Ministry

Here you will find articles and posts helpful to those in the ministry.

 

First Gear

I needed you to know where my mindset is.  It matters not where anyone else is, we’re out of the garage my friend!

First gear and more!

When was the last time you were in a car? Most likely it was today or at the very least this week.  Do you recall the feeling as the transmission worked its way up through the gears?  You could feel it, hear it and experience the results of it.  The car continued to accelerate and onward you went on your journey ever more rapidly to the intended goal.

Our pastor has been preaching on this very subject albeit in regards to our walk with Christ.  Just as the case is with the car our lives need to get out of neutral and on to the real work of getting to our final destination.  And as with the car, we also need to ensure we have our directions set correctly by referring to our roadmap.

The map may be something you don’t use every time but it should be.  Why not use the tools available to ensure you’re on the right course all the time?  Its common sense isn’t it?  Never leave anything in doubt.  That roadmap for our lives is the Word of God.  Read it before you set your course.  Refer to it often to ensure you’re still on course.  Pray about what you’re about to read before you read it.  Let it guide you and you’ll never fail.

Our church has shifted from neutral into first gear.  It’s palpable. It’s evident every day.  We see visitors, new programs, an attitude of love and service prevailing over selfishness and envy.  We have embarked on a wonderful journey that far too many churches and believers never get to experience.  We are fortunate to have a pastor with vision for what we can be rather than what’s good enough.

Let’s all support him and shift into first gear and get rolling.  As with the car, it’s a LOT easier to stop when it’s in neutral than when it’s in gear and moving. The more momentum it builds the harder it is to stop.  No one is guaranteeing a smooth ride throughout however if we ALL do our part to keep focused on God’s will not ours, God’s sufficiency not our lusts, God’s plan and not our schemes, we’ll all arrive at the destination He has for all of us.

So get out of neutral, shift into first gear and get on with it.  Don’t be the one left behind asking where everyone is.  Get involved in the work.  Pray, read your bible, volunteer,  greet visitors, ACT on what God is telling you to do.  Don’t let the rest of us have all the fun!  Onward in our journey, ever vigilant, ever focused!

Sincerely,

Anonymous Church Member



Empty Seats

The following is from a member of our church who has wonderful insight into the inner workings of what we call church.  Please read this with an open heart and maybe let it change how you “do” church!In every service I see empty seats.  But that need not make me miss the filled seats.  A filled seat falls into one of two categories.  It holds someone I either know or don’t know.  I don’t mean someone I recognize or know their name.  Knowing someone means

I’ve taken the time to talk to them.  Find out about them, their needs, desires and what makes them tick. I have a relationship at some level with them beyond casual acquaintance.

We so often sit through services with many things on our minds.  We consider the message.  We see a presentation.  We enjoy

the music. We do many things some of which have nothing to do with worship. How often do we look around and see the empty seats? How often do we look around and see filled seats too?  Every one of those filled seats holds a person we either know or don’t know.  But how do we see those that we don’t know?

Are we thankful for a new face and thank God for their presence?  I trust most of us do. Do we see a new face and judge what they’re wearing, what they look like and where did they come from?  We’re all guilty of thinking good and bad thoughts.

Now, let’s take it to the next level.  What are the first things you do when the service is over?  Who are those whom you seek out?  Where do you go and why?

Next time  you’re sitting through a service take a look around.  See who the new faces are.  Make a conscious choice to go see them, meet them and start the process of getting to know them.  Ask the Holy Spirit to place you where He wants you to be and say what He wants said.  Actively seek to do rather than watch.  When a church body gets this concept right it won’t take long until there aren’t any empty seats. Then your choice will be whether to attend the early service or the late service.

Try it out. What have you got to lose?  I think you’ll find the only things you lose is one more empty seat in your church.

Sincerely,

Anonymous



Worship

On next Lord’s Day morning, if the ministers over this land of ours were to ask this question: “How many of you have ever worshiped God?” no doubt virtually every hand would be lifted. Therefore, it would be presumptuous, would it not, for me to say that very few people have actually worshiped God? But there are some Christians who have never really worshiped Him. We feel that is revealed today in the lack of vitality and vigor in our worship. It is a fact that public worship is anemic and aimless for the most part. It is further reflected in a lack of meaning and an abysmal ignorance of worship. It has been reduced to an empty shell and a hollow sham of ritual and cold liturgy—no warmth of life, just cold form! This, in a day when folk are saying, “We want reality in our Christian faith, we want reality in experience.”

