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A very real issue: STRESS among teenagers and young adults

24 Apr

Sometimes an issue hits you right between the eyes and you wonder why you haven’t seen it sooner.  This is one of those issues.  Yes, in recent months I had heard “bits and pieces” from multiple directions. I had read news reports of soaring rates of depression & suicide among teens & young adults.  I have talked with folks in the business world who talked about how managing their young adult employees is very different today.  I have heard from educators about how high school students are constantly stressed out.

To be candid, my feelings about this issue lined up with many others of my generation:  What do they have to be stressed out about?  They don’t know stress. They’ve got it easy and don’t know it.  Teenagers are always stressed out – and always have been! In short, I was pretty dismissive of most of it.  Until last week.

Listening to podcasts as I drive is one of my favorite things to do. It helps me learn and it helps me use dead time in a more productive way.  Occasionally, I listen to a leadership podcast from Carey Niewhouf, a pastor in Canada.  Here is a link to the show….

https://careynieuwhof.com/mypodcast/

I listened to episode #187 with Tim Elmore entitled “Anxiety in Young Leaders.”  Really, the episode is about the stress felt by two entire generations – the Millennials who are now in young adulthood and Generation Z, the generation presently in high school and younger – and why those feelings of stress are more intense than the stress of other generations.  One statement from this podcast rocked my world…

“The average 17 year old feels as much stress today as the average mental patient in the 1950’s.” 

That isn’t a joke. You read it right. Tim Elmore says that he has been told this by multiple physicians.  When I heard that statement, I was shaken to my core.   If you are reading this post and you are older than me, please resist the urge to begin spouting off about how hard our generation had it and how easy this generation has it.  Yes, our generation had stress.  Yes, our generation is in the throes of middle age stress – marriage, teenage kids, mortgage, career, aging parents, etc. We know stress.  That isn’t the point. The point is how our kids feel. Let that sink in.  Yes, our generation knows stress, but consider these points…

1.     We did not grow up with smartphones and social media.  Our generation gets on Facebook to keep up with old friends and post pictures of our family events, but our kids feel the WEIGHT of social media in a way that we don’t.

2.     We did not grow up feeling like our future depended on the ACT.   High schools today place a great emphasis on preparing for the ACT, scholarships, college visits, and getting ready for college.  I am not critical of this; I understand why they do it.  However, our kids get the message and feel the pressure.  Yes, I took the ACT, but I don’t remember taking the ACT feeling like the rest of my life was riding on it. That’s a fairly recent phenomenon.

3.   We did not grow up with constant pressure to perform and excel. When we grew up, you played little league baseball.  Now, you play little league baseball, your dad takes you to a hitting coach every week, and you play travel ball because you are a good player and you can become good enough to get a college scholarship one day.  Think about it. In many ways, our kids feel the pressure to perform and excel much earlier in life than we did.

4.   Everything is more complicated for our kids. Take going to the prom. When we grew up, the guy asked the girl to go to the prom. It was simple.  Now, it has to be a production. Creative. Unique.  Splashed all over social media so that everyone sees “the ask.”  If you have teenage kids, just stop and think about how much more complicated and stressful getting asked to go to the prom is today than it was a generation ago. The more I think about it, just about everything our kids navigate in their teenage and young adult years is more complicated than it was when we grew up.

5.    We did not grow up with information at our finger tips – both good and evil. We had to go to the library to do research.  Pornography was found in magazines or on video tapes. Today, people use their phones for both research and pornography.  It’s instant.  The affect of this on our culture cannot be overstated.  Our kids feel the effects of it most. We were dependent on our parents for much of our information. We had to ask our parents. Our kids don’t.

6.    We grew up with a greater understanding of failure and resilience. There were times our generation didn’t get a trophy.  We didn’t get an award on awards day. We didn’t get picked for the team at P.E. A teacher was unfair to us. A coach didn’t play us when we deserved it. Somehow our generation learned not to be crushed when things didn’t turn out the the way we hoped. Somehow our generation learned to get back up again.  For whatever reasons, many teenagers and young adults aren’t learning this same understanding of failure and resilience and they are stressed out because of it. As a result, many are emotionally crushed by the time they are in their 20’s.

