Friday, August 21, 2015

The Calling of God

Does the bible speak of specific callings to forms of service (the call to preach, the call to pastor, the call to be an evangelist), or does it speak to specific gifts that might be used by the Holy Spirit to fulfill specific ministries? In the New Testament, we see language of the church "setting aside"  (ordaining) pastors and deacons (1 Timothy 3:1-14, Acts 6:1-4), and missionaries (Acts 13:1-5), and Paul speaks of his "calling" to be an apostle, but beyond that? We see Paul appointing people to complete work begun by appointing elders in Titus 1:5. We see God giving gifts to the church of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11-12), but that doesn't necessarily constitute a "calling" on their part, or maybe it does? Sometimes we speak of calling when we talk about one's vocation. Is that a calling from God, or do we just mean that every person in every position is a minister/has a ministry in their vocation?

In the NT we see that people can "desire" to become a bishop, and that is a good thing. I watched the other night as a missionary talked about the first time she wanted to be a missionary. It was a desire, and I am sure she feels a sense of calling, but does the NT speak of it? She spoke so passionately that she wanted it so bad at eight years old, and kept trying to go over and over, until finally at 28 years old, she was appointed. We now see people announcing their "calling" into the youth ministry, or being called to be a worship leader, pretty soon we will see people being "called" to be Awana workers. There are hundreds of non-profit ministries that some feel a calling to be a part of. Is our terminology, practice, and theology consistent with scripture? This is a question that we should always be asking. The reason it's important is the mindset it creates in our churches. Some might argue that this is only a terminology issue--semantics, but I think it is much more. 

We live in a changing church culture, where we are discerning and sometimes separating denominational and church tradition from biblical paradigms. Sometimes this is done better than others; again, I think it is important, especially as it relates to a missional context--church planting and international work. 

These are my just musings, and they need much more reflection by me and others. I look back on my own life and think about my calling. There are some questions related to it for me, but there are fewer questions in my mind about the good work, and the gifts to do that good work, which God has put in me.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Non-Profit Funding

Working for two non-profits, the Mell Baptist Association and the Pregnancy Care Center of Tiftarea, I understand the importance of relying on funds of donors. They are both ministries, so we walk by faith, not by sight. However in the world we live in, it is hard for boards or teams to look at a previous year's income and not become overly cautious (this is coming from the one that is happy to spend and spend, just ask those I work with).

This diagram fits the situation of the PCC more so than the Mell. It shows all the places that we anticipate that funding might come from each year. It's a diagram I copied off the web, so it is not completely the way we operate, but close. One of the components is "special events." Many non-profits have them, and we are no different. We are doing the preparations right now for our third of three that we usually do each year. We raise a good deal of our budget through special events. We are grateful to every giver who comes and gives. However, if we rely on events to carry us through the year, it is hard to plan long-term. Good ministries should plan long-term. It is so we will not have to live simply year to year.

One of the BIG components missing from the diagram is our monthly supporters. Churches and individuals who are monthly or quarterly sponsors for us keep us going in between events. Long-term planning needs long-term funding. The best way to have long-term funding is to find people with a passion for your organization or you cause, and give them an outlet for their passion. Sometimes it will be financial, but sometimes it will take on other forms. The former model is event based, but sooner or later people get tired of it, or just come back each year without bringing new people. So at the PCC, we are trying to move toward our operating budget being generated by monthly giving, and our larger needs being done with event money. That's the goal, but after several years, we are not doing so well with our paradigm shift.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The End of Denominational Loyalty

I was recently involved with a group of pastors talking about the lack of denominational faithfulness. It was noted that congregants move from church to church (not surprising within denominational churches), but disturbingly they move between denominations. These individuals really don't know why it matters, and don't really care about the differences other than the worship style.  It didn't used to be that way. So why is it that way now?

Denominations exist primarily because of theology and methodology. We didn't talk much about the latter, but the former is a major issue (much methodology is determined by theology). We have generations of people who do not know doctrine. They are ignorant of the things that distinguish them from other denominations, some of which are very significant. The church's failure coupled with the societal ecumenical mindset leads to little doctrinal commitment, therefore believers that are carried about with every wind of doctrine.

We discussed some groups that are doing a good job with doctrine. On our very short list were two cults. Of course, cursing the darkness only has limited value. So in the interest of fixing the problem, I asked them if they had ever taught a series of just doctrine. Other than in seminary, had they ever taught or had taught to them the doctrine of God and all its intricacies, or the doctrine of salvation and the various progression of it, or the doctrine of the church, which is probably the most important as it relates to denominational faithfulness? These long time pastors said "no." I know that we all touch on doctrine and preach doctrine in our sermons and teachings, but snippets don't cover all the bases. Snippets don't give depth, or breadth, or the glorious nature of excellencies of our God, nor our faith.

