God Has Not Called Us to Be Silent… or Vague

Standard

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I don’t know where this saying came from, but many of us have heard it as children and probably shared it (or at least wanted to share it) with others. I generally like to keep things positive online, sharing something funny or helpful or posting something from my studies. However, lately I’ve spoken out quite a great deal about the recent issues that are bombarding us from every media outlet: the gay marriage SCOTUS ruling, Bruce Jenner, and most recently, Planned Parenthood. I know that people generally would rather read positive, encouraging things on Facebook. I certainly get more likes and comments when I share “nice” things online. I’ve even been unfriended for the things I choose to say and share (this isn’t persecution, by the way). So why so serious? I’m glad you asked.

There are generally two extreme responses from the church concerning these kinds of issues and I’m sympathetic to both to a degree. One is to become angry and use the pulpit as a sounding board against the evils of society. This approach does little good. It generally abandons any Great Commission emphasis and only serves to calcify those already convinced of their view. It is a blowing-off of steam that accomplishes next to nothing. The other response is one of minimalizing at best and ignorance and avoidance at worst.

Many churches and pastors have reacted against the political activist response to the point that they don’t even want to deal with issues that are perceived as “political.” I get it. I really do. However, evil is evil, even if it has political baggage. Sometimes the refusal to speak to these issues comes from a less conscientious motivation. Some churches heavily rely on corporate excitement and momentum. Calling gay marriage a sin harshes the mellow. Demonstrating the evil of abortion doesn’t generate excitement. The pastors that lead such churches generally try to connect with their congregation with an abundance of funny stories and culturally relevant illustrations and it would be difficult to tackle these issues in their typical manner. Such churches and leaders will typically shy away from cultural issues because they want to remain “true to the mission” or they want people to “know what we’re for, not what we’re against.”

We expository preachers don’t get a pass here, either. Preaching verse-by-verse through a book or a through a large section of Scripture is in my opinion, the most faithful way for a pastor to preach to a congregation. However, it is sometimes easy for us to continue in our exposition on Psalm 23 rather than prepare a specific sermon for such a time as this. We boast that expository preaching declares the whole counsel of God, but “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). Sometimes, it’s just time to speak specifically to what is at hand. Also, it is difficult to sufficiently tackle contemporary issues with a strict verse-by-verse model. There are no texts specifically on abortion or about internet pornography. Sometimes these sermons have to be crafted with special care.

But why tackle these issues? Why not remain true to the mission and not get involved in politics? Shouldn’t we just try to win people and stop ostracizing and polarizing with our political stances? First, let me say that marriage and sanctity of life were theological and moral issues long before they became politicized. The fact is, we aren’t invading the government’s territory, the government is encroaching on the church’s territory. I’m all for less political involvement by the church, but sin is sin and the truth is the truth. This isn’t a partisan issue, it is a gospel issue.

Secondly, we have a responsibility to speak concerning these issues. John Piper recently tweeted “They weren’t martyred because they were vague.” I love this. John the Baptist baptized thousands in the river Jordan. He called individuals to repentance and was beginning a spiritual revolution that was upsetting all of Judea. But it wasn’t until his message of repentance got very specific toward Herod’s unlawful marriage that he was imprisoned and subsequently beheaded. We have a responsibility to serve as a prophetic voice to the culture around us. If the church does not set forth God’s perspective on the issues at hand, who will? We also have a responsibility to serve as a voice of perspective to the congregations that God has entrusted to us as pastors. Any Christian minister that has not provided his congregation with a biblical perspective on these issues in light of the times is not a faithful minister and is more concerned with the bodies in the pews than the souls in his care. Those who sit in the pews not only need assurance of the truthfulness of Scripture and what Scripture says to these issues, but they also need help to process what is happening around them from a biblical perspective without erring into panic or apathy.

