Friday, December 21, 2012

My Year-in-Review as a Church Planter

Almost five years ago I began serving a church in Port Arthur, Texas as pastor with hopes to bring revitalization through Biblical church reform. There was no agenda, no clandestine plan, just a love for a people and a commitment to preach and put into practice the Word of God. For nearly four years I served the Lord among some precious saints (and some more challenging saints) and the Lord produced fruit. Human expectations were not always met, and that created conflict at times, but I believe God was glorified and the church edified. By the summer of 2011 it was clear my time as pastor there was near the end. The Lord directed my heart to church planting while directing a new shepherd to take up my former pastorate. My wife and I took a lot of wonderful memories with us, and many lessons learned from the difficulties as well. These would serve us well as church planters.

Over the past year the “nuts and bolts” of administration, management, building team and consensus, and relationship building that I learned the previous four years found application in planting Cross Point. This year has been what could be described as the “core group building phase”. I naively thought this phase would take a lot less time than a year but God’s timing is perfect. Including my wife and I, three couples began meeting in each other’s homes for prayer and fellowship. We also met on Sunday nights at the Baptist Hospital for worship. The Lord connected other couples and single adults to us—some popped in and out quickly, others lingered for weeks or months, some committed to help for a year, and some have dropped anchor to be part of sowing the gospel in the city as a missional community.

We launched a Sunday morning worship service in April and in September split our core group into two Community Groups. These groups are the arena for church life and mission to be “fleshed out”. They eat together, play together, pray together, learn together, serve together, and share burdens together. By November we were ready to call for local church membership. At this point some of those core groupers and some of the regular visitors participated in “Starting Point”—our membership class. The charter membership of Cross Point will be officially dedicated on January 13, 2013. Fourteen disciples have committed to be in covenant together as a local church and missional community.

Just a few weeks ago we moved out of the Baptist Hospital and into our own space on Calder Avenue. The historic Alamo Grocery building is in the heart of the Old Town district on Lower Calder. This is where we’ll gather on Sundays and hope this location will be a tool to establish a presence in the neighborhood. Our “grand opening”/ Old Town Launch will be on January 20, 2013. That is MLK Jr. weekend, which is a significant holiday for many residents of the community. We hope to capture the theme of the weekend by celebrating reconciliation in Christ through the gospel.

It has been a hard year but hard is not bad. Church planting has been exhausting at times, discouraging at times, and frustrating at times but mostly it has been a tremendous faith journey, a continual exercise in sanctification, a pipeline for lessons about God’s provision, a gateway to meet some of the most fantastic and beloved people in my life, and an opportunity to see God glorified over and over again.

I dearly love the flock of disciples Christ has entrusted to me—they enrich my life. I dearly love the city Christ has assigned to me—it is just busting with gospel opportunity. I dearly love the people who Christ has put in my path that have not yet had their hearts opened to His Lordship—their unbelief breaks my heart but I’m trusting the Lord to break through! I dearly love my children and that they can grow up seeing the Body of Christ in this way. Some of my best memories have been passing out fliers or painting restroom walls with my son! I dearly, dearly love my wife (in a way unique and above every way I’ve previously mentioned) and that God gave me the most excellent partner in this journey of faith. Chiefly, church planting this year has taught me to dearly love and trust my Savior and Lord Jesus Christ in a more intimate and enduring way. It has been a roller-coaster year but an abundantly blessed one because of Jesus.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Things I've Learned from Blogging

A few things that blogging has taught me over the past five years...

1. Humility. I'm reminded often that my "brilliant thoughts" are not as impressive outside my own mind and not as often read as I might imagine.

2. Vanity is always a temptation. Blogging can feed pride if not careful and if not continually reminded of #1.

3. It has saved my wife from hearing everything on my mind.

4. It helps clarify thoughts and articulate them in brevity.

5. It is a good venting place (though I always had to remind myself that other people could read my vents so I edited my venting often).

6. I change my mind. I like that I can look back and see the development and maturation of my thought and ideas. It has been tempting to go back and delete posts but I've left them up as a reminder that sanctification and maturity is a process.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Resolutions

With the challenges of transitioning our church to a new location over the past three months now over I've had time to reflect and dream about the days ahead. This time of year I'm usually both reflective and in goal-setting mode. After some personal Bible study and prayer time the other I began to lay out resolutions for 2013. I usually put some goals and desires before me and ask the Lord to help me be resolved in following through. This year I was intentional about not just adding things to my life but taking things away. I'm aiming for more simplicity in reading, writing, ministry, spare time/ hobbies, etc. So that means saying goodbye to certain things... like this blog.

I started this blog when I began my pastorate at Memorial Baptist Church in Port Arthur, Texas. The purpose of it was three-fold. First, it was a place to write. I love writing and need to write. This help me improve that skill and express my heart on various subjects. Second, it was intended to provide resources and encouragement to my church, family, and beyond. I'm not sure how many people pass by to read but occasionally I've crossed paths with those who've been encouraged by the content, so I'm glad to serve in that way. Third, to challenge my church and others who may take a look on certain Biblical convictions, namely (as the title of this blog suggests) for the church to see itself as a culture of sacrifice. We are the redeemed people of God-- made so by the sacrifice of Jesus that provided atonement and justification. We are a new culture, that lives among many cultures, and ought to reflect the person, work, and sacrificial nature of Jesus Christ our Lord.

But it is time to put a pin in this little project and focus my attention on other areas and outlets for expression. For the four or five of you that keep up here (haha) I hope the resources and writings here have edified. I've got one or two posts left in me but nothing past 2012 and the present content will remain indefinitely. Thanks for reading and thank you to those out there that have shared with me what is helpful. May God bless!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tuesday Hodge-Podge (12-18-12)

It has been a while since I've posted links and I hope these are helpful. For past links just do a search for "Tuesday Hodge-Podge" and there are lots to look through.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

12-12-12

There are only 9 days left until the Mayan Apocalypse and if that whiffs like Y2K then we'll all be able to enjoy Christmas (unless of course our Lord returns which would be infinitely better). Before Doomsday or Christmas day rolls around though we should celebrate 12-12-12. Such numerical repetition won't occur again until January 1, 2101. I don't expect to be around for that one so I thought I'd celebrate with a few lists of twelve today (no particular order or ranking).

12 Spiritually-impactful books (after the Bible):
  • The Pleasures of God by John Piper
  • The Doctrines of Grace by Jim Boice & Phil Ryken
  • Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever
  • Cur Deus Homo by Anselm
  • Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther
  • Dominion and Dynasty by Stephen Dempster
  • The Servant King by T.D. Alexander
  • Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper
  • Knowing God by J.I. Packer
  • Dynamic Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders
  • Desiring God by John Piper
  • Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis
12 Spiritually-impactful eating spots (ok maybe not spiritually-impactful but really really good):
  • Black's BBQ-- Lockhart TX
  • Tacos La Bamba-- Beaumont TX
  • Mel's Diner-- Tomball TX
  • Famous Original Rays-- NYC, NY
  • El Tiempos-- Houston, TX
  • Storms-- Burnet, TX
  • Peggy's-- Bridge City, TX
  • Sartins-- Nederland, TX
  • Larry's French Market-- Groves, TX
  • Rockin A-- Beaumont, TX
  • Pappasitos-- Houston, TX
  • Potato Patch-- Houston, TX
12 Favorite "Theologians":
  • Jonathan Edwards
  • John Calvin
  • Martin Luther
  • Augustine
  • D.A. Carson
  • John Owen
  • Charles Spurgeon
  • R.C. Sproul
  • Matthew Henry
  • C.S. Lewis
  • Martyn Lloyd-Jones
  • John Bunyan
12 Great Movies (I'll cheat by including trilogies as one entry):
  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • Patton
  • Gladiator
  • The Godfather trilogy (or at least the first two)
  • Hoosiers
  • The Cowboys
  • Lonesome Dove (the exceptional TV miniseries that counts)
  • A River Runs Through It
  • Braveheart
  • Spartacus
  • Star Wars trilogy (episode 4-6 that is)
  • Shawshank Redemption

Monday, November 12, 2012

Best Laid Plans...

Proverbs 21:5 says, "The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty."

