Saturday, September 29, 2012

Its all about the gospel

For Medfield day, we put together a small brochure about the church, and in it, we had a mission and vision section. Take a quick look, because it gets at the heart of what we are striving for at First Baptist Medfield.

Everything we do at First Baptist is about the gospel; the good news that Christ lived the perfect life that we should have lived, without sinful rebellion against God, and without becoming enslaved to possession or 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 through the cross.

As a church family, we seek to make the gospel known, to live lives that are shaped by the gospel, and to impact the community with the good news of the gospel. As a church community, our mission and vision is to be a body of believers that is faithfully proclaiming the gospel to Medfield and beyond as we seek to glorify God and build a great community through gospel proclamation, personal conversion, deep disciple making, and faithful service to one another and the world around us. We do this by connecting to the gospel (and the church), growing in the gospel, serving from the gospel, sharing the gospel, and being continually changed by the gospel.
Pray that as a church, this is more than an ideal, but a reality that shapes every part of First Baptist.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Spurgeons Conversion: an illistration of God's Soveriegnty in Salvation

I’ve used snippets of this story in sermons a couple of times, I love it, and having preached about God’s absolute sovereignty in salvation a few weeks back, but not having the space for it, I want to share it with you today. Its a great case of God's sovereignty in salvation. An unknown deacon preaches a horrible sermon, and yet, God takes that and brings Spurgeon to Christ, and uses him to bear incredible fruit.
"I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair until now, had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm one Sunday morning while I was going to a certain place of worship. When I could go no further, I turned down a side street, and came to a little Primitive Methodist Chapel. In that chapel there may have been a dozen or fifteen people. I had heard of the Primitive Methodists, how they sang so loudly that they made people’s heads ache; but that did not matter to me. I wanted to know how I might be saved, and if they could tell me that, I did not care how much they made my head ache.

The minister did not come that morning; he was snowed in, I suppose. At last, a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach. Now, it is well that preachers should be instructed; but this man was really stupid. He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say.
The text was, “Look unto me, and ye be saved, all the ends of the earth.”
He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimpse of hope for me in that text. The preacher began thus—
“My dear friends, this is a very simple text indeed. It says, ‘Look.’ Now lookin’ don’t take a deal of pains. It ain’t liftin’ your foot or your finger; it is just, ‘Look.’ Well, a man needn’t go to College to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn’t be worth a thousand a year to be able to look. Anyone can look; even a child can look. But then the text says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Ay!” said he in broad Essex accent, “Many of you are lookin’ to yourselves, but it’s no use lookin’ there. You’ll never find any comfort in yourselves… Some of you say, ‘We must wait for the Spirit’s workin.’ You have no business with that just now. Look to Christ. The text says, ‘Look unto Me.’
 Then the good man followed up his text in this way:

“Look unto Me; I am sweatin’ great drops of blood. Look unto Me; I am hangin’ on the cross. Look unto Me; I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto Me; I ascend to Heaven. Look unto Me; I am sittin’ at the Father’s right hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me! Look unto Me!”
When he had gone to about that length, and managed to spin out ten minutes or so, he was at the end of his tether. Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I daresay, with so few present, he [must have known] I was a stranger. Fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart, he said, 

“Young man, you look very miserable.”
Well, I did; but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance…However, it was a good blow—it struck right home. He continued,
“And you always will be miserable—miserable in life, and miserable in death,—if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.”
 Then, lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist could do,
“Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but to look and live.”
I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said —I did not take much notice of it —I was so possessed with that one thought. Like as when the brazen serpent was lifted up, the people only looked and were healed, so it was with me. I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, “Look!” what a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away. There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to Him. Oh, that somebody had told me this before, “Trust Christ, and you shall be saved.”
Yet it was, no doubt, all wisely ordered, and now I can say,—
‘Ever since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
and shall be till I die.’"
From C. H. Spurgeon, Autobiography, Vol. 1: The Early Years,

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

At what age?

I’ve been mulling the question of when should you get baptized for the last few weeks, there have been a few things that have prompted this. One is Tim Challies excellent article “when should my children be baptized”. The other is a couple of requests for baptism of children that have come to me in the last 4 months (one of which came this week).  One was to baptize a 13 year old whose family has been in the church for generations. The second, an 8 year old of a family that has been in the church for about a year and a half. The more i think about it, the more I am convinced that you should wait till the latter part of high school, and have really committed to a gospel shaped life with an adult mind (keep in mind that I am coming at this from a position of believers baptism, our infant baptizing brothers and sisters will disagree with just about everything I write, these things are attempts to think about baptism in a way that is consistent with believers baptism that I and my church hold as Baptists).

