A Hard Look In the Mirror

I begin this post by stating my thankfulness and committment to the SBC. I praise God for leading me to such a theologically sound college/seminary (SEBTS) so shorthly after saving me. Today, I am still committed to and supportive of the efforts of the SBC. However, I am more committed to the gospel and it seems that maybe a lack of the gospel has led to what is a very difficult look in the mirror for our convention. You can read the report in its entirety here on Ed Stetzer's blog, but the long and short of the report is the fact that for the first time in "forever" the SBC is in a statistical decline. Ed lists several reasons for this decline, but the most important I think is the "loss" of the gospel in our churches and it is only a recovery of the gospel that will turn the trend around. Soft preaching not only leads to hard people, but it looks like it leads to a hard convention as well.

Nathan Finn, professor at SEBTS, gives a thoughtful, stinging, but spot-on analysis of the report and what it means for the SBC. You can read all of it here, but I want to share two excerpts to whet your appetite:

Some have suggested that Southern Baptists have not lost the gospel. Normally what they mean is that their church has not lost the gospel, which may or may not be true. I suspect that most of our pastors really believe the gospel. Unfortunately, many of them don’t preach it. Sometimes they actually preach sub-Christian sermons that are really just baptized versions of moralism, New Age spirituality, or especially self-help platitudes. I have heard gospel-less sermons in chapel services at all of our seminaries, either live or online. I have heard gospel-less sermons at our pastor’s conferences and evangelism conferences, either live or through other media. I have heard gospel-less sermons in our churches. And yes, I have heard many of them at the SBC annual meeting itself. Maybe these men are just taking it for granted that their audiences already understand the gospel and so they don’t have to articulate it. Maybe. But I know this much: a sermon that does not include the gospel is not a Christian sermon, no matter who preaches it. Some will object that they must be preaching the gospel because their church is growing. And that’s what scares me the most. If you are one of those guys out there who think Southern Baptists as a rule are cool on the gospel (and I know you’re out there because you gripe at me every time I raise this issue), you will likely make lots of friends in the SBC for defending our gospel street cred. But you will also be complicit in our decline.

His conclusion:

So does the SBC have a future. It depends upon what you mean by “future.” I suspect the name will be used by some Baptists until Christ comes back. I also think the people called Southern Baptists will always have denominational entities that they financially support. So in one sense, I remain confident that Southern Baptists are here to stay. But if by “future” one means a vital existence in God’s economy, I have my doubts. Collectively, I fear we are too insular, too sectarian, too pugnacious, too “Southern”, too reactionary, too pragmatic, and for sure too proud to have any real future. I hope I’m wrong. I pray that I am not the very things I accuse the convention of embodying, though I suspect I am at times. I hope the SBC does have a future, mostly because we had a great–though imperfect–past. I love who we were. I struggle with who we are. I am very fearful of who we will become. But I know that God does not need us and that His purposes will go forward even if we are left behind. Perhaps if enough of us admitted that–publicly–in a resolution–that included the word repentance–and was more than words–God may still have much
good for us yet.

We must pray for God to change the direction of our churches--to raise up men who will lead churches with preaching that is God-centered and motivated by the gospel in all it does and that God will raise up believers who are members of those churches to those same aspirations: God-centered and gospel-motivated.


T4G 08 Reflections/Impact

I mentioned in a previous post that I would share from time to time reflections from the conference Holly and I recently attended in Louisville, Together 4 the Gospel. One brief reflection that encouraged me and challenged me as a pastor was from John MacArthur. You can listen to the entire sermon here, but I will share just one quote, with others surely forthcoming:

"Soft preaching makes hard people. Hard preaching makes soft people."

Preaching that is fluff and superficial, heavy on felt needs, but light on the greatest and only eternal need which only the Gospel addresses will produce "hard" people whose hearts are hard and hard to be moved. On the other hand, hard preaching that centers on the glory of God, the gospel of Christ, the doctrines of our faith, that makes people think and challenges them with that greatest need that only the gospel addresses will produce "soft" people whose hearts are soft and who will follow Christ wherever He leads and do whatever He says because He is their treasure.

