Wednesday, June 29, 2016

5 reasons to Join us for Change and the Church: Why the Local Church Still Matters on 8/27/16

We hope you can join us on Saturday, August 27 at 10am, for a free one-day conference! We are located in central Arkansas and in reasonable driving distance from anywhere in the State and even accessible to surrounding States as well... (You can see our address, registration, and more info on the conference by clicking here).

But why should you give up a Saturday to come to central Arkansas to hear people preach from the Bible? I'm glad you asked! Of course, it is August and too hot to be doing something outside anyway. But here are 5 even better reasons to join us:

1. The Subject Matter - The theme of this year's conference is on the importance of the local church. Why it must be a priority. Why it is not 'optional'. Why it is essential to making disciples. I think this to be a very relevant subject in the United States today. There are voices from outside the church talking about how we are on the 'wrong side of history.' There are voices from within the church talking about how 'you don't have to go to church to be a Christian' and other erroneous claims. There are discussions within conservative denominations about the right way to plant a church, how to revitalize a local church, what constitutes a healthy church, and the list goes on. There are clarion calls for revival. But let me just reveal my hand to you here: the local church does still matter, and until we recover a biblical Christ honoring vision for the local church, evangelicalism (for whatever that word is worth anymore) and our culture will continue to suffer. We will not see revival or reformation until we get a biblical view of the local church.
2. The Speakers - We were priviliged to have a great group of speakers come last year, and the lineup this year is equally great. Tom Nettles, Steve Burchett, and Ray Van Neste are men who love the local church and each has given his life's work for the furtherance of the glory of Christ through the ministry of the local church. They love pastors and will be helpful to your growth and encouragment as a pastor. But they also love church members in general and to teach the Bible so that people from all walks of life will grow to love the local church. So, there is really something for everyone to benefit from. Each speaker will have one plenary session and there will also be a Q&A panel, which leads us to our next point:
3. A Q&A Panel - A new feature this year will be the Question and Answer panel immediately following our lunch break. Joining the above speakers on this panel will be Jeffrey Johnson, pastor of Grace Bible Church in Conway, AR and author of several books including The Fatal Flaw of Infant Baptism, The Church: Why Bother?, and The Absurdity of Unbelief. These four men will be answering questions directly from conference attendees. We've already had several streaming in, and you can submit yours by clicking here. But also, you will have the opportunity to write down a question and submit it before lunch. No, these 4 men aren't the 'infallible experts' but each offers a mature and biblical perspective on the local church and will be able to offer wise instruction regarding theological and practical questions concerning the church.
4. The Fellowship - No, I'm not talking about food! And I'm not just using a Baptist cliché either. A great benefit to coming to this conference is meeting likeminded brothers and sisters from around the State of Arkansas. One of the hopes of this conference has always been that it will foster relationships that will last beyond just a one day event. You can drive to a conference 3 States away and benefit. But you can't normally come back from that having met pastors that you can sync up with throughout the year! You may think your church is the only one facing some of the struggles that you are, but there are churches all across the State who are striving to be healthy and facing similar issues. Wouldn't it be mutually beneficial to get to know some of those churches and pastors? Well, at a conference like this you will be sure to meet them! We will sing together, worship together, hear great preaching toghether, and have some great conversations together.
5. Free Stuff - We are continuing to work on all of our giveaways, but we've amassed some great stuff so far. Matthias Media is givning us some discipleship packets, we will have some For the Church - Arkansas t-shirts, Chapel Library resources, and more. In addition to that, we will be selling some great books at discounted prices. We are also giving away a free copy of Jeffrey Johnson's book The Church: Why Bother? to the first 80 people who register. So, if you plan on coming, go ahead and register now to secure your book! 
And of course, this is all free. The Lord has really blessed in putting the pieces into place the last 2 years on this conference and He is doing so again this year. Too often, there are really great conferences out there but you break the budget going there by the time you pay for the hotel, registration costs, gas, several meals, etc.  But here is a one-day event, within driving distance, with great speakers, and all it will cost you is a little bit of time, gas to get here, and whatever you can scrounge up for lunch.

Won't you join us August 27?

Let me ask you one last thing: If you are unable to join us 8/27, would you mind helping us spread the word about this conference? Thanks!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Remaining the Same Won't Result in Reformation

Unfortunately I did not get to attend the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in St. Louis. There are several important things that seem to be happening in our denomination. We continue to strive to publicly distance ourselves from the racism that stained our past. We seem to be eager about working together for the salvation of souls even if we aren't in 100% agreement about certain soteriological matters. Also, I continue to be excited about the leadership of some of our entities. I am not ashamed to say that I continue to hold out great hope for the gospel impact of our denomination and I am grateful to be a Southern Baptist.

With that being said, too much remains the same. Namely, a big black eye on our denomination in regards to regenerate church membership. Perhaps the biggest statement toward this came in the form of who we elected for President of the SBC. I commend Dr. Greear's model of humility and teamsmenship, but I do not know if Dr. Gaines is the right man for the job. I don't know him personally, but if the numbers for Bellevue are accurate, this is a major issue that most people won't talk about. Here's what has been reported:

If these numbers are accurate at all, Bellevue Baptist has over 4x as many people on Her rolls as attending services each week! And this assumes that all of the 6,801 weekly attenders are actual members (probably not). 