May God grant us as pastors and believers in the inevitably difficult days ahead of us to speak with prophetic voice both to the opponents of truth and to the believers reeling from the many voices on both sides of the argument. May we not lose sight of the Great Commission and may we commit to evangelism and missions with a laser focus, knowing that we are calling people to repent and abandon the sin and philosophy of this present world order.

 

 

Same-Sex Marriage Resources for Churches and Pastors

Standard

Screenshot 2015-07-12 17.44.27

Since the Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage, I’ve been trying to gather as many helpful resources as I can find for churches and pastors. I’ve gathered these to share with the pastors of the Union Association of Baptists where I serve as Director of Missions, but I realize that other pastors and churches would find these useful as well. Please feel free to share these with other pastors and churches who will benefit from this information.

PREPARING AND PROTECTING THE CHURCH

http://stephencraigrice.com/2015/06/30/4-steps-churches-pastors-take/

http://erlc.com/article/what-your-church-needs-to-knowand-doabout-the-courts-marriage-ruling

http://www.kybaptist.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Protecting_Your_Ministry_ADF_ERLC.pdf

http://www.kybaptist.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/KBC.Sample-Church-Wedding-Policy.pdf

http://www.kybaptist.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Church-Wedding-Policy.Cornerstrone.pdf

http://www.kybaptist.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Wedding-Policy.pdf

http://www.kybaptist.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Facility-Use-Policy.Alliance-Defending-Freedom.pdf

http://www.kybaptist.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/KBC.Sample-Membership-Policy.pdf

PARENTING AND GAY MARRIAGE

http://cbmw.org/public-square/parenting-in-a-gay-marriage-world-what-should-christians-parents-do/

http://www.russellmoore.com/2015/06/29/how-should-you-talk-to-your-children-about-same-sex-marriage/

INFORMATION ABOUT THE SUPREME COURT RULING

http://erlc.com/article/50-key-quotes-from-the-supreme-courts-same-sex-marriage-ruling

http://erlc.com/article/explainer-what-you-should-know-about-the-supreme-court-same-sex-marriage-ru

ANSWERING THE GAY MARRIAGE ARGUMENTS

http://www.kybaptist.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/What-You-Need-To-Know-About-Marriage-Booklet.pdf

http://www.kybaptist.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Addressing_Gay_Marriage_Arguments.pdf

http://www.kybaptist.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Why_Marriage_Matters.pdf

http://www.sbts.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2010/09/homosexuality-and-the-bible.pdf

http://www.sbts.edu/god-and-the-gay-christian/

MISCELLANEOUS

http://www.kybaptist.org/protecting-biblical-marriage/

Book Review: Can These Bones Live?

Standard

519F84nmcRLChurch revitalization is one of my areas of special interest, as I have pastored two different traditional churches in East Tennessee and currently serve as a Director of Missions in an association of mostly older, established churches.  When I heard that Dr. Bill Henard was writing a church revitalization book, I was anxious for its release. Dr. Henard is the pastor of Porter Memorial Baptist Church and teaches in the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Ministry at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also from East Tennessee (I’m biased) and he pastored a church in my high school town for a number of years. I know that he is familiar with ministering in established churches in the Bible belt and was eager to hear what he had to say. Can These Bones Live? did not disappoint. An immensely practical book with sound foundational theology and methodology, Can These Bones Live? deals with the tough issues in the area of church revitalization.

Dr. Henard begins by laying a theological foundation for church revitalization. He stresses a commitment to the authority of Scripture, reliance on the Holy Spirit, and the ministry of prayer. Chapter two deals with evaluating the church’s current situation and assessing the challenges involved in leading an established congregation through the revitalization process. The rest of the chapters each deal with different problems concerning church revitalization. The chapter titles may at first glance sound pessimistic, but they represent problems that are dealt with by each chapter. The final chapter introduces The Change Matrix, a helpful system of bringing about lasting change in an established organization.

