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A Few Thoughts on Steven Furtick’s Pillow & Promise Sermon

I recently tweeted a critique of Steven Furtick’s promo video for his current sermon series Gates of Change. Here’s what I said:

 

Someone asked me if I’d listened to the whole sermon for context. I explained that I’ve listened to enough of his sermons to feel justified in the critique. They challenged me to reconsider, so I decided to watch the entire “Pillow and the Promise” sermon with my wife.

I rarely do this kind of evaluation, but since I publicly critiqued his 30 second promo, I think it is worth sharing my thoughts on the entire sermon.

I plan to offer both encouragement and criticism of his sermon. This is similar to the weekly feedback I receive when our staff and interns meet every Tuesday to pray, plan, and reflect on the previous Sunday’s service and sermon. Each time, I’m helped towards growth as brothers and sisters give positive and challenging feedback to my sermon. I’ll treat this reflection as we’d handle our Tuesday review.

 

General Comments—Personal Preferences

  1. Steven is a compelling communicator.

His speaking gifts are evident and it makes sense that he’d draw a sizeable crowd. His rugged style attracts people who are fed up with traditional church. This could be a useful tool if submitted to the Lord.

  1. He got in the way.

I would have a challenging time sitting under his teaching for several reasons, one of which is the lack of humility I sense from him. This is subjective, but he seems to be very aware of himself when he preaches which is distracting for people who desire to see God.

  1. His theatrical style.

His theatrics will either be endearing or off-putting, depending on your preference. I’ll let you make your own call on that, but he certainly wins the “Most Time a Pastor Spends Preaching While Laying Down” award. I didn’t clock it, but he must have preached at least ¼ of his sermon horizontally.

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  1. Throw Pillow Rant.

Finally, I’m in total agreement with him that throw pillows are a useless invention. My wife and I have at least a dozen on our bed and I have no idea why.

 

Encouragements—Areas of Agreement

  1. God’s determined purposes give purpose to every moment.

Steven’s point that God’s purposes are determined and that our mistakes can never thwart His purposes was encouraging. This is a wonderful truth. We have a sovereign God who works in the mist of all our messes.

  1. Keep your eyes open.

He taught that God has determined purposes that He is always working out in our lives. Every situation and circumstance serves as an opportunity to see Him as active in teaching us something. This overarching theme was faithful and should serve us to remain attentive at all times to God’s work.

 

Considerations—Areas of Concern or Disagreement

  1. Not an expositional sermon.

He preached from the Bible, even giving some faithful historical context at times. But the point of the passage was not the point of his sermon. Not every sermon must be expositional, but a preacher’s job is to say what God has said in a way that is clear, compelling, applicable, and honoring to His intent.

Steven captured elements of the text well, but missed the main point. His main point seemed to be something like: If we claim the promise that God has a determined purpose in every situation, it opens gateways for us to see God working in our lives. This is not only very me-centric, but just not what the text is about. If you care to, you can hear how I preached the same text a couple years ago.

  1. This was a gospel-less sermon.

This sermon was not even slightly affected by the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus was mentioned, but if a non-Christian were to listen to this message, they would have no idea that they are as sinner, who Jesus is, what He did for sinners, or how they could be forgiven and reconciled to God. They would simply think they need to get in tune with God, whoever that God may be. I think a Muslim or Jewish person could have said “amen” to most of the sermon.

For the Christian, there was no instruction of how to depend upon the grace of God in their failures and struggles with sin. Instead, the believer was charged to be alert and declare situations as being places God is working for their benefit. This too is true, but what happens when we do this poorly? What strength do we do this in? This Gospel-lessness seems to characterize most of the sermons I’ve heard from him. 

  1. Where do I get God’s promises?

There was much talk about resting in God’s promises, but no talk about where to get them. We were not directed to the Scriptures as God’s all-sufficient source of promises. Yes, he grabbed his bible and used it as a pillow, and yes he quoted a few verses, but he was unclear on where we get promises from God.

 

This is important because Steven presented a mystical approach to hearing from God. If I didn’t know better, I would have assumed that God speaks promises to us in all sorts of different ways. Steven never cautioned his hearers about the danger of Satan’s deception and counterfeiting tactics. I know you can’t say everything in every sermon, but his handling of this seemed careless at best.

  1. Echoes of Word of Faith foolishness.

I’ll say this sermon had less word of faith theology than some of his other sermons, but you can still hear it come through. At 22:55 he starts the nonsense we saw in the promo video about us having the ability to declare things to be what we want them to be. You can hear more of it at 25:09 and 28:50 among other places.

