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An Open Letter To The LGBT Community and Supporters Of Gay Marriage

     Posted on Wed ,01/07/2015 by Chip

Dear LGBT community and supporters of the SCOTUS gay-marriage decision,

My name is Chip and after much thought and prayerful reflection I’ve decided to add my two cents into an already diluted and charged conversation. First allow me to introduce myself: I’ve been married for over 15 years to the same woman (my college sweetheart and love of my life), I am a pastor, a resident of the one of the most (if not the most) conservative voting districts in the nation, a Southerner, a country boy (some may say redneck), gun toting  – fly fishing outdoorsman, college football fan, father, “proud to be an American” patriot with deep southern Baptist roots, Bible believing, evangelical white man. So basically the stereotypical bigot – right? I say that in an attempt to bring about some humor to the conversation but also to be as transparent as I can as to who I am. While this is what I do – where I’ve come from – this is what makes me not who I am.

As a pastor, I’ve been asked many times to express my thoughts about the recent SCOTUS decision on gay marriage. Other than praying for our nation on Sunday morning (along with a little baby in our church who is in the NICU), I’ve remained relatively silent on the issue. My policy, unlike many of my more opinionated and loud-mouthed colleagues, is that I try to keep politics as far away from my pulpit – for reasons that I may discuss at a later time. For now, I wanted to have an open, honest and hopefully compassionate conversation with you to explain why I believe what I believe and how I will respond to the recent court decision.

First of all let me make clear that I disagree on the court’s decision on a number of levels. As an American I feel that decisions such as this should be handled on the state level and should possibly be up for a popular vote (maybe). I note that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was not something voted on, but passed through our system of checks and balances on the federal level – as it should have been.  I do believe, however, that the decision passed down by the courts on Friday should have been a legislative decision – not judicial one – but I digress.

I also disagree with the decision from a Biblical perspective. Now I know that you in your mind you’re probably saying “here we go again” or “here comes the Bible” or “its all about interpretation.” But, as a Christian and student of the Bible (something I’ve dedicated my life to understand), I believe that it is clear that marriage is between man and woman – we’ll talk more about this later.

Finally, from a historical perspective I think this was a bad decision. Seeing the White House lit up with a rainbow of colors made me think what would Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Lincoln and others would say about that. But that was more of an emotional reaction due to my passion for history and shouldn’t really come to bear on our conversation.

So this is where I stand, but I wanted to go a little deeper today. Your community has done an excellent job of plucking heart strings, communicating your ideas and philosophies, and conveying to the nation why this is important. So allow me a moment to do the same. I’ve divided this into “the good news” and the “bad news”:

The Good News

1)      The good news is that marriage, at least for me, is not the issue. The church needs to be very honest with itself that the sanctity of Biblical marriage has been defiled for a long time. While we make stands against gay marriage, we’ve made no recent stands against polygamy, sex outside of marriage, co-habitation, common-law marriages, arranged marriages, divorce, abuse (emotional, physical, sexual, verbal) within the home, etc. With the exception of polygamy  - as a pastor I deal with each of the above issues on a regular basis. It’s difficult for me, because I am a firm believer in God’s grace and forgiveness in Christ (Lord knows I need it) and yet maintaining a desire for holy living because it pleases Him while wanting to reach all people with the Gospel. So our nation has been straying far away from Biblical marriage for a long time. Homosexuality is a different time of issue – but marriage seems to be the core problem here.

2)      While I believe that homosexuality is not God’s plan, I am also keenly aware that I fall incredibly short of God’s standard. What I mean is that I’m no better than you. I don’t see you as inferior.

3)      I don’t expect our government to follow Christian Biblical Values. Why? Because they are by and large not Christians (yes I made a judgment call there). I can’t expect a non-Christian culture to do Christian things. That is lunacy.

4)      We can be friends. I have friends that are gay – they know I don’t agree with them. Honestly I don’t hang out with them on regular basis (mainly because I work way too much) or get my family together with them (we’ll talk about that in a minute) – but I think we can agree to disagree without bashing each other over our systems of belief. You see – as much as you identify yourself as gay or open-minded – I identify myself as a Christian – it is my identity. To ask me to change is like – well – asking you not to be gay. But – we can still be friends.

