Monday, January 02, 2017

"As the deer pants for the water brooks, So pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, While they continually say to me, 'Where is your God?' When I remember these things, I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go with the multitude; I went with them to the house of God, With the voice of joy and praise, With a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast. Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him For the help of His countenance."

I must confess something.  I have been in a desert.  I have been in this desert for a long time.  Eight years ago, I left the full-time ministry to go back to work because our church couldn't continue supporting me and paying our bills at the same time.  But, I began wandering into the desert before then. Partly through life circumstances, partly (mostly?) through my own sinfulness, I began a slow but steady walk away from the "streams of living water" to try to drink from "broken cisterns". As God said through the prophet Jeremiah, it is an astonishing thing. But, it is true.

No, I didn't cheat on my wife, or abandon the faith, or anything like that.  But, is pastoring without passion any less of a sin? Is preaching without praying any better than not preaching at all? I tend to doubt it.

I think every pastor goes into the ministry with a great desire for the glory of God. We all long to see people come to know the Lord, grow in their faith, and extend the kingdom. But, sometimes, we get weary. Things don't go as we had hoped. The church we are pastoring doesn't grow, but shrinks. People who we have loved and served turn on us and, worse yet, turn on God.

And the human response is to wander into the desert. To stop caring as much. To stop praying as much. To begin to go through the motions, hoping to just survive.  Some of that describes what I have been going through.  Oh, I love the people in my church.  I always have.  I have wept over them and prepared messages for them and taught them.  But, while I was doing that, I was not weeping over my own soul or studying God's Word in order to know God myself.  In short, I was dry.  I was thirsty, but not going to the Fountain.  I was just flopping in the sand. And my ministry was not in the power of the Spirit, but in the half-hearted effort of a sinful man.

Well, something has happened to me over the last six months.  It is hard to describe, but I can tell you that I am not who I have been for the last eight years. No, I am not perfect.  In fact, I am far from it.  But, I have a new-found hope and trust in God.  I long for Him like I never have before.  I want others to have this same longing I do.  I can say, without a doubt, that I am now ministering from an overflow of the work of God on my life and not just from my own strength.

Does this mean that everything is going to go perfectly?  Did it for David?  Will the church I pastor suddenly grow by leaps and bounds?  Will we see thousands getting saved, families reconciled, sin fought against?  Maybe some of that will happen.  Maybe it won't.  I have been praying for a revival first in my heart and then in the hearts of our people.  But, the answer to that prayer isn't up to me, it's up to God.  For now, I am happy to be out of the desert and, once again, drinking from the fountain of living waters. And I pray that I may be able to serve God's people from the overflow of what I am drinking.

Monday, July 09, 2012

A Gospel-Driven Church

You ever wonder why you're still here?  I mean, if salvation is all about your forgiveness of sin and keeping you from hell so that you spend an eternity in heaven, why are you still breathing?  Wouldn't it have been much better for God to save us and then take us immediately to heaven?

These are questions that I wonder about sometimes.  I know the theological and biblical response to these questions.  But, sometimes it just doesn't make sense to me.  I guess it's a good thing I'm not God.  You see, God, for some reason I can only guess, seated Christ at His right hand and left the mission of spreading the message of His death, resurrection, and reign to people who often don't seem to care.  Obviously, God know what will best bring Him glory, and God chose to display that glory here and now through the Church.

This is why we need to ask ourselves some tough questions.  Like what motivates our church ministry.  In other words, why do we do what we do?  Our church has developed a mission statement that is, under Scripture and our doctrinal statement, supposed to govern everything we do.  It goes like this:  Grace Baptist Church exists to glorify God by bringing people into God's family through the gospel, helping them grow into mature followers of Christ, and equipping them for ministry in the church and to the world.  We have boiled it down into four easy-to-remember words - Evangelism, Exaltation, Edification, Equipping.

The first phrase of the mission statement gives the why of our existence.  We are here to bring God glory.  Everything we do revolves around this.  Everything we do is motivated by this.  This is our central focus and should be at the forefront of our minds at all times.  We do not bring attention to ourselves or our organization.  We are not about having huge buildings or making people feel comfortable.  We don't stroke egos or try to make people rich.  We are about the glory of God now and for all eternity.

