Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Making Disciples

Jesus made the final command for which we are responsible very simple: make disciples. At a conference I went to recently, there was a break out session on "Creating a Disciple-Making Culture in Rural Churches." I took a lot of notes because it was really good info. I hope that I can help my churches put it into practice.

Why? Well, as I mentioned, Jesus told us to and this is the mission of the church, the vehicle by which to make much of Jesus Christ among the nations. If we don't make disciples, we are disobedient, or best case, we are failing at getting it right. So the question that I have been entertaining in my mind is how you measure or determine with you are producing disciples? How do you qualify or quantify people following Jesus better and more?

We have always been good at counting Sunday School or worship attendance, but attendance to public worship is not necessarily a good indicator of spiritual growth. We've counting baptisms, and we hope that more people begin a walk of faith by obedience to baptism (which is also associated with the Great Commission), but we know that baptisms don't necessarily turn out good followers of Jesus. We can talk about who read their lesson or had their "quiet time" (which by the way, is never mentioned in scripture), and that is our opinion of a really spiritual Christian is, but is it? But subconsciously, and unintentionally, could it be a mechanical, legalistic, checklist of "things on my list of impress God and others" list? AND if we don't know if we are doing a good job at it, how do we plan better, assess it, and make changes (shhhhhh) to get it done?

We don't think about it much in these terms, but not necessarily program-wise, but just as a matter of life, we must as if we are doing what Jesus said to do? I even as pastors, as I guide the conversation to discipling, if they agree with our mission ("yes" is always the reply), and then what's their plan to accomplish it, and how do they know if they are doing it? How do they know if Bill is walking more like Jesus today than one year ago? Studies show that 90% of believers think they are growing, and pastors think 20% of their congregations are growing. "Pastor, how do you plan to do it? How do you know when it's been done?"

I also learned at this conference that I shouldn't give all the answers you people. So not that I have them all for this difficult matter, but I've been chewing on it for a while, and have some thoughts. But you need to figure out the answers. Are you making disciples? Are they being made at your local assembly?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Practicing what you preach

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. - Heb 4:12

As a Director of Missions for an association of churches, I am constantly bouncing around from church to church. And there are weekends like this one that I preached to the congregation twice, which I don't normally do. I was reminded again about the importance of teaching/preaching the word of God to my own personal sanctification.

My belief that a preacher/teacher who is ministering to others by breaking the word before them, and he is doing it with proper motivation, will think about his applications of the truth found in the word to the immediate lives of those to whom he will be preaching, and he will ask the questions of himself, particularly: "am I doing these things?" The thing that Jesus was most critical of what hypocrisy, and the pinnacle of hypocrisy is to preach Christ, morality, love, grace, forgiveness, and their practical implications know that you are not practicing them.

Sanctification through the preaching of the word, glad I will be doing more in the next few months; lots of appts. Don't know how much good it will do for my hearers, but it will break me, and help me to know Him and be exposed to His holiness, which will ideally purify the gold from the dross.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Dealing with Sin in the Congregation

Some friends and I the other day were discussing the problem of mainline churches accepting the homosexual lifestyle of people, then allowing them to become members of their churches, or allowing them to maintain their leadership positions, sometimes even accepting their "partners." One of them made the comment that they know of churches in our area who do that now.

So how do they deal with that, was asked. Then I began to talk of the records at my former church of people who were disciplined and held accountable by the church for their sin. One of them said that their grandfather had been disciplined, and he came back and asked the church's forgiveness, then he was reinstated. Next question:

Why don't we do that now? Well, I shared with them that on more than one occasion, I have had pastors tell me that they wouldn't/couldn't because it would never work, cause too much of a stir, or cost them their jobs. Of course the alternative is worse--loss of God's blessing (in fact, inviting His judgment), loss of the congregation's testimony in the community, defamation of Christ's name, allowing sin to ravish and kill the life of another brother or sister, spreading the acceptance of sin in the congregation, and just disobedience to Christ's command. I told them about how that the churches that I had served had each done it once to its full extent. One turned out really great, and one turned out pretty bad.

