Friday, February 26, 2016
Here's an important read for your weekend!
Believer, there is nothing in your life that you can use to replace your need for the local church
I wrote what's below nearly 6 years ago. I think that in the last 6 years I have matured in the Lord! So, if I were going to write the exact same post today I'm sure I could word things better. But, I still stand by theses words 6 years later:
Thursday, February 25, 2016
Ok. Honestly, it really doesn't matter to me that much (to a certain extent) if you don't have the word Baptist in your particular church. I just want to know if the ideology of what it means to be Baptist (which I see as synonymous with Biblical obviously) is actually still in your local church.
One of the crucial marks of what it means to be Baptist is we believe the local church, so far as we are able to discern, is made up of regenerate members. Baptists believe in regenerate church membership.
I don't want to oversimplify the issue, but in many Southern Baptist Churches today (a denomination of which I am happily a part of, albeit burdened by the state of our churches), it's very easy to 'get in', and very hard to 'get out.' For example, any 4-year old who can say 'yes' to the right questions, can get baptized in many churches. And that same 4-year old can grow up, have 3 wives, become an alcoholic, not attend any service for 5 decades, die, and still have the phrase 'member of First Baptist ______' on his obituary. It's easy to get in, and hard to get out.
As we consider revitalization (or reformation or whatever word you'd like to use) in our established churches today, I think one of the things vital for us to consider is that we need to flip the script. It's time to put Baptist back in the church. We can't accept the implicit mantra of 'easy in' and 'hard out' present in so many of our churches. It's time for it to be hard to get in, and easy to get out.
Here are three ways for us to do this:
1. Baptism -
I mentioned the 4-year old example above. This is because in the SBC "the preschool age group saw a 96 percent increase [in baptisms] from 1974 to 2010" (source). Thankfully, that trend tapered off a little from 2005-2010, but I still think it's a major issue. Can a 4-year old be born again? Absolutely! They are just as dead in their trespasses and sins as a 94 year old. It takes the same sovereign regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in either case.
But, how do we as a local church discern whether or not a 4 year old is really a Believer? Are we supposed to just take someone's word for it that they are a Believer, and if so, Baptize them? I really believe this is what a lot of churches think. Like, the one unpardonable sin in the church is to question the validity of someone's profession of faith. And yet, Jesus gave to the local church the keys to the Kingdom! (Matthew 16:19).
Not that we should mimic everything in the few centuries post the New Testament, but some churches in that era would catechize people up to 3 years before admitting them to the Baptismal waters! Why? They wanted to make sure the church consisted of regenerate members.
It's time we make it harder to join a church by bringing Baptist back.
No, I don't mean that we add things to the gospel! I don't mean that we go beyond Scripture to make people jump through hoops that Jesus never intended for the church. But, I do think we must stop letting every person that walks down and aisle and says they are a Christian to enter the baptistery the next week. Especially in a culture like ours where what it means to be a Christian has been watered down (no baptistery pun intended) the last few decades. We need to recover the biblical teaching of conversion and then make that connection with Baptism. Let's do all we can to only Baptize converts. Seriously. Let's do all we can to only baptize converts!
I'm not saying every church must have a membership class, although that can be helpful, and a viable option. But I am saying each person who wants to join a church must have sufficient counsel with the Pastors of the church to ensure (as best as humbly possible and biblically faithful) that they are truly Believers. This counsel will have to consist of time with the person that exceeds a one 'afternoon' meeting. People can say all the right words and still be unconverted. We need to see people's lives and that they match up to their profession before we baptize them. Let's do all we can to only baptize people who are truly converted. Yes, I know my Paedobaptist brothers will vehemently disagree here, but at least give me the benefit of trying to press our denomination to be consistent with what we say we believe about Baptism.
2. Covenant -
You can read a lengthier defense of covenants here. Suffice it to say, true Baptists think of church membership as a covenantal relationship, and for centuries now have expressed this in formal written covenants for the church. Covenants are not meant to exceed the bounds of Scripture but they are meant to clearly define what membership in the local church is to look like in any particular era, and what is expected of church members.
In some Baptist churches a Church Covenant hangs on the wall and that's it. In others, the church covenant is missing altogether. However, it must be stated that a covenant exists in all churches. It's just that
somemany of those church covenants aren't healthy. They are nothing more than the informal agreement of "membership here means you get voted in by the church and try to come when you can but there really won't be any accountability from us to you or for you to us". Of course that's not actually written down anywhere, it's just implied.
