Friday, May 30, 2014

Pulpit Supply Ministry

Recently I overheard a conversation between two pastors discussing the difficulty to find someone to fill the pulpit on weekends when they are away from their church. This particular pastor is attending a large convention that takes place once a year and was in need of someone to fill in on that Sunday. Although I did not know either of these pastors I went out of my way to introduce myself and offered to fill in as a guest preacher so that this pastor could enjoy his convention and not worry about the sermon being preached that Sunday.

He took down my contact information and then reached out to me about a week later. This pastor did something that I recommend all pastors do when looking for a guest preacher. He requested a recording of a recent sermon preached, inquired about my doctrine and theology, and then I sent him a link to my blog. This is helpful for the pastor, the church, and the guest.

Pulpit supply is something that I enjoy doing for a few reasons. First, it is part of my gifting and calling from God. Second, crafting a sermon is something that you get better at over time and with practice. Third, until I am in a role that requires me to preach weekly or even regularly this is a good way to strengthen my preaching ability and bless smaller churches in need of a guest preacher that they can trust on any given Sunday.

If your church is in need of a guest preacher please feel free to fill out the speaker request form on the blog or email me directly. Upon request I will send you a recording of a recent sermon, a link to my general doctrine and theology, and any other information needed.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Avoiding the Appearance of Evil

This posts originally appeared on on May 26, 2011. 

One of the top things that makes the church look bad today and brings shame to the name of Christ is infidelity within the leaders of the church. This was captured quite well recently at the Advance the Church conference when Darrin Patrick started his talk with a serious tone by saying, "We will never accomplish what it is we are trying to accomplish here if we as men can't keep our pants on."

Most of us hear a statement like that and we immediately agree, but what are we doing to practical avoid the temptations and appearance of evil? If you are a man like me then you often make dumb decisions and you somehow allow yourself to get in situations that you should not be in that are not necessarily sin, but either the temptation is there or the appearance of sin is there.

The truth is that in someway we all allow ourselves to get into these situations and many leaders in the church have allowed themselves to get into these situations far too long, in some cases leading to the "fall" of their ministry and church. The reason I know this is because of how often you hear of a pastor or church leader cheating on their spouse with their secretary, choir member, or anyone for that matter.

I was faced with this own reality recently as my wife and I have been juggling our schedules with our son and occasionally we have to find someone to watch him. This particular afternoon it was a young female that I work with that is old enough to drive, but does not have a car. We asked her to watch our son until I got off of work, but we had also agreed to give her a ride to work. There was a five hour gap between when I finished work, when the sitter needed a ride to work, and when my wife finishes work. So what am I to do?

Some would say that this would be a harmless situation. Maybe so, but the appearance of sin is there as if I spent the afternoon at home it would leave me and a female, who is not my wife, at my house for five hours by ourselves. Now, the reality is that nothing would have probably happened, but the devil is smart, much more than we give him credit for, and in the moment of temptation anything can happen. Either way it would leave the appearance of evil as it would leave the two of us behind close doors for an afternoon with everyone around to wonder just what happened during that afternoon.

So what did I do? I left the house and spent the afternoon in a coffee shop reading. Call me extreme if you like, but it allowed me to be intentional in avoiding temptation and the appearance of evil. Yes, it can be tough to do this sometimes and maybe even make you look a little weird, but in the long run it is worth it.

We know that the devil is our adversary and he delights when we bring shame to the name of Jesus, but by fleeing temptation through the power of the Holy Spirit it allows us to bring glory to the name of Jesus. So I want to encourage you to be intentional about avoiding the temptation of sin before it ever even gets there because it has serious implications for whether we bring honor or shame to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Friday, May 23, 2014

On the Grace of God - Hymn Writer Isaac Watts

I have been spending time this week studying through the grace of God. It is important to recognize that apart from the grace of God, each of us is in an utter state of lostness. The grace of God is his love freely shown toward us, guilty sinners. Take some time read and reflect on the below hymn on the grace of God by Isaac Watts

But there’s a voice of princely grace
Sounds from God’s holy Word;
Ho! Ye poor captive sinners, come,
And trust upon the Lord.

