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What About Pat?

January 14, 2010

If you have been on-line anytime during the last 24 hours, you are aware of the terrible devastation that took place in Haiti, the result of a massive earthquake. The number of dead and injured is horrendous and the destruction of property is truly staggering. It is a catastrophe of epic proportion that will require much relief and recovery efforts for a very long time.

And, if you have been on-line during this same period, you are likely aware that Pat Robertson of “The 700 Club” blamed the Haitians for the disaster. In his words, the Haitians were “cursed” because they made “a pact with the devil” to gain freedom from French oppression. In his own words, this supposedly happened “a long time ago.” Actually, almost 200 years ago to be precise.

Needless to say the backlash against Robertson’s comments have been swift and intense. I added my own comments of displeasure on Twitter. People from all over the ideological and religious spectrum have condemned his remarks.

I am not writing this to pile-on. To be honest, much of the reaction has been way over the line – some hoping he would die and “burn in hell” for what he said. Such remarks are, in their own way, far worse than what Rev. Robertson said. Thankfully, many of the comments from the Christian community have been more tempered – pointing out the serious theological flaws in Robertson’s statement and the lack of grace and mercy in his content.

I have to wonder, though, what could possibly inspire someone like Pat Robertson to make such sweeping statements? It’s not the first time – I recall similar pronouncements following 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

Judgement is a risky business. Jesus admonished His followers to “remove the beam” from their own eyes before pointing out the speck in the eye of another. He also warned that we will be judged by the same measure we use to judge another.

That is not to say we are not to be discerning. God’s people have a duty to point out sin, but always to do so redemptively. And we do so with great care, remembering that we are all sinners saved by grace. “There is none righteous, no, not one.”

I do not believe that God sent the earthquake to punish the people of Haiti. I do believe we live in a fallen world, where evil abounds and bad things happen. As the Bible says, “it rains on the just and the unjust.”

This morning, I read a verse that summed it up for me:

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).

As followers of Christ, we have an obligation to help the victims of the earthquake. Thankfully, that is exactly what will happen. People of all creeds and ideologies will pour into that devastated land to bring food, water, medical supplies and comfort to the stricken. Many who cannot go will help by sending money to fund the relief efforts. We will pray, give and go to give a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name.

And what about Pat? I do not believe he is an evil man. He has done much good in the past, especially in the area of relief during disasters. But I believe what he said was wrong, based on flawed theology. In short, it was a stupid thing to say.

I will not condemn a man for saying something stupid, for I may do likewise before the day is over. Pat Robertson will have to live with his ungracious words. Followers of Christ have an obligation to forgive and love the man, though we may loathe what he did.

But we do not have to listen to Pat Robertson. I recommend that you don’t.

Book Review: “Help Me Understand” by Dr. Terry Cutrer

November 11, 2009

I have known Dr. Terry Cutrer for nearly ten years and count him as a good friend. We served together for several years at the Moffett Road Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama, where he continues to serve as senior pastor. Dr. Cutrer is a husband, father, church-planter, golfer and pastor. He’s also a man of deep faith and Christian commitment with a sound grasp of biblical principles. As a pastor, he has counseled many people who, out of hurt and confusion have posed the questions of “why?” and “how?” – Why did my spouse leave me? Why did my wife have to die? How can I raise my kids? How do I cope? How do I trust?

“Help Me Understand” is written from the heart of a pastor who has not only counseled people facing adversity – he’s faced numerous trials himself. Dr. Cutrer addresses several issues that people often have difficulty facing. He offers practical, biblical answers to these key questions of life. The answers are not always easy – Dr. Cutrer does not sugar-coat the answers, but he does offer hope and direction. His message is built on the understanding that God loves us and Jesus provides us salvation, purpose and a future hope despite our earthly circumstances.

The book is not long – less than 100 pages – yet with economy of words, Dr. Cutrer offers a mix of engaging illustrations mixed with appropriate biblical instruction and guidance. He addresses the pain of an abandoned wife and how she may learn to forgive.  He speaks to those who face adversity, particularly loss of a loved one. There is counsel for married couples, parents, and those who struggle with the Christian faith.  Particularly gripping are the stories Dr. Cutrer shares from his own journey of faith.

If you are looking for a deep theological tome, you will need to look elsewhere. That is not the intent of this book. If you, like most of us, find yourself asking the question, “why me?” and “how can I cope?” then I can highly recommend this book to you. Pastors, you might consider ordering several of these books to give to people you counsel.  “Help Me Understand” is available through Amazon.

Essential Practices for the Small Group Leader #3: Systematic Preparation

January 5, 2009

If you are going to teach the Bible to people, you must prepare.

“Wow,” you’re probably thinking, “he wasted bandwidth just to say that? Thank you Captain Obvious!”

