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.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tuesday Hodge-Podge (2-21-12)

  • Who knew John Piper had such an influence in the hip-hop music culture?!
  • I came across this a couple weeks ago- notes from a sermon by Mark Dever on discipleship. Great stuff!
  • My wife is helping with a ministry that turns Wal-Mart bags into mats to be set with mission teams into third world villages for babies to be born on. Here is how you make them. If you want to contribute drop by our church on Sunday and ask my wife.
  • Is Linsanity still going? I'm thankful for how the Lord is using this young man- here is his testimony.
  • Excellent insight as always by Carl Trueman on the forgotten message of Ephesians 5:12.

Don Whitney in the Golden Triangle

Several years ago I was handed a book called Spiritual Disciples for the Christian Life. I barely looked it over because at that time in my life I barely read anything that wasn’t a sports page or a sci-fi novel (yep, nerd alert). A few years later the Lord convicted me to cultivate better study and reading habits—first in Scripture and second in every other area of study I was working on in college. Over a brief period of time I became an avid reader and that book I’d heretofore hardly noticed leapt off the shelf and I dug through it like a treasure hunt. It served as a catalyst for further growth in my devotional life with Christ. The author, Don Whitney, would later be used as a blessing through his books, Spiritual Disciplines within the Church and Family Worship. These are treasure troves and I’m thankful for how God has used this man as an author but especially at Southern Seminary.

This weekend he will be in the Golden Triangle leading a conference February 24-25. Click on the link provided below for more information. If you are in the area (Houston folks, we’re only 90 miles away) take advantage of this conference. At only $10 per person it is a bargain! You will be encouraged and equipped. If you are a pastor, I am helping to host a dialogue time with Dr. Whitney at a nearby coffee shop at 3:30pm on Friday. Aside from a casual time of discussion you also get free coffee and a free book for showing up! Just shoot me an email if you’re interested and want the details (jbradshaw [at] gmail [dot] com). Hope you can be in attendance and seize this opportunity to be challenged and fed from God’s Word.

Go HERE to find our conference schedule and registration information.

Monday, February 20, 2012

6-Weeks till Deployment

The second half of 2011 occupied the prayer and planning stage of planting Cross Point. Presently we’re in the mobilization stage. We’ve been putting a team together of committed Christians passionate about God’s Word and the good news of Jesus Christ. For all intents and purposes this stage will conclude on March 25. Having Sunday evening worship has allowed other churches to partner with us in various hands-on ways but two new initiatives will be under way that will kick us into the deployment stage. In mid-March we’ll implement the first run of our community groups. This isn’t another program. This is a lifestyle. We’ll break up into smaller units and meet in homes (four consecutive weeks, then two weeks off) to build community and study the Scriptures with those we pull in from the various spaces we occupy in society. We’ll also transition to a Sunday morning worship service on April 1. Worship will begin at 10:30am and be followed on most Sundays with a fellowship lunch. There are long-range plans for additional Bible learning opportunities on Sunday but we’re keeping it simple for now and not putting too much on the curling bar yet. Pray for these new initiatives that they will build bridges to connect the gospel to hearers and in those hearings Christ would awaken hearts.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

God put a team together… Now what?

Over the last few weeks I’ve been meeting with the core group that is planting Cross Point Church. There are six households represented in this planting team. Most of them didn’t even have this on their radar a year ago. The Lord began putting this “vision” on my heart in spring 2011. The first two families that came alongside us hadn’t even been living in Texas but a few months and they jumped on board last summer. Then in January the other three families came aboard—two of which were also new residents to Beaumont. Of this group one family moved to Texas from New Mexico almost two years ago, another from Ohio almost a year ago, and another from California a few months ago. How amazing that all our paths converged to connect and come together for this mission. The Lord puts His teams together and then sends them out.

As amazing as it is to consider how the Lord has knit us together it is also awesome to consider what lies ahead. So far we’ve seen a successful planting of a worship service but the church is still a work in progress. Consider how the Apostle Paul planted churches. He gathered a team (Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, etc) and went into a community on a mission. Paul and his team began preaching the gospel and connecting to people. They usually preached the gospel in official assemblies like in a synagogue but also shared the gospel in the marketplace or in homes. That permeated the culture without being saturated in it. This is our aim. We have a sign outside a building every Sunday that says where and when our church family meets for worship and fellowship. This is our official assembly. We sing songs that proclaim God’s Word. We read and pray over God’s Word. I preach God’s Word. We see God’s Word enacted through the Lord’s Supper (and hopefully soon through baptism). Then we eat together which is an essential and Biblical form of applying the gospel. Now we’re also turning our eyes and efforts toward the marketplace (wherever people do life) and the home. We’re praying and looking for opportunity to build gospel bridges into people’s lives, to open our homes to them, and to share the gospel to them in word and deed. It has been inspiring to my faith to see how God has put His team together and it is exciting to imagine how He will use us in the days ahead. Pray for our team. Pray for the city of Beaumont. Pray for the glory of God to be magnified in the hearts of those who are still in need of redemption.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Dig In!

