Category Archives: Church

Reflections on the 2017 Just Gospel Conference

Over the past few days 10 members from our church attended the Just Gospel conference in Atlanta hosted by The Front Porch.

The three-day conference was a compilation of two biblical expositions, several monologues, and 17 panel discussions. The focus of these discussions was on the way biblical justice in the local church intersects issues of race, secular movements, abortion, education, orphans, widows, young men, murder in Chicago, hip-hop, women’s issues, incarceration, and sex trafficking.

Our church has been discussing issues of race, grace, and reconciliation for a number of years, so I was looking forward to attending and processing these important issues together.

Here are a few of my thoughts that have been shaped by the help of others who attended.

  1. Social meetings are better than social media.

Discussions about important issues are always better face-to-face. Social media often cultivates an atmosphere where being heard devours the desire to hear from others. At this conference, people came to be fed, led, and given room to process. In an age where many find safety behind a screen, this conference confirmed afresh how essential it is to move conversations about race and justice from blogs and Tweets to dinner tables and live dialogues.

The conference atmosphere was warm and the format of discussions modeled for the listeners how to dialogue about difficult issues. Our group met for meals several times to talk about what we heard and how it affected us personally and our church corporately. The give and take modeled at the conference helped us lovingly learn from one another.

 

  1. Diverse friendships aid our ability to see injustices we would normally overlook.

Most of my life has been lived in contexts where people look like me, think like I naturally think, and experience life as I do. As a middle-class white man I have never worried where I would sleep, never sold my body for a meal, never been fearful of a police officer, or feared for my life in my neighborhood.

God has graciously brought people into my life that have welcomed me into their weeping and their rejoicing. The topics of the conference were educational, challenging, and at times confusing. But having friends to help me process has been invaluable. One reason is that as I have grown in my love for them I have seen realities I would have otherwise overlooked. Tripp Lee rightly said, “We can’t bear each others burdens if we don’t know what each other’s burdens are.”

What this conference did is further help me understand that many people don’t have the option to not think about issues of injustice. I think about issues of justice most normally if they show up at my doorstep. Many don’t have that privilege. They live in areas where injustice is less like a package dropped on their doorstep and more like a shadow; a constant companion in life.

Privilege is mishandled if it used to perpetuate indifference and insensitivity to the suffering of my neighbor. Everyone in our group was able to point to things they learned about history that gave a fuller picture of how injustice is perpetuated today. The continual realization of this is not a comfortable reality, but is a necessary one if I am to be a Christian who will labor for justice, even or especially if the injustice is not directly aimed at me.

In the end, my black friends and I likely won’t agree on everything and will never experience things exactly the same way. But loving friendships are marked by patient, empathetic, offense-overlooking love. Christian love endures because it is empowered by the Spirit of Christ. He makes us one, and gives us the power to walk as one, until that day when we will struggle no more.

 

  1. White conferences must begin to diversify their speakers. 

This statement is not about affirmative action or being politically correct. This is a conviction that has crystalized for me over the past few days. I was introduced to numerous African American brothers at this conference who are exceptionally gifted in handling the word. This wasn’t a surprise, but sadly not a privilege I have had often enough. Victor Sholar’s message on the Good Samaritan out of Luke 10:25-37 was one of the most powerful sermons I’ve heard in a long time.

When I initially looked at the lineup of contributors for the Just Gospel conference, I was put off because only 2 of the 37 contributors were white. But then I began to wonder how my brothers and sisters of color feel when they attend evangelical conferences where there is very often an all-white or all white + a token minority in the line up.

I come from a tradition where most of my influencers are middle to upper class white men. These men are faithful and love God, but their experiences affect the way they interpret and apply the Scriptures. As Dr. Jarvis Williams explained, we gain different insights from people who are “looking up” at commands about justice than we will from people who are “looking down” on them. The insights and applications brothers were drawing from the Bible were fresh for me and challenged me in ways I didn’t know I needed to be challenged.

The voices of marginalized brothers and sisters are often unheard by people like me. I suspect this may be why I have rarely, if ever, heard a sermon on practical justice that was not a cry for religious freedom or condemning abortion. Both of those injustices matter, but they are not the only justice issues. The body of Christ is made up of people from various ethnic, social, and economic backgrounds. Diverse perspectives bring Gospel implications to light that would otherwise be overlooked. Diverse voices in my life help me be more faithful to God. I want and need that, and especially hope that my brothers in the Southern Baptist Convention will make strides to grow in this in the days ahead.

 

  1. We must have a patient urgency.

People are complex. Issues of justice are complex. Applications of the Gospel in diverse churches are complex. This complexity requires patience with one another as we navigate how we can grow together in Christian unity.

At the same time, there is great urgency. The church does not have the option to walk by on the other side of the road while our fellow man lies bloodied in the road of injustice. The plight of minorities, babies in the womb, orphans, widows, sex slaves, abused women, and refugees must matter to us.

Figuring out how to navigate these two realities is very difficult. Anyone who gives effort to engaging grows weary at some point. I saw this weariness and heard people testify of it. I have felt it often as I try to figure out how I’m not “getting it,” or why others don’t see my perspective. These conversations are hard, but they must happen.

Leonce Crump summed the struggle up well by urging us to have “present urgency with an eternal perspective.” Patience and urgency are not enemies. Christians know this because James 5:9 exhorts us, “be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” We must keep these truths before us as we labor for justice.

 

  1. Self-justification short-circuits conviction. 

 Conversations about the intersection of race, grace, and justice are both edifying and offensive. They are edifying because my heart is stretched to see implications of the Gospel that are unnatural to me. God uses them to show fresh ways I need His help. Through them I have developed deeper relationships with diverse friends.

At the same time they are offensive. Sometimes I am offended because I am wrongly accused, but more often, I am offended because I don’t like being exposed. There are racially-charged sins that abide in me. My heart is home to perspectives that are ignorant at best and murderously sinful at worst. I don’t want to be racist or even tempted to have prejudiced assumptions about people.

When an accusation comes against me, I want to justify myself. I make excuses. I shift blame. I do what Adam and Eve did in the Garden. But this is not the right response of a Christian. Rather than justify ourselves, we must rest in the justification given through faith in Christ. Tony Carter’s closing comments reminded us that we are all sinners, justified alone by faith in Christ which frees us to see one another as equals—equally justified, and equally sinful—and begin the difficult work of meeting one another where we are.

This frees us to allow God’s Word and the insights of others to do work in us. Not every accusation that comes against us will be grounded in truth, but some of them will. Are you open to correction? Do you receive the challenges of others? This conference and the conversations I had because of it brought these questions home afresh for me.

