Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday Service Songs

These are just a few of the songs that we will be singing at our Good Friday Service tonight. I can't wait.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Centrality of the Cross in the Scriptures

Have you ever thought about how important the cross of Jesus Christ is for your life? If you are a Christian, of course you have. I know I think about it all the time. The fact that Jesus died in my place for my sins penetrates every part of me. It impacts just about every aspect of my life. And the parts it does not impact is probably because I have not thought deeply enough about it.

Over the past couple weeks, I have been trying to pay careful attention to the importance the writers of Scripture place on the cross of Jesus Christ (by cross, I am referring to his death in our place for our sins). As I have been reading the New Testament in preparation for Easter, I have been pleasantly surprised that the NT speaks of His death in just about every chapter of the Bible. Here are some examples from my reading yesterday.
"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin." (1 John 1:7) 
"He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 2:2) 
"Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil." (1 John 3:8) 
"By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers." (1 John 3:16) 
"In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:10) 
"This is he who came by water and blood--Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood." (1 John 5:6)
That is just a sampling. As I have been reading, the thought occurred to me: If the NT writers saw this as so important that they couldn't write about almost anything without referring to the death of Jesus, don't you think that it should be something we celebrate more than just on Good Friday?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Spiritual Gifts 02: They Should Alleviate Inferiority

I shared last week that often times, people do not feel the unity that comes with spiritual gifts. One of the reasons for that is that they have an inferiority complex. For some reasons, they have come to think that their gifts they have been given by the Spirit of God, are not as important as someone else's gifts. But the reality is that the different gifts were given to prove just the opposite. They were given so that we would never feel inferior.

The illustrations that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 12 is very helpful for us to understand that every part of the body is needed. In verse 15, Paul says that if the foot doesn't feel like he belongs to the body simply because he isn't as cool as the hand, that would not make him less a part of the body. In addition, he says in verse 16 that if the ear says something like, "well, because I am not an eye, I'm not as important," that statement would not make the ear less a part of the body. These illustrations strike home for us.

Think about it. When was the last time you looked deeply at your loved one and said, "I am really drawn to your ears, they are just so beautiful." No, the ears are usually only pointed out if they are too big. Otherwise, they hardly get any attention. And as far as the feet go, they are usually only commented on when they look strange; when a toe is longer than the others; when they are too hairy; or when the toenails look nasty.

Those that are more like the ear or toe might have an inferiority complex. But the hope Paul offers in verse 17 is that there is a need for diversity. If everyone were an eye, how would the body hear? If the entire body were an ear, how would it smell. The ear is needed. The eye is needed. The nose is needed. The implication is that the toe is needed.

There are some who have suffered for years with this sort of inferiority complex, even in the church. But the reality is that God has given spiritual gifts so that it would alleviate this problem. When we look at someone and think, "Well, I wish I had their gift because it is so much better than my gift", we are going against God's sovereign choice for you. It is the equivalent of looking at God and saying, "Is there a gift receipt that comes with this?"

If you struggle with this in the life of the church, let me encourage you in this way. I believe that God would say something like this to you: "I made you special and exactly how I need you for the church. Don't feel inferior. Get to work with your special gift for the good of the church and for my glory."

There is one more aspect of spiritual gifts I will share in a few days.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Story of God by Matt Papa

While at the Advance 13 conference last week, I was led in worship by several different bands. One of those bands was led by Matt Papa. At the beginning of one of the sessions, they played a poem/story that he had written. It is a very powerful account of what God is doing in the world. It is called, "The Story of God." As we come into Easter week, I thought this might be encouraging. Just remember, God's plan is much bigger than anything we think.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Advance13 Conference, Session 06 (Thursday Morning)

If you are a pastor and have been to conferences like Advance13, you know that you can find yourself very lagging on the last day. The very fact that you have sat through two full days of preaching can be overbearing. You are filled to the rim with biblical teaching. But we pressed on Thursday morning with four more times of teaching. While I was tired, I was grateful for their words of instruction.

"Sex: From the Manufacturer's Manual" by Blake Wilson

Yep, they started the morning talking about sex. Blake Wilson, a pastor in Houston, wanted to stress that sex is the means by which God has provided for man to create more image-bearers of God. Unfortunately, from the time after man sinned, they began to distort this God-given gift. And it continued to get worse until God decided to use a bunch of wood to save eight people (the flood). But mankind would continue to pursue their own sexual perversions against God's mandate for man. But now instead of saving a few with lots of wood, God would save a bunch with a little wood (the cross).

I think the one thing he emphasized that I need to contemplate more is how much the Bible talks about this issue. It is continually throughout the epistles. In Jesus' words to the seven churches in Revelation, He mentions it two times. Maybe the church should talk more about sex because it is important to God. From the very beginning, there has been a battle over this topic. And many pulpits treat this subject like it is something dirty or shouldn't be talked about. 

"Practical Evangelism: How to Get Out There and Start Doing It" by Rupert Leary

One of the things that surprised me at this conference was the impact the shorter speaking times had on me. I came knowing the "A-List" speakers (sorry for that analogy). But I was greatly blessed by some of the other speakers that are less well-known. One of those that I was challenged by was the campus outreach pastor from Vintage Church, Rupert Leary. His challenge to the pastors was to get busy with evangelism. He shared three myths he has noticed concerning evangelism.

First, the Myth that Information Leads to Transformation. It is the application of information that leads to a transformed life. Evangelism cannot be learned in the classroom. It cannot be learned in a sermon. It can only be learned by doing it. 

Second, the Myth of Theology and Apologetics. Yes, sound theology is the bedrock for healthy evangelism. But the greatest need of most Christians is to start applying what they already know. He was very direct at the pastors. He said that it is not enough to say evangelism is your ministry from the pulpit. The pastor must lead the way.