Don't have time to go into all the specifics of the how's and when's of church discipline, but suffice it to say, it is all done out of love. See it more as a pleading with an individual to return to the flock, rather than a bunch of sheep biting the injured. I shared a little about the bad scenario, but I went into detail about the good.

After almost having persuaded the beloved believer not to pursue her course, we informed her that we must bring it before the church, so that they could attempt to plead with her, love on her, and beg her not to go down that path. She was at church that Sunday, and we compassionately informed the congregation of her sin and her need. They responded so beautifully. They began to go to her and cling to her neck, hugging her, and weeping together. They knew of the pain that she was in, and were sympathetic, but they also knew of the biblical teachings and their love for Jesus. It was bittersweet and heartfelt.

Over the days and weeks, she could not be convinced to turn away from the path she had determined to walk. She did exactly what the bible prohibited (not a minor violation), but willful rejection of the written word of God. Our duty was to warn, and that we did in love. However, in the end, she left. We were heartbroken. So why do I call this a good experience of church discipline? Well, it demonstrated to the church how it was supposed to work. It was done in so much love. And even though she knew it was coming, she still came to church to be with her church family that was attempting to hold her accountable. Several weeks later she (name changed) wrote to me this:

Pastor Jason 
I wanted to say thanks to you for ALL you did for me...I especially want to thank you for the way that you shared the WORD with me in such an understanding way...I know I still have some trouble in this area, but thank you...I am attending a Baptist church trying to deal with my sin...
Thank you again, and God bless, 
Monica,


Friday, August 1, 2014

Preserving Life

Since resigning my pastorate last year, I have taken on the task and job at the Pregnancy Care Center to advance it's ministry.  I am the Advancement Manager. Ha ha, the title sounds real important, but I am only one of four part-time staff, and there is no one there that I manage. I handle church relations, donor relations, volunteers, events, and expansion into areas that we don't have good exposure. Even as I write, the task seems daunting. However if you compare it to the plight of the unborn striving to live, or the persecuted believers in Nigeria, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, and China (just to name the ones in the news currently), my work is easy.

One thing that I didn't anticipate in going to work at the Pregnancy Care Center was the heart that I would gain for the unborn. It didn't take graphic photos of the horrors of abortion, all it took was the numbers on the praise board of the lives saved, the faces of women who have been helped, media, and the tirelessness of those here that would give their last breath to save a woman and a child. Together For Life is one of the best pro-life videos ever. It speaks about the historical perspective of Christianity, and its love for babies, women, and the unborn (and the guy has a cool accent, British I think). Below is another great one from another pregnancy care center. It's called Sanctity of Life 2014. Both of these are very encouraging, and bring about cause for rejoicing that believers are out there working to end  the atrocity of abortion.


Another thing that I gained was a realization of the apathy of most churches compared to the enormity and gravity, and urgency of the atrocity of abortion; especially in light of the history the Christian community has always had for children, born and unborn. I think part of the reason that we are that way is that we cannot fathom 55 million babies.  We can't fathom 55 million of anything. Once I heard a demonstration that helped me understand it, that crushed a lot of apathy for me. The Sound of Abortion is much more difficult and heart-wrenching to watch/hear. But take a minute and listen to it. Every believer should.

I enjoy working here at the PCC. It takes up precious time, but I believe that God will save many babies and mothers through this ministry. And of course, when God saves a baby and his/her mother, God is saving a generation, as that child would have produced children, who would have produced children, and so on. One abortion actually kills a life, maims another, and removes the potential for maybe hundreds more, if the Lord tarries His coming.

Find your closest PCC, and volunteer, give, and pray for it's success. Twenty-nine women who came here determined to abort so far in 2014 have chosen life! There will be women with fearful minds, facing one of the most difficult decisions in their lives, laying their heads down on pillows in your community, maybe in your neighborhood, awaiting decision day--tomorrow. How will you help them?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Stay-At-Home Moms Value Undercut

Now, let me start with a disclaimer: this is not supposed to engender envy, strive, pride, or agitation with the body of Christ between moms who work outside the home and those that work inside the home.  Both are biblically permissible. And I believe that each couple has to work out their faith in fear and trembling, for this is an issue of liberty, not prescription. Neither group is supposed to flaunt its liberty.  My idealistic thinking makes me wonder how the two options could work together in beautiful harmony within a loving community of genuine followers of Christ who are committed to laying down their lives. What would that look like? So, to moms working outside the home, no condemnation, in fact, I need your help. I need you to fight against the culture and their values, not against your practice.

