Thursday, December 4, 2008

I Can't Wait for This Conference

I cannot wait for this year's Ligonier National Conference in Orlando. The line-up of speakers is amazing. Alice and I are also looking forward to taking our daughter, Caroline, with us. It should be a wonderful time of worship, learning, and family. To learn more about this conference, click here.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"O Church Arise"

Interesting Post on the New Capitol Visitor Center

Read this interesting and sad post on the absence of God from the new Capitol Visitor Center in Washington.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Christian Kids in Public School: What are Parents to Do?

What is a Christian family to do if their children attend public school? The reality in this world is that some Christians do have children who attend public school. In light of that, what should these parents do? What do they do if they cannot homeschool or afford private school?

The following are 1o suggestions that have been wandering around inside my head for some time. Some of these will apply to only families with kids in public school, while others will apply to all families regardless of choice of education.

In no particular order:

1. Pray for your children. Trust God to care for their minds while they are in school.
2. Admit that your children are in a secular environment for many hours during the week. Facing this reality will enable you to figure out how to best counteract the secular environment.
3. Teach your children the bible on a daily basis.
4. Preach the gospel to your children over and over.
5. View education as discipleship. The reality is that someone is teaching your kids. What they teach will impact the worldview your children have.
6. Related to # 5, avoid making an artificial division in your mind between education at school and education at home.
7. Talk to your children about what they are being taught.
8. Get to know your kids' teacher(s). They may have some who are Christians.
9. Get to know your kids' friends. Invite them over to your house regardless of who they are.
10. Ask your church family for help. Ask the pastor(s), children's workers, and youth workers to address secular thought and ideas while working with the kids while the church gathers.

If your children attend public school, they will be bombarded with secular thought for much of the week. It is best to admit this, and then decide to battle against it. What is at stake is the worldview of your children. Your church family should be ready and willing to help with this. We must all be open about what is happening, and talk, talk, talk, and talk some more with the children about what they are being taught about the world, and what the bible has to say.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I Pledge Allegiance to the Kingdom of God

Ever since the presidential election I have heard a great deal of talk by Christians who are fretting that our society is about to come to an end. They usually talk about what they think the new president and his administration will do to affect moral issues in our country.

The problem I see with this line of thinking is that we, as followers of Jesus Christ, are nowhere called upon to rely on secular government to be some sort of moral watchdog. The reality is that we live in a fallen world. It is absurd for us to hope that secularists in government will act in ways that line up with scripture.

When I read the bible, I see us called to be obedient to government as long as this does not violate God's word. However, nowhere do I see Christians told by God to rely on government for the bettering of society.

This problem is related to the idea that the United States is a "Christian country." Many American Christians, whether or not they realize it, act as if God has made promises to the USA like He did with Israel. When we fall into the trap of thinking this way, we will become greatly disturbed when our society shifts away from Christian values.

Please do not misunderstand. I desire that our society follow biblical standards. However, it is downright silly to expect lost people to act as if they are saved. It is also silly to expect government to enforce this.

Nowhere in the bible are we told to pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. Growing up in public school, I probably said the pledge 500 times before I ever gave it much of a thought. I still love my country. That said, my primary allegiance is not to the USA.

I pledge allegiance to the Kingdom of God. It is to God and His rule over this world that I pledge myself completely. My Owner, Maker, and Redeemer is the One to whom I give myself.

It is through Christ's church that society can be transformed. It is through the message of the gospel that lives are changed and people's hearts are opened to a desire to live by biblical standards. It is through the message of Christ-crucified that we can make a difference in this country.

Let's stop depending on our government. Let's stop worrying about our government. It is not going to make this a Christian country.

Instead, let's pledge our full allegiance to the Kingdom of God. It is only through His message of the gospel that hearts can be changed and societies transformed.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Our Words Affect How We Think About the Church

The words we use and the way we use them show other people both how we think and what we think about. Words are very powerful, so much so that they affect the way we act. This is true in all aspects of life, including the church.

When you hear the word "church," what do you think about? Some folks immediately think about a building. Others immediately think of the group of Christians they gather with a few times per week. Others think about the universal church of all believers. Still others think of the church as being something that falls somewhere in between either two or all three of the above.

How we think of, talk about, and describe "church" will greatly affect how we live out our Christian lives. In other words, how we describe what the church is and does will impact what we do.

For example, if we primarily think of the church as a building, we will necessarily focus much of our attention on the building itself. We will probably care a great deal about how the building looks, how clean it is, and how it is used by strangers. Much of our time and effort will be aimed at the edifice itself.

If we primarily think of the church as a local group of believers, our focus will be on that group of believers. We will spend much time together, meeting regularly and taking care of one-another's needs. Much of our time and effort will be aimed at when we gather together. We will probably care quite a bit about denominational differences.

If we primarily think of the church as the universal church of all believers, our focus will be on all Christians, regardless of what local church they are a part of. We will spend much time with followers of Christ. They may not gather with us during the week, but we still have active fellowship with them. We will probably have less of an "us-and-them" attitude and care less about denominational differences.

I realize that I have not addressed the issue of how Christians should interact with those who do not know Christ (that would make for a post that is longer than any of us desire to read right now. Share Christ with them and love them).

The above 3 categories of church definitions are not as precise as I would like, but they serve a purpose. If we want to be as biblical about the church as we can be, we must lean toward the universal church model. This appears to be what we see described in scripture most frequently. Some would argue this point, saying that the local church is what we most often see. My response to that is that the local church should be a manifestation of the universal church. When we draw a dividing line between the local church and the universal church, we are creating a division that does not appear in scripture.

Of course we should gather with a local body of believers. However, let's avoid any kind of us-and-them mentality toward other followers of Jesus Christ. One way we can do this is by being careful how we think and speak about the church. When we ponder what the church of God is, it clearly is not a building. We should banish that thought from our minds.

God's church does take the form of many local congregations. However, these bodies ought not have strong dividing lines between themselves and others groups of believers. We are all part of the same group that will be living together for eternity in the New Jerusalem.

Let's all try to be careful how we think about church. Let's strive to be as biblical as possible. How we think and especially how we speak about the church will affect how we live out life in the church.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Spiritual Birth by the Will of God

The more I read the bible, the more I see God's sovereign hand in all things - including salvation.

This morning I began to read through the book of John. I was not looking for anything in particular when I ran across verses 12 and 13 of chapter one. These verses say:

"But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." NKJV

Verse 12 tells us that anyone who receives God by believing in His name has the right to become a child of God. What an amazing right this is! To become a child of God is the best adoption any of us could imagine.