The Bad News

1)      I will never perform a gay marriage. Some have said to me over the last week “you have to perform these ceremonies – it is the law.” That would be a gross misinterpretation. As an American – I don’t have to do anything – that is one thing I love about our nation. As a pastor I can marry who I choose. And yes – I have refused to marry heterosexual couples on the basis that I didn’t think their marriage would last, or abuse was evident – and I can’t officiate a wedding that I don’t feel good about.

2)      Probably not going to get our families together. This seems really personal and it stings a little bit – but I’m raising my kids based on what I believe are Biblical truths – and because they are young I really don’t want them to have to wrestle with homosexuality questions. I’m going to raise them to love others, serve others, be Christ to others – regardless of disagreements.  (hopefully that is good news for you). Maybe when they are older and they understand what is going on we can all get together for some ribs and sweet tea – as long as you let me do the grilling :) .

3)      While I may give you reasons to hate me or call me a bigot – the reality is that I am not. More than anything else I want you to know what I know – and this has nothing to do with sexuality – but everything to do with grace. We all struggle with acceptance – I know you’ve struggled with it – and the only place I’ve ever totally found it was in a relationship with Christ. He points out my short-comings and how I have violated his standards – and then says I forgive you and makes me a child of God. That is why I love the gospel so much.

My hope is that this decision doesn’t tear our nation a part – yet I feel that may be happening. My prayer is my children would be able to express these disagreements without persecution – but unfortunately I don’t think that will be able to happen either. My purpose in this open letter is to communicate to you that this is why I disagree, yet I don’t hate you. Maybe we can be friends and disagree – but that is up to you.

God Bless You

Chip Wheeler

Pastor, redneck, Dad, Husband, conservative, redeemed – and your hopefully your friend.

The Pressure To Grow: The Church Planter’s Worst Enemy and Best Friend

     Posted on Mon ,20/04/2015 by Chip

Church planting causes a pressure that most ministers and churches can’t understand. Ministry in itself is tough and brings about a stress that impacts the minister and his family, but when determining to plant a church – there is a pressure often misunderstood by established clergy and churches. My wife has always said that there are pricks and perks to church planting. Honestly the perks, for me, far out weigh the pricks – however the stress and pressure that come with a church planting have brought me to my knees more often than not. Perhaps the most intense and stressful pressure that I have dealt with is the pressure to grow the church.

The pressure to grow is always on the mind of the planter. Here are few reasons on why it is such a pressure and how to do deal with it:

1) Financially it effects their livelihood. When the church doesn’t grow, the financial impact to the planter’s family is astronomical. I’ve met planters who have lost everything, survived on food stamps, and even took on 3-4 jobs because they didn’t want to handicap the church plant financially – so they chose not to take a salary (or a very small one). While this is at times necessary (I’ve done it) and honorable – it is not a long term plan. After a while the financial stress is too much and the planter has to make a decision on whether to maintain the pace or leave for greener pastures.

2) The comparison game. Planters are always reading and hearing stories about pastors leading other churches much larger than their own. The temptation is to compare yourself to these guys and begin to question your own effectiveness. I think all pastors have struggled with this – but for the church planter – this is a constant.

3) The need to raise up more leaders. When you don’t have people – you don’t have leaders. That means the primary responsibility of leading and doing the work of the church is laid on the planter (and his wife). When you don’t have new people coming in the planter is more apt to burn out (as well as the leaders/volunteers who do serve).

4) Credibility and Culture. Without growth it is difficult to create credibility within the culture. People are attracted to things that appear successful – and the only way many people measure success in church life is growth.

So how does the planter/pastor protect himself from this kind of pressure. A couple of thoughts:

1) Count the cost (financially). Always take care of your family. There are times that you will have to take a pay cut or 2nd job – but what is paramount is to take care of your family. Know how much you need and when you need it. God has taught me (and continues to teach me) a lot through budget shortfalls that has built my faith. Challenge your people, always step out on faith, but always think through the worst case scenario when it comes to finances.

