Thursday, April 19, 2018

Why the Reformation Still Matters: What do we say to a child grieving the loss of his atheistic father?

Heartsick Boy Asks If Atheist Dad Is In Heaven. Pope Francis Reveals The Answer With A Hug.

My heart breaks for this boy. The loss of a father at a young age, especially this young, is a tragedy no child should have to endure. The young boy in this story, Emanuele, recently lost his father and was part of a group that was invited to ask Pope Francis questions.  Emanuele was invited to the stage to whisper his question into the Pope's ear because he was too nervous and emotional to ask from the microphone.  On the stage with the Pope's arms tenderly wrapped around him he told the Pope that his father was an atheist and had recently died, but had ensured his children were all baptized.  He then asked the Pope, "Is my father in heaven?" Before I dive into expressing my concerns for how Pope Francis answered that question, I want to be clear that I applaud the tenderness, humility, and empathy that Pope Francis displayed.  The child needed a hug. He gave him one.

The question the young boy asked is a difficult one to answer with pastoral tenderness and truth. But, any answer worth giving must include both.  Pope Francis basically answered the boy by saying that his father's good works, demonstrated in having his children baptized, were evidence that God would accept him into heaven.  Pope Francis was clearly tender, but he either intentionally muddled the gospel or he applied the faulty Catholic understanding of it.  Ultimately, I think it was both.  Perhaps he was applying the Catholic doctrine of purgatory.  In that case, he was telling this young child (without really telling him) that the good works of his father will eventually help him escape purgatory and then, maybe, he will be in heaven - if enough people pray for his father and receive indulgences for his father and do whatever else the Catholic Church decides can shorten the timeline for the suffering of loved ones in purgatory.

The tragedy of the story is that Jesus was nowhere to be found in the conversation.  It serves as a fresh reminder of the need for the truth of the gospel recovered in the Reformation.  It's a reminder that, in fact, the Reformation is not over.  It's a reminder that the debate of the Reformation isn't just about ivory tower theology, but about what we say to little children who ask questions about their deceased atheist father.  It doesn't get any more real and pastoral than that.

The Pope failed to love the boy well because he failed to point him to Jesus, his only hope in life and death.  He failed to make clear to the boy that it is only through faith in Christ that we can have any hope of eternity.  He failed the boy because Emanuele walked away with some kind of vague understanding that good works have something to do with whether he gets to be with God for all eternity or not.  That's a burden no human shoulders can bear.

With tenderness, Emanuele needed to be told that if his father trusted in Jesus, then there is no question that he is with God this very moment.  He needed to be told that he too needs to look to Christ alone for hope and comfort during these difficult days.  Those would have been difficult words to hear if he fully comprehended their weight.  But, I would rather his tiny shoulders bear the weight of that grief so that he could find the capable and able shoulders of Jesus, on which he could place that grief and all of his sins.  Instead, he walked away feeling a little bit better for the moment, but set up for a lifetime of bearing the weight of his sins on his own growing, but forever too weak, frail shoulders.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

25 Reasons Jesus Came to Earth: Daily Advent Devotion

You can download the free pdf or buy a Kindle version for $.99 if that works better for you. I pray that these help point you and your family to Christ this holiday season!

PDF Version: 25 Reasons Jesus Came to Earth

Kindle Version: 25 Reasons Jesus Came to Earth

Friday, October 06, 2017

When Kingdom Growth Doesn't Look Like Church Growth: Did Our Church Plant Fail?

Our 11 year old church plant is going through the difficult process of closing down, but our church plant has not failed.  That word is often used to describe a church plant that “doesn’t make it.”  The statistic normally goes something like this: a certain percentage of all church plants fail in the first 5 years or 10 years.  That’s the key word in those stats - fail.  And, I suppose, if someone is gathering the raw data on church plants, our church will be added to a list that “failed” within about 10 years.  But, our story is so much more than raw data; some simple binary glance at whether the church is still open or closed.

For God’s own good reasons, he chose to grow his kingdom through our church in ways that meant our church itself didn’t grow.  In the early days of our church, meeting in a school building with metal folding chairs, we had a number of families travelling from a neighboring city about 40 minutes to the south.  They faithfully joined our body for the first years, but sensed a longing for a church like ours in their own community.  