There are more examples I could list.  Here is the bottom line:  our kids have grown up and are growing up in a vastly different world than we grew up in.  We must not dismiss their pain and their stress.  Yes, we could argue about why this is the case. Parenting styles have changed, and many argue that is the root cause.  Tim Elmore discusses this issue in the podcast I mentioned. He believes that today’s parenting styles are great contributors to the younger generations difficulty in handling stress.  The reasons why aren’t the real point of this blog post. Here is the point of this blog post…

Our kids and young adults are stressed and hurting far more than I realized.

It doesn’t matter why. It’s how they feel. It’s where they are.  My heart goes out to them. This week, I thought of my own sons and wondered if I have failed to understand the stress they feel.  I thought of the teenagers and college students in the church I pastor and wondered if I have not taken their pain as seriously as I should have.  I thought of the young adults in my church and in my neighborhood and wondered if I lacked the empathy I should have.

I am committed to seek to understand more, have more empathy, and seek to help where I can. Our kids and young adults need us to walk with them as they navigate life. Count me as one who is determined to be there for them.

 

 

 

 

What did Christ’s resurrection do?

29 Mar

As we prepare for Easter Sunday, I thought I would share some of my preaching notes from Easter Sunday 2017.  The title of the message was “What Did the Resurrection Do?” Here is a link to the video with the preaching notes below….

 

  1.  Christ’s resurrection made it possible for us to be born again.

Born again? What does that mean? How does that work? Well, really we are talking about a new kind of life that comes to us. A new kind of life that changes everything. So, it’s a new life!

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” (1 Peter 1:3, NKJV)

I love what one of the great theologians of our day wrote about this fact…

In his resurrection, Jesus earned for us a new life just like his. We do not receive all of that new “resurrection life” when we become Christians, for our bodies remain as they were, still subject to weakness, aging, and death. But in our spirits we are made alive with new resurrection power. Thus it is through his resurrection that Christ earned for us the new kind of life we receive when we are “born again.” -Wayne Grudem

 Through His resurrection, Christ earned for us the new kind of life. Over in the book of Ephesians, the Bible speaks of this in terms of moving from death to life.

even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” (Ephesians 2:5–6, ESV)

The resurrection of Jesus and the new life that He came forth from the grave with is the new life that we can have. Before we become a Christian, we are dead in our sins, but Christ has earned for us new life. So, Christ’s resurrection enabled us to be born again. Let’s see a 2nd result of the resurrection…

2. Christ’s resurrection ensures we will be forgiven forever.

Forgiven forever. That sounds so great doesn’t it? Do you know why? I am going to let you in on a BIG secret that everyone knows about, but no one talks about any more. It’s something that all of us carry around and we all feel but no one likes to talk about…

GUILT

People carry around guilt for all types of reasons. Guilt over things they have done – or not done. Guilt that comes from our family. Guilt that comes from…you name it. Some people say “Well it’s religion like you folks have at Lakeside that causes people to feel all of this guilt.” Well, if that were true, then guilt should be declining in America today, right? More people are not religious, more people are fine not going to church. And everywhere we turn people are told that whatever you want to do is great. However you want to live is fine and no one has the right to judge you. I mean, people SHOULD BE happier, right? And yet the counselors offices are booked solid, more people depressed, more people struggling than ever before. Do you know why? The world’s way doesn’t work.

