Archive | March, 2016

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.