J. Vernon McGee, The Best of J. Vernon McGee : A Collection of His Best-Loved Sermons, Volume 1, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001), 69.

John 4:23–24 23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.  God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
Ephesians 5:19–21  Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;  Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;  Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.
Colossians 3:16–17  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.  And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.
Revelation 5:6–10  And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.  And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne.  And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints.  And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;  And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.

What should real worship lead to and what place does music and singing have in it. We will let the Scriptures be our guide. Godly worship music and songs should develop OR include the following…

  1.  GOD as the object of affection and adoration with HIS PLEASURE in mind.
    1. This being said… when my children sing to me songs in their range and with their scope of understanding, I just love to hear them sing.
    2. I would never expect or demand that my 5 year old sing Handel’s Messiah, but I love to hear him sing David Crowder’s “How He Loves”
  2. Thankfulness to God. We should understand that it is God that should be thanked and worshiped and adored.
  3. Honor for Jesus Christ.
  4. A moving of the HEART which is the seat of EMOTION
  5. Doctrinally sound lyrics – “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly”
  6. Make much of GRACE
  7. Submissiveness to our Lord and the authority He has over us.

A few definitions as in order here… Psalms – songs that expressly praise the Creator Lord, hymns – songs that teach doctrine, spiritual songs – songs that express the relationship aspect of our Faith

SO where do we want to be?  I need to stress the we; God has a different design for different churches.  Each church is independent and unique.  It took me a while to really grasp that, to be honest. At my church we have begun to speak of a blended service, but what does that entail? I believe that we need current music to relate to our lives today. It is interesting to me that the Bible speaks of a New Song and yet many are so concerned with introducing new music. We need to use the music that people are worshiping to when they are at home, at work and in the car and we also need to give them music to listen to at work, at home and in the car. Another point is that music and songs are used to remind us of the past and lessons learned. I think of God on the Mountain. This isn’t a current song and neither is Hidden Valley’s however both were my songs in the night and as such should be remembered and even sung. In our church we have many older Christians. Hymns and such are their songs in the night. This is why I think that a blending of styles in worship is useful. I have intentionally avoided the use of the word contemporary because such a word is useless when discussing such matters. I heard a preacher call Twila Paris and Steve Green contemporary. I think both may still be making music but honestly their heyday was about 15 years ago. This hardly qualifies as contemporary.

Why change our worship style? As I mentioned above people need to worship God in their culture; in their day to day living. People need to worship God in a way that they can relate to. If we were to get right down to it and followed the “old-fashioned” approach we would all be singing to harps and in a difficult style, unknown to most of today’s western church… I’m talking about the 1st Century style of music and the Psalms. While we should sing the psalms to God, I find NOWHERE in the Scriptures, Old or New does He limit us to a style (with the possible exception of encouraging variety). That is the bottom line. Why change? Why stay current with our congregation? Because it is ultimately their worship to God that is being affected. By stringently adhering to a cultural and or generational position instead of a Biblical one or by completely ditching what has been used for years we do more harm than good.

What change? What is blended worship? Is there such a thing as worldly music? We investigated what godly music and worship is earlier in this study, now we must answer the question of taking care that we do not offend God in our worship. The answer is simple and is found in 1 John 2:16

The ultimate question that we must ask in regards to the morality of music is NOT does it move my flesh… such thinking would imply that enjoying sex in the confines of marriage is wrong because it is enjoyable. The question is more what does it move the flesh to? Does it move the believer to a perverted sensuality? I think here of an older “contemporary” song by Jackie Velasquez where she sang in a breathy almost panting and groaning style that was reminiscent of sexual acts. Or does the music inspire anger and rage? Does the music feed rebellion and angst?  I am not speaking about the WORDS but the style. This can be very subjective and so we must learn to understand our congregation. With these things in mind we should move ahead. A key to this understanding is that the two most current generations were raised in an age of so-called rock and roll music. To them it isn’t necessarily rebellious or full of angst. To the older generations it is all about rebellion and angst. Sex, drugs and rock and roll. This is a cultural and generational distinction. If you are raised in something that was formerly rebellious and is no longer so, how can it represent rebellion for you. We still need to be sensitive to those that may feel that way about certain styles of music and guide them gently to a place of Biblical truth.