Third, the Myth of Personality or Presentation. Does faith come from hearing or from personality? Of course, we know from the scriptures that it comes from hearing the message. Then why do we often think that it comes from being smooth with our presentation. We need to just do it and trust the Spirit of God to do the work.

"Accidental Pharisees" by Larry Osborne

I shared yesterday about the session I sat through with Larry Osborne. He really has been gifted at thinking through church growth and leadership models. His new book, which I have just received from the publisher to review, is called "Accidental Pharisees." I am not going to say much here from his session as I will talk about it more later when I review the book. But I will just mention one thing that impacted me from his talk. 

Many church leaders tend to love the hard-core lost. We tend to love the baby Christian. We love the ones that race immediately to the front of the line. But we struggle with those that struggle. And when we do, we become like the Pharisees. Good thought.

"Gospel Proclamation: In and Through the Church" by David Platt

After this message by David Platt, I tweeted: "Every time I listen to David Platt preach at a conference, I don't know whether to cry or shout for joy." That should tell you what I thought about this message. It was gospel gold! His topic was that the gospel should be proclaimed on the weekend AND throughout the week. He began by saying that imbalance in the church happens when we take "both/and" statements and turn them into "either/or" statements.

His main exhortation was that pastors should saturate their preaching with the gospel in the church so that their people would speak the gospel in the world. Preach the gospel to your people for the spread of the gospel to all peoples! From Acts 2, he shared five threads found in the gospel that we should be preaching.

1. The Character of God
2. The Sinfulness of Man
3. The Sufficiency of Christ
4. The Necessity of Faith
5. The Urgency of Eternity

He unpacked each one of these statement with biblical clarity and personal passion. I loved it. This is one that you should watch once it is posted online (I will make sure and post the link at some point). He ended the message with this thought: Preach the gospel every weekend! And expect your people to take that message throughout the world during the week!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Advance13 Conference, Session 05 (Wednesday Night)

The evening session on Wednesday night was dedicated to breakout groups. I chose to attend Larry Osborne's session on "Building a Healthy Leadership Team." Osborne is probably outside the group of people I normally am influenced by, but I have appreciated a few things he has written. I wanted to hear his take on leadership. The session was not necessarily about building a team, but about how your team can continually get past ceilings as it grows. 

He began by giving his observations of several things that keep a ministry from growing. These are leadership lessons 101. He began by saying that a ministry might keep hitting walls because the main leader has outgrown their leadership skills. Second, there might be certain organizational structures that continue to prohibit growth (for instance, how do you run a congregational meeting for a church of thousands). Third, your organization might continue to hit the ceiling when it is continually blind-sighted by a major cultural shift. What used to work no longer works.

From here, he briefly articulated how someone knows if their ministry is hitting the ceiling. First, there is a stagnant or decline in attendance. Second, there is marked increase in conflict. Third, the revolving door syndrome. This was insightful for me. I get the first two, but the third one was an eye-opening moment for me. Our church continues to have new people come, but it also has people leaving. I just have not understood it. At this point, I was much more engaged into what he was saying.

When a ministry hits the ceiling, there are several initial things they tend to do. At first, people begin to work harder. They put more effort into their ministry. Then they begin to work smarter. They are more efficient. And then they begin to raise the bar. Their quality of work increases. But if none of those help you get through the ceiling, he suggested three things you need to do.

First, Look For New Advisers. He strongly emphasized that you have to get outside of your tribe to ask  questions to find answers. He used the illustration of Moses seeking his father-in-law Jethro, who was a pagan, for help. 

Second, Look For New Expectations. There are always expectations that people have with the pastor. Sometimes, those need to change. If a church is going to grow, it must change. In Acts 6 when the Apostles encountered a problem with the widows, they changed the expectations by bringing on some deacon-like men.

Third, Look For New Structures. There might be traditions, policies, or sacred cows that are holding the ministry back. There might be some structures wasting time. They need to be identified and removed.

I have only given the details of what he said. The impact upon my life and ministry are still brewing in my heart. I do think that there are things we have changed in the past two years at our church. And there are things that probably need to change. I do not want to change expectations or structures just to change them. If something needs to be changed, I want it to be purposeful.

Advance13 Conference, Session 04 (Wednesday Afternoon)

I posted my thoughts this morning on what happened in the morning sessions Wednesday. Here are some of my thoughts from the afternoon session.

"Becoming a Multiplying Church" by Brian Bloye

In this session, Brian Bloye tried to convince us that we should be a multiplying church, not just a church that is trying to build our own empire. He shared several steps towards this end.

First, it has to start with the heart of the senior leadership team. It must be a catch and release mentality as opposed to a catch and keep. Second, the leadership must be willing to cast an ongoing, compelling vision. If you are going to be a church planting church, it must become part of the DNA of the church. Third, it is going to take an investment. Fourth, you must tell stories and celebrate success stories. And fifth, pick a target and start today.

The one thing that stuck out to me had nothing to do with church planting. Or at least, I am going to apply it to something other than creating the culture of church planting. I think our church does not tell the stories of peoples lives enough. I wonder if in creating a DNA of member involvement and evangelism, we need to continually share what is going on in the life of individuals in our church. This was a helpful reminder for me.

"The Gospel and Hip-Hop" by D. A. Horton

One of the most unique sessions of the conference was when D. A. Horton shook us with an urge to cross the street to share the gospel to the urban culture. To be honest, I will listen to this message again. He was spot on theologically. He was brutally honest about our ignorance of thinking we can use our terminology in a different culture. And he was brilliant in his use of illustrations. The only thing I did not like was that he might have taken Tyler Jones on the fastest speaker award. His ability to articulate at a rapid speed was incredible. 

