02 February 2018

No More Wimpy Church!

When we think of being bold, I guess most of us think about toughness and courage - times when we have the fortitude to stand for which we have strong convictions, even if it invites insult and rejection.  I like the word BOLD.  This is what I think we all dream to be.  Nobody wants to be wimpy. Inside me as a little boy there was a super hero wannabe who fantasized about thwarting the bad guy and saving the day.

I think all of us want to be that person that stands firm under pressure and dares to do what's right, even if it means standing alone.  But what can compel us to such boldness and give us the wisdom to discern for what to be bold?  We don't want to confuse bold with obnoxious.  What we need is the right kind of bold for the right things. 

The typical modern American church is mostly suffering from spiritual wimpiness. Instead of heroically standing with God and reflecting His holiness, we often look and act a lot more like this world. We need to be increasingly shaking off the wimpy and embracing the bold.  Here is how we can do this together:

We need bolder faith.  Faith means that we trust God with everything.  A bold faith is when we have such strong conviction about the object of our faith it allows us to overcome fear or doubt and to take action. Bold faith compels us to take risk for the glory of God.  Peter stepping out onto a stormy sea to go to Jesus is the perfect picture of such a bold faith. Peter took the risk in order to go to Jesus, and he succeeded for a moment, but ultimately failed in the attempt.  But he got out of the boat! And even in his moment of glorious failure his faith grew enormously, preparing him for his future.

If we have strong conviction about following Christ, we will be compelled to be bold, brush aside our fears, and simply trust God, leading us to the right actions.  Too often our conformity to this world, disobedience and poor witness comes from fear that makes us not trust God with results.  A bold faith knows that sometimes we mess up, but even in the mess up we are moving forward with God, learning to trust Him more everyday with everything.     

We need bolder prayer.  A bold prayer life is grounded in a strong conviction that what God's Word says about prayer is absolutely true.  The church lacks power because it doesn't pray and is not filled with the Holy Spirit.  We constantly have too much worldly thinking and behavior in us.  When we adopt a bold prayer life, we first learn to pray correctly.  We don't simply treat prayer like "break glass in case of emergency" tool. We come to understand that prayer is only effective when we ask according to God's will.  Every prayer must be offered with the disposition of "Thy will be done."  And not just in a vague, general sense, but in the specifics of my life, those I love, and my church. 

Bold prayer is confident in the promises God has given about acting through our prayers to accomplish His will.  Bold prayer is compassionate about others spiritual needs.  We must pray for the lost and the wayward fellow Christian with great urgency and earnestness.  And bold prayer is consistent.  It is a nurtured spiritual discipline of the greatest importance, and it takes practice.  This is why Jesus taught His disciples to pray.  This is why we need to frequently renew our minds to the model prayer in Matthew 6 because it teaches us how to pray.  And this is why believers of a congregation must pray together.       

We need bolder lifestyles.  A bold lifestyle takes the instruction of God's Word and seeks to fashion its thinking, behaviors, habits and attitudes to it.  The Bible clearly gives us both a don't and a do in regards to our lifestyles.  We are told not to be conformed to this world.  We are to resist the ungodly thinking and behavior that we swim in culturally everyday.  We are in this world, but we must not allow ourselves to be putty in the hands of a culture that has contempt for the truth of God's Word.  The way we don't allow this to happen is by constantly renewing our minds to the Word of God. Right thinking about matters always precedes right behavior. 

A bold lifestyle is not afraid to live tenaciously by God's principles, standards, and instructions, even if it means sticking out like a sore thumb.  But to do this we must have a rock-solid conviction and commitment to the Bible.  We cannot be casual with it; we must be consumed with it.  We must constantly be in it so it can become a natural part of us.  And as we do this our target is greater holiness.  And when we reflect God's holiness, we bring honor to Him and truly shine for Christ in a dark world.       

We need a bolder witness.  A bold witness is one that cannot help but speak about the good news of Jesus into the lives of others.  Peter and John were so captive to the truth of the death and resurrection of Jesus that when threatened with bodily harm, they defied authorities and refused to stop telling others about Jesus (Acts 4).  The urgency and ultimacy of the message gave them courage to act and be bold in the face of great opposition.  Again, it is fear of others that keeps us from being a bold witness.  However, what we must learn is that the ability to be a bold witness is not within ourselves; it results from being filled with the Holy Spirit.  Peter, who so courageously stood in Acts 4 was the same guy who about two months earlier denied even knowing Jesus.  Same guy!  The difference was that in Acts 4 he was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Being filled with the Holy Spirit is simply a spiritual condition of a believer.  It is when we are fully submitting our wills to God's, trusting in His provision, protection, and presence, while pursuing to obey Him in all things.  Then, we are walking by the Spirit rather than quenching the Spirit.  Then, and only then, we can have a true boldness from God.

