Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Praying for Other Churches

This past Sunday, we practiced something that’s relatively new to our church. Last month we began a practice that I have seen practiced at Capitol Hill Baptist and by a local church here in Jacksonville, Sovereign Grace Baptist Church pastored by Shane Waters. We take one church a month in our local area and pray for them by name. 

I consistently remind our church that we are doing old things. We gather on the first day of the week to have a Word-centered time, just as the church has done for 2000 years. We read, sing, pray, and teach the Bible. Sunday mornings are not times for novelties. The power of salvation is in the Word, not in a particular technique, pastor, or church. 

Along those same lines, I want our church to understand that we are not the only show in town. There are other pastors that I have the privilege of getting to know who are doing great work. These men are faithful, hard working, and conviction driven. I want our congregation to know about these men and their congregations. I want our people to be continually praying for gospel fruitfulness not only at Sunrise Church, but around our city and world. 

Yesterday, we took a few minutes in our worship service to pray for Pastor Brett Maragni and Harvest Bible Chapel. I’m thankful for Brett’s love for the Word and his shepherd’s heart. I love spending time with Bret. Our conversation typically revolves around hunting, sports, and the Bible! I always leave our times encouraged. 

As we had this time in our service, I read 2 Timothy 4.1-5 and then prayed that the ministry of Harvest Bible Chapel in Jacksonville would embody these qualities. 

I’m profoundly thankful for gospel partners in Jacksonville and around the world! 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Parenting in the Pew: A few suggestions for maximizing Sundays with little ones

Are you ever going to stop moving? There is no way you need to go to the potty AGAIN! Chairs are for sitting, not wallowing. Can you please stop looking behind you? No, you cannot have another peppermint. It will be over when it's over, stop asking. Sit still!

Have you ever whispered any of the above to a little one that you are desperately trying to keep subdued during church? I have. Having children in church is a wonderful if not sometimes challenging privilege. The idealism of a family all sitting in church quietly lined up like little angels is not usually reality for most of us. Some weeks you feel more like you are trying to wrangle a lab puppy, or two.   

As another Sunday approaches and promotion season has come for many churches to graduate the new kids into "Big Church," here are a few practical tips for parenting in the pew:

  • Commit

The more committed you are as a parent to having your child consistently in church the better things will go. I believe corporate worship is immensely valuable. It is true that there may be portions of the service that fly over their heads, but the value of being together with the church family, singing songs of praise to God, hearing the Word read and preached is beyond any one sermon or service. The true value to having kids in corporate worship builds cumulatively. The importance of this time may not be apparent after a week, or two, or three, but over months and years our children will have ingrained in their DNA that this is an immensely serious and important time. As you commit to weekly worship, your children will look back years later and know this was important to mom and dad. 

  • Prepare

Part of the tension for families is every week is a grind. You go to work; take the kids to school or school them at home; you run to and from practice then by the time Sunday morning gets here, you’re ready for a break. You think how nice it would be to ship the kids away for a few hours for some much needed refreshment in the Word. 

But remember what we are doing at church. Is there anything more important than gathering with God’s people consistently to worship the living and redeeming God? Our kids will grow up and leave home one day. What do you want them to remember about how your family valued corporate worship? As an afterthought? No, let’s prioritize this! 

Here are a few ways we can prepare well through the week: 

TALK: Take some time each week on a few occasions to talk about worshipping on Sundays. Remind your kids of what they learned and remind them that Sunday’s coming. Worship is a privilege not a drudgery. Communicate that to your kids.  

PRAY: Often times when we are at the dinner table as I pray before our meal, I will thank the Lord for our church. I think it’s important for our kids to know we are thankful for a group with which to worship. Pray for missionaries, pray for your elders, pray for special events coming up and those who are hurting in the church. Let your kids hear you pray specifically for the local body. 

PLAN: This is where a little bit of forethought goes a long ways. My wife is really good about having something for our kids to do during the service. We do not expect them to take copious notes (my kids are 8, 6 & 6). Be realistic. Many times, we will take a sheet of paper and make 3-4 columns on the page. We have the kids listen for key words. Usually a couple of simple ones like God or Jesus, and then something more sermon specific. If you know the text to be preached, you can look ahead and use a word like resurrection or grace. We have them make a tally mark each time they hear that word. Our kids have responded pretty well to this so far. 

We try to bring one maybe 2 things for kids to do to occupy their hands. But don’t give many options (they just go back and forth ad infinitum) and think of things that aren’t overly noisy. Many times just a pen and paper are fine. Occupied hands often times means quieter mouth.   

  • Repeat

The question on Sunday morning doesn't need to be are we going, the question needs to be what time are we leaving. Before someone cries “legalist,” I do understand that occasionally folks miss church. I get it, I really do. But for the most part, if we are healthy, in town, and otherwise available, be there. You need it for your own soul and your kids need consistency. The more you do this the better it will be for you and them. 

