Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Preparing for church?

Recently I attended a pastor’s conference hosted by Alistair Begg.  During one of the sessions he quoted from The Directory for the Publick Worship of God by the Westminster Assembly which met from 1643-48. It was approved by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1645 to regulate the worship of the church.  I’m not thinking we could ever enforce this in the American Church, but I think it’s pretty cool and convicting.

When the congregation is to meet for publick worship, the people (having before prepared their hearts thereunto) ought all to come and join therein; not absenting themselves from the publick ordinance through negligence, or upon pretence of private meetings.

Let all enter the assembly, not irreverently, but in a grave and seemly manner, taking their seats or places without adoration, or bowing themselves towards one place or other.

The congregation being assembled, the minister, after solemn calling on them to the worshipping of the great name of God, is to begin with prayer.

“In all reverence and humility acknowledging the incomprehensible greatness and majesty of the Lord, (in whose presence they do then in a special manner appear,) and their own vileness and unworthiness to approach so near him, with their utter inability of themselves to so great a work; and humbly beseeching him for pardon, assistance, and acceptance, in the whole service then to be performed; and for a blessing on that particular portion of his word then to be read: And all in the name and mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

The publick worship being begun, the people are wholly to attend upon it, forbearing to read any thing, except what the minister is then reading or citing; and abstaining much more from all private whisperings, conferences, salutations, or doing reverence to any person present, or coming in; as also from all gazing, sleeping, and other indecent behaviour, which may disturb the minister or people, or hinder themselves or others in the service of God.

If any, through necessity, be hindered from being present at the beginning, they ought not, when they come into the congregation, to betake themselves to their private devotions, but reverently to compose themselves to join with the assembly in that ordinance of God which is then in hand.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Stop Inviting Me to Church!

“Stop inviting me to church man.  I know all about it and I want nothing to do with it, please, leave me alone!”  I spoke these words to a dear friend, who had “found Jesus” and wouldn’t stop nagging me to go to church.  He was like an older brother to me and he was persistent.  I couldn’t take anymore and was desperate to maintain our friendship, but I needed to muzzle him about this whole Jesus thing if our relationship was to continue.

Have you ever encountered someone like this in your life?  Most of us have.  We each react differently to them.  I don’t know if there is a way to get your Christian friends to layoff on the sharing Jesus with you, but I thought I had had come up with a surefire plan to get him off my back.  My plan was simple.  I would go to church once so long as he promised never to invite me again.  He bit! I couldn’t believe it and suddenly thought I needed to renegotiate as I felt like I set the bar too low.  I immediately added that I was going to attend in the clothes I was wearing at the time—a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops.  This didn’t phase my buddy at all, he was just happy that I was going to join him at church.

At the time, I was an active duty Navy SEAL venturing into a protestant church for the first time and I was terrified!  I would have much rather been jumping out of a plane at night with full combat gear rather than walking into church that night.  My thoughts were filled with criticism to everything I heard that night, but I couldn’t help but to notice how nice and loving the people were.  No one seemed to care about my attire (most of them were in the same style of clothing), but they genuinely seemed to care about me.  Clearly, there was something different about them and this impacted me greatly.

I ventured back another time, then another time and then I was looking forward to going each week.  My internal criticalness was still there week after week, but I continued to return.  I’m not sure why I returned after I had fulfilled what I told my buddy I would do—it could have been the free pizza, but more likely I was drawn to the people who demonstrated a love that I had never experienced before.  It wasn’t too many months later that I discovered this Jesus who had transformed their lives and my life was forever changed.

I’ve never forgotten how annoying my friend’s invitations were to me.  He wouldn’t give up.  He drove me crazy asking me to join him for church week after week.  I am now eternally grateful he didn’t give up or let up on inviting me.  For those of you who have these nagging friends, know that they invite you because they love you.  They desire that you experience what they have experienced in Christ.

Easter is just around the corner, next Sunday, April 5.  I’m not sure that I am allowed to invite you to church in light of the title of this article, but we at Valley Baptist Church welcomes you to celebrate Easter with us this year.  We don’t care about what you’re wearing; we care about you.  If you don’t join us, I’d encourage you to visit a Bible believing church in your area.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

What in the World?