In fact, out of all of the religions in the world, do you know how many of them have a cure for guilt? ONE. The Christian faith. Christ’s resurrection ensures we will be forgiven of all of our sin forever. THAT is a cure for guilt. How does it work?

but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.” (Romans 4:24–25, NKJV)

 Jesus was crucified “delivered up” for our offenses – not what offends us, but what offends God. The things we have done – and not done. That is why Christ died. For our offenses, our sins. But then did you notice it says that Christ was raised for our justification. That’s a big word, but there is an easy way to remember what it means…

Justification = “just as if I’d never sinned”

even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” (Ephesians 2:5–6, ESV)

 The tenses of those verbs “raised” and “seated” show that it is immediate. When we are saved we are immediately raised spiritually. And when we are saved, we are immediately seated in the heavenly places. WAIT A MINUTE, PASTOR. I’ve got to go to work in the morning, and where I work is NOT a heavenly place. So, if I am a Christian, how am I seated in the heavenly places right now? YOU HAVE ACCESS TO EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING IN CHRIST RIGHT NOW.

So, the first result of Christ’s resurrection is that it enabled us to be born again. The 2nd result is that it ensures we will be forgiven forever. Now, I want us to see a 3rd result…

3.   Christ’s resurrection ensures our resurrection.

 Have you ever lost someone you loved? Grief can be overwhelming. The worst can be the graveside. You gather there at the cemetery. It’s excruciating for the family. However, at every graveside service, I remind people of the great truth of the resurrection.

And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power.” (1 Corinthians 6:14, NKJV)

knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you.” (2 Corinthians 4:14, NKJV)

But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20, NKJV)

 We bury the body, but when we die our spirit goes to be with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8 to be absent from the body to is be present with the Lord). But there is a coming a great resurrection day when all of the Christians who have EVER lived will be resurrected all at once and given new glorified bodies and their spirit will be reunited with their new body and they will live forever with the Lord.

Christ’s resurrection GUARANTEES our resurrection.

Now, I want us to see one more result of the resurrection…

 4.   Christ’s resurrection is proof that the Bible is true and our faith is real.

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.” (1 Corinthians 15:12–15, ESV)

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:16–19, ESV)

 

 

 

Counting down to Easter Sunday – and every Sunday!

27 Mar

1 Corinthians 15 is one of the most famous chapters in the Bible. It is commonly referred to as the “Resurrection Chapter” not because it tells the story of Jesus’ resurrection but because it speaks of the necessity of it and how it applies to our lives today. As we approach Easter Sunday 2018, I encourage all of my readers to take some time and read through this great chapter.  I intend to do so with my own family during our family devotional times.  Let’s look at some key points of this chapter…

“Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:12–19, NASB95)

Here we see the absolute necessity of the resurrection to our faith. If He is not victorious then there is no victory for us. However, Christ has risen from the dead, so there is victory for us.  In fact, Paul goes on to explain that Christ’s resurrection restores spiritual life to sinful humanity who had lost their spiritual life through Adam’s fall in the garden of Eden…

“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:20–22, NASB95)

Because Jesus is victorious over sin, death, and the grave we can have that same victory through faith in Him!  Furthermore, Paul explains that Christ’s resurrection ensures our resurrection – comparing Christ’s resurrection as the first one of many to come…

“But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:23–28, NASB95)

I hope that’s enough to get your Bible study juices flowing and encourage you to dig into 1 Corinthians 15 this week as we count down to Easter Sunday – resurrection Sunday!  A few years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Israel for the first time to visit the Biblical sites. Of course, one of the great highlights of any trip there was a visit to the Garden Tomb…

GardenTombexterior

We do not know for sure exactly where Jesus was buried.  The Garden Tomb is one of two locations that many Christians believe to be the place. The other is found just a short distance away in Jerusalem inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  The Garden Tomb has a number of characteristics that coincide with what we know from the Bible, making it the location that is preferred by most evangelical scholars today, although we cannot be certain.