Can These Bones Live? is a very practical book that offers several concrete steps to revitalizing the local church. One of the most refreshing aspects of this book is Dr. Henard’s candid approach to the task. He doesn’t make grandiose claims, or unrealistic promises. Henard assures the reader that church revitalization is difficult work and is a spiritual warfare. However, he doesn’t just leave the reader discouraged, he jumps down into the trenches and begins teaching how to facilitate change in the church. Henard recognizes that some churches simply have no interest in growing, but even in cases like this, there is no cause to give up. Henard says, “If the church does not want to grow and the reason lies in the lack of spiritual growth in the church, the pastor needs to set aside most any major plans or vision and concentrate on developing disciples” (pg. 58). This is but one example where wisdom meets realism in Can These Bones Live? and I found this quite refreshing.

One might criticize Can These Bones Live? for being pragmatic and not dwelling enough on theology. However, this misunderstands the purpose of the book. It is written to address the oft-neglected practical aspect of ministry in a declining church. If one is interested in church revitalization, the practical considerations will have to be dealt with and this is exactly what Henard accomplishes. Each chapter is replete with practical wisdom and you can tell that Dr. Bill Henard has gained much of his knowledge through “on-the-job training.” Can These Bones Live? belongs on the reading list of anyone involved or interested in church revitalization.

http://www.amazon.com/Can-These-Bones-Live-Revitalization/dp/1433683970/

Sermon Video – “Slaves” Romans 6:15-23

Video

This is a sermon I preached at Reed Springs Baptist Church Sunday morning, May 18, 2014. My sermon title is “Slaves” and my sermon text is Romans 6:15-23. Here is the sermon outline:

“Slaves” Romans 6:15-23

1. We are slaves to whom we obey (vs. 15-16)

• Slave — doulos — completely controlled by someone.
• Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters”

2. Slaves of sin or slaves of God (vs. 17-19)

• 1 Corinthians 6:9 “…the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God…”

3. The wages of sin or the gift of God (vs. 20-23)

• Slavery to sin leads to more and more sin and death
• Slavery to God leads to sanctification and eternal life

Who Put The War in Worship?

Standard
Have you ever seen a church divided over an issue? I think we can all agree that division and disunity is destructive to the life of any church. When I think about church division, my mind goes to the subject of worship. Why? Because there are few others issues that can incite such red-hot emotions as the issue of worship. This is nothing new. A quick survey of the Bible indicates this.
In Genesis chapter 4, we see the culmination of Adam’s sin in Genesis 3; the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. Have you ever noticed that the issue over which Cain killed Abel was worship? Cain and Abel both worshiped God in different ways. Abel was accepted while Cain was rejected. Rather than repent and change, Cain kills his brother in a jealous rage.
In 2 Samuel chapter 6, we see another worship war between David the king of Israel and his wife, Michal. The ark of the covenant is being brought back to Jerusalem to its rightful place in the tabernacle of God. It had been stolen by the Philistines several years before and although Israel had retrieved it, it had not been taken back to the tabernacle till now. This was a great day. God’s manifest presence is coming to the capital city of Israel. David, the king, is overjoyed and is offering sacrifices and dancing before God as the ark enters the city. His wife looks out a window and despises David for being so undignified. She then proceeds to criticize David for his act of worship. As a result, God curses Michal with barrenness for the rest of her life.
In Ezra chapter 3 we see the dedication of the new temple. The Israelites have returned from Babylonian captivity and rebuilt the temple. The new temple is not nearly as magnificent as the first temple. At the dedication of this new, smaller, less-extravagant temple; the music is played and the young people rejoice because they finally have a temple to worship in, while the older men who remembered the first temple before it was destroyed 70 years prior are weeping because this new temple isn’t as grand as the first one. While this isn’t a war necessarily, it does show how God’s people can be divided over worship.
 Jesus encountered the war concerning worship when he spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well in Sychar in John chapter 4. “The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship” (John 4:19-20). The Samaritans were a people of mixed race and mixed religion. After the northern kingdom of Israel was captured by the Assyrians in 722 BC, the Israelites from that area intermarried with Gentiles from the region. They also mingled elements of the worship of God with pagan worship. The result was the people called the Samaritans. They had been taught to worship on Mt. Gerizim, where Israel had received blessing from God (Deut. 11:29). The Jews were right to worship in Jerusalem, and the Samaritans were not worshiping according to the Scripture. Jesus points this out when he says, “You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.” Jesus goes on to point out that the true worshiper must worship in “spirit and truth” meaning that true worship must be with the whole heart (spirit) and based on the Bible (truth).
Why all the division about worship? It’s really simple: Satan hates worship. He hated it in Isaiah 14 where we see his rebellion against God. Satan loves to turn worship of God into war between believers. Why? Because worship brings the body to Christ together as one and focuses us on Jesus Christ, the head of the church. Jesus prayer to the Father for the church in John 17 was that we be one: “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:20-21).
Worship is varied and diverse and not everyone worships the same. Jesus said that two things were necessary for worship. It must be in spirit – that is, from the heart; and it must be in truth – it must be biblical Don’t be a tool in Satan’s grip. Love God, love your brother, and don’t divide over that which ought to unite us – the worship of God.