In the same vein of what offends God I would point to Amos 5:23.  It fascinates me that the Lord was condemning the traditional songs of His people. It wasn’t the style that God was condemning it was the HEART with which they sacrificed and of their worship songs were sung and played!!!! If we take this stylistically we would reject the use of stringed instruments i.e. the viol. We would also be wrong! Think of Paul when he was speaking of eating meat offered to idols… he didn’t condemn the meat, he explained that the meat itself was fine, if your conscience accepted that the idols and false gods it was offered to were dead and of no viability. However if in your heart you believed (wrongly and immaturely) that the idols had something to do with meat you should not eat of it.

Paul also goes onto teach in Colossians 2:16–23 that we need to be careful that we don’t let a man steal from us our freedom in Christ. Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary worshiping of angels… the word angel has been used of the messenger of God, particularly the pastor… we are not to get caught up worrying about the MAN-MADE ordinances, worshiping the man and obeying him, blindly following his ordinances, taste not, touch not, handle not… I might expound, sing not, play not (drums ring a bell?)… I have yet to find in the Bible the Lord forbidding the use of the back-beat.

Therefore,in going through the Scriptures I find that music is to be used wisely, to honor God, to teach, to praise, to enhance our relationship to God and each other among other things.  I find that our songs and singing must be with understanding and with a heart that is in tune with our God.  I also find that singing isn’t the beginning nor is it the end of worship, it is simply stated and expression of worship.  Our worship should be with our giving, singing and our very lives, living each day in humble adoration of our living, loving, guiding and yes chastising Creator.



Amazing Grace

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times … you will abound in every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:8

Amazing grace—how sweet the sound—that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved; how precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed!
Thru many dangers, toils and snares I have already come; ’tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me; His word my hope secures; He will my shield and portion be as long as life endures.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun.

I’m sitting here in my study, it’s about 7:15am.  I’m having my time with God and listening to Chris Tomlin sing Amazing Grace My Chains Are Gone.  There is a YouTube video with the lyrics fading in and out on a landscape background.  I’m half listening, I love this song and the way Chris sings it.  Then I look up on verse 2 and SEE the lyrics “twas grace that taught my heart to fear”.  I thought; how odd, grace taught my heart to fear.  Then I thought how wonderful!  Grace taught my heart to fear!  Without that fear, that awe of God and His holiness and majesty I would never have known His love and mercy!  Funny how much depth a songwriter can wring out of so few words.  Thank God for John Newton.  It seems to me that we still need both the tension of fear and awe for God and relief from God.  He is strong and magnificent and almighty and He hates sin in every form, from the believer and the unbeliever.  He hates sin so much that He sent Jesus and cruelly crucified Him to vent His great wrath against our sin.  In that loathing of sin and punishment of it is the light of love bathed in blood.  Grace taught my heart to fear.  Grace found in the Law of the Lord.  Grace to lead me from fear to love!  Jesus God in the flesh displaying the grace of God by showing His wrath and love in one terrible act.   Thank you Jesus!

“Calling himself a “wretch” who was lost and blind, John Newton recalled leaving school at the age of 11 to begin life as a rough, debauched seaman. Eventually he engaged in the despicable practice of capturing natives from West Africa to be sold as slaves to markets around the world. But one day the grace of God put fear into the heart of this wicked slave trader through a fierce storm. Greatly alarmed and fearful of a shipwreck, Newton began to read The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. God used this book to lead him to a genuine conversion and a dramatic change in his way of life.

Feeling a definite call to study for the ministry, Newton was encouraged and greatly influenced by John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield. At the age of 39, John Newton became an ordained minister of the Anglican church at the little village of Olney, near Cambridge, England. To add further impact to his powerful preaching, Newton introduced simple heart-felt hymns rather than the usual psalms in his services. When enough hymns could not be found, Newton began to write his own, often assisted by his close friend William Cowper. In 1779 their combined efforts produced the famous Olney Hymns hymnal. “Amazing Grace” was from that collection.

Until the time of his death at the age of 82, John Newton never ceased to marvel at the grace of God that transformed him so completely. Shortly before his death he is quoted as proclaiming with a loud voice during a message, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior!” What amazing grace!” ~ Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace : 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 1990), 170.




