Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Unusual Year in Review

The year 2011 began with me beginning a new expositional preaching series through Galatians at Memorial Baptist Church. Though we'd just come through a year (2010) that saw visitors to the church nearly every Sunday and a few new members added the overall participation of members was down and giving was down. The mood at the church was mixed-- some optimism and some growing concern about the future vitality of the church. I was excited about beginning a new year-- especially about some specific outreach efforts being organized and about preaching through Galatians. However a series of circumstances had me seeking discerning counsel from a few fellow pastors. I was wrestling with how to lead the church and whether the Lord might be redirecting my life and ministry. My resolve was to continue to lead the flock the Lord had called me to and specifically lead them with expositional preaching and toward a more gospel-driven ministry. Until the Lord made clear a different direction I would stay the course.

Then February rolled around and late that month while home for a brief lunch break and almost out the door to go back to my office for sermon prep my wife caught me and uttered these few words, "Um... there's a chance I might be pregnant." It was surreal but I was careful to be excited until we were sure. Soon after we were sure and it was like 2009 all over again as we prepared for our second child. So on the homefront, things were great and the blessings were overflowing. On the church front, things were much more challenging for a variety of reasons but in hindsight the difficulties were also blessings-- the Lord was using highs and lows for my sanctification and to carry out His purposes.

March marked the third anniversary of my pastorate (I was actually voted on and "called" in late February but my first day on the job was Easter Sunday, March 23). It also brought a couple inquiries from other churches about my potential candidacy for their pastorate openings. Though nothing every developed with those churches the inquiries forced me to examine my present ministry with more discernment and pray more about my hopes and convictions about where the church should be in the future. I remember casually chatting with my wife and fellow pastors about "if I was starting from scratch" (i.e. if there were no obstacles to substantive change) here's how we would apply the Biblical convictions I have about the church at Memorial. These chats grew more frequent. Don't get me wrong, I was still (and am still) deeply burdened for my Memorial church family. It just became more obvious that the kinds of applications I wanted to make from the New Testament for the church were in stark contrast to how much change an older congregation with many established norms could handle. So the question became obvious-- am I the man to lead Memorial in these changes over many years or is the Lord prompting me to make these applications more quickly in a different context?

The week before Easter, in mid-April my wife and I (along with our friends John and Tara Jones- John pastors Jade Avenue Baptist Church nearby) trekked off to an Expository Preaching Conference in Arkansas. This conference and the church that hosted it would be a major catalyst in discerning the direction God was leading my life and ministry. To make a long story a little less long, the Lord used His godly servants David Miller, Hershael York, Derek Westmoreland, and my friend John Jones that week to challenge me in the areas of preaching, faithfulness, courage, and kingdom-focus. Blair and I soaked up a lot. We reflected on it and talked about it for days and days afterward. I knew at this point that I didn't need to go to another existing church when I was already serving one-- the Lord certainly leads pastors to different congregations but it wasn't what He had for me.

In early May I was spending time with my boy outside. He was playing and I was scribbling notes-- ideas, dreams, thoughts, convictions, etc etc. What I ended up with after that journaling session (interrupted often with calls from my son to wrestle or throw a ball around) were six "vision points". These were the refined and specific targets I wanted to lead the church but when I put the pen down I knew I had written the mapping points for a new church. I brewed over that for a few days and was afraid to tell my wife what had become obvious to me... the Lord had been preparing us and was now directing us to plant a church.

When I finally spilled my guts to my wife she was remarkably supportive and affirming. Now it should be said she has always been a remarkably supportive and affirming wife but this was a big deal to drop on her and shock or reluctance would have been understandable. We talked and prayed about it a lot. I studied the Book of Acts a lot in those critical days of discernment. I sat down with John and with Joe Worley (the pastor of FBC Groves who I'd served under and who is now our lead sponsor church) and talked to other pastors I trusted as well. These discerning men offered challenging questions but ultimately affirmed the Holy Spirit's leadership in this. Then came what Blair and I refer to as "the couch moment". We'd been talking about church planting so much it was becoming distracting to my ministry at Memorial so we had to get serious. If we were going to work toward a transition from Memorial to church planting I had to begin focusing my ministry at Memorial on preparing them for that transition and for their future without my leadership. This wasn't something to casually talk about anymore. It was decision time. So one afternoon while Asher napped we sat on the couch, prayed about it again, and I asked, "Are we going to do this or not?" Blair's response, "I'm with you all the way."

The big question was where to plant. Intitially we landed on Houston-- specifically in the Heights/ Timbergrove/ Garden Oaks area around the 610 Loop. My roots were in Houston and that area of the city, due to gentrification, had seen a boom in population. There was and still is a big need for more healthy, Biblical, and missional churches there. I met with pastors in Houston and with a local Baptist association worker-- I even took a job interview with a secualar business in the event we did a parachute-drop church plant. Everyone was helpful and encouraging but basically doors closed. I can't explain it and for about half-a-day I was discouraged. The discouragement quickly gave way to anticipation. I knew the Lord was calling us to plant a church but I saw the closed doors as Him protecting me from my ambitions to make way for His plans. The Lord used those days to teach Blair and I so much about faith.

There was a key week in June when we laid aside any talk of "how about here or there". We just prayed and waited. In quick order the Lord used godly counsel from several godly men to challenge us to consider Beaumont. Initially we'd ruled out any place close to Memorial because we didn't want the perception to be that I was mad about something and took my toys to the sandbox across the playground. However that worry was silly. The Lord planted us in Southeast Texas and given me a burden for the area-- Beaumont is the hub of this area so it made sense. There are a lot of other reasons for Beaumont but that's another blog post.

By late July it was time to tell the leadership at Memorial. I had no idea how they'd react. We were not going to begin planting the new church in earnest until January 2012 because it would take time to raise funds, gather a core group, and put together a coalition of churches to help us plant. So the risk was, what if the deacons felt this was too long a time for a "lame-duck" pastor to stay on the field. My hope was to use the remaining five months of 2011 to help Memorial prepare for the transition and give them stability in leadership through the end of the year while I simultaneously worked to get the support structure in place to plant in 2012. What if they didn't go for it? There was no plan B. There was only faith. Of course transparency was just the right thing to do. So I told the deacons and while they were saddened (and some were understandably a little angry at first) they committed to be supportive. The chairman of the deacons, Norman Russell was and is a gem-- so supportive, encouraging, and affirming-- he stood on the platform with me when I announced the news to the congregation in August.

The last five months have had their difficulties. Not everyone was supportive of the transition plan but that's okay. I didn't expect unanimity. Tears were shed at times but no blood. In the end the Lord used these last five months at Memorial to better me and I trust, to better Memorial. I actually believe they were some of the most productive months of my ministry at Memorial. I pray the Lord used my preaching and leadership to equip the saints for the work of the ministry there. He also used these months to gather a core group, connect eight partnering churches, and raise funds necessary to plant Cross Point Church in January 2012. We'll launch on January 8 (more on that in the next post). Of course the sweetest day of the year came on November 1 when my baby girl was born. I'm so thankful to the Lord for His sustaining graces and especially for His saving grace, without which nothing this year or any year would have any lasting value or meaning. I'm eager to see what God will do in 2012-- through both highs and lows-- for the advancing of His kingdom, for the stretching of my faith, and for His glory through my new church and through my home.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Five things I'll miss from Memorial

This Sunday will mark my final Sunday as pastor of Memorial Baptist Church in Port Arthur. My ministry began on Easter in March of 2008 and will conclude on Christmas. Prior to my time at Memorial I served three different congregations over a ten year period as a youth pastor but the saints at Memorial were the first for me to shepherd as Pastor. I've learned a lot over these last few years, had my share of grief and joy as a pastor, and made friendships that I pray will endure for many years to come. Here are a few thoughts about what I'll especially miss when I move on in 2012:

1. Senior Adults who are excited about learning the Bible. When you are over 70 it is probably easy to assume you've heard it all or learned all you need... and they have heard and learned a lot. I was blessed with senior saints who still had youthful enthusiasm to learn about Christ.