Anyway, the genesis of this post was two newspaper articles (I still read one, behind the times, I know...) that demonstrate the culture's view of women and their role in parenting and in society and life in general. I know that I am also biased because my wife stays home. It is our choice, we are good with it. But the culture cheapens it, so I guess this bothers me. One article was titled something to the effect of 'Stay-At-Home Mom Takes a Stand' and the other talked about how women in leadership were making a difference and truly changing the world. I am not here to wish things were the way they used to be in the 50's, or preach that they should be that way.

I am simply saying one thing: our culture does not see the role of the stay at home mom as valuable, game-changing, or at least as much as getting out there and "doing something with your life."

Want some proof? How many young ladies graduating high school stand up in their churches or at civic organizations and say that their plans for the future are to be a wife and mother. What would be the reaction of the audience? Will they burst out in applause? Standing ovation? Cheers and shouts of affirmation? They should, but the culture says that path is inferior. How many valedictorians tell their class they have focused on studying home economics (is that class even offered anymore?) so they can better make the home a wonderful refuge, and be a better wife to her husband?  Do you think that anyone will EVER stand at a commencement ceremony at any university and tell the new graduates to stay at home and be great moms? What would the conversation go life if you daughter told a neighbor that her goal was to be a wife and mother? "But no, honey, what do you want to do?" says the neighbor. Just today I saw a county official who gradulated all the graduates on their accomplishments and on entering a new phase of life, either continuing their education or entering the workforce...whichever you choose... they continued. Case and point.

I know this example is from the 1700's, but it shows the value of a godly stay-at-home mother and wife: The legacy left by the Edwards family demonstrates the effect of a gospel-centered home. Over four hundred descendants of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards have been traced. Of these, fourteen became college presidents, roughly one hundred became professors, another one hundred ministers, and about the same number became lawyers or judges. Nearly sixty became doctors, and others were authors or editors.

There is an unwritten cultural bias against being a stay at home mom. It shouldn't be so. At the very least we can work to change that mindset in the body of Christ. Let us lift up her value, not over and against those who work, but just because it is so.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Overlooking Deeper Rationale

I haven't pushed my last three blogs on FB, Twitter, etc, because I know that they have potential to offend, but maybe we can all be mature about it.

I had a discussion the other day with a man who had been the pastor at a church that was wrought with power brokers who desired to keep it just the way it was forever. He related to me the situation that led the church to a brighter future, even though it led to his departure from that ministry.

So I asked him how the church was doing now. He said it was doing really well. Then he continued with a big "although the current pastor and I would disagree on some things." The old saying goes, curiosity killed the cat, but now mine was aroused and I had to asked him "in what way?" Having only met him briefly one other time, and not knowing where I stood on any of this stuff, he commented about the way this young guy came out of seminary and follows guys like John Piper down to the "T". I just nodded, and continued asking about the church.



Ten years ago, Voddie Baucham once said how he had three beliefs that he held to which were not completely in line with typical SBC churches. The family integrated church model and his absolute advocacy for homeschooling did not cause him any true rejection in Southern Baptist life. However, he said, when he "came out" as a Calvinist, it cost him any respect and opportunity for service to the SBC.


"No… I’m not gay. It’s far worse than that.  I’m a Calvinist!  That’s right, I’m a fire-breathing, TULIP believing, five-point Calvinist.  That, my friends, is the unpardonable sin in contemporary Southern Baptist life (unless your name is Al Mohler and you've been President of the flagship Southern Baptist Theological Seminary since you were in your early thirties and happen to be the most intelligent, articulate, winsome public face the Convention has)."

