Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year... Biblical Perspective

Is it appropriate for a Christian to make a “New Year’s Resolution”? Yes, but…

It is good to set goals and develop discipline. However there are certain Biblical principles which should guide our resolution-setting. First, we need to heed Jesus’ words as recorded in Matthew 5:37, “Let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.” Do not make a goal or a resolution that you are not prepared to keep. Resolutions take effort, planning, discipline, and a daily reliance on the Holy Spirit. Second, we need to realize that a resolution is obviously something important to us so we need to make of importance what is important to the Lord as Ephesians 5:8-10 informs us, “Walk as children of the Light… trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” So making a resolution to buy a boat is short-sighted (not that buying a boat is sin). Make a resolution to spend more quality time with your family- perhaps a boat purchase contributes to that resolution. Third, keep God’s glory as your aim. It sounds cliché but I am resolved to be a better steward of my body (i.e. diet and exercise). Lord willing a result will be dropping pounds and having more energy during the day. The main goal though is to honor the Lord through this body He’s given me as 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” These factors should help you make (and keep) realistic and Christ-magnifying resolutions for the New Year. There is nothing magical about a change in the calendar but there is power in trusting God with your whole life and committing to honor Him above all.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Thoughts on the Seasons of Church Life

Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA posted an interesting article on The Resurgence site. I've re-posted it below and am curious about your impressions, thoughts (agree/ disagree?), and for those Memorial members reading, how you feel it relates to our church. Feel free to post comments below, shoot me an email- jeremy [at] mbcpa [dot] org... or let's talk when we get together next Sunday.

Churches go through critical seasons of their life that largely determine both their longevity and health. Seeing, accepting, and navigating these seasons is incredibly important for the ongoing forward progress of the gospel.
  • Gestation: In this phase, God calls a leader (or leaders) to begin a new church and begins to clarify the specifics of their vision. An initial core of people is gathered, a meeting location is secured, some ministries begin to form, and funding is acquired.
  • Birth: In this season, the church goes from being a concept to a reality, opens itself up to invite in the greater community, and focuses its attention on evangelism, growth, and implementation of new systems and leaders.
  • Infancy: In this season, the attendance settles into a somewhat stabilized pattern, longer-range planning begins, new programs are added, and administrative structures grow to prepare for numerical growth and evolving vision.
  • Adolescence: In this season, church attendees begin rising up into positions of greater leadership, church government begins to form, and church attendance and financial giving begin to increase.
  • Maturity: In this season, additional staff is added, the church gains confidence that it now has sufficient stability to exist indefinitely, church government and leadership are solidified, church attendance and giving become strong, and the church is now independent and able to self-govern and self-finance. It is also common for churches in this season to purchase their own facility.
  • Parenting: In this season, which ideally would be during the first year of the plant, the church is ready to reproduce itself by giving leadership and monies for the purpose of starting another gestation phase and repeating the church planting cycle. This results in the birth of a new congregation, likely in connection with other church planting churches networking together for the cause of church planting. The unique element here is that the church(es) sponsoring the new church plant have a vested interest in praying for and holding accountable the new work since they have directly sacrificed for it.
  • Grand-parenting: In this season, a church has planted enough churches that it begins to see third and fourth generation church plants birthed.
  • Death: In this season, a church is unhealthy and does not see conversion growth or attract young leaders. It thus faces a critical decision between two options. One, the church can deny its impending death, which may be many years out, sell off its assets such as land to prolong its death, redefine its mission to defend its death, and simply hold on as it slowly and painfully dies, often rewriting the best years of its history so as to feel significant and successful. Or two, the church can embrace its impending death as an opportunity to resurrect.
  • Resurrection: In this season, a church knows it is dying, or at least that it is not as healthy and fruitful as it should be, and humbly decides to shut down its organization and replant the church. This can be done by hiring a new entrepreneurial pastor to start over with the assets and with the freedom to kill programs, prune problem people, and decide whether to upgrade the facility, which is usually suffering from deferred maintenance, or sell it to use the money for a more strategic facility.
This can also be done by giving the facility and assets to a church planter or a growing church, which requires the dying church to be more concerned about the name of Jesus than its own name, and the Kingdom over its church. Those churches that have this humility and wisdom should be cheered as model churches for the majority of American churches that have plateaued or are declining and need to have a vision for a faithful and fruitful future.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Baby's First Christmas

Several have mentioned to me how special it is to celebrate our new baby's first Christmas. Of course he'll be one month old on Christmas Eve so I'm not sure the significance is quite appreciated from his perspective. The significance is certainly not lost on Blair and me. We are truly thankful this Christmas to have our healthy baby boy, Asher Alexander, with us. There couldn't be a better Christmas gift for us to share! Through Asher, God is giving us an opportunity to extend his love to another- our own child. He has also been giving us an opportunity for sanctification. Over the last four weeks we've been going to school on humility, selflessness, sacrifice, and loving your spouse when your really tired and cranky. School will be in session for many many years and we are thankful the Lord would count us worthy to experience such things. For these gifts and most of all for the gift of salvation our family will have a Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2009

How to Kill your Church?

Over on the Challies blog I came across a lenghty quote from a great book. I read D.A. Carson's The Cross and Christian Ministry a couple years ago and this excerpt was a great reminder of the wisdom Carson provides but also the warning he gives to churches who foster unhealthy and ultimately destructive attitudes. Here's the excerpt:

The ways of destroying the church are many and colorful. Raw factionalism
will do it. Rank heresy will do it. Taking your eyes off the cross and letting
other, more peripheral matters dominate the agenda will do it-admittedly more
slowly than frank heresy, but just as effectively over the long haul. Building
the church with superficial ‘conversions’ and wonderful programs that rarely
bring people into a deepening knowledge of the living God will do it.
Entertaining people to death but never fostering the beauty of holiness or the
centrality of self-crucifying love will build an assembling of religious people,
but it will destroy the church of the living God. Gossip, prayerlessness,
bitterness, sustained biblical illiteracy, self-promotion, materialism-all of
these things, and many more, can destroy a church. And to do so is dangerous:
‘If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is
sacred, and you are that temple (1 Cor 3:17).” It is a fearful thing to fall
into the hands of the living God.

HT: Tim Challies

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

First Day, First Fruits

Over at the Nine Marks blog Thabiti Anyabwile has some insightful thoughts about our perspective toward Sunday. He poses the question whether we view Sunday as the first or last day of the week. Pragmatically speaking it is part of the weekend (in our culture) and is often treated as the last day though God did establish it as the first day. For Christians this affects how we treat worship on that day. It isn't to be treated strictly as the Jews treat their Sabbath Day. While rest often part of what Christians should do on Sunday worship is the main objective for the day. Do we approach Sunday as a day to just unwind or as a day of "first fruits" for the Lord? It is a day for preparation. As we draw near to the Lord on Sunday we are prepared or equipped for what He will call us to throughout the week. Too often Christians get lazy about worship (non-attendance) or lazy in worship (non-participation). As a pastor I spend all week preparing for my sermon on Sunday. So it is easy for me to preach and feel completed when the application of the sermon has just begun. Let me encourage you not to view Sunday selfishly ("this is my day to rest and relax"). You will find rest and you will be refreshed when your focus for Sunday is on a day for the Lord's glory.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Theological Toolbar

Michael Patton and the crew over at Reclaiming the Mind Ministries have put out an excellent resource for your computer. I am hooked. The "Theological Toolbar" provides quick access to a variety of Bible study, blog, podcast audio, articles, and other resources.