2) I can tell you not to compare yourself to other churches/pastors – but I think the better word of encouragement is don’t create idols out of bigger churches and more popular pastors. Also – don’t be a hater toward these guys/churches. Pray for them, learn from them, but don’t try to be like them. Be you. Learn to be comfortable in your own skin.

3) Build into leaders and hand off responsibility constantly – knowing they are not going to do it as well as you do it (at first). When other people share the burden with you, you have the makings of a church family that is passionate about carrying out the vision.

4) Use the pressure to grow as a motivation to express the Gospel in all that you do. Think through this strategically and redeem your time for this purpose.

We will always have this pressure to grow – but make sure that you want to grow for the right reasons. Not to feed your ego or line your wallet – but to glorify God by expressing the Gospel. When our objective is this first – the pressure becomes more of a motivation than a stress.

Church Planters: Find Your “Cheers”

     Posted on Mon ,23/03/2015 by Chip

Coffee never appealed to me growing up. In fact, when coffee shops became a fad, I would always order a soft drink or a really sweet latte. That was until I moved to New Orleans. Moving to the Big Easy not only was a culture shock, but also an education it what it means to be a coffee connoisseur. I found myself drawn to the coffee shops for that caffeinated nectar that feels like a warm hug. These coffee shops offered a slow down atmosphere filled with conversations, free wifi and friendly faces. It’s not surprising that this is where my church planting journey began.

Every Thursday night I would watch the sitcom “Cheers.” I can’t tell you about the characters, episodes or even the witty banter – but what I do remember is the one line from the theme song “sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name.” I believe that little phrase offers the key to incarnational church planting. Church planters, and any pastor, who wants to make a profound difference must be willing to establish a base camp where everybody knows their name. For me, it was a local coffee shop. For others it has been gyms, high school football fields, restaurants, parks, and the list can go on and on.

I believe that the local church is called to evangelize – continuously. That means that yearly initiatives, weekly visitations, or even crusades and events are far less important and effective than the incarnational presentation of the Gospel to those who know you and know you care for them.

Every day you could find me at PJ’s coffee shop or Garrison’s coffee bar meeting people while checking email, sipping on a hot beverage and meeting with others in our church. Every morning it was as if the bar yelled “NORM!” as the barista automatically gave me my “medium, medium” cup of coffee.

God did great things during that season in my life, but what was unexpected was that during my 2nd church plant my “cheers” was not a coffee shop, but a hair salon. Let me make this clear – I have no hair to speak of, but since my office was directly above the studio – it become a natural spot for me to meet, greet and gather those who needed Jesus. I can’t tell you how many people have to come Christ through my time spent in the chemically saturated hair salon. God can use a bald guy to express Christ in a hair salon – further proof that HE does exist :) !

My advice to any church planter or person who wants to extend the gospel without relying on direct mailers, knocking on doors or counting on big events is simple: Find a place that everyone knows your name! Invest in and love those people – because that is what Jesus did.

Church Planters: Do One Thing

     Posted on Mon ,16/03/2015 by Chip

Over the years I have tried every kind of gimmick, strategy, and  marketing – basically everything short of giving away money – to get people to our church. Here are some of the dumber things I’ve done:

1) Gave away a free DVD player in order to get people to sign up in our data base. This was a good idea in theory but only eight people signed up. So we were out a DVD player with not guests or infiltration into the community.

2) We launched our first church in Hammond, LA on April 4, 2004 – 4/4/04. In order to publicize the event we sent college students throughout the community with sidewalk chalk during the weeks prior to the launch service with the instructions to write “Are You Ready? 4/4/04.” This seemed like a good idea at the time, until many people from the community  asked if we were predicting the end of the world. Apocalyptic predicting is never good for a launch service.

3) During the first year of our current church plant we sent out a huge mailer that said “Come Have A Ball With Us” inviting people and their kids to our church. We then randomly dropped off rubber kick balls on door steps through neighborhoods – didn’t go over well.

4) The worst thing I’ve ever done was sent out teenagers to wash windshields leaving a note saying “Your windshield has been cleaned in Jesus name.” We received calls from people who were upset because of the residue on their newly detailed car.

There are other mistakes and cheesy strategies that I can write about, but ultimately I’ve learned a valuable lesson from over 13 years of church planting: my job is not to establish anything other than a place that I herald the good news.