I’ll never forget Sunday, June 25, 2007.  It was one of those days when I would say something without fully knowing what I was saying.  I had been the pastor of Valley Baptist Church for just over a month.  I asked friends of mine to visit to share what God was doing in their lives and how they were moving to Mongolia in a few months.  I promised no money because we really didn’t have anything to give, but I asked them to share for the health of the church so that we would think bigger than the 15 people that we were at the time.  I remember saying, “In 5 years, we WILL send a team to Mongolia.”

Why did I say this?  I’m not sure.  I guess deep down I thought that’s what churches were supposed to do, but I really didn’t give much thought to it as it came, unplanned, out of my mouth.  The comment lingered in my mind for years—three years to be exact.  By 2010 Valley Baptist Church had grown and I couldn’t shake the promise I had made.  Would we send a team in five years?  That window was closing in on me and I hadn’t a clue about Mongolia or what we could do there.  I didn’t have a clue what I was supposed to do, or what I would do if we actually sent a team, but I had to move forward and trust that God would direct.

The idea of a vision trip surfaced through a prayerful conversation with my wife.  A rough plan came together.  I would go to Mongolia with one guy from the church to explore our options for a follow up visit.  Great!  A plan was coming together.  As we prayed, planned, and communicated with our friends in the field, I came to discover that our great plans were causing anxiety on the part of the missionaries we were going to see.  Their stress caused our purpose and plans to adjust.

Operation Encouragement.  Romans 1:11-12 became the guidepost for our trip.  It states the following:  “For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.”  The whole purpose of the trip was to spend time encouraging them.  As we booked tickets to Mongolia, we had to stay the night in Beijing where other friends we supporting were serving.  It became a two-for-one sort of opportunity!  

The plans were set, but what would this mission of encouragement look like?  I would have to make the journey in order to answer this question.

Pancake mix and syrup!  The first component of encouragement came through simple things like pancake mix, syrup, taco seasoning, coffee, supplies to make chocolate chip cookies and things we in the United States take for granted, but are hot commodities in the rest of the world.  We packed suitcases and suitcases filled with household items that they wanted.  Man, I’ll never forget the looks on their faces and we celebrated Christmas in April!  Bringing supplies is an easy way to bring encouragement.

The Coming of Titus. After a few days in Mongolia, I was starting to feel a little discouraged because I wasn’t feeling all that pastoral.  We toured around the town, ate weird food, and laughed about the differences in culture, but none of this felt very spiritual.  One night drinking coffee with the wife, I sort of apologized and said I would try to be more pastoral the next day.  She immediately looked and me and said, “This is the first time I’ve heard him laugh in a long time.  Thank you so much for encouraging him!”  It wasn’t long before she directed me to 2 Corinthians 7:6 where Paul writes, “But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus.”  I learned how strained things were for them there and how God used us to encourage them in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

Missions Reimagined.  My trip to Mongolia affected me greatly and how we as a church have handled missions.  I believe the people we partner with should truly be a part of our fellowship as much as we are able to include them.  Our desire is not just to support financially, but relationally.  My aim as a pastor is to invest in our missionaries to the best to my ability and to visit as needed.  I learned that very few missionaries ever received teams of people whose purpose was to simply encourage and bless them.  I came to learn that a visiting pastor often was on a trip to see if the missionary was worthy of the budget the upcoming years base on whatever metric they had come up with.  This trip forever changed how I would support the missionaries we supported.  The following year, my family would take a detour from our vacation in Spain to visit and encourage our missionaries in Italy.  It wasn't just me, but it was my family and I saw how great this was for the missionary family to have another family and how great it was for my children who were 5 and 2 at the time.  

Three years later in July 2014, we would send our third team out the door to encourage—“Team Philippines!”  This was our first team of three church members that we sent out to encourage those we support in the Philippines. 

As I write five years after that original trip to Mongolia, we have “Team Romania!” in Romania encouraging the missionaries we support there.

