Archive for Gospel

Update from the land of Church Planting…

Posted in evangelism, missions with tags , , , , , on October 26, 2010 by gospel2live

Faithful readers… both of you!  The past year has been an amazing journey.  We have left the security of a good job with an established church to raise support and begin a new work.  God has provided for our needs in amazing ways.  We have added two new members to our family as our adoption of two brothers through the foster care system was completed in July.  We have rented out our old house and moved to a new house in the community where we are starting the new church.  As I write this, I am, quite honestly, both exhausted and refreshed, exhilerated and terrified, and depressed and enthusiastic about the future!  In other words, welcome to the bi-polar life of a Jesus follower!

As for the church plant, we are gathering on Sundays with a group that averages about 35-40 people.  All but one of the families who are regularly a part of our group are people that we did not even know a year ago.  Many of them had already left churches that had abandoned the Bible before they had heard about Cross Hill.  Many had not been involved in a meaningful way with ANY church as adults.  While my planning included a lot of thinking about training leaders and launching people into ministry, I have had to adjust to meet the needs of people who are super eager to learn, but are starting out with very little knowledge of the Bible.  Honestly, it is amazingly encouraging to see people reading the Bible in a way that a starving man attacks an all-you-can-eat buffet!

Here is the upside.  This Sunday we will see four adults dedicate their lives to follow Jesus in baptism.  We have another group of people that will likely want to be baptized by the end of the year.  We have people reading the Bible and asking awesome questions.  Many of our people are inviting friends, talking about the changes in their life that Jesus has brought, and “doing the work of evangelism” without me having to say much of anything about it!  Week after week, as we meet for a pretty “no-frills” Bible study, I see the Spirit of God at work in peoples’ lives in confronting their sin, reconciling them to God, and in helping them to find healing and wholeness in their lives.  Even after over an hour of teaching, people stay and hang out over coffee — despite many of them coming from traditions where a 50 minute gathering is “pushing it.”  Despite stepping out without even a salary guaranteed, God has stirred people to provide for our needs, often without even being solicited!  Praise God!

Here’s the hard part.  We have seen difficult spiritual opposition in discouragement and depression among some of our family and core team.  Marriages have been strained at times by this spiritual oppression.  Establishing patterns and routines has been extremely difficult with the amount of change that is taking place.  We are rapidly approaching the need to deal with structural and organizational issues that lie WAY outside of my comfort zones!  With the new people come new problems that tax our energy and our emotions as we walk with people through dark valleys to find their healing in the Gospel.  One of my most common thoughts is “Who is sufficient for these things?”

Here’s the bottom line.  Jesus Christ will build HIS church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it!  I am NOT sufficient for these things!  Thankfully, God gives us his grace, ill-deserved kindnesses, so that through the power of his Holy Spirit people might be reconciled to God through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Hallelujah!

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Eschatology and Evangelism

Posted in evangelism with tags , , , , on December 5, 2009 by gospel2live

Is a particular view of eschatology (the study of end times prophecy) essential in order to be urgent about evangelism?

One of the arguments put forward by those who hold to a pretribulation rapture is that their view properly leads to an enthusiasm for evangelism.  The argument is basically that since Jesus could come at any minute to bring believers to heaven prior to a time of tremendous suffering where God’s wrath is poured out on those left behind, we should be motivated to share the Gospel with as many people as possible to help save them from the time of trouble ahead.

While I will leave the merits of particular eschatological views to others to debate, I do not find eschatology to be a compelling force for evangelism.  In fact, the pretribulation view might actually lessen our urgency for evangelism, since many sincere believers think that the rapture of the church will be the very sign that causes their friends and family to realize the claims about Jesus are true and to turn to Him for salvation.

Regardless of your views regarding the end times, there IS a far more compelling motivation for us to be talking about Jesus to the ones we love.  This morning, a 39 year old woman left her home and headed out in a pickup on Hwy 53 — a four lane divided highway that is about as safe as a highway can be.  I don’t even know this woman’s name, but I am reasonably certain that she did not expect to die today.   However, she lost control of the pickup on an icy bridge deck and was pronounced dead at the scene of the one vehicle crash.  For this woman, today was her day to stand before Jesus.

