Month: June 2017

Reclaiming the Front Porch

There was a time, decades ago, when homes were built with large front porches.  It’s where family life and neighborhood conversation all convened.  You could drive up and down any street in any small town and find people sitting on the porch, maybe an iced tea on the table next to the chair in which they sat, a paper fan in their hands, a newspaper on their laps, and a smile on their faces.  Kids would drop their bikes in the front yard and sit on the front steps for a while to listen to the grown-ups talk.  Every car that passed down the street got a friendly wave, no matter if the occupants were known or not.  It’s how community was forged among neighbors.  It’s how life was shared among friends.  It’s how relationships deepened and life-long connections were made.

And then it happened… newer homes were designed in a different way.  People opted for patios and decks off the back of the house rather than in the front.  And the culture shifted.  Grills appeared on the deck along with fancy porch furniture, piped-in sound, and fire pits.  Landscaping gave privacy and families tended to cloister around themselves.  Streets that were once filled with neighbors talking and swapping stories, laughing, and even sharing home baked goodies, soon became barren.  Garage doors opened, cars slide inside, and quickly the door slammed shut again.  Life wasn’t bad on the back porch, mind you… it was just different… more privacy, less interference, and fewer relationships.  And interestingly enough, those neighbors who once stood in the front yard soon dissipated to backyards of their own.  The occasional invitation to join another family on the back porch was rare… good when it happened, but rare.

The same thing has happened in church life.  Churches once went to great lengths to have people join in the front-porch conversations.  Neighbors were welcomed to come.  People were warm, friendly, and engaging.  Needs were met.  Hearts were shared.  Lives were intertwined.  But somewhere along the way, the back porch became more important.  The “family” became a little too exclusive.  Those on the front porch were kept at arms-length and never really invited to the back porch.  Churches lost the vision of being in community with the people who lived all around them.  An insistence on doctrinal purity, Biblical correctness, church rules, and historically cemented mindsets kept new people, new thought, and new spirit away.  Oh, it’s nice on the back porch.  Everyone believes the same way, looks the same way, and judges others with the same contempt.  Closed groups and closed minds like the privacy that the well-protected back porch offers.  Enjoy it while it lasts.  By 2030, 1/3 of all the churches that now exist in America will be closed.  Neighbors will drive past the house and wonder where they will go to find community.

It’s not too late for the church.  But it does require a new mindset.  To be the neighbor on the front porch means churches will constantly remind themselves, “It’s not about what we want, but what they (outside world) need.”  It will require flexibility, a willingness to be Spirit led, tolerance, grace, and a willingness to act like Christ in words, attitudes, and action.  It will mean giving up the insistence of conformity so that a spirit of neighborliness takes root.  Churches don’t have to abandon Biblical principles, core values, or healthy traditions… they just have to abandon intolerance, judgment, and caustic attitudes.

I’m not planning on building or buying another house anytime soon… but if I do, I’m going insist on a front porch.  Community trumps privacy, neighbors are important, and life is too short to live exclusively on the back porch.

-Dr. Jon R Roebuck, Executive Director

The Treasure Within

A few days ago, this painting sold at auction to a Japanese businessman for $110.5 million dollars.  It is by the American artist, Jean-Michael Basquiat who died at the age of 28 back in 1998.  He painted this work when he was 21 years-old.  The auction price was historic in two ways.  First, it was the highest price ever paid for a painting by an American artist.  And second, it was the highest price ever paid in history for an African-American artist.  The new owner, Yusaku Maczawa is going to exhibit the work around the world at various institutions and exhibitions until it is permanently housed in a museum to be built for such a purpose.

Such a large sum of money is a staggering amount.  Obviously, the painting is of enormous worth and value.  My mind started to consider how such a work of art could be safely transported.  It’s not the kind of thing you can run down to the local UPS store and ask them to ship.  I am certain that elaborate plans will be in place anytime that it is moved from one location to another.  Most assuredly, ground transportation will include an armored vehicle.  So, I did a little research into the cost of an armored truck… the kind the Brinks people use to haul around a lot of cash.  With thick plating, bullet-proof glass, and run-flat tires, an armored truck costs just north of $50,000.  Here’s my point.  A priceless masterpiece will, at some point, be placed in a vehicle that is worth less than 1/10th of 1% of the treasure it holds.  Crazy, right?  But when the treasure is contained within the truck, suddenly the value of the truck is elevated.  The treasure within, gives enormous worth to that which holds it.

The Apostle Paul once wrote, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves’ (2 Cor. 4:7).  Paul was talking about the treasure of the Gospel.  Embedded within each of us as believers, is the truth of the Good News that Jesus brought.  We know what it takes to gain eternal life.  We have the answer to how anyone can live forever in the Kingdom of God.  What a curious thing… the greatest treasure of all time is carried about inside the hearts of flawed and fragile human beings.  God has “invested” the treasure in us.  We are the keepers… the guardians… the ambassadors.  And the more we tell others about the treasure, the more safely guarded it becomes as the treasure gets stored again and again the hearts of millions of “earthen vessels.”

