Category: Uncategorized

The broken commandment that causes most of our problems

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Most people think that the 9th commandment states, “Thou shalt not lie.” And while that is a simplification of the command, the actual directive is, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” The actual wording of the commandment lifts the standard from a prohibition of speaking falsehoods, to a prohibition of validating stories you don’t know to be true. Let me share what I mean.

Several years ago, I was working as the news director for a local radio station when I received a visit from a listener of the station. Through casual conversation, she told me that HEB had agreed to build a grocery store in our community.

Now, over the years I had worked in media in Brownwood and Early, Tex., the biggest desire of the residents was a new, trendy grocery store. HEB has become one of Texas’ folk-hero companies, so they were at the top of the list. The news that HEB would be coming to town would be our top headline, if true.

I asked the lady where she heard the news, she told me that a friend had told her. I asked the friend’s name, got contact info, and contacted the friend to verify. The friend told me that she had heard the local economic development director make the announcement on our competitor.

That was a slap in the face. As news director, I had allowed my department to become the PR wing of the local economic development corporation, expecting to be first in line with such news. For them to give a breaking story like that to my competitor was highly disturbing.

My competitor would not be willing to verify the story, and the economic development director had left town to attend a series of meetings. Meanwhile, social media buzz began to build about the coming of HEB. Everybody heard from somebody that the city had announced the coming of HEB.

I called the local chamber of commerce (which worked hand in hand with the economic development corporation). The director told me that the city has worked to recruit new grocery stores, but no agreement had been made yet, and if it had, my department would be the first to know.

She allowed me to interview her for a story to dispel the rumor that HEB was coming. (I often ran stories to clarify or dispel rumors). The story ran.

After the story ran, I received a call from the economic development director, who asked where all this came from. I told him, someone heard from a friend who heard from a friend that the announcement was made on my competitor. (The competitor denied an announcement was made, and I believe them).

The economic development director was upset, but civil. He explained that rumors being spread like that can cause agreements to bring new retailers to town to fall apart. He explained such had happened in the past.

Little did anyone know, the economic development director was in talks to bring a major grocer to town, and a few short weeks later, the announcement of a new United Supermarket was made. A deal almost lost because someone heard from a friend that something was going to happen.

We think of lying as blatantly trying to deceive, but bearing false witness is also deceptive, and destructive. The reason the commandment was given was that witness testimony was solid evidence in Old Testament courts, and a false witness who was just repeating gossip could cost another man his life.

Today, people aren’t executed over gossip and false witness. However, reputations, careers, businesses, marriages, homes, families and churches are destroyed every day by false witness.

Are you passing along information, something you heard, which may or may not be true? Are you presenting information as being first hand when you really have no direct knowledge? If so, you may be breaking the 9th commandment, and “bearing false witness.”

Stop shaming grief

I never mourned the death of a celebrity. That is, I never mourned the death of a celebrity until one that I could identify with passed suddenly without warning.

On this blog, I posted how the death of Tom Petty shook me, and how it marked the passing of an era in my life.

I was never a fan of Kobe Bryant. I never followed his career, nor was I ever inspired by his actions on or off the court. I’m not being critical, I had just left the NBA. For me, pro-basketball died with the retirements of David Robinson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and the breakup of the Chicago Bulls.

Yet, I know that others could see themselves in Kobe the same way I saw myself in Petty. It’s that level of identification that sells tickets, merchandise, and music.

When news broke that Kobe Bryant had been killed in a helicopter crash along with his 13 year old daughter Gianna, with whom he shared his love of basketball, I saw a tragic tale of the death of a loving parent and his beloved child. There’s a lot to be said for that. I saw an inspirational storyline.

Yet, I understand that others have a deeper affinity for Kobe and his family. And to them, his sudden death stings like Petty’s death stung for me. It’s the loss of a role model, an inspiration, the passing of an era and the death of a special one.

And there is legit grief attached to that.

So, if you’re mourning the death of Kobe, you’re okay. Mourn, but do so healthily.

If you’re not mourning Kobe, good. Do the rest a favor. Don’t shame those who do on social media, or in person either.

Yes, there were 7 other people on that helicopter, and their lives were important. On the same day, we lost soldiers in combat, first responders in the line of duty, and hundreds died of cancer.

All those lives were important. However, we cannot expect people to mourn those they do not know, or expect people not to mourn those they did know for the sake of those who did not.

Grief is personal, and at times, people have a moment. Let them have that moment. Let them grieve. Let them reflect. Let them heal and learn, and let them move on.

