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Posts from November 2010

The Paradox - Dying to Live

Sometimes a phrase just doesn't resonate.  "Die to live" - I have heard it.  I have spoken it.  I have even preached it.  I believe it. . .with all my heart.  Yet, there are times, when in the midst of life, it seems that God needs to remind me that this is a key to truly living.  I slide back into selfishness and wanting things my way.  Hey, I've even preached in the past few weeks that it is a sin to make plans for ourselves and then ask God to bless them, rather than seek His face and desires and align our lives accordingly.  However, I still slide back into this mode.

A paradox is a strange thing.  Really.  Just check out the definition:


A statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.


Something that seems contradictory or absurd.  Well, that's the Christian life at times, isn't it?

Just check out what the Bible says about this. . .

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. Luke 9:23-24 (ESV)

It's been a busy week and frustrating at times and I've been led to pray deeper, seek Him and reminded that life is so much more than what I see right here, right now.  I forget so often.  While listening to some music this morning in prep for today's services, I came across an oldie.  I was taken back to when I first heard this song as a young youth pastor trying to help teenagers "get it" and again I realize that I still struggle at "getting it" constantly.  Just needed a reminder today.  There's more to life than what is seen.  There's a bigger story at work.  It may seem absurd all that is happening today, but that's the paradox.  God is still in control.

"Convert, Leave, or Be Killed"

"Convert, leave or be killed."  This was the ultimatum given to a Christian pastor/evangelist in the eastern state of Orissa, India.  Yesterday, I shared about how easy, Western Christianity is weakening us.  John Piper, in his new book Spectacular Sins:  And Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ, makes this statement:

But the times are changing.  For seventy million baby boomers, for example, life has changed.  It seems very short now.  What used to be a fond nostalgia for the sixties has turned into an ache that the beloved decade is now so far away that its main meaning is: we are dying.  Different ages get the message in different ways. 

And not only life, but the world too is shrinking.  People who don’t like Christians are all around us. Only a strange providence keeps our churches from being bombed.  It is only a matter of time until the reality of the rest of the world comes home.  And all the while we are called by Christ to go to them, love them, sacrifice for them, bring the Gospel to them.  The Great Commission is not child’s play.  It is costly.  Very costly.

The coddled western world will sooner or later give way to great affliction.  And when it does, whose vision of God will hold?  Where are Christians being prepared for great global sorrows?  Where is the Christian mind and soul being prepared for the horrors to come? 

Christians in the West are weakened by wimpy worldviews.  And wimpy worldviews make wimpy Christians.  God is weightless in our lives.  He is not terrifyingly magnificent.  His sovereignty is secondary (at best) to his sensitivity.

As I watch this clip recounting what had happened in Orissa, I am burdened for the brothers and sisters in Christ who suffer for their faith throughout the world, but also for the depth of our faith here in the United States as we experience "comfortable Christianity."

(The video is too large to view completely here, so click "Options" and make it full-screen.

Easy Christianity Is Killing Us

I have friends, no more than friends. . . they are brothers and sisters in Christ, who meet together regularly as a church knowing that their lives are at risk if certain groups in authority were to discover where they were meeting.  These believers are not in our nation, but in a nation where God has "officially" been banned unless controlled by government sanctioned "churches."  

These believers work hard every day in their job.  Yet, they understand that what they do does not define who they are.  They are not wealthy.  They are farmers mostly, but in a nation where what they grow does not belong to them.  Therefore, they are not paid "a decent days wages."  

I met with them a little over a year ago in a cave.  We gathered together, sat on little wooden chairs and then they began to sing.  They were singing hymns and worshiping God.  They were speaking their native language.  Though I couldn't understand the language, I could understand their hearts.  Tears were flowing down their cheeks as they praised the Lord.  This wasn't even on a Sunday.  They had gathered together during the week because they heard I was coming.  People traveled great distances to be at this church meeting.  I shared a brief testimony, but must tell you, felt very unqualified to speak on faith to this group.

They were speaking to me.

They risked everything for the privilege of gathering as a church, to read the Word, to sing worship songs together.  

I thought about how we view church here in the States.  The emphasis is on creating programs and events that will entice people to come "check out the church."  Even Christians aren't often at a point of seeing that the coming together for worship and study is a priority.  Oh how easy we have it.