You can follow THIS LINK to download the toolbar to your own computer. Be careful though, all the handy links and tools can be addicting!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Encouragement and Conviction from a Pastor's Pastor

Training Begins!

Now that our son Asher is in the world Blair and I begin the multi-faceted, multi-year training process. Part of that training is to teach him how to submit to our authority and ultimately to God’s authority. Blair and I already have husband/ wife discipleship time when we read Scripture together, we discuss the Scripture and I explain it for application, and then we pray together. Gradually Asher will be included in this time as he grows. I understand this to be my responsibility as the head of my home. It is also my responsibility to bring my son into the weekly congregational worship of our church. This comes to a tension I’ve already had to deal with. I appreciate our diligent and caring nursery workers but we intend to train Asher to worship from the pew. We know will be a challenge but we’re thinking about the big picture so that the challenging years will have a purpose (and an end in sight). I’ve also gone on record with several about not having a children’s church for the post-nursery years (4 years and up). This is not popular and in fairness it is a new way of looking at things for some. I came across a response from Dr. Voddie Baucham to a question about bringing children in worship as opposed to sequestering them in the nursery or a children’s church type program.

QUESTION: Most churches send the children to the nursery to create a “more worshipful environment”. How do you conduct worship with disruptive children?

RESPONSE: “We encourage all families to bring their children into the sanctuary. Cooing babies don’t bother us one bit. We recognize that some infants will need to be taken out for feedings, etc., and we have no problem with that. However, we do not provide a nursery. The Bible frequently mentions children in the context of the corporate gathering of God’s people (Deut. 31:12-13; Ezra 10:1; Matt. 18:1-5; 19:13-15; Eph. 6:1-4; Col. 3:20). Moreover, we believe it is important for children to worship with their parents, and to be taught how to sit through the service. Nurseries tend to hide problems that need to be corrected. Children who cannot sit through a service need training and discipline, not isolation. Moreover, if these children cannot sit through the service, they are probably giving their parents fits at home (thus their desire to dump them off at the nursery on Sunday morning). We patiently teach inexperienced families how to walk with their children through this process and it blesses their home, their marriage, their relationship with their children and the testimony of the church.”

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Asher Alexander Bradshaw

Our son was born this past Tuesday (Nov. 24) weighing in at 8lbs 10oz. Perhaps we should have named him "Ouch". I'll write more about the experiences (and continued experiences) when I am more lucid. Right now the ratio of poo-poo diapers to quality minutes of sleep is around 20:1 and it is nap time now (for us... thanks to Aunt Ashley and Aunt Kathy watching baby for a bit). Needless to say our lives are changed forever and what an enormous grace it is to us. Admittedly it doesn't feel like a grace at 3am with the sound of a crying baby ringing in my ears, but a grace gift he is. We are so thankful for God's great provisions.

I'm also very thankful for my wife Blair. She said around 4am this morning during one of our many trips to calm baby Asher that this was about "learning a whole new level of selflessness". How wise and how true! I'm so humbled by my wife's strength. She is truly a model of meekness which is harnessed strength. So here we go on a whole new chapter of our life together and the first chapter of Asher's life. We covet prayers, words of encouragement, and of course, any sleep you can loan us!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"You have filled Jerusalem with your teaching!"

About a year ago our church adopted a mission statement to make it clear who we are and what we are about. It goes like this... "Memorial Baptist Church seeks to be a family who glorifies Christ through living and proclaiming God's Word." This coming year we will begina four year process teaching and implementing what we'll call the Four Pillars of our church- 1) Linking in Fellowship; 2) Learning the Bible; 3) Leading in Ministry; and 4) Living out the Gospel. These four pillars sum up what is expected of every member if we are to consistently carry out our mission statement.

When I think of a church's specific and clarified mission or vision it is hard not to think about the Apostles in Acts 5. They were boldly preaching the gospel and getting a lot of opposition for it by the Jewish leaders. The Sanhedrin by and large tragically rejected Jesus as Messiah and Lord. The Apostles were brought before the High Priest to face charges of preaching the good news of Jesus Christ after they were told not to. The High Priest said in Acts 5:28, "We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching." Now how's that for a mission or vision statement?? How about... our vision is to fill our city with the teaching of God's Word!? Can you imagine a city filled in every dark corner with Biblical teaching? That's pretty impressive and should be the goal of every church. Our church is in Port Arthur, Texas and my prayer is that Port Arthur would become filled with the teaching of Biblical truth!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Inside Planned Parenthood

This is Mike Huckabee's interview of Abby Johnson who recently left Planned Parenthood to join the pro-Life cause. May others open their eyes to the horror of all the tiny men and women that are heinously murdered every day.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Bible Alphabet Soup- NASB, ESV, HCSB, NIV, KJV...

If you want to read a helpful interview to understand the differences between Bible translations and the kinds of decicions a translation team makes HERE is a great article. The interview is with Dr. Ed Blum the general editor of the Holman Christian Standard Bible. The main English translation I use is the New American Standard Version but I do really like the English Standard Version (after all it is the one all the "cool kids" are using these days- inside joke) and have especially found the ESV Study Bible to be an excellent tool. Some English translations are better than others and some are more readable. The ESV and HCSB have attempted to be in the company of the better word-for-word translations (like the NASB) while being more readable like the NIV. With all that said, check out the interview with Dr. Blum. Below are two more articles I'd recommend on English translations of the Bible.

John Piper on why his church uses the ESV

Daniel Wallace on why not the KJV

Longing for Community

As I've been teaching through Nehemiah over the past several weeks in our Sunday night "Nightlight" service the parallels with the Old Covenant community and the New Covenant community are undeniable. Nehemiah set out to rebuild a city and in 52 days amazingly the wall around Jerusalem was completed. Of course the bigger job was rebuilding or re-covenanting the community. It was the community of God's people bound in covenant that served as a witness to the world of God's glory.

This communal witness is also the church's charge to keep. The way we worship, the way we serve one another, and the way we live and speak bears witness to the world of God rule over and in our lives. Our witness is not in a wall and it is not in programs, buildings, but in our community built on the Word of God. I long for this community fleshed out in genuine relationships. I'm so thankful for friendships in my church family but there are still so many who are strictly event-attenders (morning worship, Sunday School, etc) and not invested in each other's lives. I long to see the kind of authentic community throughout our membership that is not built around attending programs and events but is reflective of what Luke described in Acts 2 or Paul in Romans 12. Of course this only happens as we are constantly nourished on Scripture. I love what John Piper said of his call to ministry, "I am enthralled by the reality of God and the power of His Word to create authentic people." Amen.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Are women better off today than 40 years ago?

Time Magazine has just released their latest issue which argues that women are more powerful today than 40 years ago. There is no doubt that women have more access to resources that will offer them financial independence and wealth. There is no doubt women have access to job fields that were unavailable 40 years ago. However, what's the trade-off? One would have a difficult time arguing that women are not more objectified today than 40 years ago. Sexual harassment and the objectification of women certainly existed 40 years ago but was it splashed across magazines and prime-time television?