  • Relax

Do you know what you get when you toss a bunch of kids into a worship service? Noise. And that’s fine. Relax, they’re kids in training — works in progress, just like the rest of us. If they drop their pens (for the 10th time), or incessantly rattle some papers, or awkwardly stare at the new family behind them, gently move them along and reengage in the service. It’s OK! As a pastor who preaches weekly, I love seeing the little ones, noises and all, in our services. Your child is probably not nearly as noisy as you think they are. Of course we want to be respectful and try to minimize distractions, but in the big scheme, a little racket, occasional outburst, or noise is all going to be part of the process. I’ve had leaders in our church tell me that they love the noise that comes from the kids. It means we are depositing into the next generation!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Fall and Our Falling

This morning as I was listening to a lecture by G.K. Beale. It’s part of a class on Biblical Theology that I’m working through. I was struck with a few comments he made about the temptation of Adam and Eve. As I thought this through, I think this is a paradigm for how sin works. The more we understand about The Fall, the more we will understand why we fall. 

In the serpent's encounter with Eve, we can spot 3 Truths that seem to be universally true. (Adapted from Beale’s Lecture which can be found here:  https://itun.es/us/hr_Q1.k 

Minimizing the Privilege 
  • The serpent says: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Gen 3:1) And then Even responds: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden (Gen 3:2).” Here’s the tricky twist in this. God actually said that they could freely eat. The privilege was greater than what was represented. 
  • Why eat of that ONE tree when there is an entire buffet of beautiful fruit always available for their consumption? The lure of the forbidden fruit is deep within man. They want it precisely because it is forbidden.
  • Haven’t we found ourselves here? We have abundant spiritual blessings available in Christ, we have joy supplied richly to us, we have meaning, purpose, significance, satisfaction and yet, we find ourselves wanting something else, many times simply because we are not supposed to have it. Enjoy Christ blessings today and stop longing for things that are not given to you!

Maximizing the Prohibition
  • Eve tells the serpent that they are not only prohibited from eating, but she adds her own rule and says they cannot touch the fruit from the forbidden tree. While it was surely unwise to touch the fruit forbidden for consumption, God did not say to not touch it. 
  • Adam and Eve are the original legalist. They make a fence to protect the fence. They redefine God’s rules and create their own rules to protect the rule. Good hearted, it seems, but nevertheless, legalistic. 
  • Anybody have trouble applying this today? How often do we make rules that are simply our idea rather than what God has actually said?

Downplaying the Judgment

  • This is subtle but significant. Eve tells the serpent they would die. But God had actually said they would “die die.” In Hebrew, repeating a word shows emphasis. Some English version pick this up, accurately, and say you will surely die. Rather intentional or not, Eve doesn’t communicate the full depth of consequence when God is disobeyed. 
  • At the moment you sin, you assume grace is yours, you assume the judgment isn’t quite so severe, and you decide to sin. 

Our first parents in so many ways provide a paradigm for how sin works. We are no different. I would imagine in your own thinking you have followed this track where you forget the privilege of salvation, you begin to view life in Christ as a legalistic endeavor, then finally God is minimized allowing sin to be rationalized. 

May we be folks who accurately know our own hearts and God’s Word! 

Friday, August 1, 2014

On the Non-existence of Radical Miles

There is a conversation that has volleyed back and forth in the blogsphere between those who want to see Christians “do more” and those who argue that we need to just be faithful in our respective positions. While this conversation certainly isn’t new, it’s as old as Christianity, a few recent publications have given it new life; particularly David Platt’s book, Radical

I read Platt’s book a few years ago. I enjoyed it and I’ve recommended it. I wrote a response here. I argued in that post that it’s not so much Platt as much as the Radicalites that give me a little bit of pause. While not responding particularly to Radical, I read this post here, which argues “Ephesians killed my radical.” The author thoughtfully proposes that the problem with thinking in terms of “radical” runs counter to the very message of the NT epistles. The radical that Paul teaches is a radical abandonment of self and pursuit of holiness. He argues that doing more stuff for God in a distant place appeals, because it’s actually easier than doing the hard things, like loving your family. It’s a good word. 

As I reconsidered my understanding of the Tribulation yesterday in the FL heat while trying to run, I kept thinking about this supposed tension. Am I not doing enough? What about the clean water shortage in Africa? What about the global orphan crisis? What about the unreached people in Nepal? Shouldn’t I be over there with a backpack and a NT rather than going for a run in  beautiful Jacksonville Beach? I’m not really happy with the various solutions that have been proposed. Could it be a classic case of a both/and? While I argued in my review linked above, that “radical is normal” I think we can all recognize that some folks are moved by the Lord to do extraordinary, like not normal, things for the Lord. Folks like David Brainard, William Carey, and Hudson Taylor did remarkable things for Christ. I have some friends who moved to a remote village to write an alphabet, teach the tribal people to read and write, all so they can translate the Bible. I have other friends right now ministering in the heart of the Middle East. They rub shoulders daily with Hamas, with their young kids in tow. Praise God. Stigmas aside, that’s radical. 

