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.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Morality: Paul Tripp

I’ve really come to appreciate Paul Trip’s work over the years. Recently I came across something that I’ve found incredibly worthwhile from a series he was doing on Psalm 15, looking at the standard of holiness that God calls his people to. In the previous article on Psalm 15, he wrote about how the Psalmist considered a God-honoring way to live with our friends and neighbors. Then he moved on to looking at how the Psalmist continues to list the Lord's standard of righteousness, looking at Psalm 15:4, "Who shall dwell on your holy hill ... [the person] in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord."  Please read this, and be challenged. 

Trip writes: 

This verse reveals an unshakable moral commitment to what is right. The person described has such a deep allegiance to God that he or she is revolted by sin as much as the Lord is. 

I don't know about you, but there are times when my heart is seduced by evil. It may only be for a moment, but I catch myself chasing after - not despising - vile things.  
I don't want to come across as legalistic, but I think it's my job to draw an uncomfortable line: what do you need to give up that has the potential to make evil look beautiful? 
There are television shows that you might need to turn off. There are books and magazines that you may need to put down. There are movies and websites that you may need to stay away from. I'm concerned that the body of Christ is losing its edge. I've found that we're too willing to expose ourselves - in a fairly consistent manner - to things that are dangerous and polluted, that dull our moral sensitivity, and that present evil in a seductive manner.  
You see, here's what you need to admit: as long as you're still breathing, you have the capacity to find vile things beautiful. Even as a child of God, you're not free from corrupted desires. Are you willing to admit the depth of your spiritual need? And are you willing to sacrifice some of your entertainment and leisure preferences for the health of your soul? Maybe it's time we fight a little harder for our morality. 
I would encourage you to reconsider your lifestyle, but know that your hope for change won't be found there. Your hope is in the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. He gives you the power to say "No!" to vile things and gives you the ability to see beauty where God sees beauty. 
God bless, 
Paul David Tripp
  1. What are some forms of entertainment - TV, books, magazines, websites, social media - that are consistently promoting vile things?
  2. How does entertainment mask those vile things in "beautiful" ways?
  3. Why does your heart buy into those masking lies?
  4. Why won't turning off the TV and disconnecting from Internet solve your ultimate problem?
  5. How can you commune with the Holy Spirit and find the power to say "No!" to vile things?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

From the Newsletter: Keys to Unity, Part 2

How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity, the psalmist writes in Psalm 133. The same could be said of churches. How good and pleasant it is when churches dwell together in unity and live on mission for Christ in unity. Last month, we started looking at some keys to unity. We can’t manufacture unity, it has to happen organically. But, at the same time, there are some things that followers of Christ can do to help unity grow, and things that we can do to contribute to unity within our church.

Last month, I gave you four keys to unity. I wrote that we must first fix our eyes on the work of Christ. This, in essence, is theological unity. We must gaze at the core of the gospel together, and be united around it. But second, we must be forgiving one another. Beyond that, we need to know deep in our hearts and minds that unity is strengthened when we lay down our demand for comfort for the sake of the good of all. Finally, I said that we must be aimed at the same end. We must have shared mission.

This month, I want to give you four more keys to unity.

The first key I want to mention today is that we need to remember that there is a distinction between unity and uniformity. The gospel doesn’t call us to all become clones of each other, eating the same food, drinking the same drink, walking around like lemmings. God wires different people in different ways, and he calls people from every tongue and tribe and race, with all of their unique contributions to the kingdom of God. Consider the way that Ephesians 4 points to this reality. We’re told in verses 3 that we are to Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Why, because, as 4-6 tells us, “There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called-- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” That’s theological unity. There’s the foundation of the gospel again. The thing you have to hold on to and gaze at if you are a follower of Christ.

But then, in verse 7, Paul doesn’t say, ok, you should all look like carbon copies of each other. Instead he writes, “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” Then he goes on and says in 8-15, “This is why it says: "When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men." (What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work”. Paul wants us to see in these verses that unity is essential, but he’s also showing us that God puts different things in us for His glory. So that we can all reach unity in faith. These differences actually contribute to the unity in an amazing way.