I’m excited for our future teams that we will send out.  Get your passports ready, for you could be on the next team out!  I am thankful to God for our partnership with missionaries.  It has help me grow in my relationship and passion for God, it has encouraged the missionaries we are partnered with, and it has grown people within Valley Baptist Church!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Movie Review - American Sniper

“Did you see it?”  Is the question I’m asked with movies like American Sniper, Lone Survivor and other Navy SEAL movies like these that come out.  Usually, I don’t watch them.  I really don’t find them entertaining.  They are difficult to watch for they tell the stories of my friends, my brothers.  For whatever reason, I felt compelled to watch American Sniper because a friend of mine played himself in the movie and I wanted to support him.

The movie is Rated R, so do your own research to determine if this movie is appropriate for you or those who are entrusted to your care.  You can review it on Plugged In Online for a trusted review.  It is a movie that depicts war and its harsh aftermath so it is not appropriate for all.  I’m not writing this review to endorse the appropriateness of this movie for you and your situation.

I appreciate the overwhelming positive response to Chris Kyle and his service.  I’m not quite sure what triggers the population to go out and spend a small fortune to watch a movie at a theater, but clearly this movie drew out the masses.  I’ve been moved by the outpouring of support by Americans who have expressed their thankfulness and compassion for the sacrifice of service members.  Indeed our service members are great people and have sacrificed much throughout the last few years.

I have a difficult time agreeing with others who react to this movie with phrases like, “This was the best movie I’ve ever seen!” or “This was an awesome movie!”  I get the heart behind these phrases and I get it.  However, these comments made me apprehensive, as this movie is a true story.  Chris was killed.  Ryan Job was killed.  Marc Lee was killed.  These are real people whose lives crossed my path in life.  I wish they were alive today and with their families, but this is their story and there are many left in the wake of their deaths.  Because this movie is grounded in a difficult reality, I just can’t review it as entertainment.

What I can say about the movie is this.  I believe those who created this movie told the story well.  I believe the lives of Marc, Ryan, and Chris were honored in the story line of this movie.  I’m thankful for how the story was told.  War wasn’t glamorized.  Evil was presented as a reality.  The strain on the families and their sacrifice was highlighted.  Without giving anything away, I really appreciated how the movie ended.

Probably not the best review of the movie out there, but it’s what I was able to muster.  While the story concludes at the end of this movie, it continues for many veterans and their family members.  I am often asked how can people help, or where can they give.   The non-profit I am currently recommending to people is the Navy SEALSFund.  It is actively helping SEALs who are in need of help quickly and effectively.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Guest Opinion - Appreciating 1st Responders


Guest Post

May 24, 2002 was the most frightening day of my life. I was having dinner with my parents in a restaurant when a fire broke out in the hotel across the street. Within minutes the small bit of smoke erupted into a massive inferno, engulfing the entire hotel.

The fire was distressing, but what terrified me was watching my dad get up from the table where we were eating dinner, cross the street and run into the burning building. He never hesitated; he didn't even pause long enough to say anything to my mom or me before leaving the restaurant. Mom and I just sat there staring after him. I remember her telling me the same thing over and over again, “Your dad is smart. He knows what he is doing.” I knew she was talking to herself as much as me.

But the only thought going through my mind, and the reason why I seriously doubted whether or not I would ever see my dad again, was I knew that if there was even the smallest chance that he could get someone out he would either do it or he would die trying. There was no third option. As long as there was anyone inside, he would not come out without them.

I don't know how many minutes went by, but thank God, he did come out, supporting an elderly gentleman who had been stuck on the top floor with his wife. That couple would have died had my dad and a few other brave men not intervened and got them out. All of this happened within minutes. Had my dad waited until the fire department arrived it would have been too late. The building was already completely engulfed by the time the first truck was on the scene. The reason I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that my dad would have been willing to sacrifice himself for that old man was because that is who he is to his core. My dad got up and left his family sitting at the dinner table to go and risk his life for a man who he had never met...without hesitation. Now imagine if there was a whole group of people in our society who lived every day willing to risk their lives to protect complete strangers.         

Fortunately, there is. We call them police officers.

