Friday, May 29, 2009

Gospel + Community= Total Church

I'd like to recommend a book by a couple of Anglican church planters called Total Church. It is an easy yet very insightful read about the church as the fusion for gospel and community (often one of these is left out). Below is a video of one of the authors, Tim Chester talking about the gist of the book. HERE is a LINK to some lectures by the other author, Steve Timmis at Mars Hill Church on the issues addressed in the book. Here is a quote (pg. 86) that really grabbed my attention as it applies directly to our church:

"Over time churches seen to acquire committees, meetings, programs, and traditions, none of which may be wrong themselves, but which cumulatively move the church from mission to maintenance mode. Time and energy are spent making the institutions functions. The energy of many churches is thus absorbed in maintaining the legacy of a program of activities and church buildings. Roles exist that have to be filled. The life of the church is geared around maintaining its structures and programs. We need to shift into "mission mode"."

Evangelism Training in the Church

Last week I was in a meeting with some other area pastors. One of the things we discussed was having a concentrated time of evangelism training with our respective congregations. This got me excited because I think too often Christians assume too much in regards to sharing the gospel. They assume the pastor will do it or the really extroverted Christians will do it. Either that or they don't expect enough. They don't expect opportunities for evangelism will be presented to them. They don't expect they'll be able to share the gospel adequately enough- so why not leave it to the "professionals"??

One of my commitments in coming to Memorial as pastor is to prepare my people for daily lifestyle evangelism. In other words, evangelism shouldn't just be a Tuesday night program for a few dedicated church members. It is something we embrace as part of our lives day in and day out. There are neighbors, co-workers, and family members that need to hear the gospel and we do that by investing our lives them and building the gospel into our conversations. Now evangelism training equips people in articulating the basic truths needed to convey the good news. I've encountered church members who either share too much (chase doctrinal rabbits) or not enough. For example, one's testimony can lead to sharing the gospel but isn't the gospel itself. Sharing the gospel is not sharing an experience it is sharing essential and Scriptural truths needed for understanding repentance and faith. A testimony is helpful in illustrating the gospel.

Evangelism training should come in three forms. First, the pastor should train Christians in evangelism every time he presents the gospel in his Sunday sermons. The gospel should be clear in every sermon. This gives lost people an opportunity to hear the good news and saved people the opportunity to hear how to simply and clearly share the good news. Second, the pastor should set an example. This is a challenge if you're full-time at the church because you'll have to make added effort to being around lost people. Third, focused and concentrated discipleship (i.e. an evangelism training class) is a great way to equip people. At Memorial, we train folks using the Two Ways to Live method (follow the link on the upper right). It is simple yet doctrinal. I also stress the four basic points of evangelism- God, man, Christ, and response. It has been so encouraging to see my folks learn how to share and to unleash them to share the good news. The main thing is that whatever method you prefer, use it!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The World is Changing- Are you Aware?

The world our children will live in is going to be vastly different. If the Lord gives me life I'll see these radical shifts in demographics, worldview, and political ideology occur. A friend of mine who lives in France shared some startling news with me about Sharia Law being enforced in French ghettos where the Muslim population is growing. This video has made the rounds, but if you haven't seen it yet then it will certainly open your eyes.

The World has Changed- Are you Ready?

President Obama said several weeks ago that "We (U.S.A.) do not consider ourselves a Christian nation". This saddened me to here an American President say such a thing, but by and large he's right. The roots and ideals of our nation are founded upon a Biblical worldview and Judeo-Christian principles (though I'm not suggesting our founders were all Christian or that we should ever be "Christendom"). The values and worldview has changed in 228 years. We are living in a society with a post-Christian mindset. Christianity is a nuisance and a stumbling block to the new tolerance. So we should be prepared for things to get a lot more difficult for those who are genuine Christ-followers and who sincerely live with a Biblical worldview.

This ARTICLE came to me this morning and I'm angered, but I know this is just a shade of things to come. The local government is essentially banning a bible study group from meeting in a home unless they pay thousands of dollars in permits. This story is not overblown and presents a real and present shift in the application of 1st Amendment rights. Prepare yourself church. A time is coming (and is here) when your faith will require courage.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Short-term Mission Trips

In eleven days, eleven people will be sent from our church for a short-term mission trip to the Rio Grande Valley area of our state. We'll be partnering with another local church to do gospel ministry in the community. Our mission is simply to strengthen the work of Rangerville Baptist Church (just outside Harlingen, TX) in the immigrant community that surrounds them. This is the first short-term mission trip our church has taken in over 25 years and our vision is that it would be the first of many. Our hope is that we could carry out the Great Commission as the Lord opens doors, that we'd strengthen the continuous work of the local missionaries and churches we partner with, and that full-time missionaries we be called out of our church through these trips. Here is an encouraging and challenging video from John Piper regarding short-term mission trips and who should go.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Let's Go to the Movies