Ditches ~ A Call to Biblical Balance

Over the last several years as I have observed and dealt with extremes on both sides of the theological and philosophical spectrum, I have come to determine that BALANCE is what we need most today.  In speaking with a seasoned evangelist the other day, he gave me some godly advice. The advice was that there are ditches on both sides of the road. The road is Biblical Christianity, it is defined in  Philippians 2:12–13 “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”

We are saved by grace and now God’s desires us to do His will, to participate in His work, obey His commands (yes commands to the believer) and follow His son in discipleship… then we see the other side of the issue at hand and that is, it is God that does this work through you. He empowers us for the work, he provides for the work, He enables us to do this work and according to the verse above, God even gives us the desire to participate in His work.

The ditches on either side of this road are the wrong focus on US.  We will either over focus on our good works, morality or good deeds, trying to please God in our flesh, creating commandments God never intended for the believer, or we over focus on our perceived freedom in Christ, and abandon clear Biblical principles for Christ-like living, in favor of a false grace.  The swing to performance for acceptance leads to the ditch of an overabundance of standards, rules and regulations supposedly making the believer more accepted or approved of by God. The swing to freedom at any cost leads to a practice of lawlessness, of grace without truth. The ditch on this side of the road is willful ignorance of God’s Words and commands, believing or espousing that there are no commands relevant to the believer.  Both are exaggerations of grace and truth. Both sides mistake extremism for passion.

Finding balance is the key. Finding balance… that takes prayer and reliance upon God and not cow-towing to man; on either side of the road.

If you have ever played darts you will have a good idea of just how hard this balance can be.  The balance is God’s bulls-eye.  God’s way to the sanctified life.  God’s Word in action.  When learning to play darts you will inevitably miss the mark.  If you are right you try to compensate on your next throw to the left; or to high, then down and so on.  The trouble is that often that compensation is way off the mark in the opposite direction.

I know of many Fundamental churches that are operating from the ditch of legalism. They are responding to a liberal theological (not a philosophical or contemporary) mindset that descended upon Christianity some 50 or 60 years ago.

The Fundamentalism of the past rightly published the Fundamentals, they stood for the Word of God being God breathed in the original languages, they stood for the authorship and reliability of the Scriptures as we have them.  They stood against the watering down of doctrine and against ungodly compromise.

Sadly many churches didn’t stop there, many got too close to the edge of the road in their zeal.  Ruckman, Riplinger, and others in that vein were influential in this travesty and division of orthodox Christianity.  Other churches embraced the culture of 50 years ago mistaking 1950’s American culture for Biblical doctrine. They established traditions and standards that the Bible can be made to seem to support.  In some cases as has been often observed; Jesus Himself wouldn’t be allowed to preach in these pulpits.  An example of this is Sunday dress.  While it may be good to dress well for church ( I myself wear a suit every Sunday), the practice of Sunday dress has it’s roots in materialism, covetousness and pride.  Early Baptist churches resisted the concept of dressing up for Sunday.  While the wealthier denominations were focusing on dress, the Baptists and Methodists focused on meekness and sobriety.  The verse “dress your best for Jesus” is not found in the Bible, but some think it actually is.

Then there is the other ditch.  In the same way that the early Fundamentalists resisted the falsehood of the early liberals, many churches and believers today that have seen the twisting of what was good into a nightmarish beast of legality that is destroying grace and joy and peace may also overreact.  These churches will if they are not careful (I dare say if we are not careful) find themselves in the ditch on the other side of the road; a place where Christianity is not challenged by the Word of God, and where the Word of God takes a back seat to feelings and false spiritual superiority claiming that they are the only relevant church.  A Christianity where worldliness is not denied, cross bearing is not understood and LIFE is not truly practiced; a church where liberality becomes license.   An example of such an extreme is the complete lack of separation from the worldliness that we have been delivered from.  A consumerism mentality simply trying to draw a crowd at the expense of truth. An edginess that itself becomes the new standard of what is acceptable thus these edgy, relevant churches become what the hate.

To be honest, in my experience, churches that are leaving behind traditionalism and formalism have a greater focus on the Word of God and a higher respect for it.  The temptation however is to throw away the good with the bad and to become radical in a way  the God doesn’t approve of.

So what shall we do?  How do we find and maintain Biblical Balance? Let us be careful expositors of God’s Holy Word. Let us learn from history and from those that have gone one before us.  Let us cling to the book of books.  Let us never sacrifice the Word for our will; whether that will be disposed to false grace or false standards.