Sadly, many Christians assume that the worldly standards and expectations of womanhood are the accepted norm. The Bible presents a radically different worldview and model for both manhood and womanhood than our culture presents. We should take the Scriptures seriously and honor the genders for their uniqueness. Men and women were not created to be interchangeable parts- to assume so diminishes value. It doesn't magnify it. Similarly women were not given their unique form to be forced to exploit it for monetary gain and power jockeying in the workplace. Below is a video by the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood which is a response to the article and the anti-Biblical movement of secular feminism.

CBMW Responds to TIME (Full Version) from CBMW on Vimeo.

HT: Jim Hamilton

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Free-wheeling Conversation" with Mark Dever

Over at Boyce College, Dr. Denny Burk interviewed Pastor Mark Dever from Capitol Hill Baptist Church. This is a great interview in a casual setting among college students that covers a lot of issues concerning the church and theology.

Go HERE to listen to the interview or to download it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Making Disciples of Young Adults

When I became the pastor at Memorial after ten years in youth ministry and six days before my 31st birthday the expectations from more than a few were that I'd "bring in the young adults". If only I had a magic flute! Of course my goal was never and will never be to function as the Minister of Marketing. Mostly we have seen young adults come but not really stick. This is discouraging in part because of a prideful desire to see a "growing" church, but there is a genuine grief because we want to obey the Great Commission to "make disciples".

Ultimately God draws people to Himself. He does so through the Church's obedience to share and live out the gospel. We've got to be serious about this as a church. It calls for sacrifice. It calls for diligence. It calls for investing time and money. It calls for a willingness to invest our lives into the lives of others. Kevin DeYoung offers five suggestions for reaching young adults- and not reaching them in a superficial way. It isn't by a program or a music style or by adding a staff member. Here are the five key things...

  1. Grab them with passion.
  2. Win them with love.
  3. Hold them with holiness
  4. Challenge them with truth
  5. Amaze them with God.

Go HERE to read the whole piece by Kevin DeYoung.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Not Your Average Day at the Beach

This is perhaps the coolest thing I've ever posted and I'm sure there's a sermon illustration in this somewhere. On St. Martin Island in the Caribbean the Princess Juliana International Airport sports one of the shortest runways for a major airport at just under 8000 feet. This allows for some great plane-spotting by tourists and locals on the beach as some massive jets land. Here are some pics and video below.

HT: The Herd

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

30 years of faithful, enduring ministry...

Thirty years ago today one of the pastoral heros of my life, John Piper obeyed God's calling on his life into the pastoral ministry. Months after pursuing this call he was installed as the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church. On the night Piper felt the strongest urging of the Lord to answer the call he wrote in his journal,

"I am closer tonight to actually deciding to resign at Bethel (Seminary) and take a pastorate than I have ever been... The urge is almost overwhelming. It takes this form: I am enthralled by the reality of God and the power of his Word to create authentic people."

He was 29 years old. The ministry of Desiring God and of Bethlehem Baptist Church is mighty not because John Piper is mighty but because he faithfully followed our mighty God. Read the whole story HERE from Justin Taylor.

HT: Justin Taylor (especially for the 'old school' Piper pic)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Reflections on Pastoral Ministry

When I started this blog I posted my simple strategy for pastoral ministry. Since my pastorate began in March 2008 I’ve resolved to do three things- preach the Word, live the Word, and shepherd others to follow the Word. I’ve found it helpful to constantly revisit these goals. Each week I’m trying through my study to understand the text of Scripture more and more so that I can present its meaning and intended application more clearly. This is probably the part of pastoral ministry I love the most. Don’t get me wrong, I do love people and ministering to them, but hunkering down with Scripture for hours during the week is a delight I never feel I get enough of. Since the summer of 2008 I’ve been preaching through the Gospel of Matthew with only brief breaks to address issues such as a Biblical view of marriage and a Biblical understanding of the church to name a couple. This area of my ministry is and will always be a work in progress.

The ‘living the Word’ part of my life and ministry is probably the hardest. It is always easier to look at other people’s lives than your own. However it is amazing that God always presents challenges to me and opportunities for application regarding the sermon I am preparing for during the week. He’s always pressing me to live it out. It is very convicting and sometimes frightening to think that my life and lifestyle can hinder people from hearing God’s Word clearly. While I know the Holy Spirit overcomes my own imperfections to plant the Word on people’s hearts it is still incumbent upon me to strive to “practice what I preach” and this can be tough.

The third part of my pastoral strategy (so to speak) is easily the most frustrating part but also the most rewarding part. Shepherding others to follow the Word can be really discouraging because when you stare at the text for hours you begin to form these expectations and ideals that everyone- including myself- is going to struggle to meet. I’ve had to be reminded over and over that sanctification is a process over a lifetime and it occurs in increments, day by day. Generally I get good feedback from my sermons and my leadership but whether the text is being personally applied or just theoretically agreed with is not certain. Still, the shepherding part of ministry is so rewarding. What a wonderful thing to see the Word reflected back from your people and that comes not only by preaching it, but by living it, and by shepherding them in it. Visiting the sick, listening to the hurting, and just building friendships provides those opportunities essential to helping the Word of God stick.

Well, there are thousands of better pastors and preachers out there but I’m not competing with them. My aim is to simply keep seeking to please Christ and follow His Word. So I’ll keep working at (with God’s grace) preaching the Word, living the Word, and shepherding others to follow the Word and just trust God with the results.

Friday, October 9, 2009

What He Must Be...

One of the growing influential voices in my home has been the Biblical counsel of Dr. Voddie Baucham who is a pastor, author, and speaker out of Houston, TX. His books, The Ever-Loving Truth, Family Driven Faith, and now What He Must Be… If He Wants to Marry My Daughter have really served to drive me to the Biblical texts in shaping my views on marriage, parenting, and living distinctly Christian in a culture with an increasingly anti-Christian attitude. I just recently finished the third book, What He Must Be and found it particularly helpful since my wife and I are expecting our first child- a son. We hope to have more so we are trying to absorb as much counsel as possible. This is excellent Biblical counsel and I’d highly recommend it. Also, below there are links to an interview with Dr. Baucham by Dr. Gary Chapman who authored, The Five Love Languages. This interview will provide you with an overview of the Biblical convictions Voddie teaches.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Roundtable on the End Times

What is the gospel? Where do Christians go when they die? What is the Millennium that Scripture speaks of? How do we understand the events of the "last days"? These are great issues that are discussed by a panel of scholars moderated by Dr. John Piper. The video below is a must-watch. There are few resources out there that provide a fair and balanced perspective on all the eschatological views. Stanley Grenz wrote a book some years back called The Millennial Maze that is excellent but this video provides clear information in a two-hour time frame. Dr. Sam Storms represents the amillennial viewpoint, Dr. Douglas Wilson represents the postmillennial viewpoint, and Dr. Jim Hamilton represents the premillennial viewpoint. Dr. Hamilton was one of the most influential professors I had in seminary (at Southwestern but now teaching at Southern Seminary). All these men are godly, gospel-loving men of faith so this makes for a great and quick two-hours. Enjoy!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Marriage Prep

By the time a couple gets to their pastor for pre-marital counseling they are already deep into the wedding planning process. It is hard for the pastor to get any instruction to stick as their focus is on picking out a cake, making honeymoon reservations, and deciding how many cheesy love songs to include in the ceremony. Thousands of dollars and hours upon hours are dedicated to the wedding yet very little preparation (intentionally anyway) is put into the marriage. That is really tragic when you think about it!