I am preaching through Mark’s Gospel on Sunday which means I am being punched in the gut by Mark’s Gospel during the week. Preaching is simple. My church gets the overflow of my devotional time in the book I’m studying every day. Of course there’s no way I can give everything to them the Lord has given me. Five to six days of study would make for a really long sermon—like bring your jammies and pillow long. My hope is that they are studying Mark themselves during the week. My wife takes a day or so to study back over the text I preached the Sunday before and uses the rest of the week to read ahead. I don’t say that to puff her up but I’m thankful she and others are hungry to know God’s Word and go to work in it that the Holy Spirit might do the work of application.

Right now I am gripped by the tremendous power of Jesus. It frightens me in such a way that brings shame and provokes repentance when I sin. It comforts me in such a way that worries and anxieties (to my shame, common vices) are melting away. It fills me with joy in such a way that I’m becoming more eager for the Lord to create opportunities for faith that I might see His power at work again and again. None of this is to my credit. I cannot boast. It is the efficacy of the Word of God. Just open it up and start reading. Stay in a book—endure through the tough-to-read parts and trust the Holy Spirit to lead you into all truth (John 16:13). When the Word is preached (even if done so poorly) listen for its truths. Even if but a morsel is shared it will be a feast far more than any banquet the world can offer. If you’re a preacher, don’t be stingy in your study or in your pulpit. If you’re sharing only a morsel of God’s Word but a buffet of your creative insight you are doing your hearers a terrible disservice and you are starving yourself of the supremely satisfying sufficiency of God’s Word. Dig in!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Scripture-Centered Worship

When you leave worship (with your local church) on Sunday afternoon or evening what is most memorable to you? What do unbelievers find most memorable when they visit? My challenge is to make certain God's Word is most memorable. This requires we do certain things and avoid certain things. First of all, why do I want to make God's Word most memorable? God's Word makes God's people-- it alone can break through the hardness of man's sinful heart, it alone can call men to faith, it alone can transform a person and restore him to the image-bearer God created, and it alone reveals the God for whom we were created to glorify and enjoy forever (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12).

So when people leave worship they ought to have been given a heavy dose of Scripture. We must read the Word, preach the Word, sing the Word (using doctrinally rich songs), see the Word (through the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper), and pray the Word (the Scripture must inform how we pray and what we pray for). This is the goal that informs my planning of our worship service. We are simple. We want people to get well nourished on the Word and have periods of pause to reflect on the truths being lifted up. Here's a basic order of worship for us:
  • After welcome and announcements we take a few moments to quietly prepare our hearts.
  • Then we sing-- it might be a new song or a classic hymn but we want it lyrically to exalt Biblical truth (and stylistically to match its content). In planning I usually pick 3-4 lengthier songs rather than snippets of 6-7 songs. Life is busy enough without blurring through Scripturally-rich songs.
  • In between the songs we'll read from a passage of Scripture that I select from the opposite Testament I'm preaching from but has some connection with the sermon text.
  • Then we get to the sermon. I preach expositionally. This guard me from soap-box preaching or just being trendy (it also forces me to let the Holy Spirit and the Word dictate the direction of issues we need to address).
  • After the sermon we'll take more time to pause for quiet reflection. Again, life is so fast-paced there is value in slowing down and letting our minds marinate on the proclamation of God's Word.
  • We'll then collect offerings and at least once a month we'll be taking the Lord's Supper before dismissing for fellowship.
I know this isn't the "coolest" approach but really worship is for God- we get the afterglow- so as long as He's pleased I'm not too worried about cool points. It might seem right to say do whatever it takes to make unbelievers feel welcome so they are not turned off from the gospel of Jesus Christ. The "do whatever" pragmatism is dangerous. You can end up compromising or competing against the very gospel you claim to treasure. Furthermore, do you believe the Word of God is sufficient or not? That's the bottom-line. If you argue that Scripture alone cannot arrest a soul and shape it to God's glory without "seeker sensitive" techniques, emotional manipulation, or appealing to man's desire to be flattered and entertained then you do not believe it is sufficient.

To be sure when an unbeliever or any guest visits a church service they ought to be greeted with the utmost hospitality and extended friendship. Let not bad behavior be most memorable. Our behavior ought to adorn the Word of God and reflect its transforming work in our lives. If you want to be sensitive to unbelievers present among you (and you should) then give them God's Word and trust that it will do the work (Isaiah 55:11).