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, 

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.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Thank You For Moms

I love the Olympics! Certain events grab my attention more than others, but there are only a few that are totally a bore.  I love to watch the snowboarding, and the downhill skiing.  Can't imagine flying so high and turning flips or flying down hills at 80 mph covering 2500 of elevation. It's a little like NASCAR (which I don't watch), I like to see the crashes, as long as they don't get hurt.  The slow motion is cool. I also love figure skating! Don't like the falls in this one. In fact, my heart skips a beat, I hold my breath, and I worry every time everyone jumps on the ice. Watching that 15 yr-old phenom from Russia skate by herself, wow. She was awesome, and made it look so effortless. The pairs is my favorite, though.  I love it when it looks like they are in love; guess I'm a romantic. And I read a post the other day about how the pairs figure skating is such a display of God's design for roles in marriage.

If you have been watching, you have surely seen the ads sponsored by Proctor and Gamble about the investments of moms into the lives of Olympians. Nothing wrong with thanking moms and giving them the praise they deserve. And they do deserve it! But along with the culture, the liberal media intentionally choose to avoid the role of fathers.  Even in the camera pictures, they always show the moms anxiously waiting outcomes, and watching their precious children compete.

Just a couple of thoughts from my soapbox. 1) I have been watching with my children.  And I wonder if the subtle message is being injected into their minds.  I know I sound like a conspiracy theorist, but the culture affects our worldviews.  Do our kids think: Mom is a hero, and dad is there too, somewhere. What a great picture of the biblical family for them to see. Whatever. Even if it is not your children, the major network choices reinforce this concept in a way that does women no favors (nor their families). Other media outlets do the same, sitcoms and dramas for instance.  Most feature bumbling fathers, or absentee dads whose lives are in trouble because the are stupid, or because they are out with their buds or other women. News shows and documentary types are always highlighting the new intentionally stay-at-home dads or so-called (and oxymoronic) gay marriage. OK, now I am being a sexist, right?  Equality before God, yes.  Role distinction, yes! Where are the ads about dads?

2) I do think that men have contributed to our own portrayal. What is manhood?  When does it begin? The Jews knew. But our culture has created a time called "adolescence" which gives our sons the time to "sow their wild oats" and be irresponsible till they graduate college.  And some go on past that living in the basement till their 30's. We have not taken our place as leaders and role models. We need to stand up and be the heroes and the protectors. We need to be the spiritual leaders of our homes. How many men I've seen led by their wives and children to go to church here, or lead the family in making them go at all.  We don't disciple our children and we don't lay down our lives for our wives as Christ did for His.  In the church, most of the workers are women, with men standing idly by.

Come on, men! The gauntlet is laid before us through the life of Jesus and through the lives of the saints and martyrs who have gone before.  Strong and powerful at times.  Willing to die at times. Willing to comfort and still broken hearts at times. Willing to confront sin within and mortify it without. Walking closely and humbly with their God all the time.  We need men to be men, not men like our culture defines it, but real men, who love Jesus, and strive with all their heart not to waste their lives, but demonstrating Christ to the world.