Much of his message was focused on the acronym "Gospel" that is listed below. He illustrated and explained each point in detail, particularly how he would explain it in his hip-hop culture. It was brilliant!

G = God's Image
O = Open Fellowship
S = Sin is Introduced
P = Penalty & Price
E = Enter Jesus; Eternally God
L = Life Everlasting

"How Both Faithful and Effective Churches Assume the Gospel" by Matt Chandler

If you have read around my blog very much, I am sure you have caught on that I really appreciate the preaching ministry of Matt Chandler, who is one of the most gifted and helpful preachers for my heart these days. His message out of 1 Corinthians 3 had several points that helped me think more clearly about my own calling to pastoral ministry.

First, all ministers, regardless of gifting, placement, or assignment, are first and foremost a servant of the most high God. We must regard ourselves as such. There is something about men who lie low and exalt Christ. Second, all ministers are tools in the hand of God. We can motivate, but only God can transform. We can marvel at God's use of John Piper, but we could not marvel at John Piper. He is just a ministry tool in the hands of God like I am in the hands of God. Third, all ministers serve the same purpose. We are here to make much of the only One who will ever be praised.

After setting it up, he turned to show how both fruitful and faithful churches might assume the gospel. Fruitful churches (which he defined as a church based on numbers) might assume the gospel when they think they need to help the gospel by making it (or even Jesus) cool enough for everyone. That will never be possible. The gospel offends.

But on the other hand, faithful churches (which he defined as a church based on doctrine or truth) might assume the gospel when they think that smallness validates their faithfulness. It can also be seen when they lack gospel ambition or when they are unnecessarily harsh (I really appreciated when he said there is a wrong way to be right). In a similar way to J. D. Greear, Chandler emphasized that they assume these people (insert me here) when there is evangelistic laziness. There is a little in me that I have had to deal with that has wondered if God really wants to use me as conduits of His sovereign grace. I believe He does . . . Lord, help my unbelief!

Question & Answer
The afternoon session ended with a time for questions and answers. There is only one observation I want to make. On the stage, from left to right was Tyler Jones, David Platt, John Piper, J. D. Greear, and Matt Chandler. Maybe they set it up on purpose, but it appeared as if everyone was looking to Piper in the middle. Honestly, it just seemed appropriate. My guess is that he is the father figure in this group of men. Most of the questions ended up being towards him or getting back to him. It should have been a Q&A with John Piper.

There was an evening session. I will post my thoughts about it later today.

Advance13 Conference, Session 03 (Wednesday Morning)

I am at the Advance 13 Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. The theme of the conference is “building faithful AND effective churches.” Wednesday was the long day as we listened to many hours of teaching. Once again, I have chosen to break up my thoughts on the day into a blog post for each session (Wednesday there were three). These are my thoughts of the morning session.

“How to Serve Local and Global Communities” by Brian Fikkert

The first session of the morning was a short talk by Brian Fikkert on how the American church has blown it when it comes to helping solve the poverty problem in the world. To be honest, when he began talking about this issue, I was nervous. And I think it is for good reason. You see, he began with the same old statistics that we have all been shamed with before: “40% of the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day; you are part of the richest people to ever live on the face of the earth;” and other things like that.

But as he developed his idea of poverty, I was pleasantly surprised. He encouraged us to never define poverty as the lack of stuff. That will never help bring long-lasting results. There is a deeper fundamental definition for poverty. He argued that since God has wired us for relationships (God, self, others, & creation), poverty is fundamentally rooted in those relationships being broken.

Our help of the poor begins with our realization of our own poverty. Jesus is the creator and sustainer of all things and our solution to help must start with Jesus being the answer. It is not about putting bread into their hand, as it will never bring eternal results. It is about putting their hand into the hand of God. It is rooted in reconciliation of broken relationships.

The one thing I took away from his talk was that my pride often is seen even in the good things of helping people. When I define poverty as “stuff”, I feel as if they need me to help them. In so doing, I have raised myself up and lowered them. But if I enter their situation with knowledge of my own poverty, I am one with them.

“Thinking Bigger about Business” by Andre Mann

In Acts 8:1–2, we are the gospel spread through the dispersion of the people of God. The gospel spread, not through the professional apostles going places, but through the people of God spreading. Andre Mann encouraged us in his short session, to think that the way the gospel can reach the world is through it reaching the businessman or teacher or store owner.

He showed, through a map, that the fastest growing economies in the world are also the most unreached places on earth. He encouraged us to think that maybe God has merged those two. I was encouraged to think that the businessmen in the church are not just the giving base; they are the missionaries that God might be calling. We should be equipping, training, and sending them out to the world for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“Why Faithful Churches Grow Deep and Wide” by J. D. Greear

I have heard of J. D. Greear in the past, but I have never heard him preach. I have never read anything he has written. But after this session, I really want to hear more of what he has to say. I was greatly encouraged and convicted at his message, which began with the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18–20. He reminded us that these are our marching orders. To make disciples implies two kinds of growth: width and depth. To make disciples means that we are seeing people come to faith and we are seeing them grow to spiritual maturity. From here, he launched into his main two points.

1. Those That Grow Wide, But Not Deep, Are Not Growing As Wide As They Think.

He defended his statement with three main points. First, converts that don’t persevere as disciples do not make it into heaven. That might sound controversial, but he did a good job of showing that it is once saved, always following. Second, converts in a post-Christian world will increasingly have to be won outside the church. As we make disciples, we are teaching them to take the gospel outside the walls of the church. Third, Jesus said the greatest width would occur through the multiplication of leaders, not the building of audiences. It might not be as cool as the big show, but multiplying leaders is how you reach people for several generations.