Now, to be fair, I completely agree that God is always acting and that we need to wake up to it. But his language is very word of faith-like and explains life in a me-centric way. God seems to be on the outside of the situation either crossing His fingers hoping we’ll realize things or being at our beckon call to act when we declare something.

The problem is that Steven is not teaching the church to submit themselves to God’s purposes in their trials, but rather to speak purpose into their situations. There is a great difference. In one theology God is big and glorious and we are to trust Him. In the other we are the determiners of destiny and speak things into existence. In some ways he’s speaking out of both sides of his mouth, but his teaching is confusing at best and downright errant at worst.

 

Conclusion

After watching the whole sermon, I stand by my statement. This sermon was something, but it was not Christian. It was an amalgamation of Christian ideas mixed in with word of faith prosperity Gospel.

I am not in any way saying he is not a Christian. But in my opinion, Steven Furtick is on a dangerous trajectory. He desires to be edgy which is always dangerous because eventually most edgy pastors fall off the cliff.

My hope for Steven is that he will spend time considering the gifts that God has given him and use them to make much of God. He is young, famous, and flourishing, which are all great dangers for pastors.

Pray for him to be humbled and see himself primarily as a servant of the text. Pray also for him to develop good friendships with faithful mentors if he does not already have them. If he does, pray they would have courage to speak truth to him about his dangerous trajectory. Pray also that he would be humble enough to receive them.

And may we all be ever cautious of our own propensities toward error. Lord help us.

 

 

Sobering Reflections on the Hawaiian Missile Scare

 

Several former members of our church now live in Hawaii. What follows are their reflections from the recent false alert concerning an incoming ballistic missile.

At 08:07AM a text alert flashed on Dee’s phone— that read “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

The two weeks leading up to that moment had been a whirlwind for her. A grueling work schedule coupled by unending church activities left Dee with little margin for much of anything, especially time with God. But when the alert broke through, time stood still.

We now know the alert was a mistake and it will certainly be laughed off in the days ahead. But when the screens of Hawaiian residents lit up that morning, it was no laughing matter. It was widely known from previous reports that if a warning was issued, there would be only 12-14 minutes until impact. Thousands of people thought they were doing to die.

Her mind raced wondering, “Is this really how it’s going to end for me?” She pulled a U-turn on the freeway and called her husband, Antonio, and calmly explained they were under attack. She was in survival mode and told him to shut all windows, blinds, curtains, and start filling the bathtub and sinks with water. She’d be home as quickly as she could.

Antonio hurriedly complied and then dropped to his knees in prayer. He recalls, “I had a sense of Gods sovereignty and peace that God knew our needs before we did. Somehow I had a peaceful assurance that He would use this to bring much glory to Himself. In that moment, I fully believed His promise to make all things, even this, to work together for our good.”

A Moment of Regret

As Dee sped home, she too had peace, but it was mixed with vexation. She recounted the previous weeks of distance from God and how even that morning, she had rushed around for the baby shower, giving little time for God—and now she was going to meet Him!

What would she say?  She knew she was secure in His grace, but at the same time felt ashamed for allowing fleeting things to crowd out her time with Him. She prayerfully asked Him to forgive her shortsightedness.

The Waiting

As soon as Dee returned home, they cleared out an inner closet under the stairs, storing away food, water, and cloths to cover their faces or stuff in the crevice of the closet door to limit nuclear fallout.  They kept their phones plugged in until the last minute.

Grains of sand falling through the hourglass play tricks on you in those moments. On the one hand they seem to move ever slowly. Everything grinds along with intensity that can be felt in the air. Yet at the same time, the moments rush by in a blur. Terror like this is disorienting and reorienting all at the same time.

Antonio said, “Neither of us cried until it was over.” Thirty-eight minutes had passed until the warning was lifted. They held each other and wept. There would be no nuclear fallout this day, but there was an emotional and spiritual one.

Later, they reflected on the events, “We were ready to meet our Maker, or survive and tell others about Him.  This event has strengthened our faith and our enjoyment of each other.  We were quickly reminded how precious life is and how things can change so drastically in a moment.” 

Heavenly Sobriety

Not far away, another couple endured the same nightmare. Patty’s anxiety was stirring as she tried to figure out what to do. Her husband Pete assured her that their missile defense would take out the threat, and if not, there was no need to take cover, because it was most likely nuclear.

Patty tried to smile and said, “I hope you’re right, but if not, I will see you in Heaven.”

Saying those words out loud were sweetly sobering for her. The threat was daunting, but it was eclipsed by hope rooted in God’s certain promises. In a way similar to her fellow believers a few miles away, she had a “sweet inner calm as she thought of the true rest of heaven.”

