Monday, June 29, 2009

The road trip begins

Today we began our road trip to visit my parents in Colorado. Things got off slower than expected. Natalie spent the morning finishing packing while I watched the kids and did some cleaning around the house. We rolled out of Yucca Valley around lunchtime and grabbed some lunch on our way out of town. Thank you Carl's Jr. for those delicious bacon western cheeseburgers.

The afternoon drive went smoothly. We saw a few dust devils spiraling through the desert north of Lucerne Valley. Had a quick pit stop in Barstow and stretched the legs at Home Depot, and then made the long push up the I-15 to Vegas. While the kids napped, we listened to messages by Bryan Chappell and John Piper, and Natalie started reading the missionary biography Sensei. We rolled into town shortly after 5 pm and went straight to the Mandalay Bay resort, where the Shark Reef Aquarium is located.

After scanning a few restaurant menus, we quickly realized that food at the Vegas resorts is very pricey. Thankfully, the aquarium offered a discount where you could purchase ticket admission and get dinner buffet for a discount. Even better, both the meal and the aquarium are free for kids 4 and under. So, while the tickets were still expensive, it was a pretty good deal considering both kids were free.

After dinner, we spent about an hour and a half strolling through the aquarium. We saw a komodo dragon, a crocodile, pirhanas, tiger fish, a sea turtle, an octopus, and of course, lots of sharks. There was also a touch pool with manta rays. It was a great little aquarium. Just right for the attention span of two toddlers. I think Dylan's favorite was the jellyfish. My personal favorite was the sawfish. God sure shows a sense of humor in some of His creatures!

At one point, as we watched a shark swim toward us, Dylan asked me if it was going to "get us." I assured him we were safe on the other side of the glass, and that it wouldn't hurt us. It was a reminder to me that Satan may frighten us, our enemies may threaten us, and evil may surround us, but we do not need to be afraid, because God is with us, and He will always protect His children from the evil one. "Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world" (1 John 4:4).

Photo credit: Eli Tucker

Friday, June 26, 2009

Tom Ascol on the SBC

I enjoyed reading this article by Tom Ascol and believe it captures some of the bright moments of this year's SBC annual meeting:
Dr. Al Mohler's motion to commission a task force passed tonight at the Southern Baptist Convention. Specifically, the motion requests that
the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting June 23-24, 2009 in Louisville, Kentucky, authorize the President of the Southern Baptist Convention to appoint a Great Commission Task Force charged to bring a report and any recommendations to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Orlando, Florida June 15-16, 2010, concerning how Southern Baptists can work more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission.
There was brief public opposition during the time for debate. The most rancorous opposition came from a pastor who is convinced that the problem with the SBC is the rise of Calvinism in our ranks. He likened it to the Primitive Baptist movement and blamed all the ills the convention on the revival of the doctrines of grace in the convention. His comments were inflammatory and unfounded. They did not carry the day.

A substitute motion was put forward but was fortunately voted down, allowing for an overwhelming affirmation of Dr. Mohler's original motion. The Parliamentarian, Dr. Barry McCarty, later said that the vote was at least 95%-5% in favor.

This was a good move that bodes well for the future of the SBC. Of course, it is just the beginning. Johnny Hunt must now appoint a committee that will take up the responsibility of this assignment. Pray for him and for those whom he appoints. The last thing that the SBC can afford at this point is a study and report that fall short of serious analysis and recommendations. While these recommendations will not be binding on any entity in the SBC just because a task force recommends them, they can become rallying points for the way ahead in marshalling our cooperative efforts more energetically and efficiently in the work of the great commission.

Though in the big scheme of things this vote is not all that important, I believe that it is a harbinger of better days on the horizon. In fact, today is the best day that I have ever spent at a Southern Baptist Convention. In no particular order, following are some of the reasons that I say that.

1. Danny Akin. Dr. Akin spoke at the Founders Breakfast at 6:30AM, the Baptist21 luncheon at noon, at the SBC giving a theme interpretation at 3:30PM and at the 9Marks after-meeting at 10:00PM. No doubt he is tired! But his weariness is reason for Southern Baptists' encouragement. In each assignment, he knocked it out of the park, communicating great insight in a personable, humble and courageous manner. He is the kind of leader that Southern Baptists desperately need right now, and the demands on his time indicate that he is willing to answer the call.