2. Those That Grow Deep, But Not Wide, Are Probably Not Growing As Deep As They Think.

He was very clear to emphasize the word “probably.” He did acknowledge that some of the greatest prophets and leaders preached for years and never saw any fruit. But the very fact that Jesus told His followers to make disciples of all nations proves that Jesus was telling them to dream big.

This is no doubt the place that I was really challenged. I have argued for years that I just want to take the church deep and trust God for the width. And in many ways, I still agree with that. But he pushed back a bit. Could it possibly be that I say that because of apathy, laziness, or even a lack of belief? Could it be that I really don't think God wants to do something big and so I don't look for it; don't pray for it; and don't work towards it?

He quoted Charles Spurgeon who was talking to a young pastor who had asked him why he saw so many converts. Spurgeon replied, "Son, you don't think that every time you preach people be saved, do you?" The young man replied, "Well, no." Spurgeon said, "That's the reason why people are not saved."

Of all the teaching times so far, this is the one that impacted me the most. I was really challenged to think bigger, think more strategic, think more clearly on what it means to be deep and wide.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Advance13 Conference, Session 02 (Tuesday Night)

I shared the lessons I learned from Session One of The Advance 13 conference earlier this morning. Before I get to the evening session, I wanted to share one other aspect of the afternoon session I left out in that long review. It was really impressed upon me that they are very concerned for life change. The leaders care very little about content transfer. They want us to learn and grow. They said that repeatedly. But in addition, we spent two different times in a concert of prayer. It was a welcomed change to be at a conference that emphasized the participants to pray that God would do something in their heart while they listened to the teaching. Now onto the evening session, which was composed of two main teaching times.

"The Multi-Ethnic Church" by Brian Loritts

Several years ago a team of people, including Brian Loritts, set out to plant a racially diverse church in one of the most racially contested cities in America: Memphis. His heart for a multi-ethnic church bled through as he preached on Ephesians 2. His emphasis was that the good news of Jesus brings people together. The good news of the gospel is meant to heal vertical AND horizontal.

I think the one statement that impacted me the most was when he said the most powerful evidence of the gospel is when two people with nothing in common come together for worship. It just doesn't make any earthly sense. Therefore, it must be something outside of this world.

To be honest, I have heard messages like this before and have left empty. I really do not believe that I have any racial bias at all. I would love for our church to be more racially diverse. The only problem is that the main city in which I serve is almost 97% white. I believe our church should be open for everyone. But even more than that. We should pursue everyone. But it does seem to me that the church in which you serve should be a representative of the area in which you minister. 

I appreciated that at the end of the message, he did acknowledge that. It is the first time I have heard a message on a multi-ethnic church that was gracious enough to admit that sometimes we might serve in an area of the country that is just not possible to be racially diverse.

That said, his last point was well taken. He impressed upon me this thought: When was the last time I intentionally became the "only one."

"A Hunger for God: The Foundation of Faithful AND Effective Ministry" by John Piper

I love John Piper. There are very few people that motivate me to love Jesus like this man. I would love to spend time with him. He draws me in, not because he is extra special. But there is something in him that lures me to love and pursue Jesus. His joy and passion oozes from every word of his message.

He message focused upon the goal of ministry by Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:24: "Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy." Paul's goal . . . our goal in ministry should be to work for the joy of those we minister to every day. He encouraged us to make this our functional mission statement. The result of our working for their joy is that it produces in us joy. We are joyful when they are joyful. Their joy produces joy in us.

And it works the other way around as well. If we have joy, it will produce in those we minister to a joy. As Paul continued into chapter two, he thought that if he had joy, they would be joyful (vs. 3). And then the climax was that he had abundant love for them. That's the joy. When we are out to increase each other's joy, that's true love! It could also be said like this: when you find full satisfaction in Jesus, I find joy in you . . . and vise versa. This is Christian love.

The result of this pursuit of joy in others will lead me to a hunger for God. If there is no hunger in my heart, there will be no joy in their heart. We ended with a urgent call to fight for this desire or joy.

Piper got me in this message. There is no doubt that I want our people at CBC to abandon the things of the world and pursue Jesus with everything that they have. I know and desire for them to find their ultimate satisfaction in the joy of the Lord. But I wonder if it has been a secondary motivation for me. I wonder if I have put the pursuit of joy as a byproduct instead of the goal. This is something I will take more time to process in my own heart. 

Advance13 Conference, Session 01 (Tuesday Afternoon)

I am at the Advance 13 Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. It is my goal to give a little time to write about what I am learning through this conference. But let me give a few preliminary thoughts before I get to the main teaching times. 

The people working the event were very friendly as I approached the convention center. That is always important to me. Are the people who are serving displaying the gospel the conference is going to communicate? I was very warmly welcomed. But then as I entered the auditorium at the convention center, I knew it was going to be different than almost any other conference I have attended. The stage was set for an obvious concert, in which I was not disappointed. The music that led into the main speaking times was dynamic, worshipful, and very loud. Let me emphasize that again: it was loud. It could have been that we were sitting in the second row in front of a rack of about a dozen speakers, but if my heart was not in rhythm, it is now.

The music aside, the way they have organized this event is according to sessions. Each session could last between 2-3 hours, in which they will worship, have announcements, and a few teaching opportunities. Some of the teaching times are purposefully longer and some are practical praxis sessions. In my review, I have chosen to organize my thoughts around each session, not each day. That will make for more blog posts, but shorter ones. What you will read below is how God moved in my heart during the teaching times of session 01.

There was only one negative from the sessions. They have tried to create a very worshipful atmosphere in the room by dimming the lights. Then when the teaching time comes, they turn them up a little bit. But it was still difficult to read my small compact ESV Bible. I wish they would have had more lights during the teaching times. But that is simply a trivial matter. Let me get to the three speakers in session one and some things that impacted me.