There are two reasons that I conclude this. The first reason is that I want to protect the child (even from themselves). All to often, we allow children to be baptized before they have counted the cost. And as parents, we encourage them to be baptized with the best of motives, because that’s what we do. But is the child ready? Really ready? Are they mature enough to make this decision?

Challies argues that:
Maturity displays itself in autonomy and in counting the cost. The mature person is autonomous in that he has the ability to make independent decisions. He is also one who counts the cost, who has seen some of what a decision may cost him in terms of relationship, prestige or suffering, yet still desires to proceed.

He goes on later,
It is wise to wait to baptize a child until he has reached a certain level of maturity. I believe that a person should be baptized when the credibility of his conversion becomes naturally evident to the church community. This will normally be when the child has begun to mature toward adulthood and is beginning to live more self-consciously as an individual. At this time he is able to understand that there will be a cost to being a Christian; he is able to anticipate this and to count it all joy. At this time he is also developing autonomy. In the process of leaving behind his child-like dependence on his parents he begins to make more and more of his own choices. Such independence and maturity will allow him to relate to the church directly and as an individual rather than being primarily under the authority of his parents. I believe that such criteria typically correspond to the teen years, and more typically, the mid-to-late teen years.

Delaying baptism “accounts for the uncertainty that may attend childhood conversions. Often a child professes faith, then retracts or doubts his profession, and then affirms it again. This model allows the child to proceed through much of this turbulence before he is baptized, thus preventing doubt about whether he was truly saved before his baptism.”

As I’ve thought about it, I think Challies is right in seeing something that I had concluded even before I read his article. All too often we baptize kids way to young. Personally, I went through that back and forth that Challies mentions. I  prayed the sinners prayer at 5, and was baptized at 10, but I basically had checked out by 13 or 14, and it wasn’t until God grabbed hold of my rebellions unrepentant heart at 16 that I became a truly committed follower of Christ. I would have told you I was a Christian, but my heart was not committed to God. It did not love God or honor God. In fact, I once told my mother I had my fire insurance in place... it is by the grace and mercy of God that I am God’s child through Christ, nothing more. But I didn’t understand that. But here’s the thing, I know I’m not the only one. Which is why I have concluded that I want kids to wait until they have wrestled through their doubts and questions with a maturing mind, and are really ready to commit to the Christian life
Now if a young man or woman is really ready to say with an adult mind (and by the time you’re in the latter part of high school you reason with an adult mind rather than a child’s mind), “I’m in, I believe that Christ lived the life I should have lived, and died the death I should have died, in my place and for my sins, and I want to live for Christ all the days of my life, knowing that the cost of discipleship is cross bearing, and Christ says, take up your cross and follow me, and it will be hard, but so worthwhile, Jesus is lord of my life and I want to live for him”, then by all means, I will baptize him or her with joy! But I don’t want it to be a child’s choice. They should be maturing (developmentally), committed follower of Christ. If not, we damage the child, because we  short circuit their exploration of the gospel on its terms, and it becomes something they don’t truly understand but have theoretically committed to. The result is that rather than seeing the gospel with all its beauty and starkness, they are inoculated to it.

The second reason I conclude this is that I believe early baptisms damage the witness of the church, and I desperately want to guard the witness of the church. This comes from personal experience as well. I know far too many kids who were baptized in middle school and Jr. High, and even high school, and haven’t really counted the cost, and committed to live a gospel shaped life. Of the 30 or so kids I went to youth group with, I can think of 7 that are still following Christ. Most were church kids that were baptized as children. I know too many kids who grew up in church and were baptized and then flaked out in high school and college. They hadn’t wrestled with whether or not they believed, and then flaked out, and many of them still think of themselves as Christian, even though they deny core tenants of Christianity like the resurrection and substitutionary atonement, and argue for universalism, “saying all paths lead to salvation, there is no hell”… and they deny basic categories of sin, and they live with boyfriends and girlfriends and argue for homosexuality being OK, and ignore what scripture teaches on a hundred subjects and having slandered the name of God in public then say, “I’m a Christian in good standing”. Awhile ago, a young woman who grew up in church told me, "I would never marry someone I didn’t live with" (at the time she was semi-active). No amount of scripture would change her mind. All attempts to change her mind fell on deaf ears. In time (unsurprisingly), she drifted from the church, and as best I can tell, lives a life that denyies the gospel on a dozen levels. What’s that about? It’s a failure by the church to protect the child by making her really grasp the gospel, and the result is damage to the witness of the church. This person viewed themselves as a Christian that was living a “good Christian.” Church raised, Church Baptized, not a clue. By your fruits you will know them (Matthew 7:20)

