Is the United States a Christian Nation?

I hear people declare, “This is a Christian Nation!”  Like most sweeping statements, we have to push for clarity.  What do we mean when we say “Christian Nation?”

Debate rages back and forth about whether our founders were all Christians.  Were they?  Only Jesus knows.  What we can say for sure is they shared a worldview that drew from scripture.  They read the Bible and saw there was a God who worked in history.  They had a sense that God controlled outcomes and His favor was required for human success.  Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence, “All men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights…” comes from scripture.

We also have to say our founders had blind spots, as do we all.  Jefferson, for example, was willing to accept that people of other racial backgrounds did not have as many rights as white, English speaking, Anglican males.  Lest we pick merely on the Southerners, New Englanders were willing to profit from the slave trade, no matter what was preached on Sunday.  Being influenced by the Bible did not and does not automatically make a nation Christian.

In the middle 1800’s, there arose in American thinking the idea that God had a unique mission for the United States.  Unlike the Old World, Americans were a new chosen people meant to usher in a new Messianic age.  Mormonism, Seventh Day Adventism, and Jehovah’s Witnesses were extreme forms of this thinking.  This idea caught hold in conservative circles, that God had chosen America as the “new Israel.”

While there is no doubt God has blessed our country and given us perhaps more than any other nation in history, there is no trustworthy revelation that demonstrates God has ever made a salvation covenant with the United States.  Since the New Testament, God’s salvation covenant is with those who claim Jesus as Savior and follow Him.  Thus, our country is not immune from the consequences of our actions or sins.  God may choose to bless, use, or punish any country.  A country may be given opportunities and blessings, but that does not make a nation “Christian.”

In the 1950’s there again rose the idea that United States was “one nation, under God.”  These words were inserted into the pledge of allegiance in 1954; “In God we trust” was made the official motto of the United States in 1956.  One factor driving these changes the anti-Communist fervor of the times.  The reasoning went “If Communists don’t believe in God, by golly, we are going to claim Him.”

The 1950’s were an exceptional time in American history.  Church attendance was at an all-time high; there was a shared Judeo-Christian moral code of conduct; and conformity was prized in culture at large.  Oddly, there was a huge growth in Christian institutions, but that did not equate to Christians living counter-cultural lives.  God was more of “cause” instead of a relationship.  Jesus told us you can say “Lord, Lord” but that doesn’t mean you know Him.  Making God into our motto does not make us a Christian nation.

So is the United States a Christian nation?  The answer to the question is the same as it has always been:  Only if Jesus followers follow Jesus.  When Jesus followers love our neighbors, love our enemies, forgive those who stand against us, deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Him, we have the chance to be yeast in our nation.  We can be the mustard seed that flourishes and provides refuge.  We can be the people who have found a relationship with God through Jesus is worth more than any country can ever offer.

In this era, it is not the label of “Christian Nation” that matters.  It is the Jesus Followers in a nation, that do His words, that make a difference.

Alice Drive At 60…

 

On October 21, 1956, some very brave people gathered at Alice Drive Elementary School, believing God called them to start a church in what was then the western edge of Sumter.  Dr. W. R. McLin, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Sumter preached the first sermon, “Upon this Rock.”  In the excitement of starting the new church, no one had thought to get something suitable for offering plates.  In those days, men commonly wore hats, so literally at the time of the offering, they passed the hat.

In their excitement, they choose the name “Alice Drive Baptist Church,” assuming they would be able to purchase land from the city of Sumter on Alice Drive.  The property they had their eye on was sold to other interests, and the church purchased property at 109 Miller Road instead. From early on in our history, Alice Drive has been confusing people in Sumter!

Those early days were filled with challenges of calling Francis Batson as first pastor, building the first building, and taking care of the needs of the new growing congregation.  In the background, there was always tension over the civil rights question and whether the new church should be open to people of all races.  The church finally settled this in 1977, declaring that Alice Drive would be a church for everyone who came, regardless of race.

For years the church struggled over issues of space and growth.  Dr. Bert Welch, the fourth pastor, led the church to begin a second worship service, to provide additional room.

In 1994, I became pastor.  I felt like God wanted ADBC to reach people and live up to her full potential.  Two years after I came, we celebrated our 40th anniversary.  We were again facing a space crisis – too little room, and too many people.

In 1998, averaging 400 in worship, the church made the bold decision to relocate.  Property was purchased at the intersection of Wise Drive and Loring Mill Road and plans for a new building were drawn.  The church needed room immediately, however. We moved worship services to USC- Sumter’s Nettle’s auditorium in 1999.