Yet her peace quickly became mixed with grief as her mind raced to her beloved son who did not believe in Jesus. Her heart turned as she recalled his resistance to and dismissal of the God he was about to stand before.

“Would the Lord save him in the next 12 minutes?” she thought to her self. The thought of losing him for eternity saddened her and provoked fear. As the threat passed, she was not left unmoved. A fresh burden for urgent prayer and bold witnessing was birthed in her.

As she gathered the next day with the saints at Kailua Baptist, her pastor reminded the flock that they were all still alive by God’s grace. The moment they were resting in was nothing but divine mercy. He pointed them to a passage that Patty said, “will forever be the explanation of why I had no fear for own soul that day.”

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows My name.” Psalm 91:14

God holds His people fast as they cling to His Son Jesus through faith. He is our only refuge in the day of trouble.

I’ll leave you with two simple reminders.

  1. Sobriety about eternity is a friend of your soul.

A day is coming when Jesus will return. Some assume this is as much of a false alarm as the one Hawaii recently experienced. But those who love the Lord know it is not.

Would you consider replacing your evening television time with a reading of Revelation or Jesus’ words in Matthew 24-25? Read and plead with God to give you sobriety about eternity. This is not a drill.

 

  1. Sobriety about eternity is motivation for the souls of unbelievers.

The unbelieving world will soon face the judgment of an all-knowing God.[1] He has sent you to warn them.[2] His mercy toward you is intended to provoke you to tell of His grace to others.

There is no time to waste. Our moments are fleeting and their number is uncertain. Pray for God to open doors to speak of Jesus, and ask Him to give you courage to speak. Today could be the Day the Lord returns. This is not a drill.

 

 

 

[1] Matthew 12:36; Revelation 20:11-15

[2] Ezekiel 33:1-11; 2 Corinthians 5:11-21

 

When Spurgeon was Invited to Preach at Barnum & Bailey Circus

 

On one occasion P.T. Barnum, head of the great Barnum & Bailey Circus, invited Charles Spurgeon to speak in the large tent at his traveling circus. Spurgeon’s preaching would often draw crowds exceeding 10,000 people and Barnum saw great opportunity to increase his show attendance if Spurgeon would join him.

Barnum’s pitch to Spurgeon was an attractive one. He offered to supply the musical talent, unless Spurgeon wished to provide his own. Any equipment, side show, or manpower would be at his disposal. And Spurgeon had freedom to speak as long or briefly as he desired.

The only catch was that the Barnum Circus Association would keep all profits from the gate tickets and in return compensate Spurgeon with a thousand dollar per sermon honorarium.

This was a generous offer in Spurgeon’s day and likely would have persuaded many preachers to chase the opportunity.

But not Spurgeon.

He saw through Barnum’s offer and sent him this reply…

Dear Mr. Barnum:

Thank you for your kind invitation to lecture in your circus tents in America. You will find my answer in Acts 13:10.

Very sincerely yours,

Charles H. Spurgeon

I am unsure if Mr. Barnum ever looked up Acts 13:10, but if he had, this is what he would have found: “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?”

Spurgeon would never compromise the purity of the Gospel for some coin. May we be ever careful to be of the same mind.

Source: The Gold Mine, Lee Roberson

8 Ways to Shape Your Family Spiritually

 

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Deuteronomy 6:4-7

 

A parent’s most basic task is to help their children learn how to live in God’s world. This isn’t a once in a while task, but an opportunity that is available nearly every moment.

One of our elders recently shared how he an his wife help their seven children develop spiritually. What follows are my reflections on the principles he shared with us.

 

  1. Family Devotions

Few habits are more important in a home than daily Bible reading. There is no magic formula to the reading, just open the Bible and read it together. Read through chapter by chapter and discuss what you learn about God, about people, and how you should respond. Then ask God to help you. How much you read is less important than the consistency of your reading. A family that feasts on daily manna together is a family that will grow in their love for the Giver of the manna.

  1. Individual Devotions

Children that can read should be encouraged to read the Bible. They should not be forced to do it, but they should be encouraged to do it. One of the most important parts of parenting is teaching your children to listen to the voice of their heavenly Father. Encourage your children to read, write down questions, and talk about what they are reading with you. And make sure you are in the Word as well. Seeing their parents make the Word a priority will only reinforce their need to do the same.

  1. Corporate Prayer

Pray together. When you are short on money, gather together and ask God to provide what you need. When you face bullies at school or problems at work, gather together and pray. When God provides for your family, gather together and celebrate. When there are sorrows or suffering or sickness, gather together and cry out to God. Fill the atmosphere of you home with prayer. There’s not one thing we face in which God is not needed, so gather together often to pray.

