Sunday, January 22, 2017

Reflections on Inauguration day

I spent a portion of Friday watching the inauguration proceedings. As I watched the proceedings, I found myself encouraged on by some statements that were made by our new president, and troubled by several as well. To a degree, that is to be expected. No person is all right, or all wrong, and so I should have expected that I would be encouraged and troubled at the same time.

As I think about the speech of our president, I think there are some things that are worthy of commending. What i saw in our new president is a heart for the rural and downtrodden regions, and blue collar workers that have been hurt by our current economic culture. He wants to see people put back to work, and to see struggling areas restored. He hears the pain of the rural and struggling regions, and wants their good. I was encouraged by that.

But I was also deeply troubled by some of the ideas and assumptions I heard, and as I thought about what troubled me, I realized that there were three core ideas that were embedded in the speech that troubled me above all. Set aside our policy differences, his morality issues, and all of the trust issues that surround him, when it came to the speech, there were three ideas from the speech that troubled me above all.

The first idea was that was troubling was the idea that “America united is unstoppable”. “When America is united, America is totally unstoppable”, President Trump declared. All I could think of was Babel. We can’t ascend to God, even if we think we can. The lesson of Babel is that we are always trying to attain a power and prerogative that is not ours. We are not Sovereign and almighty, he is. We stand humble before God. We are not almighty, he is. The only unstoppable force in the universe is the creator of the world, our Triune God. As R.C. Sproul states "No matter who is President, or who holds the house or the Senate, Christ holes the whole world in his hands".To allow any other assumption into our mind is dangerous, and foolish.

The second idea that troubled me in particular is the idea that “we share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny”. Nothing could be farther from the truth. America is not given any such promise. The promise of a glorious destiny belongs to the people of God alone, and is rooted in the reality that someday, we shall go before God and hear, “my beloved” and be invited into eternity with him. It is not rooted in anything we accomplish, and it does not belong to this or any other nation. At the root of this statement is what is sometimes called “kingdom confusion”. It’s assuming that what is true about God, and his people and his kingdom, is true about this nation and its leaders. We must not make this category mistake. We must not make the mistake of confusing the president and the nation, with Christ and the kingdom of God. The two are not the same. This is a crucial distinction to remember. On our best days, we face a temptation to give in to kingdom confusion, to think that America and its greatness are somehow synonymous with the kingdom of God, but we must not make that mistake of thinking that the fate of Christianity and the fate of America are linked. Ten thousand years from now the United States will be on the ash-heap of history, but the gospel will still hold its power. Kingdoms rise and kingdom’s fall. The kingdom of God our will last forever. We must not forget this truth.

The third idea that troubled me, and troubled me above all, was the assumption that total allegiance belongs to the state. The President stated "At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When i head that, it made me pause on the spot. Here's the problem. That statement holds an eerie resemblance to the demand Rome mad for total allegiance to Rome and Caesar. It's a demand that we cannot and will not accept, because we owe total allegiance to one name and one name alone, Christ. Christ is Lord and there is no other. The early Christians bled and died because they would not bow the knee to Caesar and give total allegiance to anyone but Christ. The knew that total allegiance does not belong to Caesar or any other earthy power, and that they could not give total allegiance to anyone but Christ. There can be be a temptation to allow our final allegiance to go to the wrong king. We must not fall into the trap of giving our final allegiance to the wrong king. We love this country. We serve this country. We joyfully call it our home for now, but we do not think that this nation, or any other nation deserves total allegiance. That belongs to Christ alone. Jesus said, "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and to God that which is God's" (Mark 12:17). We do not give what belongs to God to Caesar, or any other power, no matter how tyrannical or benevolent. Total allegiance belongs to Christ alone. That is true when the president is a scoundrel, or a hero. It is true every day. Total allegiance never belongs to anyone but Christ.

As we stand on the backside of the inauguration, I encourage you to pray for the nation, and seek its blessing, and prosperity. I encourage you to pray for the president, remembering the worlds of 1 Timothy 2:1-2, "First of all then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksfiving be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way". But along with this, I encourage you to know that God alone rules over the affairs of men, that eternity and a glorious destiny is not promised to this or any other nation, and that he, and he alone, deserves total allegiance.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Election Thoughts

The Nation has spoken. Donald Trump is president. As we stand on the far side of the most divisive election in decades, my question as a pastor and Christian is, how do we move forward as Christians? As people who name the name of Christ and want to see him glorified? Whether you voted for President Elect Trump, or for Secretary Clinton, or one of the other candidates, whether your candidate lost, or won, or never had a chance, how do you move forward?

I write this as someone who was a #NeverTrump voter, and refused to vote for either major party candidate. But the question is for all of us. How do we move forward, together? How do we act as the church on the back side of election day?

First, speak and act with respect.

8 years ago, as we came up I to the election of president Obama, I was listening to a news report, and the reporter referred to the president as Mr. Bush, rather than President Bush, and was sharply critical of President Bush. Soon after that, I heard a local talk show personality from a different perspective state that if one political candidate won, he would not call that candidate president, and do everything that he could to see that this man’s presidential agenda was undermined. That was in 2008, and things have just gone downhill from there. We have reached a point where it seems that respect and civility is dead when it comes to our political dialogue. Worse, many Christians do not act much different. We show much of that same disrespect. We often act the same way that those who are not Christians act, showing the same disrespect that those who are not Christians show. This cannot be. It cannot be, can saltwater and freshwater flow from the same spring, James asks? The answer is no. of course not. And the same goes for us, and what we say. We must speak and act with respect. 1 Peter pointedly remind us in 2:17 that we are to “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.” Paul echos this thought when he says in romans 13 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.  Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves… Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. 

Everyone means everyone, it means people, on both sides of the aisle. Gay. Straight. Old. Young. Man. Woman. Rich. Poor. Urban. Suburban. Rural. Black. White. Hispanic. Asian. Everyone.  Model grace, model dignity, model civility. Remember that we are called to bright red dots, spiritual salt and light in a dark world, and do not engage with hostility and disrespect. However you feel about the election, and however you feel about both the winner, the loser, and the parties of either, show a different path to the watching world.

Second, pray for the new president and pray for the nation.

On election night, I stayed up late, and reached the point where I couldn’t stay up any longer. At that point I said, “Four years ago I basically said congratulations to the president for winning the election again, and called on people to pray for the new president and honor him. Today we've elected a new president. Same thing folks. Congratulations to president elect Trump. Fear God, honor the king”, referencing Peters words in 1 peter 2:17. “I pray the he may find a way to unify the nation and heal its wounds. I pray he shocks me and leads well.” That call needs to be cranked up to ten. We need to pray, and keep praying, remembering the words of 1 Timothy, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone-- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness (1 Tim. 2:1-2)”.

But with this, we must pray for the nation. “When God wishes to judge a nation, he gives it wicked leaders”, said Calvin. The track record of both candidates was such that we were all but guaranteed a wicked leader, which means that we need to be praying for God to work in hearts and minds to transform this nation, knowing that apart from his mercy, we are going to experience his great and terrible judgment.

Third, work to extend grace but do not excuse evil.

Every president will succeed in some places and fail in others. Every one of us does. Remember that King David was a man after God’s own heart, the greatest king of Israel, and the progenitor of the messiah. And he had an affair, and then killed the husband of Bathsheba. Ever leader fails in some way shape or form. This will be true of every leader until the day that Christ restores the world and brings everything to complete submission to his perfect will.