This is good wisdom. However it does not mean that every well thought out plan works or that everything always goes according to plan. Sometimes missionaries, church planters, and pastors go years before seeing one respond to the gospel and become a true disciple. Sometimes in some places such servants get killed before they ever see any fruit from their service. So this proverb teaches us to be diligent in planning but the whole counsel of God's Word reminds us not to presume upon God or to put one's confidence in those plans.

That past year and a half have not gone just as planned. In many cases they've gone better and sometimes just differently. Back in May 2011 I put together my church planting vision and strategy. I gave it meticulous thought and constant prayer. I sought out counsel and critique. Still, plans change. In August 2011 I shared with the church I had been pastoring in Port Arthur since March 2008 that I sensed the Lord directing my life toward planting a new church in Beaumont. The plan was to help the church prepare for new leadership and ministry while simultaneously putting together a network of churches for financial support and a core group for planting. By the end of 2011 we had a a good network of churches ready to partner with us but our core group consisted of only three families-- mine included!

I was getting nervous. You see according to my plan we would have 6-10 households in our core group who would meet in homes until Fall 2012 and launch a public worship service in a rental space in the Old Town community of Beaumont. Well the Lord stripped my confidence in my plans-- as diligently as they were prepared-- to drive me to faith. It was as though He took my entire timeline, threw it in a bag, shook them up, and spilled them out on the floor!

In January a free building was opened to our three couples to meet in for a year so we started meeting together on Sunday and meeting in homes. This made it easier for people to find us and over time, connect into the core group. So the "core group building phase" shifted from August 2011-December 2011 to January 2012 to the present. Over the last 10 months the Lord has knitted a fantastic planting team together. They have become family to my wife and me. I could have never thrown this group together by last December!

The free space has allowed us to save money for the eventual rental space and to use money for ministry. We finally identified a building that is in the heart of Old Town, very visible and accesible. Once again, plans have been jumbled... we'd planned to be in the building by November 1 but needed repairs to the building and inspections have delayed our transition and temporarily scuttled our planned launch. This has been frustrating but the last 18 months have taught me that the Lord's ways are not always my ways. I'm learning to continue being diligent in planning, hoping and praying for God's abundance, but also to have faith and put my confidence in His perfect plans.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Another ONE

A couple years ago I penned this post about my son turning one. Today my daughter has turned one. She is another evidence of God's grace in my life. I must admit when the ultrasound tech told us we were having a girl I had mixed emotions... fear and panic. Don't get me wrong I wasn't unhappy we were having a girl, though for some illogical reason I'd convinced myself we were having another boy. I was just happy to be having another child and that everything was healthy but having grown up with brothers I had no context for having a little girl in the house. What a delight this first year has been! Fear turned quickly to joy. She's my little sweetheart. I pray daily that the Lord would help me to be a godly man for her to learn from and that He would prepare a godly man for her to marry one day.

Happy 1st Birthday Sweet P!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Saving Star Wars

Advance notice: this is purely a nerd content blog post. Don't expect any bait and switch in the end where I try to find the gospel in Star Wars. The gospel is spelled out well enough in Scripture. Sure there are elements of the Star Wars movies that makes for good illustration in teaching the redemptive themes of the Bible but this is NOT that post. This is purely how I think the recent Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm and promise to continue the Star Wars franchise (which is very near and dear to my inner-10-year-old heart). Some are concerned Disney could "ruin" the franchise. Well if you've ever seen episodes 1-3 you know, damage done. This is a reclamation project and here's how they can do it right, even picking up what worked in the prequel trilogy.

1. For starters, issue DVD and Blu-Ray of the original trilogy, digitally-enhanced but free of all the Lucas tinkering. Let Han go back to being a bad dude- he shot first- that finds redemption. Let Yoda be a puppet. Let Vader stay silent in his self-sacrifice. Let Jabba stay mysteriously behind-the-scenes in episode 1. And for the love, get that dopey teen who played Anakin out of Endor!

2. Issue a "fan cut" DVD and Blu-Ray of the prequel trilogy. Streamline the dialogue. Edit Jar Jar way down. Close some loops... like the confusing Clone army and Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas. And well, it is a mess so good luck but really, the main problem: too talkly.

3. Now for Episide 7-9... have a simple story. No politics. No multiple story-lines. Have a hero, a quest, some likeable sidekicks, a wise sage to accompany the hero (maybe old Luke?), a really iconic bad guy (Darth Maul worked in episode 1 then they cut him in half and we got Saruman the White), R2D2 and C3PO, and a princess to rescue (no democratically elected queens).

4. There were four things about the prequel trilogy that were awesome: lightsaber battles, podracing, Darth Maul, and Ewan MacGregor playing Obi-Wan. It would be weird bringing back EM unless for some Obi-Wan ghost scenes but I'd avoid that. Bring back Darth Maul's people for revenge maybe-- lots of em... like Aliens lots of em. Amp up the lightsaber battles... old fat Mark Hammil should have trained him some new recruits by now. Now about podracing...

5. The podracing of episode 1 worked so well because it harkened back to the high octane space battles (or Hoth ice planet battle) of the originals. So kick this puppy into gear. Dazzle us. Make us feel 10 again and flying through the theater... not drudging through another lengthy and dull conversation between Anakin and whoever.

6. Bring back Han. Harrison Ford hasn't made a good movie since Air Force One. Pay him big bucks to crack-wise and be the widower (kill off Leia to give his story some gravitas) who just wants to fly around the galaxy in his bucket of bolts with trusty ole Chewbacca until some young buck Jedi recruits him for one last mission (at the urging of old Luke of course).

7. No Darth Vader suits. He's iconic and legendary. Leave that character alone. Don't mess it up.

8. No Ewoks or whatever Jar Jar Binks was. I get the Ewoks... powerful Empire toppled by underdog... sort of a furry Hobbit. I'm not as critical of Ewoks as some, but less is more. Don't shoehorn cute characters just to sell stuffed animals and bed spreads.

9. Admiral Ackbar. "It's a trap!" More of that please.

10. Keep John Williams score and bring him back to write new music. Don't mess with brilliance.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Things I'm Thankful for Concerning My Flock

The enemy always tempts us to look at the glass as half-empty. Rather, it is a good discipline to consider how that cup is actually overflowing. Every pastor has the temptation to get discouraged or frustrated working with people... just as every congregation has the temptation to get discouraged or frustrated working with their pastor. (I can speak for myself and say there are plenty of things in my life needing continued sanctification that could be causes to frustrate my flock.) So we need to continue to pray for those things in each other while recognizing the evidences of grace in each other. I'm continued to be amazed at Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 in view of a congregation riddled with serious sin issues. I'm thankful not to be pastoring the church in Corinth and it is a lot easier for me to identify things I'm thankful for concerning my flock, such as...

1. I'm thankful that my church hangs around and talks long after the worship service is over. (We're usually not home till 1-1:30pm and our worship ends by 11:45am or noon.)

2. I'm thankful that my church expects and anticipates Scripture to be opened and explained.

3. I'm thankful that my church is simple and content with being simple.

4. I'm thankful that my church members have developed friendship that extend well-beyond Sunday morning.

5. I'm thankful that my church is willing to learn and be confronted with where Scripture needs to be applied.

6. I'm thankful that my church is willing to be pushed outside their comfort zone-- from helping with each others' kids to getting more personal than they are accustomed to opening their homes to people they've not known very long at all.

7. I'm thankful that my church doesn't complain. They might think it but I just don't get complaints. It is rare and the exceptions are usually withdrawn quickly.

8. I'm thankful that my church steps up when needed. I put out needs and I get response. Not everyone can do everything but there is always someone to step forward.

These are just a few things that popped in my head this morning. It is a blessing to be the pastor of Cross Point. That doesn't mean every day is blissful. That doesn't mean we don't deal with sin. That doesn't mean we don't have room for growth. We are far from a finishing the race but I count it a joy to serve the Lord and share life with these brothers and sisters.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Don't be surprised at failure and DON'T QUIT.

1 Peter 4:12, 19 says, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you... Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good." (emphasis mine)

This is a heart-piercing passage that humbles the soul. Trial will come. It comes in all forms and in all degrees of pain. All trial is according to the will of God and serves to test us. We respond in at least three ways.