The ability to be bold in the right moment is determined by the choices made days, months, even years before that moment comes.  Being bold is an overflow of the choice to nurture spiritual discipline and live by the maxim that it is better to trust God than others or myself.  If you and I want to make a true impact on our own lives and others, then we must pursue being more bold followers of Jesus.

The early church had no resources and lived in a hostile environment.  Yet, God worked through their boldness to turn the world upside down with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  That same power is available today to impact our communities, if God's people will just be bold.  It is the bold congregations that will survive and thrive within this ever growing spiritually apathetic American culture.  The spiritually wimpy and worldly will at best limp along without real impact, but mostly likely die slow, agonizing deaths.  Let's be bold by His grace and for His glory!             

16 January 2018

Is Withholding Baptism Sometimes the Right Thing to Do?

It is always a joy to witness a baptism.  There is no doubt that it is a morale booster for a congregation and a cause for celebration.  Our assumption is that the person being baptized has made a commitment to follow Christ based on genuine faith and repentance.  However, my experience as a pastor leaves me  a little perplexed.  If all these folks who got baptized were genuinely born again of the Spirit of God, why have so many disappeared from the church?  I guess there can be multiple theories about that, but I have come to an observation that I believe is regrettably true.  It seems we often baptize without discernment.

Here is what I've come to conclude: Good discernment can be overrun by well-intended enthusiasm or tossed aside because of wrong motivations, resulting sometimes in an unhealthy practice of baptism.

What we often don't do well

Sometimes we fail to talk thoroughly with the one seeking baptism.  This is not limited to children, but it appears that most often this is where we sometimes allow our enthusiasm to run over our commitment to biblical guidance.  In my experience, within the families of a church, the average age a child begins to inquire about baptism is in the range of 6-8 years old.  They see others baptized and they are naturally curious.  If they have grown up in church, they can tell you who Jesus is and what He did.  And they are definitely going to claim to love Jesus.  Why not?  However, conversion is much more than this.  It is about a demonstration of godly sorrow over sin, sincere belief in the gospel, and a solid commitment in regards to counting the cost of following Jesus.   

We are afraid to say "not yet."  When we have a conversation with one seeking baptism, and we come to the conclusion that his understanding of the gospel is still quite fuzzy or the motivation for seeking it may be off target, we are tempted to still grab on to some minimal rationale for pressing forward with baptism.  The red flags are waving, but we are tempted to suppress them. 

Just because a person has indicated an interest in baptism, doesn't mean he is ready for it.  Just because one might desire it, doesn't mean it's the right time for it.  This is especially true with children, but also with adults.  The wrong motivations are numerous.  Here are a few that I believe I have observed.  

The rite of passage baptism

In a church-attending family, there comes a time in a child's life in which baptism is something that is expected within a certain window, typically as an older child 8-12 years old.  Getting baptized is just something that you are expected to do when you're young.  It becomes more of a community expectation rather than a genuine choice as a result of coming to personal faith in Jesus.   

The group-think baptism

The group-think typically occurs among children and teens. During a Vacation Bible School or during a youth trip or camp, the church may cheer that 20 kids made professions of faith and got baptized, but experience tells me that in a short few years you'll look around and wonder to where the vast majority have disappeared. This is not to say that large numbers cannot experience conversion at the same time.  We see this in the book of Acts.  However, we must take the time to counsel each individual carefully even while we celebrate a larger move of God.   

The desperation baptism

There are those who see baptism as the means that will possibly work to start reversing the intolerable circumstances they are currently experiencing.  Baptism becomes their desperation hail mary.  This person thinks that if he submits to baptism, then God will fix his problems.  It's no wonder that when the crisis has passed one way or another, that this person's passion and participation disappears.        

The magic water baptism

I know that within my Baptist tradition we are very clear on the view that baptism is a symbol.  It is not a grace-imparting sacrament.  However, that doesn't stop some good Baptists from still feeling like there is something transformative about the ordinance itself. Unfortunately, this notion is reinforced by popular singers on K-Love.  And once it sets in that there really isn't "something in the water," the disillusionment has set in along with the inevitable discouragement.     

The most important thing

When we take a person into the baptistery who is unconverted we are probably doing more harm than if we take the risk of offending by saying, "not yet."