Verse 13 makes it even more amazing. In verse 13 we are told that anyone who receives God has been spiritually born because it was the will of God for this to happen. Take note of the fact that John makes it explicit that this did not happen because of the will of man. It is because of God's will that anyone is born spiritually.

What is going on here? The ordering of what is happening is the key. First, God wills that a person be born spiritually (born again as discussed in John chapter 3). Second, a person who has been spiritually born receives God by believing in his name. Third, that person has the right to become a child of God.

It is clear based on this passage that God initiates salvation (being born spiritually) by His sovereign will. Again, John states that this is according to the will of God, not of man. When a person is born spiritually, he is then able to respond in faith (believing in God). When a person responds to God in faith, he is saved (becoming a child of God).

My experience is that many American Christians are uncomfortable with the idea that it is God who is sovereign over salvation and not man. I could understand this if God was not perfect, loving, gracious, and merciful to infinite degrees. However, since He is these things, why do so many people struggle with God's sovereignty?

My conclusion is that for some people, the issue is a lack of understanding both God's infinite holiness and our utter corruption and spiritual death. If we admit that humans are dead spiritually prior to salvation, then it must be that God alone is the one who can and does make them come alive spiritually.

We are saved by the will of God.

London: World Capital?

Baptist Press has posted an interesting article focusing on the multicultural situation in London, England. Based on the description, it does sound like London could be the world capital. It certainly makes for an interesting missions opportunity. Here are a few quotes:

"As a coverage by The Guardian newspaper confirmed in 2005, London has become 'a world in one city.' From Algerians in Finsbury Park to West Africans in Woolwich, the newspaper ranged through the alphabet, finding major and minor ethnic/language communities throughout the city: Bangladeshis, Chinese, Indians, Iranians, Jamaicans, Nigerians, Pakistanis, Poles, Russians, Somalis, Sri Lankans, Turks, Vietnamese -- to name only a few groups."

"Altogether, more than 300 languages are spoken by the people of London, and the city has at least 50 non-indigenous communities with populations of 10,000 or more. Virtually every race, nation, culture and religion in the world can claim at least a handful of Londoners."

"Christians contend with one of the most secularized societies in Europe. While 58 percent of Londoners claimed to be 'Christian' in the 2001 census, here's a more realistic estimate: 80 percent have had no personal encounter with Jesus Christ, and only a small minority follow Him as Lord."

To read the article in full, click here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Voddie Baucham on the SBC and Calvinism

Voddie Baucham, one of my few living heroes within the SBC, has written an interesting blog post about his experience within the Southern Baptist Convention. Here's a hint: now that people know he is a Calvinist, he is no longer favored among the SBC's elite.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Grace in Rain

I spent this past Friday and Saturday with my son Bobby and a lot of other Cub Scouts on a campout. Overall it was a good time of hiking, chopping wood, tying knots, learning first aid, etc. I will admit that the sleeping was not the best. I'm pretty sure that I slept well from about 1-3:30 AM. Caffeine kept me awake until one (my mistake), and hard ground gave me fits from 3:30 onward. By the time we left for home on Saturday evening I was ready for a hot shower and a soft bed.

I bring all this up because in the midst of it all I was again reminded of God's great grace even in the small things of life. After we ate lunch, Bobby and the other scouts departed for an hour of "map and compass." Right after they left the campsite (where lunch was served), I began to break down our tent. As I began this process, I was praying to God to keep the rain away. If you have ever taken down a tent, you know that this can be a time-consuming process. This is no small tent; it sleeps seven people.

It had rained for most of the previous night. Despite a nice morning, the clouds began to roll back in as we were eating lunch. As I fumbled with metal poles and ropes of various sizes, I continued to pray that God would keep the rain away until I managed to get the tent into our car. I really did not want to shove a wet, soggy, muddy tent into my trunk. Yuck.

After I had taken all our belongings to the car, had the poles and ropes folded, and the tent was lying flat on the ground, I began to fold it up. I'm not sure how the experts do this, but I simply fold it in half over and over. After each fold, I sort of flop on top of the whole thing, shoving the air out with my body weight. I'm sure it was not pretty to watch.

Somewhat miraculously, I managed to get the tent into a small enough shape to shove it into its bag. After I heaved it into my trunk, I walked over to another close campsite to talk with one of Bobby's scout leaders. We had talked for about two minutes when it began to sprinkle. A few minutes later it was pouring.

As close as I can calculate, in God's providence there were only about 5 minutes between when I finished packing up the tent and when it began pouring. Since luck doesn't exist, this must have been God's doing. God, in His grace, spared me from getting soaked and muddy.

This is not a big issue. This certainly does not deal with salvation. However, it is a small example of how God answers prayer about even small things. I thank Him for being willing to listen to the prayers of a semi-frustrated dad who simply didn't want to get wet.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Blessed to Speak English

My first language is English. Unfortunately, at least at a functional level, my only language is English. I wish I spoke more.

Despite speaking only one language, I realize that I am blessed. The reason for this is the vast amount of Christian literature that exists in the English language. I doubt that any other language even comes close to equaling what English has.

Just as an example, there are currently many different versions of the bible in English. Every year it seems that a new one appears. Just within this decade the ESV and HCSB have come upon the scene.

If you go to this site and click on the down arrow by the choice of language translation, you will see that while most languages have just one or two choices offered, English has twenty.

Compare this to the hundreds of people groups in the world who do not even have ONE translation of the scriptures in their heart language.

Beyond bible translations, the English language has thousands of good Christian books, magazines, Sunday School literature choices, music cds, etc. There are even multiple Christian publishing houses.

With all this Christian literature available, it seems like English-speaking countries around the world should be the most Christian, at least by percentage of the population. However, this is not the case. Amazingly, Christianity appears to be growing most rapidly in places like China and sub-Saharan Africa. Christians in those locations are usually very blessed to just have one copy of the bible per family or even local church.

To sum up, I'm thrilled that I speak English because of the amazing array of English bible translations, books, etc. However, it is clear that amount of literature does not translate directly to living for Christ.

So what do we do? Let's encourage bible translation into ALL of the world's languages so that everyone can read God's glorious word in his own heart language. Let's also preach and teach that we must live according to the word. Reading it is not enough.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

8 Things I've Learned

Chevis Oaks Baptist church called me to be its pastor in June of this year. Since that time I have learned a great deal (I hope) about pastoral ministry.

The following are 8 things I've learned while serving in this capacity. I'm sure these will not be new ideas to all who read this post; in fact, they are pretty basic. Additionally, most of these are not new to me. They have, rather, become things that I can now understand better through experience.

