Monthly Archives: August 2011

Dying For The Cause

Pastor Shi Enhao

Sometimes we Western Christians read the Bible and it seems like another world to us – perhaps like Middle Earth or Narnia. In Acts, Luke records continual opposition that we can hardly fathom. But the free west is the anomaly, not the norm. Even as I type people are being persecuted and even martyred for trusting Jesus Christ, who was persecuted and murdered for them.

Here’s an example from the latest edition of World Magazine:

In late July, Shi Enhao, a house church leader was arrested and sentenced to two-years of “re-education through labor” for holding illegal meetings and illegally organizing religious meetings. Zhang Mingxuan, president of the house church alliance, wrote to Chinese president Hu Jintao asking for Shi’s release and calling for freedom of worship: “Even if you misunderstand me or even kill me or imprison me, I still have to tell the truth,” (Reminds me of Acts 4:20) Zhang said in a letter. “As long as Christians can freely worship God, I wouldn’t mind dying for this cause.” He said.

Please pray for our brothers and sisters (universal church) that God strengthen them with the joy set before them (Heb. 12:12) and that they would proclaim the mystery of Christ clearly (Colossians 4:2-4), just as every Christian should.

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The Southern Baptist Catholic Church?

I admit it, I can be a selfish Christian and I am constantly discovering just how deep the selfishness runs.

I like to win. I like my team to win. I like to have things my way. I want people to believe like me, act like me, etc. Now wanting people to be like me isn’t always bad since I ought to be able to say with the apostle Paul, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1) But I can be very self-centered and self-glorifying – just like you.

I think our churches and denominations get this way too and it can often sound very spiritual. Here’s a tweet from Baptist Press: “@baptistpress: Less than 5,000 SBC missionaries are trying to reach 6.8 billion people. Accept the 1% Challenge.” This is an admirable challenge tweet. We can and must do more to reach the Christ-less nations. But inadvertently it suggests that Southern Baptists have the sole responsibility to evangelize the world. It sounds like this: “If Southern Baptists won’t do it, who will?” The answer is that a lot of other people who are on our team who are doing it and will do it. We aren’t the only group of Christians who are trying to reach the nations.

This troubling paradigm is not new. Richard Baxter (1615-1691) wrote: “It is a great and a common sin throughout the Christian world, to take up religion in a way of faction; and instead of a love and tender care for the universal Church, to confine that love and respect to a party.” (The Universal Church is: “The true church of Christ in all times and all  places.”)

Baxter continues:

Of the multitude that say they are of the catholic Church (Not necessarily the Roman Catholic Church, but rather a person who belongs to the universal Christian church as defined above), it is rare to meet with men of a catholic spirit. Men have not a universal consideration of, and respect to, the whole Church, but look upon their own party as if it were the whole. If there be some called Lutherans, some Calvinists, some subordinate divisions among these, and so of other parties among us, most of them will pray hard for the prosperity of their party, and rejoice and give thanks when it goes well with them; but if any other party suffer, they little regard it, as if it were not loss to all the Church. If it be the smallest parcel that possesseth not many nations, no, nor cities on earth, they are ready to carry it, as if they were the whole Church, and as if it went well with the Church when it goes well with them. We cry down the Pope as Antichrist, for including the Church in the Romish pale, and no doubt but it is abominable schism: but, alas! And as the Papists foist the word Roman into their creed, and turn the catholic Church into the Roman Catholic church, as if there were no other catholics, and the church were of no larger extent, so is it with many others to their several parties. Some will have it to be the Lutheran catholic church, and some the Reformed catholic church; some the Anabaptist catholic church, and so of some others. The peace of their party they take for the peace of the Church.

Of course we should be careful who we associate with. Of course we should avoid people, local churches and denominations who teach a gospel that really is no gospel at all (Galatians 1:8-9). Just because someone says they are a church doesn’t mean they are biblically a church. Just because someone says they are Christian, doesn’t make them a Christian. We must use biblical and Spirit-led discernment. Additionally, we can’t practically and visibly partner with everyone, though by the unity of the Spirit we are unified and partners with everyone who is in Christ and is a member of the universal Church.