One of the first questions I like to ask when doing pre-marital counseling is, "Can I talk you out of this?" I mean it too which is obvious on the awkward look I receive before any answer comes. If I can talk them out of it then they need to slow it down. Plus, it is a helpful way to bring gravity to what the couple are about to enter into.

I'm always trying to improve in this area of pastoral ministry and recently I came across a helpful blog post by John Piper called- "Questions to Ask When Preparing for Marriage." Perhaps this will be helpful for your marriage or to pass along to other couples that may be preparing for marriage. HERE IT IS.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Big Issues in the Seminary, the Church, and the Culture

This morning I was scanning through some old book marks and came across a blog post from July '05 by Dr. Jim Hamilton on his blog For His Renown. Dr. Hamilton was my Greek professor (among other things) in seminary and God used him as He often does our teachers to encourage and challenge me both academically and practically in my walk with the Lord. He posted on hot topics of controversy in three areas of life- the academic world, the church, and in the public forum. Here are the issues he addresses and I encourage you to follow the link to read the whole post where Dr. Hamilton explains these issues.

>Big Issues in Academia...
  • Open Theism
  • Inclusivism
  • Justification
  • Egalitarianism
>In the Church (USA)...
  • Doctrinal Indifference
  • Semi-Pelagianism
  • Materialism & Worldliness
  • Pragmatism
>"On the Street"...
  • Relativism
  • Skepticism
  • Hedonism

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Lighter Side for the Mid-Week Blues...

Have you heard about the potential health risk for your children? No, it is not H1N1... it is much much worse. Watch, learn, and beware...

The Contagious Gospel

This Sunday I'm preaching from Acts 2 about the "contagious gospel". The good news of the Messiah Jesus not only changes people but produces gospel-contagious people. It turns our lives upside down. It changes our view of money and material possessions. It binds us into a new community. Yet some who claim this gospel (or at least what they think the gospel is) never experience this transformation. They never become contagious. Are they just disobedient Christians or has the true gospel never really penetrated their hearts? Well before Sunday rolls around I thought it would be helpful for you to be refreshed on the definition of the true gospel. Here is a video with Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in D.C. answering the question, "What is the gospel?"

What Is The Gospel? - Mark Dever from Shane Trammel on Vimeo.

My thoughts (and outrage) concerning Roman Polanski

A few years back I saw the movie The Pianist and it was hands-down one of the best movies I’d ever seen. Does this justify the director’s actions three decades prior? Absolutely not. You may have heard of the director, Roman Polanski. Back in March 1977 (the month of my birth) Polanski drugged and raped a thirteen-year-old girl. Once arrested Polanski pled guilty in a plea deal for the lesser charge of statutory rape to be applied. He was let out on bail pending sentencing and for fear of a heavy sentence he jumped bail and fled to France where he’s resided for all these years.

Upon a visit to Switzerland recently he was arrested and is now- finally- facing extradition back to the U.S. to pay for his crime. Hollywood is of course in an uproar over the “injustice” against Polanski. It seems his cinematic brilliance and his humanitarian efforts should exonerate him from his crime. Whoopi Goldberg even went so far as to justify Polanski’s actions, "I know it wasn't 'rape' rape. I think it was something else, but I don't believe it was 'rape' rape.” So we’re rewriting the law books to distinguish between rape-rape and just regular run-of-the-mill rape of a 13-year old? Sick.

The victim has publicly forgiven Polanski but does this mean he shouldn’t pay the consequences for his crime? Apparently Tom O’Neill, the editor for Hollywood gossip magazine In Touch thinks it is absurd to hold Polanski accountable, "It's mind-boggling why they're still pursuing this. It just seems that the prosecutors in Los Angeles won't let go these many years later." He’s not alone. Hollywood big shots like Harrison Ford, Debra Winger, and uber-producer Harvey Weinstein are lobbying everyone from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to demand Polanski not be extradited.

Weinstein argues in favor of Polanski because of what the famed director has endured in life, “It is a shocking way to treat such a man. Polanski went through the Holocaust and the murder of his wife, Sharon Tate, by the Manson family.” These were truly horrible things for anyone to endure but not justification for rape. Admittedly I’m no expert on the law and have no idea what further punishment should await Polanski (he spent 42 days in a mental institution), but I’m certain that he should face the legal process that is required of everyone else. One lesson that is apparent in this case is how our culture typically views and rationalizes sin. It is so important for Christians to be clear about what sin is and what the ultimate consequences are.

HT: Fox News and The Independent

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Historical Adam

For my church family here is a call-back to my first teaching series on Sunday nights. If you can remember that many months ago we spent several weeks going through the prologue of the Bible, aka Genesis 1-11. I'm still working (slowly) on coverting all that material to book form. My hope is that it can be a helpful resource to understanding the grand plotline of the Bible but dissecting the events of those eleven chapters. Anyway, I came across this blog post (via Justin Taylor's blog) that presents ten arguments for the historicity of Adam. So here is a response to those who might argue that Adam was a figurative figure and not a literal person.

Read and enjoy...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Confronting Idolatry

Idolatry is as real and present a danger for people today as it was for the people of the ancient world. Our present day idols are not just represented in statues but in currency, relationships, religion, pleasure, and possessions. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC preached an excellent message on this subject which I strongly encourage you to take the time and listen to.

Watch or listen to Keller's sermon HERE.

For the Puritan sermon by David Clarkson on "Soul Idoloatry" that Keller references go HERE.

Unity amidst Diversity in praise of God's Majesty

Last week I attended a meeting in Groves with several area pastors from Port Arthur (which is about 45% African-American, 25% Anglo, 20% Hispanic, and 10% Asian and other) and Mid-County (which is between 93-95% Anglo) concerning a cooperative ministry event. What really struck me in this meeting was how great a responsibility we pastors have to model the Biblical picture of Christian unity in the face of racism, socio-economic divisions, and ignorance. God greated diversity among the human race and we should ignore that diversity with empty phrases such as "color-blind" but as the community of faith our most distinctive feature should be the commonality we all have in Christ. The Apostle Paul said in Galatians 3:28, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." This pronouncement doesn't erase diversity but signifies the basis for our unity.

So why doesn't the local church reflect what the universal church contains- unity amidst diversity? Why is the Sunday worship hour the most segregated hour in America? These are issues that we need to be wrestling with as God's redeemed and we must strive to see such barriers erased in the visible Body of Christ for the witness of Christ on earth. Revelation 7:9-10 gives us a picture of worship in heaven that might make many congregants on earth pretty uncomfortable. How are we preparing for that worship service through our worship on earth. Here is a video presented by PBS that I encourage you to watch. It features Port Arthur native Dr. Rodney Woo who is the pastor of a multi-ethnic congregation in the Alief area of Houston. Perhaps the Lord will use this testimony to stir a work in our own city...