2. Senior Adults who are committed friends. Again, I don't plan to shake loose of these friendships but I won't see them every Sunday and unfortunately church planting rarely draws in the elderly. I'm concerned that my kids won't get to see "old people" worship and learn from them as part of a church family. My wife and I are very sensitive to not wanting our kids thinking youthful strength is more valuable to the Kingdom that long-term, enduring, aged faith.

3. All the behind-the-scenes servants. There are men and women at Memorial who serve and do ministry all the time but never get noticed. They like it that way. They aren't likely to be the ones with titles or those speaking the loudest in business meetings. They just faithfully live out the gospel. I'm thinking of names and faces but if I starting naming them I'd miss one and they don't want to be named anyway.

4. The Sanctuary. Or auditorium. Or worship center. Or whatever is the trendy thing to call the place where the church gathers for worship. I know the church isn't a building but Memorial has a beautiful building that helps set the tone for a reverent time of worship. Go by and check it out sometime. It is in my top ten coolest places of worship.

5. The generous spirit of the congregation. These folks are givers. I'm not just talking about my salary though they did generously meet my family's needs. They are generous, sacrificial and cheerful givers to mission work, local ministry, benevolence ministry, etc etc. I pray Cross Point becomes such a giving church.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tuesday Hodge-Podge (12-13-11)

  • Here is a great resource to study church history.
  • 9 Marks has a lot of great resources but I am finding their insight on congregational worship extremely helpful right now.
  • Here are twelve things to celebrate this Christmas.
  • Below is a video of Soma Communities (church) and their work in the community that adorns (doesn't substitute for) the gospel:

Soma Communities Sacred Space - Thea Foss Waterway, Tacoma, WA from Soma Communities on Vimeo.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Houston Texans: 2011 AFC South Division Champs!

(My blog post title still feels a little unreal to type)

I resist posting about sports nearly every week. It would be very easy for me to turn this into a blog on my opinions of various sports' stories. The thing is, there is very little I could talk about that would be much benefit to the church or fellow pastors-- which is my aim. So I muzzle my sports thoughts and focus my energies toward other matters.

Not today...

"My team" finally clinched a play-off birth yesterday and I was euphoric. My wife was laughing at me because of how silly the Texans' victory made me last night. I don't have a college team to root for (though my alma mater is soon to add a football program) and my childhood team moved away (the Houston Oilers). As a Houston native I was bred to have nothing but disdain for the Cowboys so for the last decade I've had to root for a team that only knew losing. I don't count 8-8 seasons or the one 9-7 non-play-off season as "winning". Nothing was really accomplished. The Oilers had some really good teams and some really epic chokes (Bills in '92 and Chiefs in '93 in my memory... I'm too young to remember the Steelers' battles of the late 70's, though I've heard the tales). The Texans however have never really choked... they just didn't breathe in the first place. They've invented new and painful ways to torture their fans-- I really can't believe the Texans have such a faithful fan base in Houston.

Now, they are winners. It is especially satisfying how they've won their division. Their best receiver (arguably one of the best in the NFL) has been injured for most of the season. Their star running back wasn't healthy for the first quarter of the season. Their best defensive player, out for the year. Their starting QB and back-up QB, out for the year. Their star middle linebacker has been hurting all year too. Their 3rd string QB is a rookie no one ever heard of from North Carolina (they play a sport other than basketball??). Yet this team is tough and determine. That's inspiring and that's my team!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

This Sunday's "Special Music" during the Offertory?

O, Holy Night is a Christmas classic and while we should not take the Lord Jesus lightly it is another thing to take ourselves lightly as this music professional did in recording the worst rendition of the song ever. Enjoy a good laugh and listen below. Also, here is the story behind this version of the song.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Responding to Disagreeable Disagreers

Not everyone thinks that the way you think is as brilliant as you think it is. That's a humbling slap in the face that is coming if it hasn't already (many times over). How should you respond to people who disagree with you or even criticize your view, beliefs, or practices? Well let's dispense with the obvious... if you are violating Scripture and you are confronted by it (even if those doing the confronting aren't nice or are "judgmental") you who are indwelt with the Spirit will repent and you who are not (because you have not put faith in Christ) must repent and believe on Christ as Lord for the redemption of your sins (1 John 1:8-9).

What about if you have certain Biblical convictions about doctrine or about how to live out said doctrine? What if--gasp--someone doesn't agree with you pastor on who you are "doing church"? I've got folks that have shared their differences with me recently so this is no foreign subject. The first reaction (but hopefully not last) is to get irritated, angry, or defensive. That can easily grow into division with Christian brothers or sisters and bitterness in your heart. Don't go there! Don't let the enemy bring further disgrace to the Body of Christ!

Consider what Proverbs 9:8-9 says, "Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning." What do you prove yourself to be when given reproof, instruction, or teaching? Even if the one communicating the instruction doesn't have all the facts, makes assumptions, seems mean-spirited, or just isn't nice about it do you prove yourself wise and righteous by your response? Here's my two cents in responding to disagreeable disagreers:

1. Hear them out and don't say anything until they are finished and you've had at least a few moments to think through the context and meat of their concerns.

2. As much as is possible, avoid responding over email or texting so that your tone is not confused (and so that you don't say things you'd never have the guts to say in person).

3. Hold their counsel up to Scripture. Even if they had in-Christlike intentions or tone is there anything in their content that the Spirit is using to correct?

4. If nothing else (even if their concerns are baseless and unkind) count it as an opportunity for the Lord to teach you humility and kindness. Christ endured far far far worse!

5. Remember it is not the end of the world if someone disagrees. It doesn't make them your enemy. It doesn't make them a reprobate. It doesn't mean you are a martyr-- so don't feel so sorry for yourself.

6. If their perception isn't reality analyze how you might be creating an inaccurate perception and correct that.

7. Be willing to invest time and friendship to foster clarity. Answer their questions with transparency and be ready to defend what you believe and what you do with Scripture.

8. Keep in mind it is possible you might be wrong.

9. Aim to please Christ. Those who likewise want to please Christ will be pleased but more importantly, He is our Lord and deserves that devotion.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tuesday Hodge-Podge (12-6-11)

  • This is an excellent article from an unlikely media source. It is titled "How to Shrink Your Church".
  • I remember reading a book that argued churches should operate like Starbucks- the supposed model for the "third place". Maybe not such good counsel after all...
  • Michael Patton talks about the trouble with C.S. Lewis and explains what it has to do with Rob Bell.
  • We need to guard against idol worship with celebrity preachers (even the good ones) but it is good to listen to those who have proven to be faithful expositors- like these.
  • I came across this a while back but forgot to link to it... some well-thought-out tips on memorizing (like Scripture, hint hint) from an expert.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

It is Star Wars Saturday!