"You Can't Lead What You Don't Live" by Tyler Jones

I have not heard much of Tyler Jones, who is the Lead Pastor of Preaching and Vision at Vintage Church in Raleigh, NC. This is the first time I have ever heard him speak. My initial observations is that he is brilliant, gifted communicator. And he just might be the fastest preacher I have ever heard. There were so many things in his message that I wanted to write down but couldn't because he was moving so fast. It felt as if he was trying to fit two hours of information into 45 minutes. 

He began by making the argument that we have more opportunity to impact and make disciples than we ever have in the history of the world. The technology at our beckon call should help us in our endeavor. But unfortunately, we are not producing fruit or disciples. Instead, we have reduced the disciple making process down into the dissemination of information. We have missed the mark of making disciples who reproduce themselves. We are too content for knowledge. He emphasized that if we are going to reverse this error, it must start with us.

The bulk of his message was from 2 Corinthians 4:1-6. I was greatly impacted by his repeated emphasis of understanding "this ministry" that we have been given by the Lord. As he unpacked this, he asked several questions that hit home in my life:
  • Have you robbed the followers of Jesus of their ministry because you think you can do it better?
  • Are you setting the environment for healthy ministry to take place?
  • Are you doing anything that should be entrusted to someone else?
  • Do you have a Superman Complex?
  • How are you going to create an atmosphere where every follower of Jesus is empowered to be what God created them to be?
One of the most impactful parts of his message was when he said that most pastors he knows are really good at speaking the gospel, but they are imbeciles at applying it to our own hearts. It was like I was listening to Paul Tripp talk about the Dangerous Calling of pastors.

I really did enjoy this message and hope to hear it again sometime soon. It was a great start to the conference. I simply need to process more of what he had to say.

"Everyday Church" by Steve Timmis

Compared to Jones, I am somewhat familiar with Steve Timmis. I read and reviewed his book, Total Church. He began his message by saying that he was not going to talk about anything that was new, but that it was cutting edge. His message began in Genesis 1:26 when God said, "Let us make man in our image..." God's desire was to create a globe-filling, image-bearing community of people for Himself. That statement was repeated over and over in his message. God wants to create a people for Himself in order to reveal His glory to them and to display His glory through them.

His message made me want to buy his book by this same title. If this is truly God's heart for people, to be in a community to reveal and display God's glory, then it makes no sense that we have reduced the gospel down to only "Jesus died for my sins so that I can go to heaven." While it is a true statement, it is an incomplete thought. The gospel is not less than the forgiveness of my sins, but it has to be much more.

His final appeal was that we would be the church. Let us repent of our individualism. Let us repent of our superficialism. And let us form communities that reach out in the world to reflect His glory to those that do not know Him.

"The Kind of Men the Church Needs" by John Bryson

The last speaker of session one was John Bryson, who dropped the bomb on the men at the conference and the Christian community. When I heard he was going to speak on men, I was very interested as our church has recently started to emphasize this ministry. He was very clear that you can't have a strong church without strong men. In his initial diagnosis of the men in the world today, he shared several sobering realities about men. 
  • Men are confused
  • Men are disappointed
  • Men live with pain
  • Men are lonely
  • Men are drifting
  • Men turn to escapes
  • Confused men create problems
  • Without a compelling vision of manhood, men will settle for less.
In response to these concerning realities, he emphasized that most pulpits are silent; Fathers are missing; and most people don't really want to deal with the real issues. Then after giving some historical realities of how we ended up at our current situation with men, he gave some hope in the gospel for men.

Jesus is often referred to as the second Adam. The first Adam failed. He was passive. He didn't lead. He didn't do what He was called to do. But Jesus fully accomplished what he set out to accomplish. And men now can either walk in the shadows of the first Adam or the light of the second Adam. We need to help our men find that second Adam.

That was the first session. I will share later today what took place during the second session, Tuesday night.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Spiritual Gifts 01: They Should Promote Unity

It seems to me that the topic of spiritual gifts has been either abused or ignored in the life of the church. Some people wrongly emphasize one gift over all other gifts. They have abused the purpose of these gifts, making them into a personal sign of spiritual maturity. On the other hand, there are some who, being scared of wrongly emphasizing the gifts, have swung the pendulum so far to the other side. They have ignored the teaching in the Scriptures on spiritual gifts.

I shared yesterday that I preached a sermon on this topic on Sunday. The importance of spiritual gifts so impacted me that I wanted to take more than one blog post to articulate what I learned from my study and teaching. I plan on doing that this week through three different blog posts. 

One of the main things I learned and have become convinced of is that spiritual gifts were given as a sign that should promote unity. In almost every occasion we read about spiritual gifts in the Scriptures, there is an emphasis of the body of Christ. The ONE body of Christ. Not two, but one. The Apostle Paul makes this point well when he writes . . .
"For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and all were made to drink of one Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).
If you are a Christian, the spiritual gift you have received is a sign that you are part of the body of Christ. And even though each part of that body is different, it is still a part of the whole. These gifts came through a common spiritual experience to each person in the body.

Everyone has the same spiritual story. There is a commonality in the fact that we were all born sinful. Then beyond that, if you are in Christ, you were saved the same way everyone else has been saved: through faith by grace based upon the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Nobody is saved differently than anyone else. Don't get me wrong, we might have different testimonies (some might have been saved young, some old). But the process of coming to salvation is the same for each person.

But it is even more than that. We also share a common spiritual experience of being baptized into the same spiritual body. The Spirit of God has unified us through what Paul calls baptism by the Spirit (he reiterates it by the phrase, "made to drink of one Spirit").