July 31, 2009 ~ Interracial Churches Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly

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The Truth about Tithing

Every Sunday the offering plate is passed at some point during our morning worship service. This time of giving is considered an integral part of our service because we understand faithful and committed giving as an act of worship. We usually refer to our practice of giving as tithing. So where did we come up with this idea? Should every Christian tithe? What is a tithe anyway? These are important questions to answer. In Genesis 14:20 we see the first example of a tithe gift when Abram (confirmed in Hebrews 7:2) presented a tenth or a tithe of his spoils from war to Melchizedek, who as a priest stood on behalf of God for Abram. This tithe was not to meet any law requirement but was given freely in recognition of God’s provision in war. Once the Mosaic Law was given to God’s people (recorded in books such as Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) a tithing system was established. This system was based on a seven year cycle known as the Shemittah. Various tithes were brought on each year of the seven year cycle. The ceremonial tithing system went much beyond a tenth of a weekly paycheck. The point of this system was to teach the people dependence on God and to use their pooled tithes to aid the Levites, strangers, orphans, and widows as a testimony to God’s presence among them. It was to drive them to faith and lead them to live out their faith in ministry to others. Jesus referred to the tithe in Matthew 23:23 condemning those who miss the intent of the tithe. The tithe system like the other ceremonial laws was not intended as a means to righteousness but ultimately to reveal the people’s lack of righteousness that they might seek God by faith for their righteousness.

God has provided that source of righteousness in His Son Jesus. By faith in His Lordship we are credited with righteousness and are set free from the law (Galatians 2:16-21). So Christians are not bound by the ceremonial laws of the Old Covenant, but there are moral laws that continue to guide us as we follow Christ. Giving as an act of worship and sign of dependence on God is one such moral law. New Testament texts teach giving but do not necessarily mention tithing. For example, 2 Corinthians 8:3 encourages giving what you can afford and 2 Corinthians 9:7 says we should be cheerful givers. In 1 Corinthians 16:2 there is an example of believers giving weekly when they gathered together (this was for a special offering to the persecuted church in Jerusalem). Additionally, 1 Timothy 5:18 exhorts supporting the financial needs of Christian workers devoted to the ministry of the Word and Acts 11:29 promotes feeding the hungry wherever they may be.

So is tithing a Christian discipline? In Malachi 3:8-10 God’s people are warned not to rob God but to collect tithes. These tithes were not taken because God needed money or grain. They were gathered to teach dependence on God’s provision. According to the faithful giving, God would supply for their every need. In Matthew 5:17 Jesus says, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not some to abolish but to fulfill.” This verse helps inform us how we are to read the Old Testament commands. We understand those laws in light of Jesus Christ who fulfills them. Bringing tithes and offerings demonstrate our dependence on God who supplies all that we need in Christ. Therefore we give as a demonstration of our faith in Christ. Those monies ought to be used to magnify Christ. In 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 Paul provides an example of faith-driven, Christ-magnifying giving. Whatever the Lord has convicted your heart to give be obedient to that as act of faith in the Lord Jesus. A tithe or tenth of your income is often a good starting point, because believe me giving up a tenth of my income (before taxes) requires me to trust in God’s provision. That’s a good chunk of change! However, for some a tithe is a token and not a faith gift. Still for others, a tithe is beyond what God has called you to give. Discern the appropriate offering, be obedient, and be faithful. These offerings are our gifts. They are not shares in a company and they do not purchase rights. In response to your faith which is reflected by your obedience God will supply all you need and He will use those gifts toward magnifying His Son Jesus.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?

A couple weeks ago I caught Michael Jordan's Hall of Fame speech. The "wow" I felt upon watching the speech was not the same kind of "wow" I often felt watching him play basketball when I was in high school and college (I won't count the Washington Wizards years). Watching MJ play was to watch brilliance on the basketball court. I enjoy watching greatness and that is what his play was- athletic greatness. He dominated while winning six championships. His recent speech however was a different experience. Jordan was caustic, bitter, and cold. This was certainly not the legend that fans imagined. Of course during his playing days MJ cultivated an image as much as he perfected his game. He was a master at self-promotion. Fans bought into the idea of Air Jordan rather than the man himself. His speech demonstrated the man himself.

On one hand it was a rare glimpse into the true personality of a carefully crafted celebrity but on the other hand it was a tragic example of the emptiness that all the world's trophies ultimately hold. To be the basketball champion and multi-million dollar entity that Jordan became he had to be cutthroat in every way. This is the kind of man one must be to "gain the whole world". At the same time this is the kind of man that "forfeits his soul". After all his accomplishments Jordan showed lingering bitterness toward those who disrespected or underestimated him. On this grand stage he took the opportunity once again to dunk on the heads of all those who crossed him for one reason or another through the years. Here was a man who had reached the pinnacle of the earth's glories and reaches and there he stood... bitter and empty.

Back in high school I had a poster of Air Jordan. On the Hall of Fame stage MJ was a poster boy once again. This time it was not as a champion but as a tragic and cautionary tale of the fading glories of this world. True victory is not found in trophies that pass away but in the fulfillment that is found in Christ alone. I pray Michael Jordan will one day realize the greatest champion is not #23 but the Messiah Jesus.
  • Mark 8:36, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?"

Friday, September 11, 2009

Band of Brothers

Last night fifteen men from our church met together at Cowboy Red's for our second "Band of Brothers" gathering. This is our new men's ministry. It is a no frills gathering of guys so that we can just do guy stuff in a God-honoring way. There are some funny moments that come out of these get-togethers but I'm sworn to secrecy. I will say that more meat was consumed than might be thought humanly possible! We are getting together to strengthen the friendships we have and build new ones. I've been asked if the name of this ministry was inspired by the HBO miniseries about WWII. I'd say yes- partially, but the origin of this name comes from Shakespeare's play Henry V. There is a scene when Henry V is rallying his troops to charge into battle on St. Crispin's Day. The clip from the movie version is below.

As men God has given us a charge to keep- to lead out in our homes and in our church. We need to support each other, encourage each other, and hold each other accountable. Proverbs 27:17 says, "Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." On evenings such as last night I go home built up by the fellowship of my brothers and more strengthened by the assurance of their accountability and friendship to be the leader God has called me to be. It certainly makes me so glad and humbled to be the pastor of such men. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Nine things I love about my Wife on 09-09-09

On 09-09-09 I am inspired to write nine things that I love about my wife Blair. This was not easy to do... because it's hard to limit this list at nine! Okay, I'm not trying to be cheesy I just really appreciate this amazing woman God has brought into my life. She is quiet and reserved in public so most people never really get to see what I see on a daily basis. Here are just a sample of the things I love about her...

1. I love that Blair is so gentle. This is a godly attribute that she exudes and I pale by comparison.

2. I love that Blair doesn’t waste words. I’m a talker and she is much more reserved so when she has something to say it is usually very intentional.

3. I love that Blair sees life through a Biblical worldview. It is essential that a married couple is on the same page here because your worldview shapes nearly every decision and value.

4. I love that Blair loves chocolate. We both enjoy the simple pleasures of life and one of those is munching on anything chocolate.

5. I love that Blair loves to cook… not only because it is a huge ministry to me in our home but because she’s just so darn good at it!