While there are a million ways in which our lives could be cut short, our best motivation to be talking about the Gospel is because it is, in fact, really great news!  While love and concern for people is a legitimate motivation for evangelism, the best one is our love for Jesus.  When we are truly in love, whether it is a new romance or the birth of a child, NOBODY can get us to cease talking about it!  So ultimately, our way to increase the motivation to do the work of evangelism is to cultivate a deeper love for Christ.

Are You Goverened Increasingly By God’s Word?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 4, 2009 by gospel2live

This is question two from Don Whitney’s book, Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health.  For an index to the posts in this series, click here! 

The value of the Bible cannot be overstated.  Scripture refers to itself as water, food, light, a fire and tool, a weapon, and a seed.  The Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”  Hebrews 4:12

If this is true, why do so many professing Christians stagger through life without having the Bible make any clear difference in their day to day lives?  If you find yourself not having a love for the Bible, your spiritual health is likely to be very weak, if not dead.  One of the marks of a growing believer in Jesus, is a growing love for the Bible and an increasing role in how it shapes our day to day decisions and activities.

Whitney points to the example of Jesus, who routinely uses scripture to teach, to respond to temptation, and to settle disputes.  Although Jesus was fully God, it should be noted that the scripture he quoted throughout his ministry had been memorized as a man.  Jesus placed a tremendous value on the scriptures.

So, what does it mean to be increasingly goverened by God’s Word?  Whitney says, “Speaking in a practical way, you know that God’s Word is growing in its influence over you when you can point to increasing numbers of beliefs and actions that have been changed because of the potency of specific texts of scripture…. You remember various turning points where you stopped or started some action or habit as a result of a new understanding of biblical truth.”

Whitney gives several specific examples of how his life has been shaped and changed by the study of scripture.  The examples have a common theme of moving from practices that are simply assumed, to an intentionality in practice that arises from the exhortations of scripture.  Instead of having an attitude of accepting a practice on the basis of no scripture preventing it, he has moved towards a positive shaping of his actions by what scripture teaches.  This moves us out of an apathetic acceptance towards a proactive molding and shaping of our actions by scripture.

Whitney recomends the following practices to develop our dependence on God’s Word:

First, we need to deepen our DESIRE for God’s Word.  We do this through sitting under good preaching in our church, and through other available means.  He again calls on us to pray through scripture and to spend time to meditate on it, not merely read it.

Second, he recommends that me make time for God’s Word.  We diligently and faithfully take time to eat our physical food.  We need to exercise the same diligence in taking time to eat our spiritual food.

Third, read the Bible daily and do not close it until you know at least one thing GOd would have you do in response to your reading.  This gets us out of the trap of reading intellectually and moves us into application.  Don’t be only a hearer of the Word, but a doer of the Word!

Fourth, he urges us to list at least five areas we have not considered from a biblical perspective and to consider one each day for the next five days.  Whitney gives a long list of possible topics to prime the pump, so that you can practice exploring topics from a biblical perspective.

Finally, he urges us to train ourselves to ask “How does the Bible speak to this?”  Learning to ask this question about more and more areas of our lives reflects an increasing desire to bring glory to God and to submit to his will for us.  It will enable us to reflect not just an intellectual faith, but a faith the comes from authentic desire and affections for out great God and savior, Jesus Christ!

Do you thirst for God?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on May 1, 2009 by gospel2live

This is question one from Don Whitney’s book, Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health.  For an index to the posts in this series, click here!

Whitney describes three types of “soul thirst.”  The thirst of the empty soul is  the unsatisfiable desires of the person who does not know Jesus.  They seek satisfaction from many different places, but can never be filled.  Even when empty souls seek God, they ar enot seeking the God of scripture, but rather a god that will be what they want him to be.  The only cure for this thirst is to be reconciled to God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ — to come to the one who offers “living water” to all who will drink.

The second type of thirst is that of the dry soul.  This is one who has experienced the soul satisfaction of the rivers of living waters, but is experiencing a season of spiritual dryness.  Whitney gives three reasons for this condition.  First, a soul becomes dry by drinking too much of the fountain of the world.  Similar to drinking salt water, turning to the world’s pleasures will leave us thirsty in all the wrong ways.  Second, sometimes God allows us to experience a period where his presence is not clearly perceived — what the Puritans described as “God’s Desertions.”  Third, spiritual dryness may be the result of physical or mental fatigue.  Foregoing the Sabbath and not taking adequate time for rest and rejuvenation can lead us to a point where we are dry and barren spiritually.