Don't be surprised. Many "American Evangelicals" hold comfort, safety, and prosperity as core values and entitlements. There is simply no Biblical guarantee to these things in this world. So don't be shocked when those things are pulled out from under you.

Entrust your souls. Put your faith not in shifting circumstances but in the gracious God who gives all things. He alone is secure. As a pastor it is really easy to put your faith in your people, in your abilities, or in your resources. God has a sometimes shaming and piercing way of driving us back to faith in Him alone.

Do good in the meantime. Don't quit on faithfulness. Having served as a pastor of an established church for nearly 4 years and now of a church plant for nearly 1 year I can admit that I've often thought, if I just do the right things (preaching the Word, shepherd the flock, shepherd my home, pray diligently, share the gospel, etc etc) God will bless and the church will flourish. Well, first of all I constantly fail to do all those things consistently. However, even if I did all those things in an exemplary way as I strive to, there is still no guarantee that my local church will flourish. Sometimes missionaries get their heads lopped off, sometimes faithful pastors lead churches that decline, sometimes, sometimes godly parents have children who leave the faith, and sometimes faithful evangelists don't see any fruit.

We are tested. We must be faithful. We must continue doing good while believing in Him who is ever faithful and will be glorified.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Good Quote on Missional Community

“A missional community is a group of believers who live and experience life together like a family... They speak the gospel truth to one another, regularly building each other up in love. They also love the people around them as if they were part of the family, showing them what the love of the Father looks like and in so doing inviting them to experience life in the family of God.”

-Jeff Vandersteldt

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Is the Word of God really that important?

Over the last few weeks we've been "treated" to three presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate. Generally speaking I cannot stand watching these debates because they aren't true debates. It is a lot of empty rhetoric, grandstanding, and mudslinging. I'd prefer candidates engage in a true "Lincoln-Douglas"-formatted debate over a lot of talk with such little walk. Watching portions of these debates got me thinking how often I hear similarly empty rhetoric from fellow Christians. It all sounds so good when people talk about being gospel-centered and when they speak as though the Word is so central to preaching, worship, church life, and daily lifestyle but is it all talk with no walk?

If I had a nickle for every time I heard someone say "we just need to focus on the Word" or mock other Christians and churches for not "being about the Word" and then I see that person with the same kind of materialism as anyone in the world or with a fickle commitment to being present when the Word is taught or with a apathetic attitude toward sharing the Word with others... well I'd have a bank full of nickels. It is inconsistent and self-righteous. Having a high view of God's Word is essential but having a high view of His Word does not mean you can just quote some verses, or that you listen to a few podcasts of celebrity preachers, or that you can quote theological terms. Having a high view of the Word means that you take it all seriously and not just the parts that are convenient to American comforts and consumerism.

So if the Word is so essential and important to you-- as it should be-- then don't just pride yourself in saying that. Do it. Quit treating the church--the Bride of Christ-- like a hooker. Quit treating the gospel as something you earned and don't have to share. Quit treating your calendar as the idol by which God must conform to. Quit treating your job as a means to your gain rather than as an arena for God's glory. Quit treating your body as something outside God's concern (we're not gnostics). James 1:21-22 says, "Put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves."

Church Growth Plan??

I was asked the other day about where my church was in its growth plan. Honestly I had no idea what kind of answer the person was looking for. To my recollection I muttered something about having about 20 or so on average in worship with new faces popping in and out pretty regularly. I'm sure my answer did not inspire any strategic genius. Do I care about attendance? Yes. I want our church family to be faithful in worship. I miss them when they aren't there. I want us all to be inviting and bringing guests with us to worship who need to hear the gospel (and I also expect us to be sharing that gospel on the other days of the week too).

At the end of the day though, I can't sweat attendance and church growth figures. The Lord has called me to be faithful in the study and teaching of the Word as well to be a man devoted to my family, devoted to prayer, devoted to personal evangelism and devoted to watching over my flock. I'll leave the growth up to God. Here's the reality... the Lord might add herculean numbers to our church like Jerusalem in Acts 2, He might add one or two like Athens in Acts 17, or He might permit that we get chased out of town like happened most places in Acts. That's up to Him... as for me, it is the faithful planting and tilling that is my charge to keep.

I say all that while at the same time battling the temptations to get frustrated when half my church is out of town every other Sunday, or to be discouraged when those we've shared the gospel with don't come to faith or those we've invited to worship don't show up, or to be embarrassed when I don't have a flashy answer to give to a church growth question. It is a daily battle to trust the Lord and not live to please man so the video below was a needed reminder and encouragement...


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Bread & Butter

I get asked a lot about what makes Cross Point unique. Usually the person asking the question wants to know what novel or creative ideas and strategies are driving our church planting. Well I'm not that creative and I'm leery of novelty. The "bread and butter" of Cross Point Church is the weekly expository preaching that happens on Sunday and the fellowship in the Word that happens in Community Groups. Money, sound equipment, buildings, chairs, cars, and couches are all resources that serve these essential components but the really important things are the Bible-driven preaching and small group gatherings.

So where are these Bible-driven groups driven? We like to say they are driven "up", "in", and "out" (I've been helped in this terminology and practical thinking by Mike Breen as well as the book Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis)...
  • We want to focus "up" by giving attention to God through the study of God's Word.
1 Timothy 4:13; Acts 2:42-43; Colossians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 10:31
  • We want to focus "in" by giving time to each other and building closer friendships/ accountability.
Hebrews 10:24-25; Acts 2:44-47; Romans 12:13; James 5:16
  • We want to focus "out" by giving hospitality and witness to those outside our covenant community.
Matthew 28:19-20; Romans 10:13-17; Romans 12:13; 2 Timothy 4:5

Now what does expository or Bible-driven preaching look like? Simply put, I take the point of a given passage for the point of my sermon. My goal is to study the selected text (working through one book at a time), explain the point of the text and how that point is "fleshed out", and provide application for our context. The Scripture provides me the outline and the content of my sermon so that those listening will learn the Word of God and learn how to read the Word of God so that they can live out the Word of God.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Missional Church

Missional Living is one of Cross Point's core values and simply means living every day and in every space as on mission to glorify God through the spread of the gospel. Simple enough right? Yet for some the term "missional" carries some unusual meaning and application so I want to be clear. I also want to be clear how an emphasis on being a "missional church" is different from an emphasis on attractional programs and events. This video helps.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Cross Point to Lower Calder!

In three weeks our church will (at 9 months old) will change locations for our Sunday gathering. We have been meeting at the Baptist Hospital's auditorium building which is a couple miles outside the neighborhood we're targeting and kind of off the beaten path but it has been a blessing. For nine months we've been able to gather together for worship (and often for Sunday lunch) free of rent costs. This has helped us save money so that when we needed to get a building ready for use we could do it in the black, financially-speaking. This has also helped us to focus on and develop the things that truly define us: drafting a confession of faith, training our core group to do Community Groups in their homes, and cultivating an understanding (through preaching and teaching) that the Word builds the church... not programs or buildings.

There's still much to work on and implement. We're still a baby church. In the weeks and months ahead we'll be formalizing church membership, beginning the process of drafting a Constitution, multiplying our Community Group network, identifying and training leaders, and of course, continuing to build relationships in the Old Town District of Beaumont. The latter will be helped greatly by our new location. The building has a rich history in the community and a unique look. Meeting in this building for weekly worship and opening up to the community for special events will help us establish a presence in the neighborhood and provide a more visible platform for our core values: 1. Treasuring Jesus, 2. Biblical Truth, 3. Gospel Growth, 4. Missional Living, and 5. Covenant Community.

With a lot of help from the members of First Baptist Church Groves, who came out last Sunday to get the building in shape, we are close to having this old building ready for new purpose. Lord willing, we will hold our first worship service at 2405 Calder Avenue on November 11, 2012 (remember: 11-11). Pray the Lord would use this building as a tool for spreading the gospel and building His church.

Monday, September 17, 2012

List of Links!

