Him, no matter where I serve, there will always be a special place in my heart for those of you who never gave up, who endured the days before our relocation, who submitted themselves to the crucible of change God put us through, and remained faithful to the end.  You did what you said you would do and I love you dearly for what you have done.
Certainly this has been a difficult week for all of us, and my announcement does not help.  The timing of all of this is unfortunate but beyond my control.  As much as I would like to delay this announcement, it has been made known to me that the news is out.  Therefore, it was necessary for me to go ahead and share this with you.  I would much rather tell my story than have it told for me.  As I say often, if you are going to read my mind, please allow me to write the script.  I shared the story with the church on Wednesday night, and I will do so again on Sunday.  In hearing our story I hope you will agree with me that for us to stay in leadership at Ridgecrest would be blatant disobedience to what God is calling us to do in going to Liberty.  Knowing then, that this is the call of God for us, please realize, it is also God’s call for you.  We should not see this merely as an end, but as a dawning of expectation.  What does God have for us next?  In our prayers about this, Shannon and I sought to know clearly from God that if we left, Ridgecrest would have a great future ahead.  God has shown us that indeed this is true, our call away is no mistake, and it is necessary for us to move on so that Ridgecrest may grab hold of what is next.  Yet change is never easy and we are tempted to listen to the voice of fear rather than faith.  You may wonder, what if things do not go well?  We have wondered the same.  What if the people of Liberty do not accept our leadership there, what if we fail, what if it all goes wrong?  This is not the voice of faith, this is the voice of the enemy using fear to quench vision.
To encourage our faith it is important for us to place markers in our past, altars of blessing that remind us of God’s faithfulness in difficult times.  When I left Lantana Road and came to you, it was a difficult decision.  God called a godly man to be their next pastor and the church has continued to grow.  The church is now a leading church in Cumberland County, TN and they have built a great facility on the acreage we purchased just before I left.  I left there knowing I would not be the man that built the next building because God was calling me to you. Even in that certainty I experienced fear.  What if things go wrong in Birmingham?  Ridgecrest was a hurting church with an almost non-existent vision when I came.  The Ridgecrest that we are leaving is not the same church we came to.  God has done a great work here.  There is a great vision now that you and the next pastor can continue to build upon together.  I trust that you will.  I am following a godly pastor at Liberty.  It is a great church with a wonderful vision - we will work to continue what God is doing there.  It is not about what is ending, it is about what is next.  For all of us, Ridgecrest, Liberty, and the Branams we must not allow fear to be the dominant voice, but rather the voice of faith and vision; for such is the Kingdom of God.  
Please feel free to call us.  If you have questions I will gladly answer them for you.  May God be glorified, His Son lifted up, and the church be edified in the days ahead.
Gal. 2:20
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Panorama from Pilgrim's Rest

I went out again this morning to help those impacted by the storm.  From the information we have gathered, there are 13 families at Ridgecrest who have suffered minor damage to total loss.  This morning I spent some time at the Hickman home, pictured here in a panorama I took with photosynth.

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