That’s it. Sometimes I get really frustrated with the strategies, gimmicks and ideas that come out of “successful” churches because the Biblical mandate for every church planter is to establish a place to proclaim the good news. I know this sounds a bit old school and please understand that I am not dismissing the need to be creative, develop strategy and have a plan – we do all of these things at River Hills. What I am saying is that if you are a church planter or if you are considering planting a church, may your ministry objective not be trendy or traditional – but truth telling. Please convey the gospel. The coffee bar, hymnal, lighting, stain glass, name or denominational affiliation will NEVER change lives – only the Gospel.

Plant Churches that Proclaim The Gospel.

Q&A Sunday January 13, 2015

     Posted on Wed ,14/01/2015 by Chip

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to share the stage with my wife (Sarah Beth) and answer questions our congregation posed to us via email. Below is the link for the audio of that message as well as answers to questions we didn’t get to answer.

Audio From Sunday\’s Q&A

Answers To Questions We Didn’t Have Time To Answer:

1) How do I share Christ with a friend or family member who does not believe in God?

First and foremost you must understand that you can’t convert them – only God can do that. Placing our dependency on God as well as His ability to convict and move in someone’s heart is the most important truth that you can cling to.

Secondly, its important that you demonstrate grace and love. Like Christ who provides grace to the worst sinner, we must demonstrate grace to those who don’t know Jesus. Also, them knowing that you love them and don’t condemn them speaks volumes. It is also important to demonstrate your humanity by not being self-righteous, but dependent on Jesus’ grace and forgiveness.

Finally – pray. I know this sounds simple, but is the best thing you can do.Pray for them, recruit others to pray for them, and look for opportunities to speak grace into their lives.

2) How do I share Christ with my children?

Much like you would share Jesus with an unbeliever, you should make sure that you are giving and demonstrating grace as well as praying consistently for your child. It is also important to know that while your child may not be a Christian yet, providing opportunities for them to know Jesus in a church context is vital. They need to see you growing spiritually as well as being consistent in your faith. Finally, make sure that you give them time to process the gospel – meaning don’t force them to make a decision.

3) Why should I be baptized?

Baptism is a symbol of what Christ has done in our lives. We are dead and dirty in our sins, but when Christ saves us we are alive and clean. Baptism symbolizes are spiritual cleansing, but also our new life. Just as Jesus was buried in the tomb, he rose from the dead a live. One should be baptized because: 1) Christ commanded it. 2) It professes our faith to the church. 3) It shares our faith to others. 4) It is a mile maker for us spiritually and give us a reference point for our salvation.

Baptism is a wonderful event that demonstrates how Christ has saved. Being obedient to him through baptism symbolizes our salvation, obedience, conversion, immersion into the body of Christ and submission to Him.

4) What is the rapture?

The New Testament is clear that Christ will return to earth one day to rescue those who know him and establish his kingdom. Prior to his return the Bible says he will “rapture” the church or call them up to himself. The interpretation of Scripture as to when this will happen is debatable, but what is for certain is that Christ will return and call his church to him.

If you have more questions or want more explanation please feel free to email me at chip@churchatriverhills.com.

Lies Church People Believe About Politics Part 1

     Posted on Thu ,03/07/2014 by Chip

I tend to stay out of politics for a couple of reasons. First of all my job is to preach the gospel to all people. That means that I will encounter people with different political stances. So in order not to ruin my credibility with those who may or may not agree with my political leanings – I choose to keep the Gospel as the most important issue. The other reason is much simpler: I’m competitive and I like to win. When I get into political “discussions” I tend to get fired up, angry or even down right mean – so its best that I stay away for the sake of personal holiness.

