The Day of a Godly Person’s Death

8 Sep

Our church family at Lakeside has been touched profoundly by death this week. First of all, a beloved 33 year-old member of our church died after six months in the heart transplant unit at UAB hospital. On Wednesday, a wonderful 37 year old teacher at one of our local schools passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. She was (and had been) the teacher of several of our Lakeside children. I do not write this blog post because I have answers. I do not. Only the Lord knows why. Tonight my mind went to a little known sermon by a well known preacher.

Jonathan Edwards was a preacher the Lord used mightily. He is most famous for his well known sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. However, my personal favorite sermon   from Edwards is a sermon on death.  It’s good to share it for many of us this week…

“The Day of a Godly Person’s Death Is Better Than the Day of Their Birth”
Ecclesiastes  7:1

A good name is better than a good ointment, And the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.” (Ecclesiastes 7:1, NASB95

1.  They receive a better and more blessed life.

“Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. “This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”” (John 6:49–51, NASB95)

For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”” (1 Corinthians 15:53–55, NASB95)

2.   They enter into a better world.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”” (Revelation 21:1–4, NASB95)

Listen to Edward’s own words on this point…

The world that a man comes into on the day of his birth is a world of low, earthly, and mean enjoyment. But the world that the soul of a godly man is born into on the day of his death is a world of spiritual and divine enjoyments. This is a world of fading, vanishing pleasures but that is a world of substantial, durable joys and delights. There are pleasures forevermore.

 The world that men come into on the day of their birth is a world of sin and vanity and trouble. But the world that a godly man enters into on the day of his death is a world of perfection and holiness, of light and joy without any mixture of sin and sorrow.

 On the day of a person’s birth, he is born into a world that is under a curse and has no guard against it; but on the day of his death he enters into a world that is blessed of God, where there is no curse, but only joy and happiness, a world that is blessed continually with the glorious presence of God and the perfect manifestation and full enjoyment of God’s love. It’s a world filled with the boundless love of God which doth as a river of life satisfy all the inhabitants thereof.

3.   They are received by a better parent.

“And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:18, NASB95)

4.   They receive a better inheritance.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3–5, NASB95)

At the end of the message, Edwards urges us to make some important applications…

  • This truth should help the grief of those who have lost friends and loved ones.

 

  • This truth should inspire us all to prepare spiritually for death

 

  • We should rejoice because we need not fear death.

 

 

When You are in a Busy Season

1 Sep

No blog post in two months. Sad. To be very honest, July and August were a blur for me. Those two months may have been the busiest two months I have had in life and ministry.  Even taking a vacation with the family didn’t slow things down!  As I looked at my calendar today and saw September 1st, I couldn’t help but reflect on some things that God has taught me and reminded me of during the last two months. Perhaps you are going through a very busy season.  Maybe you are drained physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Read on.

God is at work in this busy season.  When we get busy and tired, we tend to focus on all of the work that we are doing. It’s so easy to forget that our Lord is at work.  In fact, He is at work even while we were catching a few hours of sleep…

He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber.” (Psalm 121:3, NASB95)

When you came home dead tired, God was up all night working. Just because you may be “at your wits end” doesn’t mean that God is anywhere near His.

A busy season can overstate problems and make us numb to blessings. When we are tired and worn out, we tend to get frustrated more easily.  As a result, problems often feel larger and more hurtful than they really are. Problems are magnified. Remember, when you look at something through a magnifying glass, it’s not really bigger – it just looks bigger!  When we magnify our problems, that also means that we cannot see the bigger picture of God’s blessings.

A busy season forces us to evaluate priorities. There is only one you.  One of two things is true: you are too busy because circumstances you don’t control have added to your load or you are too busy because you have added things you do control to your load. Either way, some things must go or be curtailed. You decide. It is biblical to evaluate how we spend our time…

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15–16, NASB95)

Evaluate priorities and make adjustments. Define what matters most and do those things. It’s OK if something doesn’t get done. It’s OK to say no. There is only one you. If you don’t do it, no one will do it for you.