 

  1. The Scriptures must remain central.

One of the best parts of the conference was pastor Bobby Scott who always had his Bible open and reading verses to give guidance to the conversation. I believe more than ever that the best way forward is on our knees with humble hearts before open Bibles.

Allowing the Scriptures to guide our conversations guards God’s glory. As Dr. Kevin Smith said, “We want people to understand we are springing forth from the Scripture.” This gives help to God’s people and hope to the world, a world lacking the power of the Spirit of God to address the challenges we face.

One theme that came up on the first day was the need to render aid to the afflicted in the context of Christ’s call to discipleship. Liberation without Gospel transformation is just another form of worldly incarceration. The Bible tells us that all people’s greatest need is to become and grow as followers of Jesus. The Gospel reconciles us with God and with those made in His image. If you are able to listen to the conversation between Thabiti Anyabwile and Roland Warren about abortion, you will hear an excellent example of this.

The wisdom of the world will call us to compromise convictions about God’s designs in sexuality, roles of men and women, the mission of the church, and racism. Many have wandered from the faith in the name of compassion. But many others have wandered from the faith in the name of safety. Jesus calls us to follow Him on the way that is hard, on a road that is narrow. There are temptations to stray on every side. As we journey together we must walk closely with Jesus, according to His Word, because He knows the way.

 

As with any conference or sensitive discussion I’ve been a part of, I had several concerns, critiques, and areas of needed clarification. These centered around a desire for more clarity on complementarianism, added pastoral wisdom about ways to engage in arenas of difficult ministry, and a desire for even clearer Biblical instruction about issues of justice. I am processing these privately with some of the brothers involved, but I do not want them to overshadow the encouragements and challenges our group received from our time at the conference.

I am thankful to see God moving in our day, and I am hopeful that discussions like this can be used by God to bring unity and maturity to Jesus’ church as we move forward together.

Can We Weep Together? Bringing Peace to Racial Pain

 

I’m the pastor of a medium sized church in Alexandria, Virginia. We are predominately white, but are growing in diversity of all sorts—including ethnic diversity. Our members come from all different backgrounds. But they aren’t just church members; they are people I love.

So when I hear news stories about white police officers shooting black men, it strikes close to home. My mind immediately goes to how some of our black friends will be receiving the news.

How might fear grip them this time?

Will despair pull them toward the pit?

How will their children hear the news?

My heart is pulled toward them, because I love them.

 

But in our church we also have white police offers, and they are people I love deeply as well. So when the news comes in, I wonder how it will affect them.

Will they be angry that they will likely be seen as crooked cops?

Will they become a target of retaliation?

How will this news affect them when they are thrust into a tense situation?

I care about them, so my heart considers them as well.

 

And then, I wonder…

How will those two groups love each other?

How will they perceive each other when they sit next to each other on Sunday?

Will black members be jaded against the white members?

Will white members ignore events in the news that are hurting black members?

Are they talking and listening and praying with each other?

Do they even know God wants them to do this?

How should our elders speak into and shepherd along our congregation?

What are our blind spots on this issue?

 

These are the sorts of things that keep pastors like me up at night. Why? Because the unexplainable love of the church is the way God shows the world that He is their only hope for healing from racial pain.

As our church processes these realities, we try to keep a few things before our eyes.

 

  1. Admit that racial pain is a real issue.

We will not all feel this pain in the same way, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Not all blacks will perceive pain in the same way or agree on how to move forward in fixing it. Neither will all whites. But we must admit there is an issue in our country and it didn’t end when slavery was abolished.

For my white friends, if you don’t feel pain about these issues, but your black neighbor does, what does that mean? Do they need to be corrected and told not to feel a certain way? Might you have room to grow? Loving those who are different than you begins with listening and learning from them. I wrote an article “I Don’t See You As a Black Friend” that chronicles my own journey in this area.

The realness of racial pain isn’t just popular opinion; it is God’s opinion. In fact, you could make a case that the entire New Testament is God glorifying Himself by bringing people of different ethnicities / races together in the church through the blood of His Son. The Bible is about reconciliation. Yes, sinners reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-20), but also sinners reconciled to one another (Ephesians 2:11-22).

The hard work of reconciliation didn’t stop when Jesus ascended. In one sense, it just got started. The Gospel alone has the power to change hearts, but change will not come until we admit there is a tragic and painful wound festering among us.

 

  1. Pray that we will see people as God sees them.

God created all people in His own image. Every person, light-skinned and dark-skinned, citizen and police officer alike, was knit by God in their mother’s womb as one who would radiate God’s own glory for all to see. That image is corrupted by sin, but it is not erased. That must mean something when we watch videos of people being shot, hear orphaned children wail out the words “I want my daddy”, or learn of police officers being struck down by vengeance seekers.

The LORD instructs His people to “regard no one from a world point of view” or merely “according to the flesh” (2 Corinthians 5:16). This means God gives His people eyes to see that people are not just ideas to debunk or problems to fix, they are people. They have mothers and fathers and children. They cry tears and have real hopes and fears. That must matter to us, because it matters to God.

Compassion for one another is essential to healing the pain caused by racially charged sins against one another. This compassion is birthed when we realize that we are in this together, though our experiences along the way are often vastly different. Do you see others as God sees them? Do you tend to categorize people and say “oh those people” are _____?

There are systemic issues to discuss, but who is going to discuss them? People. If change will happen systematically, change must first occur personally, so I’m writing to you as an individual right now. Ask God to help you see people as image-bearers, no matter how different they may be than you.

 

  1. Pray for God to help you weep when others weep.

You don’t need all the facts to weep with another person. As a H.B. Charles has rightly said, “the Bible exhorts us to weep with those who weep. It doesn’t tell us to judge whether they should be weeping.” Love leaves room for unanswered questions, especially when another is brokenhearted.

When news about a police officer killing a black man breaks, what happens in your heart? What comes to mind? Do you find yourself considering how others might be hearing the news or do you automatically make judgments about those involved?

I trust that we all agree there must be investigations into whether police action was warranted in these cases. But can we not understand why many from the black community would be cynical about the process?

White friends, do you ever feel cynicism toward the system when a politician or celebrity gets off the hook?

I trust so.

Can you not then, understand why black brothers and sisters could have cynicism about how trials and charges will be played out in the courts?

And black friends, do you wonder how your white brothers and sisters in Christ who serve as police officers process these situations? Are they in a place of privilege and authority? Yes, maybe so. Should the “bad cops” be outed and punished to the fullest extent of the law? Most certainly.

But 1 Corinthians 13 tells us all that “love believes and hopes all things”—so I’m assuming that you know that all cops are not bad cops, and I hope that you’re fighting to believe that, like my brother Trip Lee is.