And God has told us how He expects us to glorify Him.  In Jesus' final instructions to His disciples before He ascended into heaven, He said, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

This was His Great Commission to His followers - take my message to others.  That is why we are still here.  We are like waiters.  The Chef has cooked up the meal and we are to bring it to the table.  We exist to proclaim the good news (the Gospel) that God in Christ was reconciling men to Himself.  And what greater privilege could we have?  We are heralds of the Sovereign King of the universe and we bring a message of peace with Him!

And the Gospel message isn't just for unbelievers.  It's for believers as well.  We need to hear constantly that our God chose us, love us, sacrificed His Son for us, clothed us with Christ's righteousness, forgives us when we sin, restores us, and will sustain our faith until we reach glory.  This is the Gospel!

This is what should motivate or drive our church.  This is what we should be our focus.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Christian response to the Penn State scandal

I'll admit, first of all, that I am taking all of this personally. I am not in any way affiliated with Penn State, either through the university or as a fan of the football program. But, I am primarily a father of two children from the ages of 8-11. I have been a youth pastor of Middle School and High School kids. I have dealt with countless kids in my pastoral ministry. And I have been a kids' soccer coach for the past 5 years. Most of all, I am a Christian, so I love the glory of God and hate sin. So, I take all of this a little personally.

And you may not care what I think, but I figured I should weigh in on this Penn State situation. So, let me elucidate a few of my thoughts:

1) Jerry Sandusky is a despicable man. He preyed on little boys who couldn't defend themselves and took advantage of their predicament in life. He is disgusting and there is absolutely no excuse for what he did. He is a sinner and deserves to be punished to the full extent of the law.

2) Mike McQueary should have done more. How you can walk in on those events and turn around and walk out is beyond me. The proper response is not to go to your office and call your daddy. The proper response is to stop what is happening and call the police.

3) John McQueary gave his son the wrong advice. When told of the events unfolding as they spoke on the phone, Mike's father told him to leave the building. He should have told him to go back into the shower room and beat the crap out of Jerry Sandusky and rescue that boy. By no means should he have told him to leave the building and wait until the next day to call his supervisor.

4) Joe Paterno didn't do enough. Joe Peterno, apparently, obeyed the letter of the law by reporting the alleged incident to his supervisors. But in a LOT of areas he failed. He waited an entire day (from Saturday morning until Sunday morning) to report this event. He may not have given the full description that McQueary gave to him. At the very least, he allowed Sandusky to continue to use his facilities and have access to his own football players and program for the next 9 years after this incident was reported to him. This is odd, given the nature of the accusation. At best, it is negligence. At worst, it is enabling and cover-up.

5) The rest of the university administration that knew about this incident are guilty of allowing the further abuse of boys on their facilities and by someone they knew was doing it due to their negligence.

6) We as Christians must primarily consider how these events profane the name of God. Sin is an affront to a holy God. The sexual abuse of children by those in authority over them defiles not only those children, but also the glory of God. Sin is disgusting. This is a prime example of the depravity of mankind. It is sick. It is sad. And God hates it.

7) We must also consider the victims of this alleged abuse. Our concern should not be for a sports program or a college, but for those who are most hurt by these incidents. I am sure that Joe Paterno will suffer because of his inaction. And I don't care. The victims here are the children who were abused during his watch. We must pray for them and we must pray for their families.

8) We, as Christians, should be concerned about the spread of the Gospel through this situation. The reality is that the only answer to the sin here is the Gospel. The cross is the only solution. As we are praying for the emotional healing of the victims, we must pray for the success of the Gospel and look for opportunities to bring it up as the only solution. Remember, apart from Christ, we are all Jerry Sandusky.

9) We must, in our churches, seek to protect our children from such predators. Make no mistakes. The enemy (Satan) ever looks to corrupt people within out churches. And he will stop at nothing to make the Kingdom of God look like a joke. Sexual predators have done this often because we have, in the church, been negligent in our jobs of protecting the ones who are most susceptible to abuse.

10) Above all, our response as Christians is not about us, nor about these boys, nor about Joe Pa, nor about Penn State. Our response is about God. We must never forget that.