In 2008 (Dr. Gaines was Pastor of Bellevue during this time) the SBC passed a resolution entitled On Regenerate Church Membership and Church Member Restoration (link at bottom). Please read:

"RESOLVED, That we humbly urge our churches to maintain accurate membership rolls for the purpose of fostering ministry and accountability among all members of the congregation; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we urge the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention to repent of the failure among us to live up to our professed commitment to regenerate church membership and any failure to obey Jesus Christ in the practice of lovingly correcting wayward church members (Matthew 18:15-18); and be it further

RESOLVED, That we humbly encourage denominational servants to support and encourage churches that seek to recover and implement our Savior’s teachings on church discipline, even if such efforts result in the reduction in the number of members that are reported in those churches, and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we humbly urge the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention and their pastors to implement a plan to minister to, counsel, and restore wayward church members based upon the commands and principles given in Scripture (Matthew 18:15-352 Thessalonians 3:6-15Galatians 6:1James 5:19-20)."

What about having over 4x the people on the rolls that actually attend is "maintain[ing] accurate membership rolls for the purpose of fostering ministry and accountability among all members of the congregation"? Brothers, this is not the way. 

Inaccurate church rolls is a major issue for our denomination and many will overlook it. But, I continue to maintain that our denomination will be sunk if we do not strive to have healthy biblical regenerate local churches. Havinghealthy  churches must be an absolute non negotiable! And you can't have healthy churches without healthy membership. And you don't have healthy membership if only 20% of members are accounted for on any given Sunday. If I had 5 children but didn't know where 4 of them were and only 1 regularly ate under my roof, you would say (rightfully!) that I was a bad Dad! Let the reader understand. 

I do not question Dr. Gaines leadership abilities. I don't question his love for Jesus. I don't question his commitment to the SBC. What I do question is this: his commitment to regenerate church membership. If we are not going to care about accurate membership rolls, what business do we have calling for reformation and revival in our nation? If the church is not going to be concerned with the authority of Scripture, why should we expect the nation? 

I dare say unregenerate church membership is at least partially culpable  for some of the homosexual confusion in our society today. How? Because when we tell people that open rebellion to God is ok in some areas such as living together outside of marriage, drunkenness, adultery, etc. - when people can live openly in these sins and not be lovingly confronted with the truth and removed from membership if continuing in unrepentance, then don't we see how some people try to use that same logic to justify homosexuality? Bill can be on his 4th wife and be known as the town drunk, living in unrepentant sin, and still come vote at the church's business meeting. The church must confront all sin. Including the sin of forsaking the regular assembly (Heb. 10:25). 

The point is this: when the church fails to care about regenerate church membership it has an affect on the local church, the denomination, and society at large. Biblical, healthy, regenerate church membership is a big deal! Some of these other things we are passionate about: evangelism, missions giving, unity, will take care of themselves if we strive for healthy churches, which includes a healthy view of church membership. 

If we remain the same in this area, we will not change as a denomination. A 2008 resolution is not enough. We have to get down in the trenches and do the hard work of leading our churches in healthy membership. Whether your church runs 10 or 10,000 lets have rolls that actually reflect those who regularly attend. 

Here is my hope and focused prayer: that Dr. Gaines will publicly repent for neglecting this all important 2008 Resolution. Not because the resolution has any 'authority' but because it does accurately reflect Scripture's teaching on the subject. What a statement it would be to all of our churches if our denominational president repented in this area, and if necessary, stepped down so that he could address it in his own local church!

No one said reformation would be easy. But if we hope to see it, we cannot remain the same. We can't give lip service to regenerate church membership but leave it unattended to in our own churches. I can tell you from experience that it is a difficult subject. Some people will be upset. But can we not say that faithfulness to our Lord in all areas is worth it? No matter what it costs? To treat the local church faithfully as Christ would have us is always absolutely worth it! 

Southern Baptists, let us press on! Let us be resolved to not remain the same in this area. As SouthernBaptists let's resolve to do all we can to have regenerate, biblical, healthy local churches. Pastors, deacons, laypersons. All hands on deck. To God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. 


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Two Prayers for More and Better Bible Reading from Psalm 119

Psalm 119 has 176 verses! So, in one sense, I could write a blog of 176 prayers for more Bible reading from Psalm 119! But for today, I'll just stick with two. And I'm going to deal with them first in reverse order. 

1. Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things and give me life in your ways (v.37)

Would you start by praying that to God?

Now, consider, what is it that keeps you from reading the Bible more deeply than you do? Is it not because too often our eyes are fixed on worthless things?

Sports. Facebook. Games. Etc. 

These things aren't evil in and of themselves of course. But what travesty that our eyes are too often averted toward them instead of the Word! Our eyes do not find life in these things. We live in a distracted society. Even a society that detests boredom. We've always got to be entertained. You can't even ride an elevator without some background music! 

But, I think it faithful to the text to pray this morning that the Lord would take your eyes off of distraction and put them into His Word. It is where life is found (v.37b). 

Even good things become worthless if they keep one from seeing more of Jesus. And that's the ultimate point of being in the Bible isn't it? 

Too often our hearts are cold and feel little or no need for seeing more of Christ in Scripture. And so we get sucked into letting our eyes look at worthless things. To many people these worthless things become 'life'. But the Psalmist makes it clear: true life is found in God's ways. 

2. Open my eyes, that I might behold wondrous things out of your law (v.18)

Now that your eyes are pulled away from distraction, ask the Lord to truly help you see wondrous things in His Word. 

Seeing takes grace and discipline. Grace because the only One who can open your eyes is the One to whom this Psalm is written: YHWH. The Triune God of the Universe. Discipline because your brain has been trained to be entertained by short spurts of information illuminated from the backlight of a smartphone. In a way, you've got to untrain your brain! 

