Thursday, July 31, 2008

Renewing Commitments

To my church family... here again are the five areas we are seeking to renew commitment to this year. To my outside readership... these five commitment renewals were part of a letter I sent out to my congregation (accompanied by a copy of the Church Covenant) back in May. If we are going to take this seriously it's important to keep reiterating it.

Five Commitment Renewals for 2008:

1. We must renew our commitment to pursue godliness (1 Timothy 7b-8).

If our attitude, lifestyles, habits, and language reflect something other than Biblical principles we are sending a mixed message to people about who or what is really Lord of our lives.

2. We must renew our commitment to each other (Romans 12:9-16).

There are two irrefutable facts about every one of our families: each family member is unique and families disagree. This is true in the church family as well, but Scripture teaches us that a church is to be a culture of sacrifice. This distinguishes us and distinguishes our Savior to outside world.

3. We must renew our commitment to the covenant we’ve made (Acts 2:44).

When we each became members of Memorial Baptist Church we agreed to keep and uphold the summary of faith that is our Church Covenant. The purpose of this covenant is so that we can hold one another accountable and present a unified and uncompromised witness as a church body to the community.

4. We must renew our commitment to meeting together (Hebrews 10:23-25).

We meet together for spiritual growth, to encourage one another, to meet each other’s needs, and to worship the Lord together. Of course some are physically unable to come because of health or military service. The rest of us need to be clear that it is not honoring to the Lord to avoid gathering regularly with the church family. Non-active church membership is not a Biblical concept.

5. We must renew our commitment to prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17-23).

Do you want to see God at work in and through our church? This is going to come through submission in prayer. We need to be burdened to pray for the lost and burdened to pray for our church. I want to invite you to come on Wednesdays at 6:00pm but more than that- make prayer a vital part of your daily life.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Matthew 2 Recap (part two)

There are a lot of different opinions on exactly who the Magi were and what the Bethlehem Star was. There is also some debate regarding the dating of Jesus’ birth. Let me make a couple comments and then point you to some links for further reading. Most scholars date Jesus’ birth at around 6 BC because the majority hold that Herod died in 4 BC (the Magi came and went before Herod’s death and would have needed about two years to travel). The problem with this dating is that Luke 2:2 records Quirinius (a Roman politician) as governor of Syria at the time of Jesus’ birth. Quirinius governed sometime between 4 BC and 1 BC/ AD so that would put a wrinkle in the dating of Herod’s death at BC since he was alive at the time of Jesus’ birth.

Rick Larson argues in his documentary on the Bethlehem Star that Jesus’ birth was in 1 BC/ AD and produces some interesting conclusions about the Magi and the Star. Here is a link to his website called The Bethlehem Star. Here is a link to a good counter-point article. Was the Star a miraculous astronomical event or was it part of God’s mapping of the stars at the Creation? Larson argues the latter, “If the star was part of the natural order, and our solar system and the universe is like a great clock -- mathematically precise and predictable -- then that means that the star was a clockwork star, and that of course means that God built the star into the structure of the solar system in the universe from the beginning of time.” Either way, the most important thing is that we understand God was at work to bring glory to His Son when Jesus was sent to be the Messiah King to redeem sinners.

Matthew 2 Recap (part one)

Just a quick recap from this past Sunday’s (6/20) message- I preached from Matthew 2:1-12 and explained the significance of the Magi, the Bethlehem Star, and King Herod to understanding exactly what kind of King Jesus Christ is. I shared that he is a revolutionary king- not only because he shook the political establishment of King Herod and Rome, but most importantly because He came to topple the reign of sin in our lives and establish His Lordship over us. Then I shared that Jesus is a shepherd king- the star led the Magi to Bethlehem, the city of David. This birthplace is significant because:

1) Bethlehem means “house of bread” and Jesus is the “Bread of Life” (John 6:35);
2) It fulfilled prophecy (Micah 2:5); and
3) It again connects Jesus to David- Jesus was the long awaited king in the line of David and like David was a shepherd king who would gather, protect, and save His people (John 10:11).

Finally I shared that Jesus is an irresistibly worthy king- pagan Magi travelled across the world to lay costly treasure at the feet of a toddler Jewish King and prostrate themselves before Him in worship. Only the Messiah Jesus could cause “every knee to bow” (Philippians 2:10).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Planning to Worship our King

Yesterday I met with my music team to evaluate our previous Sunday morning service and plan ahead for the coming Sunday. I thought it might be helpful to write here the guidelines we use to carefully plan (under the direction of the Holy Spirit of course) what will be included in the coming worship services. Naturally this is still a work in progress. We are still getting to know one another and learning how to work together, plan ahead, and evaluate.