We rejoiced in that desire and as more families from Goldsboro began coming to us, it became clear that the right thing for us to do would be to plant a church in Goldsboro.  But, that would mean only about 4 years into our existence we would be sending out about a third of our current members and attenders.  And, let’s be honest, it would also mean sending out a large portion of our budget.  But, we rejoiced at the opportunity and joyfully sent them out with a large lump sum of money to get them started.  By God’s grace, they have flourished and recently purchased a building; which, if you’ve ever been involved in a church plant would make you want to march around the building chanting - no more setup! We’re thankful for how God has continued to bless them and for the faithful gospel presence Crossway Church brought to Goldsboro. Kingdom Growth.

In addition to being able to start a church in Goldsboro, I last counted 6 men that we’ve been able to send out into various pastoral roles in other churches.  God would bring them and their families to us for a season and after a few years he chose to send them to other places where they could multiply his kingdom in other cities.  We also recently had a family move to the Philippines to be close to family where they are intentionally seeking to spread the gospel to their new community.  We had another faithful family move to California to work at a Christian Camp where they are striving to impact the lives of thousands of people that come through the camp every year.  Kingdom Growth.

And, of course, there’s the immeasurable impact that the faithful proclamation of the Word of God has had on the hearts of our people for the past 11 years.  We watched it sustain us through many personal trials, heartaches, and difficulties.  We’ve wept together and we’ve rejoiced together.  Kingdom Growth.

We witnessed children trusting in Christ and co-workers doing the same.  It’s a glorious celebration to watch a young man raised in a Jehovah’s Witness family be delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son.  He took a job in another city, but has remained faithful, by God’s grace, and pursued finding a faithful church. Kingdom Growth.

As we sent families out, God would bring others to us.  So, the story of our church has been never really to grow past 40-45 members and, sometimes, like now, a lot less. I’m reminded of Paul’s words to the Philippian church - and I wonder if it may not apply to our church.  “Even if am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise, you also should be glad and rejoice with me” (Philippians 2:17-18).  

Christ Community Church, you have been poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of the faith of many - far beyond what you’ll ever see or know in this life.  But, the one thing I know without an inkling of doubt in my soul is that you have not failed.

So, when the statisticians gather their data, we’ll go in a column of church plants that “failed.”  But, I believe there will be a different column for you in God’s data - “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

I’m thankful that I got to be your pastor.  And, I’m thankful I get to be your pastor for a few months longer until God makes clear his next place for me.  I don’t know where that will be right now, but I know my time with you has forever changed me because you pointed me to Christ as much as I strove to point you to Him.  I love you Christ Community Church.  Kingdom Growth.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

25 Reasons Jesus Came to Earth: Daily Advent Devotions

 25 Reasons Jesus Came to Earth: Daily Advent Devotionals

I've created a pdf of the Advent Devotionals I wrote last Christmas.  So, instead of updating the blog each day of Advent with the devotion for that day you can download the entire pdf at once.

If you want a version formatted for Kindle, that should be available tomorrow, it will cost $0.99 (That was the lowest they would allow).  I'll update this when it comes available.

UPDATE: Kindle version now available

25 Reasons Jesus  Came to Earth: Daily Advent Devotions PDF

Friday, July 08, 2016

Racism, Tragedy, Empathy, and Prayer

So much has been said; opinions given, like buttons of approval, comments of disagreement. Trying to add to the conversation feels unnecessary at best and taking advantage of controversy for the sake of "likes" at worst.

But, I sit here distracted as I try to study and craft the sermon for this Sunday.  There is rich truth found in the passage and I look forward to preaching it.  Yet, all I can think about is how to help those God has placed under my care think about and act on the tragedies of the past few days.  

I've seen the video of Alton Sterling's death.  I’m not an expert on police tactics.  Nor, can I see or know everything that happened in that moment.  I’m not a judge, a prosecutor, or a jury.  But, I am a Christian.  I’m a Christian that is called to weep with those who weep.  Christians, of all people, should take on the role of empathy and understanding.  

I can’t imagine being a police officer who knows they have to make split second life and death decisions.  I can’t imagine carrying the weight of the ability to take life to protect others and my own. I’m thankful that men and women take on this God ordained role daily for our protection and the keeping of peace.