You don't have to make things appear in the Bible that aren't there. But you do have to have eyes to see what is there! What glorious things are found in the pages of Holy Writ. Consider that Holy God has spoken to lowly man. Might we not expect to find glorious treasure in the King's speech?

Behold wondrous things

Imagine walking by a painting and merely giving it a passing glance. You would not see all that was there. You would miss a lot of detail. You might even miss the whole point of the painting. Don't give the Bible a passing glance! Behold wondrous things! For sure, the Bible is of such nature that there is benefit even in the skimming. But there are wondrous things that are too often missed simply because we don't have eyes to see. And this leads directly back to v.37. It's because we don't behold wondrous things in the Word that our eyes are too often and too quickly turned to lesser things to behold. 

Mine. Dig. Labor. See. Behold. 

Will you pray these two prayers this morning? Father, would you turn my eyes from worthless things and open my eyes to behold wondrous things out of your law? Pray because the Lord is our source for turning and opening. The truth is, the eyes are connected to the heart aren't they? And it is the Lord who changes hearts. Even continually molding the hearts of Believers. 

By faith will you ask Him right now to help you cherish His Word more?

Monday, June 13, 2016

Let's Have a Healthier View of Conversion

"You say it's embarrassing when people don't come (during the invitation). It's embarrassing when you don't give them the opportunity-Jack Graham #sbcpc16"

I didn't get to attend the SBC Pastors' Conference this year. And I have much respect for Jack Graham and I don't know the full context in which the above statement was said. 

I do know however that several on social media have used this quote (or worded similarly) to imply the necessity of an 'altar call' at the end of a sermon. In other words, 'invitation' = 'altar call.'

It's not my desire to debate whether or not we should give altar calls. But I do want to address this idea that not giving an altar call is not giving an invitation to respond to the gospel. This is simply absurd. The invitation to respond to the gospel is repentance and faith. Repent and believe the gospel (Mk 1:15), Believe in the Lord Jesus (Acts 16:31), You turned to God from idols (1 Thess. 1:9), etc. 

I recently finished preaching through the Sermon on the Mount. It's important I think to see how Jesus concluded the most famous sermon anyone has ever preached. Was there an invitation? More like a command: Enter by the narrow gate...(Mt. 7:13). Well yeah but if they didn't play Just as I am and have people close their eyes, how could anyone really make a decision for Jesus!?

This is where I think we need to have a healthier view of conversion. I'm not opposed to a public time of response at the end of a sermon. But I am opposed to the thinking that no public response time is equivalent to 'not giving an invitation'. The invitation is repent and believe the gospel! Right where you are. Right as you are. Come to Christ by faith in His finished work. 

But what if somebody doesn't know how to express that? 

I actually think we get overly concerned about this. There is not a magic formula. There is not a code sequence that must be cracked. A sinner must feel their need for Christ and come to Him in faith. I actually think of there is too much confusion about what a person needs to 'say', they haven't actually grasped the gospel. And if they haven't grasped the gospel, they don't need a two minute conversation while music is playing. They need the opportunity to have a discussion. And if the Holy Spirit is working in them, asking them to stay and talk with the Pastor is not going to 'quench the Spirit'. (Study for example how Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones handled this matter)

Unfortunately, statistics indicate that many people who have responded to an altar call, leave unchanged. They are now on a church roll somewhere but living in love with the present world. We must remember that the invitation of the gospel is not to respond to the invitation. The invitation is to close with Christ, right now. Practically I have found there are always several 'invitations' throughout the sermons I preach. Have you heard this gospel? Believe it! Believe it now! Repent and come to Christ in faith. These are the sort of exhortations that should be present in various areas of our messages rather than a crescendo of 'come up here' tacked on to the end of a message. 

What should be more embarrassing to us is that we are a denomination that can't find 10 million of our members. And one of the causes to this is feeling the need to see people come up front to publicly respond to a message. In fact, I've heard pastors invent categories of response just to get people to come forward! (One example being the need to 'rededicate' one's life). This has lead to a pressured response, even if unintentional. And again I'm not against a time of public response. But I am against saying that the lack of an 'altar call' is embarrassing.

May we declare the gospel with boldness, faithfulness, and eagerness for all who hear us to respond. But may we have a healthier view of conversion in which we understand that the sinner's required response is not walking an aisle, but fleeing to Christ as the only suitable and all sufficient Savior. 

May we be more concerned about getting the gospel right and having it saturate our messages rather than figuring out how we can get more people up front at the end of a message. 

And the good news is this: proclaim it and we will see fruit. 

Keep proclaiming the truth brothers! To God alone be the glory...

Sunday, June 12, 2016

30 for 30

It's 11pm CST. In one hour I leave my 20s never to return and enter a new decade of life! Grateful to God's mercy toward me. 

Here are 30 random thoughts for turning 30:

1. Jesus is a wonderful savior. In His atoning work and in His patience with me. In the fact that His righteousness is imputed to me and that He intercedes for me daily. 

2. When I eat Lucky Charms I pick out extra marshmallows from the box and add it to my bowl. I'm not going to stop that. 

3. I wish I cared as much for the local church 10 years ago as I do now. 

4. Tony Romo is a great quarterback. Don't be a hater. 

5. I don't need to complain so much. 

6. The Bible is precious. Treat it as such. Read it like it holds the key to life and godliness. 

7. It's unfortunate our society delays manhood until age 30 and after. It's a shame for society and for the church. 

8. Taking away guns won't fix people. Neither will political conservatism or liberalism. It's only the gospel. 

9. I need to grow in personal evangelism. 

10. It wasn't my plan at 18 but I'm thankful to be the father of 4 kids at age 30. 

11. I don't have a bigger encourager in my life than my wife. What a gift!

12. I still think there is hope for the Southern Baptist Convention. But these are crucial times that we must not dismiss. We need to actively strive for reformation in our local churches for the glory of God. 