That person who is baptized unconverted is most certainly placing his or her trust for salvation in the baptism itself, which is a perversion of the biblical truth about salvation. For this person, baptism is a religious work that has now earned favor with God void of true faith and real repentance.  Baptism has become the transaction that has now punched the ticket to heaven.  Now that this is done, life can get back to normal, which is the indication that this person never got the point.  But for a lifetime this person may have the false security of a lie about his or her spiritual condition. He may demonstrate no real commitment in following Jesus or loving His church, but he knows that he got baptized and is a member of the church.   

We want numbers

The truth is that the key measurement for a growing church has always been baptisms.  And, without a doubt, churches should be sharing the Gospel, seeing people converted to following Christ and giving a public declaration of that faith in baptism.  And hopefully we can look back on a period of time and celebrate that a number of baptisms took place.  However, if we begin to decide how many baptisms are the true test of "success," then we run the risk of falling into the ditch of undiscerning baptisms.  Our goal should always be to be congregations that are faithfully sharing the gospel, leading people to understand what it means to follow Christ, and baptizing those who demonstrate true understanding, repentance and faith.

So, we need to be careful in our counseling, courageous enough to say to someone (and maybe a parent), "not yet" if needed, and confident that God causes the increase. 

My desire as a pastor is always to be faithful to God and His Word, to be more effective in ministry, and to get the Gospel to those who need to hear.  If I am faithful in sowing and nurturing the Word, then I can trust God with the growth.  I pray for the wisdom to recognize real faith and repentance and administer true believer's baptism to the best of my ability. 

Pastors, we have an awesome responsibility as shepherds.  Pursue discernment.  Have courage.  Trust God.         

07 November 2017

Finding Hope

Finding hope can be hard.  Keeping hope alive can be harder.  We watch the news in horror far too often.  We struggle with personal problems and fears.  For some those struggles are like the occasional thunderstorm, for some they are like a relentless rain.  Our minds are continually engaged with the reality of suffering, whether of others or our own.  

If we have any awareness of history, we know that human suffering is not new to any generation.  The first family in the Bible experienced a domestic murder, and it has never ceased.  People hurt others and themselves.  So much dysfunction.  So much brokenness.  

Yet even when we get a lull from the carnage blowing up our Twitter feed, we still struggle in daily life with the lack of resources, addictions, abuse, relational dysfunction and the material and social gap between the rich and poor.  And we can lose hope. 

But what is hope exactly?  Hope is a feeling.  It is a good feeling coming from the expectation of good things to come.  It is a feeling that has the ability to redirect discouragement as merely a temporary setback, and it will not give in to despair.  It causes us to be resilient.  But it is also more than this.  Beyond the feeling, which can fluctuate greatly, it is a confidence of good things to come in spite of hurt, disappointment, loss, lack, and pain.  It is a confidence that can persist even when material life is uncertain or even disastrous.  

Hope as a feeling and a confidence is always founded on something.  And our hope is only as strong as that source.  So, the question is this: What am I resting my hope on?  Is it the government?  Is it my family?  Is it my own strength and ability?  Is it my savings account, pension or 401K?  And what happens when my source of hope suddenly falls apart?

In a Christian worldview hope is built on the revealed truth that our existence is credited to our Creator, who purposed a design for our lives.  At the heart of this design is our purpose to know God and find our satisfaction in Him now and forever.  Furthermore, this purpose is only to be discovered and realized through faith in Jesus Christ.  Yet the human brokenness around us and in our own lives causes us often to lose hope.  But in those moments our search for hope can lead us to the right source.  Hardship can be the catalyst for embracing the truth and hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Or, that same hardship can lead us down a path of self destruction and despair.  

According to the Bible, our brokenness is the result of sin.  And sin is the willful disobedience of God's commands.  God has revealed that this reality of sin has impacted all creation.  Sin has corrupted God's original design, including every person's heart, mind and will.  Yet, Jesus is about recovering that original design.  Through him death was conquered and a way was made to have forgiveness of sin and favor with God.  This is the good news that gives a confident hope in our lives.

If you're tired of the brokenness in your life - whatever that may be - then consider what God has revealed in Jesus and His Word.  You may be trying to do your best, yet on the inside you feel the hopelessness. It's easy to try to find purpose and hope in material things and in relationships.  And for a while it seems to work.  But in the end, only confidently knowing that all is right with the One who created you will give you true and lasting peace, contentment and hope.

If you're ready to embrace the hope that is in the gospel of Jesus Christ, talk to someone you know who believes this.  This Sunday, go to a worship service where you know the message of Jesus will be explained and where you will have the opportunity to respond.  And you will find hope and so much more.

No More Wimpy Church!

When we think of being bold, I guess most of us think about toughness and courage - times when we have the fortitude to stand for which we...

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