What does that say to the world around? There is no difference. The result is damages the witness of the church, and slander to God’s holy name. For these reasons, I choose to wait until there is mature commitment. Does that make sense?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Internship thoughts: From the Messenger (the Newsletter of First Baptist)

This month, we will be welcoming Mike Falcone to First Baptist Church as a Pastoral Intern. Mike is from North Reading Massachusetts, a graduate of Endicott College, and is enrolling to be a part time Gordon Conwell Student. I’ve known Mike for seven years; I met him when I was interviewing to be his youth pastor, and over the years, I have seen him grow into a man with a heart for God, and walked with him as he has discerned a call to ministry. Mike comes to us with a variety of ministry experience. During college, he was part of the Campus Fellowship at Endicott (think Intervarsity or Campus Cr-sade), and served on the leadership team of the Campus Fellowship the last 3 years. He is a veteran of multiple missions trips, and last summer he was in France for 2 months working with Thierry Mirone, the Youth Pastor and project coordinator of ITeams France. Mike has served in a variety of roles at First Baptist Reading. He has been a Vacation Bible School volunteer since entering sixth grade. He has served on various committees, and been a youth group leader since he began college. This summer, he served as the Interim Director of Youth Minis-tries. I am looking forward to having Mike here and working with him.

Since we have not had any pastoral interns in a very long time, I want to talk briefly about the purpose of a pastoral internship. The purpose is not primarily about getting free help (although this is how many churches view them). The purpose is learning, it’s for preparing for ministry, for thinking, for  seeing what works, and what doesn’t in a given  church, and for contemplating what biblical ministry looks like. Therefore, the goal of this internship is to help Mike think about what a healthy church looks like, and what the role of the pastor and church leader is, biblically. It will seek to give Mike an opportunity to see inside the church, and learn both from our strengths, and our shortcomings.

So what will Mikes duties be? His duties will be based around this goal of learning. He will be ob-serving the Church’s teaching ministry, attending committee meetings, making pastoral visits with me (and eventually, without me); and he will be reading (allot). He will be reading 7 books (“What is a Healthy Church”, “The Deliberate Church”, and “9 Marks of a Healthy Church” all by Mark Dever. “Center Church” by Tim Keller, “Going Deep” by Gordon MacDonald, “What is the Mission of the Church?” by Kevin DeYoung, “The Reformed Pastor” by Richard Baxter, and “The Master Plan of Evangelsim” by Robert Coleman), and interacting with the ideas in those books. He will also write a research paper on the subject of church health in the postmodern age. Additionally, Mike will be given opportunities to take part in leading the service, to teach (he will teach 4 weeks of the Men’s Bible Study and may help with children and youth), and to preach (2 or 3 times), and to gain ministry experiences as he seeks to discern his gifting for ministry.

As Mike becomes part of this church for a season, I have a request for you. First, welcome Mike. Welcome him with open arms. But second, pray for Mike. Just as Paul trained up Timothy, and Titus, and a host of others, we are taking him in as a son, and seeking to help him prepare for all that God has for him to do. We are seeking to build him up, and then send him out for the glory of God, and the furthering of His kingdom. Pray for Mike. Pray that God will be teaching him about the nature of gospel ministry, about the nature of the church, and about what it means to give his life in service to the kingdom of God.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9-11 and it's impact

Do you remember where you were on September 11, 2001. I was a college senior, and i was coming down the stairs, and Nate, my college roommate, meets me on the stairs and says "we've been bombed. I'll never forget that day. It was one of the longest days of my life. I went to work, and stood in the electronics department, and we hooked up the big screens to the TV feed, and watched the news over, and over, and over again. From the time I got in at 11, to 8 PM, I watched in wrapped horror.

