Stop Dating the Church

14 04 2010

Just finished the book, Stop Dating the Church by Joshua Harris last night and thought I would share a brief review.

Harris, Senior Pastor at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD, begins with a story that we’ve all heard about, seen, or been a part of in our own life.  He tells a story of how a boy named Jack fell in love with a girl named Grace.  At first Grace was everything in the world to Jack.  She was “the one”. But after a few years of dating the “spark” is gone.  Jack is dating Grace more for the familiarity of the relationship.  There is no passion and he has no intentions of marrying this girl. “One night, when [Grace] asks if they can define the nature of their relationship, Jack blows up ‘We’re together, aren’t we?’ he asks angrily. ‘Why isnt that enough for you?’ Obviously, Jack isn’t ready for commitment. And it’s unclear if he ever will be…” (pg. 12).

Harris enlightens his readers that there are “millions of Jacks walking around today. And Grace isn’t a girl. Grace is a church.”

In our culture today commitment has become less important.  My generation will change careers several times in their life and some will go through several marriages.  We are so busy with so many things that it is difficult for us to commit to one single thing… Unfortunately, for Christians, this mentality has carried over to the local church.

Harris emphasizes a high view of the local church.  Now, this is not a “high view” of the church as seen in the Roman Catholic tradition, but a high view in the sense that Harris sees the local church from a biblical perspective.  It is the bride of Christ! Harris does spend some time talking about the Church universal (all Christians united by the Holy Spirit) but his main focus in the book is the local church.  He even says that our involvement in a local church should be enough to keep us from moving to a different location, even for a job change! He also emphasizes his life-long commitment as a pastor to his church.  Obviously God can and does (at times) move pastors around, but if more pastors had a higher view of their involvement within the local church, perhaps churches would be in better shape…

What are you committed to? We give so much of our life to other “priorities” that we forget the place church must have in our lives. Here is the profile Harris gives for a church-dater:

1. They are me-centered: In this attitude we ask “what can the church do for me?”
2. They tend to be independent: They go to church because they are “supposed to” but avoid any real commitment.
3. They are critical: Yes, we are fallen and every church will have its flaws. But, should we treat the church with a “consumer mentality- looking for the best product for the price of our Sunday morning”? (pp. 16-17)

The local church is the vehicle by which God has chosen to carry out His great plan.  Don’t you want to be a part of that? Don’t you want your life to be about so much more?

“God has not only saved us; He has invited us to participate in His master plan…The church community is where we learn to love God and others; where we are strengthened and transformed  by truth from the Word; where we’re taught to pray, to worship and to serve; where we can be most certain that we’re investing our time and abilities for eternity; where we can grow in our roles as friends, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers…” (pp. 20-21).

Harris goes on to discuss the purpose of the local church and the reason that it is vital to our walk with Christ that we be involved members. Charles Spurgeon says the church is “the dearest place on earth” (p. 129).  When we understand our responsibility and joy within the church we will understand Spurgeon’s quote to be an understatement!

Personally, my favorite part of the book is Harris’s “high view” of Sundays! No, he’s not saying that Sunday is the new Sabbath, but he is saying Sunday is the Lord’s day (this is the Biblical view by the way).  He is even so bold as to say that we should schedule our weeks around Sunday (instead of visa versa as so many of us do).  He says that we must be careful about our scheduling on Saturday night, so that we can give our best Sunday morning.  He encourages singles and families to read the Bible and pray on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings before church anticipating all that God will do during the service.  It breaks my heart that Sundays have become unimportant to Christians.  They go to the lake, or ballgames, or fishing, or just stay home, instead of being with God’s people! I’m not saying we can’t ever take a vacation with our family, but you know your own heart and motivations….

This book is only 129 pages long.  With just a few minutes each night you’ll have this book read in a week! I promise you it’s well worth it… You’ll come away with a better understanding of what our relationship is to be with the local church.  This will challenge and encourage you in your own walk with the Lord!

Are you a church-dater?

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Can we please everyone? Understanding and dealing with complaints…

13 04 2010

You’ve heard it said, many times I’m sure, that you just can’t please everybody.  This statement is certainly true and I think especially relevant in the lives of those called to ministry.  Sometimes there are decisions we have to make that we know one group of people will be upset with.  Sometimes we wrestle over the right decision, diligently seeking the Lord’s direction, knowing that someone is going to be upset.

Sometimes, however, we do what we know God has called us to do, not even realizing there is potential for someone being offended, and then come to find out a person, or group of people gets upset about our actions.

I want to illustrate with a story from the Old Testament.