Black or white, brothers and sisters, we have to work hard to believe the best of each other. In other words, we can’t assume someone using the phrase “black lives matter” means that person doesn’t believe that “all lives matter.” And we can’t assume that a police officer that says “all cops aren’t evil” means that he doesn’t care about black life.

We each must ask how we are obeying God in the command to have a sympathetic heart that breaks when others break.

One of the best ways to soften a heart toward others is to spend time with them.

Have you ever sat with a weeping black friend? Have you ever seen the deep grief in their eyes when they talk about the fears they have for their life an the life of their children? You may not understand their pain, but have you helped them wipe tears away?

This kind of tear-wiping love is what God will show His people when He welcomes them to heaven (Revelation 21:4) and it ought be the kind of love His people show each other when we exist as the church.

 

  1. The church must be the church.

The church has not loved each other well across racial lines for many decades, but today is a new day. It must be. If there is ever a time that blacks and whites must risk comfort, pain, and misunderstandings for the hope of greater change, it is now. The world is longing for an answer to the deep problem of racial pain.

The church must be a place where members can openly grieve about things that break their heart without being concerned that they will be judged for it. Is that kind of freedom found in your house of worship? Love makes room for weeping with each other, especially when we don’t fully understand why they are weeping.

The church must be the place that says to someone different than you, “I have been praying for you, and I would love to hear how the events in the news are affecting you, would you be willing to get together so I can learn more from you?” Love learns from each other.

The church must be the place where we say I am sorry, will you forgive me. One of my most heart-wrenching moments as a white pastor is when another black pastor shared his pain from the pulpit two weeks in a row and was never asked by a white member to learn more about his pain. That kind of apathy or fear-driven silence is not love. But in the church we can say we have sinned against each other and move toward reconciliation. Jesus died to forgive and heal those sins, so let us go to Him together for help.

Jesus told His people to “let your lights shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). That light is made visible when the power of the Gospel enters into the lives of very different people and brings unity at the feet of the risen Lord Jesus.

Unity among people is so precious that Jesus shed His blood to purchase it. Satan hates unity in the church, which is why working division is the devil’s delight. Racial pain is an easy place for him to attack, but the Lord Jesus delights in stepping on his neck in victory.

Prayer is one very real way we unite together to war against Satan’s aims to divide us. Consider the prayer requests one black brother sent to our elders:

“I encourage you to pray that our black brothers and sisters can be spared from the things we so regularly see in the news…Pray that we not become desensitized to the violence or oppression…Genuinely pray that our hearts are not turned cold towards our white brothers and sisters, particularly those we are in not in close relationship with. When white brothers and sisters in the body remain silent, it doesn’t take much to begin seeing them as the same as those who cause injustices to occur…Pray that as some of your black brothers and sisters grow increasingly distrustful of police and of those in authority, silence can cause us to subconsciously  (or intentionally, depending on the person) think, ‘They think the same way, would react the same way, and simply don’t understand.’ That is a temptation seeded by the enemy, who desires to cause dissension in the body. But pray also that we will pray for those in authority over us, as God commands, so that our hearts will be tender and loving toward them with the hopes that relationships can be built and peace can be known. Pray for us to have an openness to share our hearts, feelings, thoughts and emotions, regardless of how confused, with our Christian family.

 

Jesus is the hope of the world, and the church is the people through whom He displays this hope. If you are a member of a local church, the responsibility falls on you to make changes. Are you willing to trust the Lord to help you? He promised to be with us (Matthew 28:18-20). We must come together in humility and fervency, for His glory and the good of one another.

 

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

 

 

Comments that are constructive will be posted, but I filter as much as I can and won’t be posting any combative or inflammatory comments here. Thank you for adding to the conversation with thoughtful and compassionate insights.

 

 

16 Things to Pray for T4G 2016

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During this week, some ten thousand Christians from all over the world will descend upon Louisville, Kentucky. What brings them together? They come together for the Gospel. This bi-annual conference is an interdenominational gathering of Christians who certainly have various differences, but what they have in common is much greater—the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Whether you are at the conference or not, I ask you to pray for what God is doing, and will do, through this gathering of believers. To help give you some ideas of how to pray, here are sixteen suggestions.

 

  1. Pray for pastors to be encouraged.  

Pastors spend most of their lives pouring out for the good of others. This conference provides a unique opportunity for pastors to be poured into. Pray that weary pastors would be encouraged by the fellowship and instruction they receive.

 

  1. Pray for the speakers to have power.

The speakers at T4G are some of the most gifted pastor-teachers in the world. But they are just men. They struggle with the same things everyone else does. So pray that God would give them strength in their weaknesses and that He would speak powerfully through each of them for His glory and the good of all who hear their messages.

 

  1. Pray for Gospel witness in the community.

As these many Christians come into the city, they come in contact with hundreds of cabdrivers, restaurant servers, hotel employees, protestors, and business owners. Pray that Christians would embody the Gospel they come together to celebrate by being good tippers, kind with their words, and not demanding on those who serve them. Pray this kindness would open doors for Gospel conversations and for many to come to know the Lord.

 

  1. Pray for the singing.

 One of the most unique things about this gathering is the singing. Try to imagine ten thousand unified voices singing about the wonders of God’s mercy to us in Jesus. Pray for believers to not only sing with hearts of faith, but also to be encouraged by the chorus of voices proclaiming the glories of our heavenly King.

 

  1. Pray for friendships to be born.

This conference was birthed out of friendship among the speakers. And this is one of the main reasons they put on the conference. Pray that God would kindle relationships among like-minded brothers who would be able to develop life-long friendships in Christ.

 

  1.  Pray for wisdom in partnerships.

This conference affords the opportunity for ministry leaders from all over the world to spend time together to pray, dream, plan, and orchestrate great things for the Kingdom of God. Plead that God would help His people have wisdom about ways they can work together for the spread of His glory among the nations.

 

  1. Pray for sisters to be strengthened

T4G is not a men’s conference, but because it is aimed at pastors, a large percentage of the attendees are men. But there are many sisters in Christ here who are in need of your prayers. Ask that God would build them up through His word so they can go back strengthened to bless their churches, families, and communities.

 

  1. Pray for believers to be protected.

Satan hates Jesus and He hates God’s children. Pray that his sinister schemes to hinder Gospel work would be thwarted. Pray for protection from lust and pride and comparison and envy and discouragement and whatever other fiery darts he will launch at the hearts of those who have come.

 

9.  Pray for the families of attendees. 

Most of the people in attendance leave wives and children behind at home. This can be a strain on many families who covet your prayers. Ask the Lord to give strength to wives and mothers, for children to be obedient and not get sick, and for all other chaos on the home front to be held to a minimum.