But with that said, there cannot be a hint or a whiff of excusing racism, torture, misogyny, the mistreatment of others, and the like. Not one hint or whiff. We must be willing to call sin, sin, and be absolutely unflinching in our refusal to wink at or paper over moral evils. Right now, many are looking at the church, waiting to see if we will excuse the bad behavior of Donald Trump (or worse, join in), or if we will take seriously what the bible says about sin. 20 years ago, many Christian leaders rightly called Bill Clintons activities sin, and now many of these men turned around and excused it with trump. Other leaders rightly stood up and said, his words and actions are a problem. I’m trying to be cautiously optimistic. But, at the same time, I have no intention of excusing one bit of sinful, evil behavior.

Fourth, expect that Christians in America now have allot of repair work to do to our reputation.

Many are looking at the church, asking, how did a man with his moral track record end up with such an incredibly high number of believers voting for him? I believe part of the answer is that they believed the other candidate was worse. But, with that reality, we must understand that our reputation is in taters to a watching world.
Writer Jared Wilson of the Gospel Coalition rightly observes that 

There may have been no popular image more representative of this winning campaign than that of Jerry Falwell Jr. gleefully standing with Donald Trump in his office, Playboy Magazines prominently on the wall in the background”. He goes on, “Again, this may sound counterintuitive, since the candidate backed by what’s left of the Religious Right and the Moral Majority won handily last night. But what institutional evangelicalism has gained in a presidency it has lost, in my estimation, in gospel witness. And it’s not like this was hanging in the balance. Evangelical credibility was already circling the drain. It just experienced a decisive flush last night. Our new president had the full-throated support of the Klu Klux Klan and other white nationalist/supremacist groups, the conspiracy-obsessed tabloid alt-right, misogynistic shock-jocks, and . . . evangelical Christians? As the weeks went by and more of us became shocked by the kind of thinking — poor logic, poor theology, poor spirituality — on display from certain Christian Trump-supporters, it wasn’t so much a Trump ascendancy we feared but a certifying of evangelicalism’s biblical illiteracy and, thus, theological bankruptcy.

I said it before the election and I’ll say it now: most evangelical support of Donald Trump was hypocritical, double-minded. Character matters, except when it doesn’t. Biblical virtue matters, except when it doesn’t. When power and influence (and fear) are on the line, we will sell out in a heartbeat. The result is this: evangelicalism as an institutional movement has revealed itself to be exactly what the world has accused it of being all along. What will it profit the movement to gain the White House and lose its convictional soul?


He’s right. Which means we have an incredible amount of repair work to do.

Finally, keep your hope in Christ.

On the backside of this election, the world has not changed. Christ still rules. “He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. (Dan. 2:21-22). He makes clear that there is no salvation in politics. He tells us in his word that we are not to  “put our trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. He says in his word “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever” (Psalm 146:2-6). We must never forget this. On the backside of a crazy election we must remind ourselves of it regularly. Our only hope is found in Christ, the perfect king, who will right the world. We are citizens of his higher kingdom. Keep your hope in Christ, and Christ alone.



Monday, June 13, 2016

Orlando

Another mass shooting. I’ve lost track of the amount of them since I became a pastor. And I find myself thinking, I don’t feel like I have anything new to say. I really don’t. Nothing of substance. Nothing of note. There’s a constant urge to say something new. To get to the front and speak. But some days, you just need to mourn. Or stare at a tragedy until you find the capacity to mourn. These are 49 image bearers that no longer live. People who were made in the image of God, and had their lives snuffed out. We should be heartbroken by this.

But more than that, we also need to speak clearly on this as Christians. There is no place for violence against those in the LGBT community. Some are going to be tempted to say, they got what they deserve. No, they did not. No one deserves to be gunned down in cold blood. No one. I watched a pastor say that they deserved it. That kind of thinking has no place in the church.

Christians must not betray their own convictions on the subject of homosexuality. But Christians must never go beyond where the text takes us. There is no place for even considering justifying this. Murder is evil. This attack is sin. We must call it what it is, an assault on those who bear the image of God, and an evil to be decried.

The other think we need to do, is to guard against a temptation to use this to make an argument for our cause, whatever it is. There is a tendency to move to pet issues when something like this happens. It’s been evident in the news.

Shots fired. The shooter is Muslim. The problem is Islam.
Shots fired. The problem is guns.
Shots fired, God gave them what they deserved.

Sometimes, God allows us to look in the mirror and ask, “Where is our heart?” This weekend, different writers and politicians have put their spin on this and score political or social points. We must not do that.

The real question for us this day is, “Do you weep with those who weep, and mourn with those who mourn”.

This is a time when we must weep. Whatever our disagreements with the gay community, this is not the time to have that conversation. Many of them are scared and stressed. They worry that this will happen in their cities and neighborhoods. Will we love? Will we weep? Will we offer hugs and comfort? Will we hold up hope and say, we stand for your protection, safety, and best?
There is no place for violence against the gay community. No one should be physically assaulted because they are gay or lesbian. Pray for the peace of Orlando, and pray that in this moment, they receive not our begrudging nods that this is bad, but real, true heartfelt compassion.

Let me end this, with a prayer. I did not write it. My friend Brandon did. It appeared originally at his blog.

O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. (Habakkuk 1:2-3)

Gracious Father,

As we wrap our minds and hearts around this weekend’s tragedy in Orlando—the murderous rampage of an Islamic terrorist targeting the LGBT community—we’re shocked by the magnitude of callous hatred, devastated by the sweeping loss of life, and reminded yet again that this world is severely and sickeningly broken.

Moreover, we confess that at times like this we wonder where you are and why this happened. This is not how your world is supposed to work. Human life is precious to you—every soul made in your image. Our hearts break at the thought of cries for help going unanswered amid the attack. We mourn with the families and friends whose lives have been forever changed through such wanton violence. And we join their cry, “How long, O Lord?”

How long will violence go unanswered?
How long will fear and hatred rule our culture?
How long until you bring an end rebellion and sin on this earth?

We know that moments like this are not times for explanations, but first and foremost for grief and mourning. And so raise our voice in lament over this tragedy.

And yet we know that even when it doesn’t feel like it, you do hear our prayers. You do see the violence committed on earth. And you have promised to act. The day will come when you will bring the ungodly to justice and wipe every tear from our eyes. A day when mourning will cease and death will be no more. And we have confidence in that day because you have already acted to establish justice, conquer death, and offer mercy through the life, death, and resurrection of your eternal Son, Jesus Christ. In Christ there is hope, and in that hope we pray:

WE PRAY for the victims and their families, those for whom this is not some distant news story, but a personally crushing blow. We ask that you hold them in their grief, and comfort them in their loss, anger, and devastation. Fill them with a comfort that can only come from your Son.

WE PRAY for justice for the perpetrators. Not only for the gunman, who now awaits your divine judgment, but for the culture of death that radical jihadist Islam has fueled in this world. Would you open blind eyes to the evil of this corrupt and corrupting system. For those who are attracted to the idea of worshiping god through murder and hate, would you convict them of sin and open their eyes to the truth, forgiveness, and new life of Christ.

WE PRAY for those in the LGBT community, upon whom a shroud of fear has now descended through this weekend’s tragedy. No person deserves to live in fear of their life being taken, especially because of something like sexual orientation. Would you remind each person that they are fearfully and wonderfully made, precious in your sight, and loved by their Creator. Would you work in our world to bring about changes that protect and honor the dignity of all human life, regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, developmental ability, or age. Would you help those in the LGBT community to look to you for strength and security, and not to what this world can offer. Guard their lives and guide their steps to a love and security that nothing in this world can take away—the love and security of new life in Christ.
WE PRAY that our churches would be places of safety and love for the LGBT community, and that our Christian witness would be one of hope and not hatred. May we not let our differences of conviction about sexuality and marriage allow us to tolerate hatred or withhold dignity and respect. May we stand united against hatred and terror, and work together for the protection and preservation of all human life, even as we continue to hold out the life-changing message of the gospel.