1. Pastoring is a great honor. I continue to be amazed that I am in this position. Clearly, God does not select pastors based upon any merit of their own.

2. Pastoring is a great joy. In Philippians 4:1, Paul refers to the Philippian church as his "joy and crown." I feel the same way about Chevis Oaks. The people here have welcomed me and my family with open arms.

3. Pastoring is a great burden. Although we are all individually responsible before God for our own spiritual state, I do feel a weight of responsibility within the church. Since the people listen to me preach and teach the bible each week, I am directly affecting their understanding of who God is and what He expects of them.

4. Pastoring can be a lonely position. Since sermon preparation requires quite a bit of time, this means quite a bit of time alone in study. While I greatly enjoy this, it also means a lot of time alone. While this is offset somewhat by visits to homes and hospitals, it still remains, at least some of the time, a lonely position.

5. Pastors get too much credit. When things are going well in the church, the pastor gets too much credit. When things are going poorly, the pastor gets too much blame. Since the church is a body, that means it is made up of many parts. The pastor is one of those parts, but he is not more important than the others. When things go well or poorly (however you define that), the body needs to look at all the parts.

6. Pastors will make mistakes. I've already made a few of these. The pastor is a normal, fallen individual who will do things incorrectly. The church family needs to accept this and be ready and willing to kindly rebuke the pastor when necessary. The pastor needs to be humble enough to accept this.

7. Pastors need the help and support of the body. I have been spoiled by the amount of positive words I have received so far at Chevis Oaks. I hope I have responded in kind. The New Testament makes it clear that all that is done within the church should be done for edification. This must include words that go to the pastor and come from the pastor.

8. Pastoring is too big for any individual. The New Testament is painfully clear that the biblical church model is to have a multiplicity of pastor/elder/overseers. A muliplicity allows for accountability, shared ideas, shared workload, and protection from pride. The tasks and responsibility are too great for any one man.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Barna on the 2008 Election

Regarding politics, I am a conservative, independent voter who wishes Ron Paul had won the presidential election. However, I am still interested in who was victorious last week. I am always intrigued by what groups vote what way, and why they do so.

Pollster George Barna has published some interesting findings related to the 2008 presidential election. These include:

"Evangelicals chose their candidate on a different set of indicators than did other voters. When asked their primary reason for supporting the candidate they selected, 40% of evangelicals said it was because of the candidate’s position on moral issues. Only 9% of other voters listed that as their driving reason. Other significant reasons for evangelical voters included their candidate’s political experience (23%) and his character (15%)."

Non-Christians provided Sen. Obama with a lopsided 62% to 36% margin of preference over Sen. McCain. That 26-point gap surpassed the 20-point margin the group provided to John Kerry in 2004 and the 15-point margin awarded to Al Gore in 2000. This shift came primarily from those non-born again adults who have moderate social and political views."

Three-fourths of atheists and agnostics (76%) gave their vote to Sen. Obama, while only 23% backed Sen. McCain. That is a step up from the level of support Democrats have previously received from skeptics. In 2004, 64% of atheists and agnostics voted for Democratic challenger John Kerry."

About 5% of America’s adult population associates with faiths other than Christianity (e.g., Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, etc.). Within this group, about half (47%) were registered as Democrats, 30% were independent, and one-quarter (23%) were Republicans. The ballots of this group were most often cast for Barack Obama (62%) rather than John McCain (36%). The support provided to the Democratic candidate is identical to the backing this group provided to John Kerry four years ago (61%). "

"Assessing the voting outcomes by race and faith, the survey showed that there were no statistically significant differences between black born again voters and black non-born again voters. Similarly, there were no meaningful distinctions in candidate preference between Hispanic born agains and Hispanic non-born again voters. Overall, Sen. Obama claimed more than 90% of the African-American vote and three-quarters of the Hispanic vote. He won just 41% of the white vote. Among white voters, faith had a significant correlation with their candidate selection. White born again voters chose Sen. McCain by a 73% to 26% outcome. Whites who were not born again chose Sen. Obama by a 56% to 39% margin. White voters were also more affected by their understanding the candidates’ moral positions and political experience than were other voters. "

"Among voters who had a favorable view of Wicca, Sen. Obama was the favored candidate 64% to 35%. "

If you would like to read Barna's article in full, click here.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Going Door-to-Door: An Interesting Article

God has placed our church in the midst of a community that is very needy at both a spiritual and material level. This offers us many opportunities as followers of Jesus Christ to reach out to those around us.

I have challenged our church family to give out a New Testament at each door in our community in 2009 (click here for inexpensive NTs). We hope this will show the people who reside near the church building that we care about them. We also hope this leads to more concrete opportunities for service. The ultimate goal is that God will be glorified through the salvation of many sinners.

Since we will be knocking on many doors in the community, this article by Ed Stetzer interested me. One of the main findings is that people tend to be significantly more open to an invitation to a church gathering than they are to a gospel witness. This makes sense since an invitation to attend is much less threatening to a person's worldview and belief system than is a discussion of Jesus Christ. Despite this, I certainly hope that we will have opportunities to share about Christ and the cross.

The article is worth the few minutes it will take to read.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I Didn't Vote

I didn't vote.

For some people this is probably not a big deal. For others, it is almost blasphemy.

What once was considered simply a right in our country has now been transformed into some sort of "civic duty" or "responsibility." For example, at Baptist Press, I just read an article entitled, "Vote -- it's your right and responsibility."

I didn't vote because I couldn't think of anyone on either ticket that I wanted to vote for. While I certainly did not want Barack Obama to be elected president, I did not find John McCain particularly appealing either. Additionally, I'm tired of the "lesser of two evils" argument. I simply did not want to vote for either evil (if Ron Paul had still been running for president, I probably would have pulled the level for him.)

Regardless, I find it increasingly disturbing how many Christians in this country basically equate love for God with love of country. This is the view of some sort of "Christian America," as if we have inherited the promises of God that He originally intended (and still intends) for Israel.

The bible is clear that for Christians, our citizenship is in heaven. We are to be exiles, aliens, and strangers while on this earth. We are never to feel too comfortable. This world ought not ever feel too much like home. If we always feel as if we just don't quite fit in here, and that we are longing to be somewhere else, this is a good thing. We should be longing to be home - in heaven with God.

Voting ought to be viewed as a matter of Christian liberty and conscience as opposed to a Christian responsibility.

