Michael B Linton

Friday, December 24, 2010

"Merry Christmas" is for Christians

I've read and heard a lot about the debate over "Merry Christmas" in businesses, companies, etc. and decided to add my two cents to the conversation. I see the point of most of the sides of this argument, so I'll try to address each.

I agree that the loss of "Merry Christmas" shows the further secularization of America and I don't like that. The question we must ask, though, is "Is this a battle worth fighting?" Is it one we can win? Is it one we need to worry about winning? I'm not taking a defeatist stance and saying we can't stop the tide, so don't try. (Though we can't stop the tide. Read Revelation.) What I am saying is we may need to re-evaluate where we are using our resources. Ed Stetzer said it well that we should be more worried about telling people about Jesus rather than making them say Merry Christmas.

Another point about this battle is that it doesn't affect our evangelism. How many people will have their eternity affected negatively if Lowe's sells holiday trees instead of Christmas trees? There are definite battles that do have implications on people's salvation: evolution, abortion, redefining marriage. These are issues that are gospel-centered. What greeting we use at Christmas is not. We must focus on what gets people saved (or hinders salvation, morality, etc.), not what just ruffles our feathers.

Besides, can we truly expect secular organizations, often led by people indifferent to the theological reason for Christmas, to focus on the spiritual impact of the season? We can't. We scoff at people that obviously "say the right things" (hallelujah, praise God, etc.) in church or around pastors when we know good and well that they have no concept of salvation through Jesus Christ. They are merely going through motions and we don't approve. So why should we demand it of businesses that are merely going through motions so as to not lose money from boycotting Christians?

I daresay we are, in a sense, asking them to take God's name in vain, using the original meaning of the commandment. They are taking the name of Jesus (Christ-mas) in a way that is purely meant to positively affect their bottom line. Wouldn't that fall into the definition of taking God's name in vain (no purpose other than personal benefit)?

Let them say "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons Greetings." As Christians worshipping the Savior whose birth we celebrate, we'll say "Merry Christmas." And smile when you do it. Until there is a law that says we can't. When that day comes, we have bigger issues than our favorite Christmas greeting.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Fasting Still Works!!

Now, I'm not saying that when we fast we have tricked God into giving us what we want. What I am saying is that because we are attuned to God, we are more likely praying in His will. When that happens, the Bible says God will give those things to us (1 John 5:14-15). So I'm finding that my fasting has resulted in prayer more focused on Him--not me and my wants--and this has led to many answered prayers.

What if we all took a day here or there to fast and pray? I think we would see some incredible things happen in the church.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Ritual Obliged

I now understand how a great spiritual discipline can become an empty chore or worse, an afterthought.

I am still committed to my Lenten fast from Coke and to my one day a week fast from food. But they quickly lost their status as spiritual encouragers and became just another thing I had to do. Within two weeks, it had become an empty tradition, as Jesus called it.

If it can happen in two weeks, what becomes of a lifetime of going to church every Sunday and Wednesday? What becomes of reading your Bible and praying everyday? As I examine these things, I find that most days they blend into the cluttered backdrop of other check marks on my to-do list.

We have to fight (Paul said in the same way that we buffet our bodies) to make sure that our spiritual disciplines remain spiritual. Church isn't just a social gathering or business meeting, prayer isn't a soliloquy, Bible reading isn't a sedative to help us sleep, and fasting isn't a diet plan. These are opportunities to fine-tune our heart strings to our Composer, Concert Master, and Conductor.

As I renew (daily) my commitment, renew with me (daily) your commitment to the spiritual disciplines God has set before us.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Fast Observed

Though I am not usually a participant in Lent, this year, due to the gravity of the spiritual war we are in while planting Hope Fellowship, I decided it would be a good idea to observe the spiritual discipline of fasting. I'm running a couple of fasts for Lent: I have sworn off Coke (I'm a two-a-day type) and I have chosen a day each week to fast from food. The day I've chosen isn't important--I don't want to appear to be fishing for praise from men and thus have my reward.

The Coke thing is hard: I have refrigerator full of them in my classroom and a refrigerator full of them at work at Domino's. The fasting from food for a day was difficult, but not as hard as the Cokes--I knew food was just hours away.

So what did I learn?

I'm not doing it for holiness, per se, or as a rote Christian requirement. The desire for those things I've given up are used as a stimulus to pray for and about our church plant.

And let me tell you, it works.

As if planting a church isn't on my mind enough, it is a constant burden while fasting. But it was an easy yoke. I knew throughout the experience that I was communing with God. My awareness of Him was heightened--not in any mystical, go-out-in-the-desert way--but in a way that had my entire day focused on Him. Through my hunger I found joy and assurance that He was in control, aware of everything we need as a family and church plant, and has every intention of fulfilling those needs in His good time and by His good methods. Incredible is a good word for the experience.

And the kicker? Less than a day after my first full fast, multiple prayers were answered.

Should it surprise anyone that God's ways, taught through His word, work?

