Sgs provide an atmosphere for caring for the members of the church. Who cares for the people of the church? Some may say the really spiritual or the pastors or the deacons. They are part right. Let me explain. Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Paul speaks these words to a church, which, yes, includes pastors and deacons. But, notice that he doesn’t isolate these words to pastors and deacons. This message is given to the whole church. Caring for one another fulfills the law of Christ. If you know the previous 5 chapters of Galatians, you know those you are called to care for are those who have trusted in Jesus for salvation, are being lead by the Spirit, and are, thus, fleeing sin—Christians. Organizationally, sgs can give us the ability to care for other members in our groups. Sgs give focus. Sgs also provide opportunities to easily organize a small group of people to serve homebound or even evangelize. Sgs provide a healthy context for exercising spiritual gifts.
February 9, 2009
1 Corinthians 12-14 has a lot to say about spiritual gifts. God gives spiritual gifts to all Christians (12:7). The unique nature of spiritual gifts is that they are all for the purpose of using to encourage other Christians. Unfortunately, not everyone can practice their spiritual gift each Sunday morning, but sgs provide a context in which you can use your spiritual gifts in a small, casual, safe environment. Some may use the gift of music, while others practice hospitality. Seeing others gifted in these ways, while they are serving others with their gifts, models gospel living to others of us who might not be so gifted in those areas and allows us to benefit from the special fragrance of heaven you carry. So, sgs also provide a context in which you can use the gifts God has given you. Another part of being a spiritual body with real fellowship is caring for one another.
February 5, 2009
Sanctification happens in the kinds of community sgs seek to create. Sanctification is a word, which identifies the “progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives” (Wayne Grudem, ST, 756). This is the natural outworking of a life that has been brought into right relationship with God. God begins making his people new. Many consider this to be a work that is entirely or mostly accomplished by the individual. That is why you often hear people say, “My sin is none of your business.” This may sound wise, because our culture teaches us to isolate ourselves and hide our weaknesses. But, the first step of becoming a Christian is admitting weakness and even spiritual deadness. As Christians, we must help one another flee sin. In fact, as one pastor said, “all major exhortations to holy living are plural (Rom 6:1-23; Gal 5:13-6:10; Eph 4:17-6:18). So, if we really want to live the Christian life, we need to involve others in our lives. Sin grips us so tightly we need others to fight it. Pastor C. J. Mahaney said, “It’s been sobering to observe others who have chosen not to participate in a local church or in small groups. They have demonstrated a distinct lack of growth. What’s worse, they haven’t even been aware of their spiritual stagnation” (Small Groups, 6). Sgs have proven to address this significant need. Not only do they address our need to pursue the good things of God and flee sin, they also prepare a helpful environment for us to be used by God.
February 4, 2009
Biblical fellowship is the focus of sgs and all other reasons flow from this one. Many assume biblical fellowship automatically happens in a small church or in a church with a fellowship hall. However, many small churches and fellowship halls have never had true “biblical fellowship.” John 1 tells us that Christian fellowship begins with a special fellowship with God made possible by Jesus Christ and evidenced by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Once that relationship is made right, relationships with other Christians are brought to life. The New Testament is clear—sharing a common geographic local with another Christian doesn’t constitute biblical fellowship. Biblical fellowship centers on the Scriptures and their application. If you know me, you know I am not advocating boring relationships that do not appreciate the finer things of life like football or American Idol. But, we need to make sure our fellowship is centered on Christ or it isn’t distinctly Christian. Sgs are focused on having biblical fellowship. They serve to help us make sure that we are centering our conversations on Christ and the application that flows from life in Him. The natural outpouring of this kind of fellowship is my second reason.
February 3, 2009
Some of you might ask why pastors do what they do at times. New things tend to scare people. There is some wisdom to this. You want to be leery of things that have not been tested. However, there is also a certain degree of danger that we are doing old traditional things that are unhelpful. Just because something is new doesn’t mean that it is helpful or unhelpful, but just because it is old doesn’t mean it is helpful or unhelpful either. We really have to evaluate all things in light of Scripture and in light of the context we live in.
This being said, I am convinced that “Small Groups” are a significant need in local churches. This is one of the things I have been called to do in my particular local church. Though they are new to us, they are not new in general. Many churches have been involved in Small Groups in the past thirty years and that number has exploded over the past 10 years. In fact, it would be difficult for you to find an SBC church or any other denominational local church of two hundred or more members that doesn’t have Small Groups. So, more and more pastors are seeing their value. John Stott, one of our eras greatest teachers, who is about 88 years old (pastoring 63 of those years) said this, “Small groups are indispensable for our growth into spiritual maturity” (Small groups, 97). C. J. Mahanney says “A church following a biblical model will not just “have” small groups. It will not merely “offer” small groups. Rather, it will be built with small groups (Small Groups, CJ Mahanney, 3). Over the next few days, I hope you see the biblical necessity to take part in Small Groups, and why your pastors, and so many others, think they are for your good. What is a small group? It is a group of people meeting together to focus on the application of Scripture. Their primary focus is the edification of the believer, but they can also sometimes serve an evangelistic function (this is not their primary function though). For this reason, I will explore 4 reasons for small groups in the coming week.