It’s a Biblical concept that has been colloquialized in the phrase, “mind your own business.” We are all learning and growing.

Be blessed.

Chan: Forget it, I’m out!

In his final address to the students at Azusa Pacific University, former megachurch pastor Francis Chan announced that he is leaving the United States to pursue ministry in Asia.

In his message to the students, Chan noted that the people of Asia are open to the Gospel and cleaving to the Lord. He compared his ministry in the United States to fishing in a fishing hole that was over-fished, such that the fish no longer bit the lures. As part of his message, Chan expressed frustration at the way scripture is being de-emphasized and how more people are building beliefs on what feels good rather than the truth of the Bible.

“We only believe what we want to believe!” Chan said. “Name one thing in the Bible that you believe that you don’t want to believe.”

He went on to say that there is absolute truth, and that truth can be found in the scriptures.

Chan exhorted students to take the Bible at its word, and not to try to twist its meaning through endless word studies. He criticized the way the current generation (as all generations have) rejects prior wisdom, believing they have found their own wisdom.

“Are you ready to surrender to the Word?” Chan asked. “Let God be true and every man a liar. If your thoughts contradict this book, then you need to come under this book and change your way of thinking.”

The entire message is posted above.

I’ve been silent too long

11156384_10206298906337374_6382280851986253488_nApparently I’ve barely blogged in 2019.

Actually, that’s not true. I’ve done a lot of work on my church’s site, The Point.

Still,

Since my last post on this site in February, a lot has changed. I left Blue Sky Entertainment and Sunny 97.9 FM on May 1. A huge business opportunity collapsed, and in a major career shift, I became a chaplain for Interim Healthcare Hospice of Texas and New Mexico. That job has not only transformed me, but has also given me a new lease on life.

I have backed away from politics. I still believe in limited government, personal liberty, and the right to pursue your dreams and advance your station in life (a.k.a., the Pursuit of Happiness.) However, watching, and engaging in the political arena over the past two years has taught me a lot.

  1. The political parties have lost their minds. They advocate for policies that are unworkable at best, and downright sinister at worst. The Democrats are trending more toward socialism, and the Republicans want to abolish CPS. (Seriously, it’s in the Texas GOP platform.)
  2. Politics today is not driven by a desire to move our country further toward peace and prosperity. It’s driven by hate toward the other side. Both major parties’ platforms include planks designed to undermine their opponents.
  3. Lip service is king. Action is non-existent. When the GOP assumed control of the House, Senate, and White House in 2017, the mantra of “repeal and replace” in regard to the Affordable Care Act was exposed for the farce that it was. The GOP had no plan to actually repeal and replace, and the electoral victory of 2016 shined a spotlight on that hypocrisy.
  4. Tribalism reigns supreme. It’s our side versus their side. And you’re either with us fully, or completely against us. If you plan to be involved in the work of a political party (GOP, DNC, or Libertarian), prepare for a never ending regiment of loyalty litmus tests.
  5. The debate went from analyzing facts vs. facts, to facts vs. feelings, to feelings vs. preconceived notions. The truth no longer exists in mainstream forums.

So, I have stepped back from the day-to-day political fury, and have focused my efforts on my Spiritual walk, my ministry, and furthering my education (pursuing a business degree from Stephen F. Austin State University.)

My silence since February has given me time to think. And I look forward to sharing those thoughts with you in the coming weeks. God bless.

If you could go back…

16708472_10211627013496723_1898660107827657514_nDuring the 2016 Presidential campaign, Donald Trump introduced a slogan that continues to be his trademark well into his presidency, “Make America Great Again.” This slogan indicates that the President is looking back at America’s history, and seeing a time in which America reached its peak, and that he wants to return it to that status. So, on my talk show, I asked my audience, “When was America at its greatest? If you could go back in time and live at any point in America’s history, where would you go?”

What I found was that my audience tended to look back on their adolescent and young adult years as the best years in America’s past. Those who came of age in the 1950s wanted to go back to the 1950s. After all, everything was cheap, good jobs were easy to find, and it was so easy to dance to Buddy Holly and the Crickets. Those who were in their 40s and 50s tended to gravitate toward the 1980s… the years they were in high school or college. Again, good music, good movies, the country was prosperous, and times were simpler. My 30-somethings liked the 90s. Same themes… good music, good movies, prosperous times and a simper life.

Everyone longs for the “good ole days,” but were the “good ole days” really that good?