My wife and I have watched a lot of movies over the past few days. Okay, well not a lot, but it feels that way. Last Friday we enjoyed Fiddler on the Roof. Great movie. I'd actually seen it way way back but thought Blair would enjoy it (which she did) so it made the Netflix que. It gives a lot of insight into Jewish culture and traditions (enter Topol and cymbals). This is a movie can spur a lot of good conversation and will have you humming tunes way past the "that's getting annoyingly old" line. It's about three hours, so get cozy but I highly recommend this classic.

Today we went to see the new Night at the Museum movie. It was refreshing to go to the movies (go to the early bird at Tinsletown and its only $4.50!!) and not be embarrassed by foul language, sexual innuendo, or gratuitous violence. I was pleasantly surprised that Hollywood can make such a wholesome and family-friendly film. I'm sure for little ones there might be some scary special effects images but it was nothing nightmare-worthy (all the kids I saw left smiling- none shaking or crying). No academy awards. Nothing that makes you ponder deep issues. Just a good popcorn flick you can enjoy without compromising your values or polluting your mind.

Tonight we watched Flywheel. This was the first film by Sherwood Pictures (of Sherwood Baptist Church) before Facing the Giants and Fireproof. Yes, the acting is amature. Yes, the production quality is not great. Yes, the dialogue can sound cheezy at times. In fact, we almost hit stop about 5 minutes in. Still... I found myself really enjoying the movie.

That got me thinking, which is worse- poor acting and production quality but a story with a redemptive message told while preserving Biblical values? Or Oscar-caliber acting, great production quality but corrupt values and a man-centered story? I've heard a lot more criticism from Christians about the Sherwood movies regarding production quality than I have about movies they saw filled with sex and disgusting language. Be discerning about what you watch and set your mind on. Review what you watch before you watch it to screen out the garbage. Process the content and message of the movie or TV show after you watch it.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Remembering Dale Vance

About a year and a half ago I placed a phone call to Dale Vance. He was the interim pastor of Memorial Baptist Church and had been the pastor for 16 years during the 70’s and 80’s. Everyone knew Dale. He was a man of immense kindness and a tremendous passion for the Word of God. Some guys burn brightly but flame out just as fast as they were lit. Dale was faithful. His ministry was noted for its longevity. He was a steady steward of the gospel over many decades.

Our phone conversation was rich with encouragement and insight. I was calling him because the pastor search committee from Memorial was speaking with me about becoming their pastor. This conversation with Dale was critical. Was this newly-wed youth minister considering a blessing or a curse for his first pastorate? Dale’s counsel was so wise and so affirming. Needless to say the Lord used him to lead me to Memorial and receive the blessing that waited.

After accepting the call to become Memorial’s tenth pastor in her 95-year history Dale called me up to have lunch and make a few visits. I was still officially on staff at First Baptist Groves at the time but was eager to learn and get my feet wet. That afternoon eating, chatting, and making ministry visits with Dale Vance should have been seminary credit! To observe his gentle pastoral touch on people’s lives was to watch an artist at work. He just had a gift for comforting people and making them feel like the most important person in the world at that moment.

After making visits we sat in his car talking about preaching and about the importance of faithfulness to God’s Word. These would be the first of precious memories the Lord would give me with a man I would call on as a mentor for the last year and a half. Not many older pastors are concerned with mentoring young wet-behind-the-ears pastors like me. Too busy. Too ambitious. Too many other important matters. Dale took seriously the command in 2 Timothy 2:2, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Only in heaven will we discover just how many people Dale Vance entrusted the truths of God’s Word to. Only there will we see the multitudes he baptized after sharing the gospel to. Only there will we see the many by whose bedsides Dale sat and prayed when they were hurting, ill, or dying.

On Sunday May 17 Dale Vance preached what would be his final sermon at Central Baptist Church in Port Neches and went to be with his Lord on the following Thursday. He left this earth preaching the Word- as a faithful man of God. He will certainly be missed on this side of glory. We hurt along with his dear wife Sally but we rejoice because Dale fought the good fight and is now receiving the crown of righteousness from the Lord Jesus. A man who ministered to thousands over his lifetime is being ministered to at the throne of glory because of his faith in Jesus Christ. His life is still preaching.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Church Shopping?