On Mother’s Day, 2001, we moved to our present location at 1305 Loring Mill Road.  The church continued to grow.    We celebrated our 50th anniversary with a campaign to provide more space.  Economic uncertainty and stalled growth caused us to miss our goals.  But God was faithful; He provided a way for us to get the space we needed at half the cost.  Additional parking was added in 2009, the Administration building was obtained from Shaw AFB in 2011 and the Venue was built in 2012.

In 2013, we began Monday night worship, unique in South Carolina, for those who can’t or won’t come on Sunday.

I celebrated 20 years as pastor in 2014.  Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine God would place me here for 20 years.

Now on the verge of turning 60, we are poised to become a multisite church with the launch of our Pocalla location in February 2017.   But I believe there is more for us.  God is calling us forward to embrace opportunities to tell people about Jesus and to help them take their next step.

I’ve been part of our 40th anniversary, when we were a church of 450; our 50th, when we were a church of about 1,000; and now, our 60th, when we are a church of 1,500.  I believe with all my heart that our best years are ahead of us.

I know Sumter needs all kinds of churches, and I pray good for all gospel preaching churches.  But I also feel deep in my bones that God is telling us that He needs a church like ADBC in Sumter and in other parts of South Carolina.  It’s not because we are special; it is because He has chosen us to help as many people as possible take their next step toward Jesus Christ.

 

Why You Gotta Be So Mean?

I don’t normally take my theological cues from Taylor Swift, but after a recent scan of Facebook, I felt compelled to ask her question:  “Why You Gotta Be So Mean?”

I get that you are voting for either Trump or Clinton or Johnson.  I get that you feel passionate about your candidate.  I even get that you feel like our country needs strong leadership and needs to go in a different direction.

What I don’t get is why you gotta be so mean?  Why are you re-posting something that isn’t true and is an obvious lie (“Trump’s Hair is done by Alien Hairdresser!”  “Hillary’s Secret Love Triangle with Putin and Beyonce’!”).   Why attack other people?  People who vote for Donald are not deplorable.  People who vote for Hillary are not crazy.

I was reading last week about the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5 – “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  If the Spirit is at work within us, that fruit should come out, even when we talk politics.  Jesus doesn’t grant an exception during election years.

If you are a Jesus follower, pray for God to soak your soul in the fruit of the Spirit, and for all your words between now and election day to be words of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness gentleness, and self-control.

Ain’t no reason you gotta be so mean.

This Is a Test…

“Take out a piece of paper, close your books.  This is a test.”

Those words elevate blood pressure and inspire fervent prayer.  As the bumper sticker says, “As long as there are tests, there will be pray in school.”  There is nothing like the word “Test” to make your brain go into lockdown.  Have you ever looked at a question, and known you know the answer, but it hovers just outside the range of consciousness?  Thinking about it harder doesn’t help; I know, I had the grades to prove it.

Why do teachers give tests?  I used to think it was so they could make us prove we were paying attention.  Now I realize they had to give us a grade and a test was the most empirical way to determine if we were really awake in class.  I don’t know that a test proved I learned anything.  For most of my academic career, I would cram knowledge in the night before the test and then pour it out on paper the next day.  When I handed in my paper, my brain flushed all the facts, formulas, and figures into whatever corner of the brain holds stuff you don’t remember anymore.

We can think this is what the Bible means when it speaks of God testing us.  We picture trying to prove to God we know enough to pass.  The word translated “test” means to prove or to measure.  The picture changes from sitting in a classroom to an engineering lab testing the strength of concrete.  I see in my mind cattle being standing on a scale, so their weight is not a guess, but is proven.  That’s a test.

We say we believe, we say we will follow, but our words alone do not prove our love for God.  Our religious acts do not prove the weight God has in our lives.  The reality of our faith is shown in the moment of testing.  Faith is only real when we act.  Following Jesus, even when the picture is not clear, is passing the test.

By this measure, I have failed God’s tests many times.  So have you.  The temptation for me, and maybe for you, is to say it is impossible to pass the test.  Yet the Bible gives us stories of regular people who passed the test.  They were not super heroes.  They were people who decided to trust and follow, people like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Peter, Paul, and John.

You have been and you will be tested.  If you have failed the test last time, the good news is our God loves you and will give you another opportunity.  If you have a test coming up, pray to obey when you can’t see the way.  Ultimately, your tests and mine are opportunities to trust our Heavenly Father.

I don’t know when, but I know God will test you.  I’m praying not that you will pass, but that you will trust.

