Church

Transitions: Our Family’s Future

BannerIt’s been some time since I’ve blogged at all, let alone share any updates. Life has been a bit on the crazy side, and it’s been difficult to do anything beyond what I must do each day.

Since June of 2014, our family has ministered at Morning Star Church in Rockford, IL, where I’ve served as lead pastor. It has been an amazing joy to serve the Lord in Rockford. Hebrews 13:17 tells the church to allow leaders to serve with joy, not with groaning. Serving at Morning Star has been so much joy. What an amazing gift.

Some of our favorite things about Rockford:

  • Morning Star Church (it’s hard to put into words what a gift Morning Star has been to us)
  • The people (such a welcoming community, and we’ve made such dear friends inside and outside our church family)
  • Our home (God gave us a beautiful home in an amazing neighborhood, right by the Rock River)
  • Anderson Japanese Gardens (a Rockford gem)
  • Beef-a-Roo (if you don’t know Rockford, you won’t get it, but just trust us)

Yesterday was our final day at Morning Star. We are headed to serve at Ashley River Baptist Church in Charleston, SC, where I’ll be senior pastor. The Lord has answered so many specific prayers and directed in remarkable ways to bring us to this point. We are so thankful for the Lord’s leading and pumped to serve in a congregation and community to which God has so clearly led us. He’s already begun to give us good relationships there and answered our prayers for a home that would allow our family to love and serve our church and community. Ashley River, we’re thankful for you and looking forward to serving together.

So, Rockford, goodbye. It has been sweet. Charleston, look out—here we come!

Photo Credit: Figment Photography

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What the Bible Says about Family Worship

While it might seem like a given that families should pursue Christ together at home, it’s also easy to dismiss an idea like this as too burdensome. But not only is family worship at home a good idea, it’s commanded and modeled in Scripture.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 

It doesn’t get a whole lot clearer than this, does it? Teach your children at home, when you’re out, when it’s bedtime, and when it’s time to get up.

Psalm 78
Tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.

This psalm highlights the importance of family worship by telling us again that it’s commanded for parents to teach children, and it’s through parents teaching children that the next generation learns about God’s greatness.

2 Timothy 1:5
I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.

Paul tells us about the important role that Timothy’s mom and grandmother played in leading him to Christ. The faithfulness of parents and grandparents plays a vital role in passing on the faith to succeeding generations.

Conclusion
These are just three texts of many in Scripture that highlight the importance of passing on our faith to others. In these instances, the ones receiving the benefits are children in the home of believing parents. If you don’t have kids, you could pass along your faith to someone else—your spouse or some friends:  What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2).

Wisdom about Money

1. Remember that God owns everything.
Psalm 50:10-12 10 For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. … 12 … the world and its fullness are mine. God owns the world and everything in it. If God owns you and all of your stuff, it radically changes how you view what you “own.” The things you have are on loan from God. You’re a steward, not an owner. This leads to humility and should lead you to generosity, when you know that you should invest money as God himself would invest it.

2. Be content with what you have.
Hebrews 13:5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” At the end of the day, your security comes from Christ, not from what you own. How do you know where your security lies? When things get tight, do you panic, or can you rest in Christ, knowing he’s with you at all times—he never leaves, never forsakes you.

3. Beware the seductive power of debt.
Proverbs 22:7 The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender. While there’s such a thing as “good debt” in our economy, our culture is out-of-control when it comes to debt, and this affects every one of us. The power of more can grow to the point where you find that what you own ends up owning you. When it comes time to buy a house, a car, or clothes, remember that that beautiful object might own you in the end.

4. Be patient and disciplined.
Proverbs 13:11 Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it. There’s a strategy of investing called “dollar cost averaging”: rather than trying to play the market you should invest in regular, predictable amounts over time to discipline your investing, rather than reacting to the market. The Bible teaches the wisdom of patience and discipline. Hold off on impulse buys. Make a plan, then follow the plan. Sometimes you’ll lose or have unexpected expenses, but as you discipline yourself to live within your means, you’ll find that God blesses you.