My dad was off duty that night. But ask any child, spouse, parent or friend of any police officer and they will tell you that police officers are never really off duty. Their job becomes a part of who they are on a very deep level. Being a police officer is unique from most other professions in that there is the expectation that they will do their job or they will die trying. Think back to 9/11. Do you remember the photos and videos showing masses of terrified people running away from the smoking towers? Did you notice in those same pictures, the police officers, firefighters and other first responders running towards the devastation and danger? As they ran up the stairwells and into the smoke, those men and women probably knew that there was a good chance they were not going to survive. Why then would they keep going? Why would they risk never seeing their families again? Why would they risk a painful and frightening death? Because they all swore an oath to serve and protect those strangers who were trapped inside.

In moments like 9/11 or the Boston Marathon bombings, we applaud the actions of these brave men and women. And then time goes on, life returns to normal and their heroics are forgotten. Then we as a society go back to our default attitudes towards police officers. Now they go back to being those mean people who pull us over and give us tickets. The glorified hall-monitors looking to ruin our fun. And why do they have to be so grumpy all the time? I mean, did they have to be so harsh when they were talking to me? Why can't they just all be officer-friendly all the time? Have you ever thought that maybe it is because they never know if the next person they encounter is going to be Susy Sunshine or a dangerous criminal out to kill them?

There is so much more to being a cop than writing tickets and being a hard ass. I have been pulled over and I have gotten tickets. But you know what? It's because I was breaking the law and the officers were doing their job. Was it an inconvenience? Absolutely. But was it my fault? Absolutely. I have also been stuck in long sobriety checkpoint lines. Another annoyance, and this time I didn't even do anything wrong! I haven't been drinking. I'm just on my way home from work. Why are all these mean cops out to ruin my day? Again, they are doing their job, protecting us from drunk drivers. 

Accepting minor inconveniences like these, with the understanding that they serve the greater good, is part of what it means to be a participating member of society. We want to reap the benefits of police work only when it suits us. It is nice to know that when you want them there, all you have to do is call 911 and someone will come and help you. Your house gets broken into and they can't do their job fast enough. If the bank you are in gets robbed of course the police will show up! You see a suspicious person lurking in your neighborhood at night so you call 911 and wait safely inside while an officer goes out and investigates so that you don't have to. But heaven forbid they step into your life uninvited.

I would like to be able to say that you can't have it both ways. But unfortunately when I look around at society today I see a lot of people are doing just that. We like police officers when they are doing something that we see as directly benefiting us. But any other day of the week we roll our eyes at them in annoyance, we criticize them for just trying to do their job, and we crucify them when they do what is necessary to go home to their families at the end of their shift. Those are the people who we expect to die. I am deeply grieved to see that the default judgment on police officers is criticism and disdain. Appreciation is only given on rare and most often tragic occasions when we feel like their sacrifice has finally reached a level worthy of our acknowledgment. Shame on us as a society.

There absolutely are police officers who are in it for the power-trip. Police brutality is a real thing and should be punished harshly. However, I would strongly argue that these behaviors are the exception, not the rule. If any members of society have earned the right to be given the benefit of the doubt, until proven otherwise, I think police officers have. I am challenging you, next time you catch yourself being angry with a cop, stop and ask yourself where you are directing your anger. Is it at a specific injustice, whether perceived or real, or are you directing your anger at the very people who have sworn an oath to serve and protect you?

Police officers don't get into their line of work because they want appreciation from the general population. Police officers aren't allowed to get discounts because of their work. They aren't even supposed to accept a free cup of coffee because it could be construed as a bribe. You know what they can accept? A handshake and a thank you from one of the people they are risking their lives for every day. Can you imagine thanking the cop who just gave you a speeding ticket? Try it next time. Because whether you like it or not, see it or not, appreciate it or not, every day police officers are working hard to protect you.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Why Suffering?

Suffering.  It is a reality of life and this troubles us.  Many reject the notion of an Almighty God because there is so much suffering in this present world.  I’ve heard it many times, and so have you, “How can there be a loving God if there’s so much pain and suffering in the world?”  I understand the sentiment of their words, but their very words indicate there is an internal, absolute standard of good and evil; right and wrong, which, in my humble opinion, is only true if there is a good Almighty God.