6. I love that Blair will occasionally and only with me burst into random song. It is both sweet and hilarious all at once cause deep inside I think she'd love to be a pop star.

7. I love that Blair let’s me watch ESPN on my lunch breaks and football on Sunday afternoon. She’s not a sports junkie but is okay that I am and she’ll watch with me (likewise I watch a lot of Food Network and HGTV with her).

8. I love that Blair encourages me with Biblical truth in a kind- not nagging- way. I’m the leader of our home but her role as helper requires that sometimes I need nudges and reminders to lead out.

9. I love that Blair is my best friend. The best conversations, the best laughs, and the best stories are shared in our times together. The Lord has blessed us with great friends outside our marriage but our ‘hang-out’ times together are second to none (one tip to cultivate this time- don’t have a TV in the bedroom).

Okay sorry I can't keep it at nine... one more, I love that Blair will be the mother of my son in less than three months. She will be an amazing mom and I wouldn't want to raise a child with anyone else in the world. Praise be to God, I am so blessed!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Grateful Pastor... Amazing Church

Last night I had the privilege of officiating the ceremony for Micah and Meredith Schuff. Blair and I have been able to get to know this sweet couple over the past few months and see how God is working in their lives. It is a joy to see the redemptive love of Christ transform people and unite them together. Today they are enjoying their honeymoon and I am still enjoying what I saw from my church last night. You see Micah has been a member since he was a teenager but drifted out of the church and away from faithfulness to the Lord. Yet the Lord never let him go. About a year ago I went to visit Micah with one of my deacons (only knowing Micah as a name on the membership roll). We reminded him and encouraged him of his need and his responsibility to reconnect with the fellowship of the Body of Christ. God began drawing him back and strengthening his walk in the Word. Meredith was new to our church and had not experienced the kind of family atmosphere we try to cultivate at Memorial. As an engaged couple it immediately encouraged them to have a support group around them but as they planned for the wedding they anticipated a small turn-out.

They still didn't know a lot of people in the church very personally and they had distanced themselves from friends of their past that were not edifying in their spiritual growth. So they expected a few family members, some co-workers, and a small handful of church friends. What they got was a sanctuary full and an overcrowded Fellowship Hall for the reception. They received a pile of gifts and cards as well as a stack of encouraging notes. Needless to say they were blown away and reminded of the fact that they are not entering this marriage without a loving support group around them. It really made me proud (in a grateful to God way) to be the pastor. It was so encouraging to see a sea of volunteers put together a beautiful reception. Many gave of their time and money to decorate the sanctuary and prepare food for the reception. The Body of Christ came together to give a young couple a solid start. It sure makes me a grateful pastor to see my church in one of its finest hours. I have no doubt that those same people will be standing there beside this couple and others to help them throughout their marriage- for better or for worse.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Catholics are On To Something

As one who comes from a Reformed understanding of the doctrines of grace and justification I do not agree with my Roman Catholic friends on many of their positions regarding the sacraments. For example I do not believe that the Church has the power of absolution of sins for the Church is only the body, but the prerogative and power to absolve sins is in Christ alone. Hebrews 7:24-25 says, "Jesus... because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them." Going to a priest to make confession has certain psychological benefit (as the Roman Catholics recognize) but should not be mistaken as providing a means for salvation. That said we Protestants tend to throw the baby out with the bath water. We get so nervous about doing something that is misunderstood that we don't do it at all- even when Scripture commands us to. James 5:16 says, "Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much." This instruction is given in the context of the local church as James addresses the responsibilities of the elders (local church office) in the preceding verses.

Scripture teaches us that it is good to make confession to one another. We are all priests in this sense for one another (1 Peter 2:9 teaches that we are a kingdom of priests). We intercede for one another. This confessing to one another and prayer for one another is not for the absolution of sins. Christ accomplished that on the cross and through His resurrection from the dead. It is for our daily sanctification- submitting ourselves before God and repenting from sin. Confession is integral to our pursuit of repentance and confessing to others keeps us honest in that pursuit.

So why do we not practice confession to one another in the local church? We have become a privatized society. People drive home from work, pull into the garage, and never engage with their neighbors. Turn on the TV, hop on the internet, or start text messaging and you never really have to engage with your family either. A few years back I mentioned to another man (that I considered a spiritual leader) in the church where I was a member that I was concerned about a particular married couple in our church and their relationship. I felt we should go to the husband and offer help. His counsel was to mind my own business, "You don't bother another man's house." This really disappointed me and it continues to disappoint me how disconnected and privatized a church family can be. This is no different than the world. Confessing your sins to one another is not only a good habit to cultivate, but it is a command. It is a spiritual discipline. We need to invest in each other's live no matter how uncomfortable and awkward it makes us feel. This displays Christ! I'm not advocating having everyone stand before the congregation to air out everything but each believer should have other believers in their local church that they are accountable to and confess sins to. This is part of what it is to daily experience victory over sin and part of what it is to be in the family of God.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Getting Old to the Glory of God

This should be an extremely helpful video to the many in my congregation who are struggling with the physical effects of aging. Sometimes those between the ages of 16 and 35 forget that they are aging as well. No one stays young forever. God intended it that way so what can we learn from aging? How can we magnify the glory of God through aging? These are important questions because our culture values very superficial and artificial ideas about human value, beauty, and strength.

Learning Curve

It's been nearly eighteen months since I became the pastor at Memorial Baptist Church and wow have I learned a lot. The purpose of seminary was to train me in the Bible which I'm thankful for but there are some practical lessons about leading and working with people that can only be learned on the job. There are great books and conferences out there that will help but ultimately you just have to jump in, trust in God's grace, and walk according to the Word. Thankfully I have a church with many patient and gracious people. They have encouraged me along the way and been patient when I've made mistakes. There have been days I'd never want to re-live but I sure am glad I lived them (and lived through them).

The biggest lessons learned are first and foremost humility. That's a lesson you never stop learning. The second big lesson learned (which I've still got a long way to go on) is discernment in shepherding. Sometimes you have to prod the sheep forward and sometimes you have to nurture them along more slowly. Learning when to push and when to pause requires a lot of prayer and a lot of sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. I was greatly affirmed recently with an article by a former professor and mentor Jim Hamilton who now teaches at Southern Seminary and pastors in Louisville. This is a worthy read for any pastor needing encouragement and any church who is being led by a new pastor.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Missions: Make your Choice

Here is a very moving video that highlights the need around the world for the gospel. 'Missions' is not merely social work. It is not just personal, neighbor-to-neighbor evangelism. It is bringing the gospel to a people who are outside your immediate cultural sphere. Please pray for our missionaries on the ground now. Ask the Lord to reveal how you can support this gospel mission. Would you be willing to give up cable TV, satellite radio, a couple rounds of golf, or a monthly dinner at a restaurant to provide for a global and eternal need? At the end of the video there is a quote which presents three options to us regarding missions- you can go, you can send, or you can disobey. Which option have you chosen? Make your choice.

Monday, August 17, 2009

10 things that really make me smile this week...

1. My wife gets some much needed rest at the beach with her mom, aunts, and sister (us guys are joining them later in the week which is good because I don’t like being at home without my B).