Just for fun... no redeeming value... except some good laughs!

Friday, December 2, 2011

How are you applying the "3-hour-a-day" rule?

Jim Hamilton has an excellent post to challenge mastering the Biblical languages. In the challenge there is also the sobering reality of what it takes to master anything. He cites Malcolm Gladwell and the "3-hour-a-day" rule to master anything. In essence if you want to be really excellent at something it will require you to devote 3 hours a day to it. We are willing to work at a lot for a "pay off" (jobs, hobbies, etc) but assume things like our growth in Christ, our marriage (or relationships with children), our evangelistic faithfulness, and our church fellowship should just happen with little effort. Wrong!

What of those things I just mentioned do you dedicate at least 3 hours a day to? This is convicting to me! On the flip side the average person watches 4 hours of television a day. What in those programs is being mastered in your life? If you are devoting that kind of time to it then you will master it, like it or not. We need to think about what we are devoting ourselves to, what we need to abandon or limit, and what we need to be devoting our minds and time toward to excel to the glory of God!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Not as bad as you thought it was

My wife and I have had several conversations lately about how much easier it was with just one child but how we didn't realize it until our second came. In fact I can't imagine why I was ever tired or stressed before children! It is sort of human nature to lack perspective. Whatever challenges you're facing in the moment seem like the most insurmountable... until other challenges come. Of course hindsight allows us to see the Lord's hand in every circumstance and challenge. It allows us to see how He used those circumstances to shape us and prepare us for the next set of circumstances. This is one of the many rewards of faith as Romans 5:1-5 explains. So whatever seems overwhelming in the moment realize that by faith the Lord is using it to refine and there will be a day when you'll look back and see that. You'll realize it was not as bad as you thought it was.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tuesday Hodge-Podge (11-29-11)

  • Here's a cool story about one of my former profs and the dean of Southwestern Seminary's Houston Campus going to Africa because of a letter sent to his deceased grandfather.
  • Paul Copan debunks some myths about the first Christmas.
  • I just finished a series (34 sermons) over Galatians and found this post by Thabiti Anyabwile helpful.
  • I love a meaty prayer meeting and these thoughts from Kevin DeYoung were helpful to think through how to have a more focused prayer meeting.
  • Jim Hamilton gives an example from Princeton Seminary that shows the danger of not watching your life and doctrine closely.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Finishing Galatians and Boasting in the Cross!

Lord willing, tomorrow I'll be preaching the last sermon in a series through Paul's Letter to the Galatians. This series (34 sermons in all) has been a real challenge for me personally. The Lord has used Paul's words to the churches of Galatia to speak to my heart as it concerns walking by faith and putting no confidence in the flesh. He closes the letter with a charge to "boast only in the cross". This charge will be the concern of my final sermon in the series. I love John Piper's quote on this verse regarding what it means to boast only in the cross:

For redeemed sinners, every good thing- indeed every bad thing that God turns for good- was obtained for us by the cross of Christ. Apart from the death of Christ, sinners get nothing but judgment. Apart from the cross of Christ, there is only condemnation… all your rejoicing in all things should therefore be a rejoicing in the cross where all your blessings were purchased for you at the cost of the death of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

Every good thing God gives you is to be enjoyed and used to declare the glory of God through the cross of Christ. Every bad thing that God turns for good is to be appreciated and used to glorify the cross of Christ. We have nothing to celebrate if not for the cross of Christ. The death of Jesus to atone for our sins and His resurrection to justify us to God makes everything worth rejoicing. This boast is by the incredible grace of God which comes by the flesh? No... but by faith alone! Soli Deo Gloria!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tuesday Hodge-Podge (11-22-11)

  • Church discipline is a very misunderstood doctrine (yes it is a Biblical doctrine) so here is a helpful article on the subject.
  • Consider the wonder of God's sovereignty...
  • This is an excellent post warning those of the Reformed ilk against joyless Calvinism.
  • I thought this was a joke at first. Sadly it is not. Don't cheapen what Christ commanded and handed down to His disciples to publicly declare their radical faith in Him.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Practice Hospitality!

Jeff Vanderstelt on the importance of hospitality. Sadly, I think this is a lost practice in the church but must be recovered as it adorns the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jeff Vanderstelt // Hospitality & the Church in America from Newfrontiers USA on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tuesday Hodge-Podge (11-15-11)

  • The scandal at Penn State over alleged child sexual abuse caused me to do some research on abuse statistics. I was shocked that 1-in-4 girls in our country are abused in our country and 1-in-6 boys (before the age of 18). Christians must be alert to protect these weak ones against those who would bring such violence against them. Mark 9:42.
  • Tired of hearing the word "missional". The bottom shelf meaning is simply every Christian intentionally carrying out Christ's redemptive mission in daily life. Here are eight ways to be missional.
  • If you are in or around the Golden Triangle you ought to consider attending this conference (on Biblical Worldview) with Dr. Jobe Martin this weekend (Nov 18-19).
  • I've recently encountered both Calvinist and Arminian (and those in between or not at all) with one common characteristic in their view of the church-- they are consumeristic. David Platt challenges us here on this issue plaguing local churches.
  • "We're not as big or important as we think we are." That's just one statement by Trevin Wax in this helpful post about the SBC's consideration of a name change.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Reality of Sin in Happy Valley

The Penn State tragedy (the tragedy is that young boys were assaulted, not that a football program or school has a black-eye) has reminded me of a few realities in this world we live in…

1. No place… not even “Happy Valley” is insulated from sin and the depravity of man.

2. This abhorrent crime against children occurred at a prestigious academic institution in the locker room of a powerhouse athletic program so we see money, education, and athletic glory do not provide the answers to curing man’s deepest problem.

3. Sin is infectious. Consider how one man’s sexual deviance elicited so many others to be deceitful and morally reckless.

4. The consequences of a few men’s sins literally have affected thousands… first and foremost the boys and their families. Then consider as these boys become men (some already are) and how this abuse will affect their marriages and their children. The consequences will also (to a different and lesser degree than the victims) be felt by those football players and coaches (who may have trouble finding work just because of their association with those involved) who had no direct connection to the actions of a few. Finally consider those countless men who do have integrity and give of their time to teaching and coaching young boys—they will face undeserved scrutiny and suspicion because of one monstrous pervert.

5. None are righteous. Sin radically affects every part of us and no part of us came through the Fall unscathed. We may not act as badly as we could (or as badly as those involved in this scandal) but we all act on our sinful condition rendering us unrighteous and unfit to glorify and enjoy a holy God. Thanks be to Him that He is also a loving and merciful God. He provided a Redeemer and rescues undeserving men and women like me from the condemnation we deserve to an everlasting and all-satisfying relationship with Him.

Pray for those involved in this scandal that God would—as He wills—show justice and mercy. Pray especially for these afflicted boys that they will find comfort, healing, and ultimate restoration in the Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

My Padawan

One of the highlights of my week were these moments caught on camera. For a brief few minutes big brother took some interest in his new little sister.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Happy Birthday Piper Clair!

