Monday, December 08, 2014

Of Good News and Bad News

I recently went with my family to Branson for vacation.  We left town on Friday and were able to stay into the next week. As a pastor, I don't get many weekends off. So I determined to make the best of it.  I was going to church!  And while there, I got good news, and bad news.  

I got up early Sunday morning while my wife and children and in-laws were all still asleep in the condo, and headed to First Baptist Branson.  I had been there before (on vacation) and enjoyed it.  The early service started at 8:30, and I would have plenty of time to get back to my family.

I arrived a little early to the parking lot, and noticed there was another church right across the street literally.  I drove over there and found a catholic church, early service 8:15!  I parked and made my way inside, and the service had already started.

As a baptist pastor, I'm pretty familiar with what to expect in a baptist service.  Even when traveling overseas, I feel at home in a baptist service.  My own church, FBC Tishomingo, has the mostly the same elements in the service each week.  I, and others, know what to expect.  But I think it's helpful for pastors to go every so often to a church where they have no idea whats going on in a service so they remember how visitors to their church feel.  

So I felt that way in Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church.  I didn't know when to stand up, sit down, when to say what everyone was saying, what the point of the people going up and down off the stage was.  I felt very out of place.  Even sitting on the back row like a good baptist, I felt as if everyone was watching me make mistakes in the service!  It was a great reminder of the way others feel when they come into our own church service back home.  After a few songs and scripture reading, it was time for the homily.

The passage was Matthew 25, for Christ the King Sunday in the liturgical calendar.  The passage describes where Jesus tells them, that as they did it for the least of those, they did it for Him.  And that someday the King will judge them for what they have done.

The priests homily that day centered around ledger sheets.  That our lives are like ledger sheets, with credits and debits, and one day Christ will return, as King, and see if our credits out number our debits. The credits are our good deeds, as mentioned in Matthew.  Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, helping the poor, are all things that count as credits in our account with God, and when Christ returns we will be judged for the things we didn't do.  This is how entrance into heaven is determined. 

He went on to state that the question to ponder was "What is the balance of my ledger page?"  This is not meant to scare us, but to think about our life.  This Sunday, he said "was one more chance to add credits to our ledger before Christ returns.  The balance on our ledger page determines our eternal fate"

Needless to say, I didn't feel very built up.  If a church is in the business of sharing good news, that was not it.  That my eternal fate rests in my hands is not a comfort to me, but a terror.  I know what a sinner I am!

I left after homily (during the offering, in fact!) and drove over to FBC Branson.  I missed the worship, which I hated, but arrived for the sermon. Their youth pastor preached that day, and this is what I heard.

Lie:  My life is based on what I contribute
Truth:  My worth is based on on who I am in Christ

When I understand who God is I can live from His approval of me and not just for His approval.

In the Gospel I am accepted by Christ.

Your value is based in whose you are.  In Christ, I am pleasing to God.  Because Jesus is pleasing to God. 

When God looks at His children He sees us clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

I left that service encouraged, reminded of who Christ is, and who I am in Christ. Not because of my works, but His.  This truly was good news for a pastor who felt beat up by the world. 

I'm thankful for faithful ministers of the Gospel who proclaim the good news of Christ the King.  A King who sacrificed himself for our good and paid the debt we never could. 

The good news is that when God looks at my ledger sheet, he'll see Christ's name scrawled across it.  This debt has been paid in full at the cross. That is good news.  


Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Why I'm tired of hearing about church planting


This post originally appeared on  Church Revitalization 

When I was in college, I interviewed to be a youth associate-type-intern person with a mega church in OKC.  It was a typical interview, Q and A type things.  Greatest strengths, weaknesses, and so on.  He then asked me a new one.  If I was standing before two rooms, one with people who were not followers of Christ, and one with lukewarm church people, and I could only enter one to speak to, which would I choose?  I thought about it for a while, and finally answered that I would take the lukewarm church people.  He seemed surprised by my answer.  I didn’t get the job, or didn’t take it at least.  But I have mulled that question in my head for a while since then.  Was it the right answer?  If asked again now I would go and share with the people who were not Christians, that much is sure.  Always take a chance to share with people who don't know God.  But that answer then began to show me the heart God had given me for the church. The lukewarm, the burned out, and the never was.  I love the church.

In the early pages of the book of Acts, the early church spreads with earnestness.  The church grows in leaps and bounds. I have sometimes wondered, as a nerd might do, about the logistical dilemmas it caused the early church.  How they communicated, passed word along, etc.  As Acts moves along, Peter begins preaching to the Gentiles, and then Paul enters and the church begins to explode across the western world. Churches pop up everywhere.  

Many people today seek to emulate the Acts model, to go and plant a church where there is a need for the gospel to spread.  And rightly so, as this is a great way to spread the gospel.  There are seemingly endless amounts of funding, training, mentors and resources for church planters.  

 I long for more churches to be planted, in my own community, and around the world.  I count many church planters as my friends, and considered the call for myself.  I know many organizations exist to help churches plant churches, to fund, train, equip, support and more.  I'm proud to be part of a denomination that recognizes the need for that.  


But I am tired of hearing about church plants.   Don’t get me wrong, I think we need more churches.  But still I’m tired of it.  My heart has always been with the local church, and  I have a great desire for existing churches to be revitalized.  This is not meant to put down church planters or the need for more churches.  It's a call to remember the task before us with the churches we already have.  

Revitalize.  It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot, with increasing frequency among some people.  But there are precious few resources devoted to this.  My own denomination, the SBC, will spend over 50 million dollars this coming year on church plants through the North American Mission Board.  I applaud that.  But I constantly see every week in our state Baptist paper a list of churches that have shut their doors.  I know it’s not limited to my state either.  Thousands of churches close their doors for good every year, from all denominations.  