WE PRAY, finally, that our Lord Jesus Christ would come again. We long for the day when Christ himself will “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). Come Lord Jesus.

In Christ’s powerful name, Amen.







Wednesday, March 23, 2016

God loves Medfield 2016

“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper," God told the exiles in Babylon through the prophet Jeremiah (29:7). One of the core values of the church, is that we exist for the building up of the community, and the good of world around. We don’t exist for ourselves, or to seek our own ends, but the good of the world around, remembering that the one that sent us, didn’t look out for his ends, and his wants desires and needs, but ours. One of the ways that we do this, is through God Loves Medfield.

So, What is God Loves Medfield? That’s the first question that comes up when we talk about God Loves Medfield is, what is it? God Loves Medfield is an initiative that we take part in with Church of the Advent, and other partner groups, to bless and serve the community. In essence, there’s two parts to it.

First, we clean up the community. I am hoping, ambitiously, to see at least a 100 people out all across Medfield, cleaning up parks, the Charles River where it crosses into Millis, and more. We are partnering with Medfield Green, the regulars from the Charles River Cleanup, the Boy and Cub Scouts, and others in this. After, we will be having a community celebration. Food will be from “RockNRoll RibJoint”, and there will be bounce houses, games, and fun. It’s going to be a great day of service and celebration.

With this come another question. What are we trying to accomplish? The first part of that answer, is that we are not out, to just make First Baptist great. We exist for the good of the world, and this is not about us, but the good of the community. But the rest of the answer is that there are four primary aims in my mind.

  • First, I’d like members of the community of all age and lengths of tenure to rub shoulders, work together, and build relationships. One of the best parts of God Loves Medfield last year was introducing myself to people while pulling debris with them, and putting up bounce houses with them. We had a great time working, and getting to know each other, and that has led to some neat relationships. I know others had the same experience.
  • Second, I hope to see us get real work done. As I write this, I hear the beeping of the snow removal vehicles dealing with what I pray is the last storm of the winter. We’ve had a mild winter, but there is still debris, be it lawn debris, branches, leaves, or trash of various kinds all around. It’s the nature of winter. And I’d like to be getting real work done as we act as stewards of the environment that God has given us, starting here at home.
  • Third, I want us to bless the community by highlighting areas of need. At the community celebration last year, we had Medfield Green, and the Lowell Mason House do presentations on what they are doing, and highlighted the needs that they have. This year, I hope to have Medfield Green back, but I’d also like to shine the spotlight on other groups, as a way of serving the overall community.
  • Finally, I want us to share God’s love. We are doing this, in God’s name, and under the auspices of God Loves Medfield, because we want this to be more than just a community cleanup day, it’s a way of communicate the love of Christ for the world, through actions, through relationship  (both  existing and newly formed), and, through the sharing of the gospel. Last year, we gave a light touch time of sharing the gospel, that’s part of it.


The last question is this is, How can you help?
  • First of all, save the date and plan on helping out that day. Clear April 30 from 9-3.
  • Second, spread the word. Share Godlovesmedfield.com. Like, and then give shares from God Loves Medfield’s Facebook page. Invite friends. In addition to newspaper and web communication, we’re also going to have invitation cards to hand out. Take some and invite people to come.
  • Third, volunteer. Volunteer to help in the planning, and the working. We’re going to need to have a dedicated team taking the lead in all kinds of areas, from being site coordinators, to helping setup the bounce houses and community celebration, to serving food, and serving in countless ways.
  • Fourth, wrap your head around the motivation for this. If you are a Christian, or someone that see's yourself as a church person, don’t see this as a way to recruit people to come and be part of the church, but make it about loving and serving the community and as the Lord gives you opportunity, sharing the love of Jesus. If people see us coming out, and just making this about us, it’s going to be off-putting, and make us less effective, not more. Really work to understand the biblical motivations, and serve in a winsome selfless way that is not about saying, hey look at us, but hey look at Jesus and his call.
  •  Finally, pray, pray, pray. Pray that relationships are built. Pray that the community is blessed, that those in need are served, that the gospel may be communicated as a result of this work, and that in all, God will be glorified.



Living as Resurrected People in a Challenging age

Sometimes you think the headline is a joke. The headline read “Christians banned simply for being Christian”. The article from Australia, went on to talk about how the University of Sydney Union for students had given the Evangelical Union two weeks to change its constitution to allow non-Christians to be members, or face deregistration. Basically, this is saying that the equivalent of Intervarsity or Navigators must stop asking that the members or officers to be Christians (could you imagine how that would go down if a school asked the local atheist club to stop asking that its members- not those coming to the meetings- the members and officers, don't have to be atheists?).

The whole request, and many more like it that we see here in the United States, are somewhat absurd, but they are just one part of a larger story, the story of the increasing marginalization of Christianity in the modern western. Christianity one lived at the center of the Western culture. It founded Modern Western Civilization as it exists today. The beliefs and ideas of Christianity provided the intellectual framework that undergird Modern Western civilization, and because of that, its institutions and leaders were looked at and revered. And yet, for a variety of reasons, Christianity, and Christians with it, find ourselves not at the center of the culture, but on the outside looking in, feeling like exiles in our own homeland. And the question is, “how we will then live?” As people called by the gospel for the glory of God, as people called to live as “Aliens and strangers”, people whose citizenship is “kept in heaven for you”, people who are equipped and sent out by the fact that Christ rose, how will we then live? How will we live when we are not the majority living in the promised land, but the exiles in Babylon and the diaspora, spread out in a land not our own (or our own any longer)? How do we live, when we’re not the majority, but the minority, and worse yet, part of a hated minority?

The Scriptures are rife with resources to answer this question. They tell of Esther, a young women in a foreign land, being called to be the queen of Persia. They tell us of Daniel, the righteous young man who is called to serve the empire who has conquered his homeland. They tell us of God’s word to the exiles through the pen of Jeremiah, and more than that, they show us how the early church, pressed by Jewish religious leaders on the one hand, and the Rome on the other hand, pushed out into the world, and loved and served and blessed the world, even as they lived as exiles.

Over the next few months, we’re going to explore what it means to live as the minority for glory of God as we continue to think about what it means to be aligned by orthodoxy, as a church and the people of God. We’re going to do this, by looking specifically at the Jeremiah 29, the first half of Daniel, and by ranging through the Bible from there as we think about the call of God to us.

And what we will see, is not the approach of hiding in the shadows, as people who felt like they had drained the cup of bitterness to the dregs and now just wanted to curl up and protect themselves, but a people who were out, living and engaging the world around with gusto for the glory of God.

We live in tumultuous times. There may have never been a more challenging time in this country’s history to be a Christian, but we have been called, like Esther, for “such a time as this” I’m looking forward to this series, and to exploring with you the question of how do we live not as the majority but the minority, for the glory of God.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Keeping the Main Things the Main Things

In the back of my journal, I have a series of quotes and verses written down. Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever (Question 1 from the Westminster Catechism). John 3:16. The Gospel Changes everything (Tim Keller). When I am weak, then I am strong. It’s disciple-making stupid (Me). God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Unless the Lord builds the house, the labor is in vain. Pray without ceasing. Never, never, Never give up (Churchill).

Why are they there? They are a reminder to me that I need to keep the main things the main things. We are all prone to mission drift. We are all prone to letting things pile up in our lives to the point that they clutter our lives and our souls. It’s so easy. We take our eyes off what is truly important, and allow the irrelevant or even somewhat good to crowd out the really good and truly important. We collect activities and stuff and good things the way a hoarder collects trophies and trinkets, because we say, “What a deal”, “It’s a good cause” or use any of a hundred excuses not to say no. And before we know it our schedule books (or Apps) and to do lists look like the collision of 100 forces at once, our attics look like they could double for a storage locker or the transfer station, and we feel like we are living in chaos and disorder.