There is hope even in the most busy of seasons.  You are not a hamster on an endless wheel. This too shall pass. Tears endure for a night but joy comes in the morning. In fact, scripture speaks of growing weary doing good things. At the end of weary is hope.

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” (Galatians 6:9, NASB95)

 

 

 

Religious liberty & July 4th

1 Jul

This year July 4th falls on a Monday, so many people will be taking long weekends and enjoying fun, food, and family.  July 4th is the day each year that our nation celebrates its birth and the freedom that we have in America. The United States has long been known as “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” However, it’s important to point out that the fact we are free to go to the lake or grill hamburgers doesn’t mean we are truly free. We are only truly free when people are free to live out their faith and convictions. Without religious liberty for all, there will soon be no liberty for any.

I urge readers of this blog to spend some time reading the articles below and getting acquainted with the issues raised. For those who say that “things like this won’t ever happen in Alabama” I remind you that organized prayer has been snuffed out of our public schools and same-sex marriage is now legal in every county of Alabama.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2016/june/californias-religious-liberty-moment-coming-to-state-near-y.html

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/436380/religious-liberty-threatened-california-new-law-gender-identity?target=topic&tid=3106

http://www.dennyburk.com/supreme-court-refuses-to-defend-religious-liberty-for-pharmacists/

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/431859/kelvin-cochrans-christian-views-cost-atlanta-fire-chief-his-job

http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/05/12/the-moral-revolutionaries-present-their-demands-unconditional-surrender/

 

 

The Inerrancy & Authority of the Bible

13 May

It seems like the issues just keep coming. In 2015 the issue was marriage; now in 2016 the issue is bathrooms. I shutter to even think of what the 2017 issue could be.  There is pressure to compromise on every side.  Increasingly, leaders in many areas of our culture insist that all must get on board with the new moral revolution even if “sincerely held religious beliefs” are in conflict with it. We are basically being told, “If your religion goes against the program, then you need to change your religion and get with the program – or else.” As usual, there are churches and denominations surrendering on these issues by the droves. As usual, there are voices even within evangelicalism who advocate “moderating” positions in order to be more acceptable. All of this leads to two very logical questions…

Why have many “Christian” churches and denominations already surrendered to the new moral revolution? 

Why is our church/denomination so strongly insisting it will never surrender on these issues?

The answer to these questions is really surprisingly simple and straightforward: the inerrancy and authority of the Bible. We either believe the Bible or we don’t. We either live by what the Bible says or we don’t.  Here is what the church I serve and our denomination (Southern Baptist Convention) believe about the Bible…

I. The Scriptures

The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.

Exodus 24:4; Deuteronomy 4:1-2; 17:19; Joshua 8:34; Psalms 19:7-10; 119:11,89,105,140; Isaiah 34:16; 40:8; Jeremiah 15:16; 36:1-32; Matthew 5:17-18; 22:29; Luke 21:33; 24:44-46; John 5:39; 16:13-15; 17:17; Acts 2:16ff.; 17:11; Romans 15:4; 16:25-26; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Hebrews 1:1-2; 4:12; 1 Peter 1:25; 2 Peter 1:19-21.

We believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God to mankind. Therefore the Bible is authoritative for all issues of living and believing in this world. The inerrancy and authority of the Bible are intertwined.  If we do not believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, the logical conclusion is that it is not authoritative and we can make it mean whatever we wish to make it mean in order to “fit with the times.”  However, if we do believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, then the logical conclusion is that it is authoritative and we live by what it teaches – no matter if it’s cultural acceptable or not.

It is no coincidence that the churches/denominations who have (or soon will) surrender to the new moral revolution long ago surrendered on the issue of inerrancy. Their seminaries trained generations of pastors in the “modern” approaches to the Bible. The result was increasing numbers of pastors in the pulpit who really didn’t believe the Bible; soon we had churches filled with people who didn’t believe it either. Once the Bible wasn’t viewed as the inerrant Word of God, it was no longer really authoritative.  The resulting state of so much of mainline Protestantism is the direct result of the long ago loss of Biblical inerrancy and Biblical authority. Once that is gone, surrender to the new moral revolution is really the only option.