2. Johnny Hunt. He has proven to be a remarkable leader for Southern Baptists this last year. Dr. Hunt makes it very hard not to love him. He is gracious, humble, transparent and enthusiastic in his leadership. He has demonstrated a willingness to work with all Southern Baptists who are willing to unite around the gospel and press forward in the great commission. He has been very gracious and kind to those with whom he disagrees at certain points, setting a tone of genuine love and respect in the SBC that we have needed for a long time. Some have been less than thrilled with his leadership but, from my vantage point, their antipathy has more to do with his unwillingness to tow anyone's party line than with him personally. His love for Christ, pastors and for the conversion of unbelievers is contagious and I, for one, want to catch what he's got! I look forward to his next year of leadership and will continue to pray for him privately, in my home and in our church.

3. Though I have not heard all of the sermons from the pastors' conference or that were preached today at the convention, what I have heard has left me more encouraged about the state of preaching in the SBC than in a long time. There have been wonderful messages preached. Sell your blood if y0u must, but be sure to purchase the CD of David Platt's sermon from last night at the pastors' conference. It was incredible.

4. The IMB. Everyone has heard of the financial shortfall that will result in the decrease in our missionary force by the end of the year. Of the $16 billion that Southern Baptist churches collected last year, less than 2.6% went to the IMB. But that message seems to be rallying Southern Baptists to renew our commitment to getting the gospel to the unreached peoples of the world. I was deeply moved by the IMB report tonight of what God is doing and what the needs yet are. Jim Richards of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention presented Jerry Rankin with a $100,000 check to help start making up for the shortfall. The pastors' conference took up a special offering to assist with it as well. I believe that Southern Baptists will rally and that this financial crisis will provoke the kind of self-examination that we need at this time in order for us to re-order our priorities.

5. The growing humility within the SBC. I heard agency heads, featured preachers and seasoned pastors saying publicly what has needed to be said for a long time. God doesn't need the SBC. The SBC can fail and be thrown onto the ash heap of ecclesiastical history and the kingdom of God will march on victoriously. It is that kind of awareness and humility that breeds the kind of perspective on the SBC that may well lead us to see our brightest days in the future. Until we get over the SBC we will not be in a position to utilize it for kingdom purposes as we ought.

So, I am hopeful. It seems to me that a fresh wind is blowing. If it is the wind of God's Spirit then may we recognize His work and redouble our efforts to be faithful in following wherever He leads.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

10 highlights from the SBC convention

The 2009 SBC National Convention just ended tonight. This was my first national convention. Here are ten highlights from the past two days:
  1. Strong support for the Great Commission Resurgence task force. This group, composed of 18 SBC leaders, has been appointed by Johnny Hunt to evaluate every SBC program and institution and bring a report to the 2010 convention on how ministry can be done more effectively for the glory of God. The GCR was the leading reason I wanted to attend this year's meeting.
  2. Some great fellowship and great laughs with my dear Christian brothers from California: Bret Capranica, Justin Peters, Tony Chute, Chris Morgan, and Walter Price.
  3. Celebrating the 150th anniversary of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The school had a special lunch, tours, chapel service, and cake reception this afternoon to commemorate the event. Bret is trying to convince me to pursue a PhD now instead of a DMin. We'll have to see.
  4. Listening to the missions and Disaster Relief reports on how God is using the SBC to show compassion, spread the gospel, and save the lost.
  5. The Wednesday afternoon Baptist Twenty-One panel.
  6. Attending the 9 Marks at Nine panel last night.
  7. Getting lost all over Louisville. I'm a much better driver than navigator.
  8. Attending the Founders Breakfast (my biological clock said it was still 3 am when we left the hotel for breakfast.)
  9. Hearing David Platt's passionate sermon on the power of the gospel Wednesday morning.
  10. Eating at Mark's Feed Store. Wow, those were some killer BBQ ribs. Thanks, Bret!
For more recap of the convention, check out Internet Monk's post here and Ed Stetzer's post here. In a comment on the iMonk site, Tom Ascol wrote yesterday, "Today was the single best day any SBC Convention I have ever attended. I am convinced that God is working in ways that will surprise us all. The sooner those of us within the SBC get over the SBC the better off the SBC will be. I think that is happening."

We've got one last stop. We're planning to visit Cave Hill Cemetery in the morning where Boyce, Broadus, Robertson, and others are buried. It will be a fitting cap to this eventful week. Things have been super busy the last two days, waking at the crack of dawn and staying up way into the night. I'm looking forward to getting back home tomorrow and feel the need to spend some time praying for our convention. To God be the glory for what He has done.

Related posts:

Friday, June 19, 2009

Vacation Bible School 2009

Here are a few of my favorite photos from this year's VBS Summer Camp. We had 47 kids this year, and when adding all youth volunteers, summer missionaries, and adult workers, we had a total of 73 people involved in the program. What a joyous week of ministry. We are all exhausted, but praising God for His sustaining grace and for the many gospel seeds that were planted.