My soul obeys the sovereign call,
And runs to this relief;
I would believe thy promise, Lord,
Oh, help my unbelief.

To the blest fountain of thy blood,
Incarnate God, I fly,
To wash my soul from scarlet stains,
And sins of deepest dye.

A guilty, weak, and helpless worm,
Into thy hands I fall;
Thou art the Lord, my righteousness,
My Savior, and my all.

~Isaac Watts 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

On the Importance of the Incarnation

In just a few weeks I will return to S. Asia for my first trip since moving back to the US. The purpose of this trip is to give a foundation of biblical counseling and to leave the two groups of pastors that we are working with the basic skills to do counseling from a biblical perspective. I am very excited about this trip and the pastor that I am traveling with is a beast of a counselor, definitely take time to check out his resources.

One of the sessions that I am leading is on the importance of the incarnation in the ministry of Jesus. For this session I will heavily rely on Hebrews 4:15-16: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Aside from the Bible one of my main resources in preparing is the book How People Change by Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp. Of the above passage from Hebrews Lane and Tripp bring out six things:

1.     God is not surprised by my struggle. He already sees the whole problem. It is precisely why he sent Christ to earth.
2.     The Bible is for people just like you and me. When the writer says that Christ was tempted “in every way, just as we are.” He is reminding me that the Bible speaks to ordinary people with all the familiar struggles of faith and character.
3.     Christ enters into my struggle. He has been there. He faced the full range of temptations that I do.
4.     Christ will help. I can be confident that I am not alone in my struggles. Jesus gives grace and mercy appropriately to my need just when I need it.
5.     Christ pleads my case to the Father. In all my struggles I have an advocate. He pleads to the Father on my behalf until I have been fully delivered from every temptation.

6.     I can come to God with confidence. I do not need to clean myself up or minimize my struggles. I can come as I am and receive what I need. In my times of struggle, I do not have to run from the Lord, I can run to him to receive what he alone can give.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Graduation Day and What's Ahead

It may have been a five year process, but graduation day from seminary finally came and brought a conclusion to my masters of divinity and masters of arts degrees. The day was everything that I had anticipated: emotion-filled, gospel-filled, and a day full of celebration with family and friends. Andrea even threw me a surprise party with part of our community from the Summit. 
The people most important to me in life, including my boys (not pictured), were there to witness me walking across the stage to receive the honor of these degrees. My wife, Andrea, receives every bit of congratulations as I do because she has sacrificed as much and probably more of her life for these degrees than I have. She was also my biggest supporter throughout, always encouraging me to continue on to finish well. This day would not have been possible without her by my side.
It was also great to have my parents in participation of the celebration as they provided the way for me to make it through my undergraduate degree, which allowed me to pursue graduate studies soon after finishing. My dad has always described his children's graduations as his way of winning the super bowl. He was extra excited this weekend as he said, "he won two." 
Many people have asked me about what is next now that we have returned from being church planters overseas and graduated. To be completely honest this season of my life has been a lot of waiting on the Lord to lead me in the right direction. I recently received an offer that the Lord told me to turn down, but there are a couple of other churches that I am in conversation at he moment. I do not want to say too much, but do ask that you pray for my family as we seek what the Lord would have for us this next season of life and ministry.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

6 Lessons from My Time in Seminary

    During the five years it has taken me to complete two masters degrees I have learned many lessons, enough to write a book or at least discuss over a french press. The six lessons below are more of a starting piece for those just entering seminary. Some of the lessons below were advice given to me and some I learned as I went through out my studies. If you have been to seminary yourself then please feel free to comment below with any additional lessons that you think would be helpful to mention. 

     1. Find a church community to be a part of quickly and stay there. Sadly, many times Bible College and seminary students can be the worst church attenders. This is because they fail to join in membership, which leaves them the freedom to attend when they feel like it and hop around. I would like to think that Southeastern students buck that trend, but I know that at least a percentage of students fall into that category. All it takes is a the new hip Acts 29 church plant to “launch” and one will see a herd of students fleeing one church to be part of this new church. Now, there are exceptions to the rule such as God calling someone into church planting and wanting to get experience at a plant, but many students just flee for the “cool” factor.