Sure, the 1950s provide a good postcard for freedom and prosperity in post-war America. Hamburgers, Homes, Cars and Rock and Roll. However, the 1950s were not a good decade for the African-American community, who, having come home after fighting the war, found themselves once again being locked out of the new American prosperity. Hence, Dr. Martin Luther King’s statement that in a sea of prosperity, African-Americans found themselves on an island of poverty.

Furthermore, the 1950s saw an increasing threat from the spread of communism, war on the Korean peninsula, an ever-growing threat of nuclear annihilation, polio, and a political system that was rapidly becoming more volatile. People living in the 1950s lived under the constant threat of instantaneous and unexpected annihilation. Yet, they continued with life, and look back on those days with happy memories.

The 1980s saw American prosperity and good culture as well. Like the 1950s, there was even a Spiritual revival. Yet, the 1980s saw the last great standoff with the Soviet Union, manufacturing being outsourced, costing American jobs, AIDS, crack, homeless veterans, a mental health crisis, the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, inner-city gang violence, and the rise of drug cartels.

The 1990s saw all of that, along with the emergence of the internet, the rise in global terrorism, domestic terrorism, mass shootings, job outsourcing, and the economic boom sparked in the 80s began to unravel. Plus, we were cursed with NSync and the Backstreet Boys.

Don’t get me wrong. Being a teenager in the 1990s was loose and carefree. So was being a teenager in the 1980s. Heck being a teenager in the 1950s was an okay proposition. But, the fact of the matter is that we can neither return to those decades, nor can we become teenagers again. Even if we could, we’d be disappointed to find that major problems existed, even back then.

To live the human life is to live with problems. They’re numerous, and they’re critical. As Agent K said in Men In Black, “There’s always an Arquillian Battle Cruiser, or a Corillian Death Ray, or an intergalactic plague.” The key to finding the peace and serenity you seek in returning back to the glory days is to understand that, and to be able to live your life in spite of that. The key to doing this is to understand that God is in control of all things, and that you can trust Him to manage the uncontrollable events of your life.

If you master this, and if you learn to be thankful for the good things in your life, you will always be living in your glory days, regardless of your age, or what decade it is.

What the Elwood Superintendent’s Decision Reveals about Societal Values

11156384_10206298906337374_6382280851986253488_nThere are two words I was never allowed to say when I was in school, “Yeah, but….”

The words, “Yeah, but…” usually accompanied an excuse I had for a misbehavior, a bad decision, or a reasoning for why the other kid should be in worse trouble than me. In fact, in my mind, the other kid’s behavior was often so much worse than mine, that my infraction should be excused.

“Leland, did you just throw that paper ball at Billy?”

“Yeah, but…”

“No ‘buts.’ Out in the hall!”

I never got the opportunity to explain that I threw the paper ball at Billy because he made faces at me, pushed me into the dirt on the playground, or drew an ugly picture of me on manilla paper during art class. Nope. In this instance, the only thing that mattered was that I had violated class rules by throwing the paper ball at Billy, and so I had to face the consequence. Had I followed the correct course of action before throwing the paper ball, like telling the teacher that Billy was bullying me, then I would not be in trouble.

For what it’s worth, my story about Billy is a summary of several elementary school experiences rolled into one with a pseudonym of Billy as my adversary. I digress.

Public discourse today, whether social or political, is largely driven by the concept of “yeah, but.” For example:

  • Donald Trump bragged about groping women. “Yeah, but, Bill Clinton was a predator, too.”
  • “The Republicans expanded the size of the Federal Government and centralized power within it.” “Yeah, but the Democrats are worse.”
  • “Tom Brady cheated by deflating footballs.” “Yeah, but everybody cheats. Tom just got caught.”

Lost in all the “Yeah, buts…” is the truth. There is a standard of morality, a standard of behavior that we are right to expect from one another, especially when one’s actions affect the livelihood and well-being of another. However, the tribalization of America has led to a mentality of “winners and losers” where we feel the need for our side to be the winners, no matter the effect on everyone else. And this is what will ultimately pull our country apart.

Nowhere can this be better illustrated than the case of Elwood School Superintendent Casey Smitherman, whose decision to seek medical treatment for a student while filing it on her insurance led to her facing criminal charges and ultimately led to her resigning her position with the school.

According to the Herald Bulletin of Anderson, Ind., Smitherman:

  • She didn’t get permission from the boy’s guardian or parents to take him from the house, cart him around town and seek medical care for him.
  • The superintendent was alone with the teen in a car, a major no-no for school staff and administrators.
  • She committed fraud by claiming that the boy was her son so that she could use her health insurance to defray the $233 bill for the clinic’s care and antibiotics.
  • She didn’t report her suspicion that the boy was suffering from neglect. School staff and others who come into contact with youth through their jobs are required by state law to report such suspicion.