2. We had a great time hosting three other young couples at our home Sunday night. I’m praying for each of these couples that God would strengthen their homes and use them as leaders in our congregation.

3. I get to meet with one of those young couples this Sunday night because they are getting married in a few weeks and I have the joy of doing some pre-marital counseling.

4. I’m getting with other men in the church (and guests) at Buffalo Wild Wings this Thursday night for the first guys-only get together. “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).

5. The Lord has introduced me to another young man in the community that is not a believer but is open to talking more about the faith.

6. Football season is right around the corner. What everything has to be ministry-related? My Astros are spiraling and I relish getting to unwind on the couch every Sunday afternoon watching my Texans spiral too.

7. Blair and I watched the movie Bella yesterday afternoon which had a great pro-life and pro-adoption message (two things I’m really passionate about). I’m still thinking about that movie today and highly recommend it!

8. This Sunday’s sermon texts- Matthew 16:13-28 and Nehemiah 2 are amazing. I am having so much fun getting to exegete these texts and it will be even more exciting to teach them!

9. I’m having breakfast tomorrow with the senior adults of Ridgewood Church and my good friend Kyle. He’s asked me to bring a devotional and he’s quietly hoping I don’t forget.

10. Blair and I are now about three months away from being parents!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Discipline to Read!

Reading is a discipline and as Donald Whitney once said, “Discipline without direction is drudgery.” Some of you may be intimidated to read non-fiction/ theological stuff. I’ve found it to be immensely edifying though it was definitely a learned discipline. As a youth I’d read comic books and an occasional fiction book- which I’m not disregarding, but we need to challenge ourselves. So allow me to suggest a plan for you that seems to work for me (most times). My biggest problem with books is that I get drawn in easily and discouraged once I realize that I’m trying to read 17 books at a time! This is where the discipline comes in.

On Mondays and Tuesdays my goal is to read something from a “classic”. You need to read old stuff. Right now for example I’m working through Augustine’s Confessions. On Wednesdays and Thursdays my goal is to read something “contemporary”. These are the days I have the least spare time available so it forces me to read more old stuff than new which is good. Currently I’m working through Russell Moore’s new book Adopted for Life. On Fridays and Saturdays my goal is to read “commentary”. This is reading that is directed toward the study of the Bible (which I haven’t mentioned because that is a book to be read daily). Right now I’m reading parts of Derek Kidner’s commentary on Ezra and Nehemiah from the Tyndale set. Sundays is either a potpourri day (catch up on any of the aforementioned books) or a break day (watch football).

This plan- classics/ contemporary/ commentary- guards against getting bogged down, bored, or just listening to one author for a long period of time (in case you are like me, a slower reader). Don’t worry about how many pages you cover. Just make forward progress and be willing to punt. If it is a bad or unhelpful book don’t feel guilty about not finishing it. Remember reading isn’t about boasting in your intellectualism. That’s idolatry of the self. Reading is about growing in Christ and exercising your mind to the glory of God. So start reading!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

David Platt on Biblical Literacy

David Platt is the pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, AL. He recently gave what is being referred to as “the most powerful sermon in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention Pastor’s Conference” (see below). Recently Collin Hansen interviewed him in Christianity Today. This is an very good interview and a worthy read. Here is one of Hansen’s questions and an excerpt of Platt’s answer…

CH: "All good evangelicals affirm the centrality of the Word. Still, we have a severe problem of biblical illiteracy. How do we go from knowing the Word is important to knowing what the Word actually says?"

DP: "We have severely dumbed down the Word, and shown a lack of trust in the sufficiency of the Word in the way we preach. We find it necessary to supplement it with entertaining stories and quips or good practical advice for living the Christian life that are not based in the Word. This deficiency transfers into people content with a little "Word for the Day," in a devotional book at best, as opposed to deep knowledge of Scripture. We're trying to hit at the problem from a variety of angles at Brook Hills. First of all, in worship we're quoting the Word, singing the Word, and engaging in intensive study. We'll study 55 minutes to an hour. We try to really saturate the community of faith with the Word when we gather together."

David Platt: SBC Pastors Conference 2009 from Todd Thomas on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Marriage Matters

The divorce rate among Christians is about the same as that among non-Christians. Approximately one in two marriages will end in divorce. At some point these marriages will for one reason of another sever the covenant they have made together with God. Let me stress something- this is a covenant they make not exclusively with each other, but the couple make it together and with God. Marriage according to Ephesians 5 is meant to be a unique display of God's glory. It is a matrix for presenting the love of God and the submission we are to have to God. So when a husband and wife head for divorce it isn't just their lives on the line (or the children or the millions of dollars the divorce industry costs the public); rather, God's reputation is on the line.

It may seem surprising that the divorce rate hasn't gone up in recent years. The 50% rate has held for a couple decades now. The primary reason there hasn't been a spike in this is because couples are opting out of marriage before they even make the covenant. Cohabitation among sexual partners and the practice of cycling through multiple sexual partners is greatly on the rise. While the church doesn't advocate this behavior and the Bible speaks very candidly against fornication and sexual immorality, do we encourage marriage enough?

Often I hear marriage discouraged among young couples. Wait. Wait. Wait. Make money. Enjoy life. Experience everything. Finish your degrees. Establish your career. It almost sounds like marriage is a death sentence. Live your life to the hilt and when you're all spent, give whatever's leftover to a spouse for the rest of your days. That's what we'd say if we were honest. We really should do a better job in the church (but especially in the home) of preparing young men and women for marriage. We just help them to see marriage as a goal worth striving for. It isn't a consolation prize. If we treat it and talk about it as such should we be suprised when it is so easily discarded?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

From the Other Side of the Hospital Bed

Monday morning I arrived at the hospital for some outpatient blood work that my doctor scheduled to help determine what was causing the intense and ever-more frequent abdominal pains I'd been having for days. After getting to the hospital at 8:00am on Monday I didn't come home until last night at 7:00pm. In between those times was an unplanned and undesirable stay in a hospital room. This might not sound like a big deal to those of you who have made several such stays (and it really wasn't a big deal by comparison) but to someone who rarely gets sick, has never broken a bone (sans one rib busted at a youth camp), and cringes at the sight of a needle this was not a happy experience.

Don't misunderstand me, all the nurses- Christina, Autumn, Phillis, and Leigh were great as were my doctors and the other hospital workers. The care was excellent, but it is still a hospital. Right now there's still no answers- after more blood work, CT Scan, and an ultrasound- and I'm on a liquid diet with antibiotics and ordered rest, but I'm genuinely thankful for the experience. It help me to empathize with my fellow church members who I often visit during their hospital stays. There is a great difference between sympathy (feeling for someone) and empathy (feeling with someone). A pastor should always have sympathy but it is even better and possibly more comforting to the congregation when he can have empathy.