Years ago, I had a pilot friend who flew corporate jets for the Humana Health Organization.  From time to time, he was sent to transport a heart from a donor to a recipient.  For example, once he flew to Atlanta and then back to Louisville to bring a heart from Georgia to someone awaiting as a recipient in Kentucky.  He was always a little dumbstruck by the way in which those human hearts were transported.  As soon as they were harvested, they were placed on ice in an Igloo cooler, just like the ones you buy at Walmart to keep your picnic sandwiches cool.  Something so critically important was carried around in a plastic cooler.

If you are feeling a little defeated today, or maybe a little undervalued at work, or just a little worn out and worthless… you need to take a moment to consider the treasure that you carry around in your heart and life.  The treasure within gives great worth and value to that which holds it.  So, to the best of your ability, carry it well.  Guard it carefully.  Represent the King.  Live unselfishly.  And tell folks along the way about the treasure you hold.

Dr. Jon R Roebuck, Executive Director

The Hard Work of Being Christ-Like

Dr. Jon R. Roebuck, Exec. Director

If someone once told you that becoming a Christian would lead to an easy life, they lied.  To be sure, the access point of faith is simple… it takes belief and trust.  And then you begin to live the life.  That’s where things start to become a little more difficult.  It’s like standing on the bank of a rushing, white-water river.  Taking the plunge is easy.  You just step off the muddy bank and splash into the water.  But within seconds you are caught in the churning, twisting, relentless flow.  Faith is like that.  The invitation to walk with Jesus is not an invitation to an easy stroll.  It is a call to follow a Savior down a path that will radically alter your life, shift your priorities, make you see the world with different eyes, and give away your heart in ways you never dreamed possible.

The Gospel message makes its demands of us.  We are commanded to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, uplift the downtrodden, give sight to the blind, preach good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives.  It’s a call to see the world through the eyes of a compassionate Savior who cares about everyone, who values each life, who longs for brokenness to be mended, and who gives away His life so that we might know the joy of being included in God’s family.  It’s a call to turn the world upside down like the early disciples were once accused of doing (Acts 17:6).  It’s a call to be different, to be radical, to be unstained by our culture, yet fully immersed in it.  If you think you can follow Christ in the privacy of your prayer closest and never attempt to change the world around you, then you are sadly mistaken.  The Gospel demands that we become the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13).  The Gospel demands movement, involvement, investment, and sacrifice.  New Testament writer James went so far as to say that unless our faith produces results in the lives of others, it’s worthless (James 2:14-26).

Perhaps the hardest demand of the Gospel is that of forgiveness.  The world demands revenge, payback, an eye for an eye, whenever we have been wronged.  But in contrast, Jesus said, “Forgive.”  Forgiveness is not a denial of the pain and injury caused by someone’s anger or abuse… it is the offering of a gentle, healing grace even in the midst of such pain.  I told you earlier, the Christian life is not easy.  Jesus offered these words, “If you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14-15).  We are called to forgive friends when they have betrayed us, spouses when they have angered us, children when they have disobeyed us, merchants when they have exploited us, leaders when they have disappointed us, co-workers when they have backstabbed us, strangers when they have harmed us.

I have often thought that our forgiveness should be expressed verbally.  As soon as someone says “I’m sorry,” we must respond by saying “You’re forgiven.”  That’s how we want God to respond when we confess ours sins to Him.  Why would He expect us to act any differently towards others?  Brokenness remains whenever our forgiveness goes unspoken.  Healing in relationships can only be completed when we verbally express our grace.  It is not always sufficient to forgive someone in our hearts and minds without letting them know of our willingness to move forward.  And by the way, if you are always waiting for someone to say “I’m sorry,” before you forgive them, you have missed part of the message of grace.  We must forgive, even when others have sought no forgiveness from us, nor verbalized their sinfulness against us.  It is the only way to live.  And it’s hard sometimes.

I want to close this thought with some song lyrics.  The song is called “Forgiveness,” and it is written and performed by Pat Terry and can be found on his album entitled, “Laugh for a Million Years.”  Here are the lyrics…

“In that dark, swift river called love, down on the bottom so deep and cold,

There lies a healing stone, worn smooth by the river’s flow.

It’s a beautiful thing to behold.  It took years for the river to make.

God even gave it a name… forgiveness.

If you swim that river of life, you’d better find it.

It will heal a lot of hurt along the way.  It can take a grievous wound and bind it.

It can dry your tears and soothe away your pain… forgiveness.”


And you thought this was going to be easy…