Neither am I down on being a Southern Baptist, though at times I wonder why we are doing what we are doing. We say and do some unhelpful stuff – but who doesn’t? I was born and raised a Southern Baptist and I have chosen to be a pastor of a Southern Baptist Church. I’m thankful in Christ that we are biblical and mission-driven partnership of people – at least that’s what we profess. But our party isn’t the only party that is getting the mission of God done in the world. In some cases, others are doing it better and with more success. We should be thankful about their success too.

What we must not do is intentionally or unintentionally act like we are the only authentic and mission-minded “party” in the world. We are not. I might not agree with everything other Christians or local churches are doing, and I might, out of biblical conviction, choose not to associate with certain churches and so-called Christians, but if they are in Christ then I am unified to them by one Spirit (Ephesians 4:3-4), and I should want them to succeed and they should want for me to succeed in living for the praise of the glory of Christ in the world. After all, we are Jesus’ church. Or are we?

Always Pleasing

Always is a daunting and near impossible word. I mostly use it and hear it used as hyperbole, and since we can use the word with certainty for so few situations, anytime I hear the word “always,” I almost always assume it isn’t always. Maybe I’m a bit cynical, but really, aren’t there very few instances in which we truly mean this word?

Yet in John 8:29 Jesus says: “And He who sent me is with me; He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” That is an incredible statement and either it is true or Jesus is out of His mind – a lunatic.

And yet at least four New Testament writers affirm this as fact (John 15:10; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 14:15; 1 Peter 1:19 and 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5).  John and Peter were attached to the hip of Jesus for around three years and they both lived as if this was true.

This truth shows us why we so desperately need Jesus and why we should worship Him as our Lord and Savior.

  • No one, save Jesus, has or will always do the things that are pleasing to Him (Romans 3:23). No one, who with a sane mind could say: “I am perfect. I always do what is right.”
  • But how do we know what is pleasing to God? Well, the Bible tells us so. The Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 tell us about the perfect character of God. The reason perfect is perfect is because God said so. He is the standard setter of the universe and He has told us what the standard is and none of us have met it.
  • And even given Jesus’ perfect and pleasing life, Jesus came to serve and ransom many by absorbing the wrath of God (2 Cor. 5:21; Isa. 53:12; Isa: 53:11). There is some debate as to whether God turned His back on Jesus or whether Jesus was separated from God the Father. But what we can say for sure is the God poured out His wrath in an excruciating way on His perfect, sin-bearing Son to redeem people who are born sinners and always sinning (Matthew 27:45-46).

I’ve been meditating on this verse for a while and I marvel at it the longer I dwell on it. Jesus was pleasing because He is God and perfect, but also so that we might escape the fact that we are displeasing in our thoughts and actions. For this reason I desire always to worship the one who gave his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

Raising Men with 5 Fingers

Using a hand for memory, this is an illustration of the five values we are teaching our boys to help them become men.

  “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” 1 Cor. 16:13-14

John Wooden has inspired me to  impart to my sons memorable values and virtues. Wooden tells of the influence his dad, Joshua Wooden, had on his life by the way his dad lived but also by short lists that his dad consistently referenced in teachable moments.

For instance, Wooden’s dad had simple rules to live by which were organized into what he called “Two Sets of Three.” The first set was about honesty:

  1. Never lie.
  2. Never cheat.
  3. Never steal.

The second set was about adversity:

  1. Don’t wine.
  2. Don’t complain.
  3. Don’t make excuses.

Another example is the occasion of John’s graduation from elementary school when Joshua gave his son a two dollar bill and a list of “Seven things to do.”

The fact that John Wooden would remember and write about these things decades later, affirms how important they were for the formation of the person he became.