It is not often you wake up and know that today is going to be one of the best days of your life. We woke today with a scheduled c-section planned and as the Lord willed we welcomed our new daughter into the world late this afternoon. Mother and baby are doing great! Asher is a happy big brother but mostly because all his grandparents are here to spoil him! We are so thankful and so blessed. Our Lord is overflowingly gracious. Here are a couple pics of my new girl (and my best girl, her mother and my wife)...

Monday, October 31, 2011

Don't Waste Your Halloween

To be completely honest I don't really care for Halloween. What was once a day for kids to dress up and get candy has become one more excuse for "grown-ups" to act childish. Furthermore I don't care for the day's emphasis on fear, gore, and sexuality (Have you seen some of the costumes for women hanging in stores??!!). I'd rather celebrate today as Reformation Day-- which is far more historically and spiritually meaningful. However, for better or worse we're stuck with Halloween as a growing phenomenon on October 31 so don't waste the opportunities it presents.

Tonight will be one of the few times in our impersonal culture when you can knock on a neighbor's door or strangers can knock on yours and the expected reception is friendliness. It will be like the 50's and 60's again when neighbors actually interacted with each other and opened their front porches to each other. So as a Christian, don't waste this. Keep your porch light on. Be hospitable. Give out candy (and gospel tracts or invitations to your church's worship). Remember that unbelievers will actually be coming to your door-- or you can go to their's! You don't have to endorse everything about this day to demonstrate Christ-likeness. Redeem the night by practicing gospel living on your front porch.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Piper is just around the corner!

In less than four days we will be inviting a new life into our family (via scheduled c-section). It is all very exciting and overwhelming at the same time. There's no doubt the Lord will use our new daughter to be a blessing but also to build our faith. New responsibilities, new challenges, and new uncertainties will be included in each day. I trust the Lord will use all these things to teach us more about how to parent by grace and grow in our marriage by grace. Of course this faith-building will also happen by all the moments of joy that accompany having a child. So in these remaining days Blair and I are praying up and resting up (while Asher enjoys some grandparent time)... eagerly anticipating the debut of the new life God created nine months ago, our daughter Piper!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tuesday Hodge-Podge (10-25-11)

  • Tim Challies proposes a theory on why Halloween has morphed into such a popular adult holiday. I concur.
  • Steve Lawsom has posted some great biographical snapshots over at Ligonier leading up to Reformation Day (here's his intro) on Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and William Tyndale (so far).
  • Kevin DeYoung offers some insight into things churches ought to think through concerning mercy ministry.
  • Jim Hamilton shares his take on why Harry Potter may not be the harbinger of Satanism (sarcasm) that many Christians seem to fear.
  • Thom Rainer suggests "five warning signs of a sick church". I especially want to amen #4.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Church in the City

Tim Keller offers a helpful challenge for churches to engage the city with gospel proclamation and gospel living. He says for example, "Cities are strategic and have lots of people yet they are poorly served by the church." This is not to discount the need for rural-based churches or suburban-based churches but we must continue to engage the city. It is just under 20 minutes and well worth it.

Tim Keller Argues For Churches In Cities [Lausanne] from Kenny Jahng on Vimeo.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Grow what?

On Sunday nights I've been leading a study through the "Seven Churches of Revelation" and this has been helpful to both warn and challenge. We talked last week about the desire for church growth. Depending on the motive and aim of that desire it could be a healthy and God-pleasing desire or it could be a desire reflecting selfishness and spiritual deadness. It is good to want the kingdom of God to grow and when the kingdom expands new disciples are added to established churches and new churches are started. So numerical growth is a byproduct of kingdom growth. Of course kingdom growth comes by faithful gospel proclamation and the gracious work of God using that proclamation to awaken a spiritual zombie (walking dead- Ephesians 2:1-2) to a new life in Christ. If you really desire true church growth you will faithfully proclaim and live out the gospel. You will invest time in unbelievers to lead them to understanding the gospel of the Lord Jesus. You will invest your life into new believers to help them grow as disciples of the Lord Jesus. So do you really want your church to grow?

I'm vexed by those who say they want church growth but seem apathetic about faithfulness to the Great Commission. Unfortunately what some people mean by "church growth" is actually club growth. They have a club that they don't want to go away. They have identity in that club and influence in that club that requires more people to surround that club to validate it. So the desire for more people to come to the church is not due to a love for Jesus and a desire to see Him magnified and enjoyed in another person's life. The desire for more people to come is so that the club would be magnified and enjoyed. I was encouraged as those who were present last Sunday night resoundingly responded that they did not want to be satisfied with "club growth" but wanted God to grow His church. I pray that is the desire of all our churches and that we'd guard ourselves from the spiritual deadness that permeated churches like the one in Sardis 2000 years ago.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tuesday Hodge-Podge (10-18)

  • Questions about Mormonism and its divergence from orthodox Christianity have become a hot topic again (due to Mitt Romney's presidential candidacy and LDS membership). Kevin DeYoung offers Mormonism 101.
  • So were Old Covenant believers permanently indwelt with the Holy Spirit? This is a good study topic and a question presented to me recently. Murray says yes. Hamilton says no.
  • Here is an interesting take on the spectrums of theological truth from Justin Taylor.
  • I'm planting a church but I pray established churches will maintain a pioneer mindset toward evangelism that most new churches start with. Here are 5 Ways Established Churches should think like Plants.
  • Here are ways you can think and act more missionally/ evangelistically among your neighbors.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Marriage Ceremonies & Cohabitation

Christianity Today asks the question of various ministers whether they would marry a couple who was co-habitating. I'm happy to help a couple that is repentant and thus willing to share separate habitations until they enter their marriage covenant. In that case it would be my joy to officiate the ceremony. Naturally these can be gospel-sharing opportunities as well. If they (professing to be Christians) are not willing to repent I would not do the ceremony because I'd want them to understand the seriousness and sanctity of the covenant. Al Mohler is better worded and spot on in his response.

"Pastors are stewards of a biblical understanding of sexuality. Marrying cohabiters miscommunicates the teaching function of marriage. I would only marry couples that were repentant, had forsaken the sin of cohabitating, and sought the remedy of marriage. Marriage does not simply validate the long-term commitment of a couple whose relationship has been based upon cohabitation. There's another problem, which has to do with the fact that pastors are not the only stewards of marriage. In other words, marriage is accessible to persons outside the church. So when the church allows a marriage to take place within its life, it should be validating this in a way that goes beyond marriage as a creation institution and gets to what marriage is teaching in the ceremony of the church and the church's stewardship of marriage."


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tuesday Hodge-Podge (10-4-11)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Do you want to help plant a church?

In Spring 2012 a new church will be planted in Beaumont Texas. The core group of Cross Point Church is already meeting regularly but more "planters" are needed. In January 2012 we'll begin meeting for worship and fellowship every Sunday night and on March 18, 2012 we'll launch the public Sunday morning worship service and our home-based "Life Groups". There's a lot to do between now and then. Many fellow churches are coming on board to support the planting effort but more core group members are needed.

If you are interested or know of someone you'd like to commend to be part of this core group read THIS first. Now pray about what you've read or who you'd like to commend. Next, attend our Core Group Informational Meeting on October 11. Please email me for the time and location if you're serious about attending (email: jbradshaw77 [at] gmail [dot] com). We want to make sure there is plenty of space for everyone.