So what is to be done about it?   “Church Revitalization”  is a popular term, but it garners nowhere near the popularity or articles or funding of church planting.  A quick google search yields these results for number of hits on these terms.  


church planting


7,360,000
Church revitalizing


 995,000




Church planter


1,540,000
Church revitalizer


333,000




“to give new life or vigor to” 

That’s the dictionary definition of revitalize.  But what does it mean for a church?  For something to be re-vitalized, it must have had life at some point!  This is the primary focus of revitalization, bringing back the life that was once there.  In a church setting, this life might have been very far in the past, sometimes over a hundred years.  More likely it was a few decades ago, a generation or so.  The church was full of life, busting at the seams, with programs, outreach, training, missions, and more. But as time wore on, the community changed, or there was a fight, or there became just a general lack of drive.  Maybe there was a moral failure in the leadership, or a local economy collapse.   And so attendance fell.  Pews were empty, baptistries still.  But there is hope still!  Revitalization.    When these churches get revitalized, they get new life!  Not old life, or the way things were in the good old days.  But new life.  New people.  New ways of thinking that are outward focused, that spread the Gospel, and grow God’s kingdom.  

But it seems for some, the solution  is just plant more churches.  Those churches had their heyday, now it’s time for someone else.  Let those old, stubborn, unchanging churches die.  

My church sponsors a mission church in a un-incorporated community about 20 minutes from ours.  It is a mission church, and will always be that for us, a mission.  We sought help for the funding of this church, and a few agencies told us to close that church down, give it six months, and open again as a church plant. Then we would have access to lots more funding, resources, missionaries, and more.  But for our established mission church, there was no help they could give.    

As I provocatively said,  I'm tired of hearing about church plants.  We need them.  But I want to see the resources, blogs, pastors, networks and funding that goes to church plants be put towards helping churches get new life. 

Without existing churches getting healthy, I don’t think we can reach our towns and cities effectively for Christ. 

Please note:  Revitalization is just that:  New Life!  It is not church growth, it is not church plants, it is not even tweaking a good church to make it great. It’s helping existing churches become healthy.  There is a time and space for all those other things, but revitalization of sick churches is one of the greatest challenges facing the church today. 

So what are you going to do about it? 

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Preachers who Yell

A few weeks ago when leaving our Sunday morning service, a lady remarked to my wife how good the sermon was that morning, and that she really needed to hear it.  She finished up the conversation with,  "I thought he was going to yell at us there for a minute"

Since my wife shared that with me I've been thinking about preachers and yelling.  I'm not one prone to raise my voice.  I'm a pretty dry person by nature, and by humor, and my personality comes out in my preaching.  That sounds exciting to listen to doesn't it?  I'm a great salesman for myself.

But the remark did get me thinking about some other encounters I had in the past year regarding peoples remarks on styles of preaching.  We had a dear friend of mine in for our Spring Bible Conference.  He and his wife poured their hearts out to us, and after it was over one person told me "They don't' make preachers like they used to." ( He meant he didn't like the preacher)

It seems when people come to a service, they expect to hear things a certain way. And when things don't go that way they feel let down. There's  a certain crowd also that really wants to "preached to" by a yelling, screaming, red-faced preacher.  When leaving that church you know you've been preached at!  In fact, some feel that without that style it's not really preaching.

 I remember a preacher I had as a child who yelled a lot.  I was very small and mostly remember him being very red faced.  I'm sure you can share stories of pastors who yelled, screamed, called people out, and more in the name of preaching.  And stories of preachers so boring it was all you could do to stay awake every Sunday.  No naming names, please.

I had been musing on these things when I read the chapter in John Piper's Brothers We Are Not Professionals on pursuing the tone of the text.   (PDF for Whole Book)  Each preacher has his own personality,  and Phillip Brooks famously said that preaching is "truth through personality"  The personality of a pastor has a large bearing on how he presents in a sermon, and how the text is received by the congregation.  But what kind of tone should a pastor aim for?

"By tone, I mean the feel that it has.  The spirit it emits.  The emotional quality.  The affectional tenor.  The mood.  Every personality has a more or less characteristic tone.  That is part of what personality is.  Some personalities play a small repertoire of emotional instruments, while others play a large repertoire."

If the text shapes the tone as Piper suggests, then I don't think a pastor should yell every sermon.  If you yell and scream every sermon you might need to broaden the texts you preach from.  Likewise, if you never raise your voice at the sin in our lives that separates us from God, you might need to broaden your preaching texts as well.

Pastors should work hard when preaching to display the range of emotion that scripture does.  This can only be done I believe by soaking yourself in the text for an extended period of time.  And by that I don't mean spending 20 minutes in it on Thursday for a Sunday sermon.  Immerse yourself in God's word, in the passage you are to share God's truth from.  You will only benefit from spending time in God's word, as it does not return void,


Piper lists ten thoughts on tone in preaching, all of which have bearing on preacher.  This section comes from the Desiring God blog post on the subject, an almost verbatim transcript of the chapter.  