As I continue through the book of James, it is so revealing that often what we call Christianity is a facade.  It's too easy.  It's sometimes about the building, the pastor, the event. . .and not about the Savior.  Seriously, how many of you have had friends tell you about their church and all God is doing, but the closer you listen, all they're saying is how cool their new building is or how incredible their new staff member is?  We brag on stuff really well, don't we?

I was meeting with our pastoral staff today and we discussed how easily Christians drift toward lax theology and feel-good religion. It becomes evident in what we say and do and as James says "how we live our lives."

Next spring we have scheduled a gathering on Friday, April 1beginning at 6pm.  We plan to end at midnight.  Yeah, that's extreme.  Most of the time, we begin squirming in our seats after about 30 minutes.  So, why go six hours?  I have been inspired by The Church at Brook Hills "Secret Church" meetings which are scheduled this way.  There is something about seriously seeking God through quality teaching, sound theology and practical application through missional expressions.  This meeting will remind us of what our brothers and sisters experience throughout the world.  The evening will not be about high tech videos, music or graphic images.  It will be simple - prayer, teaching, prayer, exposition, prayer, solid theological instruction and . . . prayer.

I'm a little anxious about the schedule.  This seriously moves us from any semblance of "entertaining the masses" for the sake of religion.  It could be that I'm the only one here.  That is a reality.  Some folks just can't stay the full six hours.  I understand that as well.  Still, I hearken back to the group I sat with in a cave on the other side of the world.  Oh, how they would love to have the opportunity to fellowship freely and experience solid teaching from the Word of God.

Maybe we just have it too easy?  I think we do.

If nothing else, our Underground Church meeting will remind us what God is doing globally, and I suspect He will change us in the process.

Everlasting God. . . Sometimes We Just Need a Better Perspective

As I sit here in my study just 50 minutes before our 8am worship service today, I am overwhelmed by the greatness of our Lord.  Really.  It may sound "religious" or "sappy" but it's true.  I just listened to a rendition of the worship song "Everlasting God" and am once again reminded that of all the things that concern me, take up my time, fill my calendar and often become "important," the only thing that matters, truly is God.

I exist for one reason - to bring glory to the Father.

It's a simple song with pretty basic lyrics.  I've sung it before.  Our worship choir and band have led us in this song on numerous occasions.  I even have the Chris Tomlin CD with that features the song.  So why today did it strike me?  I think like many, I just needed a reminder that . . .

Our God, You reign forever

Our Hope, our strong Deliverer

You are the Everlasting God, the Everlasting God

You do not faint!  You won't grow weary.

You're the defender of the weak.

You comfort those in need.

You life us (me) up on wings of eagles.

Wow!  Wow!  Wow!  What truth.  What a great reminder.  Here's praying you know this God who loves you dearly.  I pray that you experience Him today!  Know Him.

BTW - this version is by the Florida Worship Choir, led by Terry Williams of the Florida Baptist Convention.  What an image of multiple generations worshiping together focused on an audience of One.  (I love the guitar solo, too.  Yes, you can worship through a guitar solo.)

"So Who Gets To Eat The Cracker?" - Baptists, The Lord's Supper & Landmarkism

I received a question from a friend on Facebook earlier this week regarding the Lord's Supper (or Communion) in her church.  The question had to do with our church's rules on who gets to partake of the remembrance when we as a church observe this ordinance.  She asked "Do you allow only baptized by immersion believers to partake or all believers?"  This set off a discussion regarding Baptist polity, biblical understanding of the Lord's Supper and Landmarkism.

The discussion was good and the questions were honestly asked.  There was a true seeking of guidelines and a question regarding this very important ordinance.

I was reminded of one of my professors back at Southwestern years ago when he said "The most divisive thing happening in Baptist churches nowadays has to do with 'opened' or 'closed Communion.'"  I was shocked.  I had no idea this was such a divisive issue.  I had been a member of numerous churches as a child, being the son of an active Air Force dad, and I had never heard any controversy over this.  Of course, I was just a boy and any controversy would not have hit my ears anyway.

Apparently, the church my friend was attending had just observed the Lord's Supper and the pastor had prefaced the ordinance with the statement that it was only for "baptized by immersion believers."  That caused her to wonder why such an emphasis on immersion to partake.