I was clearing out old bookmarks and found several items that are particularly helpful to pastors but as well to laypeople. Hope you find some nuggets here:

  1. How I Mark My Bible by Jim Hamilton
  2. Avoiding Logical Fallacies by Michael Horton (HT: Justin Taylor)
  3. 5 Tests to Determine if Your Church is Truly Gospel-Centered by J.D. Greear
  4. Perspective on Post-Preaching Feeling by Steven Smith
  5. Recommit Yourselves to What You Were Ordained to Do by Andrew Purves (HT: Justin Taylor)
  6. 10 Reasons to Underprogram Your Church by Jared Wilson (HT: Zach Nielson)
  7. 8 Simple Instructions for Sharing Christ by Nate Shurden
  8. Creating a Culture of Reading in the Church by Mark Dever (HT: Justin Taylor)... video below:

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Monday, September 3, 2012

You Don't Need My Agreement

I don't get it. I simply don't understand why people feel it necessary that everyone agrees with them on everything. There is Biblical truth that is non-negotiable and then there is adiaphora. Admittedly I've been guilty of this too. It is fallen human nature. It is pride. Why is there a problem with me if my favorite hamburger joint isn't the one you rave about? Why do you take it as a personal affront if I don't share the same view as you on dealing with the problem of illegal immigration? Why do I lose my orthodox, reformed, or evangelical credentials if we disagree on the application of the 4th commandment or if our church uses home Bible study groups? Must we shop at the same stores? Must we like the same books? Must we sing the same songs on Sunday? I realize those issues that I just tossed out are varying levels of importance but if we speaking about issues that do not compromise the gospel or Biblical sufficiency then why can't we just disagree amicably? It is okay to disagree. It can even be edifying (and fun) if those disagreements are discussed openly and graciously between the disagreeing parties.

It is not okay to demand that everyone agree with you on everything. That is pride. Pride requires that your viewpoint is validated by everyone's agreement. It is not okay to slander and gripe with those who agree with you about everyone else who doesn't agree with you. This doesn't help anything or anyone. It does however feed your pride. It feels good to have others amen your opinions. Look, I have an opinion on everything (much to the chagrin of my wife) and to my shame, I often vent those opinions boastfully... even when my opinion is not solicited. This is sin. This is something I'm being convicted of and working to repent from. Being a "good Berean" does not mean being critical and cynical with limited knowledge and most of our opinions, that we so freely vent and expect agreement with, are based on limited information (aka rumor). There are times it is appropriate to speak out and against the view of another. Have you heard everything in context? Have you heard everything? Have you heard it firsthand? Have you held it up to Scripture? Have you committed to pray for the one you disagree with and need to speak out against? Before we get defensive, before we vent, before we get indignant because someone doesn't affirm our view of a particular thing, and before we seek out those who will stoke our pride by agreeing with us consider Paul's words in Ephesians 4:29,

"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."

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Brother pastors, we must speak truth in love!

In Ephesians 4:1-12 we learn from Paul that Pastor-Teachers (i.e. elders) have been given to the church "to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ" and in verse 15 Paul says this happens by "speaking the truth in love".

In my experience (from my own heart and from what I've heard from other preachers at various times) this instruction is either misunderstood and thus misapplied or it is ignored. Some misunderstand "truth in love" to mean sugar-coating the truth or dodging the truth so as not to offend. Of course being unoffensive is never given as a Biblical definition for love. There is no greater definition of love than that given in John 15:13 which says, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." Jesus supremely demonstrated Biblical love in laying down his life even for his enemies (Romans 5:8). If you truly want to speak love to another, you speak the gospel of Jesus Christ. To speak the truth in love is to speak truth because of your love. Because I love you, I'm telling you the truth. Now if you love someone you are obviously not going to speak to them caustically, dismissively, or spitefully. Pastors have a responsibility to speak truth to their flock and this should not be hindered by societal expectations of nicety and tolerance.

On the flip-side, "speaking the truth in love" must include the "love" part and this sadly, is often ignored. Over the past five years I've repeatedly been provoked by Peter's words in 1 Peter 5:1-3, "So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock." I've heard sermons and heard pastors speak of their sermons and to my shame, given sermons that seem to serve the pastor's ego more than the building up of the body of Christ.

There is a kind of preaching that is not given from a love for people to worship God in spirit and in truth but to exhibit the preacher's intellectual prowess, expositional skill, and self-assumed piety. It is possible to preach a sermon that is a careful exegesis and exposition of the Biblical text but not be done in love. Preachers out there, if you've ever preached and boasted later "I really let them have it" or "I hammered them" or spoke of your flock as though they are too stupid to comprehend the deep Biblical truths you grasp and just articulated then you need to repent. I'll be the first to confess I've had to do my fair share of repenting on this. Preaching is not an exercise in demonstrating how theological astute you are and how dependent your flock needs to be on your knowledge.

It is incumbent upon us pastors to recognize the great privilege and responsibility we have to lovingly shepherd those for whom Christ died and to carry out that task with faith and humility. Otherwise we will become what Paul warns of in 1 Corinthians 13:1, "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What are Cross Point's Community Groups about?

We'll be rolling out our Community Groups in a few weeks so I thought it would be helpful to reiterate and clarify our vision and approach. Hope this is helpful...

Many churches have started a small group ministry as another program to deepen fellowship among members and connect non-members into the fellowship. This kind of program is often a replacement or a complement to a Sunday School program. If this works for your church to achieve a Biblical purpose then go for it but it is not the same thing as what Cross Point is aiming to do.

Our church does not have a small group ministry. Our church aims to be a network of groups. To put it another way, small groups are not one program or ministry of our church. Small groups are how we do ministry as a church.

Our gathering on Sunday is the when and where our church of small groups worships and fellowships together. So we meet on Sunday to exalt Christ and be equipped in the Word so that our groups will be encouraged to live on mission together Monday through Saturday. These groups are designed to be missional because the church is missional by God’s design.

So we’re clear, I am not suggesting that by doing something different or defining something different we think we’re better. We’re just different. If anything, our approach is just a more simple and streamlined approach to church life and ministry.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

From Houston Heights to Old Town Beaumont

I went rummaging through boxes in the garage last night (still not fully unpacked) to find a lost wireless router. Still lost. To my surprise I discovered a box of folders and papers that somehow escaped the purge when we moved. In the box was a treasure. Let me back up.

Spring 2011 and I am writing and re-writing notes that would essentially become the blueprint (outside the Bible itself) for the church plant I'm now eyeball deep in. When Blair and I began praying over this dream/ burden/ calling/ leap of faith we weren't sure where we should plant. I was certain the kind of church the Lord had equipped me and called me to plant but I didn't know where yet. Our first inclination was Houston since that is my hometown. I love the city and have a heart for it so it seemed to make sense. Particularly we were drawn to the communities inside the 610 Loop. Those neighborhoods have history, charm, diversity, and story (not unlike Old Town Beaumont where the Lord ultimately directed our hearts).

There in that beat-up cardboard box (beat up because I was so tired of moving I wasn't very gentle with those boxes!) was the compilation of my original notes, typed up in the first draft of my church planting prospectus, with a mini-map of those urban-chic neighborhoods and a red circle looping the Heights and Timbergrove communities. That was where our prayers first circled.

Funny how God direct us and often moves the focus of our prayers. Those original notes and that original target area reflect to me the first step of faith and an attempt to be obedient. Along the way God directed my feet, my thoughts, my heart, my vision, and finally my family to the specifics of this calling. It is easy to get "paralysis by analysis" and never do anything because you are waiting for some sign in the sky.

Be faithful with what you know and what you have. As you seek the Lord in prayer and through His Word the Spirit will direct you (affirmed by godly counsel around you) to the specifics but be take that first step of faith and obedience. You may start off 90 miles away in Houston and end up right down the road on Calder Avenue.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Rest.

Psalm 127:2 says, "It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for He gives to His beloved sleep."

I can't remember the last day that my mind wasn't working through plans concerning our church plant. I'll often ask my wife, when we're lying in bed, what she's thinking about. Her typical response perplexes me- "nothing". It perplexes me because I really struggle with resting my thoughts. I'm often analyzing, problem-solving, and yes, worrying. I tell her I'd love to just power down but I've found that I don't for two reasons: pride and a misplaced sense of identity.