The third type of thirst is that of the satisfied soul.  This is an increased thirst for God that comes from letting him satisfy our thirst!  Although this might seem to be a contradiction, the more we drink deeply from the soul-satisfying knowledge of God, the more we desire to drink.  God graciously allows us to crave more of His water, the more we drink.  The difference from the other thirsts is that this is deeply satisfying thirst. 

Whitney goes on to explain how spiritual thirst is actually a blessing of God.  First, God initiates spiritual thirst through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence.  Second, the purpose for which God initiates spiritual thirst is so that HE might satisfy it.  He satisfies our existing thirst and gives us a greater craving and capacity to continue drinking!  Thus, we continue to thirst and drink and thirst until we are finally able to be fully satisfied as we behold him as he is.

Whitney gives three practical steps for “thirsting after the thirst-slaker.”  First, meditate on scripture.  Don’t just read it, but think about it.  Let it swirl around so that you can taste and savor the truth in it.  With literally thousands of bits of information flowing through your mind each day, slow down and let the water of life be absorbed, and not just pass right through.  

Second, pray through scripture.  Use the words inspired by God, to talk to God.  This begins to flow naturally out of meditation as we slow down and take time to make scripture more important in our lives.

Finally, Whitney encourages us to read thirst-making writers.  Let me encourage you to consider Whitney to be one of those writers!  To get his list of these types of writers, get your hands on a copy of this book.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.  Matthew 5:6

The Flu, the Hospital, and the Hard Days of Parenting

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2009 by gospel2live

This morning, our youngest was released from the hospital after spending a day being re-hydrated.  Last week was spent being sick and caring for the sick around our house.  We had to take turns in both departments — at least between mom, dad, and the older kids.  Our 1 and nearly 3 year old have been hit especially hard by this flu, as they have had fevers, aches, and all sorts of tummy troubles. 

Late Saturday evening, I took Harper in because he had stopped eating and drinking and had not had a wet diaper all day.  After triage, they sent me out to finish registering while they prepared the room in the ER.  On cue, Harper vomited all over me, soaking my coat and the shirt underneath.  Then, while wearing the shirt dry, I held him down while the nurses tried to get an IV line into his tiny little dehydrated veins.  It took them two tries.

Life back home wasn’t a whole lot easier — in fact, I probably had the easier assignment.  Kim didn’t have nurses to help change soiled bedding and diapers.  Her favorite chair starred as a stunt double for my shirt and took the vomit duty.

When we agreed to adopt again, we knew there would be days (and weeks!) like this.  It’s one of the things that made us think twice about starting all over again with little ones.  However, even though we just came home today, there are already evidences of God’s grace visible through the difficulties.

First, what can I say about Jim?  My dear friend picked up clothes and supplies from Kim at home, brought them to the hospital, returned to my house bearing the carseat for Hudson, and snuck back into our hospital room with a treat and some cash for supper!  I know how he hates the thought of picking up illness from us “carriers,” which only helps me to appreciate the kindness of God in enabling Jim to show us such mercy.

Kim put together clothes for me, and threw in my absolute, most comfortable, long sleeve, camo hunting T-shirt.  (Then again, maybe she was secretly hoping it would get puked on!)  She came out in wet, windy and nearly freezing weather to hang with us in the hospital for awhile Sunday afternoon, and allowed me a chance to get some fresh air and a bite to eat.

The church in Side Lake was extremely gracious to me.  Even as I called early Sunday morning to let them know I couldn’t get out there to preach, their first concern was to pray for me, assure me of their love, and encourage me.  I count it a great privilege to be able to bring them the Word of God on a (nearly!) weekly basis.

God gave opportunities for great conversations with nurses and other staff at the hospital.  Even as we were preparing to leave, two nursing students who were doing an assignment by trying to practice getting vital signs off Harper began to kill time by asking questions about parenting, marriage and faith.  As a result, I had the chance to explain that ALL of us are under God’s wrath, unless we turn to Jesus as our substitute.  Therefore, it is important for us as pastors to let people know that we are NOT good enough for heaven, but saved only because God loved us enough to save us.