Which is why we have to continuously and constantly be asking ourselves “Is this important?” Do I need to do it? Do I need it? Does it help? We need to take work a page out of Google's playbook. They are a fascinating example of keeping the main things the main things. They vigorously resists the temptation to allow other things to distract from the main mission of search. If you go to Yahoo’s home-page, you have the search feature, news, different interest items, and etc. It’s cluttered and busy. Go to Google, and it’s all but empty. Up in the corner of the page, there is a little box line with the other stuff they do. At the bottom is a footer with a few things. But what confronts you is a clean white page with a search box, because they have a corporate commitment to not lose sight of what is truly important.

If we don't resist this temptation, we quickly feel like the pain, and usually encounter that distinct sense that we barely keeping our heads above water. And worse, we fail to do the things that we really need to do, because everything else has crowded them out.

I saw a vivid illustration of this recently. A group of church members went into the attic of the church, and cleaned it. It was out of control, it hadn’t been organized in ages, stuff had been stuck in any old place, and old stuff was on top of even older stuff. It was an illustration of what happens if you don’t work to keep what is important and let go of the rest. We took 5 truckloads of stuff to the dump. We found stuff dated 1978 in there (I was born in 1979), stuff that looked like it hadn’t been touched since then. It had become chaos, and the space had become unusable.

So we exercised our pitching arms, and purged. It was an almost spiritual act of letting go of the clutter. We kept the important things. We kept what was needed, the good and the valuable and the useful. We kept and honored that. But the rest we let go so that the space could actually be used again for something productive and God glorifying.

Are you working to keep the main things the main things? We need to be continually doing that in our lives as we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Examine your life and work to do it. If need be, find tools to help you. Someone recently showed me an activity grid that I have found helpful. On the side it says urgent, and not urgent, and on the top it says, important, not important. It’s a helpful grid for asking, do I need to do this?



Too often, rather than staying in the urgent and important, or not urgent and important boxes, the urgent and not important rules the day because it is urgent and calls the loudest. We need to make sure that we stay in the important boxes. Praying every day may not feel urgent, and sometimes it doesn’t feel important, but it’s far more urgent and of far more importance than almost anything else we do. Getting in God’s word doesn’t always feel urgent, but if we’re not careful, we’ll starve ourselves spiritually. If we’re too busy to pray, or read God’s word, too busy to really feed our souls, or worship, or share the gospel, and be emissaries of God’s love, and if we’re too busy to love and care for our spouses, or kids, and to take care of our responsibilities there, then we need to reassess things, and make sure that we’re keeping the main things the main things, and let go of the things that need to go.

Work to keep the main things the main things. When we attend to what we should attend to, we can be used. When we allow everything to crowd in, it’s a mess. We are about to enter the Holiday rush. Thanksgiving and Advent are staring at, and in the next two months, there will be a million things to do. As you enter this season, let go of what needs to be let go of, and keep the main things the main things, for the glory of the Christ, and the good of your soul.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Profound Sadness

I feel a profound sadness right now. I see Christians losing their minds. I see culture, and even Christians, calling what God calls evil, "good". I see Christians trying to argue that abortion is “an option”, and saying that calling it murder is just “your interpretation.”

Let me set the record straight. Calling abortion murder is not an interpretation; it’s a pretty accurate description of what happens. A life is ended. What else do you call that? A procedure? Its nothing less than a monstrous evil.

John Calvin, the Swiss theologian, commenting on Exodus 21:22-25, observed "The fetus, though enclosed in the womb of its mother, is already a human being (homo), and it is almost a monstrous crime to rob it of life which it has not yet begun to enjoy. If it seems horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man’s house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a fetus in the womb before it has come to light."

Some will try to say, "look, the bible says nothing on this". That's a lie. The bible has a great deal to say when it comes to the unborn. It says that God knits us together. He creates our “inmost being”, and knits us together in our mother's womb. (Psalm 139:13). It tells us that he knows us before he forms us in the womb (Jeremiah 1:5 ). It says, “If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. (Exodus 21:22-25). In other words, if there’s no harm, pay a fine for bad behavior. If you kill the baby you die, because you took a life. More than that, it says, let the little children come to me (Mark 10:14). Come to me. Not let the little children come to the abortuary. If we are to let the little children come to Jesus, let’s all agree that they have to make it out of the womb to do so. Above all, it says, “you shall not commit murder (Exodus 20:6).

It does not leave open the door for murder. I know this is not a popular opinion in our culture, but the bible says, no to abortion. It’s not up for debate. It’s not up for discussion; it’s not, my interpretation. The bible doesn’t leave you the option. It says, you shall not murder.

And if you say, how do we know when life begins. Stop. Just stop. Stop and consider how old Jesus was when he and john met in utero. 1 week? 2 weeks? Max three weeks. It may have been days. The angel shows up to Mary, and tells her, "You’re going to carry the son of God". She takes off and goes to visit Elizabeth. How long does it take to walk from Galilee to Judea? What’s the timeline on that? It’s not long. Don’t say, we don’t know. When the egg and the sperm meet, under normal circumstances, unless something goes tragically wrong, you’re going to have a child. You’re going to have a human being made in God’s image and likeness. Don’t you dare murder that child. That child deserves your protection. It deserves to be treasured and loved. It doesn’t deserve your saying, “it’s a choice”. Adoption is a choice. Parenting is a choice. Murder is not a choice. It’s an abomination. These children deserve our care.

The early Christians knew this. That’s why they would trawl the Tiber looking for babies to pull out. They knew that the practice of throwing them in the river was evil. They knew that exposing children was wicked. Because of that, they would find them, and raise them as their own, which is no small thing. They made it a point to care for those that the culture threw away. They adopted them and raised them. They taught them to love God and live for him. They did this because they knew that they were made in God’s image, and to be treasured.

You know what abortion is? It’s child sacrifice. It’s saying, “I’m not ready. I didn’t plan this. it doesn’t fit my lifestyle. It will ruin my plans for the future. It will make me drop out of school, or upend something... therefore I will kill it”. What is that other than just feeding your children to the god of money and success? “My life won’t have the standard of success I wanted. I won’t have the lifestyle I wanted. Therefore I will murder my child”. What is that? It’s nothing more than money worship. We should protect the least of these, not murder them.

Let me tell you about a child who would have made a great candidate for abortion. His name is baby J. He’s my sister’s son. His mom and her husband where on the rocks. It looked like they were going to get a divorce. One last sympathy screw because it’s easier to do this than not. The marriage was toxic; she was on her way out. And then she got pregnant. What to do? She’s looking at single motherhood as a real option. A baby could stall her career. It would be hard. He’s become one of the main joys of her life. Think carefully. Would you advise her to murder this child now? The marriage isn’t good by any means. It’s better, not good. Would you advise this? That’s what you’re talking about.

I don’t even want to go into the sale of body parts. That’s whole different issue. Planned Parenthood has descended to the level of the Nazi’s. They sipped beer and wine while dealing with the Jewish problem. Planned Parenthood looked awfully similar this week.  Eisenhower made the Germans go look at the concentration camps to see what they allowed in their backyard. Maybe we should do the same. I don’t know.

But I do know this. If you are a Christian and you have called this a choice. Y ou need to repent. Repent right now. Get in your bible, read it. Read it again. Read it again. Look at the ethic it holds up. Don’t pick, choose, and twist the scriptures to fit your whim, or the whim of the culture, see the pattern. See that it says, "We are made in God’s image". People to be treasured. People to be protected. See that it says, God you shall not murder. Repent of being silent.