This week the thought of suffering has been on my mind because I’m teaching on 1 Peter 4:12-19 this Sunday.  This whole passage teaches how the follower of Christ should respond to suffering.  In addition to this passage, I’ve seen plenty of suffering in my own life and I deal with the suffering of others on a regular basis as a pastor.  We don’t have to look far to find a good example of suffering for suffering seems to be the very thing that keeps the news agencies in business.

There are many Christian pastors and teachers who teach a “prosperity gospel” that leads people to believe that Christians who live their lives well will be rewarded with good health, money, and healthy relationships.  If these things don’t happen in their followers lives, lack of faith or sin in in the individual’s life is blamed—the teaching is never thought to be wrong or unbiblical.  It breaks my heart to see the damage these teachers cause.  I’m dumbfounded that they can read the New Testament and reach their conclusions.  Jesus was executed.  All of the apostles were executed, with exception of John (but they tried to kill him by boiling him alive, but he survived which is probably worse), the early church suffered immensely and Christians around the world are persecuted for their faith.

I believe one of the most important things for the Christian to understand is suffering.  I love this section of 1 Peter because there are some very practical tips on how we should handle suffering.  Let’s review some of the lessons Peter shares with us.

Don’t be surprised by suffering (1 Peter 4:12).  I like things that are simple to understand.  Peter’s first point is very simple.  Don’t be surprised by your suffering.  Suffering is normal for all people.  If you’re human and living on earth, you live in a fallen world that is marked with the consequence of sin.  The most visible consequence of sin seen is death, but there are many, many forms of suffering.  Embedded in this verse, there is a clue of how the Christian’s view of suffering is different from others.  Peter comments on suffering in this way, “which [suffering] comes upon you for your testing.”  God is greater than your suffering and is using your suffering to test, try, or refine you into His image.  As hot water brings out the nature of the tea bag, suffering brings out the new nature of Christ within the believer.  I know that I have grown most through times of suffering.  There is no reason we should be shocked or surprised by suffering—it is a part of life. 

If you suffer as Christ suffered, rejoice (1 Peter 4:13-14).  This one is hard to apply.  Who likes suffering in the midst of it?  Not me.  It’s miserable.  In the midst of suffering, I do everything I can to do get out from under it!  The author of Hebrews speaks of being disciplined in this way, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful” (Hebrews 12:11).  I do think I need to develop this thought more, but I hesitate saying that I need to experience more suffering for my faith to learn how to better explain Peter’s teaching here.  But in my study, so far, it seems that he is saying if you suffer for following Christ’s example, you should rejoice, or have much joy that you are identified with him.  I think of those mentioned in Hebrews 11:37-38 who “were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword, they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in the deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.”  There was nothing joyful about what they went through, but they experienced this because their lives were so linked to Christ’s life that the writer says the world was not worthy of these men—this identification to Christ should cause them great joy.  And if we suffer for being associated with Jesus than we should rejoice over this great honor of being connected to Him.

Not all suffering is the same (1 Peter 4:15).  I’m all for outreaches to those in prison.  So don’t misunderstand me here, but I’m bothered by those who do prison ministry and quote Hebrews 13:3, “Remember the prisoners, as though you were in prison with them” as a proof text for their ministry.  The author of Hebrews is speaking to Christians who are not in prison to remember their brothers and sisters who are in prison for their faith in Christ, not common criminals.  In the present passage, I love that Peter makes a clear distinction for suffering because of righteousness from suffering that is a consequence to one’s sin and folly.  Suffering because you are reaping the consequence of murdering someone, stealing, doing evil, or meddling is not the same as suffering as a Christian.  We are instructed to not suffer in this way, to turn from evil and to do good as Peter mentions in 1 Peter 3:11.

If you suffer as a Christian, don’t be ashamed (1 Peter 4:16).  I can’t help but to remind us that the man who is writing this is the same man whose reputation is marked by his actions of denying Jesus three times before the rooster crowed.  I don’t say this to shame Peter, but in remembering this we gain greater insight into his heart.  When you are teased, mocked, harassed, shunned, or worse for your faith in Christ, I think it is a normal reaction to want to shrink away in shame or embarrassment.  Peter learned that leaning on Jesus and trusting in Him is the best response to suffering and we, who are persecuted for Christ’s sake, have nothing to be ashamed about.

