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Out of the Ashes…

I was privileged to take part in a meeting today that many from my first pastorate will find very good. First, a little background.

 

Like many Baptist Churches, Bethel Baptist Church formed as a split from another church. After meeting at several locations in Weatherford, the church body obtained property just off FM920 northwest of downtown Weatherford in the late 1970s. Several men served as pastor of the church as the attendance numbers ebbed and flowed.

 

In late June/early July 2007, I received a call from the deacon chairman asking if I was available to preach on the following Sunday. The one-week invitation turned into an interim position which turned into my first pastorate which lasted just over six years. We had good days and we had bad days. Although our numbers were shrinking, our depth was growing.

 

In October 2013, we knew that we could no longer to afford to keep the doors open and it was clear that God was leading us to close the doors. Our bylaws stated that the building and property would be given to the Parker Baptist Association, so after removing my library and other personal items, we handed over the keys to my long-time friend and fellow seminary student, John Thielepape, the Director of Missions of Parker Baptist Association. During our last meeting, some members voiced fears that the Association would quickly dispose of the property, putting to death the legacy of our church. But I knew it would be OK. I reiterated that God was leading us to do this and that I trusted John and the members of the Association’s Executive Board.

 

A few months later, God opened doors (literally) for ministry to continue at the property. Among other ministries, MercyHeart, a ministry founded by a friend of mine began ministering to the Parker County families of inmates on Tuesday Nights. A local church had sold its property to developers and the new building wasn’t ready to move into, so they began to meet on Sundays and Wednesdays, bringing their air conditioners to replace Bethel’s broken units.

 

Ministry continued.

 

After serving in several interim pastorates in Parker and Wise Counties, this past July I was called to be the pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church, five miles north of Weatherford. Yesterday, John (back from a sabbatical) called to welcome me back to the Association and to tell me of the meeting this morning. The meeting would consider the proposal to enter a lease-to-purchase agreement with a young church. A related proposal would take proceeds from the lease payments to designate for funds for church planting and missions. John said he’d like for me to be there.

 

Today’s special Called Meeting of the Association’s Executive Board required 20 attendees to form the Quorum. I was the last person to walk into the meeting and signed the attendance sheet in the twentieth position. We had a quorum. Both proposals passed unanimously.

 

I must give a big shout-out to the Parker Baptist Association Executive Board and its Director of Missions, my friend John for their wise stewardship of the property and their vision of extending the ministry on the property.

 

Those who feared the worst in closing the doors of our church should feel a great peace because God continues to use our former church building to do ministry and extend His Kingdom. And that’s a really good thing! God is good!

 

Please join me in praying for Pastor Joel Kindberg and Grace Covenant Church as they begin ministering to the people of Weatherford from their new address at 201 Kathey Street in Weatherford. MercyHeart will continue their ministry alongside Grace.

 

Response to “Let’s Stop Singing These 10 Worship Songs”

A friend asked me on Facebook to comment on an article, “Let’s Stop Singing These 10 Worship Songs“. Here’s my response.

Setting words to music has always been an appropriate way that God’s people have worshiped Him and “testified” of Him. In contrast to what “non-instrumental” church leaders say, the Bible (especially Psalms) does an excellent job of including every known way and every known musical instrument to praise God. Paul links the results of singing of “Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” with both “being filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18-19) and “letting the Word of Christ dwell in us” (Col 3:16).

Several decades ago, the Christian band “Glad” presented “Variations on a Hymn” that brought out how people have used contemporary music of the day (whatever the generation) to sing their words of worship and testimony.

I believe that music without lyrics cannot *adequately* express the heart cry of worship. But unless we’re setting Scripture to music, we run the risk of inaccurately expressing the heart cry of worship. And there’s the rub.

As one of my seminary professors pointed out oftentimes worship songs express words of deep intimacy. Terms of endearment sometimes come across as uncomfortable-sounding to people who are not as used to such word pictures. And that’s unfortunate. The result is that a “preference issue” is presented as a “Biblical issue”

There are many traditional hymns as well as modern “praise and worship” songs that express deep and rich theology. And there are some traditional hymns and modern songs that express bad theology as well. One “traditional” song that comes to mind is “Love Lifted Me”. Not only is it a bad mix of a happy-sounding melody with a discussion of the unhappy topic of sin, the first verse is just plain wrong! I wasn’t simply “sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore, very deeply stained with sin, sinking to rise no more”. The Bible tells me that I was dead and at the bottom of the ocean of sin with absolutely no hope of life. I was not only “deeply stained with sin”; I totally and radically corrupted by it.