If you have had an abortion, repent. There is no sin that is unforgivable. David murdered Uriah. he was forgiven. There is not sin that is unforgivable. Whoever you are. Wherever you are, look at abortion, and repent.

And then fight it. It’s an evil stalking our land. Fight against it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Tread carefully

Have you ever had a situation where you thought, “I’ve seen something, I’ve found something. Something that I have to tackle. I have to speak now”? A word of Advice. Take a second look, and tread carefully.

Recently, I had that experience. I deferred my taxes due to some of the things going on in our family’s life. As I was slogging through the paperwork, what I was finding was that the numbers were not adding up. I looked at them, I looked at them again, and as the night went on, I just kept staring at it, not sure what I was seeing, thinking it was bad.

I eventually gave up and went to bed frustrated and a little scared. I thought I had to speak to the church leadership and say that the churches 72 year old secretary and treasurer (whom I have come to love deeply) had made a major, potentially job costing mistake. No one wants to do that. After all those years of service, she should get the privilege of retiring gracefully. But it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. As I looked at it, it seemed that there was a difference of several thousand between the pay documents and my 1099.

The next morning, I kept studying the documents. Thinking, I must have missed something. Then it hit me. I was looking at the debit column, showing what came about and came to me, but there was also a credit column, where mistakes that had been made, were corrected. Money out, money back in. I looked, and looked again, started to breath, got out my calculator, and carefully tallied everything up. They all lined up. Hallelujah, thank you God, crisis averted. She had done her job right.

As I breathed easier, I started to thank God for his blessing. Can you imagine what would have happened if I had taken this to the board and accused and then been shown wrong? First, I would have looked like an idiot who couldn’t read a document. Second, I would have unwittingly slandered an innocent person. Third I would have damaged a relationship that I care deeply about. Fourth, I would have critically damaged my reputation as a leader and a trustworthy voice on anything. But finally, I would have critically wounded my church. Factions would have formed, sides would have formed, before the facts were looked at, and when they were, so many would have been hurt emotionally.

But I also started to ask, what can we learn from this? What can you and I learn from this. Tread carefully. Be slow to assume, examine and re-examine, and always think before you speak. When you think you see something, be completely sure. Analyze the facts carefully. What you see may not be the real situation. So often we think we see something and then we charge ahead. This is the basic approach of most of the news media, create a narrative, build hype, "Who cares about what really happened?" Go with the story. Whether you are a business leader, a church leader, someone who works in a factory, a teacher, whatever you are, before you speak, you need to really know the facts. You need to try to get the facts nailed down cold before you put your finger on something. Christians are called to “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (Jam 1:19 NIV)”. But additionally, you have the responsibility to use wisdom and discernment, to be wise as serpents and innocents as doves, and part of that is carefully examining the facts, to seek the Lord’s leading, and only then, if the situation warrants it, speak. 

Along with this, there is a lesson on attributing motives that may or not be there. We have to assume the best intent, and then wait for the evidence to come down one way or the other. When we think we find something. We can’t fly off the hand. We can’t causelessly assume the worst and attribute ill motives. We can’t do that. It’s a failure to love. A failure to see people as ones made in the image of God and loved by God, and therefore, worthy of our respect. If we attribute ill motives, we will take ourselves into a pattern, and find that we are living in a place of constant mistrust. Assume the best in people. Give them every chance to succeed. If you do, they might surprise you. 

I’m thankful that I kept looking. I’m thankful that it turned out that the secretary and church treasurer did her job well. I’m thankful that I looked and analyzed the situation. But most of all, I’m thankful that God protected me. My hope and prayer is that we all have the wisdom to continually take the steps necessary, and tread carefully.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Heartbreaking Celebration


On Saturday, I attended the 350th anniversary of First Baptist Boston. I left with a broken heart. It is the 3rd church founded in Boston, the 5th Baptist church ever planted in America, and one of the most historically important churches in the nation, and it is literally falling in on itself. The experience of visiting the church was absolutely heartbreaking. When you walk in you are immediately captured with the grandeur of the front of the sanctuary. It’s amazing. The organ towers upward and you are transfixed with awe. The stage is amazing, beautiful, and everything you’d expect in a great, historic church that has faithfully proclaimed the gospel and stood for century upon century.

But then you look around. The woodwork has not been maintained and is decaying. The stained glass is coming apart in places. There is evidence of water damage everywhere you look. At least one of the pillars is massively decaying. The ceiling shows signs of leaking in dozens of places and the sections of the ceiling are gone, exposing bare wood. The walls are all wracked with water damage, and you can see the lathes behind the plaster in many places. Nowhere is this more evident than when you stand in the pulpit and look out and see a gaping hole where the plaster is peeling back. The floor is no better. The carpet is decaying and threadbare, and the marble under the pews is cracked and broken. All around, there are signs of decay. Historic paintings have been damaged by water. The side chapel reveals more peeling paint and decaying plaster. On and on it went. I’d estimate that the damage I saw is in the 10’s of millions. In short order, you feel like you are standing in the presence of death, while the (paid) choir sings on.

But, by and large, that’s secondary to the true problem. When you look around, you realize that the building is a reflection of the state of the congregation. There are not many people there. There were less than 50 people there for the 350th anniversary of one of the moist historically important churches in the country. The membership has dwindled, and so has the impact of the church on the community, and the American Baptist Church of Massachusetts.

What I left thinking is that "this is what happens when a church loses sight of its mission. Its mission is to make disciples. Its mission is to proclaim the gospel and bring people to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and lead them to live for His glory. And when it doesn’t do its mission everything else rots. What I saw at First Baptist Boston is a great love of the church. There is something laudable in their love for their church. One gentleman lived in Florida and still comes back every other Sunday because of his deep love of the church. I truly enjoyed my conversations with the members of the church But there is also real decline. It is clear that the church has become inwardly focused. They are not making disciples right now. Everything that I heard was about the history, what we have done rather than what we are doing. It sees itself in light of its history, rather than who it currently is. Like the church in Sardis, which lived in a city that loved its history but did not see that it is already dead, and reflected the heart of the city in its thinking, FBC Boston is shaped more by the past than the present. This was illustrated when someone quietly told me that “they don’t call pastors, they hire them”. The difference is everything. One is calling someone to lead them to be a church faithfully proclaims the gospel and glorifies God. The other is hiring someone to do what you tell them. When people insinuate that this is your approach, and when the stories they whisper about you are about power plays and the church being like a non-profit you’re in trouble, because you’ve lost sight of your task to be a gospel centered, disciple making, God glorifying church. 

But, just as in Sardis, that is not the last word. I left heartbroken. I also left hopeful. The president of the ABC, Donald NG, spoke on two passages. He spoke on Ezekiel 37 where Ezekiel sees the valley of the dry bones and is commanded to prophecy to it. He also spoke on 1 Peter 2, and how we are living stones, living stones that can be built up once more. And as I look at it, therein lies hope. The hope of the gospel. Because the church is living stones, built up, with Christ, the living Stone, rejected by men as its corner and capstone. We are built up in Christ.  
 
As I was reflecting on Doctor NG’s sermon, I couldn’t help but think about what Jesus says to the church in Sardis. After delivering blistering news that they were dead, that they needed to "wake up and strengthen what remains, remember what you have heard and keep it, and repent”. He also says, “You have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels”. What Jesus is saying is that some in Sardis needed to repent. They are Christians (that is the implication of the fact that they “have not soiled their garments) but they need to repent. But some are not. They have soiled their garments. To them He says, become Christians. “He who overcomes will, like them (the unsoiled), be dressed in white”. He makes them an offer to come to Him. For all those reasons, I am hopeful. I am hoping that God can and will move. 