My pride pushes me to always solve and fix things in the flesh rather than trusting the Lord and resting. My identity is often in my busyness and my desire to over-achieve rather than as one helpless and hopeless apart from my loving Savior. As a pastor there is a temptation to seek affirmation in being busy and having a manic schedule. That's weird I know but we usually don't have tangible results to show for our labor and instead of trusting that to the Lord we think being busy is a substitute.

Here's what the Lord has confronted me with (through the counsel of loving brothers): I am being prideful by not resting. There is no honor in exhausting myself, my wife, and my church (by giving them a poor example of the Biblical balance of work and rest and giving them a worn-out leader). So I'm praying for the Lord to help me put in more margins of rest in my days and weeks. I'm also planning to better lead my wife by leading us to downshift periodically. Rest and no work is laziness. Work and no rest is foolish. Both are forms of vanity. Work and then rest is Biblical and that- by faith- should be our aim.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Heart-ache of Evangelism

In Mark 10, Jesus is speaking to the hard-hearted and self-righteous "rich young ruler". Jesus provoked this man to cast off his idol of material wealth and share God's compassionate heart for people but the man could not. Still the text says that Jesus loved the man. The man walked away, rejecting Jesus, the Messiah and Son of God, as Lord. I can imagine Jesus' heart ached for this man who was created to worship God but was radically corrupted by his own sinfulness.

So it is when we are faithful to Biblical evangelism. We will experience heartache for those whom the the Lord has put in our lives to invest in for the sake of the gospel. Biblical evangelism requires us to go out among people, live faithfully according to God's Word, verbally share the good news of Jesus Christ, and invest time and friendship into people so that we can teach them what it is to obey all that the Lord Jesus has commanded. I'm thankful for the many opportunities the Lord has provided me to be faithful to the Great Commission (and I'm ashamed at the many over the years I've been "too busy" to notice) but I also find my heart aching for these people. They have names and faces. I know their stories and they know mine. They aren't just door I once knocked on and have forgotten. They are my friends and I'm burdened for them to respond to the gospel by repentance and faith.

The reality is, if we are faithful to sow seed and build these kinds of gospel-aimed friendships we will experience the kind of heart ache that Jesus surely experienced during His earthly ministry and especially on the cross. Many whom we share with will not respond in faith and some who do may do so long after we've lost contact. We simply have to trust the work of the Word and the Holy Spirit. Be faithful and trust God's sovereignty and compassion. In the meantime if you are doing your job you will be sorrowful for many but by God's grace you will also be joyful as the Lord does His work.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

My Vegetarian Prayer-venture

For fifty days I am a vegetarian. (NOT a vegan… bring on the butter!) Let me be clear, I am not anti-meat. In fact I love meat (maybe too much). I’m also not on a diet. Truthfully I have never been a big adherent to diets as my waistline will attest. I believe all foods are given to us by God for our good and enjoyment. We should eat and enjoy with moderation to the glory of our Heavenly Provider. I do respect those who for personal tastes have chosen to abstain from certain foods though I have no respect for those who do so for legalistic or pagan reasons.

So why am I abandoning burgers, bacon, and barbecue for 50 days? Over the last two months the Lord has done two incredible things in my life that have now provoked this meat-fast. First, He has put many wonderful people in my life that are not yet believers in Jesus Christ. Some of these are from other countries and some come from religious backgrounds that adhere to vegetarianism. I want to better these friendships to open doors for the gospel. Second, God has convicted me on my need to pray more (He’s also given me fantastic evidences of the work of prayer). So for 50 days (starting last Friday, July 13) I will have a thrice-daily reminder to pray for my friends. My hope is that the Lord will give me opportunity to make the gospel clear and will bring my friends to know the Savior I love so dearly. If all I have to give up is a little meat for a few weeks that is small potatoes (which are still on the menu).

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Be Patriotic like the Apostle Paul!

I'm very thankful to be a citizen of the United States of America. I consider myself patriotic. On July 4th (but not only on this day) I'll certainly be thinking and praying especially for our nation's leaders and military, as well as thanking God for the unique freedoms He has provided me- and asking Him to help me not waste those freedoms as it concerns the gospel. However, tomorrow on the Lord's Day we won't be singing about the flag but singing about THE KING. Jesus is an authority higher than the U.S. Government, His battle to secure my freedom infinitely more costly, the freedom He provides infinitely more satisfying, and the Kingdom He has made me a citizen of is everlasting.

I say this not to disparage the privileges God has given us as U.S. citizens nor do I want to disregard the sacrifices our men and women of the armed forces have made to secure that freeom. I love those patriotic songs that remind us of these things but on the Lord's Day, when the Lord's people assemble I want to give the highest honors to Whom it is due.

So if not through replacing songs to Christ with songs about our nation on Sunday, how can the church uniquely demonstrate patriotism? Be patriotic like Paul!

Consider in Romans 13:1-7 Paul's instructions to "be subject to the governing authorities". He also acknowledges, as should we, that human government is an instrument which God uses to execute justice and limit sin. I don't agree with many things the different branches of our government does or believes but I want to be patriotic like Paul by submitting to their authority and being thankful the Lord uses the government for His righteous purposes.

Consider in 1 Timothy 2:1-4 Paul's command to pray for "all who are in high positions". Be patriotic like Paul by praying for your President and other elected officials (whether you voted for them or not). Pray for them that they would receive and heed godly and wise counsel. Pray that they would come to faith and submit to the High King who is over all as God desires that they would (v. 4).

Consider in 2 Timothy 2:3-4 Paul's analogy of the Roman soldiers he was so familiar with to commend the church to "Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him." So Paul sees virtue in a soldier's commitment to suffer for a greater purpose, in his resistance of peacetime luxuries during war, and in his commitment to please his commander. He recognizes the virtue in this so much that he applies it (perfectly) to the Christian life. I think it is fair to say we should be patriotic like Paul by looking to those military men and women and thanking them for their service- not only because the protect us from harm but because they set an example for us as "soldiers of Christ Jesus".

Praise God for the freedoms He has given us in this country. Be patriotic like Paul by not wasting it. Paul said "I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil 3:14); and "I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself be disqualified" (1 Cor 9:26-27). He never quit. I like singing patriotic songs but if you really want to honor the Lord and thank him for the freedoms He's given us in the U.S.A. use them to advance the gospel of the kingdom of Jesus Christ to all the nations.

Friday, June 29, 2012

New Hyper-Calvinism?

Okay, so I'm a little tired of hearing all this bashing of "New Calvinism". What is that anyway? I realize Time Magazine coined the phrase but more commonly it is a label given to describe the strawman characterization of anyone who is Calvinistic in their soteriology. It is easier to bash generalizations and attach a label to it. It is un-Christlike and unedifying to the church. One of the generalizations that gets labeled New Calvinism is to assume or accuse all such thinking of being akin to Hyper-Calvinism. A Hyper-Calvinist is one who by conviction does not put the gospel before unbelievers for fear that they might be sharing with the non-elect. I've never met a Hyper-Calvinist much like I've never ridden a unicorn. Perhaps one exists but it is unsubstantiated and highly unlikely.

There is a kind of "New Hyper-Calvinist" out there though. It is one who religiously avoids sharing the gospel or being around unbelievers altogether. This person is not a "NHC" by conviction but either by laziness or pragmatism. I've met many a Christian (on all spectrums of soteriology- some Calvinist, some Arminiam, some who would more agree with this "new traditionalism" making the rounds, and some even semi-Pelagianists*) who are too lazy and self-absorbed to even notice unbelievers who God has put in their path much less share the gospel with them. This doesn't really need a label as much as it needs repentance. If you fit this category do you not love what God loves (John 3:16)? Sometimes this laziness is called fear but in my own life I've realized my fear and anxiety towards sharing the gospel is really rooted in a laziness to have faith in the power of the Holy Spirit and to fight the fear of man.

Some do not share the gospel because of pragmatism. I got a chuckle from a recent rant by a prominent and popular (and very fashionable) SBC pastor accusing Calvinistic pastors of not wanting to reach the lost because they discriminate on who the elect are. Perhaps there are discriminating Calvinists out there but they are not alone. I'm amazed by all these "cutting-edge" pragmatic thinkers who determine a target group based on who is most likely to receive the gospel. It is not chic to do evangelism and plant churches among the poor or ethnically diverse or physically disabled or among the elderly (unless of course you are on a mission trip to another country and you can splice together a video montage to impress everyone back home with your sacrifice). No, it is mainly chic to target the young, wealthy, and white (or whoever it just like you). Urban church planting is more pragmatic now in big cities because that's where the young, wealthy, and white are moving. So we determine who is strategically best to share the gospel with. Is this not an attempt to determine who the "elect" are?