I have come to love many of my "charismatic" friends. I love their emphasis on the Holy Spirit. I love their passion for worship and the lost. But this is one area that I think some of them have completely misunderstood. Paul's point seems to be the exact opposite of saying someone is saved (part of the body) and then only later they receive the baptism of the Spirit in some form of second blessing. It sure seems his exact point is that there are NOT two bodies of Christ (those not baptized and those who have been). Paul is saying there is only ONE body of Christ and that all who have been saved have received it when they were made to drink of one Spirit.

We are brought into the body of Christ together and the gifts that the Spirit gives at that time are meant to promote unity in that body. There should be no fear that our diversity in the body of Christ, or our diversity of gifts should fracture our unity. Our unity lies up and outside of whether we can speak, lead, evangelize, or organize like someone else. Our unity lies in the fact that we have a common spiritual experience of salvation in the gospel of Jesus Christ, which has led to a common spiritual experience of being baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ.

But Why Don't We Feel This Unity?

That is what I will try to address in the next post.

What Will God Teach Me at the Advance13 Conference?

About a month ago, I shared that I would be attending the Advance13 Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. I shared at that time that the speakers and the topic was a draw for me. It is because of those things that I spent yesterday driving eight hours in the rain to get here to attend this conference.

As I think about going to conferences like this, my heart is always in anticipation for what God is going to do through the preaching of His Word in my heart. What does He want to teach me? I wonder if that is the reason why I woke up so early this morning. Maybe I am just excited and expectant of what God is going to do. This attitude in my heart reminded me of something I wrote in my book, Helping Johnny Listen, on coming to the preaching event expecting God to do something.
"William Carey, often referred to as the father of modern missions, was well-known for his life motto: 'Expect great things from God; Attempt great things for God.' What if the church believes and lives a phrase like this when it comes to the preaching of his Word? What if we say, 'God, we will attempt great things for you, things like listening intently, avoiding distractions, coming prepared, and so on. And then, God, we expect great things from you, things like life change and heart change; and we expect that you will do something in our lives through the preaching of your Word" (59).
That is how I feel this morning on the verge of this conference. I expect great things from God through the preaching of His Word. I do not know what He is going to teach me. But what I do know is that I want to be a good student. I want to listen well. I want to engage to the best of my ability. I want to strip away the distractions of life and be ready to hear from my Savior.

Would you pray for me? Would you pray that I would listen and apply well? Would you pray that God would do something to continue the transformation of my heart into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ? I couldn't thank you enough for some prayers.

You can follow along with me at this conference. Just last week, they announced that the sessions will be streamed live (you can find the information HERE). And in addition, I will be attempting to flesh out my heart as I blog throughout the conference. Check back often as I will be posting, not a review, but what God is teaching me in North Carolina.

To God Be The Glory In His Church . . .

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Morning After: Spiritual Gifts, Finding Your Place in the Body of Christ

I am towards the very end of my series on the church. Our goal in this series has been to investigate the Scriptures to discover how God designed the church to function and operate. This week, we spent time talking about the nature of spiritual gifts. Our main idea in this message was . . .

Every Christian Has Been Called & Gifted To Meet 
A Need In The Church!

Many Christians fail to realize not only how God has gifted them, but the importance of their gift for the body of Christ. We treat this special endowment of grace, a spiritual gift, like we treat a present we didn't want for Christmas. It gets put in the closet or garage, hardly ever taken out to make an appearance. But that is not God's plan. God's plan is that it be used and for a specific purpose. That purpose is explained in my definition for spiritual gifts. 
A spiritual gift is a special act of grace that God gives to the Christian to meet a need in the body of Christ for the spiritual growth of the church (Eph. 4:11-12; 1 Cor. 14:12) to the glory of God (1 Peter 4:11).
This means that if you are a Christian, God has given you a special manifestation of grace that enables you to do something for His glory as it builds up the body of Christ. It helps the church, the people of the church, to grow into the image of Jesus Christ. And when it is used, it is counted as authentic worship before the Lord.

My specific goal in my sermon was not to answer all the questions that usually come up about spiritual gifts (like the really important charismatic questions). We did not have time for all of that. My goal was simply to lay the biblical evidence before people that if they are in Christ, they have been called and gifted to meet a need in the body of Christ. I wanted to motivate them as to the importance of jumping in and serving. I don't want people to ignore their gifts. I'm tired of people sweeping their gifts under the rug. God has called all Christians to something and gifted them to do it for the good of the church and the glory of His name.

This has meant so much to me in the past and especially the last several weeks that I am going to break my thoughts down into several blog posts over the next week. But I will share my main points from my sermon that I will articulate in separate posts coming very soon. It is my understanding in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 that Paul tries to motivate the people of Corinth to jump in and use their gifts. He does that by giving three different motivations concerning the purpose of spiritual gifts.

#1 - Spiritual Gifts Are Designed To Promote Unity (vs. 12-13)
#2 - Spiritual Gifts Are Designed To Alleviate Inferiority (vs. 14-20)
#3 - Spiritual Gifts Are Designed To Eliminate Superiority (vs. 21-31)

If you simply cannot wait and want to see more of this, you can check out my notes or listen to the sermon HERE. But the next week or so, I plan on articulating each one of these points in further depth, all for the good of the church and the glory of Jesus.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

40-Day Lent Bible Reading Plan (March 17th)

Over a month ago, I made the decision to read through the New Testament during the season leading up to Easter. It has been a good decision, and I hope many of you who are doing it with me are still tracking along. Throughout this journey, I have found myself get behind a day here or there, but then I have been able to catch up the next day. This past week, I read Acts 27 through 2 Corinthians 9.