 

  1. Pray for the logistics.

To pull off a gathering of ten thousand people, you need a logistics miracle. Pray for disasters and distractions to be at a minimal and that everything from registration, to sound, to security, to book store stocking, to meals and beyond to go smoothly.

 

  1. Pray for the volunteers.

Over three hundred people travel to this conference, not simply to be served by the Word, but to serve those who are coming to hear the Word. Pray for them to serve others with the joy of Christ.

 

  1. Pray for churches to be edified. 

Hundreds upon hundreds of local churches have pastors or members in attendance this week. Pray for these congregations to be edified by those who will return with fresh vigor. Pray for delight in Jesus to spread among these churches and for great revival to occur among God’s people because of what happens here.

 

  1. Pray for unity.

At a conference where there is such a diverse group of believers, there is always opportunity for the evil one to stir up squabbles. Pray for brothers and sisters to humbly hold their convictions and aim to make much of Jesus who is the hope of all believers.

 

  1. Pray for people to love the Word.

This year’s conference focuses on the glory of the Protestant Reformation. This Reformation was birthed when God stirred a fresh understanding of His Word among His people. Pray that as the Word is preached and read and sang, that the Holy Spirit would stoke fresh fires of love for the Scriptures in the hearts of His people.

 

  1. Pray for attendees to long for heaven.

One of my favorite parts about the conference is seeing old friends. I delight in seeing their smiles, hearing their stories, and in sharing meals together. But then, we are forced to say good-bye. Some will leave early because of unplanned tragedies, and others will head home as they had planned. But there is something that saying sad “good-byes” does for us…It makes us long for that Land where we will never say good-bye again. Pray that God would use T4G to cultivate a longing for heaven where we will be gathered together once and for all with our heavenly Father. O Come Lord Jesus! Come!

 

  1. Pray for the Great Commission to be aided.

Between now and that Great Day when faith will be made sight, we have been called to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Pray that God would not allow this to just be another conference where we take home our books and notes and nothing changes. But rather, ask that God would use all the equipping and teaching and singing and planning to produce a movement of Spirit-empowered people who risk everything so that the Good News about Jesus will be taken to those who have never heard.

 

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” Romans 1:16

 

A Pattern Among Fallen Pastors – Lessons for Us All

normandy beach

 

During my time in seminary I took a leadership course taught by the late-great Dr. Howard Hendricks. As we studied the life of David, Prof shared a study he conducted with a group of men in full-time ministry who had fallen into a morally disqualifying sin.

At the time, I had only been a Christian for a few years, but unfortunately the subject was all too relevant. During my early days I had witnessed several men whom I loved and respected fall into serious sinful compromises. At one point in those days, the falls came so frequently I felt as if I was on the spiritual beach of Normandy watching buddies lives get blown apart all around me.

Prof’s study was of 246 men in full-time ministry who experienced moral failure within a two-year period of time. As far as he could discern, these full-time clergy were men who were born again followers of Jesus. Though they shared a common salvation, these men also shared a common feat of devastation; they had all, within 24 months of each other, been involved in an extra marital affair.

After interviewing each man, Dr. Hendricks compiled 4 common characteristics of their lives.

1. None of the men were involved in any kind of real personal accountability. 

2. Each of the men had all but ceased having a daily time of personal prayer, Bible reading, and worship. 

3. Over 80% of the men became sexually involved with the other woman after spending significant time with her, often in counseling situations.

4. Without exception, each of the 246 had been convinced that sort of fall “would never happen to me.”

As I reflect on this study, a few lessons come to mind. These are applicable for pastors, plumbers, stay at home moms, and anyone else who seeks to follow Christ.

  1.  Sin thrives in isolation.

Satan lives in the darkness and longs to keep us there as well. He does this because lies live best in the darkness. God knows this, which is why when He calls us to Himself, He calls us into the church.

God has created the church to be many things, one of which is to be a community of people who help each other fight sin and love Him. He calls us into relationships where we speak truth to one another (Ephesians 4:15, 25), confess sins to one another (James 5:16), and love each other enough to chase after each other if we stray (Matthew 18:10-20; Galatians 6:1-2; James 5:19-20).

The question I want you to ponder is this: Who knows you? I mean who really knows you? Who not only has permission, but is currently acting upon the permission to ask you penetrating questions? Are you answering those questions honestly or are you hiding details and painting up your sin to guard your image?

Do not hide from God’s gracious aid of loving relationships.

  1. If you flirt with sin, you will fall into sin.

Sin’s slope is a slippery one. The longer you walk along the edge of the abyss, the more certain that your foot will slip. The men in the study put themselves in dangerous situations again and again. They ignored the words of Solomon who warned his sons to “keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house” (Proverbs 5:8).

These men did not guard their hearts, or the hearts of the people they were supposed to be protecting. Instead, they became blinded by the deceitfulness of sin (Ephesians 4:22; Hebrews 3:13) and were led into the ditch of destruction (Matthew 15:14).

What ways are you flirting with sin? What provisions are you making for the flesh in regards to its lust (Romans 13:14)? What guards have you stepped over? What details are you hiding? What emails are you deleting? What search histories are you erasing?

Sin is crouching at your door (Genesis 4:7) and the tempter is looking for an opportunity to pounce (1 Peter 5:8). How are you making his aim easier?

Flee from sin, don’t flirt with it (Genesis 39:6-12; Proverbs 5-7, Romans 6:12-13; 2 Timothy 2:22; 1 Peter 2:11).

  1. Pride blinds us to our weakness.

Many of us think this sort of serious sin would not happen to us, just as those fallen pastors thought. But 1 Corinthians 10:12 warns us “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” Let us not forget that Samson—the strongest man in the Bible, Solomon—the wisest man in the Bible, and David—the man after God’s own heart, were all overcome by the temptations of sexual sin (Judges 14-16; 1 Kings 11:1-8; 2 Samuel 11-12; Psalm 51). No one is above the temptation to sin in grievous ways. If you doubt this, you are on your way to a great fall.

Brothers, beware. Proverbs 16:18 “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”

  1. Purity is cultivated by loving Jesus.

Somewhere along the line, each of the men in the study began to drift. Prayers became less passionate. The promises of God in His Word grew dusty. Love for Jesus became something spoken of in the past tense.

The seduction of sin and enticement to sacrifice all to satisfy inner longings became too strong to resist.

But Christ is stronger. Hear these words of promise afresh:

Hebrews 4:14–16 “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Brothers and sisters, there is no sweeter assurance of help than Christ Jesus the Lord. He stands ready at God’s right hand to supply the grace and mercy we are in such need of.