Judges 8:1  “Then the men of Ephraim said to [Gideon], “What is this that you have done to us, not to call us when you went to fight against Midian?” And they accused him fiercely.”

Here’s the story: In chapters 6-7 God began to deal with Gideon in a mighty way, preparing him for the overthrow of the Midianites who had been oppressing the people of Israel.  In chapter 7 as we see Gideon preparing for battle, we see God preparing a work for His own glory.  God takes the army of Gideon from 32,000 men and reduces it to a mere 300.  Gideon is then reassured by God that the Midianites will be delivered into his hand and in the middle of the night the Israelites win a great battle without even a sword being drawn! (see Judges 7:19-23).

Gideon just completed a great act of God, and then when he meets the men of Ephraim he receives some “high fives” and “well dones”  right? Wrong! Instead of rejoicing in the great victory, the men of Ephraim complain! Instead of seeing the victory as God’s alone, the men of Ephraim suspect Gideon of going after the Midianites for his own glory.  This is after these same men of Ephraim had been invited by Gideon to chase down Oreb and Zeeb (two leaders of the Midianites).  The bible doesn’t say this, but I’m sure word of Gideon’s great victory with only 300 men had traveled around the countryside.  The men of Ephraim were simply jealous that they did not get to claim a hand in that victory.

The point is, sometimes, there’s just nothing we can do differently.  God is the one who told Gideon to reduce his forces.  What military commander in his right mind would reduce his own forces?  Many times in ministry God calls us to do things that might not make sense to us, or those who are close to us.  If we desire to be faithful to our call we must be faithful to be obedient to God’s will.

And the truth is people will be offended.  Sometimes it doesn’t matter what decision you make, you are setting yourself up for being attacked.  The thing we must remember in ministry is that our call is to obey God not man (cf. Acts 5:29)!

So what do we do?

It is vital to see Gideon’s response to the accusations made against him.

Judges 8:2-4

And he said to them, “What have I done now in comparison with you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the grape harvest of Abiezer? God has given into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. What have I been able to do in comparison with you?” Then their anger against him subsided when he said this.

Gideon responds in humility to these complaints and “their anger against him subsided.” Now, we live in a fallen world and it doesn’t mean that just because we respond in humility that others’ complaining will automatically subside…But, we must remember that just because someone complains against us, doesn’t mean we should respond in pride.  Gideon had defeated the Midianites with only 300 men but instead of gloating over that feat, he reminded the men of Ephraim how God had given them the princes of Midian- Oreb and Zeeb.

So here are two things to remember…

1. Humility- as we’ve discussed, it is so natural for us to respond in pride when someone accuses us.  Gideon knew he was in the right and that what he did was a God thing.  However, if he would have responded in pride he would have lost valuable support.  Christ is a perfect example of humility.  Remember this truth in your life and ministry.

2. Priorities- Gideon’s priority was God over men.  That must be our priority in all things. Christ must have preeminence (actually He does already in all things, we’ve just got to make sure He has the right place in our hearts).  Also, in our lives as church members and ministers we must remember the order of other priorities as well.

Think of it in this way:

1. God- we’ve discussed this. God is to be #1. Your relationship with Christ is more important than any other relationship you have. Remember Galatians 2:20!

2. Family- this may seem strange to some, but our families must our 2nd priority.  We are instructed by God to be faithful to our spouse’s needs (1 Cor. 7:3-5, Eph. 5:22-33) and to bring our children up in a godly manner (Deut. 6:5-7).  This doesn’t mean our family has to conflict with church, but it does mean that the needs of our family members must met. Sometimes you will have to choose between church members and family members.  Remember family must be the priority.  If you lose your family, you lose your ministry.

3. Church- the church and the needs of our church family must be a high priority in our lives when making decisions.  The church may seem low, but notice that I’m putting the church above everything else.  Only God and family hold a higher place.  That means you must remember Philippians 2:3-4!

Again, none of these priorities should be conflicting with the others on a regular basis.  Sometimes however, they will.  And when we make decisions that others are going to complain about we must know that we are being faithful to our call.  In other words, when we make decisions that confuse and restructure these priorities we are making the wrong decisions.  When we make the wrong decisions (and we will sometimes, we’re not perfect) it’s much harder to deal with the complaints (whether right or wrong).

So all this to say that people are going to complain. Don’t set out to please everybody because you can’t! What you do have control over is how you go about making decisions, and how you respond to complaints…

I would like to make a final note to all of us (me included) who tend to complain! Don’t do it! (Phil. 2:14-15).  There is a difference between complaining and standing for the truth.  Sometimes people are going to make decisions in the church and life that you do not agree with.  If it’s not unbiblical, at least give it a shot.  Look for the positive.  And of course if you do feel it’s unbiblical deal with it as Jesus instructs us in Matthew 18. Go directly to the source of the issue instead of complaining about it to others.