Much of the material I read this week was very doctrinal. It was a very different style of material from the previous several weeks (gospels and acts). Romans and 1 & 2  Corinthians are weighty. But amidst all the weight, there was one thought that I would like to investigate further in the future when I have some time.

As I read through the book of Acts, Paul's heart was revealed that he wanted to go visit Rome. But for some reason, he was not allowed to go there until the very end of the book. The book of Romans was written during his third missionary journey from Corinth. It was a fruitful time of his life. He was the great missionary church planter. He would visit a city, preach the gospel, and help plant a church before moving onto the next one. With this model, he wasn't content without getting to Rome.

Because he was denied going there, I wonder if the book of Romans actually reads like a manual for what he might have said, had he gone to plant a church there. Maybe this book, which was written by the heart of the missionary apostle, is really a template of what he said when he went from city to city planting churches. Could it have been that he started with the nature of sin? Then he went to the nature of justification by faith alone, apart from works. Then he went to talk about sanctification and holiness issues. And then he continued to talk about God's plan for the Jewish people through the subject of election. And maybe he closed out talking about some basic activities for the church.

I don't know, but it is something I would like to ponder more on. What about you? Anything stand out to you this past week in your Bible reading?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

This Week in the Blogosphere (March 16, 2013)

Each week, there are hundreds upon thousands of blog posts written by people all over the world. I find myself each week, reading several of them. I have taken the time to link to some of my favorite blog posts or news stories around the blogosphere from the previous week. I hope maybe one or two of these will be an encouragement to you.
  • A Review of Rob Bell's New Book by David Steele. This is the first of several reviews I am sure I will read about this forthcoming book. I have no interest in reading the book.
  • The Gospel According to Duck Dynasty by Denny Burk. This video has made its rounds. If you watch this show (even if you don't), you should check it out as Phil shares the message of the gospel rather accurately.
  • Consider Yourself by Burk Parsons. When entering a conflicting situation, Parsons shares ten questions you should be asking yourself. Good stuff.

Friday, March 15, 2013

"Follow Me" Trailer

Last Friday I shared my review of David Platt's new book, Follow Me. It is a book that I would highly recommend to you. Here is a short video that was produced as a trailer for this book. Check it out and check the book out.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Do You Want To Learn Church History?

When I entered seminary, I was forced to choose an emphasis for my MDiv program. I chose church history. I love reading and studying about those that have run the race before our time. I am often enthralled with the way God has used different people at different times in the history of the church. And I am often stunned how bad people in the church acted in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Even though I went through with a church history emphasis, I would not classify myself as a church historian. Not even close. I have so much left to learn. That is why I was really excited to hear that Tim Challies was starting a series on his blog called "The History of Christianity in 25 Objects." He explains the purpose of this series in this way.
"Though so much of Christian history has passed away, though so many of its people and objects have been lost to time, a few precious relics remain. When we look at these objects with careful eye, when we consider them in their context, we see in them the history of the Christian faith. In this new series of articles I have chosen twenty-five of these objects and through them wish to explore the history of the is faith we hold so dear, the history of what God is accomplishing in this world, whether through princes or peasants, whether through triumph or trial. 
Each of these objects offers us a tangible link between the present and the past, between the Christians of the twenty-first century and the Christians who lived and died in centuries past. In a few cases these objects are hidden away or in private collections, but more commonly they are there for all who wish to see them. We can travel to museums and galleries, look at these objects, and see in them a link to history--our history. This, then is the history of Christianity in twenty-five objects."
I would encourage you to read the rest of his Introduction Post

Today, he has posted the first of the objects in this series: A Statue of Augustus of Prima Porta.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Another Groundhog Day

The first thought in my mind this morning as I rolled out of bed was "here we go again." Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt like your life is a living, breathing example of Groundhog Day. You know what I mean, it is the same thing over and over again. It feels like you do the same thing every day with little variation. For me, I rolled out of bed, took a shower, took my son to school, went to the office, and started working. I assume when I get off of work, I will see my family, maybe have some kids sporting event, watch a little TV, then go to bed to rest myself for this all over again tomorrow. Does this describe your life as well?

As I was thinking about how pattered our lives tend to be, I could not help but think how this might translate to me spiritually. Here is my conclusion: Spiritually, there can never be a Groundhog Day. Spiritually, I am never at the same place. I am either being transformed more into the image of Christ or I am walking away from Him, imaging the evil of mankind. But there is no standing still. I am either progressing or regressing.

The same thing can be said physically. If you work out and use your muscles, you will get stronger. If you do nothing with them, they begin to atrophy. Trust me, I know that you will lose them. You never stay static. And spiritually, you never stay static. You either are growing and pursuing Christ or you are turning your back on Him. Today, I hope you are growing.
"Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:12-14)
Keep Pressing On Today!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer

This past weekend, I finished reading through The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer with a group of men from my church. This is a book that just missed being on my list of the top 31 books that have influenced my life (although, he did have two other books on that list). This is a classic book and every time I read it, I want to move it higher on my list. There may not be a book that is more suitably entitled, as his calling in this book be that we pursue God.

I will not pretend that this book does not come with its difficulties. There are many portions of this book that are difficult to read. His language is verbose and his thoughts are deep. But I have found that I only grow when I am challenged. His articulation of the longing of the human heart for something greater is encouraging and drawing. I want what he pursued. 