Look, I'm not saying there isn't a need for churches in predominantly white suburbs. I don't hate white people and I realize churches are probably going to reflect their communities, ethnically and economically speaking. However, I am against this pragmatic attitude toward evangelism that is practically no different than the "Hyper-Calvinist". Look around you. Whether they are wealthy or poor, black or white, young or old, they are people created for the glory of God but under the condemnation of their sinfulness. They are spiritually blinded and only the proclamation of the gospel will open their eyes. I trust the work of regeneration (which I believe precedes faith) to the Holy Spirit. God does the work of salvation and He gets the glory but He has chosen the "foolish things of this world to shame the wise" and thus has commanded us to share His gospel as the means to call people to faith. Don't be lazy or let pragmatism take you away from this command. Obey and prepare to experience the joy of God's power working through you!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Cross Point Mission

Here is a video (excellently produced by Jason Jean Productions) that gives a snapshot of what our church plan is about-- our aim, our values, and a community that the Lord has put on our hearts.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tuesday Hodge-Podge (6-19-12)

  • Jim Hamilton unloads a double-barrel shotgun (bam and boom) to my soul.
  • Here's a link to the original "Desiring God" sermon series.
  • Husbands, need some creative ideas for dating your wife? Try these.
  • Southwestern Seminary is offering some good free e-books.
  • Here's a good article on how the New Testament came together.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Lord's Day and Pillow FIghts

Sundays are special days at the Bradshaw home. My wife and I put effort into making them special. Sunday is special because it is set apart in Scripture as the Lord's Day. It is the day we are to give special and focused attention on Christ our Sabbath. We set apart Sunday for worship with our church family, for rest as a family, and to reflect on the goodness of God. Blair and I really want to imprint on our children the uniqueness and joy of the day. This starts on Saturday as we try to wind down early, not planning too much that will leave us exhausted Sunday morning. It means early bedtimes. It means Blair usually prepares something for lunch on Saturday- not because we believe we're banned from all labor but because we want to occupy as little of Sunday toward busy work as possible. The crock-pot comes in handy on Sunday (we try to avoid eating out unless it is for a special purpose-- fellowship with believers or ministry to a particular unbeliever).

I want my 2 1/2 year old son to already be anticipating Sunday-- though he doesn't yet grasp the ultimate reason for anticipation. So on Saturday we start to talk up getting together with our church in the morning. We ask him who he's going to see and he names names with a smile on his face. We do this at bedtime to motivate him to go night-night so he can wake up and see his friends... and it works. Because we're a church plant and do set-up every week I find things for him to do... like drag one chair at a time across the floor to set-up. He's daddy's helper. We worship, we fellowship, and then when we get home we eat. After eating comes the nap-- Asher's not a fan-- but after the nap comes pillow play time. It is the one day a week he gets to drag out all the pillows and couch cushions (ALL OF THEM) to play with-- we build things, we wrestle, we crash, etc etc. This goes on until dad can barely move anymore. It is special and I pray that my son grows to love the Lord's Day, ultimately because of the LORD of the day-- Jesus Christ.

Friday, June 15, 2012

What discourages a church planter/ pastor?

To my fellow planters and pastors out there, can you identify with these things? Here are five things that discourage me and a little of what the Lord has taught me through them.

1. When the vision isn’t caught. You try to explain what the church is about and what we’re aiming for and you just don’t make the connection. Sometimes I just have to work on how I communicate but sometimes people just don’t hear you.

2. Complaining/ Whining. Moses dealt with it. David dealt with it. Jesus dealt with it. It comes with the territory.

3. Personal sin. There’s nothing that angers, frustrates me, or discourages me more than my own flesh. Enter repentance and faith.

4. Unmet expectations. Of course the problem is I can often expect what God has not commanded or promised. Here’s the thing, it is okay to dream but God’s will is always better than what you can dream up. Trust Him and when things don’t go as planned remember they may not be His plans.

5. Silence. There’s nothing more deflating than spending your week investing in relationships, praying for people, preparing for a sermon, preaching your guts out, and then there’s no response or feedback. Okay, most of the time, this goes back to #4 and is a pride issue. You also have to remember that people aren’t used to having meaningful conversation or discussing God’s Word. It has to be cultivated and takes time. Sometimes people are just not that talkative before noon on a Sunday morning. Sometimes the sermon may not be the golden-tongued oration you think it is. Listen folks, encourage your pastor and work on talking about more than the game last night or the kids’ poo-poo diapers but pastors… Remember silence does not mean God isn’t working in hearts and in the end aim to please Christ not men.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Next

As a church planter (five months into the work) I often get asked “What’s next?” Sometimes this is difficult to answer. Because of our approach (more incarnational than institutional/ relational missions more than event missions) there is not always some big thing on the horizon, except of course for next Sunday… every Sunday, being the Lord’s Day is a big thing for us. We keep tract of attendance when we gather (to some degree) but that really is not the measure of our mission being accomplished. We’re not just trying to put on stuff to get a crowd. On Sundays my aim is to exalt Christ and equip the saints. My objective is accomplished if our worship was Christ-exalting and if those present were equipped for the work of the ministry in everyday life through the Word of God.

The second arm of our mission is carried out in everyday life as we live by the gospel at home, work, and while at play, and as we cultivate gospel-focused friendships with unbelievers. So the mission is accomplished when married couples go to the gospel to help them overcome conflict in the home, when parents go to the gospel in disciplining and instructing their children, when employees go to the gospel when dealing with stress or the temptation to be lazy at the workplace, when employers go to the gospel in the manner in which they relate respectfully to their employees, when TV or computer monitor gazers go to the gospel as they discern what to view, and when neighbors or shoppers or vacationers or restaurant patrons go to the gospel in how they respond to those people God has providentially put in their paths. That’s hard to quantify but when we’re faithful we’ll see the Lord bring fruit from the labor—disciples are made, worship attendance will probably increase, baptism will be observed, but chiefly God will be glorified.

That is not to say there isn’t a role for a church to have a “next big event”. Events can be catalysts for building bridges into the community, for displaying the gospel, for showing Biblical hospitality, for building the church fellowship, and for meeting people who need to hear the gospel. We’ve got some of those things on the horizon this summer (let me know if you want to help). Really though, the next big thing may not be on the calendar. It may be what God has planned to do through you that you don’t even expect. Will you be faithful and ready?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tuesday Hodge-Podge (6-12-12)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Out of the Mouths of Babes

The scene in the Gospels of Jesus entering Jerusalem at Passover is fantastic. Since travelers from all over the Roman world came to participate in Passover in was not financially or logistically possible to bring the entire family but men would bring their 12-year-old sons to participate in their first Passover. Matthew notes that after Jesus purged the Temple the children (mostly these boys) began crying out “Hosanna to the Son of David!” to which Jesus responds quoting Psalm 8:2, “Out of the mouths of babes… thou hast perfected praise.” That Psalm is about the majesty of God in all the earth. Jesus is making a point to show ‘now that’s the kind of worship that should be going on here’.

I pray daily for my children to become worshippers. They are not now. They are ignorant of their spiritual condition that they inherited from the first man Adam and from the guilt imputed on them through his sin. They are also still ignorant of the spiritual condition Christ came to restore them to and of the righteousness that He would impute to them by faith. So I pray that they will come to hear, understand, and love the gospel of Jesus Christ. I want them to first and foremost hear it and see it at work in our home. I pray that they will one day worship Christ as those boys at Passover and follow Him with all their heart.