GardenTombinterior1

This is the burial chamber inside the Garden Tomb.  If Jesus was actually buried here, this is very likely the spot.  Take a moment and think about that. Every group that enters the Garden Tomb grows silent as this awesome thought sinks in. For me, it is a spiritually moving experience to be reminded in such a concrete way that I serve a risen Savior!  You see, the most important issue is not WHERE Jesus was buried, but rather THAT Jesus has risen!  Here is what you see above you as you exit the Garden Tomb…

GardenTombinterior2

Yes! That is what really matters! As the old hymn says, “I serve a risen Savior, He’s in the world today. I know that He is living whatever men may say…”  That is the message and the hope of Easter.  In fact, Easter Sunday is not the only Sunday that the Christian church celebrates the resurrection. Have you ever wondered why we worship on Sunday?  Because Jesus rose on Sunday.  The early Christians did not gather to worship on the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday) but gathered to worship on Sunday because that was the day their Savior rose.  So, every single time we gather for worship on Sunday, we are celebrating the resurrection of Christ.  Yes, Easter Sunday and every Sunday is resurrection Sunday!

The suicide question

22 Mar

Suicide. Just typing the word sends chills up my spine.  On a few occasions, I have ministered to families who had a family member take their own life and I have seen up close the enormous pain and despair that comes.  A few years ago, the son of well known pastor Rick Warren took his own life. In recent weeks, the community where I serve has once again been touched by suicide.  I read recently that the suicide rate for 15-25 year old’s has increased 70% in the last ten years.  It is at times like this when pastors get what I call “the suicide question.”  Most often, it comes in this way: “Can a person who has committed suicide go to Heaven?”  I really don’t know where it originated, but many Christians tell me they “have always heard” that a person who commits suicide cannot go to Heaven, no matter their spiritual commitment beforehand. It’s an issue that many Christians struggle with, and I decided to address it in the blog today.

I believe that the central issue in discussing this question is the Biblical teaching regarding justification – that is how lost sinners are forgiven of their sin and made right with God. The Bible clearly teaches that sinners are made right with God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ…

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 3:23–24, NKJV)

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Romans 5:1, NKJV)

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, NKJV)

Without delving into a host of Biblical and theological issues, suffice it to say that the Bible teaches that we are justified (forgiven of our sin and made right with God) at the moment we repent of our sins and place our faith in Christ.  Justification is not a feeling, but it is rather a standing before God. It is our standing before God that is His work, not ours. Romans 8:33 reminds us that “it is God who justifies.” Furthermore, the Bible teaches that justification is a fixed, final, eternal standing before God.  In other words, we are not justified today and unjustified tomorrow depending on our feelings or behavior.  In fact, the Bible teaches that a person who is justified will absolutely and finally be glorified (made like God to live with Him forever)

And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; and those He justified, He also glorified.” (Romans 8:30, HCSB)

The verb tenses in Romans 8:33 are telling as well. Where I grew up, people would say, “It’s a done deal.”  That’s what Romans 8:33 says. Just as sure as God has justified a person, He has already glorified that person. They will be glorified for certain, and it is so certain that God’s Word speaks of it as if it has already happened.  Therefore a person who has given their life to Christ cannot be justified one day and then do something to lose their justification the next. The Bible teaches that a person cannot do anything to deserve or earn their salvation. That only comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  Therefore, since a person did nothing to earn or deserve their salvation, but received their justification as a free gift (Romans 6:23) then a person’s salvation is eternal and irrevocable (eternal security, “once saved always saved”). If we did nothing to earn or deserve our salvation, then we we can do nothing to lose our salvation.

What does all of this have to do with the suicide question?   I believe that once a person has sincerely trusted Christ alone for their salvation, then nothing they do can change that relationship. It’s like my own two sons. They might sin terribly and break my heart, but they will always be my sons.  Nothing they could ever do would stop them from being my sons. Why?  Because they are my sons and that is the nature of the relationship.  So it is with children of God.  Nothing a child of God can do will sever the relationship – even something as horrific as suicide.

That being said, please allow me to conclude with several important truths to help put all of this into some perspective…

1)  Suicide is NEVER a legitimate option for a believer.