The church has atrophied. I don’t know the spiritual state of those there. It may be that God has been pruning it, and is preparing it to be led by the current interim to reset and reach out in a new way, and that God uses the membership is there to reach the city with the gospel. It may be that He is bringing them to a point where they will turn and ask a young replanter to come serve, and invite that pastor to go to plant, replant, and revitalization minded churches, and ask for them to help by sending people to be part of a core team to that begins to rebuild the church, much in the way that the exiles had to gather a group to go and rebuild Jerusalem. It may be that they will not follow their pastor’s wisdom (and their current pastor is very wise- of course I'm biased, he was a professor of mine), continue to decline, and spiral to death. I don't know what God is going to do or will do in the future. But I do know that when God says to the church in Sardis, and to all of our churches, that He has not found their deeds "complete in the sight of my God", He is giving us all a powerful impetus to look at our church and ask, "What is decaying", "What is dying" And "how can we strengthen what remains in our churches, so that real whole life disciples who connect to the gospel and live out of the gospel in all of life are nurtured?" "How can we glorify God in our Church?" May we ask these questions, so that in the end, we will be living stones who are built up in Christ for the glory of God.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Sacred Programs

I’ve been thinking about the things that churches, our and all churches, have to do, and do well.

Churches needs to gather and worship- to sing, to pray, to preach, and to celebrate the sacraments. Churches need do outreach that make new Christians. This has to happen both locally and globally. Locally, it can include everything from fun or service events that just build relationships and have a long term goal of getting people to move into each other’s spheres, to events with deep and strong gospel presentations where we actively seek to see people trust Christ with their life. It also may include individual outreach, church outreach, and even the support of local missionaries. Obviously, it encompasses a great deal. Globally, it can include everything from mission’s trips to the funding of missions organizations and missionaries to something else entirely.

Beyond this, Churches need to teach and equip the saints so that they grow as followers of Christ. This is true for both adult and children. For a Church to be healthy there has to be some kind Christian education happening, so that people of all ages can connect their faith and their life. That can be done through small groups, Sunday school, youth group, new member’s classes, adult or children’s catechism, or other things. The key is that we have to be teaching people of all ages the truths of gospel and the implications of the gospel, and how to apply the truth of the gospel apply to every area of their life so that they are whole life disciples.

Furthermore, they need to care for the congregation in times of need. The sick need to get visited, people have to be met with and spiritual condition checked on. The grieving need to be ministered to, etc. Moreover, they need to develop and train leaders. Without good leadership, a church will struggle, at best.  Along with this, there needs to be real fostering of healthy community. Finally, they need to have some sort of an administrative system so that they can care for the infrastructure and the property that are owned (if it owns property), manage the finances, pay the bills, and the like.

This is a big list. There are other things that are important. But these are the most important. But while this is a big list of things, I want you to notice something. None of these are programs. Programs are forms and structures. These are functions; things that need to be done and ends that result in the great end, the glorification of God.

The distinction is important. Often, we think of programs and structures as the ends, but programs and structure serve these things, not the other way around. Programs and structures and activities come and go. They can be picked up, used, and laid aside, as long as they accomplish their ends. While we sometimes fret over the forms, they are ultimately not the thing that is primary. Sometimes we have a beloved program that we feel really strongly about. But if it doesn’t accomplish its function, it’s time has passed.

Why am I bringing this up? Because one of the things we need to understand is that as a church overhauls, it has look at everything, and do it with a baseline assumption. No committee, program, or structure is totally sacred. When a church makes a program sacred, the end is in sight, because we lose sight of what is truly important.

We can’t make that mistake. We may love a program or structure, we may have strong attachments to it, but if its outlived its usefulness, it will be replaced with something that will accomplish the function. So for instance, for the last several years at my church, we have had separate Bible studies for men and women. This developed organically and worked for awhile. This year, it floundered. What should my church do? We may need to examine another option, because in the end, the aim is the education and development is followers of Christ. The form isn’t important, the function is. As a church seeks to be effective for the glory of God, it has to keep its eyes on what is truly important, release what needs to be released, implement what needs to be implemented, and do the things that it needs to do so that it may see God glorified and lives transformed by the gospel.

Friday, October 24, 2014

From the Newsletter . . . Lions and tigers and bylaws... O my

During our most recent Executive Committee meeting, the topic of our Bylaws and organizational structure came up, and the decision was made to begin to redo them, because, in the words of Dan Nye, our moderator, “they haven’t been working well for ten or fifteen years”. The key problem is that they were written for a church at a different size than ours. They were written for a church of 250, not 25 to 35. To try to comply with them, we have people wearing two and three hats, and if we had not just decided to have the Deacons and the Exec meet together as a single board (since every member of the Deacons was also wearing at least one other hat that required that they be there), they would be running to multiple meetings a month. Some people could have a meeting a week (or more) if we were where trying to function as our Bylaws call for. There are other problems with the Bylaws (I for one think that they should include a church statement of faith), but this is the driver that has lead us to redo them.

The plan is to do the revision in five stages. First, we will be starting with the Bible to see what it says on the qualifications of leaders, looking at re-sources the denomination recommends for churches of our size, and studying several other sets of bylaws of healthy and well governed churches, on all points of the size spectrum. Then we will write a draft that seeks to incorporate the things that are most helpful to us. After that, the deacons and exec will work on revising it till there is consensus that it is ready to be presented. From there, it will be presented to the congregations for conversation and get another round of improvements. Finally, it will be presented to the congregation for a vote., likely at the annual meeting next may. Our current bylaws call for a two thirds majority to change the bylaws.

Now, bylaws sound like boring things. In some ways they can be. But they are also hugely important. For two reasons. First of all, they lay out how a church is to be ordered. They give direction and guidance and define responsibilities. Think of them like the suspension system. The engine and drive train of the car is the gospel and the word of God. On the ground ministry is the rubber meeting the road. The bylaws are the suspension system, tying important things together and providing cushioning for the journey. It is important that they work well, or the road gets bumpy.

But second, they tell us about how the church thinks of itself. Sometimes churches build bylaws that look like a fortune a 500’s governances system, with a CEO, board of directors, middle level management. Sometimes, churches order themselves like sole proprietorships, and sometimes they set them-selves up like nonprofits. Why? Because that’s how they really see themselves. But the church is not these things, it is unlike any organization in the world, it is God’s church and it is designed for spiritual heavy work.

The church is looking to retool on so many levels. We are hard at work on re-tooling the building. We have a matching grant that provides an unprecedented opportunity to finish up the sanctuary. We are seeking to reach out. On a preliminary basis, we have approved a significant raise in what we are spending on outreach. And we are seeking as a church to be a church that is aiming towards health and vitality and life in every area. It makes sense that while we are doing the re-tooling, we tackle this.
 As we begin to do this, I have four requests for you. First, pray like crazy, pray that God guides and leads our church in this process. Second, consult your Bibles often to see if what we present lines up with God’s word. Third, listen thoughtfully and approach this with reason over emotion. Sometimes, we allow our heart to drive us where our mind would never take us. Think carefully rather than letting your heart lead you. Finally, be generous with us as we seek to do this. I don’t think any of us have written bylaws before. This will be a process of writing, revising, debating and discussing, and revising again as we seek to be governed by the word of God more fully, and develop bylaws that work well for First Baptist.. Be generous. I think that we are a congregation that can be very generous and forgiving at times, and hard on each other at other times. That is basically known as people being people. Be generous with all who are taking part in doing this. The intent at the end of the day is to facilitate the church functioning well, so that we release people for ministry rather than tie them up in meetings, and so that at the end of the day, A we glorify God, build a great community, proclaim the gospel throughout the region, and build deep disciples who connect to the gospel, grow in the gospel, serve from the gospel, share the gospel, and have their lives changed by the gospel as they live out of the gospel in every area of life. May our by-laws further that work.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Don't Lose Sight of This!