Tonight was our second time doing a "Family Fun Night" to close out VBS, and we had a great time. A total of 101 attended! Once again, the slide show was a huge hit, and the kids did an amazing job singing all their songs, remembering motions, and reciting verses. We were able to make a few adjustments to last year's program that allowed things to run a little more smoothly. One of my favorite improvements was that the summer missionaries helped "patrol" the bounce house so that I was better able to mingle with all the parents. (Delegation is so important!) Also, we gave out award certificates to all the kids this year, and that went over really well. Everyone got a certificate for participating, and then we handed out two special awards for each class: The Golden Rule award, and the Listening award.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Mishnah madness

Sometimes, pastors and teachers rely on the Jewish Mishnah to give historical background to the New Testament. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the Mishnah was the "collection and codification of Jewish oral laws, systematically compiled by numerous scholars (called tannaim) over a period of about two centuries" (see Mishna (Jewish laws)). This effort was done by the rabbis at the end of the second century AD.

For many reasons, Mishah studies and citations should be used very cautiously in biblical studies and preaching. It should not be assumed that everything in the Mishnah accurately describes the situation in New Testament Palestine 150 years earlier.

Case in point: the Jewish trial of Jesus Christ. Most people point out how illegal the proceedings of the Sanhedrin were during Jesus' trial. It certainly was unethical, and it may have been illegal, but it is anachronistic to simply cite the Mishnah in proof that the Jews violated their own law. Robert Thomas explains,
Possibly the Jewish leaders were so obsessed with quickly disposing of Jesus before the Sabbath and Passover Week that they knowingly violated their own procedures. This has been the traditional Christian exploration. More likely, however, the provisions of the Sanhedrin tractate were not operative in Jesus' time. The Mishnah was a collection of orally transmitted laws drawn up toward the close of the second century. By this time the ruling Sanhedrin, as it had existed historically, had ceased to exist and was only an academic institution having no authority. The regulations of the Sanhedrin tractate conflict with other Jewish sources closer to the first century, and its provisions are probably not a reflection of actual Sanhedrin procedures in the first third of the first century. Consequently, it is probably wrong to accuse the Sanhedrin of illegal procedures... (Thomas, A Harmony of the Gospels, p. 336)
Just a little word of caution to help us accurately handle the Word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). Don't ignore the Mishnah, but do use it with caution and integrity.

Somewhat-related posts:

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Imprecatory prayers

Wiley Drake is a Southern Baptist pastor in California who recently appeared on The Alan Combs Show and made some shocking comments about praying for President Obama's death.

In response, our state convention president Walter Price had this to say:
Imprecation is, in essence, putting a curse on someone or asking God to curse them. Nowhere in the Bible are Christians encouraged to curse anyone, especially those with whom we disagree or those who would do us harm. In fact, we are commanded not to do so and to do just the opposite.
You can read more of Walter's excellent response here.

How, then, do we approach the "imprecatory" prayers found in the Bible? Does God intend us to do the same toward our leaders? Commenting on Psalm 58, Steve Lawson explains:
Government leaders are appointed by God for the good of the people. They are to serve as his agents through whom he works to provide law and order for society (Rom. 13:1-6). But leaders often become corrupt, and they minister injustice to good people. What are God's people to do in such a situation? The Bible calls them to leave vengeance with the Lord in the face of wicked leaders. They are to pursue peace with all men, submitting to those over them as much as possible. They must not take matters into their own hands. Ungodly leaders is an issue with which God must deal. But we can pray that the Lord will rebuke and remove such people." (Holman Old Testament Commentary: Psalms 1-75, p. 298)
To this we should add the prayer for repentance and salvation. No leader, regardless of the amount of wickedness and injustice he has committed, is beyond the reach of God's amazing grace. Just look at the king of Ninevah (Jonah 3:6). Or Ahab (1 Kings 21:27-29). Or Manasseh (2 Chron. 33:11-13). Or Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 4:34-37).

This is a far different response from the comments made by Pastor Drake. Thank you, Dr. Price, for speaking up on this issue and not letting Drake's interview represent all of us in the convention.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Reflections on my first years as pastor

This month marks the three-year anniversary of my role as full-time pastor of our church. These have been some of the most wonderful years of my life, because my wife and I have finally been able to fulfill our calling and devote ourselves entirely to the church, using all the gifts and training God has given to us.