  1. Texts have meaning, and texts have tone. Consider the tonal difference between, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden . . .” and “Woe to you, blind guides . . .You blind fools!” The preacher should embody, not mute, these tones.
  2. Nevertheless, just as the meanings of texts are enlarged and completed and given a new twist by larger biblical themes, and by the gospel of grace, so also the tones of texts are enlarged and completed and given a new twist by these realities. A totally dark jigsaw-puzzle piece may, in the big picture, be a part of the pupil of a bright and shining eye.
  3. The grace of God in the gospel turns everything into hope for those who believe. “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that . . . we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32). Therefore, all the various tones of texts (let them resound!) resolve into the infinitely varied tones of hope, for those who believe in Jesus.
  4. If there is a danger of not hearing the tone of gospel hope, emerging from the thunder and lightening of Scripture, there is also a danger of being so fixed on what we think hope sounds like, that we mute the emotional symphony of a thousand texts. Don’t do it. Let the tone grip you. Let it carry you. Embody the tone of the text and the gospel dénouement.
  5. But it’s not just the gospel of grace that should inform how we embody the tone of texts. We are all prone to insert our own personalities at this point and assume that our hopeful tone is the hopeful tone. We think ourtender is the tender. Our warmth is the warmth.
    This is why I said our capturing of the tone of the text should be informed by the tonal balance of Jesus and the apostles. We may simply be wrong about the way we think tenderness and hope and warmth and courage and firmness sound. We do well to marinate our tone-producing hearts in the overall tonal balance of Jesus and the apostles.
  6. Tonal variation is determined in part by the nature and needs of the audience. We may well shout at the drowning man that there is a life preserver behind him. But we would not shout at a man on the edge of a precipice, lest we startle him into losing his balance. Jesus’ tone was different toward the proud Pharisee and the broken sinner.
  7. But audiences are usually mixed with one person susceptible to one tone and one susceptible to another. This is one reason why being in the pulpit week in and week out for years is a good thing. The biblical symphony of tones can be played more fully over time. The tone one week may hurt. The next it may help.
  8. There is a call on preachers to think of cultural impact and not just personal impact. In some ways our culture may be losing the ability to feel some biblical tones that are crucial in feeling the greatness of God and the glory of the gospel. The gospel brings together transcendent, terrible, horrific, ghastly, tender, sweet, quiet, intimate, personal realities, that for many may seem utterly inimical. Our calling is to seek ways of saying and embodying these clashing tones in a way that they sound like the compelling music.
  9. In the end, when a preacher expresses a fitting tone, it is the work of God; and when a listener receives his tone as proper and compelling, it is another work of God.
  10. So we pray. O Lord, come and shape our hearts and minds with the truth and the tone of every text. Let every text have its true tone in preaching. Shape the tone by the gospel climax. Shape it by the tonal balance of Jesus and the apostles. But don’t let it be muted. Let the symphony of your fullness be felt.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Overlooking the Cooperative Program

“Mr. President, Mr. President!” Three voices spoke almost as one. “Mr. President, do I have the floor?”

The president’s gavel hammered vigorously. “The Chair recognizes Brother Stealey.”

“Mr. President, we must settle this evolution issue at once,” Clarence Stealey said. “Let the messengers to this annual session of the Southern Baptist Convention vote now. It’s the most pressing matter before us in 1925. Brother Burts’s money report can come later.”

“Mr. President!” shouted Bronson Ray taking advantage of Stealey’s pause, “the editor from Oklahoma may think other matters are more important than money. But that’s because he doesn’t have the foreign missionaries looking to him for their salaries. He doesn’t have debts piling higher every month and precious little money coming in to pay them. I tell you we are in a bad way. This Convention must do something before it leaves Memphis...”

The gavel beat out an insistent interruption.
“Gentleman, Gentleman!” said President McDaniel. “Let’s get on with the order of business. Brother Charles Burts has been standing here for ten minutes now to give his report. We shall hear him now.”

Burts eyes moved over the big room, and then back to the paper in his hand. He read slowly, his voice lifting slightly as he accented certain words and phrases. His was the first annual report of the Future Program Commission, of which he was general director. The report set forth and named the new unified budget of the denomination.

“From the adoption of this report it shall be known as the Cooperative Program,” read Burts.
The report was adopted in routine fashion by messengers anxious to get on with debate on evolution. With that action, the the Cooperative Program was launched May 13, 1925 at the Southern Baptist Convention in Memphis, TN.

The Cooperative Program was almost overlooked in the beginning. State papers were concerned with debts and debate. Few messengers paid attention to it or caught its significance.

Our Cooperative Program By W. E. Grindstaff, Sunday School Training Course material 1965 Published by Convention Press

Such humble beginnings for something that most Baptist’s would be quick to praise now. Something that seems to be an indispensable part of Baptist life is less than 100 years old and got off to a slow start, as Grindstaff later discusses in his book. Grindstaff served as pastor of several churches in Oklahoma after attending Oklahoma Baptist University, and later served the BGCO and was director of Cooperative Program Promotion with the Stewardship Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, so this is an area he is well familiar with. There were several failed attempts at funding the work of Southern Baptist before this, such as the Judson Memorial Fund, the $75 Million Campaign, and the many special pleas made by agencies to churches every week across the country. Until the Conventions agencies paid off most of their outstanding debts with the “Hundred Thousand Club” from 1933-1943, the CP was slow in getting going.

Once it finally started rolling, it was a great plan that funded untold salvations, missionaries, block parties, and baptisms, among other things. There has been much discussion about the future of the CP, and of the way that we need to fund our work among the nations.   But as I read this book, by a man commissioned by the Southern Baptist Convention to write a training course to educate all Southern Baptists on the Cooperative Program, I was struck at the time it took them to reach the conclusion of the CP, and the time, again and again, it took to fine tune it. I know that we have now reached that time again, but I doubt the CP will be scrapped any time soon.  It will be tweaked, challenged, changed, and more, as it has throughout it's history. Obstacles arise, new ideas come forth, and we must do the best to continue to push the gospel, to our neighbors and the nations.  The history of the SBC is one of change, believe it or not.  We tried whatever we could to get the name of Jesus out to the world.  Some attempts were ill advised, some were spectacularly successful.

The history of the CP is well documented, but we act as if everyone agreed it was a great idea at the time. Grinsdstaff records the sentiments of three people who left that convention in 1925.

"Happiness of former conventions was not on the face of delegates.  This was due, perhaps, to the depressing effect of our huge debts."  CW McEloy

"The Convention was the least satisfying of all I have attended in twenty-five years."  TC Skinner

"The Convention struck no high tide.  We seemed to not be together."  Frank L Hardy

At a time when they just voted to start cooperating, to institute the great CP, it was felt as if nothing was accomplished.  It feels like the SBC is more divided than ever now, so it's good to be reminded that this is not a new spot in history!  Although our concerns are many, and there are difficulties to overcome, we can look at history and see God worked through that time and is working through ours as well.

There were many varied opinions that were put forth, and tempers flared as the SBC fought to figure out the best way to fund God's work.  At the time, it seemed like there were more pressing issues to deal with, but there is no more pressing issue than sharing the Gospel.  As we continue to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the world, we must continue to work together, finding new and creative ways to work together, as we have before.