This brings us to the second key to unity I want to mention today. Unity in Philosophy. Last month, I said that we have to aim at the same end in shared mission, and I just said that there is a difference between unity and uniformity. But at the same time, we also have to have philosophical unity in regard to ministry methods and style. For anything to succeed, there must be an agreed upon way of doing things. This is different from unity in mission. Two people may love Jesus and agree he has sent us, but at the same time, have completely different opinions on the way things should be done in the church to further his kingdom. Mark Driscoll has a great way of illustrating philosophical unity. He writes, “In addition to Bible rules, the church family, like all families, also has house rules about how they do things". These family rules are the ministry philosophy, and in many ways, it is the cause of a particular cultural style in the church. A church must have philosophical unity. We need to not only agree what the mission is, but how we will accomplish that mission, because if a church can’t have a common way of doing things, a common approach, it is in trouble. Often, this lack of shared philosophy is at the root of a given churches bickering and arguing and disunity (and why it’s often easier to start a church than renew it). A church must have unity in philosophy. We must use our unique gifts, our differences, to work towards the same ends, with a shared philosophy. Now, is this contradictory? I don’t think so. My wife and I are different people with different gifts. But we work towards the same end, and we do it with a shared philosophy, a shared approach (and if we don’t, we have to get a place where we do have it). What happens if a church doesn’t have a shared philosophy? Bad things. Usually, division and infighting, because even if we can agree on mission, we still won’t have agreement on how we actually do things. Sadly, the result of failure to have unity in philosophy is the same as failing to have unity in mission, or unity in the gospel. Nothing gets done and in the end, Satan gets a win, and God’s kingdom is not be furthered by this church.

The third key I want to mention today is that unity demands unity in commitment. The gospel doesn’t say, some people are called to really seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and others, well, they can sit in the pew and then go home and watch TV and not really seek to grow in Christ and grow in terms of their love of Christ and commitment to Christ. It doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t allow us to come, sit in a pew, and then go home and go about our business like nothing has happened. We’re called to live out of the gospel in all of life. We are called to remember that the church exists in two spheres; we exist as the church gathered, this is what we do on Sunday morning, but then we also exist as the church scattered, living out of our faith on a day to day level as salt and light wherever we go. As individuals, as a church body we are all called to live on mission for God. One of the things that I think destroys the church is that we have this expectation that some can just come and be partially in. That’s not a follower of Christ, that’s not a disciple, that’s a fan. There’s no such thing as part time commitment to Christ. We are called to be all in. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die, Bonheoffer observed. Why did he say that? Because he knew that Jesus didn’t say, come when it feels easy, Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33)” and “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Mark 8:34)”. HE called for total commitment.  If you’re hauling your cross, you count yourself dead to this world, and all in for the kingdom. Your saying with John the Baptist, "he must increase, and I must decrease”. That’s what the Christian is called to. That’s what we are called to. If we are all committing ourselves like that, we will find that as we keep our eyes fixed on Christ, we will see the gospel will go forth, we will see the lives of those we encounter changed, and we will find that real unity is growing.
The final key to unity I want to mention today is that unity demands that we obey the call of God, and be people that love one another. What does this mean? On the one hand, it doesn’t mean, as we’ve seen, that we are all uniform lemmings. It actually doesn’t even mean that everyone in the church has to like each other. But what it does mean is that the church should love one another and demonstrate that love by being cordial, respectful, and friendly with each other, even when they are talking about areas where they disagree. It does mean that we sacrifice for one another, that we are willing to meet each other’s needs and care for each other in real ways, and obey God’s commandments, in obedience to Christ, but also out of love for each other. Think about what John says in 1 John 3, he says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. Then he says, “But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.  Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us (1Jo 3:16-24)”. John highlights these two things because they show us the level of sacrifice that love calls us to, submitting to meeting each other’s needs, and submitting to obeying God’s commands,

In the end, if a church doesn’t have this, it’s in deep water; it’s in deep water because, as Jesus makes clear, love is the ultimate apologetic for the gospel. Love is the ultimate sign to the world that we are new creations, that people who might not naturally have the same disposition and like each other now love each other and sacrifices for each other, and even live under the commandments of Christ for each other as well as for Christ. Jesus says, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John13:34-35). But along with that, it’s in deep water, because the only way that we can live with unity is if we are seeking to love the other and aim for their good. If not, our church, any church, will splinter and fall apart.