So, in a truly Baptistic church, the idea is not "will we have a covenant or not" but "will we have a healthy church covenant or not?" While it might not be necessary to write such a covenant down, I do think it can be very helpful. Covenants show what sort of lives are expected of the members of the church. What the church's understanding of holiness is. How the church expects the membership to be accountable to one another, and to the leadership of the church.
But wait! Isn't that already in the Bible? Yes it is. But a Church Covenant sets down the parameters of how the local church interprets particular aspects of the Bible's teaching.
We haven't updated our church covenant in quite sometime, but when somebody wants to join here, one of the things I do is make sure they get a copy of our church covenant so that they can see we are trying to have a higher standard of church membership here.
We desire meaningful church membership. Of course, when you have people desiring to join your church and you walk through a church covenant with them, they may balk. They may turn and go to a church down the street. But it comes back to what we think the church is to be. And if the local church is to be comprised of regenerate members, we should expect them to act regenerate.
(A covenant sort of bridges point #1 and #3 because it both makes it 'hard' to get in and 'easy' to get out. For clarification, let's go to point #3)
3. Discipline -
In one sense, discipline ought to be happening all the time in the church. This is 'formative' discipline and takes place in the teaching of the church.
But what I mean by 'easy' to get out is corrective church discipline. I believe current Southern Baptist Church membership hovers just above 15 million today. It's hard to say how many actually are in church every Sunday, but it's been said that it's somewhere around 6 million.
Gathering with the local church is basic to Christianity. The fact that we have over 9 million people not regularly gathering with their local church in the SBC is appalling (here's a very helpful article from 2009). Here's one of the reasons a Church Covenant can be so helpful. The covenant should state (rightfully and biblically) that members are expected to regularly gather. If Jane Doe misses a week this doesn't mean you kick her out! But it does mean she is checked on. If she is persistent in missing and it's not for health or some other providential hindrance, she should be lovingly reminded by someone that she is breaking covenant with the church and being disobedient to Scripture. If she persists that 'someone' should take two or three others to encourage her to repent and come back into fellowship with the church. If she refuses to listen to them it should be told to the church. And if she refuses to listen to the church, she should be treated as a pagan and removed from the church rolls (Matthew 18:15-17).
When members of a church go against what they have 'covenanted' to do (see point #2!), it is time for church discipline. This also helps to show the purity of the church and shows how the gospel transforms a group of people into the likeness of Christ together.
We do need to be careful with church discipline and practice it according to how it is laid out for us in Scripture. It has been abused in the past. However, the issue in our churches isn't that church disciplined is being abused but that's it's completely absent. Try mentioning to someone about removing someone from the rolls and take note of their facial expression! Yet, we must be clear and bold: it ought to be much 'easier' for people to be removed from our rolls than it currently is. Baptists don't advocate for a sinless church. But we do advocate for a regenerate church. And the expectation of regenerate people is that they live a lifestyle of repentance. Believers do still sin. But when they are confronted with sin, the expectation is that of repentance.
Many churches don't practice corrective church discipline because they don't want to come across as unloving. The irony is, to not warn people of sin is the epitome of unloving. If more local Baptist churches were resolved to be serious about church discipline it would help stop the issue we have in some many areas of 'church hopping'. It was also be a great benefit to churches, individual Believers, and the Kingdom at large. No person who has his or her name on your church roll is guaranteed to keep that name there no matter what until they die. Membership should mean something. Furthermore, the issue is more sobering than that. Many who have their name on a church roll don't have it in the Lamb's book of Life. This is why regenerate church membership is so important to recover. When our church votes someone in as a member, we are saying "Yes! As far as we can tell, you are a Believer!" What a travesty that on the Day of Judgment so many will look at their respective churches and say "I thought you said I was a Christian!" For the good of people's souls, we must make it easier to remove people from fellowship with the church.
So much more could be said. But if we desire to see healthy churches in our convention, these are some steps that we are going to have to take. Whether you are a pastor, deacon, or layperson, how might the Lord have you work in your current local church to get Baptist back in it?
Currently, I'm reading through Baptist Foundations and I can't recommend it to you highly enough. We have a long history of faithful men who've gone on before us. We'd be wise to listen to them.
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
I can still remember the sounds those numbers made when you pressed them on the phone.
That was the first phone number I remember knowing, maybe before I even knew my own home phone number
I don't remember the last time I dialed that number. The last time I heard my grandmother's voice on the other end of the line. But it still makes my heart heavy when I think about the fact that I will never dial that number again and hear Meemaw.
I don't know where that name even came from. But for me I can tell you exactly what it means.