The Christian worldview upholds the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death – including our own life.  While I do not believe that suicide is the “unpardonable sin” it is, nevertheless, a grievous sin.  It is a sin against God, ourselves, our family, and everyone who knows us.  While I do believe that it is possible for a true believer to reach a depth of pain and despair that is so great they take their own life, it is never right to do so.

2)  Suicide doesn’t end the pain; it just shifts the pain to others.

A person who takes their own life has fallen into the trap of believing that suicide will end their pain. That is a lie.  All of their pain simply moves to those who love them. The guilt felt by the family left behind is often unbearable.  While the person who commits suicide often does it to relieve their own pain, it is the beginning of years, decades, and generations of pain for those who are left.

3)  There is nothing you can say.  Just be there to cry and pray with them.

When I first started out in ministry, I used to think that I had to say something profound that would relieve a family’s hurt. Then I realized the most important thing I could do was be there. No words can ease the pain for the family that is touched by a suicide, but your presence and prayers can help greatly.

4)  Strong, faithful believers can struggle with depression and mental illness.

In fact, some of the greatest Christians who ever lived struggled mightily with depression.  Some of the greatest preachers, missionaries, and theologians in history have battled incredible mental health challenges.  Don’t think it can’t happen to you or your family. Take it seriously and take action.

Suicide is a complex issue that has no easy answers. It is my prayer that this post will help believers begin to think clearly about it and bring comfort to those who are struggling. The applications of the Bible truths we discussed apply to far more than just instances of suicide. Thanks for reading.

Renewing the Blog & the Power of Social Media

16 Mar

It’s great to be back writing a blog post again for the first time in almost a year and a half. Sorry that I let life and ministry crowd out this ministry. I have updated the photos and a couple of the sections on this blog. Hopefully, I can do a better job with updates and connecting with people in this way. Thanks for reading!  Now on to the blog post…

To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22, NASB95)

This verse came to my mind this morning as I looked at the stats for our Lakeside Facebook page.  The Lord never changes. The gospel never changes. The faith once delivered to the saints never changes. The Word of God never changes.  However, the means by which we deliver the gospel and the Word of God changes constantly.  In reading a biography of Martin Luther this week, I learned it was the invention of the printing press that helped pave the way for so many to return to Biblical truth during the Protestant Reformation.  I am typing this post on my MacBook Pro and pasted the scripture quotation from Logos Bible Software.  The means change.  In 1 Corinthians 9:22, the Apostle Paul clearly states that we should use all means available to us in order to reach more people.  Keeping up with the times isn’t bad if you are keeping up with the times in order to reach people for Christ.

Social media arose in earnest only about ten years ago – coinciding with the rise of smart phones in every purse and pocket.  In a few short years, social media became far more than just a neat way to keep up with old high school friends and post pictures of the kids. As more and more people engaged on social media, it became where people connected and a powerful force in the world. If you want to go where people are, then you have to go to social media.

This fact brings me to our upcoming Easter services at Lakeside. For years, Lakeside has joined many other churches in spending big bucks to mail out a card to our neighbors inviting them to our Easter services.  This year, we learned an interesting fact:  there are 400,000+ people on Facebook who live within a 10-mile radius of our church facilities. Take a moment and think about the incredible implications of that fact alone.  So, we decided to try leveraging the power of social media to get the word out.

A few days ago, we rolled out a Facebook video ad that simply gives the times of our Easter services and points them to our church website where we have more details.  As of this morning, that ad has reached 35,250 people and the video has been viewed 4532 times already.  Oh, I forgot to tell you: the overwhelming majority of those people are within that pool of 400,000+ who live around our church.

We tried another experiment this week.  I shot the first of three short video devotional messages promoting our Easter services and we posted the video to our church Facebook page.  This video was posted yesterday morning – 23 hours ago.  As of this writing, that video has been viewed 740 times. As a pastor, I have connected with 740 people in a personal way, and it cost no money and only a few minutes of time. As a pastor who is old enough to remember pastors and evangelists encouraging people to “buy the tapes” and having done that myself, I am amazed at the possibilities that are available with social media.