Okay, I admit that is not the most original thought I’ve ever shared. But I say it because I’m convinced that many small group Bible studies flounder because the leader did not give adequate time and effort into preparing to teach. I’ve actually had Sunday School teachers brag to me that they waited until late Saturday night to do all of their preparation. I suppose they thought I’d be impressed.

Not so much.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not men . . .” Colossians 3:23

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15

I believe God expects us to do our best in ALL areas of our life, but particularly when it comes to kingdom matters. Every person who has the privilege and responsibility of teaching others the Bible should take that task seriously. Consistent, systematic preparation is a must!

I will admit that everyone has their own methods of preparation and that some folks can get a lot done in a short amount of time. Fair enough. But as a Christian educator with 28 years experience, let me share some ideas about systematic preparation that have helped me:

1. Start early
If you teach once per week, I recommend that you begin your preparation for your next lesson the same day you teach your current lesson. In other words, if you teach on Sunday morning, begin to prepare for next week on Sunday night.

2. Begin with the scripture
You may have numerous resources and a book or lesson guide to follow. Those are tremendous helps, but ultimately the Bible is our textbook. I suggest you begin by reading the passage you plan to cover multiple times. If you have more than one Bible translation, use them. Allow the passage to speak to you before you worry about how to present it to others.

3. Keep the passage in context
It’s always a good idea to read at least the chapter before and the chapter following to keep the passage in context. Ask the questions – who is speaking? who is the audience? what is the situation? what truths and principles might be gleaned for application? Here is where your teaching guide, Bible dictionary and commentaries may come in handy.

4. Anticipate the “So what?” question
The people in your small group need to discover how the Bible impacts them personally. That’s where we have to take them from the historical context of the scripture passage to how the text speaks today – the point of personal application. The Bible is always relevant – our job is to help people see how it is relevant to them personally.

5. Develop a lesson plan
Your teaching materials may provide a suggested plan for you to follow. However, you may need to customize the plan based on a number of factors – time available, the life situations of your class members, and certainly, the leadership of the Holy Spirit. I think of the lesson plan as similar to a flight plan for an airplane. You have to take off (introduction), fly from point A to point B (the body of the lesson), and finally bring her in for a landing (application and conclusion). Unfortunately, without good preparation it is all too easy to run out of time while the plane is circling the field, looking for a place to land!

6. Prepare with purpose
As the group leader, you should hopefully know the people in your class well enough to develop meaningful points of application. In fact, it is probably best to work toward only ONE point of application for each lesson (even though the scripture passage may lend itself to multiple points of application). Christian growth is a life-long process. Rather than try to force too much into a limited amount of time, it’s better to give the group one solid “nugget” they can take with them. Be sure the point of application is something concrete the group can do, not just an abstract theory.

7. Assemble your resources
Perhaps I should have put this as point number one. Every teacher needs resources to help them prepare Bible lessons. Today, many of these resources are available on-line for free. Personally, I like having the books before me, but that is a personal choice.

Suggested resources for Bible study leaders

Your Bible: This is a very personal choice. Stick with the translation with which you are most comfortable. Study Bibles are nice but certainly not required. I use the NIV and ESV but there are several good translations available.
Your teaching curriculum: The materials your church provides for small group studies. These are very helpful in organizing your teaching for the long term.
A Bible dictionary: Helpful for looking up names and terms found in scripture.- A Concordance: This allows you to find verses by key words.
www.biblegateway.com This is one of the most comprehensive and helpful Bible tool sites on the web. It offers multiple translations and is very user-friendly.
Bible Commentaries: A brief word about commentaries – there are MANY selections available that fall all over the theological spectrum. Some are good, some aren’t worth the paper on which they’re printed. I tend to buy commentaries by author rather than series. (Note: Commentaries can be expensive!). However, two series that I can recommend are The New American Commentary series published by Broadman and The NIV Application Commentary series by Zondervan. Both series provide a good balance of scholarly research with practical application. I would not worry about investing in commentaries unless you feel that your other resources are not adequate.

Ultimately, it is not so important that you follow my specific methods or use my suggested resources. What matters is that you do take your preparation seriously, whether it takes you two hours or twenty. It will make a difference in your teaching and your group will thank you for it!

Hello world!

December 11, 2008

Welcome to my Blog! I intend to  focus on ideas and trends that will be helpful to followers of Christ – both in their personal growth and as they interact with contemporary culture. I’ll share out of my own walk with Jesus and my experience as a Christian educator.

Please feel free to comment, question and even disagree. I simply ask that you be respectful to others that may also comment.

I particularly hope that other Christian educators (vocational and volunteer) will find this Blog helpful, especially the wonderful Sunday School leadership staff at the First Baptist Church of Prattville, Alabama – some of the finest and most faithful equippers I know!