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…

 

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