Friday, September 30, 2011

Is Boredome OK?

The founder of Young Life once commented, "It's a sin to bore a kid with the gospel."

In response to this attitude, Mark DeVries says, "It might be more of a sin to suggest to young people that the Christian life is always fun and never boring. Keeping teenagers from ever being bored in their faith can actually deprive them of opportunities to develop the discipline and perseverance needed to live the Christian life. It is precisely in those experiences that teenagers might describe as 'boring' that Christian character is often formed."

- Taken from Timothy Jones' Perspectives on Family Ministry

I say amen, and amen!

Quotation of the Day

Family ministry is necessary and significant becuase what we have been doing is ineffective. Today's churches have more youth campes, conferences, Christian music, sophisticated technology, books, and trained leaders than ever before. Yet, for whatever reason, a significant number of children fail to make the transition from youth ministry to mature, Christiain adulthood. The sort of ministry that will address this problem can't be found by adding one more church program found on the shelf of another Christian bookstore. Seminary classes can't solve this problem. Not even a book can solve this problem. What is needed is a theological and structural reorientation spawning the church cultures that draw families together instead of pulling them apart.

- Randy Stinson, Dean of The School of Church Ministries, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Does God Cause or Allow Bad Things?

That discussion is one of the great debates and questions of theologians. Does God cause or allow bad things? People who lean very heavy towards God's sovereignty will say that ultimately God causes the bad things. People who lean heavily toward man's autonomy will say God would never cause bad things.

Theologian Wayne Grudem defines God's providence as follows:

God is continually involved with all created things in such a way that he (1) keeps them existing and maintaining the properties with which he created them; (2) cooperates with created things in every action, directing their distinctive properties to cause them to act as they do; and, (3) directs them to fulfill his purposes. So that definition covers three aspects: (1) preservation, (2) concurrence, and (3) government.

The idea of God's sovereignty, control, and providence flow through the entire Bible.

A few of those Scriptures are as follows:

Dan. 4:34-35; Ps. 22:28; Ps. 135:6-7; Jer. 10:23; Ps. 139:16; Gen. 50:20; Prov. 16:4

Luke 1:52; Ro. 8:28; 1 Cor. 15:27

The book of Isaiah has a lot to say about God's sovereignty, written to people who have endured much suffering. In chapters 40ff, Isaiah regularly brings them back to the fact that ultimately, God rules. For example, in Isaiah 45:6-7,

6 That men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun
That there is no one besides Me.
I am the LORD, and there is no other,
7 The One forming light and creating darkness,
Causing well-being and creating calamity;
I am the LORD who does all these.

Likewise, John takes a similar approach when He discusses Jesus as our Shepherd in John 10:1-30.

I would challenge the person who want only a "NT" Scripture. Usually that request reflects an incorrect understanding of the Scriptures as they reveal the nature of God. Instead of looking at the Scriptures as old and new, it is probably more accurate to see the lens of Scripture like different sides of a gemstone - both sides reflect the beauty and authenticity of the gem. In other words, what the Scriptures show us about God in Genesis reveals the same God that Revelation talks about. That last verse I gave you - John 10:30, speaks to this (Jesus is the God of the OT).

It is easy to believe in God's rule when good things happen (we thank God for the rain, a healthy baby born, a new job or raise, etc.). However, we don't seem to credit God for bad things (a tornado that kills people, a stillborn baby, a job lost). However, simple logic would challenge, He is either over all or not over all.

I do not believe that God causes people to sin, nor do I believe that His best will is for bad things as a result of sin to happen. However, we live in a world cursed by sin - and man was given a will to choose right or wrong. When those bad things happen (disease, death, and the consequences of other's bad choices), we still can believe that God is sovereign over them all, they did not take Him by surprise, He chose to allow them, (see God and Satan's discourse in Job 1-2), and in allowing them, He will use them for His glory. Remember, God knew those things before the foundation of the world, and He is weaving them all together for His glory and our good (in light of His purposes - not ours).

Our minds can't understand how all of that works together, but we can trust Him. Kay Arthur used to teach, we are like a ring placed in someone's palm. With fingers closed, nothing can touch the ring unless it first goes through the fingers. So, we are in the palm of God's hand, and nothing can touch us unless it first is filtered through God's sovereign fingers of love. That is why Joseph could say with confidence, Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!