13. I have been blessed with extremely wonderful friends who love Jesus. 

14. Lemon Meringue Pie 

15. I think Bret Bielema is a good coach and that the Razorbacks can make the college football playoff under his tutelage. 

16. Grateful to have grown up traveling with my family all over the United States. I still like to travel. 

17. The church needs a bigger view of God. Refer back to #6. 

18. In 2008 Dr. Don Whitney told our class to read the Bible. Such a simple statement I know. But it has influenced my ministry more than perhaps any other sentence. 

19. I've come a long way. I've got a long way to go. 

20. Faithful Christians who've died long ago have had a profound impact on my life. So have faithful Believers who I've never met who are alive today. Read books. 

21. We all want more time in the day for things. But really we need to prioritize better. 

22. One day, Lord willing, I'm going to finish seminary. 

23. I'm a failed gardener. But maybe I'll try it again one day.

24. I still get motion sickness riding rides. Don't forget the Dramamine. 

25. I would eat fajitas every day if it were possible. 

26. I still don't understand denominational politics. 

27. I am beginning a new pastorate at age 30. It is my prayer that I'm still there at age 60 (and beyond!). 

28. On the 3-0 pitch, I think you need to swing more. I understand percentages say don't. But sometimes you need to swing because big things can happen. 

29. In the Bible Belt, many people give lip service to Believing the Bible but do not submit to its authority and trust its sufficiency. See #6. 

30. "Only one life, twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last."

Three Reasons to go to Church Today

(UPDATE: Another Reason to Go to Church)

Much could be said about this subject but I'll keep it brief. Also, we don't 'go to' church. We gather with the local church! But this is how we are used to talking so that's what I went with. 

Here we go:

1. You Were Made For Community

While we each of us must place our faith individually in Christ, Christianity is not privatized. In fact, some of God's very first words recorded in Scripture are 'it is not good for Man to be alone.' Yes, there is application to marriage there but there is also application to the fact that God has always been worshipped by a people not just 'persons'. 

You were made to worship God corporately. When you neglect this, you neglect a very part of what it means to be a human being! You were made to gather with other Believers to enjoy God and glorify Him forever. Throughout the Old Testament God had a people for Himself. In the New Testament God has a people. The point being God has always desired public worship to be part of the lives of those who trust Him by faith. You were made for community! 

2. The Bible Commands It 

"I don't have to go to church to be a Christian!"

That's simply not a true statement. Going to church doesn't 'make' someone a Christian. But one who repeatedly, willfully, and unrepentantly disobeys the Lord's commands doesn't love Jesus (John 14:15). And we are actually commanded to gather with other Believers in the local church: "Let us...not neglect to meet together" (Hebrews 10:25).  

So, I'm not commanding you to gather with the local church. But, God is! If you honor the Bible's authority over your life (which you should because it is the word of the living God!), you must agree that you are commanded to gather with the Saints. Not to do so is an act of rebellion. 

3. God Does Good to You by It

J.C. Ryle once said "You will find that from the days of the apostles down to this hour, public worship nas always been one of God's great instruments in doing good to souls."

To miss gathering with the Saints regularly is to miss something good for your soul! 

"I don't need to go to church. I'm just as good as those people down there!" That's precisely why you do need to go to church! Church isn't about our 'goodness' toward God. It's not building up a stockpile of merit in which He will accept us. No, we are all void of any goodness apart from Jesus! But in Christ is offered the righteousness required to have a right standing with God. By faith in the person and work of Jesus, God declares us righteous based on what Christ has done for us. 

When we gather with the local church God does good to His people. We are encouraged by one another. We are exhorted, admonished, lifted up, convicted, broken, replenished, challenged, sharpened, built up, and steadied by the Word of God. Our faith is strengthened. Our hope is deepened. Our love is increased. All of these graces are wrought by the Holy Spirit through the preaching, praying, singing, and living out of Scripture together in corporate worship! Go to church because God does good to you by it! 

I'm writing this on a Sunday. You've got time right now to get ready and gather with your local church. If you don't have one, find one. Why miss out on something you were made for? Why willfully neglect something you are commanded to do? And why would you not want something good for your soul!? Go gather beloved. To God alone be the glory. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

T-Shirt Giveaway

As part of our Change and the Church: Why the Local Church Still Matters conference on August 27, 2016 we are having a Q&A panel.

In an effort to start gathering some questions for this panel, we want to give away t-shirts to the first 5 people who submit a question! You can submit a question here. But here are the rules:

1. Only one shirt per family! We'd love for you to submit several questions. But we will only giveaway one t-shirt per family.

2. It must be a 'real' question about the local church (doctrinally or practically). I'm excited about those on the panel, so ask a good question!

3. On the form you must put your email address and preferred t-shirt size. Please note, it is possible we might not have your size as we have a very limited number of shirts! If we don't have your size, I can give you what we have and you can give it to someone else. You can submit the question anonymously but if you do, I won't know who to contact about the shirt! So, please put your email on the form if you want a shirt.

4. You don't get the t-shirt until you show up on 8/27/16!

So, what does the shirt look like? It's from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  It will look just like the one below except it will have the state of Arkansas on it instead of the state of Missouri. So, what are you waiting for? Better go submit a question!