This morning, I feel the need just to jot down a few thoughts on a young man's first years of ministry, including some things to do and things to avoid:
  1. Be loving. It is often said that people "don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." This has been proven again and again. Most laypeople could care less about my seminary degree, and even less about my GPA or the number of commentaries on my shelf. They simply yearn for a shepherd who is going to know, love, pray with, talk with, and visit them. Sometimes, it takes a card of encouragement, a home visit, a hospital visit, or even the funeral of a loved one to win the affection and trust of some of your members.
  2. Keep learning. Seminary is a wonderful "seed bed" for developing theologically-minded pastors, but your learning has only just begun by the time you graduate. Then begins the "school of hard knocks." I have found my knowledge and awareness have increased dramatically since seminary through books, blogs, conferences, online sermons, and the people I talk with. Pulling out old college and seminary syllabi and textbooks has also been invaluable. I have learned to appreciate the history of my church and my denomination, highlighting its strengths rather than complaining about its weaknesses. Learning can be very exciting, because now it has immediate application in your ministry.
  3. Form partnerships. I have made great efforts to cultivate relationships with other pastors in our area, both those in the SBC and other evangelical denominations. I participate in the local ministerial, and do my best to attend pastors luncheons, associational meetings, and state conventions. I want to be known as a team player, not a lone ranger pastor. I believe this is a great way to support the larger Body of Christ, encourage one another in gospel ministry, and model Christian unity to our congregations.
  4. Change carefully. All change is not bad. Sometimes, a church is waiting eagerly for their new pastor to cast a vision and make some changes, wondering, "What's taking him so long?" But other times, the church can feel like, "He has no idea how important this is. How dare he change this!" I have tried to make changes in a slow and gracious manner. The bigger the change, the more prayer, discussion, and research has preceded it. I have used our deacon meetings and church council as sounding boards to throw out ideas -- sometimes very bold ones -- and then try to discern if a change would be wise or foolish. However, I did make some early mistakes on trying to make a couple of bold changes too quickly. At the time, I thought the people were ready, but I later discovered that there was still a lot of grassroots resistance that undermined the unity of our church. When major changes are involved, be very patient and almost resist change. Even if you know it is a good change, don't just assume it is right thing and the right time to do it. Much prayer and teaching is necessary before that change is made.
  5. Be forbearing. This is a tough one, and I want to be very careful in how I explain this. In the early years, a pastor must learn to be tolerant of certain sins in the church. We as young pastors have the zeal of Phineas and want to crush all disobedience and get people on fire for God. But a new pastor is just going to have to hold his nose at some things that stink, and learn to minister in spite of certain programs, people, and even doctrinal beliefs in the church that he knows are wrong. In most churches, where church discipline has not been taught, and where a context of loving leadership has yet not been developed, it is just too early to rebuke and exercise church discipline, except in very gross cases of immorality or heretical teaching. Know your people, choose carefully the hills you are willing to die on, and let love cover a multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8). Remember that Christ did not unleash all His teaching and rebuke to His disciples at once, but spent three years with them, and even then He said there was more to say, but they were not yet ready to bear it (John 16:12).
  6. Start discipling. As soon as possible, I identified some men and started discipling them. We cannot afford to wait in "entrusting these things to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Tim. 2:2). After researching what some other churches are doing, I developed a discipleship program and started assigning books to read, Scriptures to memorize, and/or lectures to listen to and discuss. Our group has been a mix of current deacon/leaders and potential future leaders. This has been a special time of sharpening and is crucial for the long-range health of our church. Identifying and training new leaders should start as soon as possible, even if it begins one-on-one with one other man in the church.
These first three years of ministry have included many joys and trials, exciting testimonies and painful lessons. Our church is not yet where I would like us to be, but we also are not where we were. I believe God has allowed us to make some progress toward maturity in Christ, and I pray this will momentum will build in the years ahead.

Like farming, ministry can be very difficult and labor-intensive early in the season, with heavy plowing and sowing and minimal results. But as we continue to serve the Lord and depend upon Him for results, I believe He will bless His Word and bring a great harvest for His glory.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Steering a conversation toward the gospel

Years ago, when I worked in a customer service call center, we were instructed to always "control the call." In other words, as salespeople, we were to steer the phone conversation as much as possible through questions and suggestions to help lead the customer along and determine what product would best suit them. Some customers were notorious for just "chatting" on the phone, not realizing that other customers were often on hold, waiting to be served.

In our evangelism, the stakes are infinitely higher, because souls are involved. We too as Christians must learn to better "control the conversation." I don't mean forcing the gospel into a conversation in an inappropriate way, but learning through questions and answers to steer a conversation in the right direction, toward spiritual things and eventually toward a presentation of the gospel.