It’s the economy stupid.” It was an obnoxious, laser focus line that controlled everything that was said in the 1992 presidential campaign by Bill Clinton. “It’s the economy stupid.” Why did they have such a laser-like focus? Because they knew, that this was the issue that controlled their destiny. If they talked about foreign policy, they were sunk. President Bush had just overseen an awesome victory over Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War, and there was no way they were going to win on that topic, and so in a brilliant strategy move, they decided to keep the discussion to the thing that mattered most to them for them. The economy. Which is why they drove it into their teams head, keep your eyes fixed on what is most important, don't lose sight of this!  

I’ve often thought that there is a lesson for churches. In the final words of Matthew, Jesus declares that “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”, and in light of that he says “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." In John 20 we read, “As the father sent me, so send I you”, and in Acts 1 we read, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."  

With these words, Jesus says , I have a task for you. Make disciples. Nurture disciples. Teach disciples. Build up disciples, knowing that I have authority and I am with you because I lived the life you should have lived and died the death you should have died, and now have risen. Keep your eyes on this. My commission to you is to make disciples, just as I made disciples. Don’t forget that.  

The final instructions are very important. They tell us what is most important to that person. Before He ascends, in His last times with His disciples Jesus says this is it. Disciple-making. And just as the Clinton campaign had a laser-like focus, so too must we.  It’s so easy to lose focus. We all live busy, packed lives with lots of demands. And yet if we are not careful, we can lose sight of this command and think that it’s someone else’s job. We must be on guard to not let this happen. In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus talks about how some people are “like seed sown among thorns”. Who hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word”. The result is that they are made “unfruitful” (Mark 4:18-19). We must not allow that to happen in our lives. We must keep Jesus commands firmly in view. When we are called to faith in Christ, we are given a mission and commission. We are to be actively and intentionally seeking to lead people to faith in Christ so that they too become disciples of Christ who make disciples who make disciples. We do this through love, through service, through living holy before the Lord, through obedience to everything that He has taught us, but most importantly we do it through words. By opening our mouth and inviting people to faith in Christ. This is the mission Christ has commanded us to fulfill. 

Be disciples who make disciples who make disciples. Don’t lose sight of this command. It’s so easy to lose sight of it, which is why we need to remind ourselves of it daily. Just as we need to remind our-selves of the gospel daily, in a very real way, we need to remind ourselves of this daily. We all do. Myself included. If you come behind my desk, you’ll see a whiteboard with the words, “it’s disciple-making stupid!” on it. I keep it there for one reason. I can get so bogged down with the running of the church, and the this and the that, that I too need to be reminded. I too drift. I too get trapped by the thorns. And so I need to say to myself it’s disciple-making stupid. Don’t lose sight of this command. The call to me, and to you, and to all Christians, is that we are to be disciples who make disciples. Remember that this is our final instruction. Don’t lose sight of this command. We are called to make disciples, and if we are not, we’re not obeying our Saviors final instructions and we are showing ourselves to be false disciples. May we be disciples, who are obediently making disciples, who make disciples.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

From the Newsletter: Aiming towards the Kingdom

Summers in New England fly by. We begin summer with a list of things that we want to do, and think we have all the time in the world, and before we know it, the summer is gone, and the fall is upon us. With fall comes the beginning of the school-year, and the beginning of the ministry year for our church.

 As we come to the beginning of ministry year, I want to recap the summer, and look on towards fall. This has been a busy summer at First Baptist. We have painted the sanctuary and the entryway (see update on building on Page 9), and got most of the rest of the outside painted. Beyond that, we had an amazing week of VBS. Most importantly, we began to have some of the crucial conversations that we need to have when it comes to the serious and painful steps that we need to take to become a church that is effective when it comes to reaching our community, conversations that included the fact that we will have to touch sacred cows and laying aside cherished things for the glory of God and the furthering of His kingdom.
 
Now as we look to the fall I want to talk about some of those steps. First, we are going to keep pressing on the building. We have been pushing on making forward progress on this for quite some time, be-cause we know that whether we like it or not, people do measure what we think of Christ by the condition of the church building. So we need to do this. My hope is that this fall, we will be back in Fellowship Hall, and having the sanctuary floors done. Now, as I say this, we are basically out of cash in the fund-raising till. And as far as the endowment, it basically sits at about 13,000 in one of the funds that can be easily accessed, 30,000 in restricted funds, and about 35-40 in investments (depending on the market). But here’s the thing. This summer, I was having a conversation with Mike Gantt, my longtime pastor and mentor, and he asked me a pointed question, in regard to the investments. What are you saving it for? If the investments are the rainy day fund, well, as Mike commented, “It’s raining”! Last summer, it figuratively was. We had water leaking into the sanctuary. It was symbolic in many ways of our true situation as a church. The question is are we going to keep pressing on, or try to conserve it? But if we’re going to conserve it, the question is, for what? I sometimes think we look to the investments as a source of hope. But realistically, they can only be used to help us head back to true health, or just serve as a way to slow down the inevitable, because we either we get back to heath, spiritual, and numerical, or we will die. And make no mistake, statistically, we are likely to die. Statistically. But we serve a big God who does miracles. My challenge for you is, let’s press forward. Since the only hope is God, let’s truly hope in Him and trust Him, get the building done, and continue to move forward towards one of the things that we have to do, trusting that He is sovereign, and He wants Medfield and Metro-west impacted for Christ far more than we do. Let’s go where He leads, or let the lights get turned out. Make no mistake. We can take the safe route, and limp, and eventually whither and then slowly die, or we push our chips to the center of the table, trust God to do something bigger than ourselves, and follow Him wherever He leads, come what may?

Second, these steps will involve some changes to the worship service. This summer, I convened a task force compiled of those who regularly help lead worship, to begin to redraw and reenergize the worship service.

They are evaluating, praying, and beginning to make recommendations. The first thing that they have recommended is that we move away from having the service look exactly the same every Sunday. We are going to mix the elements of worship, and lose some of the rigidity of the service. So for example, we probably are not going to sing Glory Be every week (however, we are going to sing it regularly, its way to good a song to dismiss, it will make regular appearances). We will probably vary the amount of songs, and where readings, or confessions, or any of the many elements of worship happen. Along with this, a second recommendation, one that is unanimous, is that Go in Peace, needs to go in peace to its final resting place. For 6 years, I and others have watched visitors get up to leave after the benediction, and then look around confused as we burst into a song that takes all focus from the point made in worship, and just says, kumbaya. It’s become something of a running joke among leadership; it’s time for it to go in peace. But beyond these two things, we have agreement that there needs to more involvement from a team that is working together and careful organizing each service and asking, why are we doing this or that thing, why is this element of worship in place, rather than just, we’ve always done it this. We want to think about why we do what we do, and refine the worship service so that we might accomplish four aims Glorify God, bring life and energy to worship and draw us into his presence (which thereby glorifies God more), equip the saints to live on mission for the glory of God, and meet our com-munity with what you could call culturally appropriate containers, things that communicate the timeless truth in timely ways.

Third, we are going to be continuing to push the conversation that we have been having, that we need to be ever mindful that we are people who are called to live on mission. We need to be thinking about life as missionaries. We are not civilians living comfortable lives in safe communities; we are God’s kingdom agents. People who, because of the gospel, are called to live on mission for Christ, and strive to be about God’s kingdom work.