34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?"
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Romans 11:33-36

Thursday, September 29, 2011

John Stott on Preachers

John Stott, one of the most famous evangelical preachers of the 20th century, died this summer. His preaching and writing serve as a model for pastor-theologians all over the globe. Albert Mohler, now President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, interviewed Stott in 1987. The interview, Between Two Worlds: An Interview with John R. W. Stott, was published in Preaching magazine.

The following is one excerpt from the article. Mohler asked Stott what his advice would be to American pastors:

We Belong in a Study, Not an Office

Mohler: You are probably as well known in America as in England. Furthermore, you know America — its churches and its preachers. What would be your word to the Servants of the Word on this side of the Atlantic?

Stott: I think my main word to American preachers is, as Stephen Olford has often said, that we belong in a study, not in an office. The symbol of our ministry is a Bible — not a telephone. We are ministers of the Word, not administrators, and we need to relearn the question of priority in every generation.

The Apostles were in danger of being diverted from the ministry to which they had been called by Jesus — the ministry of Word and prayer. They were almost diverted into a social ministry for squabbling widows.

Now both are important, and both are ministries, but the Apostles had been called to the ministry of the Word and not the ministry of tables. They had to delegate the ministry of the tables to other servants. We are not Apostles, but there is the work of teaching that has come to us in the unfolding of the apostolic message of the New Testament. This is our priority as pastors and preachers.

Jesus preached to the crowds, to the group, and to the individual. He had the masses, the disciples, and individuals coming to Him. He preached to crowds, taught the disciples, and counseled individuals. We must also have this focus. It is all in the ministry of the Word.

Quotation of the Day

In many congregations a false assumption has survived. The false assumption is simply this: Parents are not the primary persons responsible for their children's Christian formation. The people perceived as being primarily responsible are specialized leaders of age-focused ministries. This model is not biblical, and the results of this approach have not consistently reflected God's intentions for His people. As this mininstry model has developed, here's what has tended to happen: Parents are not perceived as having the primary responsibility for the spiritual growth of their offspring. This ministry model is fundamentally flawed.

- Timothy Jones, Perspectives on Family Ministry

Unity, Unanimity, and Uniformity

Sunday night I preached from Ephesians chapter 4 on the subject What Does a Healthy Church Look Like? We saw that there are four essentials to a healthy church:

•ministry, and

I talked about the difference between unity, uniformity, and unanimity.

Uniformity is when everyone looks alike.

Unanimity is when everyone agrees and shares the same opinions and convictions.

Unity, however, is a blessing that God gives internally when believers are walking in grace, truth, and love.

As The Steering Team met Monday night, we prayed for God to build us a church marked by much unity of the Lord. When Jesus prayed for His disciples and His church in John 17, He prayed again and again for the Lord to grant them unity.

Don Wilton, pastor of First Baptist Spartanburg, has shared for years the three critical issues facing every church: the issue of absolute truth, the issues of personal convictions, and the issue of personal preferences. Elsewhere, I wrote about this subject . . . .

A congregation is wise to heed the advice of Don Wilton in what he calls the three most critical issues at the heart of the church. First is the issue of absolute truth, the most critical issue in the church today: “Absolutes are the governing principles of Christian conduct. . . . Without it the church is in deep trouble because it is left to the opinions of man, and that is a dangerous place to be!”[1] Churches must decide to be governed by the absolute truths in the Bible. Behavior, theology, ministries, programs, and church governance must be submitted to the authority of the Word of God. The second critical issue facing the church is that of personal conviction. These convictions are needed and must find their root in absolute truth. However personal conviction must never take the place of absolute truth. Wilton writes, “Many congregations are smitten with strong personalities who have strong convictions about a great number of issues and things that are important, but if they are not absolute according to the Word of God, they cannot become the foundation upon which the believer stands.”[2] Substituting personal convictions for absolute truths often occurs in spiritual abuse. The third issue of critical importance facing the church is that of person preference. Some churches are built on personal preference, leading to weak theology, poor discipleship, and layers of dysfunction.[3] In dysfunctional religious systems marked by cultic and spiritual abuse, these groups often confuse the place of absolute truth, personal conviction, and personal preference. The wise congregation and leader will agree to stand together on absolute truth and not impose their personal convictions and personal preferences on other people.