God Bless



Red Letter Christians, Living Life in the Red

Why this post?  The simplest answer to that question is that I need it so very much.  The second reason is that in my short time of 24 years in the Independent Baptist movement, I have noticed a trend of very un-Christ-like behavior in its leadership and deportment.  I have seen the bride of Christ being treated in such a rough and careless way that if she were my wife I would be up in arms (and in the culprits face).  This is a clarion call to the leadership of the Independent Fundamental Baptist Churches and movement and to Bible Believing churches in general to wake up and hear the voice of God once again; to feel His Spirit moving and guiding instead of the call of the world or other pastors and fellowships.  This is written from a broken heart… and to be transparent, from a broken person.  When we as the leadership fail so will our church.  When we act in a manner inconsistent with the admonishment of Titus and 1 Timothy, our churches will suffer and our cause will too.

As a movement, we need to ask ourselves the question, have we made and are we making a difference in the community around us.  Do the people that we are in the midst of even know that we are there?  Do they know that we are different?  Do we have something that no one else has?  When I say different I don’t mean in clothing or even entertainment choices, I mean something much deeper and more relevant to this world.  DO WE HAVE JESUS?  Do we have an extravagant love for one another? When the world thinks of your church, what are some phrases or words that come to mind? …controlling… strict… boring… harsh… you can’t do this and you can’t do that? I’m sure that you could add more.
Rules and standards have replaced the ruler.  Or even worse, the pastor has replaced The ruler; the under-shepherd has removed both the word ‘under’ and ‘shepherd’ from his title.  The result of disregarding the headship of Christ is a dictator that has no or little Christ-like qualities and a super strict atmosphere that encourages (unwittingly) a judgmental spirit.

To combat this trend I have seen many a church become so disenchanted with the status quo in the church that they have become overly concerned with being culturally relevant, so enamored with the world’s way of doing things, that they have abandoned SCRIPTURAL RELEVANCE.  They have become that which they sought to disengage themselves from in the first place; a church that misses the Spirit of Christ, just as judgmental in their own way as the others they detest.  One church loses sight of Christ in favor of creating a brand of holy looking members and the other does in opposition to said church and becomes worldly in their service and many other things.  Both miss the mark. THE MARK IS TO BE LIKE JESUS.  The mark is to understand Jesus and how and why He did what He did.  The mark is to find what Jesus considers of great import and make that our priority.



What’s in a Name

Several years ago now, I had the opportunity to merge the church the Lord had raised up with another church that was in the process of dying.  That church was and is still Landmark Baptist Church.  To prepare my baby church for the transition I preached a message entitled “What’s in a Name”.  This baby church was about to merge with another church and it was going to lose it’s identity as Lighthouse Baptist Church.  To some this was a terrible thing.  This name carried ‘blood, sweat and tears’ with it.  We had toiled together and fought and been abused by an unthinking town board together and now we were going to lose that name…  However, it isn’t the name that made us what we were.  It is and was Christ and His doctrine.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately.  I’ve been considering how much of Biblical Christianity has been divided against itself in the past century or so.  We haven’t divided over doctrine so much as preference and fear; the fear of people that disagree with us.  Fear that our church may be swayed to that other opinion. Interesting… I think if that is the case than we haven’t spent enough time establishing our opinion and basing it in the Scriptures to start with.  We divide over dress, music, church polity, secondary associations, methods and so much more.

We separate and then you look at our doctrines and you see a remarkable, amazing similarity.  A church may use a different version of the Bible and yet have the doctrine of Salvation, Baptism and Discipleship, Deity etc… absolutely spot on.  A church may use Contemporary Christian Music to lead it’s people to worship the Lord; something that many conservative churches rail against and yet the doctrine and preaching is the same.  I have even heard preachers rail (1 Corinthians 5:11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a… railer… with such an one no not to eat.” Hmm… interesting…  a railer… there is certainly cause for separation…)  against such churches as preaching fluff and of only being centers of entertainment with just 15 minute sermons; then come to find out as you attend or listen online, these churches have deeper, more Biblically accurate and longer sermons than some conservative churches.  The list goes on. A church that doesn’t have the name Baptist is a not a good church, or is a compromising church, or is a church that we cannot associate with… Of course the name Baptist as an identifier of the church is NEVER used in Scripture… Acts 10:37 explains that the Gospel began AFTER the baptism of John.  Again in Acts 18 we see that the great Apollos knew only the baptism of John and though he was eloquent and powerful in his speech he lacked JESUS then Pricilla and Aquilla more perfectly explained to him Jesus.  In chapter 19 Paul the Apostle happens upon some disciples of John that didn’t know Christ.  They had been baptized in the repentance of John but not Christ.  When they heard this they were baptized into the baptism of Christ!  Baptist is a good name, mostly, but it isn’t the only name and using it as a litmus test for fellowship or ministry can be hazardous.