4 Pastoral Emphases

In the course of my pastoral ministry, I have found that there have been basically 4 particular things that I feel need to be especially emphasized in the Bible Belt today. There are certainly more than 4 things that need emphasizing and the particular nuances within each of these categories could go in a variety of directions! A pastor is not 'wrong' for placing his focus on other areas as he knows his congregation better than I do.

But for me, these 4 things have continually resurfaced in my sermons, discussions with Christians, bible studies, Sunday School, facebook interactions, blog posts, meetings with other pastors, prayers, etc. I'm sure in 10 years some of these things may narrow a bit, others may broaden a bit (and no, I don't mean 'doctrinally' but the focus!).  I think that while Pastors are to give the people of God the whole counsel of the Word of God, there are always a few things that we may have more of an emphasis on than others based on the situations we encounter and the time in which we live. For me, right now, it is these 4 things. Much more could be said about each emphasis! And at the end of each emphasis, I have posted links to recent blogs on the subject... Here we go:

1. God

Well, ok, you're thinking 'obviously!' But what I mean here is constantly pointing people to the greatness and glories of God in Scripture. That God is not the 'grandfather in the sky'. He's not the 'man upstairs'. He is the transcendently holy triune God of the universe! He is Sovereign, gracious, merciful, mighty, just, and the attributes go on and on. We don't ever get to a point where we say "Oh, I know enough about God, let's move on to more important things." In fact, I would say the root of the problems faced in many churches in the Bible Belt is that they do not have a healthy enough view of the God of the Bible. We need to understand the Trinity rightly. We need to understand how God desires to be worshiped rightly. We need to increase in our knowledge of God that we may increase in knowing God!

And something I need to add. Just because people use the same words of the Bible, doesn't necessarily mean they are worshipping the same God of the Bible. This is why we need to constantly point our people to God's revelation of Himself in His Word! This leads me to my next point:

(Recent posts on God: Here, here, here, here, and here)

2. Scripture -

Again, you think 'duh!' But I have often said that in conservative churches today we are battling for the sufficiency of the Bible. Intellectually we affirm that the Bible is the inerrant, infallible word of the living God. But practically, we do not let it drive all of our ministry methods. Many do not read it as they ought.  We have an 'assumed' canon of Scripture. A set of dogmas that have been passed down from generation to generation with actually backing that up with the Word of God. "We've always done it this way!" is a sad mantra in many churches.

I want people to see the necessity, authority, reliability, inerrancy, infallibility, and sufficiency of Scripture. I want them to read it more. I want them to love it more. I want them to know it better. I want them to share it with others.

(Recent posts on Scripture: Here, here, here, and here)

3. The Gospel -

May we never grow weary of laboring to make sure our people understand the gospel! May we never think that we ourselves grow past the need for reminding ourselves of the glorious gospel of grace and pressing ourselves deeper into it.

It is finished! Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, the Son of God, the 2nd person of the Trinity, God with us, entered into humanity and perfectly kept the Law of God.  He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises for a Messiah. He was obedient to the point of death, even death on the Cross, where God made Him to be sin who knew no sin so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. The wrath of God was poured out on Jesus so that by faith we can be clothed in the righteousness of Jesus. He rose again the 3rd day, He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. From there He will come to judge the living and the dead.

God's acceptance of us is not based on our good looks, good works, or good intentions. It is based on the person and work of Christ. It is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, that we are reconciled to God. The call to all mankind is to turn from their sins and to turn to Christ. We must herald this message to our neighborhood and the Nations!

Furthermore, those who by grace have been given a heart of flesh and have closed with Jesus in faith live for His glory.  Christians are a people zealous for good works. We are not perfect, but we desire to live for His glory and walk in the way He has shown us in His Word.

(Recent posts on the gospel and its implications: Here, here, here, and here.A guest post on another danger of the prosperity gospel here)

4. The Local Church -

Almost weekly I encounter people who try and deemphasize the local church. "Christianity isn't about the local church! It's about a personal relationship with Jesus!" I sort of understand what they are saying but to put it bluntly, they are wrong.

The New Testament doesn't know of any semblance of Christianity that is separated from the local church. Believers are the church, and they go to gather with the church on a regular basis. A local church isn't any gathering of Christians, but it is a gathering of Christians ordered under biblically qualified leadership, observing the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper, hearing the preached word, and practicing biblical membership and discipline.  This idea permeates the New Testament, particularly the epistles. We can't even really make sense of the epistles without this idea of the local church.

Christianity is not a solo religion. Yes, we must come to personal faith in Christ, but that personal faith is lived out in community with other Believers in the local church. You cannot love Jesus and not love His church.

Another aspect of the local church that must be emphasized today is discipleship. That's probably a whole new blog post in and of itself! But, suffice it to say that it is the mission of the church to make disciples, not merely 'converts'.

(Recent posts on the local church here, here, here, here, and here - Also, information on our upcoming conference on Why the Local Church Still Matters can be found here)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Pr€d€$tin@t!0n is not a dirty word

"I don't believe in predestination!"

I've heard that one not a few times in my life. I think I basically understand what a person means when they say that, but it doesn't take away from this simple truth: predestination is in the bible.

Here are two examples:

he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will (Ephesians 1:5)

And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:30)

So, to say 'I don't believe in predestination' leaves much to be desired in the explanation of these texts. Actually, we could say that to not 'believe in' predestination is to not believe the plain reading of Scripture.