December 30, 2008
1. The Gospel & Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever—The most fruitful evangelist I have ever met personally wrote this book. This easy to moderate, short read is chock full of practical advice on how to evangelize faithfully (apprx 100 pages).
2. Prayer and the Knowledge of God by Graeme Goldsworthy—This work looks deeply at a full-orbed biblical picture of prayer. It is a moderate to difficult read, but is extremely helpful for the person seeking a deeper understanding of prayer (apprx 200 pages).
3. What is a Healthy Church Member by Thabiti Anyabwile—Thabiti preaches with power as a six-foot tall African-American man with the voice of a Lion. More importantly for this book, he writes with simplicity and clarity—much of this, I think, comes from the fact that all of his preparation for ministry came from the church. The book itself is brief and easy to read (apprx 100 pages).
4. Reasons why we believe: 50 lines of evidence that confirm the Christian Faith by Nathan Busenitz—This work can be used in a number of ways. The book is approximately 200 pages in length–an easy to moderate read–and offers 50 arguments for the existence of God. Ultimately, we know that belief requires a work of the Spirit, but truth is the seed that needs to be sown to reap its benefits. Busenitz does an excellent job of making difficult thoughts easy and short—most chapters are 3-4 pages. This is helpful for apologetics and evangelism (apprx 200 pages).
6. Reason for God by Timothy Kellar—Kellar is one of my favorite thinkers—mainly due to his brilliant mind and humble heart (I long for both!). This book addresses 7 of the most common arguments today against belief in God and 7 reasons for belief. I would say that this is a medium to hard read, and fun (apprx 240 pages).
7. When People are Big and God is Small by Edward T. Welch—the deacons read through this together. This book addresses the natural tendency we all have to seek to please man (or woman) above our desire to be faithful to God. Welch does an excellent job of grappling with heart issues in this work. It is an easy to moderate read and (apprx 200 pages).
8. Vintage Jesus by Mark Driscoll—Mark represents a respectable movement towards seeking to bring strong doctrine in relevant, fresh ways. This book takes a look at Jesus from a historical and biblical perspective and his full of excellent doctrine as well as fun turns of phrase. I hear this book quoted a lot. The younger crowd will love it. This too is an easy to moderate read (apprx 200 pages).
9. Resurrection of the Son of God by NT Wright—this book is a mammoth, 800 pages and a difficult read. I am not even done with it yet. But, Wright’s work on extra-biblical and biblical resources to understand what the resurrection meant in the context of the Ancient Near East is profound. Anyone willing to work at this book will be blessed.
10. Holding Hands Holding Hearts by Richard and Sharon Philips—the Philips communicate helpful thoughts on dating from a biblical perspective. Every person who is not married should read this book. Even though highlights dating, I even found helpful insights for married people. It is an easy read (apprx 200 pages).
December 16, 2008
This past week Larry Eisenfeld, M.D., and president of the Jewish federation of lee and Charlotte Counties wrote an article expressing his thoughts on the massacres in Mumbai. A concern for a rabbi and his wife and seven other Jews who were murdered prompted him to voice his concern. This is what he had to say, “At the end of the day, it does not matter how we practice our faith. It does not matter how we view the world, or what our politics are…The Rabbinic sage Hillel said that all the commandments can be summed up in “Love your neighbor as yourself. All the rest is commentary…May we all react to this vicious attack by being kinder to one another. It behooves us to look at our similarities rather than our differences.” Eisenfeld sentiments are actually popular these days. In fact, just yesterday, I read an article from the Associated Baptist Press, which quotes President Bush as saying that he is not so sure that Jesus is the only way to heaven.
Is it biblical though?
This advice may sound really wise and even biblical. Galatians 5:14 says, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In Galatians, Paul spends much of his time demolishing a temptation perhaps all of us face—Turning Christianity into a list of things that we do for God. The way this practically plays out is that we reduce Christianity to a list of values. We want to be good people so we go to church. We don’t want our children to go to jail so we go to church. This reasoning is like marrying a woman because we like her perfume. We don’t marry a woman because of one of her attributes, nor do we wed ourselves to Christ because of fruit for fruits sake. Paul has shown us that in reality, God has freed us to himself and he is our prize. All of the fruits of the Spirit come from the Spirit living inside of us, transforming us into the image of Christ–that is what makes them spiritual fruits. Our justification and freedom comes from Christ alone. This is the true gospel, God is good, and we broke his law and the only way to be made right with him is to turn from your sin and trust that Jesus, who was fully God and fully man, died for your sins upon a cross and that he is your king—not just a king.