There is also another line of attack we are seeing today: the Bible doesn’t really say what it plainly says.  Knowing that many evangelicals hold to Biblical inerrancy as a core belief, some very smart voices have arisen to argue that we have misunderstood the Bible. For instance, they argue that Romans 1:26-27 isn’t referring to homosexual relationships as we know them today.  This enables people to say, “I believe the Bible is the Word of God and I support same-sex marriage.”  Arguments such as these do not hold up to serious theological scrutiny. These arguments undermine the authority of scripture just as much as saying the Bible isn’t true. They are simply attempts to find a way around what the Bible says so that one does not have to live according to what the Bible says.

Here is the absolute bottom line…

and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:15–17, NASB95)

Why is our church/denomination so insistent that we will NEVER compromise to the new moral revolution?   The innerancy and authority of the Bible. We believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. We believe that it means what it plainly says. We believe that Christians are obligated to believe what it says and live as it says.

The inerrancy and authority of scripture is at the core of what we believe as Christians. It isn’t something that we can just discard because everyone says we should. It isn’t something that we can change because we are made to pay a price for our beliefs. This is what the cultural elites do not understand. They look at Bible believing Christians and believe that we will inevitably cave in when enough pressure is brought to bear. They do not understand that the inerrancy and authority of the Bible is the very core of who we are.

We either believe the Bible or we don’t. We either live by what the Bible says or we don’t. We are quickly finding out who does.

Good reasons to be Southern Baptist

6 May

Particularly in the last decade, new models of “doing church” and churches working together (networks rather than denominations) have arisen.  This is not necessarily a bad thing. Many of these churches and networks are preaching the gospel of Christ, seeing people come to faith, and taking the gospel to the world. Much has been written about the rise and fall of denominations – often couched in terms of “older vs. young.”  There is no question that the rise of the Millennials into young adulthood and church leadership has helped to drive the popularity and publicity of these new paradigm ministries. Established churches and established denominations are struggling to adapt to the new paradigms. The denomination the church I serve is part of – the Southern Baptist Convention – was started in 1845.  As a result, the other day a fellow pastor told me that Southern Baptists would continue to struggle because “younger people don’t want to be associated with us” and then he listed the reasons why.

While I believe some of this brother’s criticism to be valid, such as the fact that Southern Baptists have been defined more in terms of what we oppose rather than the good that we do, I also believe that there are great reasons to continue to be Southern Baptists for the foreseeable future. Unless something drastically changes, I intend to make the Southern Baptist Convention my home for the rest of my life. Please allow me to list some good reasons why you and your church should be Southern Baptist.

1.  MISSIONS.  It isn’t even close. No other denomination is involved in sharing the gospel, planting churches, and meeting needs in as many places in as many ways as Southern Baptists are. The International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, state conventions, and local associations all provide “boots on the ground” for the front lines of gospel advance. Southern Baptists are “doing missions” in our community and all over the world.

2.  Training pastors and missionaries. Southern Baptists operate six theological seminaries. Each one of them unapologetically teaches the Bible as God’s inerrant word, personal faith in Christ, the great doctrines of the Christian faith, etc. Thousands of students are being trained right now to serve our Lord in the future. Through the Cooperative Program, the Southern Baptist Convention underwrites the education of every student at one of these seminaries – allowing our young men and women to attend at far less cost than would otherwise be the case. While I do have a couple of “favorites” among our seminaries that I personally identify with in a greater way, I believe that all of our seminaries are led by men who love Christ, have integrity, and desire to take the gospel to the nations.