Now, as a Baptist, I believe in the authority of Scripture and celebrate the autonomy of the local church. So, understand this, I am not saying the pastor was wrong in what he said.  However, in our church I invite all believers (i.e. born again Christians) to partake in the Lord's Supper as a remembrance for what He has done for us.  This would be considered "opened Communion" to some because we do not require partakers to be members of the church.  We do stress that the Lord's Supper is for believers only in that the ordinance is for Christians to "remember" what Christ sacrificed on the cross.  Non-believers do not have the relationship with God through Christ and therefore, do not have anything to remember.  

We do not have the "cracker and juice police" (my non-Baptist friends would have the "bread and wine police") overseeing who gets a cracker and cup.  We instruct people and then leave it to them to be honest.  The Scripture also says not to partake in an unworthy manner and if a believer is led to not partake due to unconfessed sin or failure to attempt to heal personal relationships, he or she may refuse to participate. 

OK, there's more to say about opened and closed Communion, but the question on Facebook led to why some churches would add rules that seemingly aren't Scriptural like this.  I answered that it hearkens back to Landmarkism.  Apparently, most folks do not know what this is, so I thought I'd clear it up a little with some church history.  Rather than restate what has already been written, I have chosen to share from the details of the Landmark movement in Baptist life.

Landmark theology, or heritage theology, is the belief among some independent Baptist churches that only local, independent Baptist congregations can truly be called “churches” in the New Testament sense. They believe that all other groups, and even most other Baptists, are not true churches because they deviate from the essentials of landmarkism.

Those essentials are 1) church succession—a landmark Baptist church traces its “lineage” back to the time of the New Testament, usually to John the Baptist; 2) a visible church—the only church is a local (Baptist) body of believers; there is no such thing as a universal Body of Christ; 3) opposition to “pedobaptism” (sprinkling of infants) and “alien immersion” (any baptism not performed under the auspices of a landmark Baptist church)—all such baptisms are null and void.

Another corollary belief is that only faithful landmark Baptists will comprise the Bride of Christ. Other Christians (non-Baptists) will either be the guests or the servants at the marriage supper of the Lamb. These other Christians are called the “family of God” or sometimes the “kingdom of God.” So, in heaven will be all the redeemed (the “family of God”), but only those who have been duly baptized by immersion (in an independent Baptist church) will have the special honor of being the Bride of Christ. The landmark Baptists use the story of the choosing of Isaac’s wife to illustrate God’s choosing of Christ’s Bride (Genesis 24).

Landmark Baptists consider church membership one of the highest priorities in life; in fact, being a member of a landmark Baptist church is second in importance only to one’s personal relationship with Christ. Because of their emphasis on local church membership (and their denial of the universal Body of Christ), landmark Baptists hold a closed communion; that is, only official members of their own local church are allowed to share in the ordinance of communion. No one, not even a Baptist, can partake of the Lord’s table away from his or her home church.

Landmarkism had its beginning in 1851, when a group of Southern Baptists met to oppose the liberalism creeping into their denomination. At issue was an “open” pulpit vs. a “closed” pulpit. Was it right to welcome non-baptized preachers from other denominations as guests in their pulpits? “Here are men,” they said, “who are not baptized according to the New Testament model, men ordained by churches that do not teach salvation by grace through faith, yet we are inviting them to preach as if they were true Christian ministers of the gospel.” Out of this meeting came the Cotton Grove Resolutions, the first articulation of the tenets of landmarkism.

The term landmarkism comes from Proverbs 22:28, “Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set” (KJV). Landmark Baptists also use Leviticus 25:23-34 as support for their doctrine. Just as the Israelites were not to “remove the ancient landmark” or sell, neglect, or give away their property, Baptists today are not to remove the theological “guideposts” that separate the church from the world. “The faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3) is their heritage. Landmark Baptists see themselves as safeguarding the purity of the church, as originally established in the New Testament. It is this purity which will be rewarded with being selected as the Bride.

The landmark Baptists’ original goal—to stem the tide of encroaching liberalism—was admirable. The problem is that landmarkism, in its attempt to fight error, has fallen into error of a different and more egregious kind—the misinterpretation of Scripture. Here are a few points that landmark theology fails to acknowledge:

1) The “one baptism” of Ephesians 4:5 is not a water baptism, but a spiritual one.