Currently I’m leading my staff and my deacons through the little book What is a Healthy Church Member? by Thabiti Anyabwile. That book is the follow-up to Mark Dever’s What is a Healthy Church? Together these two short yet insightful reads provide a primer for core principles of ecclesiology. In Dever’s book there are quick tips for how to find a good church (page 79) and I thought a summary here would be helpful.

Dever advises those who are looking for a good church to of course begin with prayer and then to seek counsel from another pastor. I’ll admit that often by the time I first meet those desiring membership they’ve already made up their minds. I try to sit down and discuss membership expectations but I have to wonder if it really gets through when they have already determined they want to join because of social or convenience reasons (which is often the case).

Next Dever reminds people to keep their priorities straight. Is the gospel truly and clearly affirmed, preached, and lived out in the church you’re considering? What is the quality of the preaching? I’m not talking about the preacher’s eloquence, humor, or visual-aids. Good preaching is expositional. It is faithful to the Scripture, personally challenging, and central to the congregation’s life. Does the preaching demonstrate that Scripture- God’s Word- is the highest authority in the church? Other important priorities concern the church’s practice and standards for membership, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, church discipline, and decision-making. Make sure these standards and practices are Biblical- not just pragmatic.

Dever challenges people looking for a good church to ask tough diagnostic questions of the potential church. Would you want to find a spouse who has been brought up under this church’s teaching? What picture of Christianity will your children see in this church- something distinct or something a lot like the world? Would you be happy to invite non-Christians to this church? Would the church be loving, welcoming, and yet clearly present the gospel each Sunday? Is the church a place where you could serve and minister as well?

Geography should be a consideration too. It isn’t just about convenience but you do want to be able to be active and invested in your congregation. You also want to invite neighbors to church with you. Dever’s counsel is not only helpful for those looking for a good church, but is also a good self-diagnostic of the church you currently are a member of. How does your church measure up? How can you be part of a resurgence in your church of healthy Biblical principles?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Gideons International

The Lord has blessed me and the church where I serve with courageous men and women who are members of the Gideons International. If you aren't aware the Gideons are a para-church ministry group that is committed to spreading God's Word worldwide. I'm on board with any group committed to that! Next time you stay at a hotel check the drawer and you'll probably find a Bible place by this group.

They are not without opposition of course. Yesterday I read THIS article on about an "incident" at a high school in my own state of Texas. The Gideons set up a table with New Testaments on display for the students to come by and pick up if they choose. This display was outside of the school buildings but on the property and after school hours. It is completely Constitutional and they did so with the permission of the school district. The one caveat is that the Gideons are not allowed to solicit or interact with the students. I've seen this before, the Gideons are polite, reserved and simply stand by their table. If students choose to pick up a New Testament they may do so and if they choose to pass on by they may do so without fear of solicitation or being proselyted.

A furor has erupted by parents and some of the quotes are ridiculous. First, let me applaud the Gideons for their courage and the school district for Constitutional consistency. The first amendment of the Constitution reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." This is the separation of church and state which the Constitution defines. There is no other "separation of church and state" law and that language never even appears in the Constitution.

One father of a student spoke against the Gideons saying, "School is a place to learn, not a place to worship." This really captures the heart of the argument against the Gideons. Sadly it is ignorant. First of all, no worship service was being endorsed or led. Second, from a secular standpoint the Bible is a learning tool of history, culture, and literature. Third, has anyone seen the worship that goes on in public schools today that distracts from learning? It is called sports... that's another tirade but my point is the Gideons were in no way a disruption of learning whereas no furor is raised over the countless other distractions that besot students.

Praise God for using the Gideons. I pray those New Testaments will be picked up (freely), read, and used by the Holy Spirit to open hearts and minds to the reality of Jesus Christ. Press on brothers and sisters even in the face of such opposition!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cable-free Living

Blair and I are in our second week of cable-free living. It is different. We made the decision to cut our cable and a couple other luxury expenditures. This helps us save some money for the baby arriving in about six months and helps us dedicate some more money toward missions. Budget-adjustment was secondary to lifestyle-adjustment.

We have had a growing irritation about the amount of garbage being broadcast in our living room. Even though we are pretty choosy about what we watch (there are still a couple programs we've tuned into online), it is hard to avoid much of the immoral clutter. So why be such willing participants to temptation?

I'm not telling anyone else how to specifically be more disciplined in this area but we should all be more disciplined in this area. For Blair and me the choice has freed up some cash, increased time for real interaction, strengthened the walls of our minds against dangerous images and words, and honestly made a calmer environment in our home. Think about how much time the world has its influence. Be discerning and be disciplined.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hooray for Reading

I have a really bad habit of reading multiple books at a time so it takes me longer to get through some. However I have given myself permission recently to quit on books before finishing that are mediocre or have weak content. (there’s no sense in wasting more time). Between my desk in my office and the nightstand beside my bed I have several books I’m working through.