So here is our attempt (Lacey and I) to pass on to our sons values in a way that they will remember every time they look at their hands. We tell our boys that if they do these five things, they are then on their way to becoming men. I think in the future we will add another five (We’ll get some of these in later), but for now we have a good beginning plan that we can consistently use.

My encouragement to anyone who has small children, whether boys or girls, is to  start now and think of  memorable ways to impart truth to your children by repetition and association. Pray, think through the lens of the Bible, and begin to think about what it is you want your children to remember and apply. Don’t try to impart too much because when you try to say everything, you run the risk of saying nothing. Once you know what it is that you want your children to remember for the rest of their lives, say it and show it consistently.

Chronic inconsistency has to be one of the greatest barriers to the transmission of life-shaping truth. We must know the truth, but we must press the truth to our children with diligent repetition. We do this with the things we deem important. For example: “Look both ways before you cross the road.”

My hope is that this will help people to think of ways that they can impart Christ-like character to  their children for the glory of God. If you can use  our hand idea, go for it.

What’s Wrong With This Sermon?

I received the following from a person who meant well. I am led to believe that this is from a transcript (more than likely a partial transcript) from a pastor who gave a sermon in Virginia on the socialism of President Obama. Now let’s suppose that someone actually did say what is written below.

I ask, what’s wrong with this sermon? Politics aside – is anything wrong with it? Is this good exposition and creative application? Or is this a complete butcher job?

Good morning, brothers and sisters; it’s always a delight to see the pews crowded on Sunday morning, and so eager to get into God’s Word.  Turn with me in your Bibles, if you will, to the 47th chapter of Genesis.  We’ll begin our reading at verse 13, and go through verse 27.

Brother Ray, would you stand and read that great passage for us? … (reading) … Thank you for that fine reading, Brother Ray.  So we see that economic hard times fell upon Egypt , and the people turned to the government of Pharaoh to deal with this for them.  And Pharaoh nationalized the grain harvest, and placed the grain in great storehouses that he had built.  So the people brought their money to Pharaoh, like a great tax increase, and gave it all to him willingly in return for grain.  And this went on until their money ran out, and they were hungry again.

So when they went to Pharaoh after that, they brought their livestock – their cattle, their horses, their sheep, and their donkey – to barter for grain, and verse 17 says that only took them through the end of that year.  But the famine wasn’t over, was it?  So the next year, the people  came before Pharaoh and admitted they had nothing left, except their land and their own lives. “There is nothing left in the sight of my lord but our bodies and our land.  Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land?  Buy us and our land for food, and we with our land will be servants to Pharaoh.”  So they surrendered their homes, their land, and their real estate to Pharaoh’s government, and then sold themselves into slavery to him, in return for grain.
What can we learn from this, brothers and sisters?
That turning to the government instead of to God to be our provider in hard times only leads to slavery?  Yes… That the only reason government wants to be our provider is to also become our master?
Yes.  But look how that passage ends, brothers and sisters! Thus Israel settled in the land of Egypt , in the land of Goshen .  And they gained possessions in it, and were fruitful and multiplied greatly.”  God provided for His people, just as He always has!  They didn’t end up giving all their possessions to government, no, it says they gained possessions!  But I also tell you a great truth today, and an ominous one.

We see the same thing happening today – the government today wants to “share the wealth” once again, to take it from us and redistribute it back to us.  It wants to take control of healthcare, just as it has taken control of education, and ration it back to us, and when government rations it, then government decides who gets it, and how much, and what kind.  And if we go along with it, and do it willingly, then we will wind up no differently than the people of Egypt did four thousand years ago – as slaves to the government, and as slaves to our leaders.