As we grieve for these boys, experience anger towards Jerry Sandusky, wonder about Joe Paterno, reminisce about the supposed greatness of Penn State football, consider the remaining football players, and discuss the events of the last 9 years, let us never forget that our primary consideration as Christians is not in the human realm. It is in the spiritual. The focus of our thoughts and our discussions should be the glory of God. We must hate sin as God hates it. We must care for the lost as God cares for them. We must love the glory of God as God loves it. And we must live accordingly.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Why Theology Matters

In Hebrews 10, the writer begins to give a lot of commands to his readers as to how they are supposed to live their Christian lives. If we were writing this letter in today's church, we probably would have started right in with the commands of verse 22. We would tell our audience (congregation) that they need to draw near to God and hold on tight to Him, while trying to help others grow in their faith as well. This would be exactly what people would want to hear. They want practical applications for their daily life.

But verse 22 (which begins a section of practical application) is not in chapter 1. It is in chapter 10. Chapters 1 through the first have of 10 deal with theology. They cover subjects like the supremacy of Christ over angels, the supremacy of Christ over the Law, the progressive differences between the Old and New Covenants, the built-in frailties of the Old Covenant sacrifices, how the shadows of Old Covenant worship pointed to the reality of Christ and His once-for-all sacrifice.

The author thought it important enough to have 9 1/2 chapters of theology before getting into any kind of application. Paul did the same thing in Romans. He spends 11 chapters on theology before getting into practical application in chapter 12. So, the biblical writers seem to think that theology is as important as practice, if not more so. Why?

Simply put, right practice comes from right belief. Your actions flow from your beliefs. You cannot live correctly if your theology is wrong. In Hebrews 10, the writer shows this with one very important word. That word is found in the beginning of verse 19. After dealing with how God made promises under the Old Covenant and fulfilled them through the sacrifice of Christ as He brought in the New Covenant, the writer then says, "Therefore..."

I say this is an important word because it tells us how the following information is going to function. What follows are specific commands that detail how we are to live both individually and corporately. But, the word "Therefore" shows us that these commands don't stand on their own. They are a conclusion from previous material. You don't draw near, hold fast, and consider one another for just any reason. THEREFORE, you do these things. In other words, you do these things because of what God has already done for you. You base your actions on trusting in what God has already done and what He is doing. You live your life by faith in what the writer has just detailed in 9 1/2 chapters.

It's very similar to the Great Commission. We all know that we are to make disciples by going, baptizing and teaching. But, what is often missed in the Great Commission is the word "therefore". We are not to go, baptize and teach in our own power and for our own purposes. If we look back to see what the "therefore" is there for, we see that we are to go, baptize and teach because "All power in heaven and earth has been given to [Jesus]." In other words, our practice is based on our theology.

You cannot know how to live or what to do if you do not know what to believe. The Bible is full of theology because who God is and what God does is much more important than who you are or what you do. Spend a little time learning some theology. Once you know God well enough, then you might be able to figure out how you should live.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

What not to say when you visit a church

I strive very hard not to pay attention to extreme points of view in any situation. For instance, I know I am not a perfect preacher. There are many aspects of study and delivery that I haven't mastered. Given that I work 50 hours per week normally outside of church, I definitely believe that I could use more preparation time. So, I don't usually listen to extreme praise or extreme criticism.

But, something very funny, almost shocking, was said to me at church this morning. We had a man visit our church who was obviously not enjoying his time with us. Throughout the service he refused to sing any of the songs and when we would read Scripture, he stared at the ceiling. After the service, just before he left, I went to introduce myself to him and talk to him a little. I went up to him, stuck out my hand, and said, "Hi. My name is Doug. Glad to have you here with us this morning."

His response? And I quote: "Hmmmm. You need to organize your thoughts a little better. And you are too repetitious. You repeat yourself over and over. You know, someone famous once said that everything you need to say should fit on a 3 x 5 card. If you can't limit yourself to that, then you don't really know your subject. You go on way too long. If you can hear yourself talk, you are going on too long."

And with that, he walked out.

