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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?

 

Happy Reformation Day!

Reformation DayToday is not about Halloween. Today, it’s all about the Reformation!

On this day in 1517 a German monk named Martin challenged church leaders over how to deal with sin when he nailed the 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg church. (You can’t buy forgiveness!)

I thank God for Martin Luther and the other Reformers and their courage to challenge the church back to the Word as its authority.

Sola scriptura (by Scripture alone)
Sola fide (by Faith alone)
Sola gratia (by Grace alone)
Solo Christos (by Christ alone)
Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone)

May we be so bold.

 

 

(For more info on the significance of today, click here.)

What is the Measure of One’s Ministry?

Too often we measure ministries by “nickels and noses” or “buildings, budgets, and butts”. If you’re around a group of pastors of different churches, the topic of church size quickly comes up, one will brag about his church’s latest building program, another brags about his latest offering, and still another about how many new members have recently joined the church. And if you ask how many people attended last Sunday Morning’s church service, you will hear a “ministerialy-speaking” number that more often than not, is inflated.

Speaking of inflated numbers…. the first church I pastored had nearly 300 members! But I don’t know that even on the “high attendance” Sundays of Christmas and Easter we ever had more than 50 people in the sanctuary. As we dug into the names, we found that we only recognized about 60. Sixty of 300 names!

You rarely hear of churches cleaning up their rolls, mainly because reporting the numbers accurately makes it look like the church has had a drastic drop in membership. And smaller memberships mean fewer people can go to denominational meetings and vote on behalf of your church. But, honestly, how many people go to those denominational meetings anymore anyway?

Wanting to account for the actual number of sheep in our fold, we began removing the names of people we didn’t know, or that we knew had died. So what happened to so many people on the membership roll? I suspect that many moved away, joined another church, or simply dropped out. Perhaps many were children who prayed a prayer during a Vacation Bible School over the course of 30+ years, and their names were added to the membership and they were never heard from again. (and did we ever follow up with them?)

I have heard of church business meetings where a number of people showed up for the first time in years in order to vote out a pastor (maybe some people didn’t like the way he parted his hair) or to change the direction a pastor was trying to lead the church (perhaps to be less “religious” and to be more like Jesus). Phone calls were made and accusations were leveled, with the result of the poor church clerk having to pour through the membership roster to make sure that everyone in the meeting was entitled to vote, based on their “membership” in the church. I must confess that this is one of the reasons I wanted to clean up the membership rolls; I didn’t want the church to be sabotaged by people who had no vested interest in the normal operations of the church. If there were people who wanted to maintain membership so they could have a “church marriage” or a “church funeral”, I was prepared to conduct their services, but I felt that those “members” had “broken covenant” by choosing to no longer attend and support the church with their time, talent, and their treasures.

So what is church membership?

Even after paring down the list of names to those 60 that we knew, we still had some names on the list because they were family members of charter church members, for whatever reason afraid of removing their grandchild or cousin from the roll. Were they afraid they wouldn’t come back to church? Hadn’t the grandchild or cousin already made that decision?

OK, I’ll step off my soapbox after saying that we need to seriously consider what “church membership” means. By “we”, I mean churches, staff, as well as everyone who calls themselves a “church member”. Wouldn’t it be better to call everyone either a church member or church attender based on their investment of time, talent, and yes… treasures?

 

I came across a really good post this morning that addresses this question of how to best measure one’s ministry. From a pastor’s perspective, I believe we should change our criteria.