Hope this is helpful and encouraging…God bless!





Partnering with Parents in Youth Ministry… Ideas for Fall 2010

6 04 2010

I just want to blog about some ideas about how we plan to involve parents more in our youth ministry this Fall. I’ve got a couple other blogs about the importance of parents in youth ministry categorized under ‘youth ministry’ if you’d like to read those…

I know these ideas aren’t new but they are new to our ministry. Maybe they’ll give you some ideas. I’d love some feedback on what others may be doing to help involve parents.

Ok, here we go…

1. Family Night: This is actually something we did last year. We plan to do this 8/25 to kick off our new semester. This is primarily geared for youth and parents but we like to invite the whole family so they can all be together. We do it on a Wednesday night and basically just eat, share stories, play games, and then I’ll share a devotion and a calendar of the events we’ve got coming up. This helps me communicate my vision to parents and helps new families in the youth ministry get to know one another.

2.SuperTraining: This is something new this Fall. Early in the semester we are going to meet for about 4 weeks on Wednesday night an hour before service. I’m going to teach students how to ‘write’ their salvation testimony. I’m inviting parents to just be there with us during this time. Hopefully I can both teach and learn from them during this process.

3. Parent Night: Later in the semester (probably November) we plan to invite parents to the Youth Service. We want them to experience our ‘style’ of ministry. That night we’ll have some great games that parents can play and the lesson will be geared toward parents and youth.

4. PRT: Parent Round Table. I’m really excited about this idea and I may still tweak it a bit before this Fall. What I’m planning on doing is setting aside 1 hour on Monday nights to meet with families. I’ve got 14 different Monday
Nights set aside. I’m going to ask parents to sign up for a night. Then, I’ll go to their home from 6-7 and personally share with them what we’ve
been doing and what we plan to do (lesson wise) in the ministry AND give them some handouts and ideas on how they can build more on what we’ve been teaching, in their own home. Long range I plan on training a volunteer to help me with this so i don’t have to be gone every Wednesday night.

5. Parent Breakfast: We did this once this Spring and it worked out pretty well. We had some volunteers cook breakfast on a Sunday morning and met at 8:45 (30 min befor Sunday School). We invited the whole family. Parents, children, and volunteers all ate together. At 9:15 I dismissed the students and children to their Sunday School and then the parents and me just did a lesson together in place of their Sunday School. I was also able to share more about events we had coming up.  We’ve got this set for 10/3 and plan on doing it once in the Fall and once in the Spring.

6. Parent newsletter and Parent helps: We already do these two things but I thought I’d include them. We send out the ParentLink (group publishing) once a month. This is a newsletter already put together by Group. I just add 1 page about things coming up in our ministry. The other thing I’m still adding to is our Parents Help page on our website. Here I’ve just given parents about 20 different links that they can go to and get help and ideas about parenting teenagers. Feel free to use our links from www.fbcdewitt.com

7. Parent Leadership Team: This idea will probably not be implemented this Fall but I still love it and hope to get it worked in ASAP. This idea is drawn from Steve Wright in his book reThink. Basically the team is just parents (the youth pastor is not on it!). The parents would be committed to meeting periodically throughout the year and discussing the ministry. They would offer insight, encouragement, and ideas from their perspective to the Youth Pastor ever few months or so. This would help me understand better how to minister to our families…

Hope those ideas help. I’d love to know what you’re doing to minister to families or how I can make these ideas better!





Proper Perspectives will shift Priorities

19 03 2010

I get the opportunity to preach this Sunday at my church, FBC, DeWitt. While I’m still in the process of putting in some final preparation, here’s the gist of the message.

Text: 1 John 2:15-17

15Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

I know I’ve blogged on this text a couple times before so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much here.  In just these three verses John explains to his readers the foundations for proper Christian priorities:

1. A Proper Perspective of God (v. 15)- i.e. the priority in the Christian’s life should be God above all else, and the text explains that those who are unable to do so do not have “the love of the Father”. (i have a blog already on my interpretation of that phrase).

2. A proper perspective of the world (v. 16-17a)- i.e. the Christian should not be involved in the evil of this world because it is directly opposed to God AND the Christian must be Kingdom focused instead of earthly focused because the world is passing away! The devil is the prince of this world and I believe there is correlation here between this text and the Fall in Genesis 3.