It is dangerous to move from the fruit to the root
This is the dangerous gospel preachers preach and that Martin Lloyd Jones speaks of when he said, “They have all been accused of “antinomianism.” I would say to all preachers: If your preaching of salvation has not been misunderstood in that way, then you had better examine your sermons again, and you had better make sure that you really are preaching the salvation that is proclaimed in the New Testament.” Antinomianism is a belief that there is no law. That is the dangerous gospel we try to preach here. Nothing you do can save you. Salvation only comes from trusting in what Christ has done. This is the very issue that Paul is addressing in this last section of Galatians, and the reason Paul says people are not without a law; they are called to follow the “law of Christ” in 6:2. So, we need to understand the command to love one another within the context of the whole message of Galatians and–perhaps even more so–in the grand scope of the Bible’s redemptive history. Spiritual fruit does not exist without the seed of the gospel taking root in the heart of the believer by the power of the Spirit.
What about other faiths that do good things?
This doesn’t mean that we will not see evidences of grace in the lives of others. All good comes down from the Father who is in heaven. But, some of the good is common and some is special. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. That is a common grace. Only those who repent of their sin and turn to the gospel receive salvation. That is Special grace. So, even the good that we see those of other faiths do is from God. The scary thing is that common grace doesn’t save them. It is faith alone in Christ alone that does that.
November 24, 2008
1. Use it as an opportunity to see what God is doing in the lives of other Christians in your family. Remind Christian friends or family of things that you are thankful for. Plan intentional discussions geared towards this end. Also, implement traditions geared towards this. This way Thanksgiving will illicit thoughts of gratitude to God and to others, because they will know they will be expected to share particular people and events they are grateful for. In particular, you should focus on lifting up praise to God for particular blessings.
2. Use it as an opportunity to be an example of the gospel played out before non-Christians. If you have an opportunity to share Thanksgiving with non-Christians, prepare your heart and the hearts of your family or friends who are Christians to display love and care for one another during this time as an expression of lives led by the Spirit of God.
3. Use it as an opportunity to share the gospel w/ non-Christian families. If non-Christians are going to be present, pray for them beforehand. Anticipate sharing the gospel with them. Try to drive conversations towards meaningful discussion.
4. Use it as an opportunity to invite others into your home that are alone, or who have less. One of the best ways to display the power gospel to your children and others is to show love to those who are different then you. It carries with it an alien footprint that is not of this world. People tend towards similarity. Showing love, especially when difficult or costly, causes people to listen to you. Moreover, this kind of love reflects a belief that all men and women are valuable because they are created in the image of God.
5. Set apart a time to think about tangible reasons you have to be thankful. Some people probably have spent more time thinking about what they are going to eat than why they are getting together.
6. Don’t let your thanksgiving be confined to the 4th Thursday of every November. Thanksgiving for the Christian is a way of life.
7. Watch a lot of football, but make sure you spend more time communicating and relating with others than vegging out. You have little spiritual responsibility for who wins between Texas A&M and Texas, but I do have a responsibility to those God puts me in an actual room with.
Thanksgiving historically focuses on taking time to gratefully lifting up people, places, and circumstances we deem praise worthy. If the news stories associated with Thanksgiving this year indicate with any clarity the current prevailing attitude, we might need to rename our historic holiday. I challenge you to google news stories anticipating Thanksgiving this year. You will find them to be saturated with more gloom and doom than thanks. Headlines complain that despite lower gas prices, fewer people will travel. Black Friday has been prophesied to fail to meet the sales successes of recent history, and food pantries are struggling to find enough food. It seems desperate times have swallowed up our thanks. This is the time for Chrisitans counter-cultural joy and thanks to shine most clearly.
Is anything keeping you from a thankful heart?: Paul Erupted with Gratitude
Paul emits some of the sweetest words of encouragement and thanks in all of Scripture in Philippians 1. Notice that in verse 3, Paul says, “I thank God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine.” Paul is thankful for God’s work in his fellow Christians on the behalf of the work of the gospel. What is amazing in this story is his situation. Paul sat imprisoned in a Roman cell, where the Roman church had been ignoring him. In the middle of some of the darkest times in his life, he pens a note of thanksgiving to God for Philippian Christians. Friend, is anything keeping you from a thankful heart? Is it sin? Is there some sin that you struggle with that has surrounded your heart and gripped it so tight that you feel like you can barely breath. Are particular situations causing you to sin? Is it trouble at work, trouble in your marriage, trouble with your kids or grandkids, trouble with your boyfriend or girlfriend, trouble with addictions, or trouble with debt? What is chaining you up from a thankful heart? Know this, Scripture never says that being a Christian causes all of our suffering to leave immediately. Instead, we are told to be patient amidst suffering because in creates hope in us. Paul was thankful amidst really difficult times because he was hopeful.