A while back, I posted my notes from a sermon I preached on this subject, Preferences, Convictions, and Absolutes.

May we at The Spring stand firm on absolute truth together to bulid a strong and healthy church!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Monday, September 26, 2011

Dismay Over Church Politics

Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of Billy and Ruth Graham, shares about the deep heartache that she and her husband went through several years ago. There is no burn like church burn, but as she discovered, there is no God like Jehovah!

Recently my husband, Danny, experienced inexcusable treatment at the hands of church leaders. After four years of meeting with a group of men to pray regularly for God's leadership and blessings, he joined them as they incorporated into a church body. We were part of the new church fellowship for several years, during which time he served in a leadership role as Sunday school teacher and elder.

During that time, he was dismayed as he witnessed what all too often takes place behind the closed doors of religious institutions - hypocrisy and piety, politics and pride, manipulation and meanness, control and cliques, self-promotion and status-seeking, truth-spinning and arm-twisting. His heart was shattered - and mine along with his.

While the people who attended the church were very dear, good people, they were prevented from knowing what was taking place behind those closed doors. What Danny saw and heard was so grievous, he exclaimed that if he didn't know God, he wouldn't want to know Him, and if the leadership in that church represented genuine believers, he would never want to be one.

Finally, he walked out with the young pastor the elders had humiliated and sought to drive away. For one year as a result of his experience, he and I did not attend any church. We became believers in exile.

But the interesting discovery I made during that time was that rather than hinder the magnificent obsession [desire for God] in my life, the experience totally intensified it. More than ever before, I wanted to embrace a genuine God-filled life. And I want to know Him for Himself, not for the tarnished reflection that can sometimes be seen in those who call themselves by his name.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Family Ministry Today

There have been three driving convictions for me the past year as to what this church should be about:

1) An emphasis on the Bible basics of preaching-teaching, worship, fellowship, and prayer.

2) The experiencing of God in the community of small group structures.

3) A family-equipping model of ministry. (One of the seeds God planted in me last year was while Tracey and I were attending a family-equipping church and family conference.)

We began this year with a solid, initial approach to implementing #1. In January we hope to begin implementing #2.

Recently, through the reading of two different books - one by Johnny Hunt and the other Wayne Cordiero, I was face to face with the same advice. As a leader, find out what the 5% is that you alone can do for your organization, and make sure that you are giving the best time to that 5% - not to the 95% of other things that other people can be trained, equipped, and released to do.

Pondering the question, What is my 5% for The Spring?, I knew with conviction that part of that 5% is guiding the church toward a family-equipping model. As your leader, I am committed to shaping this church towards a family-equipping approach.

In the weeks and months ahead, I will educate us more as to what is meant by a family-equipping model. Right now, the Steering Team is reading a book to help us in that entitled Perspectives on Family Ministry by Timothy Jones, professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS).

I am gladdened that SBTS' School of Church Ministry is giving leadership in this area by trying to educate, equip, and encourage churches towards a family-equipping ministry. Just yesterday I found their blog entitled Family Ministry Today: The Center for Christian Family Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:

I strongly encourage you to check out their blog, familiarize yourself with it, and begin learning for yourself about the model of family-equipping ministry. Check out the video on the front page called What is the Problem with Current Church Structures?

A family-equipping model is not just another program or fad that we may try for a while until something else comes along. It is, instead, a philosophy of how to structure a church in order to best equip families spiritually.

It is not a decoration issue. It is a blueprint issue.