No One Is An Object…

By now, everyone has heard about Donald Trump’s indefensible remarks about women.  His defenders have said that such talk is common in locker rooms across the country.  Maybe.

Comments such as these shift people from the category of being a “soul” to the category of being an “object.”  God did not make us to be objects.  We are not just our bodies, or our minds, or our talents, or our performance.  We are souls, created by God, valued by God, loved by God.

If you are a Jesus follower, you must see all people as souls.  Every life has value, whether it is the new born baby, the porn star, the football lineman, the neighbor across the street, or the parent with dementia.  God values everyone.

At the very least, we who follow Jesus must deal with our fellow soul travelers by being Jesus to them – extending to them love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control (yes, ripped off from Galatians 5:22-23).  You cannot treat people as objects under any circumstance while following this path.  This is a radically counter-cultural way to live, but it is the way of Jesus and it is to be the way of His followers.

Has Hillary Clinton every objectified people? Yes.  When she has spoken of people who are Clinton-haters, she categorizes them as objects.  Jesus doesn’t approve of this either.

Have I ever treated people as objects?  Yes.  When I face this in my own soul, I must confess and be humble.  To confess is not to compare and say, “Everyone else has done this.”  We cannot say, “But compared to his sin, mine is not as bad.”  With transparent souls, we seek God’s healing grace so we know forgiveness and our souls are healed.

Has Donald Trump done this?  Only God knows.  Has Hillary Clinton done this?  Only God knows.

Have I done this?  Have I confessed my sin of treating people as objects?  That’s what counts.  Have I asked Jesus to help me see people not as objects, but as souls needing grace?  That’s the prayer I need to make in my journey to be just like Jesus.

(And yes, I deliberated wrote and posted this before the debate Sunday night)

 

 

 

Why God Makes You Wait…

Have you ever wondered why God makes you wait?  God does not deliver in two days like Amazon Prime.  Why?

Sometimes God makes us wait because we are not trusting.  When we do not trust, we feel tension.  Our requests are really pleas to relieve our inner tension.  We falsely think that God is supposed to make us comfortable.  Tension isn’t relaxing; but it is an opportunity for faith.  In the midst of the tension, have faith.

Sometimes God makes us wait because we are not ready to receive.  God wants to bless us, but there is a major spiritual issue we haven’t dealt with; or there is a priority we’ve let slip; or we need to grow some character to be able to handle what God wants to give us.  When this is the case, God will make clear the growth step that is required, if we listen.  When the growth step is clear, do it!

Sometimes God makes us wait because His timing is better than ours.  God sees how the whole picture will unfold.  If He sends the blessing now, other pieces of the puzzle will not fit.  This is often His concession to us, His way of understanding our limited ability to see the whole picture.  Ask God to help you see more of His picture.

Sometimes we think God is making us wait when God is actually telling us “no.”  You may be praying for someone to fall in love with you and think God is telling you to wait, but He is actually saying “No, she/he is not the person for you.”  Ask God to help you accept His will and His “no.”

Sometimes God makes us wait because He wants to make it clear that He is the one who makes the promise come true.  If God gave us the fulfillment of His promise as soon as we asked, we would be tempted to think we controlled Him.  Or we would think it was our actions that made things happen.  Ask God to remind you of the ways He is in control.

Sometimes God makes us wait because someone else isn’t ready.  This is hard.  We’re ready, God’s ready.  But someone else is involved.  This is hard, especially if we can identify the other person and know what they need to do to be ready.  Even if they never take that step of readiness, God will find a way to work His plan.  When this happens, pray for the other person.

Sometimes God makes us wait for reasons unknown.  Isaiah cries out, “His understanding is beyond searching.”  God’s ways and timing can be mystery.  Our minds are not all knowing and we are not all powerful.  When you can’t find any other reason why God asks you to wait, stand before His great power and knowledge and honor Him as the God who is infinite, and therefore beyond understanding.

While you wait, remember these other words of Isaiah: “They that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like Eagles, they shall run and not grow weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

Grit in the Gears – Why Procrastination Harms you and your Organization

If you know me, you are wondering why in the world I am writing this.  I have low self structure and low tolerance for external structure.  Procrastination is my middle name.

Yet as any organization grows larger, procrastination is the grit that grinds the gears.  It robs us of performance.  It keeps an organization from focusing on mission.  Procrastination creates sideways energy.  We wait on other people.  Deadlines are missed.  The crucial conversations are unspoken.

That’s why the larger the organization becomes, the more procrastination must be attacked.