Paul focused on the right things:
1. He focused on God. He looked to a full orbed trinitarian vision of God the Father, God the Son, and in verse 19, God the Holy Spirit. In verse 3 Paul says, “He thanked God continuously in prayer” as he was in his cell (1:3).
2. He focused on others—He thanked God particularly for faithful Christians in a church in Philippi for specific works in the gospel, who were faithful daily. 3
3. He focused on the thing that knit them together, the work of the gospel.
Christians constantly battle the corruption of our hearts that seek to steal our focus away from thanksgiving to God. One way to fight this is to turn your focus from yourself to God, his people, and the gospel. Paul focused on these three things as he sat in a dark cell bound by chains.
November 17, 2008
Monday morning Brian and I gassed up the Nissan and traveled up to the 2008 Florida Baptist Convention held in Lakeland, FL at FBC at the Mall—this church literally purchased a Mall for their church building. Apparently, attendance among women and teenagers has increased dramatically since they moved into the mall, while the number of men suffering from extreme anxiety upon reaching the parking lot has simultaneously increased. Just kidding! We were happy to attend this convention, and appreciate our church affording us the opportunity to do so. I wanted to give you some reasons we were encouraged by the convention and one area I think improvement is needed.
1. I have to get one highlight out of the way upfront. Chris Sligh, a contestant from season 6 of American Idol, sang at this year’s convention—and, no, he wasn’t singing Bobby Brown. He actually turned down the opportunity to sing secular music professionally to sing and write Christian music. He sang a couple of songs from his newly released CD, Running Back to You.
2. I was extremely encouraged to see the convention’s zeal for evangelism and missions. Every pastor that preached sought to challenge and inspire pastors to witness. I am so grateful to be a part of a denomination in a state that hungers to see more people saved.
3. I was further moved by the obvious emphasis many of the pastors put on their need to seek God’s help in prayer. Many of them recounted significant moments of prayer their staffs had had together regularly. I praise God that we have pastors throughout the state petitioning God to cause revival to break out in their cities, state, country, and even world.
4. Johnny Hunt delivered an excellent expositional message as the new President of the Southern Baptist Convention. I was moved by his passionate heart for the gospel, for seeing people saved, for seeing orphans adopted, and for seeing the poor provided for. This really is pure and undefiled religion.
5. Florida Baptists also made the need for adoption in our state clear. The image of 3 football stadiums full of children without mommies and daddies weighs on the heart. How can the church ignore this?
6. Finally, I learned much from the gifted communicators at this convention. Many of the preachers were engaging, entertaining, and moving. They were also articulate in explaining many of the successes they had in ministry as an encouragement to go and do likewise. I learned a lot from these seasoned pastors.
Always looking to improve
1. Now for my list of one improvement. While there is much to be encouraged by, the convention also reminded me of a trend in Southern Baptist life. Preaching today tends to stray from the actual meaning of the text. A number of preachers failed to make the point of the Scripture they preached from the point of their message, and in some cases, they taught something that was clearly wrong to encourage something that was entirely right. For instance, one pastor taught that the “hidden treasure” in Matthew 13:44’s parable represents all of the people in the world, including lost people, and that God treasures them. He used that to inspire others to evangelize. While it is true that God treasures all people because they were created in the image of God, it is not the point of this text. In fact, the treasure of this text is clearly the message of the kingdom. If you are not willing to sell out your life to follow this message, then you are not worthy of it. I agree with this pastor that evangelism is critical—plenty of Scriptures affirm this—but his interpretation of this text is wrong. The real treasure of this text is not the people, but the message of kingdom that is available to all people.
Brian and I labor to preach what the Bible clearly says. In fact, we meet weekly to review our messages and to make sure we are making the point of the Scripture we preach from the point of our message. Why? Because we believe in equipping our people with an understanding of God that goes beyond just telling them what to do. We believe Chrisians have been created in the image of God and that they have been given his Spirit. We also understand that this world is tough. Stuff doesn’t work like the commercials say. We can’t tell our people the right answer to every dilemma, because the world is so full of them. But, if you understand what the Word of God actually says, we believe that, with the aide of the Spirit, they will be equipped to make wise decisions. In other words, right action follows right understanding when led by the Spirit.