As exiles on this planet, let's not retreat from the culture, but rather engage the culture with the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. While we do this, let's remember that our primary focus is to be the Kingdom of God (Jesus' favorite topic), not the Kingdom of the United States of America.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Fascinating Comment Stream

As some of you know, once per week I write a satirical piece for Team TomintheBox News Network (TBNN). My pen-name at TomintheBox is "Elder Eric." TBNN is strictly for fun.

Yesterday I posted a silly piece entitled, "Rector Daringly Introduces Jesus to Episcopal Church." The purpose of the piece was to poke fun at the turmoil with the Episcopal Church over the truth of the gospel message.

Every once in a while, TBNN pieces strike a cord or a nerve depending on who is reading. Well, this particular piece has generated a lot of discussion at Stand Firm, which is a site for discussion of Anglican issues. Stand Firm somehow found out about this TBNN piece, and ran a short story about it. What is fascinating is the comment stream. Many people who commented struggled to figure out whether or not the TBNN piece was satire or reality. This is because, unfortunately, many Episcopal churches apparently are not very welcoming to Jesus Christ.

Anyway, if you are interested in reading the comments, click here and scroll down until you reach the comments section. Enjoy!

Pilgrim's Progress - the movie

I'm not sure that any movie can do justice to John Bunyan's literary masterpiece, Pilgrim's Progress. However, a recent movie telling this story is worth watching. Our family enjoyed watching Pilgrim's Progress - Journey to Heaven. Because the film has a relatively low budget, the special effects are not Hollywood quality. Despite this, the movie is still well-made, well-acted, and faithful to Bunyan's wonderful allegory of the Christian life. Below is a short video that tells more about the film. I encourage you to watch it.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Reformed in Soteriology, Not Ecclesiology

This sign applies to me in some ways but not in others. The reason for this is that I agree with the Reformers in soteriology. In other words, I agree with Luther, Calvin, etc. on the doctrine of salvation.

However, I do not agree with the Reformers mentioned above in ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church). It is interesting how these men could be so biblical in their view of salvation, but so far off from the biblical model in their view of what the church is and does.

This is a good lesson to all of us (including me) that while we are correct in some of our beliefs, we are probably also incorrect on a few things.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Reformation Day!

We have much to be thankful for this day, and I'm not referring to ghouls and goblins.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

World Champs at Last!

The Philadelphia Phillies are champions of American baseball.

Being a Phillies fan can be a painful experience. However, right now it is glorious for me. Last night they clinched the championship by defeating the Tampa Bay Rays.

I guess all things are possible. Maybe next year even the Chicago Cubs will win it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Frightened By What I Deserve

For the past two weeks we have been studying Genesis 3 at Chevis Oaks Baptist Church. The more we look at this chapter, the more I realize that I deserve to hang on a cross. I could never pay for my guilt as Jesus did, but I still deserve it. When I think about the details of the crucifixion, I am horrified by it. That is what this video describes.

What is even more amazing is that the spiritual pain for Christ was even worse than the physical torture this video describes.

Praise God for His amazing grace!

Only a Politician Could Root for the Phillies AND Rays in the World Series

Go Phillies!!!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Too Many Books, Not Enough Time

I love to read, but don't seem to have enough time to do it right now. There are multiple books sitting on my shelf just waiting to be devoured. Maybe you are in this same situation.

I'm currently reading:

E. M. Bounds on Prayer

Institutes of the Christian Religion

Outgrowing the Ingrown Church

This Momentary Marriage

What's sitting on my shelf waiting to be read:

Biblical Preaching

Essential Church

Francis Schaeffer Trilogy

Restoring Integrity in Baptist Churches

Stand: A Call for the Endurance of the Saints

The Atonement

The Intimate Marriage

Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond

Twelve Challenges Churches Face

If you like to read, but cannot find the time, how do you deal with this? Do you read a book thoroughly, or do you skim?

What are you reading? Do you have any suggestions for good books to add to my shelf?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Church Dissing Fatigue

I'm suffering from Church Dissing Fatigue.

What is Church Dissing Fatigue? This new disorder, commonly referred to as CDF, is diagnosed when a person grows chronically fatigued from reading blogs which diss and complain repeatedly about the church.

I realize that many local churches are in need of reform in various areas. I also realize that since the church is composed of people, and therefore sinners, there will always be some problems.

I also acknowledge that there are some helpful blogs that not only discuss struggles within the church, but also offer helpful solutions. Blogs like this are usually written in a positive and helpful tone. My friend, Alan, writes a good blog of this sort.

My CDF comes from the multitude of blogs that criticize what may be called traditional churches. The blogs I'm referring to tend to be written from a critical and somewhat sarcastic point of view. The posts often suggest that the writer is the one who has finally figured out what the church is supposed to be and do. The writer rails against the problems that exist in traditional churches and rarely offers helpful solutions.

When I read blogs of this nature, I grow fatigued for one main reason. This reason is the main message that flows from the blog posts: pride. It is prideful for a writer to set himself up as some sort of all-knowing guru, telling everyone else what is wrong with their local church body. Writers like this almost act upset that they are not being consulted for advice on how a church should perform its duties.

This sort of blog writer also often writes in very black-and-white terms. When the traditional church is discussed, the writing suggests that everything is wrong with how the traditional church functions. The blogger usually writes as if he either pities or despises the traditional church.

This is not to say that we cannot know what God wants from His church; He has told us much in the bible. However, He has also given us a good deal of freedom in what the expression of the church looks like. Local bodies in NT times were not all the same; they also weren't all told to look and be the same.

I've decided to take the only remedy I know of for treating CDF: I'm going on a permanent diet from church dissing, negative blogs. They do no good. In fact, all they seem to accomplish is puffing up the writers, while causing dissension in the broader Christian blog world.

Let's build up the church instead of ourselves.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Video: Christians Under Attack in India

Christians continue to suffer terribly in parts of India. In order to see and hear about this, click here to watch a BBC report.

Please pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ as they face persecution. Pray for steadfastness, strength, and hope.

Going to the World Series!

Click here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Different Worship Styles - Same God

On Sunday we as a family participated in worship services of two VERY different styles. The fascinating thing is that the worship was directed to the same God: the Triune God of the bible.

As usual, we worshiped with our Chevis Oaks Baptist Church family during our morning and evening services. The worship style at Chevis Oaks is fairly standard for a Southern Baptist church. A visitor would probably say that joy dominates our worship services. We also tend to be informal. Although we are certainly reverent, our behavior most likely does not suggest that we are in awe at the presence of God during a gathering. I must say that at the conclusion of our services I always feel edified and loved.