Lest in reading this you think that my desire on this topic it is to sacrifice essential doctrine for the sake of unity it is not; but to borrow from the original New England Baptist Roger Williams the gospel preaching churches were never meant to be uniform only united.  Ecumenicalism once meant a merger of doctrinally disparate churches.  It meant that you would work with a church that preached liberal theology, or false doctrine so long as Jesus was mentioned… this was and is wrong on every level. However, many churches have come to define liberal theology as something it is not.  Liberal theology now means anything that does not measure up to your standard of perceived holiness.  The verse in 1 Corinthians “Come out from among them and be ye separate saith the Lord” has come to be aimed at churches of like faith, but different methods.

My aim in this post is to simply state that things are not always black and white.  Good men of God have disagreed and will until Jesus comes back.   There are some really great ministries that lack the name Baptist and that no longer use hymnals as their primary source of worship material. I believe that doctrine divides and it should.  That said we should be careful that it is doctrine that is dividing us and not simply opinion, for Jesus said that as He was one with the Father and we were one with Him that we should be one with each other.

John 17:20-23   ‘Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;  That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.  And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:  I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.”

Should we careful?  Yes.  Should we be ignorant and ignorantly condemn ministry that doesn’t look like ours? No.  Should we maybe, just maybe consider working with or fellowshipping with churches that are a little different than ours… the choice is yours.



The Great Commission

The Great Commission is found in all four Gospel accounts.  In Matthew 28:18-20 there is the most popular and perhaps the most detailed account of the Great Commission, In

Mark 16:15-18 there is a dispensational account, dealing with signs and wonders that would follow true believers, in Luke 24:47-49 the need for repentance is taught as well as the emphasis on tarrying for the power of the Holy Spirit and in John 20:21-23 one should note that the church is taking up the mission of Jesus himself and is being sent out by God in the very same manner that Jesus Himself was sent out by His Father.

As one studies the Great Commission one should notice that the Lord Jesus has not left His followers powerless in the mission which He has called them to.  He states in Matthew that all power is given to Jesus and therefore the church is commanded to go and know that I am with her.  In both John and Luke the Lord directly refers to the ministry and power of the Holy Ghost which was to be made available to the church regarding her mission.  In Mark the visible signs of that power are shown to the early church as confirmation concerning its authenticity until the work of the New Testament was completed.

In these accounts of the Great Commission the Lord expounds upon the mission.  The church is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the entire world, starting at Jerusalem.  The church is to bear witness of the Lord and share with the world that personal knowledge of Jesus.  The church is to preach repentance and remission of sins first of all.  The church is to evangelize the lost.  The church must go into the entire world and do this; at work, at home, at school and everywhere in between.   The church must never lose sight of this most important of goals.

In addition to the power and evangelism of the church, she is to disciple these new believers to the Lord Jesus Christ.  The process of discipleship begins with simple obedience to follow the Lord in baptism.  The Lord expects from His children willing obedience.  The church must teach this.

Following salvation and baptism, the church must move to make these new converts to Jesus true disciples of Jesus.  The church itself must learn and apply the words and the commands of Jesus and teach others to follow Him.  A disciple will produce godly fruit in his or her life.  There will be the fruit of the Spirit and also the fruit of another believer.  The Great Commission doesn’t stop at evangelism.  Seeing people saved without training and teaching them to follow the Lord is abusive to that new believer as well as the Lord.  The word disciple incorporates not only the teaching or receiving of information, but rather the transformation of the disciple to be like his master through that teaching.  It is the fundamental need for the church today.  The church must not stop with doing only one third of the Great Commission, we must move forward and train people to reach others and train them to do the same.



Operation Renovation

Acts, Galatians, Romans 12, James, Sermon on the Mount, the Gospels

Operation Renovation…  As I think of the title of my blog I realize that it incorporates many things.