2) The church did not begin with John the Baptist but with the Spirit’s baptism on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 11:15-16).

3) The baptism of John is not sufficient for the New Testament church (Acts 18:24-28; also Acts 19:1-7).

4) The church is not just a local body but a worldwide entity comprised of all believers, with Christ as their Head (Ephesians 1:21-22).

5) Scripture lists three categories of people: unsaved Jews, unsaved Gentiles, and the church (1 Corinthians 10:32). The “family of God,” therefore, is not separate from the church.

The “Baptist Bride” churches, with their emphasis on the ordinance of baptism, are surely missing the point of 1 Corinthians 1:10-17. There, Paul rebukes the church for the schisms arising over who had baptized whom. Paul goes so far as to say, “Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” Strange words, indeed, if water baptism is what makes one part of the Bride of Christ.

I have good friends who fall into the Landmark camp.  They are Christian and I'm confident they love the Lord with all their heart.  However, I would not fall into this group.  Church membership is important. We do stress this.  However, much more important than church membership is membership in God's family.  Salvation through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is paramount.  Let's not miss the message by losing focus of what really matters.

Now What?

I just realized how many times in questions we ask the question "Now what?"  

Many today, after staying up watching election results, whether their candidate was victorious or not are asking this question.  This year, that question may have more meaning that in years past.  I was flipping between Fox News, local news and CNN last night watching results come in and one station showed a graph where the question was asked "Are you voting for a person, party or position or against a person, party or position.  The majority answered they were voting against.  So, do you think we have a polarized electorate?  Victory speeches were given. Concession speeches were given.  The end result was a chorus of "Now that this is over, we must work together for the betterment of the nation."  Good statements, but we hear that every election, don't we?

I believe in our electoral process and actually have two friends from long ago who entered into this world and were victorious last night.  Final numbers are not all in at this point, but it appears that both have been victorious.  One is moving to the House of Representatives in Washington, representing his district in Oklahoma (James Lankford.)  The other is moving to Austin to serve in the Texas House as a Representative from his west Texas district (Jim Landtroop.)  These are great men and yet they have a very heavy task ahead of them and while they, like others, have planned and politicked on what they will do, they are now expected to put feet to their words.  I'm praying for them and others in office.  I understand that no one is serving in a role of leadership in government apart from being placed there by the providence of God.  I also know some Christians that just have a hard time believing that God is truly in control.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  Romans 13:1 (ESV)

The "Now what?" question isn't reserved for politicians.

In Major League Baseball, the headline today is related to Cliff Lee.  Interesting that just a few days after the San Francisco Giants win the World Series, that the headlines are about a pitcher for the team they beat, the Texas Rangers.  The question that Lee is being asked is "Now what?"  He's a free agent and the baseball world is wondering where he will play next season.  He hints that he will stay with the Rangers, but also admits he will see what other offers are out there.  

This question is also being asked by thousands of high school seniors and their parents.  Believe me, I am asking this myself.  Though some students have their entire life planned following high school, most are still weighing options regarding college, military, or work.  

This question is being asked by many in our church regarding the announcement regarding moving our contemporary service to the main campus and shift from having a worship service at a satellite campus to growing our missional expressions in the community.

Our Jacksonville Baptist Association is asking this question as we seek to find the man to serve as our next Director of Missions.

The Florida Baptist Convention is asking this question collectively as the proposal from the "Imagine If Great Commission Resurgence Task Force" proposals are presented at our annual meeting next week.

The Southern Baptist Convention approved the denomination-wide GCR Task Force recommendation, but there's still the question floating out there "OK, we approved it. . .now what?"

There are many times we are faced with this question.  It's often when we are working toward a goal, whether personally, church-wide, or community-wide.  Once the goal is reached or the deadline comes, we struggle with what to do next.

It is at these times we need reminding that it is not all up to us to determine our next steps.  In fact, we're better off when we aren't making these decisions on our own.  

So, in light of this question being asked in so many venues, I go back to Scripture that gives us insight and a great reminder that our story has an author and He leads us in the "now whats" of life.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.  Psalm 119:105 (ESV)

The question now is "Are you in the Word and are you following His lead?"  It's a test of trust.