9-11 radically reshaped our world, and it reshped our view of religion. Last year, James Emmorey White wrote something that I stumbled accross today, on how 9/11 changed America’s attitude toward religion. He noted that a study by CNN’s John Blake showed that on 9-11, a chosen nation became a humbled one. 9-11 led to a re-emergence of “Christo-Americanism”, interfaith became cool, and Atheists came of the closet (and started writing bestselling books “all three of them”). But, White noted, there are four other results, and they are results that are far bigger, and much more worthy of our consideration. Here are his four. You can read the whole article here. 
1. There is a clash of civilizations. Harvard professor Samuel P. Huntington presciently saw the conflict between Islam and the West looming on the horizon, and called it the “clash of civilizations.” Released before 9/11, his book came out with Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man, which received most of the press (featuring the idea that all of history, as we defined history, had essentially ended with the fall of communism). Huntington’s thesis was equally provocative, but more widely dismissed -- namely that there were three great civilizations (Western, Asian, Islamic), that there would be great conflict between the West and Islam, and that Islam’s militarism would force itself upon the world. Huntington was right. 9/11 didn’t just force the reality of this upon our thinking, in many ways, it seemed to unleash it around the world.
2. Everyone now has to wrestle with the problem of evil. What took place on 9/11 was evil. Forget Menninger’s wonderment of “whatever happened to sin;” we now have no doubt that it is alive and well. But what do we make of it? Is it something we are, something we do, something that “is”? It used to be that skeptics would ask Christians how a loving God could allow so much evil and suffering; we now must ask that of every worldview, philosophy and religion.
3. Christianity has been largely dismissed from acceptable public discourse. It seems counter-intuitive, but after the prayers and packed churches the weekend following 9/11, not to mention Billy Graham’s touching words in the National Cathedral, we seemed to decide that it was best to leave religion off of the agenda. And specifically, Christianity. Now, 10 years later, when the 9/11 Memorial will be dedicated, the last report is that no formal prayers will be offered and no clergy have even been invited. There will be an interfaith prayer vigil at the National Cathedral featuring the Dean of the Cathedral (supposedly representing the Christian faith), but actual invited guests do not include a representative of Christianity at all, much less evangelical faith. On slate are a rabbi, a Buddhist nun, an incarnate lama, a Hindu priest, the president of the Islamic Society of North America and a Muslim musician. But this is symptomatic of a wider dismissal; consider the presidential race heating up for 2012. The one great vice of a candidate seems to be having a Christian worldview that matters to their thinking, while the one great virtue is an innocuous faith. We ran to Jesus after 9/11, but seem to have decided that the best way to deal with the new world is to bend over backwards to accept moderate forms of Islam, while distancing ourselves from any form of Christianity.
4. There is a new longing for what will offer hope. Barack Obama rode into office on a tidal wave of hope -- yes, audacious hope. And whether we voted for him or not, we were ready for it. Regardless of your political moorings, he hasn’t delivered -- at least as yet -- but his election revealed our deepest longing. We want hope, the kind that promises substantive change…We know as never before that it’s a sick, screwed-up, sin-stained, broken world. We want it fixed. This has left us more spiritually open than ever before, yet often indiscriminate.
What do you think? What would you say? What do you think the biggest effects have been. From my perspective, I think the realization that we were venerable was the biggest impact. I had always seen America as almost invulnerable. But on 9-11, I realized that America was just as venerable as the rest of the world. There is no place that is safe from misery and hardship and pain caused by sin. There is no place safe from the attack of an enemy. Not even America.

But I’ve also learned something else in that time. It’s only in Christ that we will find a safe resting place. It is only in Christ that we are truly safe, as we say, to live in Christ, and die is gain, and whatever was to my gain, I count as loss compared to the joy of knowing Christ. Paul wrote “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:7-11). Paul knew something. In Christ, dead or alive, he was safe in Christ. If he was imprisoned, beaten, shipwrecked, whatever…  he was safe in Christ, and so he soutght to gain Christ in all things. May we say the same? Are we safe as Americans? No, 9-11 showed us that, but in Christ, we are always truly safe. America will rebuild, and America will survive, for now. But ultimately, no place is safe, apart from Christ.
Today, remember 9-11, watch some of  the vidoe's that remember the day (I've included 3 below), but remember, it is only in Christ that we are truly safe.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Counterfeit Gods By Jefferson Bethke