5. Leverage your life and resources wisely for the kingdom of God.
Matthew 25:14-30 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. Jesus uses economic language in his parable of the talents to show how foolish it is not to take risks for the sake of the kingdom of God. The wisest financial investment you ever make is money leveraged for the sake of the gospel. In another parable, Jesus compares his kingdom to a hidden treasure (Matthew 13:14): The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. If you gain the world but lose your soul, what gain is that? Use your resources in a way that shows the radical nature of self-denial and gospel sacrifice, and you’ll find that in the end your investment is more than worth it.

 

The Next Right Thing

Jesus did amazing miracles and ministry throughout the gospels, as he reached out to hurting people on the fringes of society, yet he did this in the course of his ordinary responsibilities. There’s something profoundly encouraging about this. In Mark 5, Jesus experienced terrible rejection from those whom he loved dearly and had known his entire life. How did he respond? He went about among the villages teaching. He got up and did the next right thing.

Sometimes the evidence of gospel growth in our lives is simply doing the next right thing. It’s getting up in the morning and getting kids out the door to school. It’s spending a few quiet moments with the Lord when no one’s looking. There’s no fanfare, and there are no bells or whistles. It’s showing up to work on time and working faithfully, when there’s no one passing out ribbons for doing a good job. When we trust Jesus, not only does God credit Jesus’ amazing sinlessness to us, he credits his ordinary sinlessness to us as well. So let Jesus’ perfect faithfulness empower and motivate you for ordinary faithfulness this week—faithfulness to do the next right thing, whether you feel like it or not.

Politics & Relationships: A Plea for Reasonable Civility

We live in a day of increasing polarization that is affecting relationships within the church. The affect of social media on the unity of the Spirit within the body of Christ seems to have been detrimental (to say the least). So how should we think through political conversations online?

1. Trust that the world will not end if you fail to comment immediately on the urgent events of the day.
Patience is a virtue, and abstaining rather than commenting may be the wisest course of action.

2. Understand that politically conservative Christians and politically progressive Christians often believe opposite things but also believe that the issues of righteousness are so important that they must speak out.
It should move us to humility that Christians can disagree with one another so strongly and still be so convinced that they’re right. Christians can agree on big goals while disagreeing on the path toward those goals.

3. Adopt a tone of reasonable civility, rather than a provocative tone.
Posts are often intended to get a strong positive “rah-rah-rah” reaction from those who agree with us and a visceral negative response from those who disagree. Try to interact in a calmly, reasoned way. Think, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

4. Believe that the path to true change is the gospel.
Only as we’re changed from the inside out will the world change too. People who don’t know Christ may believe the only path to a better life is through political and cultural change. Those who know Christ believe that the path to social change is through the gospel first, and it must be our brightest light, even if we also believe in political and social change. It’s gospel first, gospel last, gospel always. 2 Corinthians 4:3 If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. Let’s not hide the gospel light (or make it distasteful) but make sure it shines brighter than anything else.

5. Be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, especially in your local church.
Believe that the most important relationships that you have in life and the ones that you should value the most are the relationships in your spiritual family (a.k.a., local church). Do whatever it takes to protect those relationships and demonstrate love. If you struggle going to church because of what you read others saying, unplug. If you think you might be provoking others in a way that makes it difficult to maintain true unity in Christ, unplug.

6. Remember that it’s our visible love for each other that marks us as Jesus’ disciples.
Sometimes the only interaction that other people see is our interaction on social media. John 13:35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. Let’s lead with our love and our unity in Christ.

Ephesians 4:1-3: 1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Some Thoughts on MLK Day

1. Remember that racial reconciliation matters because the multifaceted (“manifold”) wisdom of God is the way God makes his glory known (Ephesians 3:7-10).

2. Remember that racial reconciliation is a fruit of the gospel and is therefore an important part of reflecting gospel culture to the world (Ephesians 2:11-22).

3. Pray for peace and unity as a fruit of the gospel (Ephesians 3:14-20).
Don’t just speak for and fight for justice. Pray for it!

4. Speak truth in the face of sinful prejudice, and act when you see it.
Prayer is the right starting point, but prayer should move us to speak and act. We must not be silent in the face of cultural evil, no matter what the evil is.

5. Strive to make your home and your church a place that welcomes all people of all cultures.

6. Fight sinful prejudice in your own heart.
Our tendency is to believe that generations in the past struggled with this but that we’ve mastered it. We’re sinners like they are; sometimes our sinful prejudice manifests itself in different ways.