These are very serious infractions, not only on a technical level, but on a moral level as well. Yet, the internet is reacting to her actions by lauding her as a hero, and criticizing “big insurance,” Trump, Congress and the Republican Party for what happened.

Instead of looking at the entirety of the case, most of the internet is focusing on the fact that she took a kid to the doctor… and who wouldn’t want to see a kid taken care of? Therefore, she should be a hero.

However, the morality of Smitherman’s benevolence went out the window the second she shifted the cost of her humanitarianism to others, that is, those who pay premiums to her insurance company. When you consider that the cost of the care could have counted against her annual deductible and/or out of pocket expenses, you might even be able to make the case that her actions were a little self-serving.

If Smitherman wanted to provide healthcare for a student and did so out of her own pocket, then I can understand the admiration. However, lying about her relationship to the student to get the insurance company to pick up the tab is insurance fraud, and is not true benevolence.

That action can have widespread consequences to others, such as increased premium costs to other policy holders. Think about it. If it were moral and legal to file a claim on your health insurance by lying about your relationship to the patient, then few of us would need to buy insurance. We could simply find a friend with insurance, and mooch off their policy, the same way many people mooch off of each other’s Netflix accounts. Fewer people paying premiums with more claims means higher premiums, which will drive others off insurance. This is not a good situation.

Again, this is a serious infraction. Yet, many in our society are praising her. “Yeah, she committed insurance fraud, but we should’ve had universal healthcare in the first place.”

“Yeah, she committed insurance fraud, but Congress has failed the American people and should all resign.”

“Yeah, she committed insurance fraud, but at least she stuck it to a greedy corporation.”

I could go on. The “yeah, buts” are in plentiful supply.

Smitherman has since apologized for her actions, citing a lapse in judgment. I’m willing to forgive and move on. Sometimes decisions do sound good when made, and only after do you realize the full ramifications. However, to justify this behavior by pointing out the flaws elsewhere in our system with a series of “yeah, buts” is to concede that we are to remain on a trail of constant injustice until our whole moral fabric is completely unraveled.

Bad decisions cannot bring about good. Immoral decisions can not bring about morality. Darkness cannot drive out light. And sinful attitudes will not bring about revival.

Be understanding. Be forgiving. But be truthful.

The Texas State Missions Program

The mission policy proposed by Bro. Marion Reed leading into the 2009 MBA of Texas meeting was a thing of beauty. That policy was ultimately approved by the messengers of the association, which led to a more efficient state missions program. This mission policy, under which we currently operate, upheld the Landmark doctrine of the authority of the local church, provided flexibility in the way mission work is done in the state of Texas, and resulted in more request, but at lower amounts.

Prior to the passage of the current mission policy, the MBA of Texas set salaries for state-supported missionaries, then paid up to 80 percent of that salary. The program mirrored the ABA’s salary structure for interstate missionaries, however, a 10% raise approved by messengers at the 2006 meeting in Longview boosted the salary to a higher amount than the ABA salary. As of the 2009 MBA of Texas meeting, full salary for Texas state missionaries was set at $3,822 per month, with the association paying $3,057.60 toward that amount.

Some missionaries elected to receive half-salary in the amount of $1,911 per month, which allowed them to work secular jobs to obtain health insurance, and reduced the burden on the sponsoring church.

This system had a few disadvantages.

First, the missionary’s salary, paid by the association, was often left out of the mission’s budget. The only part of the missionary’s salary included in the budget was often the 10-20 percent of the salary for which the mission took responsibility. As a result, if a missionary wished to decrease support from the state association, he often had to simultaneously ask the mission or sponsoring church for a raise. Anyone who has been in ministry any length of time can attest to how uncomfortable, and unworkable that proposition is. As a result, missionaries who requested decreased support often did so at their own expense, and thus, few missionaries requested decreased support. The result was that missionaries stayed on salary for extended periods of time (up to 15-20 years).

Secondly, this system blocked struggling churches from being supported, and ceased support for missions that organized. While struggling churches were often added to the program, (as was famously done in Longview to support the construction of a fellowship hall), such a move required the setting aside of mission policy, which invited difficult floor debate.

Thirdly, this system was problematic for missionaries following the “church-planting” model of mission work, as opposed to the traditional model where a mission was an arm of the sponsoring church. Missionaries who followed the “church-planting” model established autonomous churches, bypassing mission status. However, these new churches often struggled financially, hence the need for missionary support.