That pursuit is visibly displayed in my favorite parts of the book, which were the prayers at the end of each chapter. When I read and pray these prayers, I am really moved to worship. They help set the focus of my heart. Here is an example of two of the ten prayers.
"O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need of further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, that so I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, 'Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.' Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long. In Jesus' name. Amen." (20) 
"O God, be Thou exalted over my possessions. Nothing of earth's treasures shall seem dear unto me if only Thou art glorified in my life. Be Thou exalted over my friendships. I am determined that Thou shalt be above all, though I must stand deserted and alone in the midst of the earth. Be Thou exalted above my comforts. Though it mean the loss of bodily comforts and the carrying of heavy crosses, I shall keep my vow made this day before Thee. Be Thou exalted over my reputation. Make me ambitious to please Thee even if as a result I must sink into obscurity and my name be forgotten as a dream. Rise, O Lord, into Thy proper place of honor, above my ambitions, above my likes and dislikes, above my family, my health and even my life itself. Let me sink that Thou mayest rise above. Ride forth upon me as Thou didst ride into Jerusalem mounted upon the humble little beast, a colt, the foal of an ass, and let me hear the children cry to Thee, 'Hosanna in the highest.' Amen." (101-102)
If you have never read this book, I would encourage you to grab it. You can get it on Amazon for really cheap. It will be better than any dollar menu item you purchase at any place.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Morning After: Equipping, Developing Fully Mature Disciples

I do not know a pastor that would not desire for their church to grow. In fact, they expect it. If the church is comprised of Christians, and I hope it is, then the pastor should expect to see growth in their church. The only problem is that sometimes, we have the wrong concept of growth. 

The type of growth that I am talking about is not counted on an attendance sheet. It is spiritual growth. The type that the Apostle Paul refers to in Ephesians 4. The type that happens as a result of the body of Christ being what God designed it to be.
"And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ." (Ephesians 4:11-12).
Trace the flow of Paul's argument. As those that have been given leadership gifts equip the people of the church, they get involved in the life of ministry and that in turn builds up the body of Christ. Or let's look at it from the reverse. Growth happens when people serve. People serve when people are equipped. It all hinges on this concept of equipping.

If we were to dig deeper, we would discover that to equip has two aspects to its understanding. It means to mend or restore as well as having a nuance of training or preparing. The ministry of those in leadership is to provide any or all things that might be necessary for someone else to perform an action. It might mean they help mend areas of their life that need mending. It might mean they help teach and train people for specific ministries by assisting them to discover their unique abilities. The shepherds do this so that people will be ready to accomplish the ministry.

This is an important thought. Ministry is in the hands of people. It is not something that is done by the professionals or the spiritually elite (as if those things exist). It is ordinary people who are equipped. The result is that the body of Christ is built up. The church grows.

Now, the bulk of the time in my sermon was spent on verses 13-16, where Paul articulates a picture of what the fully equipped person looks like. I broke it down into six evidences. 
  1. Spiritual Unity (vs. 13a)
  2. Spiritual Maturity (vs. 13b)
  3. Doctrinal Integrity (vs. 14)
  4. Authentic Testimony (vs. 15a)
  5. Proper Humility (vs. 15b-16a)
  6. Personal Responsibility (vs. 16b)

If you want to see how I articulated each one, you can check out my notes or listen to it HERE.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

40-Day Lent Bible Reading Plan (March 10th)

It has been almost four weeks since I decided to read through the New Testament during Lent. Instead of giving something up, I decided to be intentional about adding something. I know some of you are doing this plan or some other intentional plan during this time. How is it going? I would love to hear what you are learning. Sometimes, I feel like an island out here in space. But it is good for my soul to write down some things I have learned through my time in the Word of God.

This past week, I read John 15 through Acts 26. Much of that reading is the history of the early church. I have read it many times in the past. I am actually teaching through the book of Acts during an adult elective class at our church at 9:15 on Sunday mornings. But as I read it again, I was struck by the life change that took place when someone came to faith in Jesus. The easy example of this is the Apostle Paul. He was radically changed by the gospel.

In Acts 9, we see him on his way to Damascus to persecute more Christians. He had just been part of overseeing the death of Stephen and the massive onslaught of persecution of Christians that resulted in the spread of the Christian people. Think about his reputation. He was vocally and visibly in opposition to the name of Jesus. And then God intervenes on that road.

As I read that story once again, I couldn't help but to think about those people traveling with him. What did they think? What went through their minds when they finally arrived in Damascus and Saul was not about the persecution of Christians. In fact, he was to go to a know Christian, Ananias, for healing. And then after he received his sight again, what did he do?
"For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, 'He is the Son of God.' And all who heard him were amazed and said, 'Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests? But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ" (Acts 9:19-22).
Radically changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ! Radically transformed. From a persecutor to a preacher.

His story is certainly the capstone of many in the book of Acts. As I continued to read about the transformation of lives, I couldn't help but to think, "Where's that transformation today? Why do we expect so much less than that when we share the gospel with people today? When someone 'prays to receive Christ' why aren't we shocked when their life does not change?"

I think the story of the book of Acts is that when Jesus intervenes, you are never the same again. Ever!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

This Week in the Blogosphere (March 9, 2013)

Each week, there are hundreds upon thousands of blog posts written by people all over the world. I find myself each week, reading several of them. I have taken the time to link to some of my favorite blog posts or news stories around the blogosphere from the previous week. I hope maybe one or two of these will be an encouragement to you.
  • Chavez's Last Words and Yours by Denny Burk. Have you ever thought about your last words before you die? Have you ever thought about what you might say if you were scared about what happens after you die? These words should come as no surprise, but they are still shocking.
  • Review of Jesus Calling by Michael Horton. This book has taken the Christian community by storm in the past year. Horton does a good job of showing the potential dangers with this book.
  • Review of 'The Bible: Beginnings" (Episode 1) by Josh Lough. A friend of mine is reviewing the docudrama on the History channel on The Bible. His conclusion of the first episode is that it was not as bad as he thought it was going to be. But he does point out a few of the errors and one main problem with episode one.