As I said last week, there are four common steps in evangelism: raising awareness, initial contact, pre-evangelism, and evangelism. For those who are not particularly sociable, and who struggle to make conversation, or perhaps are just terrified of being confrontational, it can be very daunting to move from pre-evangelism (relationship-building) to evangelism (actually sharing the gospel). Here are a few tools that may be helpful.

Years ago, in an evangelism class, I learned the acronym ROCI. This is a helpful way to facilitate conversation in any setting, and stands for:
  • Residence - Are you originally from this area? How long have you lived here? Where did you grow up?
  • Occupation - Where did/do you work? What's your dream job?
  • Children - How many kids do you have?
  • Interests - Do you have any hobbies? What do you like to do in your free time? I noticed you like...
Some of these may naturally lead into a conversation about church, religion, values, and spiritual beliefs.

In the book Building on Firm Foundations, New Tribes Missions list many possible topics that can be intewoven into conversation and prepare a person for the seed of the gospel:
  • Creation (ask their beliefs about the world, its orderliness, bad things that happen)
  • God (ask their beliefs about His existence, location, activities, attributes, requirements)
  • Unseen spirits (ask their beliefs about their existence, what they're like, relationships with people, requirements)
  • Human beings (ask their beliefs about origin, differences, characteristics, sinful behavior)
  • Life after death (ask the reason for sickness and death, their beliefs about place of the dead, basis of knowing where a person goes, contact between living and dead, resurrection)
Finally, here are ten great questions from Donald Whitney that can help turn a conversation toward the gospel:
  1. When you die, if God says to you, "Why should I let you into Heaven?", what would you say?Are you interested in what the Bible says about your answer?
  2. If you were to die tonight, where do you think you would spend eternity? Why? Are you interested in what the Bible says about this?
  3. Do you think much about spiritual things?
  4. How is God involved in your life?
  5. How important is your faith to you?
  6. What has been your most meaningful spiritual experience?
  7. Do you find that your religious heritage answers your questions about life?
  8. Do you have any kind of spiritual beliefs? If what you believe were not true, would you want to know it? Well, the Bible says . . . .
  9. To you, who is Jesus?
  10. I often like to pray for people I meet; how can I pray for you?
Related posts:

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Betrayal of Jesus

Yesterday, we studied the Betrayal of Jesus recorded in John 18:1-11. It was amazing to see how our Lord endured such suffering and injustice, yet remaining firmly in control the whole time. We considered three astonishing facts about Jesus' betrayal that show how He was in control:
  1. Jesus knew Judas' trap, but stepped forward (John 18:1-4). While Jesus was comforting, instructing, and praying for His disciples in the upper room (chs. 14-17), we now learn that Judas was conspiring with the chief priest and gathering a large crowd of soldiers to arrest Jesus. The betrayal appeared as a tragedy, but Jesus "knew all the things" coming upon Him, and had actually arranged and permitted them to unfold in this way.
  2. Jesus had divine power, but surrendered (John 18:5-9). When Jesus declared "I am," He pulled back the veil of His humanity one last time before the cross, revealing His divine glory and reminding everyone who was really in charge here. He could have annihilated this little band of soldiers or called down 120 times as men warriors from heaven, but instead the Lion became a Lamb, and quietly surrendered.
  3. Jesus dreaded God's wrath, but submitted (John 18:10-11). The "cup" of God's wrath that had been on our Lord's mind in the upper room (Mt. 20:22) and in the garden (Lk. 22:42) was necessary to drink. Jesus dreaded this cup of divine fury, but willingly drank it so that we who believe can have God's cup blessing instead.
Questions for thought and discussion:
  • In what ways do the methods of the chief priests and Pharisees differ from the methods of Jesus?
  • Have I trusted in Christ, believing that He drank the cup of God's wrath in my place? How should this make me feel about Jesus?
  • Are there any present trials or tragedies in my life where I can take comfort that Jesus "knows all things" and is firmly in control?
  • Do I respond to my enemies with anger and violence (like Peter, who cut off Malchus' ear) or love and compassion (like Jesus, who healed Malchus' ear)? Cf. Luke 6:27-36.
(Sunday’s sermon has been uploaded to our podcast site and is available for free download or to listen online.)

May God help us apply His Word this week in our hearts, in our words, and in our actions.

New Blog

Today I'm closing up shop and launching a new blog called Pinch of Clay. You can visit it by clicking here . Please stop by and...