Do not allow your hearts to grow cold toward the Lord who loves you so. Draw near to Him daily, moment by moment, in hopeful expectation that He is better than any fleeting pleasure that might entice your heart. Do not seek Him only in days of desperation, but seek Him daily. Walk with Him. Rekindle passion. Plead with Him to help you. He is able to do it, and He delights to do it.

Jude 24-25 “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”

 

Come Lord Jesus, come.

Encourage One Another – Giving Grace With Your Words

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“Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Hebrews 3:13

Yesterday I received a kind note of encouragement from a friend. It was only about three sentences in length but the Lord used it to stir some much-needed strength in my soul.

Receiving the note led me to open up my Bible and dig around to see what the Lord says to us about encouragement. As I read passage after passage, I was struck by how vital this expression of love is for God’s people. In one sense, encouragement is like oxygen in the life of a church. It keeps hearts beating, minds clear, and hands inspired to serve.

Because encouragement is so important to the church, God doesn’t merely recommend it, but He explicitly commands it (1 Thessalonians 4:18, 5:11; Hebrews 3:13).

Why We Need Encouragement

God commanded that His people encourage each other because He knew we would need it. Jesus warned that “in the world you will have tribulation…” which He followed with much needed encouragement, “but take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

We live in a broken world where everything calls us toward selfishness and despair. Sin steals joy, our bodies break down, our plans falter, our dreams die, our resolves weaken, our perspective dims. We are promised suffering (1 Peter 4:12), persecution (John 15:20; 2 Timothy 3:12), and trials of all sorts (James 1:2-3).

When encouragement is absent from the life of a church people will feel unloved, unimportant, useless, and forgotten. God knows His people are in need of grace-filled reminders, which is why He calls us to encourage each other every day until His Son returns (Hebrews 3:13).

What Is Encouragement?

Biblical encouragement isn’t focused on complementing someone’s haircut or telling them how good their homemade salsa tastes. That kind of encouragement is important, but the encouragement the Scriptures refer to is explicitly Christian encouragement.

Encouragement is shared with the hopes that it will lift someone’s heart toward the Lord (Colossians 4:8). It points out evidences of grace in another’s life to help them see that God is using them. It points us to God’s promises that assure us that all we face is under His control.

The New Testament reveals that encouragement was a regular part of the early church’s life together (Acts 13:15, 16:40, 18:27, 20:1-2, 27:36). They shared Scripture-saturated words with each other to spur one another on in faith (Acts 14:22), hope (Romans 15:4), unity (Romans 15:5; Colossians 2:2), joy (Acts 15:31), strength (Acts 15:32), fruitfulness (Hebrews 10:24-25), faithfulness (1 Thessalonians 2:12), perseverance (Hebrews 10:25), and the certainty of Christ’s return (1 Thessalonians 4:18).

Encouragement was and is an essential way of extending grace to each other.

How Do I Grow in Being an Encouragement to Others?

There isn’t only one “right way” to encourage each other, but here are a few ideas to help you get started.

  1. Pray for God to make you an encourager. Ask Him to give you a heart that loves others and creativity to know how to show it. Ask Him to help you die to self-centeredness and grow in a desire to build others up. Because God delights in helping His people obey His commands, we can trust that His Spirit will teach us how to bless others for His glory and their spiritual good.
  2. Study Barnabas and ask God to make you like him. Barnabas was nicknamed the “son of encouragement” by the early church (Acts 4:36, cf. Acts ch. 4-15). He was the kind of guy you wanted to have around as you were serving the Lord. He wasn’t just a spiritual cheerleader, but he was a man of great conviction who wanted to see the church flourish and did all he could to make it happen. Ask God to give you and your church a heart like Barnabas.
  3. Make encouragement a daily discipline. For some of us encouragement comes naturally, for others, not so much. I have a reminder in my calendar each day to send someone an encouraging note, email, text, or phone call. I need this reminder to pause, pray, and then intentionally try to spur someone on in Christ.
  4. Pray for God to show you who to encourage. Ask God to bring someone to mind that you should reach out to. One way to do this is by praying through your church’s membership directory. Check out this article to learn more about that.
  5. Use Scripture if you’re able. Nothing encourages us like promises from God’s Word. Make a list of Scriptures that God has used to bless you personally or an excerpt form something your read in your daily devotional. Mine the Psalms, Romans 8, and the Gospels. Find and share riches of God’s grace with others.
  6. Be specific in what you say. The note I received from my friend included two very specific ways he had seen evidences of grace in my life. When I read them, I was humbled and reminded of the fact that God does actually work in and though me. I needed that.
  7. Regularly encourage your pastor. If your pastor says something that God uses, tell him about it. Don’t expect him to write you back, but just send a few lines in a card or an email. Nothing encourages a pastor like hearing specific ways God used a sermon or counseling session to work in your life.
  8. Pray that God would create a culture of encouragement in your church. Ask God to make your church a community that loves each other in specific, tangible ways like encouragement. Ask God to use you to help fan that flame. Don’t get discouraged if people don’t return your encouragement (Matthew 6:3-4; Ephesians 6:3-8) or if you don’t see fruit from it (Galatians 6:9-10). Creating a church culture that glorifies God takes a long time, lots of prayer, and abundant grace. I encourage you to keep at it.
  9. Be wise. If you want to encourage someone of the opposite sex, use discernment in how best to do it. If I’m going to encourage a single sister in the congregation, I will tell my wife and copy her on the email. If I were encouraging a married sister, I would again tell my wife and copy her and the husband of the person I’m encouraging. You can also use that as an opportunity to encourage both the husband and wife.
  10. Get started. Who can you encourage right now? Who has blessed you recently that you can thank? What verse can you share with them? How might God use it?

May the Lord do more than we can imagine through just a little encouragement (Ephesians 3:20-21).

 

1 Thessalonians 4:18 “Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

 

 

Reflections on the 2014 SBC Pastor’s Conference

SBCPC 2014Earlier this week, 7 friends from our church joined me for the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors Conference in Baltimore, MD. This two-day event precedes the Southern Baptist Convention and is intended to encourage and challenge pastors in ministry. While this was my fourth Pastor’s Conference, this was the first exposure to the SBC for most of those who came with me.

This year’s theme was “Show Us Your Glory” inspired by Moses’ plea found in Exodus 33:18-23. There were 9 pastors who preached messages including Ronnie Floyd (new SBC president), H.B. Charles, David Platt, Johnny Hunt, Clayton King, Eric Mason, J.D. Greer, Alex Himaya (pinch-hitting for Tony Evans), Rick Warren, James MacDonald, and Francis Chan.