Do you pray for your children and put intentionality toward this aim? I see a lot of intentionality to get children in the right schools, on the right teams, dressed with the right clothes, and connected with the right friends. These things- to a certain degree- are good aims but they are not game-changers. They do not overcome the spiritual separation from God our sin has created and they do not satisfy the wrath of God our sin deserves. So make an earnest commitment to seek for your children to be those who would proclaim “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Through the Life of Christ in Mark’s Gospel

I am nearing the end of my preaching series through the Gospel of Mark. I approached this series differently than most, taking larger sections of Mark’s narrative to teach the central themes of the Gospel. Mark’s Gospel gives itself easily to this approach in how the episodes in the life of Christ are written and connected to one another. It is almost all action with little dialogue. Mark doesn’t include as many details as the other gospel writers and reveals King Jesus on mission for the redemptive of sinners to the glory of God. He is the suffering servant of God and the atoning substitute for sinful men and women whom God has purposed for redemption.

It is bittersweet to finish this series as I feel like I’m saying farewell to a friend. Life is short and there is much Scripture to cover so I doubt if I’ll ever have the privilege of preaching through Mark’s gospel again. There is nothing more compelling than the life and work of Christ. If I could preach only one thing I’d preach from one of the four Gospels. It is so engrossing that I’m itching to preach through Luke and John (having preached through Matthew during my previous pastorate) but I’ll resist and leap over to the Old Testament next to work through Genesis.

If you are wrestling with becoming more disciplined in Bible reading let me recommend you begin with Mark. Take a chapter a week. Read the whole thing on day one then go back through the chapter slowly during the remaining days of the week. Try to identify the common thread or theme that connects all the various episodes covered in that chapter.

What does Mark teach you about Jesus and what does it tell you about following Jesus? Ask those two questions regularly and then pray. Ask the Lord to help you put what you’ve learned into practice. Then watch for opportunity to live out the Word. The Spirit will do the work of conforming you to Christ’s image but anchor down in the Word and get ready for transformation!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tuesday Hodge-Podge (5-29-12)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

New House!

One of my favorite things these days is to hear my son putting sentences together. He's 2 1/2 so you have to do a bit of translating but one of his most oft used phrases recently, whenever we are out and about it, "I want to go to the new house." We moved to Beaumont 18 days ago. The whole finding a house, moving, and closing on our house in Groves was frantic and sudden. Don't get me wrong- I'm very thankful the Lord provided a buyer and a home for us to live in the city where we're planting a church but it was a big change real quick. It took us a few days to feel like we weren't just staying at someone else's house but one of the things that has made the transition so smooth and joyful is how my son has fallen in love with the "new house". He loves his room, the big backyard, and the fireplace hearth that he can climb on. It really is a great place for us to live but let's face it, change is difficult. So I'm thankful to the Lord for using my son to cast off anxiety and other attitudes that might otherwise rob us of the joy from such tremendous blessings. God is so good like that. He helps us see what great things He's provided and overcomes obstacles to joy. We're thrilled about getting to know neighbors and being so close to our church family. We're really glad we've got a good place for our kids to enjoy but mostly we're thankful to belong to God and know that He provides for all our needs as He has provided for our greatest need in Christ.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tuesday Hodge-Podge (4-24-12)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Functional Roles within the Trinity

This is the first in a series of posts I’m planning on my version of “DVD Extras”. I’m trying to find a place to put some of the thoughts and notes I edited from my sermon series through the Gospel of Mark. With that series I have a specific purpose in each sermon (covering a larger section of text to get the big idea or theme) so some stuff I have to edit out for fear it would take me off point. Still, these are insights that were a blessing to me and I hope are a blessing to the 2-3 of you that might read them here. :)

Days before Jesus would be arrested and crucified He foretells of these events to His disciples. James and John (possibly two of the younger disciples) are unmoved and instead make a very audacious request of Jesus- “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (Mark 10:37). In my third of three sermons on Mark 10 I talked at length about Jesus’ response to James and John particularly regarding suffering as part and parcel with being His disciple. He humbled them. However there was one comment Jesus made that I didn’t have time to flesh out but is a beautiful insight into the doctrine of the Triune God. In verse 40 Jesus says, “To sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” The parallel to this verse in Matthew 20:23 is more descriptive, “To sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”

Jesus made it clear to them that God has prepared whatever is received eternally and God determines what we receive according to His sovereign prerogative. This is an excellent example of the functional distinction between the three persons of the Trinity. God is one being, one essence who manifests Himself in three distinct and simultaneously present persons- Father, Son, and Spirit. Each person of the Godhead carries out distinct functions. The Father did not die on the cross, the Son did. Likewise the Son does not determine kingdom rewards, the Father does. This information is given that the disciples would have a higher view of God and in contrast a lower view of man (in keeping with the context of discipleship as humble servanthood). When we open God’s Word we are to see how He reveals Himself and not for how our self-seeking nature wants to see God and how we can get things from God.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Jeff and Caesar on Missional Communities

I know, I've been a sluggish blogger of late, but between planting a church and selling a house my creative energies have been occupied. I'm planning to post more sermon-related stuff soon (material I just don't have time to cover on Sunday morning) and answer questions that come in through my church or by email. For now, here is an excellent video discussing missional communities. You might not agree with everything said or how it is said but there is much that is helpful here. Our church's Community Groups will aim for much of the concepts discussed here.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Plumblines for Cross Point Church

We are in the process of selling our home and relocating to Beaumont where we have planted a church (the 30 minute commute on Sunday is no big deal but it hinders relationship-building in the community during the week). So we're cleaning stuff out, packing stuff up, and throwing stuff away. Last week I came across a treasure... the notebook that I scribbled six life-altering statements in. I remember seeking the Lord for direction in my leadership at my former church. I sought to put in a few simple statements the convictions the Lord had put on my heart about how Biblically healthy church life and mission.  Initially I called these statements "plumblines for healthy church life". Ultimately these became the seeds of the vision for planting Cross Point Church. They grew out of my prayer life and conversations with my wife...

1. We envision a church whose members are always on mission in their lives as fully devoted followers of King Jesus and as faithful givers of the gospel by word and hospitality.

2. We envision a church among whom Christ is magnified and people's needs are met as we worship and hear God's Word together in weekly assembly and as we share life together in home-based small groups.

3. We envision a church who finds its life and vitality in hearing and obeying God's Word as Biblical expository preaching and teaching is presented weekly and as Biblical truth is taken seriously for life application.

4. We envision a church who is a display of God's glory in an ordered creation as we live out the roles of Biblical manhood and womanhood and as we honor and support those set apart as leaders.

5. We envision a church who has a simple program with central focus on Sunday worship and missional home groups so as to avoid feeding a consumer mindset (inside the walls) and so as to avoid taking us off mission (outside the walls).

6. We envision a church who is always reproducing for kingdom expansion as we train leaders and lifestyle missionaries and as we plant churches and start more missional home groups.

The Lord knew I needed to find that notebook just to have my eyes run across those statements again. Some form of them are printed on information brochures about our church and I've articulated these ideas numerous times but it is so easy to lose sight of the convictions that first set us on this course. It is easy to get anxious about attendance and finances and various sorts of issues but we must continues to come back to these measuring sticks. I am so thankful the Lord has set me on this course and thankful for those on this journey with me-- we must keep aiming to be shaped by God's Word and to be motivated by God's glory!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Reenacting Maundy Thursday

One of my fondest memories of my time serving as pastor at Memorial Baptist Church was when we held a special worship service to commemorate what is known as Maundy Thursday. We sang, prayed, and took communion. It was a very simple and very reflective time of worship. The word "maundy" comes from the latin word for "commandment" and takes its significance from John 13:34 when Jesus said to His disciples, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another." Jesus gave this command on the night before His crucifixion. He had gathered with His disciples to celebrate Passover. He breathed new meaning into the elements of the cup and the bread- instituting the Lord's Supper and demonstrated through washing His disciples' feet His purpose for the Son of God taking on flesh and dwelling among them. He came to serve... a very specific need. In Mark 10:45 Jesus said, "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." Maundy Thursday is a reminder then that the eternal Son of God humbled Himself by taking on flesh and dwelling among sinners (though not sinning Himself as He had no sinful nature) so that He might give His life to satisfy the wrath of God against sinful people. This is the greatest expression of humble servanthood and love there has ever been and will ever be!