While this is not a post about my personal political view, it is a “political” post. As a Christ follower, I find that many church goers become more and more passionate about political involvement and advocating for candidates who have Christian leanings or “conservation” view points. I’m all about the freedom to campaign, advocate, and even work for politicians – in fact I believe that serving in the government is a noble profession. I’m the son of a public school teacher and a former state law enforcement officer – and have scores of people in my family who have served on the battlefield and in the pulpit – and I have close friends who are elected officials. Two times in my life I’ve seriously considered military service – once in high school and the other as an army chaplain – but God had other plans. So this is not an “anti-American” post, but more of a series of observations pertaining to lies that church goers believe about politics – specifically “wrong” thoughts Christians may have about how Christian politicians can implement change. So here it goes:

Lie #1: Christian Politicians Will Lead Us Back To Christian Values

Several years ago I had the opportunity to speak at a National Day Of Prayer rally. After I spoke, a politician whom I respect, took the podium and cast a vision that resonated with many people. His vision was for an American that held onto Christian values; an America that had nice people, where you didn’t need to lock your doors, and even where people valued one another. While this was all dandy there was a critical point left out of his message: people are inherently sinful. Even in the most Utopian societies there is sin. Culture doesn’t get better because we have a Christian leader – culture can only get better when Jesus comes back. Leaders can encourage change, but only Christ can provide change. This is not to say that Christian leaders aren’t well intended, but it is a fallacy to believe that a Christian president, senator or congressman will convince everyone who has not been infected with the gospel to do what Jesus says. In fact, as a pastor, it is hard to convince a church full of Christ followers (including myself) to do what Jesus says. Christian politicians are not the the “hope” of America – only Jesus is. What if we shared the gospel with the same tenacity as we campaigned for a politician? That is where we make the eternal change.

Lie #2: American Is The New Promise Land And We Need To Take It Back

Seriously? Do we really believe that because some of our forefathers were Christian and that Thomas Paine’s common sense had Biblical consistencies that we are a nation that is committed to Gospel centered living? Where was the Gospel during the Salem Witch trials, in Thomas Jefferson’s slave quarters, on the trail of tears or in George Washington’s masonic meetings? The point that I’m trying to make is that there has only been one promise land in the history of man kind and that was the Israel of the Old Testament. We’re not the first nation to claim to be Christian. Henry the VIII committed to the church as he divorced and beheaded wives, Louis the 14th claimed to be ordained by God in France as his people starved to death, and Crusaders marched in the name of Jesus. The truth is, Biblically speaking, the only promise land any of us will experience is when Jesus comes back and he establishes a New Jerusalem. While we sojourn here on earth, Christians do not have to “accept” counter-Christian values, but we do need to learn to expect it. As I heard a preacher say once “they crucified Christ, what makes us think it will be easier for us.”

More to Come….

Sufficient Enough?

     Posted on Mon ,19/05/2014 by Chip

I have a confession to make: I struggle with being complacent. Always looking for the next big project or metaphorical mountain to climb. Always trying to find satisfaction or sufficiency, but like Mic Jagger says “I can’t get no satisfaction.” While this can be a positive trait, it also can keep me from recognizing healthy or unhealthy ambitions. I believe that many believers struggle with this as well, because the taste of the Gospel spurs into a pursuit of Christ – but without a healthy response to this appetite – it can prove to lead down unhealthy paths.

This drive keeps one from truly resting in the now and takes on the mentality of John W. Rockefeller  when asked how much was enough money by responding “just a dollar more.” What I’ve come to realize is that “more” is not a bad thing when left in the person of Christ.

The Gospel is the message of hope and salvation, but for many Christ-followers we leave the Gospel at the moment of conversion and attempt to find spiritual strength through the next Christian “fad”, Bible study, charismatic speaker, mission trip, youth camp, or worship song. When that doesn’t work we drift off into an unhealthy spiritual complacency.

Over the years I’ve been  concerned with the Christian celebrity syndrome. Scores of church goers following every possible blog, tweet, book, speaking engagement or worship band to the point of fanaticism. This is nothing new. Paul writes in I Corinthians “each one of you says ‘I follow Paul’ or ‘I follow Apollos’ or ‘I follow Cephas’ or ‘I follow Christ.’” People have always abandoned their dependency on the Gospel in order to pursue “gospel attractions.” And just like the old self seeking to find peace in the world, the believer who seeks to find rest in a pastor, speaker, author or band finds them self wanting.

One of the greatest messages of the Bible is that our sufficiency is in Christ. The grace of God is enough for the believer to rest in their new identity of being a child of God. But my exhortation today is to not stop there. The believer must fight to maintain that Christ alone is sufficient for all of their needs.