We won't all agree on every single detail.  We are Baptist's, after all.   But by the grace of God we will continue to work together to take the good news of Christ across the street and across the world.  I trust the leaders God has blessed us with in the SBC, and trust the heart of it's pastors and members to put Christ first above all.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Fastest Doctor

The man was nervous as he waited in the doctors office.  The room was cold and the gown was loose and drafty, not to mention way too small.  It's so vulnerable to sit in a strange office and bare all your hurts and pains to them.  It's scary to admit you need to change, but he knew he needed too.  And besides all that,  this surgeon came highly recommend from his hometown doctor.  He had been assured that this was the way to go, the best way to fix what was wrong.

Harold didn't really understand what was wrong though.  That was the thing.  He understood that he didn't feel like he used to, back when he was younger.  He had a harder time getting around, wore out easily.  He had been sick before, but always recovered pretty quickly. But the things he always did didn't seem to help this time.  In fact they seemed to make it worse!  Not to mention how hard a time he had understanding things now a days.  This doctor wanted to do a consultation over a video chat. He had refused to do it.  No sir, no way.  Some things were just meant to be done face to face.  Technology makes things so complicated!  He missed the good old days when things were simple.  He didn't have to work to understand the world around him then, he was a product of it.  But that world was long gone unfortunately.  But he wasn't going to let it go so easily.


The doctor walked in the room in a hurry, without knocking or anything else.  He didn't really introduce himself so much as talk about how smart he was, pointing to his degrees on the wall.  Harold thought that had to count for something. Nobody with that much education could be very stupid, right?

The doctor quickly got on with his exam, quickly going over his chart and asking Harold a few questions.  How long had he had this problem?  How bad was the pain?  Is he sure he wanted to have this procedure?  Who recommended him?  All these questions and the others asked were in his chart?  The doctor had glanced at it but didn't really seem interested in learning about Harold, just in getting the procedure scheduled.  Harold's wife Carol and daughter Jennifer were in the room with him, and he hadn't even acknowledged them.  Family meant nothing to him I guess.

Harold reached over to his pants and got out the piece of paper he had wrote his questions on.  He started to ask them, and the doctor grabbed it from him, crumpled it, and threw it in the trash!  He was so mad!  The doctor, laughing, assured him that he knew just what was wrong with Harold and how to fix it. Before Harold could ask a question, he grabbed a book off the shelf and began reading out loud the symptoms Harold had.  The problem was clear as day he said, and this procedure was how to do it.  Years of neglecting the daily habits of healthiness had left Harold's body in a mess, but the doctor assured him he could fix it.  Fix it in record time even.  A few changes to daily practices, to habits of life, and he would back healthy in no time.   The doctor said he didn't need to know Harold's family history, or anything else like that.  He was concerned about the future not the past.

The doctor excused himself from the room, saying he needed to call a colleague.  Did he need a consultation, asked Harold?  Of course not, he snorted, he knew what was wrong.  He just wanted to tell his friend how quickly he got the diagnosis, before his friend would have got it for sure!

But these were drastic changes!  Harold had spent a life time living this way, just like his father had, and grandfather before him.  And he wasn't going to let some young know-it-all come in and boss him around.  The doctor had not been concerned about his family, his past, or even really it seemed in his future.  The doctor was most concerned with being right, and letting others know that he was right!
Putting his pants back on, Harold decided he wasn't going to change if it meant listening to a punk like that!

Change doesn't come easy, and it sure doesn't when someone is in a hurry for you to do it.

_________________________________________________________________________________

While this story is fictional, I know too many like it.  But the culprit most often is pastors.  We have a tendency to think that we can spot a church's problems a mile away. And if they will only listen too us, and make the changes we suggest, we can flip that church around in no time.

But churches are not problems to be solved.  They are made up of people with histories, with stories, with hurts and pains, and joys and triumphs.  I too have been guilty of the arrogance, particularly the arrogance that comes with youth.  If people would only listen to me, I could fix it.  I could make it better.

Thankfully God has not taken the same stance with me that many of us do with churches and people.  He does not give up, he does not leave us.   He stays with us when we cling to the past, when we agonize over our hurts, and when we think our triumphs are due to our own ingenuity.

As an undershepherd, I pray that I have the patience with my church that God has with me.  Change comes slowly.  Don't forget that.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Andy Stanley, Lloyd-Jones and Revival

Last week I had the privilege to attend the annual Southern Baptist Convention in Baltimore, MD.  I always enjoy that time and it's a joy to hear the work God is doing among Southern Baptists.

Any time Baptists get together theres no shortage of controversy, and this time was no exception.  Many articles around made note of our resolution on transgender identity, or on books about the after life. And there was a little thing about a Muslim man being admitted to one of our seminaries.

Before the convention is the Pastor Conference, in which various pastors come and preach, exhort, and encourage.  The theme this year was "Show Us Your Glory",  a call to echo the prayer of Moses in Exodus 33, and to pray for revival.

I usually follow the conversation on Twitter, and Monday night it blew up over a tweet by Andy Stanley.





Andy Stanley, popluar pastor of Northpoint Church in GA, seemed to be suggesting that Southern Baptists should quit praying for revival, and just get out and do it.  Many joined in the conversation over the course of the evening, but this tweet I think sums up his feelings on the subject.




This type of thinking makes me very uncomfortable, that we need go get out and make it happen.  As Alvin Reid has helpfully pointed out,

If we simply use prayer for revival as an excuse for our unwillingness to obey God, we should not pray for revival, we should repent.


But where does the initiative lie in trusting in God to move, and on doing the work ourselves.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his message on the passage in Exodus 33 gives us some clarification.

I am calling you to pray for revival. Yes, but why should you pray for revival? Why should anybody pray for revival? And the answer that is first given here is this: a concern for the glory of God. You will find it at the end of verse 13: ‘Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight; and consider that this nation is thy people.’ That is the motive. That is the reason. Moses was concerned primarily about the glory of God.
... 
 Or do we know something of a concern for the name of God? Are we pained? Are we hurt? Are we grieved? Does it weigh heavily upon our hearts, and minds, and spirits, when we see the godlessness that surrounds us, and the name of God taken in vain? Do we know something of this zeal, this holy zeal?