  1. Individual Prayer

Encourage your child to pray. At first, they will not know how, but neither did the disciples. Show them how Jesus taught His disciples to pray (Matthew 6:9-13). Show them how the psalmists prayed. Praying as a family is important, but teaching them to pray as an individual is also important. Show them that the Father in heaven hears when they come to Him in secret (Matthew 6:6). I do not think you ought command them to pray, but I cannot think of a better constant encouragement.

  1. Talking About What God Thinks About Everything

We live in God’s world. He made everything in it. That means that every blade of grass, every sip of water, every note of music, and every movie made by an image bearer points to Him. Learn to help your children see with enlightened eyes. This is one of my favorite parts of parenting. We try to not allow an experience we have together go unexamined. What would God think about the movie we just watched? What message is in the song we just listened to? Why did God create an underwater world so few ever see? Why would God give us pets that die? Why does God make us sleep so much of our lives? Questions about God’s creation and our experiences in it are an inexhaustible mine of mind-shaping opportunity. Help your family to examine all things through the lens of God’s Word.

  1. Talking about our sin and the sins of others

Everyone in your house is a sinner—and everyone knows it. Teach your children what to do about it. They ought see their father and mother humbly confessing sins to each other, and to them. Few family trips are more important than the ones to the throne of grace. Has someone used harsh words? Has someone lied? Confess it to God together. Ask one another for forgiveness. Parents need to wisely consider what to confess to their children, but it should happen. A family that learns to confess sins together will know the power of the Gospel in a way that is unattainable any other way.

  1. Consistent Church Life

The life of the family should be oriented around the life of God’s people. Few things teach a child apathy toward God like skipping church for sports or unnecessary weekend getaways. A child should see, from their earliest age that gathering with other Christians to sing, pray, and hear God’s Word is the greatest of privileges one can have. Certainly there are other things families can and ought do together, but faithful service of God’s mission as part of a healthy local church is one of the most essential.

  1. Individual Time with Each Child

Each child is unique. This means each child requires unique care and attention. In families with numerous children, individual time with each child is important. Some will need stern direction where others will require gentler shepherding. Some will respond well to structure while others may be stifled by it. Each child will have unique questions and abiding sin struggles. God the Father relates to each of His children uniquely, we must do the same for our children.

There is no perfect strategy to produce perfect children. But these are a few principles that if followed in faith, can be used by God to help create a spiritual-mindedness in our children that we hope will bear fruit for His glory.

 

 

These eight principles came from a talk one of our elders, Mercury Payton recently shared with our church. 

How Christians Can Pray for Muslims During Ramadan

Many of us have Muslim friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers we hope to see trust in Jesus. We know they consider Jesus a prophet, but we long to see them believe in Him as their Lord and Savior. As Ramadan approaches, we are provided with a fresh opportunity to pray for them and hopefully engage with them in spiritual conversation.

What is Ramadan?

On the evening of Friday, May 26, 2017, billions of Muslims around the world will begin observing Ramadan. Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar and is considered the holiest month of the year for Muslims.

The observance of Ramadan is one of the 5 Pillars of the Islamic faith, which requires all Muslims who are physically able to fast each day of the month, from sunrise to sunset.

This time of fasting from food, drink, and other physical needs is intended to purify the soul, practice self-restraint, and refocus one’s devotion to their god, Allah. This is also a time when many Muslims increase their alms giving to the poor, which is another of the 5 Pillars of their faith.

The evenings are spent enjoying time with family and community meals, engaging in prayer and spiritual reflection, and reading from the Quran. The observance of Ramadan concludes, according to the western calendar, on the evening of Sunday, June 25th.

How Can We Pray During Ramadan?

Father, we pray that as they set their hearts to worship their god Allah, that You might make them to “know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). Help them see that Jesus is Your eternal Son through whom they can have eternal life.

Father, we pray that as their bodies hunger and their tongues thirst, that You would show them Jesus who promised “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst” (John 6:35). Help them see the insufficiency of their works and lead them to hunger and thirst for the righteousness that only Jesus can give.

Father, we pray that as they practice self-restraint that You would show them Jesus who, before He was crucified for sinners, denied Himself and “prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will’” (Matthew 26:39). Help them believe that He truly died on the cross and drank fully from the cup of Your wrath.

Father, we pray that as they give alms to the poor that You would show them Jesus who “though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Help them see and treasure the eternal glory of Your Son Jesus.