In choosing the sermon text I am first greeted with the warm reminder that “all Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). So I cannot go wrong when preaching from any text- God will do His work through it (Isaiah 55:11; Hebrews 4:12)! Practically I try to plan in advance the direction we as a congregation need to go and preferably I preach through books of the Bible systematically and expositionally. Currently I am preaching through Matthew on Sunday mornings. I have tried to plot out which texts I will cover over the course of the next six months. The Lord may throw me a curveball in my study time and change the direction one week, but at least it gives me a plan. My music team knows in advance the texts I will cover and when I will preach them (they are provided along with the whole congregation a “worship card” which provides the date, sermon title, main text, opposite Testament text for devotional reading, and memory verse). While I do not write the sermon until the week of, this gives us a guide to plan the music and other worship elements.

In choosing the songs my music team is first to think through each song from a theological perspective. They must ask the question, what do these songs teach us about God? Second, they are to think through each song from the perspective that Sunday is a corporate gathering. In other words, they must ask the question, is everyone included in this praise offering? Third, they must think about how the musical praise offering portion of the worship service flows in (or from) the preaching portion of the worship service. So they must ask the question, how do these songs prepare ears for the Word of God to be preached? Finally, they are to think through each song from a practical perspective. The question has to be asked- is the song sing-able? Is it a good fit for our instrumentalists, lead singers, and congregational singers?

In arranging the order of worship I primarily trust our worship leader and music team to arrange the order of service but typically includes (besides the sermon of course) songs of praise, meditation, Scripture readings, and focused times of prayer. Does order stifle the Holy Spirit? I believe 1 Corinthians 11-14 command and encourage that we have order in our weekly gatherings. It isn’t about being rigid or rehearse but about being intentional and instructional in our privilege to worship our King. In should also be noted that preparation is not an alternative to being Spirit-led. In fact we believe that the Spirit leads in the preparation meetings, in the choir rehearsals, in my study, and during personal devotions throughout the week. Preparation is the practice of submitting to the Holy Spirit and discerning His leadership more thoroughly.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Great Resource!

I just wanted to plug a website I came across called Faith by Hearing. It is loaded with mp3 files for free download and links to where you can read or listen to some great stuff from some great pastors, preachers, theologians, etc. With the rising cost of gasoline conferences and seminars that would interest me are not optional right now but this website delivers those otherwise unattainable resources to ready ears.By the way... how many of those dead theologians in the picture (the website's title banner) can you identify??

Have a safe and happy 4th! Praise God thru Whom all blessings flow!!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Raising the standards for Church Membership

Here at Memorial we are aiming to raise the standards for what it means to be a church member. The motivation for this is not an attempt to be elitist in a self-righteous sense (that would be in contradiction to Romans 12:3). Our motivation is to more clearly display Christ as individuals and as a spiritual community (this is in obedience to Romans 12:1-2). We are taking a number of steps right now to raise the standard and increase accountability. One of those steps is by having prospective member interviews. As the pastor, I or another whom I designate will meet with any prospective member for an interview before recommending them to be voted in as a member (by the congregation at our monthly business meeting). So far I have had the privilege of conducting two of these interviews in the last couple months. Here is the basic format of the interview (varying, depending on the member candidate and circumstances):

1. I ask them to share with me their story (family history, marriage history, religious history, etc) so I can get to know them better.
2. I ask them to share with me how they became a Christian (this is when I explain baptism if necessary).
3. I ask them to share what has led them to Memorial Baptist Church and why they feel called by God to join the covenant membership.
4. I ask them to share with me their understanding of church membership (then I will go over the Church Covenant, doctrinal beliefs, and some general responsibilities).
5. I ask them to share with me their understanding of the gospel.

Our aim as a church is to be more clear about what it means to be a member of our church. Many times church members do not know what membership is about and sadly some do not even know what the gospel is about. Here is how I explain (from Scripture- particularly from Hebrews) the general responsibilities of church membership:

1. Publicly profess your relationship with Jesus Christ (Heb 10:22).
2. Read through and agree with the Church Covenant (Heb 10:23).
3. Participate in formative church disciplines- prayer, Bible study, etc (Heb 10:24).
4. Gather weekly with the church body for corporate worship (Heb 10:25).
5. Contribute to a culture of sacrifice- through hospitality, service, and giving (Heb 13:16).
6. Submit to church leadership (Heb 13:17).
7. Live with integrity (Heb 13:18).