Meemaw means legacy. It means love. It means military wife. At times in her life it meant make do! It means Lincoln. It means using your bad arm to get you out of a speeding ticket. It means Chinese food. Or Mexican food. Or Bonanza. Or Sonic. Or wherever else she felt like taking us to eat.
Meemaw means Christmas cookies and fruit cake. It means hot tea. It means slightly cantankerous at times and not what you would call politically correct. It means generous. And not just with money. But also with her time.
She worked at a little western union in the 1940s in Austin, TX when a strapping young Allen S. Nelson stopped by one day. 4 children, 5 grandchildren, and 5 great grandchildren.
On second thought I could probably never express to you exactly what Meemaw means. It transcends words.
But I can say this:
My life is better because she was in it. Not just in it but an integral part of my upbringing.
Meemaw passed away on 12/20/2014. When my grandfather died on 9/20/2009 it felt like a chapter was closing. But now that both are gone it feels like an entire volume has closed.
It is an end of an era.
It's interesting the people the Lord puts in your life isn't it? I'm grateful He put a Meemaw in mine. If He has placed one in yours and she's still alive, go dial her phone number and tell her you love her.
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; (1 Peter 5:2)
Surely we would conclude that part of shepherding the flock of God that is among us is by intentionally praying for them. Here's how John Owen suggests we pray for the flock:
2. Unto the temptations that the church is generally exposed unto. These vary greatly, according unto the outward circumstances of things…
3. Unto the especial state and condition of all the members, so far as it is known unto them…
4. Unto the presence of Christ in the assemblies of the church, with all the blessed evidences and testimonies of it…and they will do so who understand that all the success of their labours, and all the acceptance of the church with God in their duties, do depend hereon…
5. To their preservation in faith, love, and fruitfulness, with all the duties that belong unto them, etc.
You can click here to see the practical strategy I use (I make one of these new every year)
Thursday, February 18, 2016
Hell is a real place filled with real people. It is a place of unceasing conscious torment. It is not an escape from God but a place where the wrath of Holy God is justly endured for all eternity. It is a place where both the body and soul are constantly punished in fire and darkness. The pain, smells, cries, screams, wailing, fear, and hatred in that place cannot be fully comprehended by our finite brains.
Hell never ends. It is an irrevocable sentence. You will not eventually get out nor will your body or soul ever cease to exist. Day and night for 10,000 times 10,000 years and then an eternity behind that, those in Hell will be punished without any hope of escape or parole.
Despite the 'Hell Houses' you may have taken your youth groups to, Hell is not ruled by a goofy man in a red suit. It is still God's domain. It was created for Satan and his angels. And all those who follow in those ways will go there. It's not just for the Hitlers and Stalins of the world. It's for all those who have rejected our great and glorious God. Many 'good' (from our perspective) and upstanding people will be there. Many who professed and *knew* they were Christians in this life will be there (Mt. 7:21-23).
God is worthy of praise not in spite of Hell but BECAUSE Hell exists. Hell means that God will justly punish all sin. The wicked will not have the final say. God's honor and majesty will be vindicated. Hell helps us see the reality of sin. All sin is an affront to God's holy character. The least of sins is an act of rebellion against God. Let us not take sin lightly! Hell also helps us see the reality of the cross. The necessity of Jesus the God-Man bearing the weight of God's holy wrath. In that sense, Jesus did descend into Hell when He ascended Calvary.
Will you go to Hell?
If you do, it will be your just sentence for rejecting God. Sure, maybe you half-heartedly gave lip service to God. It's not that you felt you 'hated' God (in fact, you even said you loved Him), He just wasn't really what you wanted in life. You were fine with a 'nominal' faith and just enjoying life. And on that last Day God will be vindicated as the truth that you already know will be revealed: you didn't want God.
Will you go to Hell?
This all depends on whether or not you are trusting the gospel by faith. Not a mere mental ascent to the facts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. But are you banking everything you are on the Gospel? Is all your hope of righteousness in Christ? Is all God's approval of you based on Jesus' work? Are you treasuring Christ? Are you glad in God? Are you living a life of repentance surrendered to the Lordship of Christ?
Hell is a sobering doctrine. Let us not take it lightly. Jesus didn't use it as a scare tactic. He simply stated it as a mater of truth. Many...MANY will go to this unbearable Godforsaken place (Mt. 7:14).
But today is a day of grace. While there is breath in your lungs call out to
Jesus in faith! And if you are already a Believer, then be resolved like Spurgeon:
"If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for."