Father, we pray that as they gather together to feast in the evening, that You would show them Jesus who invites sinners of all sorts to abandon their false gods and by faith join “those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 16:9). Show them the resurrected and ascended King of Glory who desires them to draw near to Him in faith.

Father, we pray that you would give Your church love for Muslims across the world. Make us like Jesus who “felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). Guard us from self-righteousness that would lead us to having hard hearts toward those who do not know You.

Father, we pray that you would give Your church opportunity and courage to proclaim the Gospel to Muslims throughout the world. Lift our eyes to Jesus who promised to empower us when He said “I am with you always even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Let us not fear any consequence of faithfully taking the Gospel to those who desperately need Your grace.

 

May this season of Ramadan be marked by the faithful intercession of God’s people who long to see many Muslims come to the saving knowledge of Jesus, the Son of God.

If you’d like ideas for daily prayer during Ramadan, you may want to consider this resource.

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.

The Great Tragedy of the 2016 Election

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A great tragedy occurred on Tuesday, November 8, 2016.

The tragedy was not found in the celebrations or concessions of elected officials. It was not colored red or blue, and it wasn’t rooted in the dark cloud that hung over this scandalous political season.

The tragedy I’m speaking of is far more grievous.

You see, in this land of the free and home of the brave, there were many people whose ballots were not cast. Their convictions were silenced. Their opinions were not expressed. Their voices were not heard.

Why not?

Because they were dead.

The great tragedy of the 2016 election is that roughly 31,103,051 million would-be voters are not with us because they were murdered through abortion. That means from 1973-1998 roughly 31 million babies had their right to live taken from them by their own parents. Of those, over one third were African Americans, the very people abortion was designed to extinguish.

This is an unspeakable tragedy.

They didn’t get to cast a vote for the first woman president or the political outsider or write in another candidate. They didn’t get to make a stand against racial injustice or make a stand for integrity. They were robbed of watching results come in with their friends. They weren’t allowed to rest their heads on a pillow in the land of the free.

That is a great tragedy. But the tragedy isn’t over.

Why?

Because over 3,000 babies will be aborted today; and each day leading up to Tuesday November 8th, 2020. In the 3 minutes it takes you to read this post, approximately 7 babies will have been aborted in the United States of America. Their voices will be silenced. Their freedom not experienced. Their opportunity to be brave not known.

 

Close to Home

This is a tragedy that hits close to home for me. When I was 19, I chose to end the life of my first child through an abortion. My friend and I were in a scary place, we didn’t plan to get married, and we felt we had nowhere else to go. So we chose to end the life of our child.

My child would be 20 today. He or she would be off at college or working hard at their craft. They’d be praying for God’s grace on our land and working to make the world a better place.

But, they won’t be doing any of that. I won’t be sitting down with them and explaining how to think about policies and the candidates that represent them. I won’t be able to tell them about freedom and justice for all. I took that freedom away with my injustice.

I cannot undo what I’ve done in the past. None of us can. Only Jesus, who shed His blood for sinners like me can heal those wounds. Jesus gives us great hope in the midst of this tragedy, and all the other tragedies we face in this life.

 

Refuge in Jesus

If you have committed an abortion, I want you to know that there is a refuge in Jesus. He will heal your wounds. There is no sin so great that He cannot forgive and no sin so small that does not need to be forgiven. If you will confess your sins and turn to Him in faith, He will wash away all your guilt and all your shame. Listen to and believe this promise from Him, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 10:28).

If you support abortion, I want you to know that I do not demonize you. I too have felt the fear of an unplanned pregnancy. I too have known the tidal wave of confusion that swirls around. My encouragement to you would be to pray and ask God to show you if abortion is something that pleases Him or not. I know this may seem odd, but the reality is that God cares about everything we think, do, and say in this life.

I realize you have your reasons for supporting abortion; I did too. But I encourage you to take the time to read what God says about life and who has the right to give and take it away. If you’d be open to reading what the Bible says about abortion, you can read this.

 

Difficult Choice

If you are a Christian, be patient with those who view things differently than you. But don’t just be patient; speak truth in love to those who are in need. Find ways to help those who are struggling through unplanned pregnancies. Investigate options for adoption and invest in the lives of those who are facing difficult choices.

Today I looked at a picture of a 6-year-old boy at a football game.  He’s a 6-year-old boy who nearly wasn’t with us today because of the difficult place his mother found herself in. She was unmarried, pregnant, and scared. But my wife met with her and prayed with her and took her to a Christian doctor who showed her the heartbeat of the baby in her womb. That young mother had the courage to keep her child.