Fourth, we are going to be continuing to chase after reaching our community. We talked about this over the summer. We will be placing outreach under the direction of one of the committees, and will have a committee or team responsible for thinking strategically about outreach. In addition to this small but hopefully strategic move, we are going to be reaching out to those that have moved to the area and inviting them to visit. Over 500 homes have changed hands in this region in the last several months, we are going to be inviting all of them to church, and then continuing to invite everyone who moves after them as well. Be praying that some of them will come. Be praying that they will be gripped by the presentation of who we are seeking to be, and come be a part of God’s kingdom movement here at First Baptist. Commit to praying for this to happen. Now, I know some of you are skeptical. But consider this. 1 % would be 5 families. 10 percent would be 50 families. That would be neat, that would give us some stability as we seek to bring the gospel to Medfield and Metro-west.

Beyond all this, and most importantly, we are going to keep challenging you to be seeking opportunities to share the gospel. In August, Dennis challenged the church to be willing to try to step out and share the gospel, even if it’s scary. The leadership and I will be continuing to encourage you to keep it up. Dennis provided a taste of where the heart of the church is heading. Towards our community, and towards those who have not yet met Christ and need to. Be willing to take a kingdom risk, and share what God has done in Christ. Share how he has been working in your life. Finally, we will be seeking to equip you through the small group Bible studies on Wednesday nights.

Fifth, we are going to continue to strive to be centered and shaped by the gospel. This must be our unifying center. The thing that binds us together. John Stott once wrote, “No church can spread the gospel with any degree of integrity, let alone credibility, unless it has been visibly changed by the gospel it preaches. We need to look like what we are talking about. It is not enough to receive the gospel and pass it on; we must embody it in our common life of faith, love, joy, peace, righteousness, and hope.” Which is why we must be centered and shaped by the gospel.

When it comes to these things, we cannot take our pedal off the gas. We need to take every step we can, and be seeking to move towards health as a church, because there is no going halfhearted when it comes to aiming towards being a healthy church that is reaching its community for Christ. We either go for it, or we don’t. My challenge for you is, let’s press forward. Let’s chase God wherever he leads us. Let's aim towards the kingdom. Let’s aim towards where God is leading us. This year is about “Following Christ wherever He leads”. In the end, I believe that when it comes to the kingdom of God, there are no lost causes, only lost sheep. He’s the king. He is sovereign. There are no lost causes. We need to be chasing Him. Following Him. We need to be white hot for the gospel, and go where He takes us.

Now, you could take all this as a massive Debbie downer newsletter article. Go where God leads or let the lights get turned out. What is that? That’s some-what morbid. It sounds like you are pretty down on the church. No, it’s not negative, and I haven’t been this excited about what God is doing in a very long time. I think God is doing something. I think that we are seeing God do some cool things. There is a rustle and a stir. Right before I left on vacation, I mentioned that while we haven’t seen the revival I hoped for when we started to go through Galatians, I wonder if something if it’s started. There is a moment on C.S. Lewis great book, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, before things take off and get wild, where Beaver whispers to the 4 children in the story… “They say Aslan is on the move.” Aslan is the great lion… the creator, the king, the one who will die for the sins of Adam… Aslan Is God…there are things that make me wonder if Aslan is on the move… …I can’t say… but there are things that leave my heart beating faster, some tangible things that make me say…is God moving? Little things…. Big things…this building getting painted, the challenge by Dennis, the response to the challenge… It makes me really wonder.

In his article, “Producing a Comeback Church” Ed Stetzer and Mike Norman summarized some of the things in their book, “Comeback church, which looks at how 324 churches started growing again after experiencing a pattern of plateau or decline. Based upon the information gathered in their study, they identified some things that were key factors (see article on page 10). After I read it, I sent it on to some of our leaders and said, “Read this... Here's my thought... If I'm the leader that is needed...The rest of the list makes me say "Cool... "! My prayer based on this is that I will be the kind of leader they describe more and more. I see some of these other things coming together or in the works. I even see some things that are starting to make me think that our attitude could be coming in line with the attitude of John Knox, who is cited in Stetzer’s article. He cried. “Give me Scotland or I die.” Stetzer then says “We need to pray the same for Selma, Sellersburg and Seattle.” Let me add… Medfield, Metro-west, and Boston. Lord, give us Medfield and Metro-west. Lord, give us Boston. Read it. You’ll see some of why I’m excited. We’ve got what Stetzer calls, “God sized goals” kicking around. Becoming a church that is really impacting our community is a God sized goal, living on as a church is a God sized goal; faithfully Following Christ wherever He leads is a God sized goal. And because we have God sized goals, we are at the end of ourselves, I think that we are in the perfect spot to see God move. And on the one hand, that will be scary, but it will be fun, and I believe God will act if we faithfully follow Christ where ever He leads. In so many ways, this is how it has to be, because ultimately, there is no one strategy to rebuild church and reform a church. Some hire a new pastor and everything takes off. Some begin the process of changing and it takes 10 years. God works in his own way in His own time and place, and He gets the glory, not us. We need to trust Him and follow Him through the changes He’s leading us into.

With all that said, let me end with more encouragement. I think there are some measurable signs of health. I am starting my seventh year here. My second Sunday here, someone asked me, why do you preach from the Bible every week. This summer, it occurred to me that we are no longer debating the content of the gospel. Not from the core of the church. You want it from the edges, from visitors, but you want a faithful, Gospel centered core. And that’s coming together. That’s a sign that God is moving. When I came, we did not have consensus about the gospel. Someone asked me the second Sun-day I was here why I preached from the Bible every Sunday (and at the time I’d only preached three Sun-days at the church). Now, I believe that we are a church that is confident in the core of the gospel, and convicted about the need to share the gospel. That’s not anything to sneeze at. It is in light of that that I dare write these words to those who move to the area. Words I agonized over as I worked on it, but feel ready to send with joy.

On behalf of First Baptist Church of Medfield, I would like to congratulate you on your purchase of a new home. Whether you're new to the area, or simply relocating, I believe that you will find that this is a wonderful place to call home.

 As you settle in, I would like to take the opportunity to encourage you to visit First Baptist Church in Medfield. There are many things you could say about us a church, but ultimately, at the heart of First Baptist is the gospel. Everything we do at First Baptist is centered and shaped by the good news that Christ lived the perfect life that we should have lived - a life without sinful rebellion against God and without be-coming enslaved to possessions, treasures, or acclaim - and then substituted himself in our place on the cross, paying the debt we could not pay and reconciling us to God once and for all through his death on the cross. The Gospel meets us at our life's core, shows us God's grace, sets us free from the power of sin and death, and gives us the strength to live lives of love and service to others. It is the power of God to change us.

In response to the gospel our goal as a church is to be a community of people who faithfully worship
God, love God, and live on mission for Him so that we may glorify God, build a great community, pro-claim the life saving gospel, and develop deep disciples who connect to the gospel, grow in the gospel, serve from the gospel, share the gospel, and have our lives completely changed by the gospel as we live out of the gospel in all of life. Together, we strive to live on mission for Christ, seeking to be the kind of people and the kind of church that the Bible describes; a com-munity where there is strong teaching and preaching of the Bible, heartfelt worship, honest friendships, compassionate care for our communities and those in need, and an inviting heart that connects with people from a variety of generations, backgrounds and paths of life.

If this attracts you, or calls out to you, come visit. The church is going through a process of replanting our-selves as people who are called to live on mission. Come check out what God is doing.

I write those words with joy. I really believe that we are going through a process of replanting ourselves as people who are called to live on mission. Of taking those steps and Following Christ wherever He leads. Is it scary? Yes. You’re working without a net. Is it thrilling? Yes. Be-cause it means we get to trust God… and that’s pretty neat.