I can’t imagine being a black man who bears on his shoulders the weight of history - whether we like to admit it or not.  His father or grandfather was probably alive during the Jim Crow era.  That matters. There is likely an automatic suspicion of authority passed down from that experience.  I can’t imagine the panic Sterling probably felt in that moment that may have caused him to act irrationally.  

I can’t imagine being a black person viewing the video and experiencing a gut wrenching, unexplainable, tension running through their body thinking “here we go again.”

I can’t imagine being the parent of a black child, wondering if their child will respond "correctly" if they encounter the police.  In college I was pulled over because my car resembled one that had been stolen.  My friend, who happens to be black, was sitting in the passenger seat.  When the officer came to the window my friend leaned forward so he could see the officer and hear what he was saying.  The officer's hand immediately went to his holster, telling him to lean back.  I know the officer didn’t know why he was leaning forward and was acting to be ready just in case.  But, I wonder if my friend didn’t hear the officer say “lean back” and bent down further so he could hear what he said.  Then what? Innocent situations can become dangerous really quickly.  We’re simply ignoring reality if we can’t understand the fear that creates for parents of black children.

I can’t imagine the pain and heartache the families of the Dallas police officers are experiencing today. They were doing their job, planning to have dinner with their families the next day, but were killed by someone foolishly attempting to oppose injustice by acting unjustly.  

If all we do is blindly take sides and line up on one side or the other yelling at each other, then we won’t ever make any progress.  Instead, we have to try, as best we can, to understand why these things happen and try to prevent it from happening again.  Facts matter, but so do history, experiences, and emotion.

Therefore, as Christians we must strive to empathize with the pain and hurt so many are feeling today.  Weep with those who weep.  We must pray for God to bring comfort and peace to those in pain.  We must pray for those in authority, asking God to give them wisdom as they investigate this case and bring justice where necessary.  We must pray for police officers who risk their lives daily.  We must pray for Sheriffs and Police Chiefs to have wisdom as they seek to continue to train officers on how to handle stressful and threatening situations.  We must pray for empathy and understanding concerning experiences that are foreign to many of us.  We must pray that racism, in all its forms - conscious and unconscious, comes to an end.

One day King Jesus will come, bringing both justice and lasting peace.  Until that day we pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Summary of The Gospel Coalition's Church Planter Book Recommendations

The Gospel Coalition posted an helpful article asking 20 church leaders what three books every church planter should read.  (TGC Asks: 3 Books Every Church Planter Should Read)

I thought it would be helpful to see it in a list format with links.  So, I put together this basic pdf document summarizing all of the recommended books.  The 4 books that were mentioned by more than one pastor are highlighted.  Of course, I would encourage you to look at the article and hear each man explain why he felt a particular book would he helpful.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Advent Day 25: Jesus Came to Come

 "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again 
and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also"
(John 14:3)

Jesus came to crush the head of Satan.
Jesus came to serve.
Jesus came to make us children of God.
Jesus came to seek and save the lost.
Jesus came to be our example of humility.
Jesus came to show us the way to the Father.
Jesus came to accomplish the will of his Father.
Jesus came to become a curse.
Jesus came to shine light into darkness.
Jesus came to demonstrate God's justice.
Jesus came to be our Great High Priest.
Jesus came to be our righteousness.
Jesus came to reconcile us to the Father.
Jesus came to free us from fear of death.
Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil.
Jesus came to preach peace.
Jesus came to bring a sword.
Jesus came to call sinners.
Jesus came to give us life abundantly.
Jesus came to give his life as a ransom.
Jesus came to be our example of love.
Jesus came to show us how to suffer.
Jesus came to teach truth.
Jesus came to fulfill all of God's promises.

Jesus came for all these reasons and more.  And, he is coming again.

In John 14:1 he said to his disciples, "Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me."  Jesus says that our hearts should not be troubled because there are many rooms in His Father's house and he is going to prepare a place for us.  "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also" (John 14:3)

He came down in humble flesh so that he could return in his glorified body to take us to be with him forever.  The fact of his next coming is just as certain as the reality of his last coming.  As you celebrate Christmas today and reflect on the birth of Jesus, be reminded to look to the next time he will appear.  As you look to the manger also look to the heavens.

Advent Day 1

Advent Day 2

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Advent Day 24