That young boy’s smile reminds me that God can save children, one at a time. But God does this by using His people to come alongside those who are struggling and lovingly showing them the Christ who can walk them through any terrifying situation, even an unplanned pregnancy.

 

 

I believe that the only hope to turn the trend of this tragedy around is for people to turn their hearts toward the God who made them through the way paved by His Son Jesus. Jesus changes hearts, and changed hearts change a nation. May God give grace to us as a country, and may God give us courage to stand up in the midst of this tragedy so that, if the Lord tarries, we might see this kind of tragedy come to an end.

 

Lord Jesus, we need your help.

 

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When I was young, we took a family vacation to Maine. My father spent his summers there as a kid and wanted us to experience the beauty of its wooded wonderland. During our stay we did some fishing, went sailing, and ate as much lobster as you can before turning into one.

Near the end of the week, dad told us he had something to show us. So we piled into the car and drove along a dark, windy, pine tree-walled road that led out to an open field. The field was home to a tall, black-ironed fence that enclosed a well-kept acre of tombstones that dated back to the 1800s.

We were confused (and a little concerned) about why dad was taking us to a graveyard near the end of vacation—but we followed as he led us down a well-worn path that steered into the heart of the cemetery.

Gravestone - My Dear Young FriendWe watched as he and my aunt scanned tombstone after tombstone until they found the one they were looking for. As we made our way over to the sunken grave he asked us to gather around as he read from a gravestone that had nothing on it but this inscription:

“My dear young friend as you pass by,

remember you were born to die;

As you are now, so once was I,

As I am now, so you shall be,

prepare to die and follow me.”

On that day, a no-named dead guy delivered a message that has never escaped my memory: you will die.

Of course that wasn’t the first time I’d heard this fact of life, but ever since that afternoon in the graveyard I have remembered the message and a few lessons from it.

Lessons from the Tombstone

1.  Death is coming.

“…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Hebrews 9:27

Death is the one appointment that all of us will keep. When it comes, it comes without discrimination. Death comes for the rich and the poor, the weak and the strong, the light-skinned and the dark-skinned. Death takes Democrats and Republicans, men and women, young and old, married and single—death comes for us all.

Our date with death was secured for us long ago in a garden quite unlike that graveyard. It was a perfect Garden, one whose name meant “delight of the Lord.” But it was there in Eden that our first parents turned away from the Giver of Life.

God responded to Adam and Eve’s sin by placing a curse on them, and on all people who have come after them. The LORD told Adam that life would be interrupted and that he would “return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Since that day, life has a black cloud hanging over it reminding us that we were born to die.

2.  Death should stir reflection.

“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” Ecclesiastes 7:2

Despite the fact that we know death is coming, we seem to do all we can to avoid considering it’s impending arrival. We prefer to turn up the volume of distraction and numb ourselves with entertainment. Wisdom however, teaches us to approach our deaths differently.

In what could be seen as morbid counsel, King Solomon prescribes his listeners to fill their time attending funerals instead of fiestas. Why? Because when you sit in a room with a casket and a lifeless body, your soul has an opportunity to be sobered.

In the quietness of that mortuary, you hear sniffles of sorrow similar to the ones that one day will be cried over you. You see flowers that lay on a box similar to one you in which you will be laid to rest. Your mind is given opportunity in those moments to consider that as they are now, so you shall be.

One of the oft-forgotten ministries of Moses was that of a funeral conductor. As he wandered in the wilderness for forty years, he buried an entire generation of people and wrote Psalm 90 as a reflection upon it. After remarking about the brevity of human life, Moses asked God to, “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

Wisdom is birthed out of an awareness that the sands of time are sinking from the hourglass of our lives. Every moment that we have sinks into a unretrievable arena that will one day be evaluated before God Almighty (Hebrews 9:27, Revelation 20:11-15). Our mortality ought move us to be wise with the days we have, which must include preparing for what comes after we die.

3.  Death is not the end.

“An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” John 5:28-29

During a later trip to the graveyard, my uncle found a note attached to the base of our memorable tombstone. The note read like this, “To follow you, I will not yet; Until I know which way you went.”

The witty chap who left this note was on to something. Our fallen friend had invited us to prepare to follow him, but before we follow him in death, it is important to know which way he went. You see, death is not the end—for any of us.

Death does not end our existence, it merely serves as a gateway into our next existence. Death is the doorway that leads to our final, eternal dwelling. While we cannot know which way our fallen anonymous friend went when he died, we can know which way we will go.

How? 

Because there is Another who was born to die, and born to live and give life to others. While He lived on the earth Jesus gave this promise, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me though he die yet shall he live” (John 11:25).