Why We Procrastinate

We procrastinate because:

  • We have enough talent to pull something off at the last minute.  When we had Sunday night services, I would sometimes prepare my sermon walking down the hall into the service.   I had enough talent (extemporaneous speaking) and enough knowledge (Ph.D.) to pull it off.  It worked about 70% of the time, just enough for me to justify it.  It was, however, a path to mediocrity.
  • We want to avoid the unpleasant.  Maybe an assignment is outside our comfort zone.  Maybe we are afraid of conflict.  So we shuffle the pile, we do something that is a time killer, instead of that which is important.
  • We live for the thrill of the urgent.  Some of us have very high urgency scores.  This leads us to love an “urgency high.”  If you ever raced the clock on turning in paper, or studying for a test, you know this feeling.  It is a rush.  Unfortunately, it gives us the illusion of productivity, when in fact, the result of our high is less than quality work.
  • We are waiting for “sure” and “certain.”  You may have a personality that wants 100% of the information.   This is impossible.  Your failure fear corresponds to your thoroughness need.  The higher your thoroughness need, the more likely you are to be afraid of failure.
  • We are missing an important piece.  This is when procrastination works for us.  Something doesn’t feel right.  We may be missing piece of data, or buy in for a key leader.  Our reading of a meeting tells us people are saying “yes” verbally, but “no” with their souls.  We delay action until something feels better.
  • We replace the important with the urgent.  This is most destructive form of procrastination.  We have to meet deadlines and expectations, attend meetings and make phone calls.  Emails pops up and says, “I’m here!  Pay attention to me!”  The important work – Vision, Strategy, leading leaders – is pushed aside.  We may be proud of our producing a good looking chart, but that chart has done nothing to move the organization forward.

Why This Matters to Us Now

True confession: as the guy at the top of the organization I have been known to abuse my position.  In my immature moments, when I have procrastinated, I have justified it as “No one knows the pressures I feel.”  “No one has my schedule.”  The truth is there are times when I have to ask people to flex because there is a genuine crisis.  But the more dominant truth is I procrastinated, I didn’t follow my own schedule, I got engrossed in reading something interesting that wasn’t vital (my number one sin), or I was guided by my inner child “I don’t want to do this!”

Procrastination creates distrust in organizations.  It makes wonder if the next deadline will be meet.  It bends the family system.  Soon the organization spends its time chasing each other instead of gaining higher ground.

The opposite of procrastination is not timeliness; it is trust.  Trust is grease to the gears.  The organization can go faster, farther, using less energy when there are high levels of trust.  Decisions can be made and not checked out with supervisors because we know we can trust each other.

Trust also makes communication move from dial up to fiber optic.  We are not trying to clean up old messes and undone assignments.

Trust creates respect.  When I demonstrate I respect you by following the system, meeting or beating the deadline, I feel like you respect me.  Although I have confessed I am a procrastinator, I can’t stand it in other people (I know, “First take the beam out of your own eye before you remove the speck from your brother’s eye”).  When I distribute something to a team and all the responses pile in at the deadline, I can never give them my full attention.  I like it when people are early.

Ultimately, to build a great team and a great organization, we must be unselfish.  That means I must respect your needs, your system, and your deadlines.

What We Need to Do

If only we could say, “So stop procrastinating.”  But it’s not that easy.  If it were, we’d all be thinner, in better shape, and have a better devotional life.

What I can ask you do is engage in a 30 second personal exercise.  Thirty seconds.  That’s all.

Before I share the exercise with you, let me tell you about a conversation I had with Dick Lincoln years ago about church groups.  I was asking his opinion about groups, and was candid enough to say, “I know we need groups.  I just don’t really care.  I don’t care if we have Sunday morning groups or home groups.  I just know we need groups.  I don’t care which.”

Dick stopped me short and said, “Clay, if you don’t care about groups, no one will.  You must find why you care about groups.”

I’ve never forgotten that conversation.  It’s my job to discover why I care.

So here’s your 30 second exercise:  In one sentence, tell why you care about stopping your procrastination.

Before you start, let me give you a couple of thoughts.  Find out why you care.  Not why you should.    To say something like “I care because I want us to honor God” – that only works if you are Mother Teresa.

So in one sentence, tell why you care about stopping your procrastination:

 

 

Imagine an Organization without Procrastination.

Imagine a being able to look everyone in the eye and know you meet or beat a deadline.  Imagine how good you will feel knowing you did something that counted for the Kingdom.  Imagine that you felt an explosion of trust with your peers.  Imagine people at next the level of the organization – up or down – respecting you.

All this is possible –and more.  It can happen when you find the reason to care.