Yes, I know the problems of social media. I know the negative impacts it has and the inherent issues with it.  However, social media isn’t going away. It’s where people are. I am praying that the Lord will help me use it in order to reach more people. It’s a tool. It’s a means.

Finally, I don’t know if we will have a single new guest at our Easter services due to this social media strategy.  I am praying that we have many.  Speaking of praying, social media is no substitute for prayer. I am still going to invite people personally.  I am still going to believe that the Lord is going to send us people we have never met before and who haven’t been touched by our social media.  At the end of the day, I am leveraging the power of social media, but I am totally depending on the power of the Holy Spirit.

Message from 2018 Alabama Baptist State Evangelism Conference

15 Mar

Praying especially that the Lord might use this message in the lives of pastors and those who lead…

 

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/

 

 

“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.

 

 

 

 

Lakeside’s most prayed for Easter ever

26 Feb

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came to the tomb, bringing the spices they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb. They went in but did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men stood by them in dazzling clothes. So the women were terrified and bowed down to the ground. “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” asked the men. “He is not here, but He has been resurrected! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and rise on the third day’?”” (Luke 24:1–7, HCSB)

This great account of the first Easter morning is glorious. This will be my preaching text on March 27 – Easter Sunday 2016.  I cannot wait for Easter 2016 at Lakeside! Please let me share three thoughts about this coming Easter Sunday for our Lakeside family (and any other readers).

1)  We are having a special schedule on Easter Sunday in order to reach more people. I will be sharing more details Sunday and on this blog, but we will have worship services at 9:00 and 10:30 a.m. on Easter Sunday in order to maximize people being able to attend.

2)  We will be giving our Lakeside family tangible ways to invite someone for Easter services.

3)  We will be planning our Easter services and all that happens to give people the opportunity to come to Christ and have a great experience in church that day.

I am praying for people to come to Christ on Easter Sunday. I am praying for record numbers of people who have never set foot in our building to come on Easter Sunday. To our Lakeside church family, I am asking you to help me make this Easter the most prayed for Easter in the history of our church.  Easter clothes and Easter pictures are fine in their place, but let’s make sure we let the heart of Easter and the message of Easter be foremost at Lakeside.

What a great opportunity for our great Lord to receive honor and glory!

 

 

 

Pray for the Persecuted

19 Feb

“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. “But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.” (John 15:18–21, NASB95)

This week, my heart has been moved to pray for persecuted believers in a greater way due to two events in my own life.  First, my youngest son, Daniel, had a group project at school dealing with a foreign country. His group chose North Korea and Daniel was tasked to study how Christians live in that country and how the gospel is shared there. As I helped Daniel with the research aspects of this project, my heart was broken to read of the horrendous circumstances believers live under there. By just about every account, North Korea is the most hostile nation on earth to the Christian faith.  Yet, there are an estimated 100,000 believers there who meet in secret and share the gospel faithfully.

The second event involves my preaching ministry. One of the great advantages of preaching verse by verse through scripture is that it forces you to deal with subjects that would not come to mind otherwise. For instance, in all the years I have preached, I have never preached a message about persecution of Christians.  However, in my preaching, the passage above is where we will be this Sunday. In studying this passage, I was brought face to face with a Biblical truth that Christians in America do not like to think about: the Bible teaches that persecution is to be expected.

The environment that Christians in America have enjoyed has not been “the norm” for most Christians who have ever lived. We have enjoyed unprecedented freedom, prosperity, and cultural affirmation of our beliefs. That is changing before our eyes, but I would never describe what is happening to Christians in America as persecution. Not when you look at what is happening to Christians in other places. Voice of the Martyrs www.persecution.com is a great ministry and great resource to learn more and pray specifically for persecuted believers. It is estimated that 100,000,000 Christians are living in persecution RIGHT NOW.  Let that reality sink it. Then pray.