I challenged them and you to teach, preach, study doctrine systematically. Go deeper, take others deeper. Make them firmer. "But they will be bored," is a common objection. It is a sin in my humble, but accurate opinion, to make glorious things boring things. So find a way to do it without bordem! Its your job to make disciples, to communicate truth, to keep their attention. If you are baptist, teach them why they are baptist, and why that is important. If you of another denomination, become baptist, and teach them the right way, just kidding. Know the history of your denomination, know the distinctives. Teach them, so that Christ will be glorified in the knowledge of Himself in His children; and so that the fullness of Christ through the church would be spread and known.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Are We Preaching A Sufficient Gospel?

I fully realize that there are many ways to try to quantify and assess church growth and health. However, in many circles it is done through numbers--baptisms, attendance, Sunday School, giving, etc. Some of them raise questions, some of the questions are never asked.

A story of the growth of a rural church was carried in a recent denominational publication. I am going to try to change the numbers some so as not to identify the publication, the article or the church, but not so much that they will fail to capture my point. It raises, or better, fails to raise a very significant question.

A season of growth began in this church 16 years ago. Their attendance was under 50. In the last three years, they have baptized 324 people. The current attendance is 425. Anyone see a problem here?

This is not the graph from the church in this blog
Here is a deadly serious question the church should be asking (if I was pastor, I would be asking it of my preaching): if the gospel we preach and invite people to respond to is not producing lasting results of discipleship, were the hundreds of professions over 16 years of people that cannot be found legitimate? Are we lulling people into a false security? Have we lowered the bar too low? The gospel that Jesus preached didn't have many false professions; it had people who followed hard or turned away because the path was too hard. The only thing that could be construed as a similar experience to the teaching or experience of Jesus is the parable of sower. How you interpret the middle two soils is for another blog post on another day.

The gospel is not complicated, nor are we called to make it that way. However, the road that leads to salvation is straight, narrow, and difficult, and we are called to issue a clear message of followership that includes genuine repentance, self-denial, cross-bearing, obedience, and radical savoring, treasuring, and loving Jesus Christ. Is your church seeing baptisms, is a question that should be asked. Are those baptized taking up their cross, this question is only rarely asked, and even more seldom addressed if the answer is no.

We must begin asking that question, lest we go down with churches that Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Nazi-imprisoned pastor, said were feasting on the carcasses of cheap grace.

" We Lutherans have gathered like the eagles around the carcass of cheap grace, and there we have drunk of the poison which has killed the life of following Christ…What had happened to all those warnings of Luther's against preaching the gospel in such a manner as to make men rest secure in their ungodly living?  Cheap grace has turned out to be utterly merciless to our Evangelical Church." (p. 54}

"This cheap grace has been no less disastrous to our own spiritual lives. . .  Instead of calling us to follow Christ, it has hardened us in our disobedience. . .  Having laid hold on cheap grace, they were barred for ever from the knowledge of costly grace.  Deceived and weakened, men felt that they were strong now that they were in possession of this cheap grace – whereas they had in fact lost the power to live the life of discipleship and obedience.  The word of cheap grace has been the ruin of more Christians than any commandment of works."

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man’ will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Leaving a Legacy

In 2002 I spoke on the phone with Fred. We talked about the situation at what was becoming Living Stone Community Church. We had a mission team coming up that summer from SC. When the mission team came, and I was in Maine, I stayed with Fred and Harriet. I met PC (the cat), and was introduced to sleeping in the middle of summer with no air conditioner and the windows up. I was also introduced to lobster rolls (homemade ones). It was then that my relationship with Fred Osgood began to grow.

As a 26 year-old first time pastor, I was as green as they come. I had no idea what I was doing, but God provided a man to take me under his wing and pour his life into me in a way that would change me forever. Among the three spiritual fathers in the Lord that God has given me, this is the first has has received his heavenly reward. However, I know it is vast, because Fred loved Jesus so dearly, and worked for Him so diligently.

I remember when he and Marshall (Mashall, as he would say it; sometimes Erika would have him say things three times before she could translate from South Georgia to Mainer) would come to the church and shovel snow, or clean, or anything else that was necessary. They were doing that one day while I was doing an interview with the Portland Press Herald reporter, and the reporter spoke to Fred, and Fred replied, "have you ever been born again?" And thus the article entitled, "Born Again Church" written in the spring of 2003, and brought us much over the next four years.