What I am saying is this: Predestination is in the bible. We may not agree on all of its particulars, but we have to agree it is in the Bible. Plain and simple.

So how do we deal with it?

There are essentially two ways. 1st, we could say that God predestined us because He knew that we were going to choose Him, and so He predestined us according to the purpose of our will. He 'looked down through the corridors of time' and saw you'd love Him, and so in retroactive response, He loved because you first loved Him.

Many people think of God in this way. And I think it is for the most part out of a desire to uphold God's 'fairness' (the way they see it).

The 2nd way to look at predestination, and the way in which I think is most faithful to Scripture, is this: God knows because of sin, that no rebel would ever choose Him and so before the foundation of the earth He placed certain people in Christ that He would save for His own eternal glory.

This way of looking at predestination isn't God 'not allowing' certain people to come to Him. Whoever wants Christ may have Him! Literally, whoever, whenever, wherever. WHOSOEVER wants Jesus may come to Him!

But here's the problem. No one seeks after God (Rom. 3:11). No one. No, not one. All of humanity is not moving toward God, but because of sin they are moving away from Him. They do not want God to rule their lives. They are at enmity with God (Rom. 8:7). They want to be 'gods' themselves instead of worshiping the great God of the universe.

But by grace, God has chosen to save those He has predestined. Why? Are they better? Are they more righteous? Are they smarter? No. It is to the praise of His glorious grace.

No one is wanting to come to God and He says "Sorry, you're not on the list!" And no one who does come to Him is forced to against their will. 

Nobody is a robot. Nobody is forced to do something against what they most want. The God of the Bible is big enough to be Sovereign over all the universe while also holding men justly accountable for all their actions. Those whom God saves come to Him joyfully because He first effectually draws them by His Spirit through the proclamation of the gospel.

Yes, through the proclamation of the gospel.

What does this mean? It means we must share the gospel because God is going to use it to save may people for His own eternal glory! True, many will of their own volition reject the gospel because they love their sin. But it won't be that way for all! We must share the gospel with every race, tribe, tongue, language, and people because God is mighty to save!

The only way a person gets saved is through faith in Christ after hearing the gospel. So let us be zealous to proclaim it! God will let many people continue in their own way away from Him and rejecting Him. But He will also save many people by His grace through the preaching and sharing of the gospel. This is wonderful news. It means there is hope for your family, your friends, your neighbors, and the Nations! 

Let's also be willing to labor together with those who may view predestination different than us. I do think it is extremely important and Christ honoring to interpret the Bible correctly. But I also know faithful Believers have disagreed on this issue for a long time. So, let's be willing to discuss the Bible together but let's also be resolved to partner together to proclaim the riches of Christ in the gospel and the free pardon from sin and the imputed righteousness of Jesus to all people! 

It's sad that many people get upset about predestination. But what I hope you see in this post today is that it's not a dirty word. It's a biblical word. My ultimate goal is not that someone would believe a blog post. As soon as you believe my blog post you'll turn around and believe someone else's because they write better! I want you to believe the Bible. Go to the source. To God alone be the glory. 

If you want to study some more on this subject, consider these verses. Meditate on them in their proper context: Matthew 22:14, 24:22-31, Mark 13:20-27, Luke 18:7, Romans 8:33, 16:13, Colossians 3:12, 2 Tim. 2:10, Titus 1:1, 1 Peter 1:1,9, Rev. 17:14, Rom. 8:29-30, John 10:1-30, John 6:35-65, Romans 9:1-29, Acts 13:48, James 1:18, Eph. 1:3-14, Acts 13:48

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Sweeter than Honey

sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.  - Psalm 19:10

I had a funny experience at VBS while visiting another church this week. I have the unique skill of  strategically placing myself around the snacks and so there I was checking out what was being offered to feast on. As the kids were sitting down with their plates a littl boy about 6 years old picked up a piece of celery and held it up to his teacher. He said: "What is this!? I've never seen this stuff before!" We all laughed but I gotta say: that boy knows his snacks! 

I'm sure celery is good for you, gluten free, and all that. But that doesn't take away from the fact that it tastes like hard air. Basically no taste. I hear folks say "I love peanut butter on celery." Ah c'mon now! It's probably more accurate to say you just love peanut butter. You might as well eat it off a spoon as the celery doesn't really provide any substantial taste!

In Psalm 19:10 David does not compare the Word of God to celery. He could have compared it to vegetables but he didn't. 


Because Scripture is not a tasteless substance that you just have to eat because you know you're supposed to. You don't have to slap peanut butter on it to make it enjoyable. 

It tastes pleasurable. It's actually not even 'merely' like honey. David says its sweeter than honey. I'll make a conjecture here that if David had ever tasted lemon meringue pie he would of used that metaphor instead of honey! Ok so the point isn't do you like honey. The point is this: the way that exquisite tastes bring pleasure to our palate, the Word of God brings pleasure to our soul, except more and better. 

Drippings of the honeycomb! 

I'm not sure if you've seen the new Jungle Book or not, but it's great. Baloo cons Mowgli into getting him some honey. The honey is literally dripping from the honeycomb as Baloo is salivating waiting on the Man Cub to endure the bee stings to bring him some. 

I wonder when is the last time you salivated over the Word of God? It's not celery! It tastes good. It is good! Sweeter than honey! 

If you're not enjoying reading the Bible, you're reading it wrong. If the Bible is celery to you, you have missed the pleasure Believers are intended to get from it. If you always have to add the peanut butter of devotionals, or commentaries, you haven't quite tasted the richness of Scripture. What famished person sits down in front of a wonderfully cooked meal and says it's a drudgery to have to eat it? 