It is the theme of our church for this year.  It has led us to renovate our property to be more suitable for the type of ministry the Lord has called me to.  We are changing our foyer into a gathering place, a lobby where people can sit and talk, where teaching and fellowship can happen.  It is the welcome center to the world when they come into our building.  When the renovation is finished it will be a warm welcome to people coming out of a cold New England world.  It’s more than that… it is a change in the personality of our church, it’s an emphasis on our need to be open and inviting to the lost… it reflects the heart of Jesus and now our heart as well.  Then there is the playground.  It’s a state of the art, nearly $20,000 project.  The people of our church financed this project through a birthday gift to Jesus.  This renovation to our property also represents a change of direction for our ministry here at Emmanuel.  We didn’t put a playground in because every other church has one.  We did it so that children would know that Jesus loves them.  We did it to reflect the attitude of our Savior who just seems to me was a magnet to children.  As we move forward in the coming year we are also adding AWANA to lead the children of our church and community into a personal relationship with Jesus.

More than new ministries and property renovations has been the renovation of the heart of the people of Emmanuel.  The subtitle to the theme is “removing man’s way and rebuilding God’s way”.  The changes to property and some of the new ministries that we have started (such as Reformers Unanimous) over the last two years have been a reflection of this change.  There is laughter and joy flowing through the building on any given service day.  There is learning happening and discipleship.  There is freedom being sought and found and testimonies given.  This is the heart of Operation Renovation; the change of priorities, the change of direction from external to internal.  This change has come at a price.  There are some things that no longer look pretty.  There are some things that are being left undone.  There are some that no longer come to church dressed for the runway… actually that is a good thing… a Biblical thing…  There are some that have taken advantage of their new found freedom and have lost the faithfulness they used to display.  There are some that have become immodest.  Yes change is messy.  Change from externals requires patience and grace and true heart to heart teaching.  The fact of the matter is that when some of the standards were lifted it revealed the truth; that the hearts were never changed; not by the outward pressure to conform.  Now the real work begins… to love, to teach, to preach, to disciple and yes to admonish and rebuke as necessary.  However in all of this we learn that outward pressure doesn’t really change the inward man.  That is accomplished by the Spirit and the Word.  I have yet to meet a True Believer that is happy in his sin.  I have yet to meet a True Believer that is happy in his rebellion; oh there may be some, but by and large they have left the church to pursue their path to the pigpen.  The Bible says that the joy of the Lord is my strength.  What happens in a church when the standards and rules have replaced the Ruler?  The joy is diminished year by year until there are simply the rules, an empty outward expression or religion.  What we began two years ago was a ministry of relationship over rules; the ministry of running with Jesus instead of away from Him.

AND YET… The title of this blog was really born from a heartache that I feel for the Fundamental Independent Baptist movement.  Galatians is a book that our Fundamental Baptist Churches ought to look at today.  We may not be preaching a different Gospel, but in many churches we have come close… When I was saved the thing that attracted me to Jesus was His grace and ability to do for me what I could not do for myself.  I knew that I couldn’t be good enough or work hard enough to earn His favor.  But now in our churches many have added burdens on folks that are heavy to bear, burdens that the Lord hasn’t added in Scripture;  burdens that define what a “good” Christian is… or to be honest… what a really “saved” Christian is…  really just add works to the grace of God.  It isn’t said outright… it doesn’t need to be, but instead of exalting what Jesus has done many exalt in what their churches look like.  These burdens are largely preferences based on a man or on men’s opinions.  Men such as Jack Hyles and Bob Jones and if we aren’t careful Steve Currington, Paul Kingsbury and Paul Chapel (three men that I greatly admire) have been elevated to godlike status.  Pastors have sought to have their churches look a certain way, dress a certain way, sound a certain way because of what men have said instead of focusing on what Christ has said…  This was what was happening in Galatia.  The Jewish leaders were concerned with how they looked to others.  They wanted to have their followers meet a certain standard so that they could brag on that fact…

Galatians 6:11-18(KJV) 11Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand.  12 As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.  13For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.  14But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.  15For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.  16And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.  17From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.  18Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

Mark 7 would also be a good passage for pastors to study.  I believe tradition has a place of honor but it doesn’t have a place of authority.  Many in our movement honor the past 50 years in a greater way than the last 2000 years.  We elevate preferences and tradition to doctrinal status and then separate from those with opposing views.  Instead of unity in Christ there is cannibalism on both sides of many issues.  There are some doctrinally sound churches that have a modern flair but entertain the same outward pressure to conform to their brand of Christianity.