3. A proper perspective of salvation (v. 17)- Salvation is what enables Christians to do the will of God and inherit eternal life.  The Christian does the will of the Father, because he believes in His Son Jesus Christ (I’ve also blogged about this “Whoever believes or whoever does”).

The whole point of the message is that if we as Christians have the right perspectives on these things, then it will result in us having the right priorities.  In other words, God, His will, and His Kingdom will take precedent over things of less importance.  This text is less about “don’t do this sin, don’t do that sin” and more about changing our whole focus and attitude towards how we live here in this world.  If we take care of the inner problem (our focus and attitude towards sin and this world) then we won’t even have to deal with the “don’ts” because we will desire to be Kingdom focused Christians. 

To put it another way, I think many preachers may preach this passage of Scripture in a way that really focuses on putting down partying, drinking, seeing bad movies, drugs, sex, driving too fast, cussing, etc. etc.  These sins are grievous and directly opposed to God, but I think the passage is less about attacking these “outer sins” and more about attacking our inner perspectives on God, the world, and Salvation.  The point is, when God changes our perspectives, these worldly things will no longer be an issue for us. Not only that, but little things that we don’t like to call “sins” will also be taken care of- like putting our own priorities over the Kingdom…

Hope all that makes sense! Would love to see some of your thoughts…

I couldn’t put all my thoughts on here because I still want people to come hear the sermon on Sunday! God bless!





The love of the Father is not in him

18 02 2010

1 John 2:15-

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

 

Most every translation I’ve looked in translates “the love of the Father” the same way.  In the Greek the word “Father” is in the genetive case.  What that means is by this construciton we can take this phrase as most likely meaning on of two things.

First of all it may mean the “Father’s love.”  This would imply that those who love the world do not have the Father’s love in their hearts.  I think you could get a new range of meaning from this phrase – meaning  that the Father’s love for those redeemed is different than the Father’s love for those who reject Him.  At first this may seem harsh and even unbiblical but remember “Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated” (Malachi 1:3).

The second way this phrase may be interpreted is the same way one would interpret: “the love of the game”.  This doesn’t mean the “game’s love” but rather the love one has for the game.  In this sense the text would say “the love for the Father is not in him.” This would mean that those who love the world, don’t love the Father.  In other words there is a direct contradiction here: One cannot love the world and be loving the Father at the same time.

What do I think it means? When you look at 1 John and even the Gospel of John and realize that there are things that intentionally have double meaning (for instance: the “I AM” statements in John) I think you would conclude that this passage also serves as meaning two things.  Therefore, those that love the world do not have the Father’s love w/in them and they do not possess love for the Father.

In 1 John 2:17, John goes on to say that the world is passing away.  Why  would a Christian be concerned with “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions” (v.16) when the world is soon to pass away? As Christians we are to focus on the eternal things, and not be in love with the things of this world.  We have so many “gods” that we serve in this world: money, sports, sex, jobs, traditions etc.  1 John is clear that those who love those things are not saved. Obviously none of those things are “sins” in and of themselves, BUT when we love those things instead of loving God it does become sin.

Anyway, the Bible is very telling of the hearts of people.  Those who continue to put the priorities of the world above the priorities of the Kingdom aren’t struggling with “priority” issues.  They are struggling with a heart issue and more specifically may even be struggling with a salavation issue.

I hope that it is easy for you to make God #1 in your life.  I hope that if you’ve been struggling lately with missing church, quiet times, family devotions, etc. that you would turn those things over to the Lord and ask Him to help you serve Him alone. But….

If serving the world has got you wrapped up, then it doesn’t matter how many aisles you’ve walked or prayers you’ve prayed. It may be that the love of the Father is not in you.  I hope that if you find yourself in this situation that you would turn from your sin and self even now, and trust Christ alone…

As always please contact me or comment if you have questions or insight on more discussion. God bless!





Church Covenant?

16 02 2010

In most Southern Baptist Churches in some corner of the building or posted on the fellowship hall is the Church Covenant. 

In order to keep this blog fairly short and readable I don’t have time or space to go into all the details of a church covenant other than to say this: I do think it’s biblical for people to write out what they believe and hold one another accountable for their actions.  Obviously a covenant should be based solely on the Bible. To read more about covenants in detail please CLICK HERE.

The main thing I wanted to write about today was this: Did you even realize that your church has a covenant? Do you even know what it says? You see a covenant helps us to keep one another accountable by expressing what it is that a church believes and how a church expects it’s members to live.  It’s not a “legalistic” tool, but rather it is to be used for the type of discipline Jesus spoke of in Matthew 18. CLICK HERE for what a typical SBC Church Covenant says.