Oh Believer! Take up and read! See the glory and wonder of God! See the richness and fullness of grace. Stare into the face of Christ and be in awe of His person and work. It is sweeter than honey! 

No doubt reading the Bible deeply and regularly will bring conviction at times. Good Bible readers know that quite often it's actually not just that men read the Bible but that the Bible reads men! Sometimes getting to the honeycomb requires a few bee stings. And yet, this grace is conforming us evermore into the image of Christ. The overarching result of Bible saturation is not pain, but pleasure. It's sweeter than honey!

God spoke. He still speaks. He speaks through His living and active Word. And we have His Word at our very fingertips. He has preserved it, with no preservatives, right down to our very generation that we might delight in it. Not because it's just a great work of literature (although it is that) but because it is His very Word and it reveals Himself, His character, His will to us. It is a sword. It is a fire. It is a hammer. It is sweeter than honey. Read it. Eat it. Breathe it. Love it. Live it. 

No doubt we often wake up with a cold heart and even begin to read out of a sense of obligation. My counsel is twofold: 1) Pray for God to increase your appetite and repent of a paltry view of the Bible. 2) Keep reading in faith until you taste the honey. Some people don't read the Bible when they feel cold because they don't want to read it merely out of a sense of obligation. I say, READ ON! As it is the precious Word that the Spirit will use to once again liven the tastebuds of your heart. 

It is tragic how little Bible many professing Believers read. So many excuses! Time, inability, etc. But perhaps the issue is our palates have become satisfied with lesser quality food? We prefer potted meat because we haven't ever truly tasted the finely prepared porterhouse. 

No, no, no! Take up and read! Sweeter than honey! Yes, there are complicated portions of Scripture. Oh but the effort is worth it! Labor, dig, mine, pray, read, delight.  What joy you are missing if you do not have regular, consistent time in God's Word. What pleasure you forfeit if you see Bible intake as mere duty. What a vast treasure trove of riches await you even now! 

Why not stop what your doing and spend some time in the Word right now?

No more celery. No more peanut butter. Grab the full honeycomb and may your soul be richly satisfied! 

Refocusing on the Local Church in SBC Life

Less than a week away (June 14-15) the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) will hold another annual meeting.  The only denomination I have ever been a part of is the SBC and I am simultaneously grateful to be a Southern Baptist while also hopeful for the future of our denomination. The Lord has done great things for the glory of His name through Southern Baptists in the 171 years of our existence, but I think we are reaching a critical point in our history in which we need to check our focus.

Over the last several years I have felt a burden for the local church and over the last several months this burden has only intensified. As we enter into another year for the SBC, I cannot help but say to any who will listen that we must return our focus to the local church if we want to see Kingdom success as a denomination. And no, I don't mean our kingdom, but Christ's

In all the hubbub about what needs to happen in the SBC the one glaring thing I don't see is a real focus on the local church. No Southern Baptist is actually vocally dismissing the importance or necessity of the local church, and yet, clarion calls about the IMB, Spiritual Awakening in America, and increased evangelistic efforts either assume a foundational understanding of the priority of the local church in SBC life or willfully ignore it. My point is, the SBC will never be a healthy denomination if our local churches are not healthy. The commonly addressed issues mentioned above, are simply 'fruit issues'. In other words, they stem from an overall 'unhealthiness' in many Southern Baptist churches.

Let me illustrate with a few thoughts:

The Cooperative Program:

I don't have a problem with the ideology of the Cooperative Program (CP). I'll speak more on that in just a minute. But first, let me say this: For some reason the CP and the SBC have become synonymous. Every year when a name is nominated for the President of the SBC the CP numbers always come out. What percentage are they giving to the CP? But my question is this: What about CP giving qualifies a man to play such a vital role in our denomination? Why is that the standard for church health? Surely we are not so foolish to think that just because a church is giving a big portion of money to the CP that they are a de facto bastion of health. 

Furthermore, while I do agree with the ideology behind the CP, we must always be willing to assess what CP money is going toward and whether or not we are being good stewards of the Lord's money. Another issue, of course, is that the CP is removed from the local church by several steps in two main ways. First, many see a check to the CP as the extent of their mission involvement. "I don't know where my money is going, but our church is giving to the CP, so I am missional." This takes away from the personal involvement in missions that the local church must have. Secondly, how CP dollars are spent is not really in the hands of the local church. I don't have a solution for this problem necessarily, but I do offer the thought that the further removed an organization gets from the local church, the messier things always are because of the lack of biblical oversight and authority involved. What I am saying is, try as it may, a parachurch organization, board, committee, etc. will never be a local church. I do not think these things are 'sinful'. But I do think Christ's design for reaching the Nations is through the local church. Yes, local churches need to work together. We see this plainly in the New Testament! But we can't work together in such a way that diminishes the local church, or we begin to destroy the very foundation of Christ's mission for the Nations. 

Every year we hear a call to Southern Baptists nationally and on the State level, to increase our CP giving. My issue is not with that as much as it is with the lack of focus on the local church. Not that anyone is actually thinking this (or maybe some are?) but it comes across as "Look, the one thing that really needs to change is for churches to give more to missions." What I am saying is that the issue is deeper than that. The issue is that we need to see healthy local churches. Healthy local churches will give toward gospel need. We see the churches of Macedonia gave even in the midst of poverty and trial (2 Cor. 8:1-2)! And we need to also understand, that a healthy local church may not necessarily give a big portion to the CP, and this isn't something we should frown upon! Yes, the CP has been a beautiful thing and still can be, but our goal is not the CP. Our goal is to make disciples of the Nations.