As His disciples we are to imitated this kind of servanthood and this kind of love to one another as a testimony of Christ's work to redeem and transform us. We are knit together as family with other disciples. Neither Maundy Thursday or Easter Sunday are instructed to be celebrated in Scripture as special days. We are to reenact the servanthood and love of Christ and rejoice in the power of His resurrection every day-- especially every Lord's Day when we gather together as local covenantal congregations. However, it never hurts to give special attention to these things on special days. So consider today how you might serve and share the love of Christ with fellow disciples as a witness to those who need to hear and see the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus adds another critical statement in John 13:35 that gives motivation for verse 34, "Be this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Life is Messy

Last weekend we had a parade of our friends come through our house to help us paint and do other odd jobs to prep for sale. We really appreciated the help and the fellowship. Of course the house looked like chaos has blown through and it took a few days to make it look like we hadn't been robbed. It is just impossible to not make a mess while you are trying to fix up a house. Such is life. We are about three months into planting Cross Point and it has been really exciting to see God bring our core group together and to bring others in and out of our fellowship. It is messy though.

Things don't always go as planned. I'm sure we get on each other's nerves or disagree at times (though no one has really shown it). The pastor's kid falls out of his chair in worship and gets up crying during that "quiet, spiritual moment" in a song. Food spills. Sound equipment doesn't work. People show up late (or not at all). It is life. The idea that sharing life together and investing in one another is some sort of utopia is a myth (at least on this side of heaven). Being a church family is about rolling with the punches and sticking. I'm thankful though that when life gets messy the Lord has knit me together with a church family like Cross Point. We aren't meant to live the gospel out in isolation but in community... and it is a community of sinners who are each at different points in sanctification. That we can grow together, encourage one another, and even through life's messes display the unifying power of the gospel is a testimony to the person and work of Jesus in our lives and to the glory of God.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Be Missional... really, its ok.

Be careful of the lure to comfort and complacency. If you pursue the path of least resistance you shouldn’t be following Christ. As history unfolds so is God’s redemptive mission. Those who’ve been called to faith by the grace of God are united with this mission as they are united with God. This requires speaking and living out the gospel before men (Matthew 6:16). This takes time and personal investment. How do you get started?

Here are a few tips:

1. Have an open house. Don’t pull a bait-and-switch by luring unsuspecting neighbors into a mild meet and greet only to trap them into an intensive study of the doctrines of grace. Just be good neighbors and build bridges. Send or pass out invitations saying you want to get to know your neighbors better. Have good snacks and a come-and-go atmosphere (let them leave wanting more). Be a gospel light by leading in prayer, by setting out good books (let them take what is of interest). Put a church yard sign out so they can make the connection.

2. Invite people to your church’s worship and fellowship time. No brainer right? Not saying anything cutting edge here. Except that most people don’t do this. About 7 of 10 people who visit churches do so because someone invited them. Pretty efficient so why don’t we do it? Some will say fear keeps us but I think it’s just laziness.

3. Ask co-workers or neighbors questions. Like… reading any good books? Or… what did you do over the weekend? Maybe they’ll be polite and ask you back, then voila… open opportunity.

Be missional. Be on mission with Jesus Christ in every space you occupt. Trust the Lord to bring the harvest but be faithful to work the harvest!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

When "Sad" is reason for "Glad"

This week my son was briefly sick (he ran fever but didn't seem to lose a bit of energy!) so my wife and I agreed it would be best to keep him and our daughter home from our weekly church prayer meeting. Our core planting group meets every Wednesday night rotated around in each others' homes. This has become a sweet time of prayer, accountability, and fellowship. We try to keep it to an hour or so but always fail miserably. It is just such a joy to be together. So as I'm headed out the door to prayer meeting with my family staying behind my wife shares how sad she is not to be able to go. This made me glad.

What? Did I really say I was glad that my wife was sad? Yep. Her sadness reflected that what was being cultivated in our church was true community. It is not superficial. It is not one more event or program. It is not one more spoke on the wheel of a busy life. Our church family is the hub Christ uses to shape, encourage, and equip us for all the spokes He's appointed us to. For a variety of reasons we're also taking two Wednesdays off from meeting-- and I'm already grieved not to see my friends during the week. Oh we'll still gather informally here and there, and naturally we'll gather on the Lord's Day. My grief is just a reflection of how invested we are becoming into each other.

Our prayer is that it would also be a contagious kind of community. We can't get cozy but must bridge out and bring in. I long to see unbelievers gather with us so that the gospel can be heard AND SEEN. What a blessing true fellowship is-- a fellowship that can only be found in Christ and wrought by God's grace. Such fellowship causes sadness to produce gladness!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Partners in Planting

I want to express my gratitude for these men who have led their churches to support Cross Point on a monthly basis (listed alphabetically):

David Birdsong is the pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Port Neches. I first shared my vision to him in about 10 minutes at the local Baptist association office. Two months later he spotted me at a high school football game and ran me down to tell me how excited he was about the church plant. He caught it and was eager to help. I’m thankful for his leadership and his bold faith.

Pat Cammarata is the pastor of Carpenter’s Way Fellowship in Port Neches. I’ve known Pat for almost 15 years. We were first introduced by a mutual friend in Houston and he bought me lunch (and gave me some nerf toys!). Pat has always had a generous and cooperative heart. He loves Jesus and is burdened for others to know the love of Jesus too. His passion for people is infectious and I’m thankful for his partnership.

Travis Cardwell is the pastor of Baptist Church of the Redeemer in Missouri City. Travis and I met in “baby Greek” class several years back and it has been a joy to see the Lord use him at a wonderful church not too far removed from the planting stage itself. His commitment to expositional preaching and a robust theology is an example I strive to emulate. In so many ways BCR is the kind of church we pray Cross Point becomes.

Dustin Guidry is the pastor of Ridgewood Church in Port Arthur. Dustin both challenges and encourages me by his faithfulness and through our friendship. The Lord has used him to steer Ridgewood out of a bleak financial situation and toward a healthy and organic church life. This is mainly a result of a dependence on the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. Their fellowship contagious and I pray it rubs off on Cross Point.

John Jones is the pastor of Jade Avenue Baptist Church in Port Acres. John and I met right after Hurricane Ike during clean-up efforts. Little did I know at the time what a special work God was doing in his ministry and what a valued friend he would become. John re-planted JABC with his family and the 3-4 ladies who were still attending at the time. Eight years and over 50 people later the Lord has blessed his approach that majors on Biblical faithfulness and simplicity. JABC is one of our most hands-on ministry partners and are such an inspiration.

Cliff Mayton is the pastor of Memorial Baptist Church in Spring. Cliff provided me my first full-time ministry role and was a valuable mentor while I was in college and seminary. He helps smooth some rough edges and imparted pastoral wisdom to me I could never get from a book. Memorial’s story is a lesson of big faith and commitment. All that said, MBC is my home church and so it is very special to have their support.

Raymond McHenry is the pastor of Westgate Memorial Baptist Church in Beaumont. I’ve not known Raymond as long as some of the others on this list but what a source of encouragement and wisdom he’s been already! His counsel was integral to making the transition from my previous pastorate to church planting so smooth. If I’d not had his wisdom to glean from I’d surely have made a mess of things! He has warmly challenged his church and they have graciously responded in helping us in so many ways.

Phil Sigman is the pastor of Central Baptist Church in Port Arthur. CBC has provided me with a study office. It is close to my home so I have quick access when my wife needs help with our little ones but it is also a place to bear down and do the work in the Scriptures. Phil continually challenges me to think Biblically about everything and inspires me to dig deeper and deeper in the text as a Christian and as a pastor. I love being attached to his leadership and to their church family.

Joe Worley is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Groves. The Lord used Joe to get me out of Houston (something I wasn’t eager to do) and to give me a burden for the Golden Triangle. He was the first pastor I went to when I was wrestling with church planting and he was the first pastor to say “we’ll find a way to support you”. He said it and he did it. I’m thankful for his friendship, his example, and his kingdom vision. By the will of God it is because of FBCG that I’m in the Golden Triangle, that I met my wife, and that I’m a church planting pastor right now.

I know the Lord has put it on other pastors' hearts to come alongside us in the months ahead and even more are helping by weekly prayer and by sending evangelism teams. All these men have been used by God to be part of the Kingdom coalition that is planting Cross Point Church. Thank you, brothers.
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