Friday, September 30, 2011

What Happened to Authentic Community?

This is a "trailer" for a new book by Brad House called Community: Taking your Small Group Off Life Support.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Humility through a Mini-Van

This week started off pretty rough. By Monday afternoon I was exhausted- not physically but in all the other ways that aren't so easily remedied. Perhaps the breaking point came when after running an errand with my wife and son that evening I hit the button for the sliding door to open in our van so I could unbuckle my son. It didn't open. I tried the button on my key chain. It didn't work either. In the last three months we've spent almost $600 in vehicle repair and I immediately began to envision what it would cost to fix the power doors. On top of all the other issues I'd had to deal with in the previous 24 hours this I did not need.

Suddenly I was convicted that I had made two critical mistakes. First, and most grievously I was dipping into the well of anger, frustration, bitterness, and doubt. The last of which was essentially questioning the Lord's provision. Who was I to get upset?? The Lord is ever-gracious and if He can deliver me from sin's clutches He will provide the funds to fix my van. On top of that, it is just a thing. He's blessed me and my family with great health and we have another child on the way. My cup runneth over so I realized immediately I needed to cool my jets.

My second critical mistake had a more practical consequence. I didn't hit the unlock button and oh yeah genius, power doors don't work when locked. Boy, did I feel stupid. Subtract impatience and add common sense. It's amazing how much better the day goes. Of course that's a lesson that in hindsight would avoid much heartache. The Lord is gracious to humble me through a mini-van!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tuesday Hodge-Podge (9-27-11)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Let's Be Clear

I've said a lot here recently about being missional and I don't want to be misleading. You can love being on mission with Jesus and not love Jesus. A more classic way to say that is you can be very religious about Jesus stuff and not have a relationship with Jesus. So I want to be clear that the gospel is not working for Jesus or rebuilding your community or feeling more fulfilled because you are doing Jesus stuff. The gospel is the good news that God sent His Son as Redeemer for those who are utterly hopeless and dead in sin... by His work on the cross atonement is accomplished to bring us into relationship with God... a relationship of knowing, enjoying, and glorifying God forever. By faith alone the work of Christ is applied and this is an act of God's sovereign grace. That transformation (the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit) implants in us a growing passion and dedication to spread God's glory through gospel proclamation and demonstration.

Here is a good video on the gospel (and what the gospel is not) that is helpful on my point:

Baptized Four Times from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Friday, September 23, 2011

How will you use these final 100 Days?

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.
Today marks the first official day of Fall (the Autumnal Equinox) but it is also the first day of the last 100 days of the year. I remember well writing out goals and resolutions for my first 100 days as pastor at Memorial Baptist in Port Arthur. Many of those goals and all of the resolutions got carried over beyond those first days. Now I'm at my final 100 days as pastor of Memorial before diving full-in with planting Cross Point Church in Beaumont. So I'm thinking and praying a lot about finishing well and how my leadership and ministry with the saints at Memorial would be most edifying and most glorifying to God. I'm a list guy so naturally I've made another list of goals (my resolutions remain) for these last weeks and days of 2011.

Have you thought about your final 100 days of 2011? We put a lot of stock in "New Year's Resolutions" which usually fizzle by March. How about putting more thought into finishing well. Consider Ephesians 5:15-16, "Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil." Give thought and prayer today to what you'll do with the remaining time the Lord allows this year.

Growing Disciple=Living Missionally

I believe articles like this one by Mike Breen are, though well-intentioned and helpful on certain points, misleading. Reading his article you can easily feel the need to pick between a mission-focused church and a discipleship-focused church. This is not a choice that should be made. Discipleship done right includes being missional. Biblical discipleship is not just filling your head with unapplied knowledge. Churches must equip their members in the Word... for missional living. Being a Biblical church requires every member being missional because every member ought to be a growing disciple of the Lord Jesus. Of course too often churches don't disciple well. We are good at getting people into our programs and systems but activity is not necessarily spiritual growth.

Likewise many churches are not really good at doing missions either. That is relegated only to a committee, those who volunteer a bit of time at a local shelter, or those who can afford to go on 10-day trips to some foreign country. Those folks are doing missions but we must teach in our churches that every Christian must "do missions" every day and in every area of their life. The gospel is a way of life and discipling people is to- like the Apostle Paul- invest in others, sow God's Word into them, and challenge them to live missionally. Missional living and discipleship are two-sides of the same coin... both with the aim to make much of Christ and His gospel.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What do I mean by Confessional?

I'm working on developing a statement of faith for Cross Point Church that will eventually supplant the Abstract of Principles as the confessional document of the church. Nothing wrong with the AOP but there's additional positions not considered in 1858 (when the AOP was written) that I believe are important for inclusion. There are other things that I think can be more clearly stated in our present context. This project is probably a few months off from completion but I came across a good quote from Carl Trueman that is applicable to why this project is important:

For a church to be `confessional' means for it to adhere to a particular confession or set of confessional documents. There are two parts to that statement, of course: there is the material statement, in that there are confessional documents involved, documents which teach certain doctrines; and there is the point that the church `adheres' to said documents, i.e., the church has a Form of Government which connects to the confessional documents; as a result, office bearers take vows to uphold certain doctrines as taught in the confessional documents and there are procedures in place to remove them from office should they fail to do so.

Quote taken from this source.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Documentary on Star Wars

The Star Wars junkie in me had to post this so its pure guilty pleasure. In other words don't expect some amazing analogy about its application to the Christian life. Just enjoy...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tuesday Hodge-Podge (9-20-11)

Monday, September 19, 2011

What do I mean by "Missional"?

The term "missional" has become a popular buzz word among evangelicals. Unfortunately it has become misused and abused. However, I like the term. I believe it succinctly articulates the kind of mindset every disciple of the Lord Jesus ought to have. Every Christian is on mission.

What is the mission of every Christian or of every church? Well generally speaking you could boil that down to Jesus' words in the great commission. You could also quote Jesus from Matthew 5:16 (ESV) and say our mission is to "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." Different people and different churches have said essentially the same thing in their own words and in their own carefully phrased "mission statements" but the mission of every member of the Lord's Church is essentially the same. We are to be a display of God's glory through Christ Jesus.

There aren't two classes of Christian- those who carry out the mission and those that do not. This attitude plays out in churches when you have the hired hands and the consumers. So I'm using the term "missional" to emphasize that every church member is on mission- not just the pastor, not just the missions committee, and not just the really zealous and gregarious people. Those folks may set the pace but every Christian is to be a disciple-maker and a display of God's glory.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Why the Abstract of Principles??

Cross Point Church, though seeking to exalt King Jesus over any denomination is unashamedly being founded in the Southern Baptist tradition as doctrine, church polity, and cooperation for kingdom expansion is concerned. The Southern Baptist Convention is not a governing agency but a “convention of churches” which we will partner with to send missionaries across the globe, resource seminaries and other training institutions, and plant more Biblical local churches. Our polity will be pastor-led congregationalism (explaining that in detail will require another future blog post). Our doctrine will be consistent with the earliest statement of faith articulated and adopted by Southern Baptists. In 1858 the President of the soon-to-be-opened Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. James P. Boyce commissioned the drafting of an “abstract of doctrinal principles”. This confessional statement became a regulative document for the seminary and its professors (and has since been recovered under Dr. Mohler’s leadership). Of course years later in 1925 the SBC drafted the first edition of the Baptist Faith and Message but The Abstract of Principles was the first document that articulated the orthodoxy of Southern Baptist churches and it was the first confessional statement adopted by any SBC institution.