My wife and I attended three churches one time each and then became members of the Summit Church. This was one of the best decisions that we made because it called us to a higher commitment and accountability level within the body of Christ. Our local church also walked with us through the trials and hardships of seminary and equipped us and sent us out to South Asia.

2. Pick the best professors, even if they are the hardest professor for that particular area of study. I naively chose one of the hardest professors to take a Philosophy course with my second semester, but looking back I am so glad that I did. During my time in seminary I intentionally chose the best and hardest professors because I knew that the hard work was worth it and would benefit me in the long run.

3. Do not be afraid to ask questions and/or disagree with your professors in a grace-filled, biblical way. I will be the first person to tell you that I do not agree with every stance my seminary takes on particular issues, but neither do the professors. One thing that I appreciated about my seminary is that they would regularly bring in guest speakers that were from outside the denomination of the school. I always felt that my school was a safe place to ask questions, come to a different conclusion within the biblical realm, and express that in a loving way.

4. Be the best student you can possibly be, but be an even better spouse and parent. My first semester of seminary my theology professor told us that for some of us it would be a sin not to get an A in his course. He told others it would be a sin if we did get an A in his course. His point was that there is a balance to life and there are priorities that come before being a student. This caused me to strive hard for an A in most courses, but also led me at times to know that a B or even a C may be the highest I would be able to obtain based on being a husband and father first.

5. Do not neglect your personal time in the Word and prayer because of your studies. The temptation was often that because I was studying so many things about God’s Word that there was no need for me to study God’s Word. Along with this there is always the risk in seminary to become full of head knowledge, but void of heart knowledge.

6.  Start practicing and utilizing your gifts during your time in seminary. Some guys want to wait until they graduate, but in my opinion seminary is a great time to use your gifts. Practice them in your local church, start a gospel community, start serving with the city, and bringing the Kingdom to your city as it is in Heaven.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Thanksgiving for My Time in Seminary

This week marks the end of another new beginning for my family and me. After many years and much hard work I am finally walking across the stage (twice) and graduating with two masters degrees this week. First, I am graduating with a Masters of Divinity in International Church Planting from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Second, I am graduating with a Masters of Arts in Intercultural Studies from the College at Southeastern.

The journey and adventure of seminary was not an easy one, but an irreplaceable experience because of all that I got study, professors that I sat under, and the experience of a lifetime to be sent out as a church planter to South Asia. In many ways it was always a love/hate relationship, but mostly love.

I finished my M.Div. a year ago so in many ways to be graduating as far as the ceremony feels anti-climatic, but I just submitted my thesis for the M.A. recently, which now will allow me to graduate with both degrees. Earning two masters is never something I set out to do, but the right doors opened and I walked through them.

Regularly I have guys reach out to me and ask me whether or not they should attend seminary or if it is necessary to be in ministry. My typically response is that I wondered these same things myself six years ago so I slowly started and realized it is where I needed to be. At the same time though I do not believe that one must attend seminary to be qualified to be in ministry. Many other guys may disagree with me, but it is not biblical and many people in ministry around the world will never have the opportunity to attend seminary.

Looking back on when I started seminary as a young married guy with no children, life has changed a lot in the process. I have studied hard parts of Scripture that I would have likely never studied on my own. I have taken professors who I will forever be thankful for and whose books and blogs I regularly read. I have made friends that will last a lifetime. And I feel as if my equipping and preparation have really just started now, two masters degrees later.

Although one does not have to be part of the Southern Baptists denomination to attend Southeastern, I started and finished a member of a Southern Baptists church. I must give proper thanks where it is due. Thank you to the cooperative program for allowing me to receive half off of my tuition up front. Thank you to the Charles B. Keesee foundation for the scholarship of those like myself and covering the majority of the rest of my seminary expenses. Thank you to local SBC churches for giving to the cooperative program and Lottie Moon, which allowed us to serve with the IMB the last couple of years with most of our expenses and healthcare being provided. And thank you to my local church, the Summit, for equipping and sending us out in partnership with both Southeastern and the IMB.