3.   Disaster relief. In recent years I have heard this over and over again: “After the Red Cross, the next people we saw coming were the Southern Baptists.”  Because we are such a large denomination (16 million members in all 50 states) and because we are organized down to a local level (state conventions and associations), Southern Baptists are able to mobilize and respond quickly in a great way. Southern Baptists help EVERYONE when a disaster happens – showing love in tangible ways. God has used our disaster relief efforts to open doors for the gospel in profound ways.  What Southern Baptists do in disaster relief is nothing short of incredible.

4.  Investment in people. Here in Alabama, we have three wonderful Baptist universities – Samford, Mobile, and Judson. Out of these three schools, Christian leaders have emerged in every vocational discipline.  Furthermore, Alabama Baptists also operate the Alabama Baptist Children’s Home, which provides care for abused and neglected children from all over our state.  This ministry has multiple locations and services it provides to these children. In addition,  the Children’s Home offers professional counseling at a reduced rate to hurting individuals and families from locations throughout Alabama. Every single day, church leaders contact the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions for help with issues ranging from a pastor search to best practices.  So much of our missions dollars go to a tangible investment in people. This is true in many other states where Southern Baptists have a strong presence as well.

5.   Increasing diversity and a national presence.  Even though our name is Southern Baptists, the reality is that we have churches in all fifty states. We are a national denomination. In addition, the fastest growing area of our work involves predominantly ethnic churches. Each year that I attend the Southern Baptist Convention, I am encouraged to see more diversity in age, ethnicity, and geography.  We have churches in the major cities, and we have churches in the small town. Slowly but surely, our denomination is beginning to look more like our country, and that is a great thing.

6.  Biblical convictions. Southern Baptists have determined to be a people who have firm convictions based on the Word of God.  To be Southern Baptist is to believe some things. We will not bend to the cultural pressure to conform to the new morality. We will not bow to those who wish to portray us as ignorant, hateful, or worse. The Lord has called us to His cross and told us to stand there until He comes. Here we will stand until we draw our last breath. Southern Baptists have made our convictions clear.

 

 

Leading the people of God

22 Apr

For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you—” (Titus 1:5, NKJV)

Titus was a Gentile who had come to faith in Christ – possibly even led to Christ by the Apostle Paul himself.  For a time, he had worked with Paul in ministry on the island of Crete.  Paul had now moved on and left Titus to lead the people of God in Crete. The New Testament book of Titus is Paul’s instructions to this pastor.  From this one verse, I want to make several observations….

1)  The people of God are to be led.  This doesn’t mean domineering, “my way or the highway” attitudes, but it does mean strong leadership.  Organizations (churches included) do not fix themselves. The tendency is always “status quo.”  The dictionary defines it this way…status quo: the existing condition or state of affairs. The only way out of the status quo in any organization is leadership.

2)  We must define what is lacking. In his great book Good to Great, Jim Collins says that every organization needs to face the cold hard facts, no matter how cold and how hard they are.  We cannot deal with an issue until we talk about it and define it. In a church, there is one thing that often keeps us from seeing what is lacking: FAMILIARITY.  Over the years in church life, I have found that familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt but it does almost always breed apathy.  A church that stays only with what is familiar and comfortable for an extended period of time will be a peaceful church but it won’t likely be a very effective one.

3)   We must get a vision of a more effective day.  It is not enough to simply define problems. Nothing can be “set in order” until there is a clear picture of what “in order” looks like. That is the point of vision.

4)   We must lead the people of God toward a better future. The Apostle Paul told Titus “for this reason I left you in Crete…”   The reason Titus was there was to lead the people of God.  Some churches change quickly and some churches change slowly.  Some churches process leadership and make decisions faster than others. Every church is different and must be led differently.  Yet, every church must be led.  If we aren’t leading the people of God, then we aren’t being obedient.