So Cross Point Church will use The Abstract of Principles as its main statement of faith. It is time-tested, clear, and concise. As such it will be the statement for confessional agreement among our membership. Over the course of the next year we will examine each article and make revisions in the language (for clarity) and teach the Scriptural proofs each doctrine is rooted in. It is also my goal to develop a “catechism” based on these doctrinal statements to use in discipleship—particularly among the children of our church members. The Baptist Faith and Message as well as other historic Baptist confessions (2nd London- 1689, Philadelphia- 1742, New Hampshire- 1833, etc) will also serve us to teach Bible doctrine and determine levels of cooperation with other congregations. Creeds and confessions while not authoritative—Scripture alone occupies this role for the believer—are guides and tools to express a church’s mutual agreement on Biblical doctrine and interpretation.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuesday Hodge-Podge (8-30-11)

  • Free R.C. Sproul!!
  • You need to read this (especially parents and pastors) tragic story of a girl who loved Jesus music but not Jesus.
  • Be missional at the workplace- read here.
  • Happy (belated) Birthday William Carey! Learn from him.
  • Michael Horton offers some interesting insight on those who hold to both Reformed and Charismatic views.
  • Justin Taylor relays 10 reasons to stop defining yourself by what you are against. This is a helpful read.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Coming March 18, 2012...

For more information about Cross Point Church go HERE.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Institutional or Incarnational?

What is your church's approach to church life and ministry? While programs and events can be useful tools the proverbial tail could wag the dog. Churches don't exist to spin an endless cycle of attract people to bring in money to sustain programs to attract more people to bring in more money to... well you get the idea. Bid buildings, big staffs, and big programs are not wrong- in fact there are many Biblical churches that have those things but those churches also have an incarnational approach to ministry... pursuing Christ and His glory in all things.

Here's a brief comparison of two approaches to ministry...

Institutional Approach to Ministry:

1. Based on consumerism (hooking people with what they want)
2. Buildings are essential
3. Purposes/ responsibilities of the church are carried out through programs
4. Sunday worship is one more program that is people-focused
5. The home is a separate place from church life & ministry
6. Stronger faith= More program participation
7. Ministry= Only possible by taking leadership in a program or committee
8. Fellowship is found with those of similar lifestyle and age
9. Church is the building and events
10. Attract people to programs with programs

Incarnational Approach to Ministry:
1. Based on Christ's example
2. Relationships are essential
3. Purposes/ responsibilities are carried out through relationships
4. Sunday worship is gathering/ equipping point that is God-focused
5. The home is central to church life & ministry
6. Stronger faith= God's Word lived out in home and community
7. Ministry= Using your spiritual gifts in home and through relationships with others
8. Fellowship is found with those of common faith
9. Church is the people who are united by covenant and common confession
10. Attract people to the gospel by the gospel (in proclamation and demonstration)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Church Name

I know I mentioned about my next post being on the relational-aspect of the church plant and explaining more the home group component of church life but I'm going to put that off by one post. Instead I wanted to share the name of the church plant and why. Our church will be called:

Cross Point Church

Naming a church is more difficult than naming a child (there's more people in the decision process)! This name is chosen because it meets the criteria: simple, unique to our area, and avoids reasonable and negative presuppositions (no one is likely to jump to conclusions based on the name about the church holding to un-Biblical beliefs or practices). More importantly the name points to Christ our King and His redemptive work on the cross. We want everything we do to point to this and so the name fits.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The DNA of the Beaumont Church Plant

I've been getting a lot of questions regarding the DNA or nature of the church our core group will be planting in the Spring of 2012 in Beaumont. What kind of church will it be? How will it be different? These are questions I've heard over and over. They are good questions. Let me make a few things clear about the church. First we will be confessional. Our church planting partners will be those that affirm the Baptist Faith and Message and our church members must affirm the Abstract of Principles (1858). The doctrines articulated in these statements of faith will represent the doctrinal positions of our church. Our members must agree principally to these doctrines and agree to encourage unity regarding them.

Second, we will be organic in structure. That may sound like a contradiction but it is not. The Bible provides clear structure for the local church-- recognized membership, two offices of leadership (pastor and deacon), discipline, and congregational worship on the Lord's Day. However we will seek to be organic in those areas where Scripture gives us liberty. Rather than prescribe programs for evangelism, discipleship, fellowship, ministry, etc we will grow in these areas through organic methods such as home-based groups. We will utilize these groups and the relationships they foster to advance the gospel and grow in the areas previously mentioned (more on this point in my next post).

Third, we will be missional. I know this is an overused and at times abused term but I am using it for its simpliest meaning. To be missional is to live out the mission to spread the gospel every day and in every way. We will teach and expect our members to be missional. The context of the home groups will provide a platform for this missional living. Finally, and most important, we will be Biblical. I pray this is not unique. In fact I know of many Biblical churches and we aim to add to their number for the glory of our King. The Bible will be at the center of all that we do-- in worship, in our fellowship, and in our corporate witness as a congregation.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Invisible made Visible

Here is an excellent quote by Mark Dever in an interview with Ed Stetzer about the church:

"The church... is a display of God's own character. We have an invisible God in the Bible. How does He make Himself visible? Is it through icons? We don't have any record of Jesus teaching His disciples to draw or paint or sculpt. He started the church... Our non-Christian friends should see what Jesus is like through the church."

Go HERE to watch the entire interview.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tuesday Hodge-Podge (8-9-11)

  • I found Brian Croft's post on sermon length to be corrective and instructive.
  • Just saw that Pilgrim's Progress is available in Kindle edition for free!
  • A while back I posted a link to Kevin DeYoung's blog post about church singing. Here is part two (he has a link to part one).
  • Mike McKinley has a really helpful website titled Am I Really a Christian?
  • Below is a video with D.A. Carson, John Piper, and Tim Keller on internet accountability and sexual purity... must watch:

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Next Steps

In case you didn't read my last post (just scroll down) I'll be concluding my ministry at Memorial at the end of the year to plant a new church in Beaumont. Over these next five months I'll be helping them through the transition/ pastor-search process as well as continuing my regular responsibilities of preaching and shepherding my flock.

There's no denying that we've faced some significant challenges over the last 3 1/2 years but I love my fellow church members and continue to desire to see the Word of God shape this church to His glory. Please pray for these next few months that my ministry would be a help toward this. Second, pray the Lord would prepare them to receive and follow the next pastor. Finally, pray for the next pastor- whoever he may be.

Now while I continue as pastor at MBC I'll also be diving head-long into the church planting process. Here are the next few steps and things you all (whoever you all may be) can be praying for:

1. My hope and goal is to "launch" with ten core group families. We are 3 families toward that goal and will begin meeting together during the week for prayer, planning, fellowship, and Bible study in late August. Pray the Lord would gather more to help with this endeavor (particularly those strong in their faith and like-minded in building the church on Biblical truth). Pray for our core group gatherings that the Lord would strengthen our bond and resolve.