These are just some of the keys to unity, there’s more that could be said. But I think these two sets of four are the most important. If they don’t exist, a church, be it ours or others, will wither and die. They will fragment and split apart and it will be ugly.

Don’t take unity for granted. It comes through sacrifice and effort, and it can be lost easily. If you’ve ever led something, you’ve probably experienced some level of disunity. You know the painful cost you must pay when, not if, disunity occurs, even in the smallest of occasions, and you know that every breach in unity costs time, energy, emotion, and momentum. Division is often the cause of the greatest stress, pain, conflict, and despair, which is why unity is vital. Don’t take it for granted. It is very fragile. It is gained slowly and lost quickly.

Along with that. don’t ever stop praying for it. Jesus desire is for the church to be united. In his high priestly prayer, his cry to the Father was, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me (John 17:21-23). My hope is that the church be marked with this kind of unity. My hope is that we will have this kind of unity.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

From the Newsletter: Instruments in the Redeemers Hand

No one likes to think about trials, and suffering, and persecution, and hardship. They are not a fun subject to talk about. But I recently found myself preaching on the subject of persecution and suffering as we went through the book of Galatians, and I found myself thinking about how they work in our life, and the thing I was reminded of again was that God uses them. They are God’s instrument for our refining and good. It's so easy to forget this, and doubt His goodness. We forget that He’s not interested in leaving you as you are. He’s interested in making you something glorious for his kingdom.

C.S. Lewis once put it like this
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
What this means is that if you are dealing with trails of various kind, with suffering and persecution, and hardship, it’s because He’s bringing it into your life as part of His work to reshape you into the image of His son. 2 Corinthians makes clear that where the presence of God is, “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (3:17-18)”.

As followers to Christ, we need to remember this. When things get hard, we often get whiny and start to complain and doubt God. As Americans, we’re in love with our comfort, and we don’t like things to be hard, and when hardships come we usually say “Why is this happening?” and accuse God of being cruel, and unjust (At least that’s how my heart works- but 6 years of pastoring and several years of ministry before becoming the pastor says I’m not alone in this). And why do we say this? Because deep down, we don’t trust God. We don’t believe that God’s at work. We have a real lack of trust in the sovereign love of God, and naturally think he’s being cruel, even though He’s decreed his children guiltless and spotless in Christ, we don’t trust him. Even though He’s saved us at incredible cost, we often think He’s being cruel when He brings hardship.

But that’s not the case. Think about what is more cruel than bringing hardship into your life: God leaving you where you are, and allowing you to live as someone who defaults to self- reliance. All of us naturally default to self reliance; and one of the things God does by bringing pain into our life is to destroy our self reliance. He destroys our ability to prop ourselves up and say, “all I have needed my hand has provided”. He does it in love, He does it because you are His (Hebrews 12 tells us that God disciplines those He loves and calls sons and scourges all of those who are His children), and He does it for you good. By knocking out your props of self-reliance and puts your reliance completely on him, He’s making your trust Him, because while you and I feel He is being cruel when He brings trials and suffering and persecution and hardships, the thing that would actually be far crueler of God would be for Him to just allow you to continue to prop yourself up though your own damnable good works. Which means that in the end, these things are God’s loving gifts. As Matt Chandler, president of the Acts 29 church planting network once observed “It’s not cruel of God at all to take from you what might lead you into an eternity of sorrow, to give to you sorrow now that leads to an eternity of ever increasing joy.

He has your best in mind as he works, trust that. There’s a line from the Reason For God that has impacted me profoundly… “God will only give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything he knows”. We need to get that into our bones. As your loving father, He’ll only give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything He knows. Therefore, we need to trust Him, and look to Him with hope no matter what kinds of hardship come. These things are instruments in the Redeemers hands for your good, because He’s working not for you happiness for a moment, but for your joy for all eternity. In light of this, my encouragement to you is no matter what happens, don’t lose heart. When trials, and suffering, and persecution, and hardship come, don’t lose heart, don’t doubt God. Remember, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (4:16-17).