The article my friend linked to points out some of the issues with modern songs. I felt the writer was not just a little nit-picky in her critique. As an example, she says “Lord I Lift Your Name on High” presents only a “small fraction of the fullness of the gospel story”. I honestly wonder how she would attempt to present “the fullness of the gospel story” in any single song, sermon, or book. In looking at her bio and a list of her website’s other articles, I would tend to classify the website as belonging to someone on a witch hunt, a website more inclined to criticize than edify. Unfortunately, “preference” issues are presented as “Biblical” issues.

Bob Kauflin, one of the original members of the Christian band Glad, has written some really good articles on worship and music. His website is Worship Matters. I recommend reading his insights on the issue.

So, what do you think?

 

A New You in the New Year?

What are your New Year’s Resolutions?

I don’t mean to throw a wet blanket on your plans, but according to my friend, Gerry Lewis, 25 percent of people abandon their New Year’s resolutions after one week and 60 percent of people abandon them within six months. The average person makes the same New Year’s resolution 10 ten separate times without success. Wow!

So do you want next year to be different? You’ll probably need some help, especially if you’re wanting to make real changes in your life, and even more so if you want to make changes in your walk with God.

In addition to the normal issues with trying to make life changes, spiritual changes are even more challenging. Why? Because there’s a war for your heart! Proverbs 4:23  says they we have to guard our hearts above all else because our life springs from our heart!

Have you ever wanted to know God in a more personal way? Have you ever intentionally tried to know Him? If we are His children, He speaks to us through several ways, including “the still, small voice”, Bible teachers and yes, even preachers! But how do you know that the “word” you heard is really from God, as opposed to feelings of indigestion? I know of no better way to hear God than to spend time reading the Bible! You can discern His voice with the Bible, weighing every other “word” you think you may be hearing. He’s the God of Truth. He’ll never contradict Himself!

So where do you start?

Check out the Bible App (iOS, Android, Windows8, and Blackberry) or head over to YouVersion.com if you don’t have a smartphone or tablet. Sign up for a free account and choose from one (or more!) of their Bible reading plans. They have plans for just a few days to plans that last all year. They have plans to read through the entire Bible in a year, or just parts. Pick a plan, then  take a look at this practical article: http://ow.ly/GzHTd.

Not only will the Bible App help you with planning your Bible reading, it can remind you to read your Bible at a particular time of day. The App will even send you an email if you’re running a few days behind … and suggest ways to catch up! You can even share your reading plan with friends and help each other!

And for some additional incentive, the Bible App is offering a 21-day challenge! #BibleFor21

In 2015, I’m going to change things up a bit. The past few years I have read through the whole Bible. In 2015, I’m going to slow down a bit and read the New Testament in five minutes a day, five days a week. Join me! Follow me using the Bible App and let’s be as iron sharpening iron as we sharpen each other!

Bible reading isn’t about reading the Bible. It’s about getting to know God in a deeper way. Don’t end 2015 with no more knowledge of God than you do here at the end of 2014.

So what’s your plan?

Why I Am a Baptist

I didn’t grow up as a Baptist. I wasn’t saved in a Baptist church. I didn’t become a Baptist until I had been a Christian for thirteen years. So why did I become a Baptist?

I grew up in another division. I say this because “denomination” is a math term and is related to division. The division I grew up in was the one chosen by my parents shortly before I was saved. It seemed to fit me well for eight years or so. Then I was challenged to look at what the Bible said about eternal security.

I had always thought that it was possible to lose your salvation. A high school teacher challenged me to consider what the Bible had to say about the subject. As I looked at what was clearly taught in the Bible, I realized that maintaining my salvation had nothing to do with what I did. It had everything to do with what Jesus had already done! As I continued to consider the issue – even recently – I saw that my eternal security had everything to do with the very character of God!