After the evening service we made a quick stop at Wendy's. After that, we did something different. Instead of going home, we drove into the historic district of Savannah to attend Christ Church Savannah's Compline service. Christ Church is a member of the Anglican province of Uganda (this basically means that they preach, teach, and believe the biblical gospel).

Christ Church Savannah was founded in 1733. It was Georgia's first church. While in America, John Wesley (yes, that John Wesley) led this congregation. A few years after Wesley, George Whitefield (yes, that George Whitefield) took charge of this body.

The current church building (pictured here) was constructed in 1838. As we walked into the building, we were struck by what we saw. The candlelight atmosphere, stained-glass windows, and silence of the people present combined to generate a sense of reverence and awe. The Compline service, which takes place each Sunday at 9 PM, is a Christian service "dating back to monastic life in the Middle Ages." During the service, a choir sang from the balcony. The musical pieces were relatively short, holding to the Gregorian Chant style of hundreds of years ago. We greatly enjoyed this 30 minute respite.

What we experienced at Chevis Oaks differed greatly from what happened at Christ Church. Was one style better than another? Was one more acceptable to God than another? I do not think so. The key is that the services were biblical. The gospel was proclaimed in different ways, in different atmospheres. However, it was the same gospel.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"In My Place Condemned He Stood"

My favorite biblical doctrine and the one I cherish the most is the atonement of Jesus Christ.  If I ever return to school (yikes) this is the subject that I hope to study in depth.

Because of this, I enjoy reading about the atonement more than any other subject.  The latest book that I've completed on this subject is In My Place Condemned He Stood: Celebrating the Glory of the Atonement.  This relatively short text (about 150 pages) is composed of a series of essays by J. I. Packer and Mark Dever.  I've enjoyed reading both of these men in the past so I assumed this book would be a good investment of time and energy.

Several positives stand out for this book.  First, the subject is at the heart of Christianity so the material itself is automatically compelling.  Second, both of the authors are great scholars.  Third, they both understand that the atoning work of Christ was a definite atonement as opposed to a potential atonement.

The only negative for me personally is that I struggle a bit with J. I. Packer's writing style.  In a somewhat ironic twist, in this book Packer describes John Owen's writings as difficult to read.  And I thought Packer was difficult!

The last section of this book by itself, which is not even one of the essays, is reason enough to purchase it.  Ligon Duncan has compiled an excellent annotated bibliography (25 pages) on the subject of the atonement.  This will come in very handy for later intensive study of this subject.

This book is a good read.  If you purchase it, I suggest reading it along with a few other books that may be a bit easier. 

Monday, October 13, 2008

Watch this Desiring God Video about James 3

Click here to read James 3:1-12.

Attacks Continue on Iraqi Christians

Even CNN, which is not known as the most Christian-friendly organization, is reporting that Christians are coming under increasing attack in parts of Iraq.

According to CNN, "Thirteen Christians have been slain in the past two weeks in the city (Mosul), which is located about 420 kilometers (260 miles) north of Baghdad. At least 900 Christian families have fled in recent days, reportedly frightened by a series of killings and threats by Muslim extremists ordering them to convert to Islam or face possible death, Iraqi officials said."

To read the entire article, click here.

Let's be in prayer for our Christian brothers and sisters who live in very difficult places.

Hebrews 13:3, "Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body."

Friday, October 10, 2008

Appointed to Eternal Life

Many American Evangelical Christians shy away from the doctrines of election and predestination as if they are some sort of evil. I have heard numerous Christians actually say that it wouldn't be fair for God to elect some people to salvation but not others. Having been raised in an Arminian denomination, I cannot even begin to tell how many times I've heard the doctrine of election described as God's looking into the future to see who would choose Him, and then He elected them.

I do not understand why Christians, at least in this country, generally struggle with accepting the fact that it is God who sovereignly selects who will be saved and who will not. I believe that a fair reading of the scriptures shows this to be true.

For example, in Acts 13:48 we read in the ESV, "And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed" (emphasis mine).

The NASB, NKJV, NIV, and HCSB also use the word "appointed" in this verse. The KJV and Wycliffe New Testament use "ordained."

The context of this passage has Paul and Barnabas in Antioch in Pisidia on the first missionary journey. On a Sabbath, a group of Jews was contradicting Paul. In response to this, Paul and Barnabas said that since they rejected the gospel message, Paul and Barnabas would turn to the Gentiles. That is the conclusion of 13:47. Immediately after this, we read 13:48.

In the original Greek language, the meaning is the same (to see it, click here). Luke clearly writes that some Gentiles were assigned, appointed, or designated to eternal life. Those who were thus appointed were those who then believed. The Greek verb form is a perfect passive participle. The key is that it is passive. This means that someone else appointed those who would believe. Who did the appointing? It is clear that God did.

I have read various people attempt to make Acts 13:48 say something other than it does. The reality, however, is that the language is clear and plain. It is not difficult to read or understand. In Acts 13:48, a certain number of Gentiles believed. They were the ones God appointed to believe.

God is sovereign over the election of who is saved and who is not. When we submit to this truth, it gives us a broader, deeper, and sweeter view of the glory of the cross.

I thank God for saving a wretch like me!

Rights for Plants in Switzerland? - It's No Joke

It appears that plants are now being granted rights in Switzerland. For more on this lunacy, read here.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Importance of the Catechism

Our friend Shannon recently commented on this blog, "You mentioned that you catechize your children.  I was wondering if there is a specific approach that you take and if so, are there specific resources you would recommend using?"

Alice and I definitely believe in the importance of catechizing our children.  The unfortunate reality is that most Christians do not know the bible well and know even less doctrine.  The typical American follower of Christ seems to know alarmingly little beyond the basics of the gospel message.

We want our children to know both what they believe and why they believe it.  Because of this, we study systematically through the bible, usually reading a chapter or two per day (some weeks we do a better job of this than others).  During our time of bible study, we also use a catechism.  

As we catechize, we use the traditional question-and-answer format.  We usually go question-by-question, answering together out loud.  For example, the most famous question in the catechism we use is, "What is the chief end of man?"  After I read the question aloud, we all answer together, saying, "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever."

There are several different options for what catechism to use.  This will obviously depend upon what your specific beliefs are.  As Baptists, we have chosen to use a Baptist catechism.  This catechism (pictured above) is published by Desiring God Ministries.   The website description of this catechism says, "This booklet is a slightly revised version of 'The Baptist Catechism' first put forth by Baptists in 1689 in Great Britain.  It is patterned after the well-known Westminster Catechism, and includes some comments in the early sections to help parents make things plain to their children."

To gain a sense for what this catechism is like, you can read it here.