I can certainly empathize with the frustration of being put through the ringer being poked, prodded, and tested without having any answers. I now understand the cabin fever one can get being stuck on a bed as time seems to stand still- hours feel like days. It is more real to me how one feels trying to get the sleep you need in a place where it is nearly impossible to sleep soundly. I understand watching loved ones- in my case my wife Blair- go through the pain and frustration right next you emotionally. It makes sense when someone is so thankful for that first jello cup but is happy if he's had his last when he leaves. I can relate to being elated when the nurse comes to take your blood pressure at 3:30am because it breaks up the monotony or how joyous it is to have a visitor (even if you relish your privacy) because you start feeling like a lab rat after a while without genuine personal interaction (thank you). I can better appreciate those phone calls that comfort the patient but especially the nervous spouse (thank you). I can understand the comfort of having someone take your mind off the circumstances and then to put the circumstances at the Lord's feet in prayer (thank you Keith Meyer). I appreciate more clearly the encouragement that comes from knowing that many others are praying and are concerned (thank you).

I'm thankful that while this wasn't brain surgery... or surgery at all and it was only one night's stay it taught me a lot. Every pastor should spend a few hours from the other side of the hospital bed... just make sure it's nothing serious.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

MacArthur on Spurgeon

This is a great video (and short) of one great Biblical preacher speaking about another great Biblical preacher. It is so encouraging that God continues to raise up men such as these to be champions of truth and encouragers to the church.

Congregational Bible Study... Coming September 6

If you keep doing things the way you always do them you could end up looking like that picture. Thankfully the Lord is always at work in us and life is always new in Christ. Sanctification is a daily process of change and although change can often be frightening it is part of growing in godliness. We are about to make a fairly significant change at Memorial Baptist as it concerns our Bible study ministry. We recognize that we cannot keep doing things the same way and expect new results. The results we are aiming for are transformed lives, transformed families, and a transformed church to God’s glory! To do these we need to challenge ourselves to go deeper in God’s Word and use methods that will help us to apply it more thoroughly.

Beginning September 6 our adults (including teenagers) will meet together for “congregational Bible study”. Our "Sunday School" format has been to divide by departments which are mostly separated by age-brackets. When this format began it was a sincere effort to simply add some organization to the Bible study ministry. The downside however is that one can come and connect with a certain group (or tribe) and never really become integrated into the whole church. This keeps the younger and less mature Christians from learning from the older and wiser Christians (and at times vice versa). We are going to start bringing everyone together for Bible study. This new togetherness is to connect our church family more closely to one another so that we avoid segregating in our little tribes. It is also so that we would learn from one another across generations. This together time will be about 20-30 minutes in length and then we’ll break into small groups for discussion and accountability time (about 30-40 minutes). The congregational gathering will be dedicated to Bible teaching and the small group time will be dedicated to life application.

Each semester we’ll study something new. This semester we will examine what it means to have and live by a Biblical worldview. In the Spring we are likely to delve in a New Testament survey course. I hope this will serve to do some spiritual body building in our church family. If you are not a member of Memorial please pray for us. We want to be thoroughly equipped to engage our culture with the gospel and to stand firm among the myriad of false teaching that is being spread in our world today.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Missions & Budget Planning

It is budget planning time at Memorial Baptist! Since our fiscal year runs from October through September we are working through the process of making our stewardship plan for the 2009/ 2010 fiscal year. This is a critical process that we are seeking to improve on. Every one of our ministry leadership teams or committees must submit a budget plan for their ministry. Of course the church isn’t divvying up a big pot of cash sitting out there. This is a plan which estimates how much the church will give to the Lord through tithes and offerings and how we shall be good stewards of the Lord’s money for ministry. It is a faith plan but it requires much forethought so that we can be responsible and exemplary managers of what belongs to God.

So it is necessary to think through the Biblically-driven vision for the church and particular ministry. What are the goals? What are the priorities? What are the needs? Probably the most important area of our budget plan is the “missions budget”. This is the money we designate to send out or support missionaries and mission efforts. This includes supporting missionary-sending agencies like the Southern Baptist’s International Mission Board. It includes planning for and funding short-term mission teams from our own church. It includes supporting local mission organizations. By “missions” we understand this to describe gospel work and church planting. Recently I read an article by Kevin DeYoung on important questions for your missions budget. Here are his suggestions which I find extremely helpful for good stewardship and wise planning…

1. Are we supporting 1 Timothy 4:16 kind of people? The missionaries we support must set good examples of godliness and be proven to hold sound doctrine.

2. Are we supporting ministry in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth? DeYoung says, “We should be engaged in all four areas of missions. Jerusalem: ministry to those like us nearby. Judea: ministry to those like us away from us. Samaria: cross-cultural ministry that may be close to home. Ends of the earth: cross-cultural ministry that is far away.”

3. Are we striking the right balance of word and deed in the ministries we support? There is a place for social ministries (disaster relief, hunger relief, etc) but never at the expense of sharing the gospel- which effects lasting life change.

4. Are we giving priority to long-term missionaries? Short-term missions is on the rise in churches and that is great, but there are certain limitations to short-term mission teams. We must commit support to those who are entrenched in a culture and community for long-term ministry.

These questions are good guiding principles. They will keep us on track and help us be more focused on the true nature of missions- particularly as we plan financially. I love the definition John Piper provides for missions in his book on missions Let the Nations Be Glad, “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man.” We make missions a priority because worship is the greatest priority and we go or support goers as missionaries so that worshippers will be made through the gospel ministry.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Confronting the New Athiesm

Have you seen or heard anything from the likes of Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens? These men represent the newest and most influential voices in atheism or perhaps more apply labeled anti-theism. I've read and listened to more from Hitchens who I admit is extremely engaging as a communicator. He uses satire and humor briliantly and seductively to draw listeners to his cause. These are voices that you need to be aware of because their influence is growing. We must be ready to give an account (with love) to those who want to argue against the truth of God's Word (2 Timothy 2:15; 23-26). Below is a video sample of Hitchens so that you are aware the kind of arguments men like these are making. Under the video is a link to lectures by Dr. Al Mohler, President of Southern Seminary speaking on the "new athiesm". Please watch to be equipped!

To listen, view, or download Dr. Mohler's lectures on the "New Athiesm" CLICK HERE.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

State of the Nation with Ken Ham

This is an excellent and awakening video on the state of our nation and really the state of the church in our nation. Ken Ham is the President of Answers in Genesis and the founder of the Creation Museum near Louisville, KY. Click HERE to watch it free online.

"If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?" -Psalm 11:3

Thoughts on the Church, church growth, and a healthy view of ministry

Do you remember the short little nursery rhyme that goes, “Here is the church and here is the steeple. Open the doors and see all the people!” The little hand motions explain it all (see picture). Well it is cute but accurate? The church doesn’t house the people, it is the people. The Greek word in the New Testament for church is ‘ecclesia’, which means (and rightly translated by William Tyndale as) congregation. My commitment is not to keep the building full- I’ve not be called to a building and Christ didn’t die for a building. He died for people. My calling is to be His under-shepherd to His people. Our church ministries are worship gatherings are to make disciples so that we might magnify Christ in the world. If God wills then this leads to church growth. Don’t get me wrong I want our church to grow. Church growth means that Christians are having babies and leading their children to Christ. It means that Christians are evangelizing their neighbors and getting them connected in the covenanted family of God. In other words, church growth is a good thing when understood as the God-willed result of obedience. We’ve got to view it rightly. If having a lot of people show up to something at our buildings is the end-goal then we are just making an idol out of a building right? So beloved (specifically my local church family), let’s continue to be disciple-making oriented and not view our role as a glorified event center.