So what is the message?  What is the point?  My point is that we need to renew our passion for Jesus.  We need to review the Sermon on the Mount.  We need to teach our people the importance of developing that relationship with Christ and let HIM change them.  We need to give the Spirit the time and the opportunity to work in people’s lives.  We need to be available to be used by Him by acting like Him.  Last year I did a series of messages on what it would look like to live out the words of Christ.  I call it Red Letter Christianity.  Let me tell you that this is far more challenging and rewarding than wearing a suit or skirt or what type of music you use.  It is in the trenches loving the unlovable, it is giving sacrificially but loving to do it, it is investing your life in someone else’s, it is being meek and kind and holy and wise and patient and loving and humorous and it is Christ.  This may be a revolution to your heart, but I dare you to try it.  Get alone with Jesus and review your life, your ministry and your walk with God.  Pastor do you look like Jesus to your church; do you treat her as the Bride of Christ?  Does she look like a New Testament church or a 50 year old Baptist church?  When I stand before Jesus and give an account for the church He has allowed me to pastor, I want to hear “well done” and not “how could you treat my bride like that”.

Operation Renovation… it may not be easy but it’s worth it.  In my younger years I was in kitchen remodeling.  I was almost always the last one on the job.  Many homeowners would take a look at their new solid surface countertops, then look around at their new cherry cabinets and beautiful hardwood floors and then the memory of the demo and the wrong parts ordered and the frustration of doing dishes in the tub would begin to pale.  It was worth it.  And so is this.



Traditions

Matthew 15:1-9(KJV) 1Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying,  2Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.  3But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?  4For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death.  5But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me;  6And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.  7Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying,  8This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.  9But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

This past month I have been considering my core values or principles of ministry.  I must admit that this has been an excellent exercise and has reignited my passion for the ministry that the Lord has placed me in. One thing that has caught and fired my imagination is that while our heritage and tradition have a place of honor, they do not have a place of authority; we will not be handcuffed by them.

The argument above that Jesus lays out is started by the Pharisees.  They stood in judgement of the disciples concerning… of all things… not washing their hands before dinner. Jesus of course was having none of it!  The hypocrisy of these men gave Jesus an opportunity to teach all of us a lesson.  These men had elevated their own tradition to doctrinal status. Jesus answered their question with a question. He was blunt and bold and challenging and honest with these pretenders.  These false teachers were binding burdens upon God’s people that God was not pleased with.  They were abusing their authority.  They were high-minded and had replaced meekness with meanness.  In addition to all of this, the tradition that they so embraced enabled them to ignore the direct commands of God with a “clean” conscience.’

How does this apply to us today?

 For a moment, let’s consider leadership.  It was to the leaders Jesus was speaking.  Have you elevated tradition and heritage above God’s Word? Do you use Scripture out of context to excuse bad behavior? If someone challenges the tradition is it akin to challenging God himself?  Do you regularly add to the Word of God standards that you can’t back up with clear instruction from God’s Word? Do you demean other ministries as inferior to your own when they do things differently?  Does tradition give you authority that God hasn’t?  I have heard one too many times the verse taken out of context “I will not lay my hand on God’s anointed” as if the pastor were King Saul… sadly some of these pastors act like King Saul!  They wreak havoc among God’s people then demand respect that they have neither earned nor deserve.  They use tradition to excuse their behavior. Do you  think that the name on your sign has been there since Jesus time? There are some that think changing a name on a sign is sacrilege.  They have drawn comparisons of being a Baptist to being an American and how it may be bad but I’m still an American.  Well, there were some better men then us in the 1700’s that had enough of being called British. These men had seen what the crown was doing and the wrong that was being done and having attempted to work it out finally left the British Empire.  What do we call them today? Heroes.

Church members likewise must guard themselves against such delusions.  In many Churches the pastor is handcuffed by tradition and history limiting his effectiveness.  One or two families in many churches have run things behind the scenes for so long that to change something quite literally takes an act of God and in some cases even He is refused.  The pastor must walk on eggshells when proposing a new idea or ministry.  There are members of congregations that refuse to get on board if they didn’t think of it or if they weren’t included. We need to get past all of this and be true to the Book of Books!

Let us all take what admonishment we can from the Word of God. It isn’t supposed to be comfortable, it’s supposed to be challenging!