We listened to each of the talks (except one) and then spent time discussing them as a group. During our review we each tried to graciously highlight parts we found encouraging and helpful and then circled back to go over parts we found confusing or unhelpful.

Here’s a few of our takeaways.

 

Areas of Encouragement

1. Big churches and famous pastors aren’t our hope.

One of the reoccurring themes of the messages was that God doesn’t need big churches and famous pastors to advance His church. Though all the speakers at the conference were well-known pastors of large churches, several of the brothers spoke against the idea that God’s glory is best seen in the celebrity church model.

This was refreshing to hear from a denomination that has, at least at times, appeared to endorse the 6 Flags Over Jesus model of ministry where “bigger is better.” In J.D. Greer’s message he directly addressed this by showing how God has used “no-name” Christians throughout history to expand the church and do works greater than Jesus Himself (John 14:12). Jesus loves to use the weak and humble to make His glory known, and that was good news for us.

2. We must be burdened to proclaim the Gospel.

As you might expect at an SBC event, the call to be evangelistic was front and center in many of the talks. God has given us the Gospel and as Johnny Hunt said, “regardless of how well we define the Gospel, it does no good if we don’t declare the Gospel.” While not every talk specifically encouraged us to take the Good News to those who don’t know Jesus, we couldn’t help but talk about ways we could do this better in our own church.

Ironically, we also noticed that most of the messages didn’t explicitly proclaim the Gospel—but more on that in a minute.

3. The pastors’ transparency was endearing and encouraging.

While there is a danger in repeatedly referencing yourself in messages, a few of the brothers (H.B., J.D. and Rick Warren in particular) showed us God’s glory through their weakness and suffering.

Christians are not the courageous lions of the kingdom, we are weak sheep who need the strength and guidance of the Chief Shepherd. Several of these men opened their lives and humbly shared how they had been empowered by the Almighty in times of pride and tragedy.

I was deeply encouraged by Rick Warren’s transparency about his son’s suicide and the lessons he shared about what God is doing in our suffering and how we should respond to Him. I’d commend the message to anyone who is in a season of darkness—or who desires to prepare for the one that is sure to come.

4. The ethnic diversity of the preachers was refreshing.

The SBC has long been known as a white man’s denomination. While some may not like to admit this, it’s tough to argue, especially after doing a quick scan of those in attendance. But as this year’s preaching line-up reflected, I believe the SBC is making strides to be a denomination with members whose ethnic diversity reflects the diversity in the kingdom of God (Revelation 5:9, 7:9-10).

This year four of the nine preachers were not Caucasian. And to be clear, the four other preachers were not token minority brothers invited to bring some color to the line up. The non-white brothers who fed us were well-abled men who knew the Word and used their gifts to edify and exhort us for God’s glory. We were all refreshed by the ethnic diversity among the preachers.

 

Areas of Improvement

1. Exposition Was Often Absent.

This was the first time many of us had the opportunity to hear these brothers preach. We don’t know what they do in their churches on Sunday morning, but we hope they preach expository sermons (where the point of the sermon is the point of the text). But that’s not what happened in most of the sermons during the conference.

We all agreed that the sermons in the pastor’s conference should both be both edifying and instructive for the preachers in attendance. While most of them were edifying, only a few were good models of how to preach an expository sermon. Several of the brothers missed this opportunity and used the text to support a point they wanted to make.

To be clear, we don’t think topical sermons are unhelpful, but none of these sermons were really topical either. Though he wasn’t the only one who did it, we all agreed that H.B. Charles’ sermon was a model of how to both edify and instruct through faithful exposition of God’s Word.

2. The Gospel Was Often Assumed.

While there was much talk about the Gospel, we felt it was usually assumed rather than explicitly explained and proclaimed. Jesus was referenced, the cross was referenced, belief and repentance were referenced, but we could only point to a few times in the whole pastor’s conference where the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus were explicitly proclaimed (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). This was concerning for three reasons.

1st, it served as a missed opportunity for the pastors in attendance to see how to proclaim the Gospel in their preaching. 2nd, there were thousands of people in that room and it is certain that not everyone was born again. Finally, the assumption of the Gospel by a denomination is the first step toward a denomination losing the Gospel. As D.A. Carson has said, a church is never more than three generations from losing the gospel: one generation to believe it and proclaim it, a second generation to assume it, and a third generation to lose it.

The Gospel is too precious to be lost and too necessary to be assumed. Let us be a denomination filled with pastors who make the Gospel clear in every sermon we proclaim.

3. Jesus’ Glory Was Largely Neglected.

The most striking thing to our group was that in the majority of the sermons Jesus was not shown as the fulfillment of the text being preached. This wasn’t the case in every sermon (for instance, David Platt clearly showed how Jesus fulfilled Psalm 68), but the majority of the sermons lacked a clear explanation of how Jesus fulfills the OT pleas for glory (Matt. 5:17; Luke 24:27).

If there was anything we should expect from Christian pastors, it would be to show those who are listening how Jesus fulfills the text being preached. And in a conference with the theme “show me your glory” we were certain that texts like John 1:14 would be front and center.

Now, I am certain that all the brothers who were preaching believed Christ to be the fulfillment of their text, but making this explicit is a must for those of us who serve as Christian ministers. As I say this, I say it as someone who has grown in this conviction over the past five years. A dear pastor friend of mine challenged me on my lack of Christ-centric preaching and it has forever changed my ministry. May we always proclaim Jesus as the hope and highpoint of every message.

 

If these critiques sound harsh, they are not intended to be. On the whole, I am grateful for our denomination and the things we stand for, but I do think we need to help each other grow in faithfulness. This is an attempt to assist to that end. Our group was thankful for the hard work Dr. Bruce Frank and these preachers put into the conference and trust the Lord will use it to bear much fruit for His glory. 

Rebel Roll Call – Should We Publicly Call Out False Teachers?

wolf-in-sheeps-clothingJoel Osteen. Creflo Dollar. Benny Hinn. T.D. Jakes. Joyce Meyer. Paula White. Fred Price. Kenneth Copeland. Robert Tilton. Eddie Long. Juanita Bynum. Paul Crouch.

“I know they popular but don’t let them deceive ya” – Shai Linne

Track 10 on Shai Linne’s album Lyrical Theology has drawn much attention over the past year because in it he publicly calls out some household names as being false teachers. Shai also put out a brief video explaining why he chose to write the song and how he prepared to write it. I encourage you to check out the song and the video if you haven’t already.

I am currently preaching through 2 Peter 2 and have chosen to publicly mention the names of people our elders feel could be dangerous influences on our flock.