Suffering can be God’s will for your life (1 Peter 4:17-19).  The last point Peter makes, I believe, is one of the most important points relating to the Christian and suffering.  I almost moved this up, but I figure Peter put it at the end so I should deal with it at the end.  Here is what Peter says in 1 Peter 4:19, “Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God…”  Let that sink in.  Suffer according to the will of God.  Have you ever embraced your suffering as the very will of God for your life, or are you too busy trying to get out from under the suffering because you can't comprehend your suffering could be His very will for your life?  If I’m honest, I know my inclination is the later.  There’s something freeing about embracing our present suffering as God’s will.  Embracing our suffering as God’s will causes a couple of things.  First, I believe we turn to Him for help through the trial, which He is faithful to do.  Consequently, as we lean upon Him through the trial, we ultimately grow in our relationship with Him, learn more about many things—mostly God’s nature, and ultimately reflect His glory to the world around us.  Our hope ultimately is not in this present life, but in the one to come a difficult reality to understand for those living in the here and now.

Pondering suffering doesn’t send me on a quest to suffer more, but it does encourage me to desire to embrace the suffering that is place upon me.  I fear I’ve missed many valuable lessons focusing on evading my suffering.  My prayer is that when suffering comes, I will not be surprised by it, find a way to rejoice in the midst of it (so long as its not a result of my on folly), and grow through the experience trusting that my sovereign Lord has a wonderful plan in the midst of it, even though I may have no clue what it is!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The End is Near!

How does the phrase, “The end of all things in near!” make you want to respond?  I’m not sure how most people think, but I imagine a wave of panic, stock-piling supplies, and people generally freaking out.  Without a doubt, the Bible often speaks in these terms.  In fact, these are the first few words of the passage I’m preaching on tomorrow (1 Peter 4:7-11).  In studying passages like this, I’m always surprised at how the Bible says to respond.  In essence, believers are told to bring glory to God through your lives in light of this reality through four practical things that I think are worth sharing here.

Stay Calm and Chive On!  Oops, no, I got that wrong!  We are to stay calm and PRAY on.  When the topic of prayer comes up, I tend to feel a little convicted.  I’m not one to beat others up for their inconsistent or lazy prayer life.  None of us prays as we should.  But that being said, prayer is a wonderful lifeline of communication we have with God.  In light of the end of all things, we should seek God in prayer with sound judgment and sober spirit.  How would your life change if you began to pray a little more consistently?

Keep fervent in your love for one another.  There is much to be said about this, one passage that I keep going to is 1 John 4:7-5:3 where the word “love” is mentioned about 32 times!  Loving is something that God wants us to do and I’m convinced that we who have trusted in Christ are to be in community with other believers.  We need to be connected in a local church body where we can actively love one another.  There is really nothing that brings me great joy as a pastor than when I see, or hear about, members of Valley Baptist Church loving one another sacrificially.

Be hospitable.  I should say, without complaining, be hospitable.  When was the last time you opened up your home to someone?  You know, this doesn’t come naturally to me, but over the years I’ve worked very intentionally to be hospitable because I believe it’s something that God wants his followers to do.  A few months ago, I read a really good blog about “The Art of Hospitality” and I highly recommend the tips found there.  There is no greater place to share the love of God with others than in your home.

Have you trusted in Christ as Savior?  Did you know that you were given a special gift to use to serve within the body of Christ?  You were according to 1 Peter 4:10!  I believe many local churches aren’t thriving to their full design because so many believers are withholding their gifts that God has given them to serve at a local church.  I can’t encourage you enough to really plug in and commit to a local church family where you can serve.  It’s good for you, it’s good for the local church, and ultimately God is glorified in a huge way when you start serving!  If you’re a part of Valley Baptist Church, go to our “Get Involved” page and see how you can get plugged in!

Growing in maturity.  The thing I love most about these four things is they are so practical in application.  By stepping out in prayer, love, hospitality, and in service we grow in our walk with God.  In serving Him, we find true joy and peace.  My prayer is that you would step up in purpose with your walk with God!