Spoken word artist Jefferson Bethke is at it again. After going viral with vidoe on religion verses the gospel, he has released this offerering, Counterfeit God's. Watch it, and think about what he's saying. The lyrics are below.
You might say, I don’t believe in God, but the bible says not possible,
Everyone has saGod, whether or not it’s the God of the gospel.
You might not believe in God, but everyone has that one thing that’s king,
Even the dictionary defines God as what “whatever we make supreme”
It’s a theme, a thread, it’s inside of all human beings,
The fact we all worship, and no it’s not just about singing.
I know some of you already like “Jeff I don’t worship, I put that on the shelf,”
But I say technically we all do, we just worship ourselves.
We all worship something, and to an object we’re all liable,
Ladies, to some your boyfriend is your God, and Cosmo is your bible.
Yet, we mock and we laugh at the Israelites Golden Calf,
But we do the same right back; it just looks different than that.
So question, what’s on your throne?
What do you chase so you don’t feel alone?
So what defines you, what do you give ultimate worth?
And what if taken from you would bring ultimate hurt?
Now see, that is your God
And all of us, we’ve sacrifice deep joy for shallow happiness, and honestly we look like fools,
We’re like full grown adults in the kiddie pool, going oh man, this is so cool
We are slaves to our possessions, we are always craving something new,
Reality check, if you can’t give it up, you don’t own it, it owns you.
That’s the bible, it says we’re all spiritual prostitutes, actually we’re worse.
Because at least prostitutes get paid for their works,
When all we get paid is a hearse
That’s why worship isn’t just behavior, it goes way into our core,
So ask yourself what is your God? What do you bow down before?
For example some of you in here don’t worship Jesus, you worship what He said,
Got theology in your head, but in your heart, poor, pitiful, naked, and dead.
Some worship in stadiums, some worship in bars.
We worship our posessions, we worship our cars,
We worship science, or we worship the arts,
But see it don’t matter what clothes your idol’s wearing, the disease is our hearts
Or guys, how come you always say, “ya I’m a man, because I’m in control!”
Yet why cant you stop having sex with your hand, while staring at your macbook pro
Then there’s those guys who trade their wives for their job at work
Where they give more time to their boss then their wive’s needs or hurts
And you ladies, no guy can love you more than jesus already has,
So stop getting your worth from Magic Mike, Jesus is so much better than that
I know you’re thinking,  “so jeff, are you saying we should hate money, hate drinking, and never have sex.
No, Im not saying that. The bible says enjoy it all, in its proper context.
But now I want to transition, and make a spiritual incision,
Can you really tell me these things are the ultimate purpose of living?
Instead of worshiping the Creator of you and I,
We say screw you God I’ll take your stuff, but you can die.
But that trade is terrible, trading God for man
Its like God offers us water, and we say “but God, this is such good sand!”
You say, “a God that requires me to give up something” I just can’t fathom,
Yet most are willing to give up everything for a quick orgasm?
You call me a wimp for running to God when times get hard,
Yet you do the same, you just run to the bar.
I mean am I the only one that’s felt that gnawing within?
Am I the only one that’s felt the weight of my own sin?
But here’s what’s unique, so go ahead and critique,
but if hear anything in this poem, hear this one thing I speak.
Where we exchanged ourselves for God, thinking we could be Him,
He exchanged himself for us, absorbing all our sin.
God put on flesh, and do you see how we treated him?
The ultimate war veteran, because he was killed for our freedom.
Nonetheless He was thinking of you and me, with every whip that beat em,
And to think he did that knowing full well we’d say nah, we don’t really need him.
But like a Father, he couldn’t bare his children to not be free
So he thought up that tree, paid our fee, for specs of dirt like you and me
So my plea is let Him restore His proper place,
I promise you He loves you right now. Just trust in His grace.
Because before I leave, I’ll leave you with this
What of those other things you worship took nails in their wrists?
Or how about when was the last time money or sex forgave you?
Whens the last time your boyfriend set you free from all you’re enslaved to?
What else is there that died so you could be made new?
Or when’s the last time the world promised satisfaction, and actually came through?