7. Repent of sinful prejudice when you find it in your heart.
Especially, repent of prejudice spoken and acted upon.

8. Proclaim the gospel.
True peace and unity can only be experienced in Christ. Since the gospel is our only true hope for true racial unity, we must speak and live it everywhere we go. We must speak up about racial injustice, but we must do so speaking the reconciling gospel of Jesus Christ.

Christmas & Christian Empathy

If there’s any time of year that should move Christians to empathy with their fellow man, it’s Christmas. Yet when you hear Christians talk about Christmas, you hear words like celebration, worship, family, together, etc. (which are all great!). The incarnation of Jesus, though, is the greatest model for empathy the world has ever seen.

Empathy in the Incarnation
When God became man, he left the eternal glory and joy of being God and of enjoying all that God deserves. Jesus, in entering the created world, humbled himself and entered into our discomfort and pain. He knows what it is to be hungry, to have no place to lay his head, to feel left out and mocked. God tells us Jesus did this because of his great love for us. The shame he experienced was far greater than anything any other human being has ever experienced. And one result of Jesus’ experience of humility and shame is that he can empathize like no other person the world has ever known: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

A Problem
In spite of the fact that the Christmas season models the compassion of God so clearly, Christians often view human suffering as a problem to be solved—or worse—avoided and ignored. Simply read what many majority Christians and Christian leaders say about those on the margins of society in our own country or about refugees from war and abuse huddled in camps in other countries.

We view the refugee and the outcast as a political problem to be solved or an inconvenience to be avoided. This ought not to be! There’s truth in the concept of personal responsibility, but the idea that anyone can overcome life’s obstacles through hard work and determination doesn’t work equitably across the board. Jesus’ birth teaches us this. Yes, our world (and the United States, in particular) is filled with unparalleled opportunity, but Mary and Joseph finding refuge in a stable, then fleeing to Egypt, is a model for Christian compassion and empathy, not for the doctrine of self-help.

What I’m Not Trying to Do
I’m not attempting to address the responsibilities of people to own their problems and work to overcome them (that’s the other side of the coin). Rather, I pray that God will give Christians eyes to see that our responsibility is to listen with compassion and empathy. Christian leaders should take the lead in calls for compassion and help for those in need—even if those needs are complicated and difficult to address.

Call to Action: Humility
First, as Christians, we should see the humility and shame of Christ and recognize that a little humility goes a long way for us in these conversations. As first-world, majority-culture Christians, the truth is that we just don’t “get” a lot of problems that those living on the margins deal with. This should move us to humility, as we have a lot to learn. I don’t know what it’s like to be a black or hispanic person in America, and I certainly don’t know what it’s like to be a refugee whose home has been destroyed by war.

Call to Action: Empathy
True humility moves us to compassionate empathy. While we may not literally feel the pain of a Syrian refugee, we should try to empathize with the hurting. Jesus actually did feel our pain and carry it in his body, so that we wouldn’t have to endure the worst consequences of our sin. So take off your “political hat” for a few minutes, and hurt with those who hurt. Weep with those who weep.

Call to Action: Love One Person
One difficulty of calls to listen and empathize is that the problems are so great there is no way any human being or human institution, including the US government, can address all of the issues. But we can love one person who’s not like us. We can love one person who’s hurting, and we can listen with humble empathy to the broader problems, asking God to give us wisdom on when and how to engage.

Worship Style & the Sufficiency of Scripture

John Frame’s excellent The Doctrine of the Word of God on the relationship between different styles and traditions in worship and the sufficiency of the Bible:

“Many traditions have also developed concerning worship and other aspects of church life. These concern the style and instrumentation of worship songs, the order of events in worship, degree of formality or informality, and so on. Many of these are not commanded by Scripture, but many are in accord with broad biblical principles. The problem is that church people will sometimes defend their particular practice as mandatory on all Christians, and they will criticize as spiritually inferior churches that use different styles and patterns. Often the criteria used are not scriptural, but aesthetic. People argue that this style of music is more dignified, that that liturgy is more ancient, and so forth. These aesthetic and historical criteria are often used in place of Scripture, leading to the condemnations of practices that Scripture permits and commanding of practices that Scripture does not command. That … in my judgment, violates the principles of sola Scriptura, the sufficiency of Scripture.” (p. 238)

Thinking about Cultural Engagement

The darker it is, the brighter the light shines. Christians have an opportunity to shine the light of the gospel most brightly, when it’s darkest around us. That being said, the church tends to have two different responses to culture.