Leadership isn’t for the faith of heart.  Not everyone wants to be led.  Change is hard. No matter how clearly and how often you communicate, someone will be confused.  No matter what you do, someone will be unhappy.  Criticism will come.  Pastors and church leaders, please be assured of this one fact:  people will be upset, criticism will come, and someone will be unhappy EVEN IF YOU DO NOTHING AND TRY TO PLEASE EVERYONE.   It comes with the territory for anyone in a leadership position.  Make sure you are spending your life enduring the pain of leadership while you are leading the people of God to a better future.

A Prayer for the Future

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little, when we arrive safely because we have sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess, we have lost our thirst for the waters of life; having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity; and in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery; where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars. We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes; and to push into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love.

Sir Frances Drake Quoted in OC Missionary Prayer Letter of Jeanie Curryer, September, 1997

 

 

Don’t worry. Be Faithful.

1 Apr

“This is why I tell you: Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? Can any of you add a single cubit to his height by worrying? And why do you worry about clothes? Learn how the wildflowers of the field grow: they don’t labor or spin thread. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these! If that’s how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won’t He do much more for you—you of little faith? So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the idolaters eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:25–34, HCSB)

Today as I was doing my daily Bible reading, I found myself struggling to focus and concentrate.  To be very honest, even while I was reading my Bible, my mind was dwelling on a couple of issues that I am dealing with.  It was like the Holy Spirit reminded me of the verses above. After finishing my daily Bible reading, I hurredly turned to the Sermon on the Mount and read these famous words. Most Christians struggle with worry from time to time – some more than others. It was a blessing to revisit this passage I have read so many times. I was reminded of the great truths it teaches….

1.  God is concerned with every need in our lives – not just the “spiritual” stuff.

2.  God knows our needs better than we do.

3.   God is faithful to supply our needs, not our greeds.

4.   Worry accomplishes nothing and leads us away from faithful trust in the Lord.

5.    We must chose to seek the Lord rather than worry.

6.    We do not have any need so great that the Lord cannot meet it.

Don’t worry.  Be faithful.

Why I have a picture of Spurgeon in my office

15 Mar

spurgeon_chair

Not long ago, a pastor friend of mine was surprised to see a portrait of the great English pastor Charles Haddon Spurgeon on the wall of my office near my desk. “You’re not a Calvinist, why do you have a picture of Spurgeon?”  It was a good question. It was also my joy to explain to him why I have his picture in my office even though I am not a Calvinist. Spurgeon was a famous pastor in London who died in 1892. His sermons and books are still in print today and influencing hundreds of thousands of people around the world. While pursuing my doctoral studies, I was required to do an academic paper on an evangelism and revival leader. The professor distributed a list of famous names like Billy Graham, Billy Sunday, W.A. Criswell, and Bill Bright – urging us to choose one.  I chose Spurgeon because he was the one on the list I knew the least about even though I saw him quoted constantly.  Over the course of the next few weeks, I read five biographies of Spurgeon and wrote a thirty page paper on his life and ministry. To say that was transformative in my life and ministry would be an understatement. Every time I look at the picture of Spurgeon in my office, I am reminded of the reasons why I so admire him and why he has impacted my life and ministry so greatly.

1.  Spurgeon is a great example of love for Christ and exalting Christ in preaching. That is the one characteristic that stands out most to me about Spurgeon; if anyone has ever loved Christ, it was Charles Spurgeon. His love for Christ bleeds through in every sermon. I don’t believe I have read a Spurgeon sermon that did not explicitly and clearly call people to place their faith in Christ.  He once described his preaching style as “starting at any text and running to the cross.”

2.  Spurgeon is a great example of faithful Bible preaching. Week after week from the pulpit of his church, Spurgeon opened his Bible and preached. As he grew older, his sermons grew in Biblical and theological depth.

3.  Spurgeon is a great example of soul winning and evangelism. He literally wept for souls and was not satisfied if people weren’t coming to Christ. He was willing to lead his church to change in order to reach people. For instance, when the original facility of his church became inadequate, he lead the church to move its services to a theater – a very controversial decision at that time.