What Mr. Obama’s government is doing now is no different from what Pharaoh’s government did then, and it will end the same.  And a lot of people like to call Mr.Obama a “Messiah,” don’t they?  Is he a Messiah?  A savior?  Didn’t the Egyptians say, after Pharaoh made them his slaves,  “You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh”?  Well, I tell you this – I know the Messiah; the Messiah is a friend of mine; and Mr. OBAMA IS NO MESSIAH!  No, brothers and sisters, if Mr. Obama is a character from the Bible, then he is Pharaoh.  Bow with me in prayer, if you will…

Lord, You alone are worthy to be served, and we rely on You, and You alone.  We confess that the government is not our deliverer, and never rightly will be.  We read in the eighth chapter of 1 Samuel, when Samuel warned the people of what a ruler would do, where it says “And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day…”
And Lord, we acknowledge that day has come.  We cry out to you because of the ruler that we have chosen for ourselves as a nation.  Lord, we pray for this nation.  We pray for revival, and we pray for deliverance from those who would be our masters.  Give us hearts to seek You and hands to serve You, and protect Your people from the atrocities of Pharaoh’s government.  In God We Trust…

Early Morning Revelations

I was up early this morning walking and talking. I spoke to God for a good 25 minutes about some things that were on my mind – as if He did not know. But it was rewarding to imitate those in the scriptures who daily depended on God in prayer.

Also, it is an amazing thought – if we would stop to think – that the God of the universe is the God who hears. As with all thinking, this helpful thought could  be a deadly thought if I were to think I must therefore be special in and of myself. I am what I am because of God. But I have grown to recognize the awe of it. God hears me through the one mediator, Jesus Christ, and not just me, but perhaps billions of people who are like me in their need of God. Mind-boggling.

So I finished up my walking and talking and I was able to be still for a few minutes and I asked God to speak to me. I don’t want to just talk, I want to listen. (Make sure you understand that I believe the first and primary way we do that is by reading and hearing the Bible.)

Long story short, I was thinking about a funeral, and then a wedding, and then I realized as though a light  bulb came on, that I love the praise and approval of people. Now I already knew that. After all everyone is narcissistic on some level. But to know it and to be able to pinpoint it vividly via past actions was helpful.

Am I now cured from wanting the praise and approval of people? No. I will have to die daily and surrender that to Christ as the Spirit reveals it to me progressively. But awareness is necessary for response and change.

Now you are not my priest and this isn’t just a cyber-confession. I wrote this in part to help those who might read it. So here are some parting and probing questions:

  • Are you listening to God in His word? Do you know the word of God well enough to know when God is speaking to you about specific situations in your life? I think we are sometimes scared of saying things like I wrote above because we are afraid of the abuse of “God told me.” It’s a possibility, but so is the possibility of the abuse of ignoring God out of fear where something might go. If we know the intention of God’s word we can guard ourselves from revelatory sensationalism and abuse, while having confidence that God really does speak to us as He did Philip in Acts 8 and Peter in Acts 11 – to name just a few.
  • Do you humble yourself and ask God to speak to you? Some of us have not because we ask not (James 4).
  • Do you ever slow down and have moments of silence (Ps. 46:10) so that you can mediate on God’s character so that you can think about your thoughts and actions in light of who God is?
  • Has God gently and lovingly corrected you lately? Has He revealed something to you that would bring you to the point of responding to who God is? If not, then why not? We know we are children of God when we experience the loving correction of God (Hebrews 12).

God wants to change us, but we cannot be changed if we are ignorant about the change that needs to happen. Have you known God in His word and listened? Ask and you will receive (Matthew 7).

What Should a Local Church Expect From Its Members?

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Here is a resource from 9 Marks (What Should a Church Expect From Its Members) that we have adapted that will help people know what to expect as a member of Eagle Heights. Here’s our version:

Being a part of a local church is about being in a committed relationship with Jesus Christ our Lord, but it is also about being a committed relationship with His people – His body. Paul instructed the Ephesians to work hard at maintaining and preserving the unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:3) that is in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:11-22).  It’s hard to maintain a healthy relationship, and therefore unity, if there are no clearly defined expectations. Expectations also help raise the level of commitment, and since Jesus is our model for commitment it is loving and desirable to help others commit to Jesus and His body.