You can order the catechism here.

I highly recommend using some sort of catechism with your children.  It is amazing how much even little children can learn in a relatively short period of time.  The beauty of the catechism is that kids both like it and benefit from it.  They will learn truths that will remain with them for the rest of their lives.  If learned at a young age, children may know a great deal of biblical doctrine even before they submit to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Interesting Book, Wrong Title

Have you ever read a book that you thought was worth the time, but by the end realized that is has the wrong title? This just happened to me as I was completing Simple Church: Returning to God's Process for Making Disciples.

This book, written by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger, would be much more accurately entitled something like "Focused Church" or "Streamlined Church." The reason for this is that what they propose is not really simple. Rather, they suggest a process by which churches can focus or streamline what they are trying to do. The church may end up being just as complex as before, but at the end of the process everything will at least be flowing in the same direction.

Let me explain. This book is worth reading because of the research that Rainer and Geiger put into it. The authors looked at churches that were growing compared to those that have plateaued in attendance. They asked many questions and discovered some interesting things.

In general, Rainer and Geiger found that when a church is focused around a common vision of how they will make disciples, and when the people of the church buy into that vision, the church is likely to thrive. However, if a church has several different vision statements and is not particularly focused, that church struggles to make and keep disciples.

It seems that in the focused church the people are able to rally around a common goal. They know both what they believe and what they are doing while together as a church body. In churches that are not focused, there appears to be a decent amount of confusion about what the church is attempting to accomplish.

The results of this book are helpful. They have made me ask why we do what we do. Any church could benefit from this. Additionally, most churches could probably cease certain activities that do not have anything to do with the church's focus.

Now to the title of the book. What Rainer and Geiger propose in this text is that a church be focused. The reality is that they do not suggest simplicity. What the authors want is for churches to look at what they do, ask why they do what they do, focus on one discipleship plan, and give all attention to that plan. This may all continue to happen within the same structure that the church already has in place. Even a mega-church, with thousands of members, could focus by reading this book. That is hardly the same thing as simple.

When I think of simple church, I think about the most basic aspects of the church as we see it in the bible. This type of simple church is followers of Jesus Christ spending life together, serving one another, bearing one another's burdens, and witnessing to the lost. This simple church is about people as opposed to buildings and programs. This is simple in focus and structure.

It is interesting to see what people are saying about simple church (the concept, not the book) on the internet. For example, sites like this, this, and this are all talking about this phenomenon.

Simple Church (the book) is worth the read. However, it needs a more accurate title.

Monday, October 6, 2008

"150? That's Not Bad."

I recently ventured into our local Lifeway Bookstore here in Savannah. As I was perusing some books (which is always a dangerous temptation), I got into a discussion with one of the ladies who works there. I found out that not only is she a Christian, but she also attends a Southern Baptist Church. After we talked about Baptist life for a few minutes, we began to discuss the specific churches we attend.

It turns out that she is a member of one of the larger SBC churches in the city. Her church averages about 500 in attendance on a Sunday morning. She did not tell me this; I just happen to know it because the church is well-known around town.

This is where the conversation took a turn for the weird. She asked me about where I attend. I told her that I am the pastor of Chevis Oaks Baptist. She asked me how big the church is. I told her that on Sunday mornings we average 125-150 people. That's when she said it.

Her response still rings in my ears. She said, "150? That's not bad."

I have no idea what I said after that. I literally cannot remember the remainder of the conversation. A few minutes later I left the store to drive back to the church building.

For much of the rest of the day I thought about her statement. Obviously, based on this post, I am still pondering it. Several related questions come to mind:

Would fewer than 125-150 in attendance be "bad"?
When does "bad" begin for a church?
What number do you have to reach to be "good"?
What scale of measurement is she using?
Is bigger automatically better?

It is the last question that bothers me the most. As many of us have seen, the American idea of "bigger is better" is ingrained in the minds of many Christians. The line of reasoning goes something like this: people attend a church because other people witness to them; witnessing is good; therefore, bigger churches are full of more obedient people; therefore, bigger churches are better.

There are so many problems with that logic that I don't even want to deal with it. What we must realize is that nowhere in scripture is church size even an issue. It is not commended by God. It isn't even mentioned.

God cares much more about the conditions of the hearts of the people who make up the church than He does about the numerical size of the church. God cares that we love Him and love other people. God desires that we care for the weak among us and lead holy lives. God cares that we build each other up in the faith. God wants us to share our faith in Jesus Christ.

Let's focus on what God cares about, and not play the church numbers game. God simply doesn't care about it.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Atheists Targeting President Over Prayer

A large group of atheists and agnostics is suing President Bush and others over the issue of prayer. Click here to read about it.

Apparently these atheists believe that freedom of religion and freedom of speech should apply only to those who do not believe in God.

Friday, October 3, 2008

"Spectacular Sins"

John Piper has written yet another book that confronts a difficult topic head on. In Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ, Dr. Piper deals with the issue of God's sovereignty over sin. This text looks at how God can both be in control of all things, and yet very, very bad things still happen.

Piper specifically looks at different accounts in the bible that show God's sovereignty over sin. He shows how God either causes or permits sin in order to bring about His good purposes. Making sure to say that God is not the author of sin or guilty of sin, Piper repeatedly illustrates how God controls events and circumstances to glorify Christ.

My favorite chapters of this book were those that look at specific bible characters, the sin in their lives or those around them, and how God used those situations for His wise purposes. These chapters study the fall of Satan, the disobedience of Adam, the pride of Babel, the sale of Joseph, the sinful origin of the Son of David, and the case of Judas Iscariot.

I appreciate Dr. Piper because he is willing to deal with difficult issues such as this without suggesting that God is somehow lacking in sovereignty. Piper shows how God's complete and utter sovereignty should give us great hope during times of trial. That alone makes it worth buying. It is also a quick read (even for a slow reader like me) - only about 110 pages.

Speaking of buying, this book is on sale right now for only $5.00. Click here to see.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Fireproof - It's Worth the $9.00

I have been disappointed TOO MANY times by movies. Most that are recommended to me are not even worth the matinee price. Most aren't even worth the cost of a DVD rental.

Fireproof is different. It is worth every penny.

My wife (Alice) and I went to see Fireproof last night. I have to admit being a little skeptical as the beginning of the movie. However, I ended up enjoying the entire film. It was well-made, well-acted, and (this may sound a bit hokey) inspiring.

The best 3 reasons to see the movie are:

1. Fireproof is clear that we need Jesus Christ. Although the movie does not present the gospel in all its detail, it makes it clear that life only really begins by knowing Jesus Christ. This message is not watered-down in any way.