4.  Spurgeon is a great example of pastoral leadership and hard work. He visited his flock. He organized ministries. He met needs. He led the leaders. He answered inquirers. He traveled and preached extensively. He invested in young preachers. He lead his church to send out missionaries. He read six books per week. Yet, he never neglected the pulpit ministry at his church.

5.  Spurgeon is a great example of love for people and encouragement. He loved his church. He loved the people in the city of London. He loved fellow Christians and pastors even if they didn’t agree on every issue.

6.  Spurgeon is a great example of being willing to stand for truth at great personal cost. In his early years, Spurgeon was a phenomenon. In his latter years, he was an outcast among many.  His warnings of theological drift during what became known as the Downgrade Controversy proved prophetic, but they largely fell on deaf ears and earned him the scorn of many. When it came to his convictions, Spurgeon would not bend.

7.  Spurgeon is a great example of perseverance during great personal stress. At the height of his popularity, his ministry endured a great tragedy that Spurgeon never completely got over. After the birth of their twin sons, his wife was largely homebound and was never well again. Yet, by all accounts Spurgeon remained a faithful husband and father. Spurgeon developed health problems himself and suffered greatly during the last two decades of his life. The only thing worse than his physical suffering was his emotional suffering. Spurgeon struggled with depression for many years and spent many days in the depths of despair even though he had an undeniably strong faith in Christ.

On June 7, 1891 the mighty preacher took to the pulpit for the last time. Wracked with physical pain and the weakest he had ever been, Spurgeon ended his last sermon with these words. These are the last words Spurgeon spoke from a pulpit. They capture his heart….

Those who have no master are slaves to themselves. Depend upon it, you will either serve Satan or Christ, either self or the Saviour. You will find sin, self, Satan, and the world to be hard masters; but if you wear the livery of Christ, you will find him so meek and lowly of heart that you will find rest unto your souls. He is the most magnanimous of captains.

“There never was his like among the choicest of princes. He is always to be found in the thickest part of the battle. When the wind blows cold he always takes the bleak side of the hill. The heaviest end of the cross lies ever on his shoulders. If he bids us carry a burden, he carries it also. If there is anything that is gracious, generous, kind, and tender, yea lavish and superabundant in love, you always find it in him. These 40 years and more have I served him, blessed be his name! and I have had nothing but love from him. I would be glad to continue yet another 40 years in the same dear service here below if so it pleased him. His service is life, peace, joy. Oh, that you would enter on it at once! God help you to enlist under the banner of Jesus even this day! Amen.”

For more information about Spurgeon visit http://www.spurgeoncenter.com

It’s well worth your time to watch this great film about his life…http://www.throughtheeyesofspurgeon.com/

 

“Small churches” = BIG IMPACT

10 Mar

Recently, well known Pastor Andy Stanley made news with comments he made regarding parents who take their children to small churches. To Andy’s credit, he apologized in a very heartfelt way, and my intent here is not to rehash that issue.  However, this recent dust up did cause me to begin thinking about the impact small churches have made on my own life and the impact they are making every single day.

For readers of this post who do not know me personally, it’s important to point out that I have a pretty good vantage point from which to speak on this issue.  I was raised in a very small rural Baptist church that averaged around 30 people in attendance each week, and the first church I served as pastor averaged 75 in attendance. For the last decade, I have served in larger churches in metropolitan areas.  My perspective comes from roots and experience in smaller attendance churches and experience in larger attendance churches. Here are my thoughts….

1)  The church that impacts your life is a big church. The Baptist church I grew up in had only three Sunday school classes, did not operate with a budget, and had no paid staff.  However, it was at that church where I went to Sunday school, came to know Christ, followed the Lord in believer’s baptism, announced my call to ministry, and preached my first sermon. That church loved me, nurtured me, encouraged me, and helped me begin to walk with Christ. That church is BIG to me.  Ask the kid who rides the church van each week if that church is big. Ask the young couple who had a child in ICU and never had to worry about having their other child cared for if their church is big.  Ask the lady who was baptized last week in front of 50 people if her church is big.