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

From the Newsletter: Keys to Unity: Part 1

How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity, the psalmist writes in Psalm 133. The same could be said of churches. How good and pleasant it is when churches dwell together in unity. When they live on mission for Christ in unity. The church is called to unity. “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” Ephesians 4:3 says. As we saw last month, the only real foundation for unity is the shared foundation of the gospel. But having seen that, the question becomes, how can we create unity? I’ve thought about this allot, as I've thought about the demands for a shared foundation on the gospel, I’ve also been thinking about the things that are required for any church, including our church, to have unity. As I have, I’ve concluded that the first thing to do is actually accept the reality that we can’t create unity. Unity grows naturally as we work for the same ends, we cant manufacture it. But at the same time, there are some keys to unity, there are some things that all followers of Christ can do to help unity grow, things that we can do to contribute to unity within our church.

This month, I want to give you four keys to unity. Next month, I want to give you four more.

The first key I want to mention today is the most important. We must  fix our eyes on the work of Christ. If the unity of the church is built on the shared foundation of the gospel, then we need to fix our eyes on Christ. the writer of Hebrews says, in 12:2, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfected of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” This is the starting point to unity in the church. One thing that has always fascinated me is that Paul usually constructs his books by beginning with the vertical, and moving on to the horizontal. He starts with what God has done, and then moves on to how then shall we live in light of the gospel. Truth, application. Which means that any unity that we have, is found in fixing our eyes on Christ and his finished work.

The second key I want to mention today is that we must be forgiving. Paul says in Colossians “Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive (3:12-13)”. Jesus makes clear in Matthew that if we do not, we will not be forgiven. He says, right after the Lord’s prayer, that “if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (6:14-15)”. Why is it that this is stressed so powerfully? Because living in relationship requires forgiveness. Think about a marriage. Two people in proximity will rub each other the wrong way at times, and then, there is the need to forgive. Forgiveness is the oil that lubricates relationships. If churches are not marked by forgiveness, they die. It’s that simple. If bickering and wrongs are dealt with, and people don’t repent and forgive, a church will be torn by disunity. As Christians, we are called to repent, and we are called to forgive. It’s a sign that the gospel is at work, that we know and understand and apply the gospel, and a real key to living with unity.

The third key is I want to mention today is that we need to know deep in our hearts and minds that unity is strengthened when we lay down our demand for comfort for the sake of the good of all. Nothing creates disunity like thinking, it’s about me, and seeking our desire, and our likes, and wants, and our felt needs. So often, we push for these things. We want our church to be a place that’s completely comfortable, and work to force our will and desire to the forefront. But it’s terrible for unity within the church, or for that matter, within any relationship. One of the things I like to tell couples I’m counseling for marriage is that marriage demands that you lay down your demand for your rights. Only in that mutual laying down of rights does your marriage have any hope. Only when you are seeking the good of the other, and seeking the meeting of their wants and desire, together, each going after the good of the other, will your marriage thrive and service. That is double true in the church, we all want to create an environment where we are completely comfortable, but when you come into proximity to others, that won’t happen, as anyone who is married can tell you.
Which means we need to lay down our demand for comfort and the meeting of our felt needs and desire for the sake of the good of all. In doing this, we are aiming towards unity, and following the path of our savior, who laid down his rights for the good of all in an ultimate way.

This brings us to the final key I want to mention today. Shared Mission. The final key to unity is that we aim at the same end. A church must have missional unity. We must have missional unity. The point of the church is mission. We are called to live on mission for Christ, seeking to glorify God, build a great community, proclaim the gospel, and build deep disciples who get the gospel, and then live out of the gospel in all of life. This should be the aim of every church. It must be the goal of our church. It must be the aim of every individual, and of the corporate church. if as a church, we do not have missional unity, if we are not aimed at the same end, we are sunk. Think back to back to what I said last month. I noted that liberal churches and gospel centered churches end up as two different teams pulling in opposite directions—each straining at the edges of the tent of the denomination. The same thing happens if we aren’t all aiming at the same end as an individual church. If different parts of the body have different aims, we’re in the same place. Which is why mission unity is essential.

These are just some of the keys to unity. But let me say this as I wrap up part 1. If these keys don’t exist, a church, be it ours or others, will wither, and die. they fragment, and split apart. It starts with the gospel, it flows into how we relate to each other with an other centered ethic, and it culminates in mission.

May our church be marked with unity. At times, we haven’t been, at times we have been. Lately, we have been. I’m so happy to see that as your pastor. May it continue. may we be marked by unity, for the glory of Christ Jesus our savior.