Lloyd-Jones says the  reasons to pray for revival are three fold:  concern for God's glory, concern for the sake of the church that is the Bride of Christ, and for the sake of the lost outside of it.

Moses indeed prayed with boldness, for God to move in a way that the people of Israel knew, that the surrounding nations would know that He is God. So too must we pray for God to move in such a way that it leaves no doubt who He is.  Pray for God to move so mightily that it cannot be attributed to human wisdom, or to man's plans and schemes.  An act that can only be credited to God Himself.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Missions and the Rural Church

I was invited to a missions meeting put on by my state denomination.  A two hour or so meeting. And by invited I mean I recieved a mass email. But having just returned from Brazil I was interested in learning from other churches about engaging my church on mission.

The meeting consisted mainly of missions pastors from larger churches getting up and discussing how and where they do trips.  It was great to hear from them, and from the few large church pastors who lead their churches to engage around the world.  The church we met in had flags all around the foyer of places their church had been in the last 20 or so years.  Probably 40-50 countries around the world. As a child of God, a christian, it was exhilarating to hear the talk and see the results of people on mission.  But as a small church pastor I felt discouraged.

I can't lead my church into many different countries, on multiple trips a year.  One church, a great church with a great pastor by the way, has over 15 trips for 2014.  I can't have trips for singles, for youth, for retirees.  I could come up with many excuses, but I still have the mandate of Christ for my church to go and make disciples.  But is the way a small rural church different from the way a large urban church does missions?

I traveled to Brazil as part of an Upstream Collective trip, and one of the things they are passionate about is the "sending church."  They define it this way:

A Sending Church is a local community of Christ-followers who have made a covenant together to be prayerful, deliberate, and proactive in developing, commissioning, and sending their own members both locally and globally, often in partnership with other churches or agencies, and continuing to encourage, support, and advocate for them while making disciples cross-culturally.

I love this definition, as it does mention budgets, or number of peoples, or size of communities.  It is simple and clear, and is suitable for big and small, rural and urban. 

But still, how do I lead my church to do that?  In a small church, or large, missions is far more assumed than taught.  And that is where it starts.  It starts in the life and heart of the leaders, and with clear deliberate teaching on the heart of God for the nations.  It then moves to the local community of Christ-followers who covenant together to be purposeful.  The call must be clear, and we must be clear to people that the call to missions is to the people of the church, not just the pastor.  

A small church pastor has obstacles in that he might have many people who have never traveled abroad.  Not even across the country!  It's not unusual to find people who are "homebodies" from a small town and not been outside it much.  So the first challenge is one of semantics.

When we hear the word "Sending", we automatically assume it means overseas.  Overseas means costs, and fears, and planning, and more.  But Upstreams definition is helpful as it is clear we send locally and globally.  We have to to help our people understand that "Sent" does not always equal overseas, but instead means "wherever you are".  The call must be clear, and we must be clear to people that the call to missions is to the people of the church, not just the pastor.  

The next challenge for the small church must happen internally as well.  It's no secret that we live in a world that is increasing indifferent to Christianity, if not outright hostile.  In a small town a church might have a little bit of respect left, but not much.  We have to realize that the church does not share the same values of the culture anymore. We live in a post-Christian culture.  It may not have made it all the way to your town yet, but it will.  There is no Mayberry anymore, no matter what the local chamber of commerce says. The church will have little or no meaning to many, if not all in the community, and so the first place we are sent is out into our own neighborhoods.  I am constantly amazed at how little use people have for this place that has consumed all of my adult life, and childhood for that matter.  They are not angry at church, they just don't care.  So after understanding what "send" means, is going out into the streets where we are.  This is where local mission projects, prayer walking, talking to people up and down main street and being present will begin to take effect.

Missions never happen on accident.  It always takes planning and purpose, and much prayer to accomplish the will of God for a church to be a sending church.  When a person gets a heart for the nations, the first impulse might be to jump on plane for overseas.  But Jesus advised us to "count the cost" and to plan our building before it is done.  A sending church, small or large, must have the right foundation to make it last. Not to see exotic places, or a desire for notoriety, but a burning desire to see Christ lifted up in places and by people where He is not.  

A small church leader has to be active in engaging with people with skills and resources that he doesn't have. It's my experience that larger churches will not seek out partnerships, mostly because they don't really need to.  But they will always welcome them.  It could be a big church in the next town or in the state capital, but a small church pastor must quickly get over his ego, his envy, and his arrogance to go ask for help.    Most churches will gladly welcome the chance to partner with you, if you will only ask them. 

A small church might only send one team a year, and it might only be a few people.  DO NOT hang your head in shame over that.  Celebrate the work that God has done, and is doing in and through your people.    You will see a greater hunger for the things of God, and the vision spread through your church and your town as well.  

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Story Telling God

Jared Wilson is one of those people who can just flat out write.  Whether it's on his blog, his many books, or his strange obsession with Tom Brady on twitter, his writing is always full of snarky remarks, but also deep insights into the gospel.  His new book The Story Telling God is no exception.  In it he takes on the parables of not only Jesus, but the rest of the bible as well.  

Wilson reflects on the parables that goes beyond them being sermon illustrations, and instead shows us that they contain the deep truths of the Kingdom of God.  He reminds us

"When Jesus teaches a parable He is not opening a copy of Chicken Soup For the Soul, or a fortune cookie but a window to the hidden heavenlies.  He is revealing a glimpse of eternity crashing into time, a flash photo of His own wisdom brought to bear."

Rather than teaching the parables as moralistic fables, Wilson shows us the the meaning of parable is to explode the truth of the gospel into our hearts and minds. The literal meaning of parable in the Greek is just that, to come along side of.  They run along with the teachings of Jesus and get down into our hearts and mind and expose the truth in immediate ways.  

He also encourages us to not spend too long looking for every hidden meaning.  What kind of lily did Jesus mean?  What kind of rock was the rocky soil?  Igneous or sedimentary?  We make two main errors in parables, he says.  When we simply believe they are religious illustrations, or simple allegories, we miss the point.  We miss the point as well when we think of them as a Magic Eye hidden picture, where if we stare at it long enough we will see the hidden picture.  This is, in my opinion, just a form of Gnosticism, where only a elite few can really get the point of the parables.