Response 1: To withdraw completely
This frame of mind says that the church is a fort to protect us from outsiders. We live in the world in such a way that if we’re shining any light at all, it’s a spotlight from a long way away saying, “There are problems out there in the big, bad dirty world.” We spread the gospel by launching verbal grenades from our bunker.

Response 2: To live in the world as the world
In this view, the gospel is minimized as unhelpful, even offensive. Ministry is focused almost exclusively on felt needs, and the culture is embraced and never challenged.

Gospel Response: Engage & Confront
Both of these responses are insufficient. Clearly, we must be in the culture for our light to shine. If we’re totally withdrawn from social and cultural engagement, we aren’t exposing the secrets hidden in the darkness (Ephesians 5:7-14). At the same time, we’re to be in the world in a way that sheds the light of the gospel’s offense on the sins of humanity against a holy God (John 17:1-18).

The gospel builds bridges by saying that we’re ALL sinners, and it offends by saying that we’re all SINNERS. The only way to God is through repentance and faith. It’s an offensive message that says the sin we love isn’t ok, that we’re not all going to be ok, that the only way to be ok is to repent of our sin and trust Christ. The offense of repentance in the gospel disappears in light of God’s love in the gospel.

The Christian light must be a light that shines both the light of God’s holiness on our sin and the light of God’s love for us in spite of our sin. We shine God’s judgment on sin as a warning and motivation, and we shine the grace of the gospel as a winsome catalyst to run to Christ.

Response to the SCOTUS Same Sex Marriage Ruling

I shared the following statement with our congregation at Morning Star Church this past Sunday morning:

I want to take a moment this morning to comment on an important event in the life of our nation this past week. Friday, June 26, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that same sex marriage must be legalized in every state. To quote FDR, Friday is “a day will live in infamy.” Homosexual sin is nothing new, just like heterosexual sin isn’t new. These sins and worse have been with us since the days after the Fall in Genesis 3. The law of God in the Old Testament and the righteousness of God in the New Testament call out these sins. However, our government’s calling something that can never truly be marriage a marriage is a new step in our culture.

My point is not to comment on the legal or cultural ramifications of the Supreme Court ruling. There are others better suited and certainly more qualified to do that. However, I do want to take a moment to help form our response as a congregation to this ruling. How can a congregation committed to the inerrancy of Scripture and the supremacy of Christ in all things respond at such a time?

1. Rejoice, the Lord is King!
Rest in the good, sovereign hand of God. He reigns yesterday, today, forever. As Abraham Kuyper famously said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” That was true June 25, and it will always be true.

2. Grieve the ways that our fallen world is marked by sin.
It’s good for us to remember that we’re pilgrims here, just passing through. This world isn’t our home; we look for a better country, that is, a heavenly one.

3. Remember, there’s nothing new under the sun.
It’s tempting to believe the lie that no culture has ever been as bad as ours or that we’ve got it worse than anyone else. There have been atrocities ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden. Each era of history experiences brokenness in a different way, but sinful tragedy has always been with us. The arrival of Christ in the world was marked by the slaughter of all the babies in Bethlehem. The victory of Christ over sin was marked by the death of the only perfect man who has ever lived at the hands of profane criminals who deserved to die.

4. Pray for our nation, for our world, and for the return of Jesus.
The only way that true, lasting righteousness will fully and finally reign in the world is for Jesus to come back and make it all right again, to make creation new.

5. Thank God that light shines brightest when it’s the darkest.
It’s not a bad thing for the cost of discipleship to actually cost something. The term “cultural Christianity” is fast fading into oblivion, and it’s a good thing for us to take up our cross daily and follow Christ.

6. Trust God.
Don’t despair. Don’t capitulate to the world’s culture and believe a lie. Trust in God’s Word, which has always been true and will stand the ultimate test of time. And pray that we may persevere and be found in Christ at the end.

Isaiah 26:1-4
1 In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: “We have a strong city; he sets up salvation as walls and bulwarks. 2 Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in. 3 You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. 4 Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.