Jesus was the Son of God who came to earth to die on a cross for sinners and then raise from the dead. Jesus calls us, while we have time, to repent of our sins and follow Him in belief. For those who do this, they are promised a future day of resurrection.

One day soon, “the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command…and the dead in Christ will rise first…then we who are alive…will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18

 

And that is the hope of those who trust in Christ. We know that one day we will escape the grave’s grasp and be taken up to be with our Lord forevermore. This too can be your hope if do not know Jesus.

His message is similar to the one on that gravestone.

As you are now, so once was I,

As I am now, so you shall be,

prepare to die and follow me.”

Jesus came as we were so that we might be as He is. He is coming soon, so let us prepare for our day of death by trusting in the One who died and rose and promises to raise us from the grave to be with Him and like Him forever more (1 John 3:2).

Come soon, O risen Lord Jesus!

How Grace Triumphed Over Empty “gospels” – Toni Meadors’ Baptism Testimony

toni meadorsOn Sunday, I had the honor of baptizing Toni Meadors. What follows is her account of how Jesus delivered her from trusting in empty Gospels by showing her the Gospel of His saving grace.

I grew up going to church and hearing about Jesus, but I had a shallow understanding of salvation. I spent most of my teen years believing I was a good girl because I didn’t follow the path many around me took. However, when I turned 17 years old, I followed the “gospel of the world” and got involved in all kinds of reckless behavior of which I am now ashamed to speak.  Eventually, because I was afraid of the consequences of my behavior, I told my mom what I had been doing and she took me to church.

That Sunday I walked an aisle, said a prayer, and sobbed rivers of tears.  At that point, I thought I had become a Christian. But that was not the case. The church I was attending increasingly began to teach the “prosperity gospel,” so for a long time I saw God as a means of personal fulfillment and gain.

Once I understood the fallacy of that gospel, I began attending a First Baptist Church.  The teaching was better, but looking back I see now that I learned and believed a “moral gospel” that taught me how to be a good person without any inward transformation.  During this time, I met and married my husband Tim, whom I love very much.  The army moved us around and we ended up in Virginia.  We attended church together, yet, I created lots of distress in our marriage because I had no power to recognize or fight sin in my life.

Despite my inability to truly love my husband, I was able to deceive myself (and everyone else) into believing that I was a born again Christian. I attended church, listened to Christian radio, was actively involved in a ladies’ Bible study group, had a quiet time every day, was passionate about conservative politics, gave money to various ministries, and even shared my faith. But looking back, I believed the lie of the “works-based gospel” and didn’t understand that I could never do enough to make myself right and acceptable before the Lord.

By God’s grace, 13 years after my initial profession of faith, I started listening to John Macarthur’s sermons online.  Initially, I did not like what he said as he continually preached about the great sinfulness of man and of a Christ who came to save men from their sins.  Through his preaching, God opened my eyes and I saw the multitude of sins for which I was guilty.

I saw the empty, sinful soul that was hiding behind the mask of morality and the mask of religion.  By His grace the Lord opened my eyes to see the truth, and for the first time, I embraced the Gospel of God’s grace. I believed the good news that God’s Son Jesus Christ saves and redeems men from their many and great sins, and from the punishment they deserve.

Shortly after God gave me this new life, we moved to Kentucky.  I attended a Gospel preaching church and began to read lots of theology.  Unfortunately, although I was born again, I began to become puffed up and was not loving my family as I should. My pride hindered me from humbly living out the Gospel that had saved me.

But once again, God showed me mercy, and brought me to Del Ray where I have learned that right theology and love can and must coexist.  I am by no means a perfect wife, mother, daughter, or friend but with God’s help I am learning day by day how to love and to live for His glory.

So, I am here today to be baptized in obedience to the command of my Lord and Savior.  I am here to identify with the One who bore my sins, took my place, died in my stead, and was buried and rose again for my justification.  I am here to publicly proclaim my intention to walk with Jesus in the newness of life for the rest of my life.

 

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

 

Praise God whose Gospel of grace triumphs all other false “gospels!”

 

Consider Where Sin Is Leading You

Shadow RoadIn the past few weeks I have witnessed several dear friends flirting with sin in a way that has been terrifying. These friends love Jesus very much, but circumstances in their lives have exposed areas of easy entrance for the tempter.

As I’ve pondered their struggles, and my own wandering heart, I have been reminded of an exhortation I received many years ago.

When I was in seminary, the chancellor was Dr. Chuck Swindoll. “Chuck” was beloved by the seminary students and the chapel was packed for the morning service.

As he stepped to the pulpit, he carried a weight on his brow, a bible in his hand, and a written statement. He proceeded to share with us the news that another pastor from our seminary had fallen into grave sexual sin, disqualified himself from the ministry, and destroyed his family.