Leaving the parables of Jesus, Wilson walks us through some of the major parables of the Old Testament as well.  He shows us that an oft overlooked point of the Bible is that God is a God of stories.  He quickly goes through several prominent OT parables, like Nathan before David, the broken garden in Isaiah 5, and the prophet Ezekiel, whose whole book is almost one big parable.  

The book shows us that we cannot understand how the kingdom works without someone showing us. 

"Time and time again we think we know how this thing works, but time and time again we are wrong.  Jesus' disciples thought they knew how revolution would come; you bring it by sword.  But this is not how the revolution came, and Jesus rebuked those who tried to bring it with physical violence.  Time and time again the church thinks we know how people change.  We tell people to get their act together, of course.  And then we are surprised when this doesn't seem to work.  Why can't we just nag someone into spiritual maturity?"  


This book is not what I thought it would be when I picked it up.  I thought it would be a word by word walk through the parables, in commentary fashion.  But I was pleasantly surprised when Wilson took time to guide us through to see that when Jesus point to "real life" scenarios He is showing us there is "realer life" to be had.  Wilson's strong dependence on the grace of God and amazement at the way God works moves me to behold the working of God in new light.  

I encourage anyone to read this book who is looking to understand some of the parables that Jesus teaches through. But Wilson shows not only what it means, but why it means it, and how we can see God in them

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Why Jerusalem renters are wary of the Messiah's arrival

This articles tells the story of why people who rent apartments Jerusalem put a special Messiah clause in.


In apartment contracts around the city, there are clauses stipulating what will happen to the apartment if or when the Jewish Messiah, or mashiach, comes. The owners, generally religious Jews living abroad, are concerned that he will arrive, build a third temple, and turn Israel into paradise – and they will be stuck waiting for their apartment tenants' contracts to run out before they can move back.

It made me wonder how many of these Jews are devout, their general age, and what kind of other steps they take to prepare for the Messiahs arrival.  It seems that it would take a fairly serious person to think of this and worry about it, and even more so to put a clause in.
It seems like they are ready for the Messiah, and they have no doubt they will know him when he arrives.  

But what if the apartment owner says the Messiah has arrived and the renter doesn’t agree? This particular disagreement has come up before in Jerusalem’s history, although it was about 2,000 years ago.
Opinion among the property managers and real estate lawyers was unanimous that their clients would know the Messiah when they saw him. “When he comes, we’ll know.  It’s in the Old Testament," says Mrs. Eiferman

Read it for yourself.

Why Jerusalem renters are wary of the Messiah's arrival

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Theologian Thursdays: Jim Elliot

Every thursday I hope to highlight a different person from church history, alive or dead, and point out the impact they made on the Kingdom of God. 

This is to introduce people to new ideas, thoughts, and to give us a glimpse into the many who have gone before us who have made a difference in their time for God.  


I'm going to start with those that have made a big impact on me personally, and then branch out from there.  This week our focus is on Jim Elliot.




Jim Elliot was born October 8, 1927  and died January 8, 1956.  He died as a young man on the mission field.  
He is mostly known by the journals and letters published by his wife Elizabeth Elliot after he died.  Elizabeth Elliot is an accomplished author in her own right, but the book Passion and Purity highlights their relationship before and after marriage, when they were in college and while he served on the mission field.  

Jim was a man of strong conviction, including being a pacifist.  But he followed God with abandon wherever he lead.  Through a series of starts and stops, he eneded up with several others working in Ecuador, reaching out to several people groups.

The most infamous of these was the Auca Indians.  They were a savage, ruthless people, and had not been reached with the gospel before.  It would take a great work and much dedication to reach them.  

Elliot and four other missionaries – Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and their pilot, Nate Saint – made contact from their airplane with the Huaorani using a loudspeaker and a basket to pass down gifts. After several months, the men decided to build a base a short distance from the Indian village, along the Curaray River. There they were approached one time by a small group of Huaorani and even gave an airplane ride to one curious Huaorani whom they called "George" (his real name was Naenkiwi). Encouraged by these friendly encounters, they began plans to visit the Huaorani, without knowing that Naenkiwi had lied to the others about the missionaries' intentions. Their plans were preempted by the arrival of a larger group of about 10 Huaorani warriors, who killed Elliot and his four companions on January 8, 1956. Elliot's body was found downstream, along with those of the other men, except that of Ed McCully which was found even farther downstream.  All of the men left families behind.  Jim left his wife of three years and an young daughter.  


Jim believed his work for the Lord was worth it, and his wrtings that surviived tesitfy to that.  His most famous saying

"He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose"

is a beautiful summary of his life's work.  

Almost all of what we know about Jim comes from his wife.  Her many books help document his life. 

Through Gates of Splendor
Passion and Purity
These Strange Ashes
Shadow of the Almighty

These are just a few of her books, but they are the ones that touch most heavily on Jim.

There was also a movie made about the experience.  One was a dramatic movie, but the better one is the documentary made by Bearing Fruit Productions called Beyond Gates of Splendor.  I have a copy of it, and it is a great window into the lives of all the men who gave their life for the Gospel.  

Most laws condemn the soul and pronounce sentence. The result of the law of my God is perfect. It condemns but forgives. It restores - more than abundantly - what it takes away.

“Forgive me for being so ordinary while claiming to know so extraordinary a God.”


"The will of God is always a bigger thing than we bargain for, but we must believe that whatever it involves, it is good, acceptable and perfect.”


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Theologian Thursdays: Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Every thursday I hope to highlight a different person from church history, alive or dead, and point out the impact they made on the Kingdom of God.

This is to introduce people to new ideas, thoughts, and to give us a glimpse into the many who have gone before us who have made a difference in their time for God.  


I'm going to start with those that have made a big impact on me personally, and then branch out from there.  

First up is Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.