So how did he make such an impact on my life in four years? He helped bring me to Living Stone. I still remember he, Erika, and I sitting in the pews of the church before we started (had a picture, wish I could find it). Those old pews made in about 1901, that weren't screwed down to the floor. Every Sunday he stood at the back of  the church greeting people coming in and going out with a smile and a hug that no one could resist from a white-bearded old man. He warned me about pastoral errors that I was about to make, then turned around the next day and apologized for the warning, saying that I was the pastor, and for me to do what I felt needed to be done. He raced cottonballs with children at VBS. He went on every evangelistic outreach we had. He helped me learn to do baptisms and communion. He went and helped me practice visitation, and counseling, and church discipline. He became one of the elders at the church. He prayed for Erika and I so faithfully. He taught classes. He let the prayer ministry. He built bookshelves, and sofa tables, and gave me a 1900 printing of the Expositor's Bible Commentary. And maybe most importantly, he modeled Jesus for me. At home, in the family, in past jobs, etc., he lived like Jesus.

And all that was after he had passed 75 years old. I am much indebted to this man for the discipling that he did in my life, probably more than I will ever know on this side of eternity. The last time that I was with him and Harriet, we ate lobster rolls together with the family, afterwards we talked and visited. Then he called me and my girls over to him. He got down on one knee ever so slowly and carefully. Then he reached out with his hands and set them upon my daughters' heads, and bestowed a blessing in prayer that God would use them in a mighty way and show great mercy on them.They didn't fully understand the significance, but I did, and I will never forget.

I am so thankful for the privilege to have known such a man, and had his hand on my life. If I could leave the legacy that he left to his family, to many churches, to many disciples, I would be honored.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

What Happened To Philanthropy?

I've had the privilege to visit the historic district of Georgia's oldest city in the last couple of weeks. We learned lots of history about all the events, happenings, and people that lived in Savannah over the last 282 years, beginning with those 114 men who got off at what would be the port of Savannah with George Oglethorpe in 1733. Things really got rolling about the time the Revolutionary War was beginning, and the upper class was really separating themselves out and exerting their prominence among the peoples of Savannah. Architecture, pirates, affairs, plantations, monuments, and memorials, we learned and saw it all. As I reflect on it, one thing stood out that we don't see as much of today: philanthropy.

There were families, widows, plantation owners, political leaders, prominent men etc. that donated houses, lands, moneys, or whole estates to the city of Savannah, or to hospitals, or to preservation of art, or to hospitals, and many other community related, perpetual improvement or historically significant causes. Now, maybe it's because I was not raised among the more financially blessed, or maybe it is because I have never worked in a really large metropolis with larger amounts of those individuals or larger non-profits that would not exist were it not for philanthropy, but I just wonder if it is fading from priority?

The Christian faith has always been (or should have always been) about taking care of the widow and the orphan, speaking up for the oppressed, picking up the downtrodden, strengthening the weak and sick, visiting the incarcerated, feeding the hungry, finding the lost. Can't speak for everyone, and maybe I should not speak at all, but it seems as though American Christianity is becoming so self-centered that we are forgetting the fullness of our call. Share the gospel, yes. But Jesus said to make disciples--teaching them to observe all the things that I have taught (Matt 28:20). Jesus says a lot about caring for widows, children, poor, oppressed, and imprisoned, and the OT says too much to write.

Matt 25:35 "...for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in..."

Luke 14:13  But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.

So what do we do with our wealth that we have laid up for a lifetime? Build bigger barns to store it all? Lay it up in treasure that wastes away where the moths an rust corrupts? Do we as churches sit on millions of dollars, while we cut salaries, and children starve and die of preventable disease? A good man leaves an inheritance for his children, but must we leave it all to family? Couldn't we give some away while we live and when we die? What if we left gifts to be put into foundations for the ministries that serve entire communities? Why not leave $100,000 to the Pregnancy Care Center of Tiftarea (my personal favorite)? Or to the Lifehouse Ministries? Or to Brother Charlies's? Or to the Salvation Army? Or to Ruth's Cottage/Patti-cake House? There is a new homeless shelter coming for families with children, why not that?

Just a thought for you to ponder as we think about stewarding the money and resources that God has entrusted to us. We will give an account. How much kingdom value have you given this year? Change your last will to reflect your heart for those in the community that you care about.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Wrath of God Was Satisfied

There is a word that is not used much in Baptist pulpits, maybe because people are not taught hard theological words, but it should be. Hard words and doctrines should be taught, but this word maybe most of all.


I looked it up in the dictionary, and even it is not real clear on it. It means "satisfaction." In the Christian sense of the word, as used in Rom 3:25, it means something that satisfies the wrath of God. This is the way that God was able to pass over sins and remain just. He pronounces believers in Jesus "justified" or "righteous" and he can't do that and remain a just judge. So the wrath that is directed toward the sin (a wrath that must flow from God's pure hated of sin, that is something else that is horribly under-emphasized) is not simply taken away, it is spent. God spent the wrath stored up from all the cosmic treason that has ever and will ever be committed upon his son.

So, today, remember, the wrath of God was satisfied because of you, because of the offence to the glory of God, and so that God could be just and the justifier of those that cast all their hope upon him.