I thought I’d share what I’ve found edifying right now. In parentheses is an uber-brief review comment. There is another stack of books by my bed which make up the waiting list. I won’t mention those! Books I am reading right now…

On my desk sits When People are Big and God is Small by Ed Welch (excellent), Pagan Christianity by George Barna & Frank Viola (weak arguments- making me angry), What Jesus Demands of the World by John Piper (breathtaking), and IVP Commentary on Nehemiah by Derek Kidner (very helpful for an upcoming sermon series).

On my nightstand at home sits God is the Gospel by John Piper (refreshing), Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God: What Every Husband Needs to Know by C.J. Mahaney (really convicting), and Love that Lasts: When Marriage Meets Grace by Gary & Betsy Ricucci (one of the best three marriage books I’ve ever read).

Some books I just put on the shelves after finishing that I’d recommend include, Turning the Ship: Exploring the Age-Integrated Church by my friend Dustin Guidry, Dominion & Dynasty by Stephen Dempster, Total Church by Tim Chester & Steve Timmis. All of these books mentioned above should be available at CBD or Amazon. So what are you reading?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What did Francis say??

St. Francis of Assisi is very en vogue today considering that he the "patron saint of ecology". He believed that all nature- sun, moon, water, wind, plants, and animals- are a mirror of God's majesty. As the founder of the Franciscan order he abandoned material riches and luxuries for a life of monastic devotion and simplicity. There is much to be admired about Francis but what he is most known for is a quotation he never really said.

Most people quote some variation of the statement attributed to Francis, "Preach always and if necessary use words". Sounds really profound right? There are two problems with this quote. First, Francis is never recorded as having said it. Second (and more important), it just isn't Biblical.

The Greek word for gospel is euangelion which literally means 'good news'. How do you communicate news without words? Furthermore the Bible instructs us to proclaim the good news. Read Paul's letters to Timothy or how about 1 Corinthians 1-2 and Romans 10 just to pull a few passages out of the air (among numerous).

So where does this quote come from and why is it attributed to Francis? In his written work, Regula non bullata Francis instructed the friars of his order to only preach if they have been given proper permission to. That's wise counsel as some are not gifted or called to be preachers in the formal sense (he was not speaking of personal sharing of the gospel). He went on to write, "Let all the brothers, however, preach by their deeds." Again, that is good counsel. You may not be called to be a preacher in the formal sense but your deeds should proclaim the gospel- this not proclude words. Personal evangelism is a deed.

We need to be careful building doctrine or convictions based on sayings and folklore. Always go back to the Word. Afterall it is also "said" that on his deathbed Francis thanked his donkey for carrying and helping through life. According to legend the donkey wept in response. The moral of the story? Don't believe everything you read... unless it comes from God-breathed Scripture.

Monday, May 4, 2009

More thoughts on Coolness

Seriously, I am not cool. My wife thinks I’m cool. My two dogs think I’m the cat’s pajamas- well you know what I mean, but trust me I flunk coolness. What is a complete relief to me is that God did not call me to coolness. He called me to faithfulness. Coolness does not grow the church- God grows His church. Yet everywhere I look in ‘Christendom’ I see preachers and churches trying to be cool.

I’m dreading the arrival of Tom Hanks’ new movie “Angels and Demons”, but not for the reason you might think. It isn’t the anti-Catholic or anti-Christian message of the movie that really scares me. What I am really dreading is all the copy-cat sermon and book title that are sure to follow. How many preachers will suddenly preach a series called “Discovering the Angels and Demons in your life!” or “Are you an Angel or a Demon in your home?” or of course since sex is the favorite topic of so many “think I’m cool” preachers, how about “Is your sex life an Angel or a Demon?” Okay those sound ridiculous but is it that far off?

How is this for a novel idea? Instead of giving a talk on the latest buzz topic- preach the Word. Open the Bible and explain what it says in context and with application. Instead of ‘dressing up the set’ with visual aids for your entertaining talk on a pop-culture theme- make the holiness of God the center of attention. Instead of dressing to impress- dress to fade into the background. When I go to a restaurant the servers can be as hip as they want but if the food is terrible I’m not going back. Be yourself rather than trying to be the object of coolness.

Stepping off my soap box for a second, it is important that we evaluate everything with the standard- is this drawing attention to self or to Christ? Many Christians and churches that are trying to be cool I think genuinely want to reach the lost with the gospel, but we have to guard our hearts from vanity. Getting people to like us is not the same as opening ears to the gospel.