Saint Patrick: Evangelist of the Emerald Isle

Standard

 

What do you know about Saint Patrick? Did you know…

  • that the color first associated with Saint Patrick was blue?
  • that Saint Patrick was from England, not Ireland?
  • that Saint Patrick was a slave for six years?
  • that Saint Patrick was a devout Christian missionary?
  • that Saint Patrick was NOT a leprechaun? Ok, you probably knew that one…

Born somewhere on the main English Island (approximately 383 – 415 A.D.), Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders at 16 years old and enslaved by a warrior chief to feed pigs. Patrick was a Christian and prayed constantly during this time. After six years of enslavement, Patrick escaped and ran 200 miles to a harbor and sailed back to England. Only to be called by God to return as a missionary to Ireland. 
 Ireland was populated by pagans and barbarians. Patrick faced opposition by the druids, an religious group of men who practiced magic and were educated in matters of history and law. Opposed both by Druids and Arian priests, he planted orthodox churches and monasteries, mostly on the northern and western sides of the island. During his ministry Patrick wrote: “Daily I expect murder, fraud, or captivity, but I fear none of these things because of the promises of heaven. I have cast myself into the hands of God Almighty who rules everywhere.” By the end of his life (493 A.D.), he was said to have baptized ten thousand, and planted over a hundred churches. Patrick strongly opposed slavery; having been a slave himself and having witnessed many of his Christian converts being abducted and sold as slaves. Within Patrick’s lifetime, the entire Irish slave trade had ended. 
There is much that is legendary about the life of Patrick and it is difficult to separate fact from fiction. One legend of Patrick is that on the night of Samhein (or Bealtine), when all fires were to be extinquished on the island, he lit a bonfire on a mountain in protest! Another legend explains the absence of snakes in Ireland by stating that Patrick drove away all the snakes, chasing them into the sea. Most notable of all is the shamrock legend. It is said that in order to explain the concept of the Trinity to the Irish pagans, Patrick used a three-leaf shamrock to illustrate God’s triune nature as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Later, Christians identified the three leaves with the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love (1 Corinthians 13:13); and in the event you found a four-leaf clover, the fourth represents luck (hardly a Christian concept).
Many details of Patrick’s life are lost to us and we can’t be sure about some of the particulars. What we do know is that Patrick of Ireland was a courageous Christian missionary who followed God’s call to share Christ in a difficult, pagan culture. So if you want to celebrate in the true spirit of Saint Patrick of Ireland, take some time to tell your non-Christian friends and acquaintances about the unique, triune God of the Bible… and get rid of any snakes you may run across in the process.