Lloyd-Jones, or just the Doctor, as he was called by many, was a pastor in London for many years.  He served at Westminster Chapel from 1943-1968.  Trained as a medical doctor and coming to ministry later in life, he brought a unique perspective to the pastorate, and soon became known for his in-depth expository and teaching.  


His many books and sermons published over the years have benefited many people.  He was known for taking a careful approach to scripture, often spending sermons one one verse or a few words of a verse.  He spend the better part of a decade preaching through the book of Romans.  His volumes on 1,2, and 3 John that sit on my shelf contain over 70 sermons on 12 or so chapters.  But to listen to the Doctor was far from boring.  Being born in Wales he spoke with a heavy accent, but his passion and love for God was clear.

One of his most famous and influential volumes is "Preaching and Preachers".  This was series of lectures given to theological students in which he puts forth his doctrine of homiletics, or preaching.  He defines preaching as "logic on fire."  He believed preaching should always be expository, explaining the text, and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.  To stand in the pulpit was a serious thing for Lloyd-Jones, a task he never took lightly.  

A famous quote on the effects of Lloyd-Jones' preaching is given by theologian and preacher J.I. Packer, who wrote that he had "never heard such preaching." It came to him "with the force of electric shock, bringing to at least one of his listeners more of a sense of God than any other man"

On a personal level, the first book I picked up by the Doctor was Joy Unspeakable.  The honesty and passion with which he spoke drove me to the Lord.  I began to devour anything I could find by him, and there is a lot to be had!  I read all or part of Preaching and Preachers, Spiritual Depression,  Life in Christ, Living Water, Setting our Affections on Glory Faith on Trial, and countless articles and sermons by him.  There have been over 50 books published bearing his name, almost all of them collections of his sermons.  

Even though he died in 1981, he was and is a great influence on my ministry, and view of preaching.  He spoke with clarity and conviction, knowing that the Lord alone is who saves.

He pastored in London during World War II, and had to move his family out so they would be safe during air raids.  He was always present in London when church was to be had, even during bombings.  His daughter recounts one memory of him praying when bombs struck all around them. No one dared look up during a prayer, and he did not hurry his prayer.  When finally over, everyone looked up to see everyone covered by fine dust from the ceiling.  She thought they had all died and gone to heaven, the way everyone looked like angels.  

Shortly after his death, a charitable trust was established to continue Lloyd-Jones's ministry by making recordings of his sermons available. The organisation currently has 1600 talks available and also produces a weekly radio program using this material, and a podcast you can subscribe to at One Place.  

A few quotes from the Doctor.  


It is to the extent that we grasp the truth of the doctrine that the desire to be holy is created within us.  If I really believe that while I was 'dead in trespasses and sins' God quickened me, sent His Son into the world to die for me and for my sins that I might be saved form hell, and might be saved for heaven - if I really believe that, I must say 'Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all'.  It is logic, and it demands my soul, my life, my all.  I cannot resist such logic - I must!  

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Christian Unity p22

By the way, this was a whole sermon from Lloyd-Jones on Ephesians 4:1, just on the very first word.  "Therefore"  Only the Doctor could do that.

So it is quite inevitable in the matter of fellowship like this that though in a logical sense we persist in dividing up the aspect of fellowship into the two sides--Godward and manward--they are constantly intermixed and intermingled, because it is a sharing together, it is an intersection of the one upon the other. In other words, fellowship is never mechanical, but always something organic and vital. 


Quite the statement, one echoed in many books and blogs today. Except that this was preached by Martyn Lloyd-Jones over 60 years ago. You should read every book you can find by him. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Tornadoes and Sermons


All of us who watched were devastated as we watched the tornadoes rip through Moore, OK in May 2013.  I'm from OKC and I love that city, and I had family members and friends who lost houses in that storm.  I'm blessed to be a part of a church that mobilized volunteers to go up and help several times, even putting in extra hours to finish a local mission project so we could go back up to Moore to serve.  Baptist disaster relief has a great effort they have put in and have already given out over a million dollars in cash, and untold numbers of hours towards relief.  

As a pastor, I changed what I was going to preach at our upcoming services, trying to grasp where God was in the midst of these storms, and how we can worship Him in the middle of it all.  Wrestling with what scripture tells us while dealing with tragedy is part of every pastor's job, but these storms hit close to home for many pastors.

I have many friends and family in OKC, including pastor and churches, and a couple of weeks after the storms I went to listen to the sermons they shared with their congregations. One pastor, Andrew of Love and Justice church, lost his house in the storm.  Mark from Capitol Hill had many church members lose homes, face tragedy and more.  I am only tangentially familiar with Frontline, but I know they headed up a great effort after the storms still going on at www.servemoore.com, and I had a chance to work with their group.

Take a moment and listen to these sermons from these men who love God dearly and the people in their congregations as well.  They have different styles, but all love God dearly.  Listen and be encouraged.  





Monday, July 15, 2013

Looking Backwards to Move Forwards

You can't flip on the news without hearing about all the alarming things coming in the future.  Global Warming, over-population, lack of food, drought, hackers, NSA spying on people, and on and on. Each time we lose a worry like the Cold War, we pick up more to take it's place like domestic terrorism and chemical warfare.

And that's just on a global level.  In our own lives we deal with bad news from the dr, mounting bills, heaters going out, cars breaking, marriages falling apart, wayward children, abuse, neglect, and so much more.  The future is a terrifying place.  So much so that it drives many people mad, to hoard supplies for the coming apocalypse, or worse.

So where are we to turn?  For a christian, we have but one hope in this world, the Cross of Christ. And for us, that is behind us.  It's finished.  It's done.  It's over.  You see, the world is most concerned with what is in front of them.  We worry about the future, about what it holds, about how we are going to overcome all the obstacles that are going to come.  Overpopulation, drought, terrorism, spies, and more.  Who can know what the future holds?  Stuff that seemed ridiculous 10 years ago is now reality.  Techonolgy grows exponentially, and so, it seems, do our worries about the future.