2)  The Biblical pattern seems to be churches of various sizes. There are examples in the New Testament churches in major cities. There are also examples of churches that met in homes.  In the book of Revelation the Lord gives His evaluation of the seven churches of Asia. The issue isn’t their size, but rather their faithfulness.  You can’t take the New Testament and find the argument that a certain size church is any “better” than another.

3)  The headquarters of the SBC (and other denominations) is the smaller church. According to the North American Mission Board website, of the 45,000 some odd Southern Baptist churches, the median church size is 80 in attendance.  This fact means that there are as many SBC churches who have below 80 in attendance as there are SBC churches who have above 80 in attendance.  A handful of large well-known churches and their pastors command most of the attention, but the reality is that most Southern Baptist work is done by smaller attendance churches.  Most pastors who participate in all levels of SBC life serve in smaller attendance churches.  We might be astonished if we knew how many millions of dollars are given to the Cooperative Program and mission offerings each year from churches who average less than 100 in attendance.

4)  It’s important to have leaders who understand the smaller attendance churches. I came of age in SBC life during the days when great men of God like W.A. Criswell, Adrian Rogers, and Jerry Vines were the dominate personalities and role models in our denomination. While they were very different men, they were beloved by pastors of all size churches.  Each of these men started out in small churches in small places. They knew what it was like to serve as the pastor, the youth minister, the janitor, the chaplain, and the administrator all on the same Sunday. They knew what it was like, and they never outgrew their roots.  This fact shined through in their ministry and helped thousands of pastors and church leaders identify with them and have confidence in them. There is a great danger when a denomination is increasingly shaped by those who do not understand and cannot relate to the overwhelming majority of its churches and their leaders.

5)   “Every church is a great church if it’s God’s church.” Dr. Bill Purvis (who pastors a large church) said those words several years ago. I couldn’t agree more. If we only define a “great” church as one with lots of people, lots of buildings, and lots of prestige then we have missed the Biblical definition of church. The truth is that many churches in small places have a great impact in their communities – far greater than the impact of many large churches in large cities.  Would anyone make the argument that a church that averages 1000 in attendance and baptizes 30 people in a year is doing “better” work than a church that averages 100 in attendance and baptizes 10?   Bigger isn’t necessarily better or more effective – it’s just bigger.  It’s been my experience that many smaller churches are more connected to their community than many larger churches. It’s easy for a large church to become an entity unto itself where its staff and members spend all of their time within its walls.  Just because a church is small doesn’t mean it isn’t doing big things.  Every church is a great church if it’s God’s church.

Count me as one who loves and appreciates churches of all sizes.  I have served in them and preached in them!  Some of the greatest pastors, the greatest people, and the greatest stories of life change that I have known come from small churches.  Personally, I am praying that each of us seeks to make the church we are part of larger at least by one this week – larger because we lead someone to Christ.

 

 

 

 

Our God never forsakes us

4 Mar

This morning I stood and prayed at a hospital bedside with a family facing a very serious health crisis. As I prayed with them, one verse echoed in my mind…

Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”” (Hebrews 13:5, NKJV)

It’s the last phrase of that verse that really spoke to me today. Certainly, we can be content with what we have because we know we have the Lord. However, the fact that He never leaves us or forsakes us is relevant to our hearts in so many situations. Actually Hebrews 13:5 is quoted from four different occurrences in the Old Testament.  If you look at the verse in the original language, the emphasis is even more clear. The Holy Spirit inspired the writer of Hebrews to stack the negatives in order to make the point. Basically, Hebrews 13:5 says something like “I will never, no never, no never, under any circumstances leave you or forsake you.”

Our God hasn’t left us. No matter how you feel in this moment, He has not forsaken you. He has not forsaken your finances. He has not forsaken your marriage. He has not forsaken your family.  Hold tight to this great promise from scripture, even if you cannot see how God is at work in your situation. He has not left you, and He will not leave you under any circumstances.