Monday, February 15, 2016
Here are my thoughts:
2. It’s how the Bible was meant to be read. Let’s say you disagree with #1 and you say “Well, I grab books and only read the important sections and then toss ’em.” I would say to you, fine, but the Biblical authors wrote with the intention of having their work read in its entirety (example, Col. 4:16). Moses did not write in hopes that someone would read 5 chapters from the Pentateuch. He wrote with the intention that all 5 books would be read and studied. If this is how the Bible is meant to be read, then why not teach your people this by modeling it through your sermons?
3. It’s a testimony to belief in the sufficiency of Scripture. Is Scripture sufficient? Does it contain everything we need for salvation, knowing God, obedience to Him, understanding His will? If it is sufficient, then we want to know all of it, not just the parts that we believe are important and skip out on the rest. Does man live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God or not (Deut. 8:3)? Scripture interprets Scripture. Therefore, we need to let the Bible itself speak on what it is that we need to know about God and man.
4. It allows you to cover the whole counsel of God’s Word. Related to the above point, preaching through books allows you (andforcesyou!) to cover all that the Bible says; even things that are controversial. You can’t dance around Jesus’ teaching on divorce, or repentance, or conversion for example if you are preaching verse by verse through Matthew. It also keeps the Pastor from just hounding away on his favorite topics or soap boxes.
5. It’s what your people
6. It allows the Pastor and the people to know what’s coming. You don’t have to scramble Monday mornings to find what to preach on. Your people can read, reflect, meditate, pray about, and discuss with family members the next set of verses that are going to be covered. This will help congregations master certain books of the Bible which will only help them to master other Books of the Bible when studying on their own. If done properly and consistently it teaches sound hermeneutics without ever having to say the word “hermeneutics” from the pulpit!
7. The benefits far outweigh the “cons.” Yes, you must be disciplined in preaching through books because each sermon must be in context while at the same time able to stand on its own. Also, you should be flexible because there may be local or global events that occur (good things, bad things, ugly things) that your people must hear a Word from God on and it may not match up well with your specific text (although sometimes it may). However, I believe God will bless Pastors who are resolved to preach expository sermons through books of the Bible as the main dose of their preaching simply because this is how God’s Word was meant to be preached to His people (see above statements!).
8. Use this in other areas of the Church's teaching. We are so dependent on curriculum in Sunday School, VBS, Wednesday night classes, etc. It's not that curriculum is bad! However, why don't you consider just using the Bible as your curriculum in Sunday School for a season? Or even in VBS, Wednesday night, or other teaching opportunities. Yes, even in Youth Ministry! God is faithful to His Word and it will not return void. This doesn't mean you can't ever use other curriculum or do topical studies. But it does mean we need more exposition, even in Sunday School.
9. It's ok (and good!) to be flexible at times. At Perryville Second Baptist we Just finished a topical series on discipleship. It's ok to be flexible, and this can be helpful to the church. But for the above reasons I think the lion's share of preaching should be expositional through books of the Bible. We just want to make sure we are preaching and teaching the Bible as it was inspired to be preached and taught!
Monday, February 1, 2016
Résumés. Think about how many thousands of years the human race existed without the need of these minions! And yet, in our day, they have become a necessary evil. If you've ever had to write one, or go through an endless stack of them, then you know exactly what I'm talking about.
I wonder, given the opportunity before God, what you might want to put on your spiritual résumé.
Like, if you were applying for acceptance into heaven, what kind of qualifications do you have to get there?
Perhaps God is looking for someone with some experience in doing good deeds? Or maybe He prefers a person who hasn't had too many mess ups? Is your education enough? Or does your lack of education disqualify you? Do you have enough volunteer hours?
I wonder if God gave an entrance exam, if you could pass it?
I wonder if God gave an entrance exam, if you could pass it?
What if I told you the only résumés accepted in heaven are those that contain just one word? Follow with me here for a moment.
There are only 3 kinds of people really when it comes to our hypothetical spiritual résumés. There are those who write their résumé with all of the sin and wickedness they've done, knowing that when God sees it, He will place it in the discard pile. Their guilt and shame permeates every page, and frankly, if they were honest enough, there wouldn't be enough paper in the world to write out all their sin. Then there are those who think they've got a lot of things to merit God's favor: Their good works, their gifts to charity, their kind attitude. Sure, they know they're not perfect, but they've got a lot of good stuff on the résumé that outweighs the bad. Maybe if they don't put it in print, God won't remember about some of the sins of their youth, or how sometimes they like to indulge in their secret sins every now and then. Of course, they don't realize that God places those résumés in the discard pile as well.