The people of Eagle Heights expect that its members will:

  1. Gather regularly for worship. Hebrews 10:25 commands Christians not to forsake assembling together. Attending services regularly is one of the basic commitments of membership and one of the basic ways that a church member can grow in the faith, get to know other Christians, and allow the church leaders to shepherd and watch over their life (1 Peter 5:1-5; Hebrews 13:17).
  2. Attend communion particularly. Members should strive to be present when Christ’s death is commemorated and the church’s unity is displayed in communion.
  3. Attend Communication Matters meetings consistently.  This is when the church hears from the Elders and Staff about the life of the church.  When appropriate, this is also the time the church makes decisions.
  4. Pray regularly. The Bible teaches that church-wide prayer is one of the primary ways we depend on God together (Acts 1:14). For the sake of unity and edification, we need to hear others pray to the God who hears and cares.
  5. Give regularly. The apostle Paul writes, “One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches” (Gal. 6:6). Luke records in Acts 4:32-37 that an evidence of a Spirit-filled church is that they are a generous and sharing church. Paul instructs Timothy to instruct others to be generous and ready to share (1 Timothy 6:18).
  6. Build relationships with other members. Being a member in a local church is like being a hand or an eye (1 Cor. 12:21). You can’t function without all the other parts of the body. Just as a body functions when each part does its job and works together with all the other members, a local church is built up into maturity in Christ as the members minister in an intimately interrelated way  (Eph. 4:15-16, 1 Cor. 12:12-26). So a church should expect that its members will build relationships with other members. We think this best happens in our Core Groups (small groups).
  7. Submit to the church’s leaders as they submit to Christ and His word (1 Peter 5:1-5). The Scripture says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb. 13:17).
  8. Build up the body of Christ by serving (Eph. 4:11-12). God has given spiritual gifts to every member of the body of Christ so that everyone would use his or her gifts to build up the entire body (1 Cor. 12:7). A church should expect that all of its members will serve the whole church as God enables. (To serve each other in love, we expect at least one parent from each family who has children in third grade and under, serve in the nursery rotation at least once a month. A background check is required.)
  9. If you are to leave, please tell us. Whatever the reason, we hope that you will tell us when you leave. We also hope that if you leave us, you will commit to another local church, whether in Stillwater or wherever you move.
  10. Don’t talk about people, talk to people. Nothing destroys a church faster than unloving words. We will disagree at times because every family does. But we want to be loving and biblical when we disagree. The Bible says that if someone sins against us that we are to show them the sin (Matthew 18:15-20). Let’s talk to people, not about them.
  11. Gathering to Go. We hope that our worship gatherings encourage people to love the good news of Jesus so that they can take that good news to the world they live in. We don’t want to be a club or holy huddle, walling the world off from the hope we possess. We want to share Jesus.  Jesus told us to go to all the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). God has placed each of us where we are for this purpose.  Gather with us, but take Jesus to your home and to your job and to the store and to all the nations.

(Some of this material has been adapted from Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever, pages 161-163, and from the 9 Marks Website – http://www.9marks.org/answers/what-should-church-expect-its-members)

Church Membership – Why Bother?

Some people think of the idea of church membership as antiquated, restrictive, country-clubish, etc. And while we must be careful not to make it an end, an idol or a vain tradition, there truly are some solid reasons for having and teaching church membership. Here is a snapshot of why we emphasize membership at Eagle Heights.

Membership is an expression of our value: “Committed Community – sharing life as a family in Christ.” Membership is important because commitment to Jesus is important. After all, Jesus was the most committed person who ever walked the face of the earth. Paul, inspired by the Spirit, tells us that Jesus loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25). For God’s glory, Jesus committed to us His life, death and resurrection; we should want to be committed to Him. Simply stated, we believe membership is commitment to Christ, but it is also a commitment to His body in a local and visible way – by commitment to a local church.

Ask yourself these questions: “Can a person be committed to Christ and not be committed to His body? Can a person love Jesus and not love the church (the body) He died for?”