God, may my preaching be the latter and not the former.


I ran across a very interesting article about a fact that science has run across that should not be surprising for the believer in God's Word. Now, their timeline is a little off, but the idea is fairly biblical and not a "new" discovery. I must say that as believers we do not need science/archaeology to prove the Bible to us or make our faith in it stronger. It is the Word of God and if so it is truthful in all it says and so we would expect that its history and science--to the extent that is speaks on those issues--would be true as well and certain facts in history and science would indeed go right in line with what scientists "discover."

You can read the whole article here, but I wanted to share one excerpt and make a brief comment.

Human beings may have had a brush with extinction 70,000 years ago, an extensive genetic study suggests. The human population at that time was reduced to small isolated groups in Africa, apparently because of drought, according to an analysis released Thursday.

Human beings did indeed almost come to extinction thousands of years ago, though probably not 70,000. The human race dwindled down to just eight people. It was not because of a "drought", but a flood. God saw the wickedness of mankind and poured out his wrath on sinners, wiping out almost the entire human race. But God, in his grace, spared Noah and his family and protected them in the midst of the flood.

One day, God will wipe out a portion of this race of humans completely--all who are guilty and dead in their sins. It will not be through extinction, but rather eternal punishment in Hell. But in his grace, he will deliver all sinners whom He has saved through the death of his Son Jesus Christ on a cross. For all who believe, God's wrath was poured out there on Him and His righteousness given to all who repent and believe in Christ alone for salvation.

Are you ready?


Full, But Wanting More

We have all set down at the table for a meal and had this same experience. I can remember countless times eating a meal that my grandma and granddaddy cooked--whether it was barbeque chicken, chicken pastry, cheese biscuits, etc.,--and eating until I was about to bust, but still wanting to taste more and more.

That was/is our experience in the midst and wake of attending the T4G '08 Conference in Louisville. We went to be fed and God was gracious to fill us full, but still wanting more and more and more. Another attendee of the conference commented that being at the conference and now leaving the conference is "similar" to what Peter, James, and John must have felt like on the Mount of Transfiguration when they saw Jesus in a fuller expression of his glory and beauty, along with Elijah and Moses. Peter, upon experiencing this basically said, "Lord, this is good. Let's pitch our tent here and stay." But they had to come down from the mountain and back to where they were to live out God's call on their lives among those who had not seen what they had seen, but who must see it.

The two days at T4G were a glimpse of glory--gathering with almost 6,000 other believers, focusing on the atonement of Jesus Christ, the Gospel, and singing praises to the Lamb that was slain from before the foundation of the earth! I cannot imagine what it will be like to spend eternity with ten thousands of ten thousands of believers singing praises to the King and enjoying Him forever and ever. If you have never had the blessing of singing praises to God through theologically sound and deep hymns with thousands of other believers, then pray that God would open the door for you to have the opportunity somewhere, sometime and you will know by way of experience that heaven and eternity with Jesus will not be boring!

What a joy and blessing it was to worship with my bride and be challenged because of the gospel to love her better. What a joy and blessing it was to see God work in her heart through the gospel! There was indeed a sense at the end of the conference, as we were making our way out of the convention center of, "It can't be over. We don't want to leave. Let's just stay here." But, we must share what we have seen and live what we have learned so that others may see and live it as well.

I hope to in the coming days/weeks to share with you some reflections from the conference--different moments, phrases, ideas that God branded within my heart while at the conference and hopefully that he will brand even deeper as I take the time to go back and listen to the messages again. (You can hear all of the messages for free online at http://www.t4g.org/resources/ and I would encourage you to take/make the time to listen to them especially R.C. Sproul and John Piper's messages) Here's a taste:

But for now, know that we are grateful to have been on the mountain and excited about being down from the mountain to live and share what we have seen and heard having been together for the gospel.