Wanting to maintain an avenue for traditional mission work, while opening up a way for newer mission techniques, Bro. Reed introduced the current missions policy, which changed the way state missions are oriented.

The former policy was missionary-oriented, meaning the support was intended for the missionary. That is, we paid the missionary’s salary. Seeing the disadvantages of that system, and fearing IRS intervention if the government perceived that the association was paying “salaries,” and therefore had employees, Bro. Reed’s new policy redefined the money sent to missionaries as “support.”

In addition to switching the practice from paying salaries to sending support, Bro. Reed’s new policy changed the orientation from being missionary focused, to project-focused. Sponsoring churches were no longer required to recommend a missionary. They could recommend a project, or (before a recent change to the policy) a ministry such as Berean Bible Study, or Texas Mission Development.

Amounts of support were no longer defined by the associational policy. Instead, missionaries and sponsoring churches calculated a need, and requested the appropriate support from the association. The association then had the prerogative to either approve, or decline the request, and the policy was written to show that a vote to decline the request in no way denigrated the legitimacy of the project.

When the new policy was approved by the messengers of the Missionary Baptist Association of Texas, several pastors told me that they feared that missionaries would request “lavish” levels of support. Looking at the history of the new policy, that fear has not been realized, as missionary requests are frequently well below the former “full salary” designation. In fact, of the seven requests that were approved at the 2018 MBA of Texas meeting, only one came close to the former “full salary” amount, and that request undercut the former “full salary” amount by $200. The average request for state support comes in at $1,864.29, which is even less than the former “half-salary” amount.

It should be noted that the missionaries and sponsoring churches, once freed to determine their needs and purposes for the support, were able to request lesser amounts from the association. And with three significantly reducing their requests over the past two years, it is demonstrated that the new system actually promotes the growth and maturity of the mission projects.

I say all of that to remind, and encourage our association, that our missions program is strong, and well-designed. If sponsoring churches and missions utilize the program as it is intended, then we will see new works started which will become self-supporting in shorter time frames than under the previous policy. However, this requires an understanding of how the program works. While one need not obtain a Ph. D. in missions to figure it all out, there are two keys to remember regarding our current mission policy.

  1. The association does not pay salaries. Years of seeing missionaries request “full salary” and “half salary” has programmed a lot of messengers, and well, missionaries and sponsoring pastors, to see state support as a salary to the missionary. This is no longer the intent of the program. The association does not pay “salaries,” and over the next few meetings, the association would do well to replace the word “salaries” with “support” in some of the more recent changes to the policy.
  2. The association supports “projects.” While the policy is worded to allow a sponsoring church to recommend a missionary or a mission work, it must be noted that the sponsoring church is the entity requesting the support, and receiving the help. This may seem like an obsessive attention to a minor detail, but that detail can be the difference maker in whether a work progresses toward becoming self-supporting.

The beauty of those two keys is that, by designating the associational support as “support” and not “salary,” the association’s support becomes a line-item in the budget. Thus, that support can decrease without directly impacting the missionary’s salary, thus moving the mission toward self-supporting status.

With all of this information, let’s explore how a new mission work can become self-supporting more quickly under this system. If I were starting a new work, here’s what I would do. These steps only address the financial end of mission work. We’ll study the spiritual end of mission work in another post.

  1. Determine the financial need. What would my personal needs be regarding salary? Housing? What would the new work need in terms of rent? Utilities? Outreach materials? Marketing resources? How much funding would be needed to acquire property and build a building? Or is it possible to purchase an existing building?
  2. Based on that need, I would set a budget, including start-up expenses for the first year.
  3. I would do deputation for one full year to raise funds to meet the needs of that budget.
  4. I would then set my request from the association according to the need of that budget after direct support from sister churches was factored in.
  5. Each year, a new budget would be set, factoring in offerings received from the mission, offerings received from sister churches, and support received from the association. As the offerings from the mission increased, the request for support from the association would decrease.
  6. This trend would hopefully continue until there was no longer a need for associational support.

We have employed this technique at Life Point Baptist Church, and as a result, decreased our request for support by $500 last year, and anticipate decreasing our request again this next year. This system is encouraged by our current mission policy, and judging by the number of decreased requests for support, I’d say it’s working.

So, take heart, sister churches of the Missionary Baptist Association of Texas. We have a great missions program. Let’s utilize it the way it was intended, and let’s support it so that our current missionaries can remain on the field, and so that new works can be started.

Thank you for your prayers and support.