So, if CP giving is not necessarily an indicator of church health, what is? (let me commend to you Jared Wilson's post on 5 Distinguishing Marks of a Fruitful Church) I'm glad you asked! This leads me to my second thought:


Jim Elliff has written a helpful article entitled Southern Baptists: An Unregenerate Denomination. I encourage you to read it.

That I am aware of, I cannot think of a single time in recent history when the % of attenders to church rolls has been brought up for anyone running for SBC President. (Instead, the CP giving is always the focus - see above). If I am not mistaken, I think the average membership rolls to actual attendance ratio is 3 to 1 or worse in SBC churches. So, if 80 people attend on a Sunday, that would mean 240 people are on the roll. 1,000 would be 3,000, and so on. 

Where are the rest of the people?

I saw that both Steve Gaines and J.D. Greear posted videos about some of their concerns about the SBC. While I appreciated some of what was said, neither one (that I am aware of) addressed the issue of a healthy church membership emphasis across the SBC.

In his video on 'Awakening', Dr. Gaines lamented that ‘We’ve lost about a half a million people in just the last few years in our membership’ (1:01 mark). I actually think we need to lose more. If we only have 6 million people showing up on Sundays, then we should only have that or less on our church rolls. That would mean we need to lose about 10,000,000 people! Obviously, it is my hope that reconciliation would happen with many of those people, but the point remains, if we are going to care about the lost, then it is vital that we care about a regenerate church. 

It's hard enough for Christians to pull together and get on the same page at times, let alone if you mix in non-Christians! We talk about needing an awakening in our country, and I agree, but what we really need is an awakening in our churches. Why would we suppose God would send another spiritual awakening in our Nation if we are unconcerned about what His Word says for the church? If we neglect discipleship, discipline, faithful preaching, care for the Body, the ordinances, fellowship, worship, regular assembling, etc?

What I am saying is, that church membership is a big indicator as to the health of a church. It's not the only indicator or even an infallible indicator, but it still says something about a church if a big percentage is listed on the roll but never actually attends. 

I've actually talked with pastors who basically think the idea of '100%' on the rolls are accounted for on Sundays is undoable. I think this is because we've let Western 'church culture' drive our expectations rather than Scripture.

If local churches are healthy, our denomination will be healthy. If SBC churches across the board put 'Baptist Back in their Church' (let the reader understand), we will see an improvement in evangelistic and missional efforts. As crazy as it may sound, in order to grow the SBC first needs to shrink.
Practical Denial of the Sufficiency of Scripture

Perhaps this is the root of several of the issues in which our denomination is in need of reformation. A few decades ago we won the battle over the inerrancy of the Bible. Today's battle seems to be over its sufficiency. While the overwhelming majority of Southern Baptists that I'm aware of unequivocally hold to the inerrancy of the Bible in the mind, it doesn't always translate into practice. Many people in the pews are struggling with biblical literacy. Simply put, we as Southern Baptists need to read, study, pray through, and meditate on Scripture more than we are. Just like our denomination fought the battle on inerrancy, we need to fight the battle over the practical denial of the sufficiency of Scripture. (see more here)

This is not a new problem. The inerrancy, necessity, authority, clarity, and sufficiency of the Word of God has been challenged every day since Genesis 3. In Eden the crafty Serpent challenged the Word of God on multiple levels, certainly one of those being its sufficiency. Satan used Eve’s experience of seeing that the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was good for food to get her to deny what Yahweh had decreed. Chapter after chapter of the Old Testament records people who denied the sufficiency of God’s Word. In Numbers 11 the people of Israel trusted in the things they were hearing from the rabble, and what they felt in their stomachs, rather than in what God had promised to them; that He would do good to His people, they only needed to trust Him. Of course, there are numerous other examples as well. Abraham, Moses, David, and Solomon (and the list could go on and on!) all have examples from their lives where they trusted their experiences over and above what God’s Word promised. In the New Testament, one of Jesus’ favorite ways to dialogue with the Pharisees was by asking “Have you not read?”. The New Testament authors labored to show us the sufficiency of God’s Word for God’s people. It should not come as a surprise that we are still fighting this war today. What is a surprise is the fact that so many of us don’t recognize the war in which we are engaged.

I wonder sometimes if Sunday School curriculum comes into play here. I don't have a problem with curriculum per se. What I do have a problem with is reading and discussing thoughts about Scripture instead of reading and discussing Scripture itself. 

Doctrine is something that must be cherished, articulated, and defended in our churches. Without a robust commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture, we may uphold sound doctrine in our minds, but it will not translate into the life of a local church in some (many?) areas. Thus, for example, the problem we are seeing with membership. We hear many calls for 'revival' but in a great number of SBC churches we are unwilling to actually do what the Bible tells us to do because it feels 'out dated' or we have found something else that 'works better.' Perish the thought that God gave us His word as mere suggestion! It is not optional to our existence.

In conclusion, it is my hope for a fruitful meeting this year in St. Louis. My prayer is that God will continue to raise up leaders of influence in our denomination of churches who will emphasize the need for healthier churches. So much more could have been said, and perhaps needs to be said, but I hope you see the spirit of this post. It is not to bash our denomination but to call us to reexamine some of our priorities and see the need of returning to the local church.

Let me invite you to Perryville, AR on August 27, 2016 as we host a one-day free conference on Why the Local Church Still Matters. We have a great group of men speaking! Click here to see more information.