After sharing the news with us, Dr. Swindoll shared a message that I don’t remember verbatim, but the heart of which I hope to never forget.

He challenged us to consider the end of our sin, to consider where sin would lead us. Over the years I have followed his advice and I’d like to take a moment to help you do the same.

Consider the End of Your Sin

I want you walk with me through a scene in your future. You need to see what lies ahead on the path where sin is leading you. This is aimed at fellow pastors, but the idea is applicable to all of us.

Envision yourself calling together your elders and sitting in their midst, telling them about how you have betrayed their trust. See their sunken faces and feel their broken hearts.

Listen to them consider how they will tell the church. Imagine the confusion of the congregation and how it will affect those who have heard you speak so often of Jesus being better than anything else.

Imagine how the name of Christ will be mocked among your community and beyond.

Then I want you to picture walking out to your car and getting in it.

Drive down the road near your house, and around your neighborhood a few times. Picture that place where you walked the dog with your children in the evenings.

Now, pull into your driveway and walk up to the door of your home.

Hear the scampering feet of your children running up to you and putting their arms around your legs saying “daddy’s home!” See the way they love you and trust you.

Drink that in deeply.

Now, tell them to go on outside and play because you have to talk to their mommy about something. As you walk toward the kitchen where she is faithfully going about her day, look at those smiling pictures on the wall. Remember the happy days you shared together.

Lead her by the hand to your bedroom where you used to make love.

Ask her to have a seat.

Feel your heart scamper and the lump form in your throat.

See her eyes ask what is wrong. Then watch her weep as you tell her you have been unfaithful.

Hear her wail.

See her sob.

Feel her hit your chest and fall to her knees in despair.

Imagine the phone call to her parents, and to yours. Hear the silence on the other end of the phone as they take in what you’ve told them.

Get in your mind the day you gather your children and sit them down to explain why mommy and daddy are going to be spending some time apart and why you are going to be selling the house they love so much.

See yourself taking down those smiling pictures from the wall and taping up the moving boxes, unsure if you’ll ever open them again.

Do you see it?

Sin doesn’t tell you about those days, does it?

Sin Hides the Cost

Satan does not tell you what sin will cost you, because the price tag is too high.

He is a liar (John 8:44) and deception is his forte (2 Corinthians 11:3). He wants you to think that sin will not cost you as much as it will. He wants you to think that you can keep things hidden or that you can get out at any time. He wants you to think that your small compromises today will not lead to a great fall in the days ahead.

But that is a lie. He only speaks lies.

Sin is stronger than you or I will ever be.

Some of you are standing at a cross road in your life right now. You have been sipping on sin’s potion and are becoming intoxicated by its lies. Satan wants you to keep sipping so that you will become drunk with delusion and not consider God’s warning of the of destruction that lies ahead.

Hear and heed these words with me, please.

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8

If you are entangled in sin, call a trusted friend right now and tell them you need help. Do not wait another minute. Sin wants you to think that you can stop by yourself—do not believe it. Darkness is the ground in which sin grows strong.

If you think this could never happen to you, be careful, we are warned “let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Satan will be content with you hearing this warning, as long as you don’t part with your sin. But John Owen’s counsel is always true, “be killing sin or it will be killing you.” Satan’s aim is to destroy your life now and to harden your heart so that you will inherit eternal destruction.

Consider the Savior

Friends, Jesus is an all-sufficient Savior who shed His blood to save you from sin, on Judgment Day, and every day before for it. “Let 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” Hebrews 4:16.

Whether you are a pastor or not, married or not, have children or not, we need grace to resist the power of sin’s deception. Thankfully, Jesus promises to supply it.

Plead with God to help you see the end of your sin, and then flee to the Savior. There is much that can be said about this, but for now, let the sobriety of sin’s end lift your eyes to where our help comes from (Psalm 121:1).

May our words not echo those of the man in Proverbs 5 who ignored the warning of wisdom.

Proverbs 5:8-14 “Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your honor to others and your years to the merciless, lest strangers take their fill of your strength, and your labors go to the house of a foreigner, and at the end of your life you groan, when your flesh and body are consumed, and you say, “How I hated discipline, and my heart despised reproof! I did not listen to the voice of my teachers or incline my ear to my instructors. I am at the brink of utter ruin in the assembled congregation”

Lord, we need help. Make us sober-minded and help us to see the end of our sin.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

 

You can hear more of how to resist sin’s destruction from a message I preached “Combatting the Seduction of Sexual Sin” from Proverbs 5.