2. In addition to the core group families, a second hope and goal is to assemble a coalition of at least ten partnering churches. We need churches who will contribute financially toward this new work on a monthly basis to bridge the gap while we "make disciples" and bring in more contributing families/ individuals to the church. We also need churches who, though cannot financially contribute monthly would help with one-time offerings or by "man-power" help for special projects (mission teams). Presently I've had five pastors express a firm desire to lead their churches to partner at some level and others who have shared a willingness to pray about it. I envision a great opportunity for many churches to work together and be strengthened in their efforts. So pray the Lord would put this need on the heart of congregations.

3. I'll keep everyone updated through my blog and be watching for the church name and launch date to be made official in the next two weeks. Thank you for your prayers and the many of you who have offered your encouragement and words affirmation!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Big Step toward New Work

Today was a difficult but important day. Over the last few months the Lord has been stirring Blair's and my heart to plant a new church in Beaumont, Texas. The heart can be deceptive but we have been exhaustive at seeking counsel from others (particularly trusted pastors), praying, and seeking guidance through the Word. Ideas have become journaling which has become a plan. This plan has found favor by other pastors who plan to lead their churches to partner with us to start this new work. We've talked to friends and the deacons at Memorial. After their counsel and support I announced our plans to the church this morning (we had a Q&A tonight). I will continue as their pastor for the next five months and conclude my ministry at the end of the year. Concurrently we will work on gathering together a core group and begin to lay the ground work for the new church. I hope to use this time not only to do the necessary "advance work" of planting but also to help guide Memorial through the transition and prepare them for future leadership. Blair and I covet your prayers that the Lord will use two churches-- one new and the other nearly a century old-- to glorify His great name and bring the gospel to men and women in the Golden Triangle.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Lifestyle Evangelism

Though this is aimed at pastors, it is practically helpful for any Christian in thinking about personal evangelism:

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Don't be a "Wine-Tasting" Christian

The shepherd's (pastor/ elder/ overseer) charge... "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." -Acts 20:28

The flock's response... "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you." -Hebrews 13:17

I'm struck by the symmetry of these statements. Being part of a church is to be earnestly invested in one another. There is no hint in the New Testament of the "wine tasting" Christianity that is so prevalent today. I am no oenophile and have actually never had any interest in wine (Dr. Pepper and sweet tea are my drinks of choice) but there are many wine lovers out there who attend wine tastings. They go for the social scene get a bit of the ambiance, the flavor, the aroma, and move on to another activity. Too many Christians treat the church the same way. Some come to taste the music program or the youth program. Others (who think themselves more spiritual) come to taste the preaching or the excellent Sunday School teacher. Still, they are just tasters. It is one "experience", one activity, one event on their week's schedule.

The church is an investment of your life and all that entails- time, talents, treasures, and trust. The pastor or pastors are there to commit themselves to you. My responsibility is to bring God's Word to bear on my fellow church members and to watch over their application of its truth. Before I was a pastor it was men like Jay Gross, Cliff Mayton, Greg Wallace, and Joe Worley that stood watch over my soul as I sat under their pastoral leadership. Even now there are church members who I trust to watch over me and fellow pastors in the community who hold me accountable. Who is holding you accountable? Are you invested in your church and submitting to pastoral oversight? Are you giving loving accountability to other members of your church family? Or is the Sunday worship assembly just a "wine-tasting" event for you?

If you are not invested then you are not examined. You and I need others to help examine us to make sure we are in the faith (2 Cor 13:5; Gal 6:1-2) and make sure we are producing spiritual fruit. It is possible to have a lot of Biblical knowledge and not be growing spiritually. This happens when we are not invested in a local church and submitted to Biblical oversight from others. Don't taste the wine... drink heartily from the riches of Christ by investing totally in the lives of other believers in covenant together.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tuesday Hodge-Podge (7-19-11)

  • What does the Bible mean when it talks about rewards in Heaven? Justin Taylor responds.

  • Is "family worship time" Biblical? Jerry Owen says it is helpful but not mandatory.

  • The Trinity is clearly taught in Scripture but is 1 John 5:7-8 teaching it? Daniel Wallace with the textual issue of this passage.

  • Tullian Tchividjian argues that while the gospel is news, it is news lived out before our neighbor.

  • Some of you know that John Piper's preaching and writing ministry has had a tremendous impact on my life (we're even naming our daughter Piper!) and it is because of these kinds of instruction that I'm appreciative for his labor in the Word.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Burn-out or Faith?

John MacArthur is a freak. I mean that as the highest compliment. He is exceptional as a pastor and preacher having served his congregation for over 40 years-- with no inclination to stop! He has been a faithful expositional preacher from the get-go and has recently completed preaching through the entire New Testament verse-by-verse. That is amazing for its dedication and longevity. The Lord has clearly had his hand on John MacArthur's life and ministry. While I do not agree with every secondary or tirtiary doctrine that MacArthur does I admire him and seek to emulate him in his faithful and enduring expositional preaching ministry.

The other day as I was listening to one of his Q&A sessions he does on Sunday nights I was struck by a piece of his pastoral wisdom. Over the course of 40 years you might expect him to have gone through burn-out a time or two. We would understand if there were ever seasons he simply lacked the passion to climb behind that pulpit and preach. He's faced a good amount of difficulty and opposition during his lifetime after all. So what about burn-out? Not a bit. He challenged me (though I think he is exceptional in this area) that burn-out is most often the result of pride. We build up these expectations for our ministries and develop a sense of entitlement that when not met leads to depression or burn-out. This is contrary to faith. We do not put our hope in men but in God. We should expect no praise but be thankful for the encouragement. No I can attest to being discouraged or hurt when the enemy attacks but I'm challenged to make sure that hurt gives way to faith rather than burn-out. No man can by his own flesh be so enduringly faithful to a ministry centered on Scripture alone as John MacArthur has been-- it is by faith alone in the power and grace of Christ alone... and this is to the glory of God alone.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Gossip Kills

“…Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”

That is Ephesians 4:24-31. Pretty straightforward stuff right? Yet we (with me at the top of the 'we list') have an awfully difficult time obeying these crystal clear instructions. Gossip is not simply spreading lies about another person. It comes in the form of venting disagreements and displeasure with another in a manner that is not motivated by building up the Body of Christ or glorifying God. I've recently had to confront this issue on two fronts-- being the target of "corrupting talk" and being the proliferator of "corrupting talk". When the former is concerned it is appropriate to do three things: 1) Consider where my own sin is instigating such talk-- even though there's no justification for "corrupting talk" rather than only be offended and hurt (which is natural we should seize the opportunity for personal examination; 2) Respond with kind confrontation-- sin needs to be addressed and not ignored but I have to guard from fueling the fire by couching justifiable confrontation with unjustifiable "corrupting talk"; and 3) Prayer for the person or persons who are participating in such behavior-- the Enemy would love to divide the Body and cause me to have anger or even hatred for a brother or sister but we cannot give him that. A battery has already been fired but do not yield the battlefield! Now to the latter-- when I am the corrupting talker-- there is two things to do: 1) Repent-- slandering the people who are slandering you does not defeat slander-- stop it and set an example of Christ-like behavior; and 2) Believe on Christ-- have faith that He will deal with those on His own and does need me taking matter in my own hand (or mouth).