Eager to be Fed!

I am leaving for Louiville in the morning to attend the Together 4 the Gospel Conference. As a pastor, I obviously feed myself on the Word of God each week as I prepare by God's grace to "equip the saints to do the work of ministry." I must feed on and be changed by the truth of God's Word each week before I preach and teach it on Sunday mornings.

However, as a pastor you rarely get to sit on the other side of the pulpit and be fed through that means--being the one preached to instead of the one preaching. And so when you have the opportunity, regardless of the cost, to sit down and hear the preaching of the Word of God it is thrilling and special. For the next two days that is what I will have the privilege of doing: hearing and being fed the Word of God by great men of God. Some of the pastors/speakers at this year's conference are among my favorite. If you "have to" listen to me preach each week then you will notice that my favorite pastor/preacher is speaking at this conference and I am very excited about that.

The focus of the conference is wrapped up so succinctly in the title of the conference, "Together 4 the Gospel." It is pastors of all different stripes coming together to gather around and focus upon what is central to our faith and calling as pastors--the Gospel. Tony Reinke gives a great comment on the conference. You can read his comments here, but I wanted to share one exceptional comment from the post:

Next week (tomorrow) we gather at Together for the Gospel. But we are not coming together to huddle around prominent evangelical figures or to merely collect a stack of free books. We gather to proclaim our allegiance and faithfulness to the changing and eternal gospel. We gather to form a picture of God’s compassion, who, rather than destroying us, has compassionately atoned for our sin and redeemed us (Psalm 78:38-39).

Another great blessing of which I am very excited about is being able to share this with Holly, my wife. It will be nice for a couple of days to be away from the girls (Annika and Alexa, we love you, but we are exhausted and need some mommy and daddy time). But more than that it will be a blessing to be able to sit down beside my wife and together soak in the Word of God together and worship together. That's another thing as a pastor you "sacrifice" some time.

And so while the conference is not cheap and given our present financial situation, out of our budget, there are some things that you just need as a pastor and a husband and wife some times, no matter the cost because you know the benefit will be well worth it. Pray for us and pray that God would be glorified in all that is said and done over these next two days as we gather Together 4 the Gospel!


Adoring the Goodness of God

Sarah Edwards was the wife of the great pastor/theologian Jonathan Edwards. Jonathan Edwards died from a smallpox vaccination. Sarah wrote these words to their daughter shortly after the death of their husband/father:

“My very dear child! What shall I say? A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands on our mouths! The Lord has done it. He has made me adore His goodness, that we had him so long. But my God lives; and He has my heart. O what a legacy my husband, and your father, has left us! We are all given to God; and there I am, and love to be. Your affectionate mother, Sarah Edwards.”

I adore the goodness of God in all the years that he gave my granddaddy to me and my family. I do hurt at his death. I hurt in a way I have never hurt before. It's a hurt that seems to cut both ways. In a sense, you want it to go away or ease up. But, in another way--just as fervent--you don't want it to leave because the depth of the hurt is an indication of the depth of the love and I never want that love to be minimized or forgotten.

However, even through the hurt I do, by God's grace adore the goodness of God that we had my granddaddy for so long. I adore his goodness in using my granddaddy to bring me to faith in Christ and for setting such a marvelous example of a loving grandfather and faithful pastor. Granddaddy wrote in one of his sermons, "As times got harder for Paul, Jesus got sweeter." And it was so with my granddaddy as well. The harder things got, the sweeter Jesus was. He did not articulate it maybe the same way I do, but he treasured Christ in and through all things. He loved his family. I adore the goodness of God in giving me and our family our Granddaddy for so long.

I adore the goodness of God this past week as well in the prayers and kind words of church members and family and friends. I adore the goodness of God in being able to be a small part of my Granddaddy's memorial service, which was spectacular. I adore the goodness of God of being able to weep with my family and to do so as a family. I realized or was reminded this week of just how much I love my family and how much I want to show that more from now on.