2. Fireproof displays a high view of marriage. The film clearly indicates that marriage is to be for a lifetime. The screenplay does not downplay the difficulties involved in marriage, but does encourage the viewer to work through these difficulties. It is realistic and biblical.

3. Fireproof deals with pertinent issues of our day. This film tackles subjects such as materialism, pornography, communication in marriage, forgiveness, and the devastation of divorce. I admire the writers for not shying away from difficult subjects.

Here is a bonus reason to see Fireproof:

Fireproof is set in Albany, Georgia. Although Albany is located four hours from here, it is still in South Georgia. That means that the scenery in the movie is much like it is here in Savannah (minus the marsh grass). So, if you want to know what the vegetation is like in Savannah, then you have to go see this movie.

Go see the movie. You will be glad you did.

"He Is Not Silent"

Dr. Albert Mohler is one of my favorite authors. I appreciate his desire to be biblical and to confront secular society with the gospel message.

Mohler has recently penned several books. I just completed reading his new text concerning preaching. He Is Not Silent is a call to preachers to confront our postmodern society with the truths set forth in the bible.

Mohler focuses on the need for expository preaching, the importance of doctrine in preaching, and the challenges of preaching to the postmodern mindset. At the same time, Mohler sounds a clarion call to today's preachers to have the courage and fortitude to preach biblically and keep preaching biblically.

This text is not a "how-to" text for expository preaching. Instead, it is designed to be a wake-up call to preachers and teachers about the need for the proclamation of the clear gospel message in the midst of a society that is confused about religion and spirtuality.

If you have never read a book discussing preaching/teaching as it relates to the current postmodern mindset, then I encourage you to read this book. It is fairly short (about 170 pages) and easy to read. If you have read other texts which focus on the importance of expository preaching, then don't bother with this one.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Pitfall of Pastoral Pride

Pastoring a church is a great joy. I continue to be amazed at what a wonderful privilege it is.

Sunday, in particular, is my favorite day of the week because it is when our church family gathers twice. Spending time together and building one another up is something that I look forward to all week long.

Sunday is also a day that I must be careful. Many folks within the church say very nice things to me on that day. This encourages and edifies me. However, there is a danger. The danger that lurks in the midst of this is pride. Once in a while, after someone has said something nice, I can sense myself feeling good about myself. I am not referring here to some sort of healthy self-concept. Rather, I'm talking about feeling prideful in my own actions, skills, and abilities.

When I realize that I am feeling this way, it makes me sick. Over the past few weeks, I have been preaching through Genesis chapter 1. That chapter makes it painfully clear that all abilities come to us as a gift of God. In fact, even our very lives are a gift from His hand. In light of this, pride is absurd.

When we become prideful, we are basically dethroning God in our lives and placing ourselves on the throne. Because of this, God condemns pride.

Proverbs 11:2, "When pride comes, then comes shame; but with the humble is wisdom."

Proverbs 16:18, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."

Proverbs 29:23, "A man's pride will bring him low, but the humble in spirit will retain honor."

In Mark 7:20-23, Jesus lists pride among evils that come from within man. He says, "What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man."

Additionally, Paul writes something interesting to Timothy in discussing qualifications for an elder/overseer/pastor. In I Timothy 3:6, Paul says that an overseer should not be, "a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil."

Pride is a sin that all followers of Jesus Christ should resist. When the temptation arises, we should squash it by remembering that it is God who has given us all we have, including our abilities to do any good at all.

As pastors, we must fight against this temptation when the church gathers. In fact, even as we are being edified, we must watch out for Satan's attempt to use this to make us think that we are something special.

As pastors, we should pray that God will constantly remind us that we are profoundly unworthy of our calling.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Two Years in a Row!

The only team in baseball that matters, the Philadelphia Phillies, have won the National League East for the 2nd year in a row!

Living in Georgia means living in Atlanta Braves country. For this reason, I am a bit of a baseball outcast down here. However, I've been a Phillies fan for all my life. How can I possibly be unloyal to my team?

Also, most of the years of liking the Phillies have been painful ones; they are usually just plain bad. The last few years have been sweet. Go Phils!

Friday, September 26, 2008

What Causes Unbelief?

Paul tells us clearly in Romans 10:9, "because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

But what causes a person to believe or not believe? At an ultimate level, what is it that makes someone have faith? What is the root cause of trust or a lack of trust in God?

My guess is that most Christians would say that it is a person's free choice as to whether or not he believes. The would say that each individual's choice is the ultimate reason for his belief or lack of it.

However, is this what the bible says? What do the scriptures tell us is the primary reason a person has faith? John answers this question for us in John chapter 10.

John 10:26 says , "But you do not believe because you are not part of my flock."

The context of 10:26 is Jesus talking with the Jews in the temple during the Feast of Dedication (read John 10:25-30 by clicking here). The Jews want to know if Jesus is the Christ. Jesus talks to them about their lack of belief. Jesus makes it clear that the Jews who He is talking to do not believe because they are not Christ's sheep. Therefore, we can see that in order to believe, a person has to be one of Jesus' sheep.

How, then, does a person become one of Jesus' sheep? Many people would answer by saying that when a person believes, he becomes a sheep belonging to Jesus. However, this passage says the reverse ordering is true. A person only believes because he was already one of Christ's sheep. Therefore, it cannot be that faith causes a person to be one of Christ's flock.

So what does cause a person to be, as Jesus says, "part of my flock."? Fortunately for us, John answers this very question in 10:29. That verse says, "My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand."

The key phrase in 10:29 is, "My Father, who has given them to me..." What we see in 10:29 is that a person is part of Christ's flock because the Father has given him to Jesus. It is the Father in heaven's prerogative, then, who is given to the Son to be his sheep. It is clear that faith does not cause God to give us to Christ because the order of what we see here is:

1. God the Father gives certain people to God the Son.
2. Those people become part of Christ's flock.
3. Those in the flock are able to believe.

The ordering of what we see is extremely important. This passage shows us that it is God who decides who believes and who does not. It is God's sovereign decision who is able to have faith and who does not.

This passage is entirely consistent with what Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:8-9. Paul writes, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." This verse makes it clear that faith itself is a gift of God.

We also know that passages such as John 10:25-30 and Ephesians 2:8-9 in no way conflict with our calling to evangelize the lost. We know this because of passages such as Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15, and Acts 1:8. The bible never contradicts itself.

So what significance does it have for us that God is the one who ultimately causes belief or unbelief? As believers, our response should be wonder and awe that God would grant us the gift of belief. As sinners, we know that we do not deserve it. It is all of grace.