Paul writes in II Corinthians 12:9 “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” Christ is sufficient means that he is adequate for a particular purpose  with implication of leading to satisfaction. While we are sufficient in Christ, Christ is sufficient in every circumstance life presents us. When your youth pastor moves – Christ is sufficient. When a church leader has a moral failure – Christ is sufficient. When depression grips you like a vice – Christ is sufficient. When cancer ravages your body – Christ is sufficient.

May our ambition be to find satisfaction and rest in the Gospel and not reclaim the idol of Christian celebrity, but find Christ sufficient.

Marriage Intensive Weekend

     Posted on Mon ,07/04/2014 by Chip

For the first time in the history of our church we will be offering an affordable marriage intensive weekend. During Memorial Day weekend we have six spots for couples who wish to go deeper in their faith and marriage. If you’re unsure if this is for you or wondering if this weekend is even worth your time – let me give you 10 reasons why you should consider attending:

1) The cost is  $100 – and that is a small investment for your marriage. So even if it isn’t applicable to you – you get to go away for the weekend without kids or distractions – and spend time with your best friend.

2) Couples will have the opportunity to to sit down with a certified prepare and enrich marriage facilitator to work through specific issues or problems.

3) During small group times couples will have the opportunity to learn from other couples and recognize that they aren’t the only ones who struggle in marriage.

4) Spouses will learn how their significant other communicates and handles conflict.

5) Did I mention it was cheap?

6) Couples will investigate their family of origin and understand how differently each family system communicates.

7) Husbands and wives will learn how to deal with stress and conflict in a healthy way.

8) You’ll sit down as a couple and set goals for your family and relationship.

9) Couples will learn how to better communicate and grow spiritually with their spouse.

10) Spouses will be able to sit back, relax and enjoy a stress free environment with other couples.

Sign-up ASAP – space is limited to six couples. You do not want to miss this opportunity.

March 30 – Pray, Ask, Bring

     Posted on Mon ,17/03/2014 by Chip

Yesterday during our worship services I finished up the teaching series “RE:” by challenging each of us to RE:focus on bringing truth and people together. The challenge was simple: Pray, Ask and Bring. So if you missed it – here is what we’re doing:

On March 30 we want to reach out to as many people as possible and personally invite them to church. So for the next two weeks – I want to encourage you to:

Pray: Pray for one person to invite to church. Pray that God would provide providential appointments for you to invite them, that their heart will be open to the invitation, and that you might demonstrate the grace of Christ to them. For the first week – simply pray.

Ask: After spending time praying for them – ask them to join you on March 30. Bring them to either the 9:30 or 11 a.m. service.

finally…

Bring: Bring them to church and then bring them to lunch afterward. Spend some time hanging out and nurturing the seed that God will plant during our services on Sunday.

Can’t wait to see all God is going to do through you! Have a great week!

A Year To Remember – A Year To Anticipate

     Posted on Thu ,26/12/2013 by Chip

Christmas is over, decorations are coming down, and 2014 is right around the corner. With the closing of 2013 and the emergence of a new year there are many things to be thankful for and a lot to look forward to at River Hills Church. Over the past year life at River Hills has changed A LOT!!! Here are a few things to celebrate, appreciate and thank God for:

1) We moved into our new facility. After 6 years without a permanent home, God blessed us with an incredible place to worship and do ministry. Since our opening on November 17 we have hosted food distribution, business Christmas parties, worship services, small groups and a plethora of other things.

2) Over 60 people came to Christ – not including the 40 kids in Haiti who received Jesus.

3) We’ve grown numerically -and spiritually.

4) Our children’s ministry is busting at the seams.

5) We’ve sent missionaries all over the world.

6) People have adopted a culture of generosity.

Things are happening – and I am so thankful to be able to pastor our church, but this is only the beginning. Next year holds some unexpected and exciting steps forward in the life of River Hills. The first big step is our official grand opening on January 12. We will launch a 9:30 and 11 a.m. worship service and on January 19 start Sunday night small groups.

This is only the beginning – I can’t wait to share with you what we are planning for 2014 – so don’t miss our worship service on January 5.

Have a very safe and wonderful New Year! God Bless!!!!