Truthfully, I would not choose to have my child get sick, just to get an opportunity to share the Gospel.  However, since God had placed us in that position, I had to decide how I was going to respond.  Getting upset, complaining about my lot, being impatient, or any number of other responses would come quite naturally to me.  However, by God’s grace, I hope that the nurses, doctors, interns, janitors, and others got a glimpse of a peace that passes understanding.  Hopefully, they saw a horizontal love towards my adopted child that in some small way images the vertical love my Heavenly Father has shown me.

Godly Grief and “Good Grief!”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on March 30, 2009 by gospel2live

Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth!  For I am God, and there is no other.  By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.”  Isaiah 45:22-23

Sunday morning was quite the study in contrasts.  After the second service at Chisholm Baptist, a man sitting next to me approached me to ask me a couple of questions and to schedule an appointment to talk.  He was visibly distraught.  Turns out, he was being crushed under the weight of conviction of sin.  He is a brand new Christian, and he was dealing with a re-lapse into a pattern of sin that had enslaved him prior to his conversion.  He needed to know whether it is possible to be forgiven or if he could even still be right with God.  

It was a powerful moment.  There are few pleasures greater on this earth than these types of “impact moments.”  I had the privelege of helping him to distinguish between our justification, done once for all by the death of Jesus Christ, and our sanctification, the ongoing process of cooperating with the Holy Spirit to become more like Jesus.  We talked about how we need to continue to examine our hearts and to repent when we sin.  I reassured him that we can only come to the Father by being clothed in the righteousness of Jesus.  His grief over his sin was, in fact, a good thing and that as we reflect on the Gospel, we should be first crushed by the weight of our sin, but find the joy of our salvation waiting to spring to life as we preach the Gospel to ourselves over and over again.  We were able to pray together before heading out of the sanctuary.

As I left, my wife asked me to help her adjust the car seat for one of our kids.  Before I could get down the hallway and out the door, I experienced the ultimate buzz kill.  

Another man was dealing with an issue of grief, and he caught me in the hallway to share it.  It turns out that our church janitor had taken a bunch of old softball trophies from a dust collecting nook in the upstairs hallway, and placed them on a table to be claimed or tossed.  I was informed that a vital piece of our church heritage was going to be thrown out with the trash.  How would our children know about all the good times these men in the past had experienced together on the softball fields?  These, he said, are trophies of our church and they just can’t be gotten rid of!  I tried to explain that the only trophy our church needs to hold on to is the cross of Jesus.  The softball trohphies are not necessary to remember times of fellowship, and only serve to remind us that we beat everyone else that particular year.  The more I tried to point his eyes away from the trophies towards Jesus, the more frustrated he became.  Sadly, our conversation ended only because he realized he’d get no support from me to end this “tragedy.”

The contrasts between these two interactions is astounding.  From one man, there is a deep humility and sense of being crushed under the weight of sin, and from the other an indignation from having his pride confronted.  The first man had come to worship the living God, and had been crushed by the fear of the Lord in light of God’s holiness and his own sinfulness.  The second man wanted to be able to worship the glory days of his past, and had been crushed by fear that men would not remember his exploits.  The first man went home blessed, having encountered the grace and forgiveness of the Lord Jesus, being restored to His presence, and having hope that springs forth from the understanding of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The second man went home angry and frustrated.

Which man am I going to be?  Will I submit to the Lord Jesus Christ, be humbled, and find life and peace?  Or will I stubbornly cling to my idols, and be angry when my agenda is thwarted?  Truthfully, if I am not extremely careful,  I can roll my eyes at the guy upset by a handful of dusty old trophies, but fail to see that my own heart is just as prone to idolatry.  May God grant us his grace to fear Him rightly and worship Him only!

Meth and the Gospel

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 28, 2009 by gospel2live

I recently spent an evening helping to get a young man, crashing hard off of meth, to go in to the hospital and sitting with members of his family while he was checked out and eventually admitted.  Because of my days in the public defender’s office, I am familiar with the stages of meth use and have dealt with people under the influence before.  However, this was the first time I was dealing directly with a meth situation in a pastoral role.  

As I have thought about the events of the evening, there are some observations about the Gospel at work that I would like to put out for your consideration….