When we join a local body of believers shouldn’t we know what it believes? Don’t get a Covenant and a Constitution confused (see one of the links above).  Pastors and other ministers: Are you helping your congregation know what the church expects from them? Of course we should say: “Read the Bible”. But a Covenant helps us write out what the Bible says about our conduct in a shorter, “easier to remember” statement.  There are many SBC churches in the Reformed movement that have covenants that the church recites together before the Lord’s Supper.  In this way, each member can be reminded of what the church expects from them.

Another important reason for a church covenant, as alluded to above, is for use in church discipline.  If you want to bring discipline (for the purpose of reconciliation) against a member who is always gossiping, it is much easier if he or she has already signed a church covenant agreeing to keep certain standards in their walk.

Anyway, please email or comment below for more discussion.  I am interested in other people’s take on this issue… Also, please visit the 9Marks site (the first link above) because they write much better than I do and it will give you some more insight to the history and biblical basis for church covenants…





How we do family worship

9 02 2010

This blog is not about ‘why’ we do family worship in our home, but how.  I hope that everyone reading this understands the biblical foundation for family worship found in Scripture. As mentioned in previous blogs, Deut. 6:5-7 clearly states that parents are responsible for teaching their children about the Lord and His commands.

First of all, I want to say that we do not have the perfect model; nor are we perfect in our current framework of family worship.  There are still things that we’d like to imporve on, but what we’ve started is a foundation for family worship in the home that we plan on lasting the rest of our lives.

We do our worship in the evenings right after supper.  This usually happens about 4-5 days out of the week, but sometimes can be only a few if we have to be gone several nights.  I want to take a side note here and say that families need to get back to eating supper together.  Make it goal in the near future to eat together at least 3 nights out of the week for starters.  I know families are busier and busier but the dinner table is a place we can laugh, cry, and bond together as a family.  Some of us don’t understand the value of family dinners because we didn’t grow up eating supper as a family.  If this describes you, I highly recomend that you start encouraging your family to eat supper together on a regular basis.  The time shared is truly invaluable!  This doesn’t mean you have to do family worship right after supper… This just happens to be the best time for us because we are all together (and we aren’t what you would call “morning people”!).  Also, even if you don’t do family worship after dinner, still make it a priority to cut out some of the extracurricular activities that are preventing your family from eating supper together.

Ok so, right after dinner we’ll clean off the table and then I’ll read a passage of Scripture.  We were reading through Bradyn’s Children’s Bible, but we haven’t been the last several weeks.  If you have smaller children a children’s illustrated Bible really does come in handy!  Lately, I’ve just been reading passages of Scripture that God has laid on my heart.  I try to balance Old Testament and New Testament readings.  Honestly, a reading plan would be better, and we are going to try and work on that in the future!

After I read the Bible I’ll aske a couple of simple questions.  Bradyn’s only 2 and Caleb is 4 months, so I know they aren’t technically “learning” but it does help build a foundation for how we will do things in the future.  Occasionally, Steph and I will discuss things from the reading on an adult level with each other.  After the reading and questions, we’ll sing.  We have an older Baptist Hymnal, but don’t use it every time.  I have a guitar, but we don’t use it every time either.  For about a year we’ve been really wearing out Jesus Loves Me! But it is important to sing different songs and I would encourage you to get a hymnal or other song book to help you sing with your family.

The last thing we do after 1-2 (sometimes 3-5!) songs is pray.  We don’t just pray a generic “bless our family” prayer.  Instead we try to pray according to the passage of Scripture that we just read.  For example, 2 Peter 1:21 was in our reading the other night, and we thanked God for His inspiration of the Holy Scriptures.

This whole process takes about 10-15 minutes! I think so many people don’t do family worship because they are worried about time frame… In the future we may plan on taking longer as we introduce more “involved” questions and even Catechism (similar to the Westminster Catechism) but still the whole thing doesn’t have to last longer than 15-20 minutes at the most.  Obviously don’t be looking at the clock ready to shut it down if kids are asking questions, but also don’t feel you have to give up your whole evening either.

So that’s basically it… The whole process of the Nelson Family Worship time.  My challenge to you is to just start.  Even if you can only plan on doing it 1 day every week right now, that’s fine.  Just begin.  If your kids are older it may take some getting used to, but still we must adhere to the biblical model of family discipleship.  Maybe you don’t have kids yet or they’ve already left home. In that case I would still challenge you to have a similar form of worship time in your home.  If you dont’ have kids yet, this is a great way to lay a foundation for one of the ways you will help raise godly children.  Think about this:

If we can’t worship in the home, how can we worship during church services?