Thankfully, nothing I did this morning was about me or my public speaking skill. It was about the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ and the glory of God. But, please. The next time you visit a church, say something nice to the pastor for me. He may have just worked a 60-hour work week and had to do the bulletin on his own printer at 10 o'clock the night before. Try building someone up, rather than tearing them down.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Out of the Abundance of the Heart

Now, I don't know Chris Reichert personally. I haven't even seen the video footage of him throwing money at the man with Parkinson's at the political rally against the Health Care bill. I have read some of what went on and, frankly, as a conservative, I am disgusted. But, I don't know Mr. Reichert, or anyone else who was at the rally, so I have to take his apology at face value.

But, one thing I am sure about what Mr. Reichert originally said and did is that he meant it. It was not as if he was forced to say something he didn't want to say or wasn't really feeling. He can use the excuse of getting caught up in the emotions of a political rally all he wants, but it doesn't change the fact that what he said came, not from the surroundings of the rally, but from his own heart. It's much like someone who gets drunk and says or does things they regret trying to blame the alcohol. It is not that the alcohol made you do something, it is that the alcohol took away some of your inhibitions that keep you from saying or doing what you really feel inside.

Which brings us back to a proper biblical understanding of human nature. We are not basically good. We are not even tabula rasa, or blank slates that are formed completely by our environment. The Bible says that the heart of man is "desperately wicked" and that "every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." Now, this is a pretty strong indictment against mankind. But, look at our history, even the events of this past week, and it should be obvious that the Bible is correct.

As fallen human beings, our greatest need is not a new Health Care plan (or a government that completely adheres to the Constitution). The greatest need of every human being, including Mr. Reichert and you and me, is a Savior. We need to be changed from the inside out. We need the sins we commit to be forgiven. And we can't do that ourselves. This is why God sent His Son to die on the cross. He did it for sinful people like Chris Reichert. He did it for sinful people like Doug Mixer. He did it for you.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Health Care and Christianity

Well, now that we have all had a chance to catch our breath after the signing of the Health Care bill, it's time to take a few steps back to really think about how a Christian, not just an American, should think about Health Care. Let me preface everything I am about to say by being clear that I have NOT read the 1990 pages of the bill, so my comments will not be on the substance of the particular bill that just got signed into law.

Now, as a political and fiscal conservative, I could rant on and on about how I don't like big government, how I don't believe health insurance (which is really what I think the debate is all about) is a right guaranteed by the Constitution, how a multi-billion dollar expense when we already are fiscally irresponsible is a bad idea, and many other things. But, I want to approach this issue not as just an conservative American, but as a Christian.

So, here goes:

1) God is concerned about people and we should be, too.

This is not just an American issue, but a human issue. As Christians, we ought to be concerned about the well-being of all human beings and should be willing to sacrifice our "rights" and money to help others. You know, the whole "do unto others" thing? The Reformers rightly understood that the negative commandment to "not murder" presupposed a positive command to care for others well-being.

2) Christians, above all others, should be giving people.

The Bible says that to whom much has been given, much will be required. Now, without taking this verse completely out of context, the general principle is that we as Christians have been given more than anything this world could ever offer. Is it really too much to ask that we are willing to give of our possessions to others to help meet their physical needs?

3) Part of the responsibility of the church is to help those in need.

Of course, the Bible is clear that our primary responsibility is the spread of the Gospel and that, even as far as meeting physical needs is concerned, our responsibility is primarily towards "brothers" or other believers. But we can't get around the biblical mandate to look out for the needs of others and to put "feet" to our words. James 1:27 says "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." Perhaps, if the church wasn't so busy building coffee houses and softball fields on our properties, we would have more resources to do what we don't think the government has a right to do.

4) The answer to everything is never government, but always God.

We must understand that we shouldn't get so caught up in politics that we forget our primary responsibility as Christians. Although we are citizens of our particular country (in my case, the United States of America), ultimately we are citizens of heaven. And our primary interests and responsibilities are not related to our earthly home, but our heavenly home. We should be more concerned with the glory of God and the spread of the Gospel than proper functioning of the civil government. Of course, that does not mean that we pull out of government and put our heads in the sand. It means that we seek to make government better to the glory of God while recognizing that we are ultimately dependent on Him, not that government.

This issue is not a simple cut and dry issue. It is very complex and very complicated. As we respond to the events that are currently taking place, we must remember to do so with patience, love and a view to honoring God.