What I’d like us to consider is should I, should Shai Linne, or should any of us, ever publicly point out someone we believe to be a “false teacher?” To help us answer this, let’s consider a few questions about Model, Method, Motive, and Message.

Is There a Biblical Model for Name Dropping?

Yes. In the Old Testament God regularly warns Israel that the lies of false teachers defame His name and defile His people (Num. 12:6; Deut.18; Jeremiah 23:18-22; Lam. 2:14-15; etc.). Though there aren’t many false teachers listed by name in the Old Testament Scriptures, Jannes and Jambres (Exod. 7:11; 2 Tim. 3:7) and Baalam are later exposed as being deceivers (Num. 22-23, 31:16; 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11; Rev. 2:14).

In the New Testament, name dropping becomes a bit more regular. Jesus called out the Pharisees and Sadducees throughout His ministry (Matt. 5:20, 16:6, etc.) as well as other false teachers when He speaks to John about the 7 churches of Revelation (Rev. 2-3). Paul publicly named Hymenaeus twice (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:17), Alexander (1 Tim. 1:20), Philetus (2 Tim. 2:17), and the formerly faithful Demas (Col. 4:14; Philemon 24; 2 Timothy 4:10) as having abandoned the truth. The Apostle John also mentions Diotrephes (3 John 9). This brief survey shows that there certainly is a biblical model of outing false teachers by publicly stating their names.

Is Our Method Dignified?

Though there is a biblical model for name dropping, we should make sure that if we choose to call people out, that we have a dignified method in doing so. Because we are each made in God’s image, we must strive to aim attacks at what people say rather than how they say it, what they look like, or anything else we might be tempted to focus on. We want to guard against mocking people or using them as props to make a point. Our goal must always be to make the Gospel clear, not make ourselves look good at the cost of others.

I have been a poor model of this at times in my own ministry. I once imitated Joel Osteen in a sermon and another time poked fun at Mormon missionaries’ bikes and badges during a seminar on the Gospel. These were ungodly and unloving decisions of which I’ve repented. I was helped in seeing my sin by a gracious couple who told me that they had almost brought a Mormon friend to the seminar I was teaching and were thankful they hadn’t because I might have driven them further from Christ because of my mocking. It was a hard lesson to learn, but I’m eternally grateful for the couple who pointed out my sin.

When we name drop, we must strive to uphold the dignity of those we publicly expose. So if you name names, keep the focus on the teaching as much as possible and treat them as you’d want to be treated if you were being called out (Matt. 7:12). One way of doing this is being slow to speak about people’s motives. God certainly knows the motive of false teachers (Mic. 3:11; Ezek. 22:25; Titus 1:10-11; 1 Tim. 6:3-5; 2 Tim. 3:1-9; 2 Pet. 2:2-14) but we should be slow to speak about people’s motives because, in the end, only the Lord knows the heart (Jer. 17:10; 1 Cor. 4:3-5).

What Are Our Motives?

As with anything we do, we must always examine our motives (Matt. 5:28; Acts 8:22; Heb. 4:12). If we’re going to publicly accuse someone of being a false teacher, we should ask some close friends to help us examine our heart by asking questions like:

Is it necessary to expose this person?

Am I sure that they are a false teacher?

What am I hoping to gain from doing this?

Is there a chance I can speak with them personally first?

Do my fellow pastors think I should do this?

These are good questions to ask as we pray the prayer of David in Psalm 139:23-24 “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”

If after prayer and wise counsel we trust that our motive is to uphold the truth of the Gospel (Jude 3) and to make sure that people are not led astray into error (James 5:19-20), then we should feel free to name drop for the glory of God and the good of His people. If you need help discerning whether someone is indeed a false teacher, Colin Smith’s article (here) is a great read.

What is the True Message?

Calling out false teachers is certainly necessary to guard the flock from following after their teachings. It is even more necessary for us to make the true Gospel clear. Tearing down false gospels is only good if people are able to see the true Gospel for what it is.

This is clear throughout the New Testament and, I am thankful to say, is abundantly clear in the music ministry of Shai Linne. We must first and foremost be people who are about the Gospel because it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe, even those who were once formerly false teachers.

So if we are going to call out people who teach falsely, we must make sure to clearly show what it means to trust in the true Christ. Show clearly where the false teachers are wrong and display clearly how much infinitely greater the true Christ is. May we be a people who love Christ publicly with both grace and truth  that,  as Shai says “Jesus is not a means to an end, [but] the Gospel is He came to redeem us from sin.” Amen and Amen.

Photo courtesy of: Ex-Charisma.com

 

A Year of Faithfulness – Reflections from Year 1 of Pastoring

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Today marks the 1 year anniversary of my installment as pastor at Del Ray Baptist Church.

I took the day to spend time in prayer and reflection of what the Lord has done in my life and our church over the past 365 days. It was a sweet discipline and one that I intend to keep up yearly until the Lord calls me to no longer serve as a pastor.

I share this because I think this kind of discipline is good for us, whether we are in full-time ministry or not. Setting aside time to reflect on God’s grace in our lives helps us to see ways we’ve grown and areas we still need to grow in. What follows is how I spent the day.

Prayer

  1. I praised God for His saving grace in my life. 1 Timothy 1:15 “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” May we never get over His amazing grace in our lives.
  2. I praised God for my wife and children. Proverbs 18:22 “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.” Next to Christ, my wife is the greatest blessing I have known in this life. She is the model of a helper who lays down her life so that mine can be better. I love her dearly.
  3. I praised God for calling me into full-time vocational ministry. 1 Corinthians 1:26 “consider your calling…” It is an honor to not only be called to know the King, but also to serve Him. I was freshly baffled and honored by the call.
  4. I prayed through our church’s directory and interceded for each member of our church. Hebrews 13:17 says I and the other elders will “give an account” for each of these people.This is a daunting and delightful challenge. My love for this flock grows daily.
  5. I praised God for my fellow elders. Ephesians 4:11 “He gave…pastors and teachers.” The elders I serve along side of are godly men whom I love dearly. They have put up with my craziness and supply so much that I lack. They are truly a gift from the Lord to me and our church.
  6. I reflected on my journal and praised God for His work. Psalm 33:4 “all His work is done in faithfulness.” I usually only journal when things are going really well or really bad, so I come off as crazy in my journal, but the Lord surely is seen as faithful. Man I’m glad He doesn’t say “yes” to everything I ask for.

Scripture

I spent devoted time in 1 Timothy today. What follows are a few questions I was challenged to consider and share with our elders.