Now ask yourself this question: “How does a person show they are committed to the body of Christ?”

We believe membership in a local church is a first step toward answering this question.

Membership in a local church is not a club due or initiation. Instead, church membership is a public declaration by which a person makes known to other believers that they are in Christ and  committed to Christ, but also committed to the body of Jesus in a visible way.

Membership then helps people have a sense of ownership for something that is bigger than themselves. When a person makes public their intent to work with people for a God-sized purpose, that commitment provides for them motivation to plug in  and stay engaged. When rightly understood, membership is an expression of desired accountability.

Local church membership also helps the Elders (pastors) and congregation in practical ways:

  • Membership makes it possible for the Elder(s) to identify who it is they will give an account for (Hebrews 13:17). Who should the Elder shepherd? Those who are a part of their local flock.  How do they know who is a part of their local flock? Membership by baptism or profession.
  • Membership makes it possible for the Elder(s) to know their people in a personal way. An Elder can’t care for people they don’t know. Membership is a way by which a person can make it known that they desire the accountability of biblical leadership.
  • Membership helps the Elders communicate the expectations of the people of Eagle Heights. When an Elder meets with a prospective member, the Elder can share more thoroughly about who we are and what we are trying to do. The prospective member also has the opportunity to ask questions of the Elder.

Words I Needed To Hear

I wonder two things a lot. Should I be doing a particular thing a particular way? And what do I need to do that I may not be doing?

I was able to take a just a few minutes this morning and listen to Richard Baxter (1615-1691) say a few things about the preacher and preaching. These words helped me in regards to both of these questions.

I might add that for any Christian, these exhortations are applicable. Here’s what Baxter wrote hundreds of years ago and I have no doubt that his words are just as relevant today.

On Hard Work

Many ministers study only to compose their sermons, and very little more, when there are so many books to be read, and so many matters that we should not be unacquainted with. Nay, in the study of our sermons we are too negligent, gathering only a few naked truths, and not considering of the most forcible expressions by which we may set them home to men’s consciences and hearts. We must study how to convince and get within men, and how to bring each truth to the quick, and not leave all this to our extemporary promptitude, uneless in cases of necessity. Certainly, brethren, experience will teach you that men are not made learned or wise without hard study and unwearied labour and experience.

The Need For Passionate Persuasion

It would make a man’s heart ache, to see a company of dead, drowsy sinners sitting under a minister, and not hear a word that is likely to quicken or awaken them. Alas! we speak so drowsily and so softly, that sleepy sinners cannot hear. The blow falls so light that hard-hearted sinners cannot feel. The most of ministers will not so much as exert their voice, and stir themselves up to earnest utterance.

The Need of Preachers Who are Alive With Truth

Can we believe that our people must be converted or condemned, and yet speak in a drowsy tone? In the name of God, brethren, labour to awaken your own hearts, before you to the pulpit, that you may be fit to awaken the hearts of sinners. Remember they must be awakened or damned, and that a sleepy preacher will hardly awaken the hearts of sinners.

The Urgency of the Content Demands an Urgent Voice

It is a kind of contempt of great things, especially of so great things, to speak of them without much affection and fervency.

Speak to your people as to men that must be awakened, either here in hell. Look around upon them with the eye of faith, and with compassion, and think inf what a state of joy or torment they must all be for ever; and then, methinks, it will make you earnest, and melt your heart to a sense of their condition.

Men will not cast away their dearest pleasures as the drowsy request of one that seemeth not to mean as he speaks.

The best matter (content) will scarcely move them, if it be not movingly delivered.

Let us therefore, rouse up ourselves to the work of the Lord, and speak to our people as for their lives, and save them as by violence, ‘pulling them out of the fire.’

A sermon full of mere words, how neatly soever it be composed, while it wants the light of evidence, and the life of zeal, is but an image or well-dressed carcass.

I needed to hear these words this morning from a hard-working, passionate and persuasive man.