A few years after my epiphany on eternal security, I began to consider my call to ministry from my early teens. I looked into what my division had to say about issues like abortion. My division’s official position was that abortion was a private issue between a woman and her doctor. But this seemed to be contrary to what the Bible taught about the sanctity of life. Psalm 139, among other scriptures, seemed to indicate that life began at conception. If that’s true, how can abortion be a private issue between a woman and her doctor when a baby’s life is at stake?  I couldn’t see myself following a ministry training program in a division that differed from the Bible on this clear issue.

About that time, a non-Baptist friend told me that I was a Baptist, but I just didn’t know it; he said that I already believed everything Baptists did. As I considered his comments, I picked up a couple of books about what Baptists believe. Sure enough, I was a Baptist, I just didn’t belong to a Baptist church. As I continued to consider, not only Baptist beliefs , but Baptist ministry, I saw the importance of cooperative ministry: churches pooling their resources to do ministry, evangelism, missions, and education. Southern Baptists seemed to do ministry from a Biblical model.

So I joined, not only a Baptist church, but a Southern Baptist Church. And when it was time to pursue ministry training, I went to an SBC seminary.

I still have many friends from my former division, as well as friends from many other divisions. We can all agree to disagree on non-essential issues. But at the end of the day, I am a Southern Baptist because I agree with the beliefs and the way Southern Baptists do ministry.

 

 

Is “Praying the Prayer” Biblical?

One of my concerns over the years is the popular idea of encouraging people to “pray a prayer to accept Jesus into their hearts”. According the new International Mission Board President, David Platt, doing this is superstitious and dangerous.

I took a class on World Religions when I was at UNC-Chapel Hill. Obviously, this class was not taught from a “Christian perspective”. And that was a good thing. It was good to hear an academic description of the major world religions because it gave me an idea as to how lost people look at the world.

One day, our professor began to explain Pure Land Buddhism. As he described the concept of “salvation”/”achieving enlightenment”, I began to feel chills creep up my spine. According to that religion, all you need to ensure your “salvation” was to speak a particular phrase. You could live your life however you wanted before and after speaking these words and you were still guaranteed “salvation”.

So why did I get chills? Because there’s not much difference between that religion’s concept of “salvation” and much of our evangelistic training and mindset!

Let me ask… When you think about when you became a Christian, do you believe it happened because you prayed a prayer, or walked down an aisle? If one must do any or all of these things, then why don’t we see either of those things mentioned in the entire New Testament? Or in the writings of the Church Fathers? Or in the writings of the Reformers? Even baptism — as important as it is — isn’t given as being essential to salvation. In fact, such easy believe-ism is completely counter to everything we read in the New Testament, and the writings of the Church Fathers and the Reformers.

The concept of praying a sinner’s prayer is a modern convention, perhaps shaped by the Western mindset of “being a soul-winner”, similar to being a successful salesman who always presses for the decision and closes the deal. I even remember some of my evangelism training including asking the prospective convert if he/she could think of any reason why they shouldn’t pray the prayer and if not, they should bow and pray.

As Dr. Pratt says in the video above, doing this is dangerous, and even damning.

How many people will stand before God on Judgment Day, claiming that they should be granted access to eternity in heaven because they prayed a prayer, walked down an aisle, shook a pastor’s hand or were baptized?

The prospect of that Day scares me! And it should scare you, too! Jesus took it a step farther, saying that on that Day, many will claim that they had done some pretty spectacular things, but would still wouldn’t enter heaven because He never knew them. (Matthew 7:21-23)

Biblical salvation is more than just praying a prayer, walking an aisle, and being baptized. Salvation is receiving eternal life and eternal life is knowing God (John 17:3). Salvation begins when we exchange our life (all of our sin) for Jesus’ life (all of His righteousness) in order to be put in a right relationship with our Creator and King, against Whom we have all committed High Treason. Without accepting that free exchange, we are all worthy of nothing better than an eternity in hell and separation from God. Salvation continues as we live according to that new standing as adopted children. And salvation is fully realized when we cross over to the other side of eternity.

Does praying a prayer save you? No. Prayer is a natural response to receiving the New Life in exchange for our Old life and being accepted into a new family by a loving Father. And prayer can express our repentance as we turn from our sin and toward God.

What are your thoughts?