The third group of people are the ones who think along the lines of the Apostle Paul:
If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:4b-14)
The third group of people have only that one word on their résumés: Christ.
- All my evil deeds, all my wicked thoughts, all my breaking of God's Holy Law, all my lack of kindness toward my wife, all of my hateful words, all of my sin, and shame, and sorrow: It has been dealt with on the cross. For these sins and countless others I can put just one word: Christ
- All of my 'good' deeds, all of my church attendance, all of my financial contributions, all of my bible reading and knowledge, all of my leadership of my family: I am only enabled to do these things because of Christ's mercy, and even in them my motivations are not quite pure enough, my zeal isn't fervent enough, my love isn't lovely enough, my worship isn't honoring enough, and yet, in all of this, just one word: Christ.
The worst that I am isn't beyond the blood of Jesus. The best that I am isn't beyond the blood of Jesus. All I have to claim before God is the work of His Son on my behalf. Hallelujah! All I have is Christ! And He is enough.
No, really. All I have to claim on my spiritual résumé is Christ. And that is precisely what (Who!) God joyfully accepts. I am accepted by God in Christ.
Is there any better news in the Universe!?
When I wake up tomorrow and don't feel like a pastor, God accepts me in Christ. When I am not the parent I need to be, God accepts me in Christ. When I 'hit a home-run' sermon, God doesn't love me more. When I strike out, or hit into a double play, God doesn't love me less. When I read the Bible hungry for more of God, I am holy loved and loved wholly. When I read the Bible fearful of its conviction, I am holy loved and loved wholly. I am accepted in Christ, clothed in His righteousness (http://goo.gl/BLfmGY).
My spiritual résumé is almost blank. No work experience. No volunteer hours. No education. No awards. No accolades. No letters behind my name. But just because it is almost blank doesn’t mean it’s empty. That one word speaks eternally for me. All I have is Christ. All I have is Christ.
If you are a Believer, let this sink in this very moment. All you have is Christ, and that's the most glorious news in the universe. You have Him. He looks at you and says 'Mine!' 'MINE!' 'A blood bought rebel washed in My blood and clothed in My righteousness!' Believer, you have a spotless resume, an impeccable work experience, and not an ounce of sin to pay for - you have been forgiven in Jesus and cleansed. Be who you are Sister! Be who you are Brother! All you have is Christ!
If you are not a Believer, you too can have Christ. The question is not can you or can you not have Him, but do you want Him? No one who wants Christ is turned away from Him. But will you come to Him in faith? Will you trust His atoning blood as the only payment possible for your sin? Will you, by faith, trust that His righteousness is the only thing that can fit you for a perfect eternity in the presence of God and His people forever? Will you repent, turning in your heart from your love of sin, and come to Christ in faith as your only suitable and all sufficient Savior?
All I have is Christ. He is all satisfying. And He is enough.
God is infinite. Therefore, any transgression against Him is of infinite evil. Let me illustrate it this way:
If I slap a mosquito no one bats an eye. If I slap a dog a few people might be upset with me. If I slap a child I will most likely be in trouble. If I slap a police office I'll probably get arrested. If I slap the president I may even be tried for treason!
The action is the same. But what's the difference? The person I have committed the action against. So, God is an infinite being, therefore any sin against Him is of infinite evil.
How can I pay an infinite debt against God? I never can. This is why hell is eternal.
Yet, Christ bore our sins in His body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24). The question must be asked: How could Christ pay for the infinite debt owed? Not just for my sin either! But for all the sins of all those who would ever look to Him in faith!
I submit to you that this is an impossibility if Christ is merely a good man. If Jesus is anything less than the infinite God in the flesh, He cannot bear the full weight and penalty for my sin.
But be of good cheer! Jesus is God! The 2nd person of the Trinity. He and the Father shared glory before the foundations of the world (John 17:5). And He will receive glory for all eternity (Revelation 5:9-13).
Any person who denies the Trinity denies the atonement. If one says Jesus is less than God then His sacrifice cannot be enough to actually pay the full price for my sin. If one is a modalist then it is impossible for the Father to impute my sin to the Son so that He can pay for my sin (2 Cor. 5:21).
The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4). Each is fully divine. Yet, God is not 'chopped' up. Trinity means 'Tri-Unity'. He is ONE God who eternally exists in Three distinct Persons. This is not a contradiction, but it is a mystery! It is no trifle thing to deny God's own revelation of Himself as God in three persons, blessed Trinity.