The folks listed above need funds. These “radicals” are funded by normal Christians who may not appear so radical. That’s the beauty of the church. If Mr. Not So Radical (hereafter Mr. Faithful) does not go to work, make and sell widgets, then Mr. Radical doesn’t get to buy that plane ticket. Delta doesn’t have radical miles for free, at least not to my knowledge. Of course, the Lord is orchestrating all things and certainly God isn’t broke. But don’t we need to back up, give some folks space and only say what the Bible says? 

My dad used to joke with the businessmen in his church, “I hope you make a million, and tithe.” While he was kidding (mostly), I think there’s much truth in that. If everyone sells it all, quits their jobs, and goes radical on me, I don’t have a paycheck. Ironically, I’d then have to find a cubicle somewhere or some form of gainful employment. God’s omniscience extends to economics too.  He will move in the hearts of his church to make this thing work to spread the gospel to all places and his glory to the ends of the earth, all the while using human means. 

There are plenty of places where the Bible speaks of going. Paul had a passion for the lost. He was the original radical. If you have no love for the lost, you have no love for Christ. There are also plenty of places where we get the impression, from Paul himself, that our goal isn’t to be big and awesome but to “work with our hands”, “lead a quiet life,” “share [money,possessions] with others,” and “be rich in good deeds.” I don't care too much for attaching the word “call” to these things, but the principle is there. Don’t create a false dichotomy by thinking that Mr. Radical loves the unreached while Mr. Faithful is not really doing anything for the Lord. William Carey summarized it well, “I will go down if you will hold the rope.”

God sovereignly puts his servants in their places so that kingdom work advances through both Mr. Radical and Mr. Faithful. If God so puts it in your heart to go take the gospel, then by all means, GO! But for many, you need to go and sit in your cubicle for the glory of God, influence in your sphere for his name, and give generously towards Kingdom work. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Celebrating Ascension Day

This year we are doing something new at the church where I pastor. We are celebrating Ascension Day with a service on Thursday night. This day is 40 days after Easter — the day Christ ascended after his resurrection. 

I have been struck by the importance of the Ascension as we have worked our way through the gospel of John. John, more so than the other gospel accounts, highlights the divine nature of Christ. He begins the gospel by telling the reader that Jesus was with the Father in the beginning in his glory. Repeatedly throughout the book, Jesus tells the disciples that he is going back to where he came from when his mission is complete (Jn 6:62, 7:33, 8:21, 13:1, 20:17). This is of course exactly what happens! 

After the horrors of the crucifixion and the joy of the resurrection, Jesus ministers for 40 days, presumably helping the disciples assimilate and synthesize his teaching and ministry over the past 3 years. This is preparation for the launch of the church. Jesus has promised they would do “greater works” than he did. These greater works are not greater in quality but greater in extent. Jesus was largely rejected and by contrast Peter preaches and thousands repent. Through the spirit, gospel fruit comes in abundance. This is the Spirit that Jesus himself sends once he has ascended. (Jn 16.5-7) 

In our service tomorrow night, we will explore the vital link between the ascension of Christ and the mission of the church. We will practically consider what this means for us and some ways we can engage in the mission. If you are in the Jacksonville/Beaches area, we would love to have you join us!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Sting of Death

This past week, Uncle Ken died. Ken was my dad’s older brother by some 20 years. Although the past few months had been extremely difficult for him with his health rapidly deteriorating, the final sting of death is still potent. There is no loss that feels as deep as the loss of a loved one. I don’t like death. Death hurts. It stings. It makes us uncomfortable. 

But isn't it normal for death to feel uncomfortable? Death was not in the original design for creation. Death was introduced as part of the CURSE handed down by God.(Gn 3) I was helped this morning by a podcast that I listen to, The White Horse Inn. It is hosted by Michael Horton. The men were talking about death and how we do not need to minimize the sting of death. Death is supposed to hurt, and it does. It reminds us of the horrible nature of sin.  

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul’s words about death's defeat are encouraging. He speaks about a coming day when death, the last enemy, is no more. Paul taunts death by saying, “where is your sting?” The implication: right now, it does sting, then it will not sting because it will not exist. But the reality for now is, as long as it does still exist, it will sting. While it is true that once a believer dies, they are in a better place, it still hurts, doesn’t it? That’s normal. If it doesn’t hurt, that’s a sign that you don’t understand death properly. Jesus cried at the tomb of Lazarus, even minutes before he was going to raise him from the dead. Why? Because his friend died and it made him sad. 

So what do Christians do? Should we just grin and bear it? That's no solution. One passage that is particularly encouraging and instructive for Christians is I Thess 4:13. The verse says: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” Notice that Paul isn’t saying we don’t grieve, he’s saying that we grieve with hope. It’s a different type of grief but grief nonetheless. In the next verse we learn why this hope is possible — because of the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus really died and he really was resurrected. And that’s the Christian's story too. We really are going to die and we really will be resurrected. 

It is also encouraging to think that more was gained in Christ than was lost in Adam. In other words, death as a product of the curse is more than reversed in Christ. Death doesn't simply fade away, death is conquered never to return!