When we admit that it is God who has caused us to believe, we are saying that faith is not a work, but it is all grace. When this happens, God receives all the glory.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Darwin Foiled

A Reformed Southern Baptist is...

The description of this blog refers to me as a "Reformed Southern Baptist." What in the world is that?

I have written previously (click here) about what I believe a Reformed Baptist is. I have also admitted that I have a bit of a Fundamentalist stream in my thinking (click here).

So what is a Reformed Southern Baptist? Quite simply, a Reformed Southern Baptist is a Reformed Baptist who wants to remain in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). This answer may seem painfully obvious to some people, but it should be noted that many Reformed Baptists have departed from SBC life.

How does this work? How does someone who holds to Reformed theology remain in the SBC? There are several different answers to this question. Some Reformed folks within the convention are determined to change the beliefs in the convention as a whole so that the SBC itself becomes Reformed. Quite frankly, I think this is very unwise. It will just lead to more fighting within the convention. We certainly do not need this.

Others who are Reformed have all but left the SBC. In other words, they are technically in the convention, but have little to do with the convention or other SBC churches. This seems isolationist to me and accomplishes little.

My position on the issue is that I will, when appropriate, talk about issues such as the Doctrines of Grace, God's complete sovereignty, Calvinism, etc. This may occur within or outside the church setting. I'm determined to be open about this. However, I'm also determined to do this in a kind, loving manner. I also have no agenda to change people's minds.

Since I have the wonderful opportunity to preach and teach during the week, issues of God's sovereignty will certainly arise. For example, right now I am preaching through Genesis 1-3 in order to prepare for a series through the entire book of Matthew beginning in December. Genesis 1-3 shows us a completely soveriegn God who is Creator and Owner of all that exists. I certainly hope that at the conclusion of Genesis 1-3 the people of Chevis Oaks Baptist Church see God as sovereign. Why? Because that is what the text shows us. My agenda is to be biblical, but not to force any sort of system.

Currently in the SBC, there is at least some concern and some confusion over issues such as Calvinism, Reformed Theology, etc. Reformed Baptists within the SBC can do ourselves a favor by loving God and loving others first, and discuss issues such as Reformed theology second. Reformed theology must not be what we are primarily known for.

A Reformed Baptist does have distinct beliefs (5 "solas" of the Reformation, believer's baptism, Doctrines of Grace, inerrancy of scripture, independence of the local church, separation of church and state, etc.). These beliefs, however, must not be what Reformed Southern Baptists are most known for. If it is, we will have little impact within the convention.

If Reformed Baptists are most known for lovingly living out the gospel in order to advance the Kingdom of God, then we may be able to influence the SBC in a positive light.

Let's let Reformed Theology be a positive in the SBC and avoid the fighting that has plagued the convention for so many years.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Alistair Begg on Pastoral Ministry

Although I am happy to be a Southern Baptist, I enjoy looking outside the SBC landscape for both sermons and books. One of my favorite preachers is Alistair Begg. Begg is senior pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio. He also has a radio ministry at Truth for Life. You can download and/or listen to Begg's sermons by clicking here.

I recently completed reading a book about pastoral ministry that Begg co-authored with Derek Prime. The title of the work is On Being a Pastor.

This book is an excellent overview of pastoral ministry within the traditional church setting in both Great Britain and the United States. Since it is co-authored, the text contains many different concrete examples of what pastoral life and ministry is like.

This book is the best that I have read on the subject of pastoral ministry. The reasons for this are that the authors have years of experience, have a high view of biblical authority, write in a humble manner, deal with theoretical and practical issues, and seem to really love the people they are under-shepherding. The book is also engaging and fairly easy to read.

Another positive about this book is that I will be able to use it as a resource in the years to come. For example, if I cannot remember how I should deal with a certain issue, such as church discipline for example, I will pull out this text and read over the section dealing with that. In this way, it is a resource book.

I would recommend this book to anyone involved in pastoral ministry. Even if you do not read it from cover to cover, it will be good to have around for dealing with specific issues.

By the way, if you have never heard Begg preach, listen to some of his sermons. It will be a good investment of your time.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Take a Look at Nature Worshipers

Click here to watch a video a those who worship nature. It is sad and pathetic. When I watch things like this, I praise the Lord for His glorious grace in saving me from spiritual bondage.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Can You be a Christian and Not be Part of a Local Church Family? Yes and No

Can you be a Christian and not be part of a local church family?

This is a question that we, as Protestants, usually answer with a hearty "YES!"

The answer I give to the question, however, is "Yes and No." This is how I came to this conclusion:

I believe, as Protestants have historically believed, that salvation is based on God's grace alone. This salvation is confirmed by our faith. Salvation is based on grace alone, not based on works. This may be most clearly stated in Ephesians 2:8-9. If we confess Christ and trust in him, we will be saved (Romans 10:9).

In theory, then, a person can be a Christian without attending any church. He can follow Christ without attachment to a local church body. He can be assured of salvation without being a part of a local gathering.

He can be a part of the universal church of God without being joined with any local manifestation of that church.

This is where it gets difficult. When I look in scripture, I see Christians who want to be with other Christians. I see followers of Jesus Christ sharing life with one another. I read about Christians gathering on a regular basis to build one another up in Christ, to encourage one another during times of trial, to confront one another if one is in sin, and to support each other as they live for Christ as part of the Kingdom of God.

In the bible I do not see Christians who are not part of a local church. There may be instances where a local church does not yet exist (I'm thinking of the Ethiopian eunuch), but that's not what I am discussing. I'm referring to followers of Christ who consciously reject fellowship with a local body. As far as I can see, they do not exist in the bible.

In our day we all know about Christians who have recently moved to a new location and are not yet part of a local body. We also know about those who are too sick to attend anywhere. We are aware to followers of our Lord who have been hurt within church and are a bit "gun shy" of church life. These are not folks I am talking about.

What I am saying is that in the bible we do not see Christians rejecting the church. What we do see is Christians thriving within the church. We see them growing in Christ in part because they are edified by their brothers and sisters in Christ.

So what are we to make of folks who today claim to be followers of Jesus but want no part of church life? We must be careful not to assume anything about their salvation. We ought to try to get to know them and ask to hear their story. If they have no desire to be part of a church, we should love them, serve them, and share the gospel with them. If they continue to reject the church even after we have spent time with them, then we ought to worry about whether or not they know the Lord.

It is normal for Christians to be part of the local church. It is not normal for them to be alone.

So can someone be saved but not be part of a local church? Yes and No.