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.