First, the Gospel is at work in the addict.  I first met this guy in the jail.  His mom asked if I would go see him, so I did.  In the past two years, our contact alternates between chuch and the jail.  He will come to Bible study or services, when he is sober — usually after release, but eventually returns to his old friends, old ways, and old addictions.  He has had been taught about Jesus, and embraces his need for a savior, but he is still a slave to his flesh.  Although he just turned 21, in reality he is still a little boy who is looking to the women in his life to make sure that all the blame and consequences for his actions do not land on his shoulders.  Despite the rage and beligerence of his state, over the course of the evening something checked his rage long enough for him to submit and comply with what he needed to do.  My conclusion is that the war for his soul is very fierce right now.  He is at a crucial juncture where he will yield to the Lord Jesus Christ, or his old masters of drugs and violence will destroy him.  Please pray for his deliverance.

Second, the Gospel is at work in this guy’s family.  Over the course of the evening, our service of the Lord in assisting in the care of this young man was a witness of the love of Christ to his mother, his girlfriend, and his extended family.  God provided the opportunity to present the Gospel to his girlfriend, to exhort her to forgive the church people who have hurt her deeply in the past, and to try to convince her to come back to where the Lord Jesus is her first priority.  I pray that our involvement will provide a good witness to his siblings who have not embraced Jesus, and help his mother to grow in grace and to move towards a deeper maturity through the difficult situations shaping her at this time.

The Gospel is also at work in the hospital staff.  The nurse who served this young man was phenomenal.  She was fearless, despite being less than half the size of this guy.  Without her skillful control of the patient, he would have almost certainly ended up in the jail, rather than the hospital.  Eventually a control team and law enforcement had to assist, and yet the Lord allowed the situation to resolve peacefully as he finally yielded to the waiting wheel chair.  Several times I was asked “you’re his pastor?”  Granted, I am not necessarily a typical pastor, and certainly some of the incredulity could be negative — as in what kind of pastor would lead a guy to become a meth addict — but I hope that the result might be that their stereotypes about churches as stuffy places that have no impact in the real world might be changed.  

Fourth, the Gospel is at work in the man from my Bible study who I recruited to help.  He is a law enforcement veteran who buried his son a little over a year ago — due to a drug problem.  In addition to his training, experience, and connections as a police officer, he provided an empathetic support for the family as they waited at the hospital.  His growth over the past couple of years has been significant, as he has studied the Bible and persevered through some incredibly difficult circumstances.  These circumstances provided a unique opportunity to sharpen one another as we seek to not merely learn about the Gospel, but to carry it over into our real life situations.  I am optimistic that as his faith continues to grow, that he will be a highly strategic worker in bringing the Gospel to the community in ways that a vocational pastor cannot.  

Finally, the Gospel is at work in me.  I am so grateful that God would open my eyes to see the glory of the Gospel in the face of Jesus Christ.  I am so glad that he is at work in my life to convict me of my sin and to move me towards repentence and sanctification.  This experience reminds me of my own frailty and how, apart from God’s grace in my life, I could easily be in the shoes of the addict on this night.  It brings conviction of my own lack of self control and discipline.  I think of my “acceptable’ addictions — food in particular.  I am reminded that I also have a tendency, even if only in my heart, to make excuses and blame shift.  My heart is a factory of excuses that will continually convince me of my own self-righteousness — if I let it.  And so I come away from the experience humbled by my sin in the light of God’s absolute holiness.  I, too, must repent again and turn to Jesus for his healing and forgiveness.  In the process, I find the joy of his salvation and the peace that comes from knowing I don’t NEED to be self-righteous, because I am clothed in the far superior righteousness of Jesus, through faith in his sacrificial death for me.

Meth is an insidious evil.  For this season, God is allowing evil to continue so that those He is calling out of their sin and depravity may not receive the judgment due to them, but that they might be reconciled to God through faith in Jesus.  A day is coming when He will tolerate evil no more.  We do not know how long he will wait until that day, but it is coming and we all must be ready.  We MUST decide whether we will continue in our sin and self-justification, or turn to Jesus, submit to his rule in our lives, and accept that he alone can rescue us from our rebellion against God.  So meth points us back to the existence of the cosmic struggle against God’s good and loving rule of the universe and ultimately should remind us that we ALL need to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.