I look forward to how God will lead us to become a family-equipping church. Last night we already made a solid step forward. Parents and grandparents received a Parent Handbook from Group Publishing that goes along with the lessons your children and youth are receiving on Wednesday nights. Parents and grandparents are encouraged to use that handbook to talk with your children and teens at home this week about our first lesson from our Faithweaver material. When we move to Sunday School on Sunday mornings, we will all be studying the same lessons. That is a solid, simple approach.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Trip to Intouch

On my way home from Woodstock yesterday I stopped in Atlanta by Intouch Ministries, the preaching ministry of Charles Stanley. The last several years they have built a nice facility right off of I-85 past the 285 loop. I was warmly greeted and given a tour by one of the Intouch staff. Much like visiting The Billy Graham Library, where one sees how God worked through Billy Graham, or visiting the Jerry Falwell Museum at Liberty University, the Intouch offices and mission center serve as a testimony to the faithfulness of God through the life of one of His servants. When you are there, you are reminded of how God raised up one man to take the gospel to the world. Like the design of the Grahams' Cove, it is tasteful enough to not be gaudy yet grand enough to reflect the greatness of God.

Dr. Stanley’s teaching influenced me greatly years ago. I listened to his messages 4-5 times a week as a college student. I vividly recall listening to his book on cassette, The Wonderful, Spirit-Filled Life, while driving on 385 from Greenville to Clinton. And I remember thinking I had hit the jackpot when someone from his church gave me a tub of about 100 of his sermon cassettes! His books How to Listen to God and The Source of My Strength were life-changers for me.

Dr. Stanley’s most familiar phrase, Obey God and leave all of the consequences to Him, is inscribed on one prominent wall in the building. Antonia, my Intouch guide, told me the story of their building the first building. She said something like, Dr. Stanley believed the Lord had told him to build the first Intouch building. But he said that in prayer the Lord told him that he was not allowed to ask anyone for money. So they made plans but did not make any public appeals for money. Instead, he chose to trust God. One day a man called Dr. Stanley out of the blue and asked what Intouch needed. Stanley told him, “Well, actually, we need about 2 million dollars!” The man replied, “I think I can handle that,” and the man gave Intouch the cash for the building. Then Antonia said, Everything here is a result of Dr. Stanley’s faith in God.

Around one fountain are inscribed the four phrases that Charles learned from his grandfather, George Washington Stanley. These four phrases became key guiding pillars in his life:

Obey God and leave all of the consequences up to Him.
God will move heaven and earth to reveal His will to you.
God will provide all your needs if you trust Him.
Fight your battles on your knees.

One amazing tool they are currently using is called the Intouch Messenger, a solar-powered hand-held device that holds 35 messages. The Messenger was created to give to soldiers in the Middle East to allow them to hear Dr. Stanley’s preaching. So far 125,000 have been distributed in seven languages and 105 countries.

The Intouch Ministries complex challenged and encouraged me afresh today to trust in God. When I left today, I got in my car and prayed, Lord, I don’t know what You want to do with me, but I want to trust in You and allow You to work in my life however You choose.

I think that is a good prayer for us all to pray.

As a church, let us not be like the people of Nazareth, of whom the Bible says, He [Jesus] did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith (Matthew 13:58).

On a side note - The Salvation Army invited Dr. Stanley to preach at their 9-11 remembrance service for the families of victims in New York last Sunday on the 10th anniversary of 9-11. You can listen to the message he preached to them here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Guiding Children to Worship

Here is a good resource for parents. Robbie Castleman's Parenting in the Pew offers practical advice for parents in training their children to not only sit quietly in church services but also to participate.

"Daddy, I'd like you to meet my children." That's Robbie Castleman's attitude about taking her children to church. She believes that Sunday morning isn't a success if she has only managed to keep the kids quiet. And she knows there's more to church for kids than trying out their new coloring books. Children are at church for the same reason as their parents: for the privilege of worshiping God. Worship, Castleman writes, is "the most important thing you can ever train your child to do." So with infectious passion, nitty-gritty advice and a touch of humor, she shows you how to help your children (from toddlers to teenagers) enter into worship. In this expanded edition Castleman includes two new appendixes on the important issues of hyperactive children in worship and children's church for seekers. She also provides a study guide for personal reflection or group discussion. More than ever, Parenting in the Pew is essential reading for parents and worship leaders who want to help children make joyful noises unto the Lord.

Quotation of the Day

It's often better to listen than to speak. When a group has a problem to solve, they usually need to grapple with it for a while. If you have a solution, wait until people are ready for it, and then present it in a cool and collected way that makes the answer to the problem be about the answer - and not about you.

- Dick Cheney, In My Time