Sometimes, I'm afraid, we are surprised. But it sure is an awesome surprise.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ahhh, deja vu...

Remember the feeling after church camp? You were excited, you were pumped, you were storming Hell with a water pistol, and you promised to God and everybody that you were going to take your Bible to school with you that fall. You came back Saturday, slept all day, then had a service at church on Sunday to remember, relive, and reinvigorate.

Then Monday came.

You still had chores, you still got in trouble with parents, and you realized that you weren't really looking forward to the impending arrival of school. Maybe you had a job to go back to. Somehow, the Jesus high got lost in flipping burgers or cleaning up after someone else's brat kid.

I just had the pleasure of reliving that experience.

When we learned last week that we were approved for Fall Creek Elementary for our services, I was pumped. When we had a meeting of our LAUNCH Team Saturday night, I was excited. Sunday came and I was able to tell people what was happening and that things were speeding forward.

Then Monday came.

I still had to work, I still had troubles with people, and I had no clue how all these wonderful plans were going to work out. Somehow, the church planting high got lost in delivering pizzas and teaching someone else's brat kids.

But here's what I know:

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear nothing, for You are with me." Psalm 23:4

This is no shadow of death!! These are everyday struggles. There are some tense moments of stress, some problems to be worked out, and some logistics to puzzle through, but this ain't staring death in the face.

Therefore, we push forward, resting in the assurance of the green pastures of God's provision. If he's got my back when death comes messing around, then I know He's got me with something as mundane as living. We simply wait on him to provide.

Even when reality dashes our white-hot excitement with a frigid bucket of blah.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Full disclosure

I am so completely stressed right now. As a matter of fact, in the three years that Etta and I have known of our call by God to plant a church, I have not felt more pressure or stress about it. I'm sure there will be equally difficult, if not more so, places in the church planting travelogue, but this one is kicking my tail right now.

We finally have a location and a start date. But that just exacerbates the other uncertainties: where will the money come from to complete the tasks we need to, people to fulfill all the roles, how can I work 65 hours a week and still plant a church, etc.

God has been incredibly faithful for these three years, both in our home life and church planting life. I am supremely confident that He will continue to guide and direct it all. But some days it gets hard. Real hard.

"Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!"

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Hope Fellowship Update - 020210

If you’ve been wondering how all this would work out and the timing of the events, it’s been formalized. This is our proposal of the way things will go over the next nine months. We also have a HUGE prayer request for you to lift up. I’ll give you the timeline first and then the prayer needs.

Projected Cost

Purchase equipment for services

Advertising for April preview service

April preview service
4/3/2010 - Easter Sunday

Advertising for May preview service

May preview service

Advertising for June preview service

June Preview service

Advertising for July preview service

July preview service
July 4th

Advertising for August preview service

August preview service

Advertising for Lauch Service

Launch service

Television advertising

Total Cost for 6 months of pre-launch

We currently have about $200 per month pledged, so we have a long way to go toward our goal.

Now for our HUGE prayer need: I have been in contact with the facilities coordinator for Humble ISD about renting two elementary school cafetoriums. The first one we want to rent is Summerwood Elementary. It currently has a church meeting in it on Sunday mornings, but we want to rent it on Saturday nights to have our monthly preview services in. We would communicate clearly and repeatedly that we would begin our weekly services on September 12th on Sunday mornings in a different location. That different location would be Lakeshore Elementary. It isn’t available for renting at all until school starts because it is less than a year old (HISD policy). So pray with us that we get approved for both locations.

Two good things could come out of this. The first is that the church that is meeting in Summerwood Elem would move out before the next school year and we wouldn’t have to change locations. That is a possibility as they are currently building on a site. Pray for their finances and their building to be done rapidly. The second possible good outcome would be that we have so many people that want/need a Saturday night service that we launch on September 11th/12th with two services: one Saturday night and one Sunday morning. We would be excited about either occurrence.

Pray with us about how you can give financially. There is a lot to be done and few resources with which to make it happen. Currently, our only financial support is through individuals. There are no churches, conventions, or institutions supporting this effort. But we know that, as God provides through you, we will see amazing things happen in the lives of Houstonians living in Summerwood.

Also, pray about how you can be “boots on the ground” for us. We are going to need a group of about 15-20 people each weekend of our preview services to help us pass out info cards in the neighborhoods on Saturday morning, prayer-walk, and take part in the preview service that night. This will be vital to creating immediate excitement for the preview services. This is something that my launch team of 6 adults can’t do on their own. We need your help for this vital part of the process.

Thank you so much for your continued prayer and financial support of this work that God is doing in Northeast Houston.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Yes, I'm still here.

Time has not permitted posting, but I will strive to do better.

We have hit a critical phase in planting Hope Fellowship. We are planning our first preview service for Easter Sunday and we are struggling to find a place to meet. We have some options, but they are few and slow in developing.

But we are learning. I've known all along this would be slow and that has proven to be the case. But we are still seeing God work and gradually realize some reasons for His timing. We are also seeing how He is continuing to work things out.