Is the goal of all we do love? Are we cultivating a church that loves God and others? (1 Tim. 1:5)

How are we guarding our church and ourselves from swerving into shipwreck? (1 Tim. 1:6,19; 6:21)

Jesus came to save sinners, are we on this mission? (1 Tim. 1:15, 2:4-6)

Are we praying fervently for God to raise up qualified elders and deacons? (1 Tim. 3:1-13)

Are we intentionally disciplining ourselves for the purpose of godliness? (1 Tim. 4:7-8)

Are we toiling and striving toward the life to come because God is our hope? (1 Tim. 4:8-10)

Are we immersing ourselves in God’s word so others see our progress? (1 Tim. 4:15)

Are we keeping close watch on our lives and on our teaching? (1 Tim. 4:16)

How are we caring for the widows of our church? (1 Tim. 5:3-16)

Are we being patient and ensuring that we aren’t taking part in people’s sins? (1 Tim. 5:22)

Are we being patient in seeing good works in people? (1 Tim. 5:25)

Are we deepening in godliness and contentment? (1 Tim. 6:6)

Are we avoiding the love of money? (1 Tim. 6:6-10)

Are we helping those who have money know how to use it and view it? (1 Tim. 6:17-19)

Are we always aware that we are stewards of the Lord’s Gospel? (1 Tim. 1:4, 11; 6:20)

 

Sermon

I listened to the sermon Mark Dever preached on the Sunday I was installed as pastor at Del Ray Baptist Church. You can, and should, listen to it here. It is the best sermon I know to recommend to any pastor or church who wants to think well about what a pastor is and should do. This man has served me as a dear mentor and friend. I am eternally grateful for him.

5 of my favorite quotes:

“If you define success in terms of faithfulness, then you are in a position to persevere.” – Dever

“Do not tailor your church service to for people who have no love for God, that is a certain way to kill your church. You want to attract mature Christians and hungry non-Christians.” – Dever

“Run at a pace the congregation can keep up with.” – Dever

“Shepherd the flock in a way that you will not be ashamed on the day of the Lord.” – Dever

“We will never be faithful ministers in anything but appearance if we only consider the ministry in terms of this life…One day the sky will be rolled back like a scroll. Live and minister in light of that day.” – Dever

I also read Justin Taylor’s short account of John Piper’s last Sunday at Bethlehem Baptist and prayed that God would help me to be a faithful minister all the way until the end. Then I listened to John Piper’s recommendations of how to avoid ministry burn out. There is great gold in this brief segment.

15 Other Reflections on the Past Year of Pastoral Ministry

  1. When you follow Christ, Satan will oppose you.
  2. Friendship is a good gift from God. When it is absent, your soul withers, when it is present, there is life.
  3. You can do a lot without prayer, and that’s pretty scary.
  4. God is faithful, even when we are not.
  5. God loves to use weak and broken people for His glorious purposes.
  6. There is power in God’s Word, proclaim it with hope.
  7. Keep expectations low and strive to surpass them quietly.
  8. If you had more money in your bank account, you might not feel your need for God as much.
  9. Not everyone has to like your preaching. You aren’t called to pastor the world, just your church.
  10. God doesn’t always give us what we want, but He always gives us what we need.
  11. When things aren’t going your way, take it as God’s kind killing of your flesh. It is not always good for us to get what we want.
  12. As a church, we must always be building into ourselves while at the same time looking outside of ourselves. Keeping this balance is tough.
  13. There is no greater joy than to be served by Christ and to be in the service of Christ.
  14. The devil’s greatest tool may well be distraction.
  15. All of us are replaceable. I am just a steward for a season until my stewardship has ended.

The Psalmist says of the Lord “great is His steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 117:2). Those who know the Lord know His faithfulness. We struggle and stumble, but He never changes. Praise God for the way He continually teaches us and shapes us into the image of Christ.

Please join me in praising God for what He has done in our church over the past year. He is ever-faithful.

What Do You Think About Church Discipline?

Country_Church       What do you think when you hear the phrase “church discipline?” For some of you it brings to mind a scene from The Scarlet Letter or you picture some kind of New England witch hunt where self-righteous religious types are shaming anyone who does something wrong. Some of you have been confused by a church who tried to practice it and things didn’t go so well. Others of you are walking with Jesus more freely today because God used the love of church discipline to awaken you from your sin and lead you to refreshing repentance.

       Church discipline is a theme that runs through out the New Testament. Jesus (Matthew 18:15-35; Luke 17:3-4), Paul (1 Corinthians 5:1-13; Galatians 6:1-2; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15; Titus 3:10-11), James (James 5:19-20), and the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 12:5-11) all speak about it plainly.

       Despite its prevalence in the Bible, church discipline was something I’d never really studied until just a few years ago. I say this to my shame because the more I learned about the church, the more I saw how important this subject really is. Jesus died and rose for sinners. That is the good news of the Gospel. Jesus gathers those sinners together in His church worship Him, but also to protect and proclaim the Gospel so more people might come to know Him.

       The problem is that if a church that is supposed to be displaying and proclaiming the Gospel sends a different message through hypocrisy, eventually the Gospel will be confused or even lost. A church that seeks to honor God in how it lives is important because the Gospel is important and the Gospel is important because it tells about Jesus. It’s all connected.

       If you’ve never given much thought to the subject, I would like to commend to you two books written by Jonathan Leeman that serve as good introductions to the subject: Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus and Church Discipline: How the Church Protects the Name of Jesus. The second book is all about church discipline, but the first book sets the stage in a helpful way. Both these books are super short and easy to read. If you have a hesitancy toward this subject or are even tempted to dismiss it as unnecessarily divisive, I would encourage you to give the subject further study.

       I leave you with these words from Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a godly pastor from Scotland in the 1800’s: “When I first entered upon the work of the ministry among you, I was exceeding ignorant of the vast importance of church discipline.  I thought that my great and almost only work was to pray and preach.  I saw your souls to be so precious, and the time so short, that I devoted all my time, and care, and strength, to labour in word and doctrine.  When cases of discipline were brought before me and the elders, I regarded them with something like abhorrence.  It was a duty I shrank from and I may truly say it nearly drove me from the work of the ministry among you altogether.  But it pleased God, who teaches his servants in another way than man teaches, to bless some of the cases of discipline to the manifest and undeniable conversion of the souls under our care; and from that hour a new light broke in upon my mind, and I saw that if preaching be an ordinance of Christ, so is church discipline.  I now feel very deeply persuaded that both are of God—that two keys are committed to us by Christ, the one the key of doctrine, by means of which we unlock the treasures of the Bible, the other the key of discipline, by which we open or shut the way to the sealing ordinances of the faith.  Both are Christ’s gift, and neither is to be resigned without sin.” 

Robert Murray M’Cheyne Andrew Bonar, Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1844) pp. 87-88.