But that was ten years ago. Even though there are no true Calvinists among Southern Baptists (those who would hold to infant baptism or the marriage of the church and the state), there has been a trend among Southern Baptists to lean that way, some further than others. In fact, there has been talk of a growing rift between those among us who are more reformed in our doctrine of salvation, and those who cling to a more General Baptist position (both of which are part of the heritage of baptists going back to the 1600's). And I am thankful for the ministry of wonderful presidents of the SBC and EC who have in the last few years been successful (in my opinion) at avoiding the rift and helping to keep extremism and name-calling and arrogance minimal. Seems like both groups have really refocused upon the gospel and the calling to spread it, rather than on us.

I do want to take a second and speak toward an often overlooked reason that SBC churches and pastors, seminary students, missionaries, etc, are moving to be more Calvinistic. And let me preview this: I am not a five-point Calvinist. Sorry to my five-point friends. But I only have a problem with a limited atonement, all the other points are good with me. Sorry to my non-Calvinistic friends. Obviously, I don't have time to get into an overview of the differences. On one side we be careful not to equate Calvinism with the gospel, and on the other side not to become anti-Calvinists. But I do think a reason that there is reason under the surface, not just in simple exegesis. It is the fact of the great big God that the Calvinistic baptists present.

It's not that the general baptists don't believe in that same big God, they do, it's just that they don't seem to express it as much or as well or as often. I think that people are drawn by the glory that they are helped to see by current more reformed speakers and writers, and only confirmed by the text of scripture. As far as the scripture goes, we all come with different preconceived notions which are hard to separate in our exegetical work.  But there is in all of us a longing for greatness, gloriousness, wonder, and awe in our God.

Maybe I am just completely wrong. Maybe it's just that the current Calvinistic Baptist speakers are the most persuasive. Maybe is the passion they exude. Maybe the pendulum will swing the other way in a few years. I don't claim to have all the answers, but this conversation the other day just made me think, because he was down on the pastor who followed him, not ever asking his story. I, for one, was very anti-Calvinistic all through seminary and into my first pastorate. I read several books by Piper and had a MacArthur study bible that I recommended people to get, but to be on guard against his Calvinism. But one book (The Pleasures of God by Piper) described God in such a way, expanded my brain and soul on His being, that I was overcome.  And he also, in the footnotes (praise the Lord, I HATE end notes, they are of the devil), and rationale for a more reformed understanding of God. It was strange. I wanted to embrace more of a position that I had warned against. It was (and is) a journey of understanding, and I definitely leave room for my error, but that's why I argue, not just to argue. I know that I don't have God figured out. None of us do. If we did, He wouldn't be much of a God, and we definitely couldn't speak of His immensity, His limitlessness, or His incomprehensibility. Don't think that simple exegesis, simple experience, or even simple logic is the end all, or the winning reason. Ask.


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Best Laid Plans

"The best laid plans of mice and men..." was one of the last lines in Scotsman Robert Byrnes' poem from 1785. Now we use it, as he did, to speak of things of great dreams and meticulous planning going awry. And so it is with us.

I write this time under personal conviction.  Maybe it is too soon to write them. Maybe I am overstating. Maybe I shouldn't. I am definitely not singling out any particular person, except for me. And this could definitely apply to many groups. But here is where I have failed:

My hope and plan was to make disciples. To make disciples differently. To use my time differently, with more of a kingdom intentionallity. After seeing writing on the wall, I abandoned hope in a group. And here is the convicting part for me: I could have gone out and started doing exactly what I said I wanted to do. And this is not to say that I never will, but I have moved to a neighborhood...tons of people. I can hit their houses with rocks. I can't even practice hitting softballs with my daughter, because we can't find a place to hit where we won't hit a house or a car. But I haven't invited my new neighbors into my home. We have spoken to a few, but never extended hospitality to any other than the ones we already knew. I know of others who have been in the same boat, and not been able to connect, but it's no excuse for my lack of trying.

Time escapes us. Doors isolate us. TV and cell phones entertain us. "Going to church" soothes us. But our great plans have gone awry. May this only be a short diversion, then a fresh beginning into a new life of making disciples everywhere we go.