Is it every appropriate to discuss "beefs" you have with another person to a third party? It is helpful to seek prayer support and seek wisdom from those who are trusted to give it. Be careful you don't go to a fool for wisdom-- they will only accompany you in your foolish tendancies and you'll just have a 'gossip and gripe' buddy. Also test your heart and make sure your motive in sharing with others is accompanied by a true desire to heal the rifts or strengthen the Body of Christ. Are you just looking for pity and are you only feeding your sense of entitlement (how you feel you deserve to be treated)? Be careful. Gossip kills. It kills joy. It kills mission. It kills fellowship. The Lord has been teaching me greatly on this and I pray we will always keep the clear instructions in Ephesians 4 as non-negotiable so that we build up the Body and glorify the LORD who endured far worse than "corrupting talk" from us to redeem us to God.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tuesday Hodge-Podge (6-28)

  • Douglas Wilson provides a recap to the friendly debate between Tullian Tchividjian and Kevin DeYoung on sanctification.
  • This is a very insightful article on the NY Times by a gay journalist who is baffled by his old friend and former "gay rights" crusader who has repented from homosexuality and found new life in Christ.
  • Here is a thorough piece on the textual debate concerning 1 John 5:7-8.
  • Kevin DeYoung gives us some thoughts on church music and singing.
  • John MacArthur recently finished preaching verse-by-verse through the entire New Testament (it took him over 40 years). This is an amazing feat and a commendable model for pulpit ministry. Below is the video of the final sermon of this endeavor on the the longer ending of Mark's Gospel (16:9-20).

Monday, June 27, 2011

The 100th Day of Prayer

Today marks the final day of our church's "100 Days of Prayer" emphasis. I've asked all our church members to commit time when they rise and before they lie down to pray for three specific things.

  1. We have been praying the Lord would be gracious to bring true revival to our hearts.

  2. We have been praying the Lord would increase true fellowship in our church relationships.

  3. We have been praying the Lord would use our faithful sharing of the gospel to make true conversions in our community.
This seasons of prayer has been accompanied with focused passages of Scripture to read and while I cannot speak for everyone participating I can attest to this being a truly sanctifying season. The Lord has made my heart extra sensitive and He has taught be afresh my need to depend on Him and pray with earnestness. I'm eager to hear from all who have participated as we gather this Wednesday, June 29 for a church-wide prayer and testimony service at 6:30pm. If you are not a member of our church please pray for us as we seek the Lord together.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tuesday Hodge-Podge (6-21)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Lebron the Villain?

I was never a big Lebron guy. I didn't dislike him but I didn't particularly root for him or watch him play. When his free agency began part of me wished he would have stayed in Cleveland just because as a Houston sports fan I know what it is like to lose a favorite player (especially when the rest of the team stinks) but it didn't move the meter much for me either way. If I were a 25 year old basketball player I'd probably rather live in Miami than Cleveland- especially if I'd never left home (he's from Akron, OH).

The whole ESPN "Decision" spectacle was not my thing. It turned me off... even though I certainly tuned in (wasn't that the point?). Still, it is his life. He wanted to play in a cool city with a couple of his buddies. He was willing to score less, distribute more, and bust his tail on defense to be part of a glamourous star-laden team that had a blue-collar approach. The team is in a work-in-progress mode as they fill in around the big stars and they still came within two wins of a championship. I'm not a fan of the players or the team but this crew will win 3-5 rings.

So what's the big deal? Why do so many people hate Lebron James? Because he took a better job? Because he wanted to live in a nicer place? Because he wanted to work and play with his buddies? Because he wanted to win more and was less concerned with his legacy? Sports talk radio and the rant and file sports fan villifies this guy. Why? He is controversial? Why? Has he broken laws? Abused his spouse? Done drugs or toted guns? Nope. His biggest crime has been sticking his foot in his mouth and his second "felony" is having a big ego. Those things will change with age but even now, do they deserve the hate?

I guess the bigger issue is why we feel the need to create villains and have someone to aim hate toward. This is the bigger issue. If you catch yourself watching a sports game and feeling hate toward a player, team, or ref you need to turn off the TV, walk outside, look up and realize the mercy of God is keeping you alive. Go back inside, enjoy the game, root for your team, and remember it is not personal. Don't be distracted from the real spiritual enemy that would stir that hate inside you.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Finding Strength in Weakness

Our family vacation has officially begun so I'll be keeping this short. We're looking forward to the rest- both physically and spiritually. This time will also mark a two-Sunday absence from the pulpit. I'm thankful for those preaching in my stead and it will be good for my congregation to hear new voices. However, I'm right in the middle of preaching through 1 Samuel on Sunday nights so I cannot help reflecting on what I've learned.

I'm continually impressed with how the LORD "flips the script" in that narrative. Instead of the physically mighty, outwardly impressive, boastful, and proud God chose to use the meek, unimpressive, small, physically outmatched, and humble. This does not mean we should not seek education, preparation, or be diligent to grow but we do not put our confidence in the flesh. God used the socially-disregarded (for her barrenness) Hannah rather than Penninah- the loudest hen in the henhouse. He brought the powerful yet corrupt house of Eli down by the prophecy of a little boy named Samuel. He rejected the tall and mighty King Saul for his pride and self-seeking nature and chose instead David, the runt of the litter from a shepherding family in Bethlehem.

So this vacation is not about getting rest so that I can be more self-confident but I'm thankful to the Lord who gives me times for rest and who carries me with His strength during times of battle and times of work. Paul captured it perfectly when he quoted Jesus who said, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Paul responded, "Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me."

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Who told you what?

I'm often confronted with well-intentioned people seeking to justify their decisions on one phrase, "God told me..." or the more bold, "I heard God say..." This is problematic for a number of reasons. First of all there are some things God would absolutely not tell you. I've heard people say that God told them it was not their burden to bear to share the gospel with so-and-so. That is contradictory to the commands He's given to every believer such as Matthew 28:19-20. There is no way God told you not to share His good news or not to seek reconciliation with a brother or sister where separation has occurred or not to participate in the life of a local church. Justifying sinful behavior by falsely claiming God told you to do it is simply more sinful behavior. If a voice in the sky told you to sin, don't credit God, get an MRI (and repent).

The second reason this is problematic is that you don't need to claim some divine audible special revelation to do what the Bible clearly says to do. Serve others. Share the gospel. Be compassionate. Stay faithful to your spouse. Disciple your children. Claiming some trumpet in the sky order to do what the Bible already has made clear is just grandstanding and comes off vain. God told you to use your spiritual gifts and talents to serve in some area in your church family? Wow that's amazing! No, that's Bible. Just do it and stop drawing attention to yourself.

The third reason the "God told me" line is problematic is that His Word says, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." In other words, Scripture is entirely sufficient to instruct us according to what God wants us to do. Of course the Holy Spirit indwells every believer and as John 16:13 says, "He will guide you into all truth" but this means He will help us to understand and apply God's revelation as given in His written Word.

God has given us brains and calls us to be discerning as to how the principles of Scripture are applied in our particular context. For example, I know God has commanded me to share the gospel. I've got to discern and seize those opportunities when made available. To claim some audible and special revelation infers that Scripture is not sufficient. Does God still speak to His people? Yes. He speaks to us through His Word which is given in the written Scriptures. He has given us His Holy Spirit to understand, discern, apply, and carry out His Word.