The christian can stand and face the future, not because of a special knowledge or leg up on the future.  We can stand and face the future boldly because we know what is behind us.  The cross of Christ.  Where he paid our debt, once for all became the stand in for our sins, reconciling us to God through his death on the cross.  While the world worries about what is ahead, we can rest in the fact of what we know is behind us.  Jesus.  And that gives us freedom to boldly face whatever may come with the peace that can only come from knowing Christ.



Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Thoughts on the 2013 SBC

This was the first Southern Baptist Convention I had attended, and I am grateful to my church for the opportunity to do so.  I have several thoughts, and will list them out in bullets below.


  • Attendance :  The main meeting room was mostly empty, and felt cavernous.  Total messenger registration topped out just over 5k, and it showed in the small crowds. The times of actually conducting business were small as well, which was disappointing to me.  I think that is a valuable time to hear about what God is doing, and to join together to take stands in our culture for the Gospel of Christ.  I'll save the commenting on resolutions and ideas to other blogs, but I wish more had been involved.  Many other things were  going on at the same time and perhaps that attributed to it. 
           Additionally, as a younger pastor I didn't notice very many people there my age.  Much has been written  about the plethora of people at other conferences compared to the SBC, but I had a different thought.  

Many I have read and heard made mention of the fact that in the "old days" pastors would go to the        SBC, and take their families every summer as part of the family vacation.  It was a chance to hear good preaching, and to learn some things.  In fact, Paige Patterson made reference that part of the reason the Conservative Resurgence was won was because the conservatives were better preachers, reaching those middle of the road people, and moving people with their oratory.  I thought the preaching this year was fine, great even, but I no longer have to attend the SBC to hear the best preachers.  Thanks to technology I have them with me when I work out, mow, ride in the car, etc.  Not just the best living preachers either, but some of the best of all time, baptist or otherwise (gasp).  I can take Lloyd-Jones with me as I mow and learn from him.  If the SBC and Pastors Conference thinks great preaching will get people to come solely on that merit, I'm afraid that's not the case.  They need to have another reason that will convince people to come besides what has usually been the case.  


  • Missions  Whatever beefs I may have with Baptist's on issues, there is no greater way to co-operate together for missions than our CP.  To hear Tom Ellif share his heart for the nations would stir a dead man, and you cannot help but join him in what he is leading us to.  Same for local missions as well, in North America.  There is a clear plan of what we are to do, and we are pursuing after it, planting churches in many major cities.  I'm proud to give from our church to what Southern Baptists are doing around the world.

  • Leadership  I think the SBC right now has a lot of great leaders.  Fred Luter does a great job leading and pointing us to Jesus.  Frank Page is a great encourager and promotes the convention well.  I'm most excited about Russel Moore as new head of the ERLC, as I believe he is a strong intelligent voice that is needed in our world.  I appreciate that he is not interested in making the SBC a political party, but a prophetic voice in the wilderness, standing for truth in scripture.  

  • Rural/Small Church Support  While there is a clear emphasis on planting churches, which is needed, I am disappointed at what I see as the lack of support for small and rural churches. There is resources from Lifeway, etc.  But NAMB is pumping 20 million into new churches.  I asked Keven Ezell directly what they were doing about rural communities.  He gave a long and winding answer about going where people are, with the ultimate answer being "Nothing" They have a clear mission and that doesn't involve small rural churches.  That's fine but I am unclear as to who in the denomination is doing anything about it.  Due to our autonomy it can be difficult, but I dont see anyone really trying to help these churches drying up in small towns.  Rural is a relative word, my town is 3500. But we and our surrounding communities need good churches and support.  I believe this is a state problem as well, and I hope to do some things to address it on the state level starting soon.  But  I would like to see more than lip service paid to our smaller churches.  
That's a few quick thoughts on the SBC 2013.  I'd love to hear your thoughts if you attended, or your thoughts on the SBC overall.

I'm proud to be a Southern Baptist.



Tuesday, May 07, 2013

It is to the extent that we grasp the truth of the doctrine that the desire to be holy is created within us.  If I really believe that while I was 'dead in trespasses and sins' God quickened me, sent His Son into the world to die for me and for my sins that I might be saved form hell, and might be saved for heaven - if I really believe that, I must say 'Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all'.  It is logic, and it demands my soul, my life, my all.  I cannot resist such logic - I must!  

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Christian Unity p22

By the way, this was a whole sermon from Lloyd-Jones on Ephesians 4:1, just on the very first word.  "Therefore"  Only the Doctor could do that.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart

The title of this book will make you pick it up and look at it, if nothing else, but the way that Summit Church Pastor JD Greear tackles a difficult topic will be the reason you stay with it to the end.

In the book, Greear relays his own difficulties in growing up in his particular brand of evangelicalism.  That is to say, one that practices extended altar calls, revivalism, and stresses personal moment of conversion.  This is a strand I am familiar with having grown up in it and now pastoring in a section of the country where that view is most prevalent.

Right from the beginning though, he makes his premise clear

"Salvation is not a prayer you pray in one time ceremony and then move on from; Salvation is a posture of repentance and faith that you begin in a moment and maintain for the rest of your life"


He continues on this trajectory for the rest of the book, chasing this theme, and tackling relevant and difficult passages regarding salvation, and the perseverance of saints until the end of their life.  

He goes through topics such as "once saved, always saved", re-baptism, doubting, and the link between assurance and justification by faith alone.  

For a lightweight  somewhat comical looking book with a attention grabbing title, Greear lays out a heavy theological work in an easy to understand language.  He begins with walking through what salvation is and isn't, moves on to assurance, repentance, and doubt.  The book is thoroughly biblical and relies on many heavy theologians, such as John Bunyan, CS Lewis, and others.

Below are some quotes

Belief in the Gospel is not demonstrated by never failing, but by what you do when you do fail.


Saving faith always endures  to the end.  Faith that fades, no matter how luscious the first fruits, is not saving faith.

Repentance is belief in action.


Belief in God:  Acknowledging that God told the trut about Jesus, namely that He is Lord and that He has finished for us forever the work of salvation. 


The gospel in four words:  Jesus in my place


I enjoyed the book, both as a pastor and christian, and found it helpful in both those areas as well.  I recommend you pick it up.