I cannot say with certainty that this will be the last time that I will be a student in the traditional sense, but a break is in order for now as I seek out what is that God has for me next in life and ministry. Be sure to check back in this week as I blog on some other reflections that lessons learned through my seminary experience.  

Friday, May 9, 2014

Reflections Of A Cold Church Building

Recently I met with a group of pastors for an afternoon and during our time together I toured some of the facilities used by two of the pastors. Although I do not equate the church with the building, these pastors certainly do, but the strange part for me was that the aesthetics in the buildings were outdated and the buildings felt cold as if the buildings themselves were slowly dying along with these congregations.

As I toured the facilities, I thought to myself, “Do these churches still think that we are somewhere in the 1980’s?” And no, they are not intentionally doing it as someway to attract millennials with vintage furniture, decorations, etc. I saw things that have quite literally been in classrooms long before I was born.

The pastors themselves admitted that all three congregations represented are struggling greatly on some level, mainly to “make it.” Being much younger than these pastors I tried not to offer up too much advice other than when prompted, but it was hard not to since I have been equipping church planters and pastors for the last couple of years on how to have and sustain a healthy church.

Sadly, the physical state of these buildings and classrooms are a reflection on the body of Christ that uses these same facilities. They are on the decline; aging out, and soon will be dead if something does not put life back into them. In case you are wondering I am a guy who believes that sometimes a church just needs to die. Period. Quit holding on for life, stop waiting for the good ole days to come back, and die. But I also firmly believe in the revitalization of churches. I have been a member of a church for the past five years that this is a huge part of their story.

If you have been a reader of the blog any amount of time then you know that I do not put a big emphasis on the facility that a church uses because the church is the people, but at the same time I believe that the facilities we use should be presented in such a way to help reach the people. Buildings are just that buildings, but we should make the best use of what we have on a slightly attractional level to reach more people.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Form Relationships, Not Marketing Opportunities

Over the weekend I took a train to attend a local festival in the most hipster neighborhood in Charlotte. In recent months this neighborhood has become of much interest to me for a variety of reasons. It is probably the most interesting area of Charlotte that I have ever been. All within a five mile radius one can find public funding housing, the country club, and everything in between. This area is made up of hipsters, the low end of society, the wealthiest in society, and there are numerous ethnic groups represented.

Being in ministry and many conversations revolving around church planting and what it takes to reach certain communities I have started doing some research on the area. Charlotte is considered a fairly churched city, although there are still many needs and the need is growing as the look of the Charlotte population changes. This particular neighborhood has a local Presbyterian congregation, a Lutheran congregation, a United Methodist congregation, a couple of Baptists congregations, and a non-denominational congregation.

It is a good thing to have so many churches represented, but in my brief study I have started to wonder how well these churches are keeping up with their changing community. I cannot speak for all of them, but I know at least three of the above mentioned are struggling. This is a large reason that I attended this festival over the weekend, to observe how the four churches represented interacted and loved their neighbors.

It is not my place to speak for the community, but as an outsider I observed churches more concerned with marketing than forming relationships. I am not saying that everything that these churches did was wrong because I saw many good things, but overall I got the sense that they were more there to get their name out there, not form friendships by loving their neighbor.

Joe Thorn is spot on when he says, "A Christian will always have an agenda (actually, more than one) in every relationship. In my friendship with non-Christians I desire to and work toward sharing the gospel, seeing them come to faith in Christ, and join a healthy church. But I also desire to love them as a neighbor and be a good friend. My ultimate agenda is any relationship is to reflect the glory of God and his gospel. To this end I work at making friends in my city."

Aside from anything else, a key piece missing in these churches is valuing the forming of relationships over the marketing of their particular church. I am not saying that there is anything inherently wrong with marketing on some level, but at the expense at building relationships there is something wrong.

If we frame everything that we do with love through the forming of genuine friendships with those in our communities then you will not need to put much effort into your marketing because the gospel will speak for itself. Sure, you will still tell people about your church, likely invite them, and hopefully tell them about Jesus and the gospel, but within the realm of genuine friendships, which allow you to speak openly and freely.