One of the most cherished graces of God to me this past week came the day of the funeral. The family time for visitation was from 10-2pm. I was in the church with some other family members: my mom, two uncles, grandma, and other family. I had purposefully tried to not see my granddaddy at the visitation the night before or at the funeral home on Saturday. I just didn't want to remember him that way. But it was inevitable that I would see him sometime in the week. I did several times. I found myself looking at all the flowers that had been sent and I began to weep and tried to hold it in and just let it out quietly. My uncle Larry noticed me and came to my side. Our relationship has not been as close as it once was for a host of reasons. But he came to my side and put his arm around me and hugged me and let me weep on his shoulder. It may not have been special to him, but it was a priceless gift from God for me.

Our family has wept and we will weep. I don't know if I realized just how much I loved my Granddaddy. I do now--now that I know he will never call me again on a Sunday night to ask me how my day went or he will never say again to me on the phone, "Can I do something?" which meant he was about to pray with me. I'll never again here him say, "You tell Holly and the girls that some crazy guy said hello and that he loves them." He'll never ask again, "How's the boss?" which meant, "How's Shadow doing?"

But in and through all of those "never agains" God is good and kind and right in all that he does. One day, because of the work of Christ in the life of my granddaddy and in my life, we will see each other again and I know that when we see each other, he will give me a great big ol' bearhug just like he gave me as a little boy and we will adore the goodness of God in the face of Jesus Christ forever and ever.


In Westmoreland, But In Christ

I've begun reading through Sam Storms new devotional, The Hope of Glory: 100 Daily Meditations on Colossians. He makes a wonderful and glorious point in commenting on Colossians 1:2a. The verse reads,

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brothers in Christ Jesus at Colossae: grace to you and peace from God our Father.

Storms makes the comment that the word "saints" emphasizes more one's position than one's purity. As those whom God has saved through faith in Jesus Christ, we are "saints." We have been set apart by God. We have been set apart "in Christ." Our position as believers is always "in Christ." We are a part of His body and as Ephesians tells us, we are seated with him in the heavenly places.

The fascinating truth of this passage is that as believers we can be, at the same time, both "in Christ Jesus at Colossae." We can be living at Westmoreland, but at the same time living "in Christ." Storms makes the comment,

Thus there are two levels of experience for believers, two kingdoms of which they are citizens, two perspectives from which we may view life. For me today, I am in Kansas City. In a real sense, that is where I am. But it cannot and must never exhaust what I am.

Then later Storms continues,

No matter where you are geographically and physically, what you are spiritually will never change. You may be at work, at play, overseas, under the weather, out of money, but you are always and unchangeably in Christ.

You may be down in the dumps, over the hill, or beside yourself, but you are always and unchangeably in Christ. You may be at paradise or in prison, at the movies or in Chicago, but you are always and unchangeably in Christ.

But the reverse is different. It is precisely because you are in Christ that wherever you live and work and play, you make an impact, you carry an influence, you make a
difference. Your spiritual identity as one in Christ must control and characterize how you live, wherever you live.

And so this means that when we are at work, school, or at play we are always in Christ and as such are making an impact for His name either to His glory or we are making an impact that is falling short of His glory.

It also means that whatever trial or hurt we find ourselves in, we are at the same time in Christ. I am at my computer now in Westmoreland typing this blog and Lord willing tomorrow I will be in North Carolina weeping with the rest of my family over the death of my granddaddy and a day or two after that I will be at the memorial service conducting part of that service, but through all of the sorrow and hurt of "losing" my granddaddy, I am still in Christ. My granddaddy lived the vast majority of his life in Christ and now he is in Christ in a whole new way--"to live is Christ and to die is gain."

Remembering that, as believers, we are "always and unchangeably" in Christ sustains us through even the deepest of hurts.