Category Archives: Church

Play It Again

   I posted this hymn last year about this time. Since then it has been one of my most popular posts, particularly in search engines. To me, it is one of the most magnificent hymns that we sing in the church today. I hope that it will add a small measure of joy to your celebration of the resurrection of our Lord.

Hallelujah, What a Savior

“Man of Sorrows,” what a name

For the Son of God who came

Ruined sinners to reclaim

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude

In my place condemned He stood

Sealed my pardon with His blood

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Guilty, vile and helpless we

Spotless Lamb of God was He

Full atonement, can it be?

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Lifted up was He to die

“It is finished,” was His cry

Now in Heav’n exalted high

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

When He comes, our Glorious King

All His ransomed home to bring

Then anew this song we’ll sing

HALLELUJAH, WHAT A SAVIOR!

A Great Week

   I want to thank everyone who said a prayer for my grandmother and our revival last week.

    My grandmother is home now and doing much better. She had a pretty rough bout with whatever virus it was that she was “bouting”, but Nana is pretty tough and with the Lord’s help she is okay now.

   Our revival was a particular blessing to our church. It was well-attended all week and the spirit in the services was incredible. My dad has always been somewhat of an energetic preacher (to put it mildly) but I honestly cannot remember when I have seen him preach with as much enthusiasm as he did last week. Every sermon he preached was anointed and had an effect on the lives of those who heard it.

   One particular blessing was a man who had been attending our church for quite sometime, publicly professed his faith in Christ on Friday evening. I had the opportunity to baptize him yesterday morning. After the service, a lady who has just recently started coming talked to me and told me that while she was saved, she had yet to follow the Lord in believer’s baptism and wanted to take that step. Praise the Lord for what He is doing.

The Problem With Labels

   I’m from the south. Down here, every soft drink is referred to by the label “Coke”. (Probably because Coca-Cola is headquartered in Atlanta). Every Georgian knows that when you say, “I’m thirsty, I’m going to get a coke,” you don’t necessarily mean the beverage with the red and white label. You might be referring to a grape soda, root beer, Mountain Dew, or any other of the members of the fizzy spectrum.

   In fact, even buying a Coca-Cola these days can be more frustrating than trying to crack the IRS tax code. You must decide whether you want regular or diet, both of which are available in caffeine-free versions. Then you have to decide which flavor (cherry or vanilla), color (black or ?) and number (zero?) you want that in. It’s enough to drive someone to drinking Pepsi (which I do).

   The thing about Coca-Cola however, is that the labels are neat and precise. If I go into the retail grocer of my choice and select the Decaffeinated Diet Vanilla Coke, I can be reasonably sure that I will get precisely that. I have every right to expect exactly what the label says is in the bottle. There is little danger of any spill-over of cherry syrup (that might be grounds for a law-suit if it occurred) or of it keeping me awake half the night.

   If only theological labels were as precise.

   One doesn’t have to venture far into the realm that is identified as Christendom before they are confronted with a myriad of labels. Denominational labels, theological labels and associational labels are just a few of the names that you may encounter. 99.999999% of these labels are man-made (the one exception being “disciple”). This doesn’t mean that labels are wrong, in fact they can be quite useful at times. At other times, however, they can be confusing.

    Most of those who read this blog would probably agree that the mainstream media plays a little fast and loose with the term “Christian”. It seems that anyone who at one time may have attended Sunday School or had a relative who was a deacon will be labeled as Christian by the world. That term has come a long way from its original usage to identify true disciples of Christ.

   Sometimes labels are applied with derision, hatred, misunderstanding or just downright mean-spiritedness. At other times, labels are willingly embraced by those who wish to identify with a certain group.

   Let me use myself as an example. I willingly call myself a Southern Baptist. We have a stated articles of faith. I affirm those articles of faith because I believe they are biblically correct. Am I happy about everything that goes on the Southern Baptist Convention? Absolutely not. I realize that there are some things being debated within the convention in a manner that does not always cast a positive light on our denomination. However, if I am to call myself a Southern Baptist, I must be willing to accept the bad connotations with the positive points, otherwise I am not being completely honest.

   Likewise, it would be disingenious of me to call myself a Southern Baptist but then start issuing disclaimers such as saying that I believe salvation must earned, that God is not omniscient, that my salvation can be lost, etc. If I am going to identify myself theologically and associationally with Southern Baptists, I must be willing to embrace the core beliefs as stated in our articles of faith. Otherwise, I should find another way of identifying my doctrine.

   I said all that to say this, if we are going to label ourselves by identifying with a particular group, we should not be surprised when people assume that we share common beliefs with that group. Labels produce expectations. If we don’t want to be identified with a certain doctrine, we shouldn’t adopt the name of the the group that believes it.

   Some of you will remember the fiasco in the 1980’s called “New Coke”. It was an extremely bad idea on the part of some marketing execs at Coca-Cola that cost that company very dearly. Why? Because the product didn’t match the expectations produced by the label.

   On the other hand, to quote Junior Hill, “If the bottle is empty, it really doesn’t matter what the label says.”

Prayer Requests

   I want to share a couple of prayer requests with you if I may.

   My grandmother went into the hospital Sunday night. We first thought she was having a heart attack or something, but as it turns out she has a virus. The doctors haven’t told my mom very much yet, but it made her pretty sick.

   My dad is preaching a revival for us at Pine Park Baptist Church this week. God has really been touching the hearts of some of our people in the first three services. Please pray that He will continue to do so and that we will be receptive and responsive to His leading.

   Feel free to share your own requests in the comments.

And We’re Back!

  What a trip! My dad and I had a wonderful trip to Atlanta the last couple of days to attend the State Evangelism Conference of the Georgia Baptist Convention. We were not able to get there for the entire event but we were thoroughly blessed by what we heard.

    We had the opportunity to hear Dr. Fred Luter, Dr. Ergun Caner, Dr. Johnny Hunt, and Dr. David Jeremiah among others. I was refreshed and challenged on several levels. Charles Billingsley brought some inspiring music as well.

   In addition, we had some wonderful fellowship with some old friends and made some new ones as well. It was especially nice to meet Galen Towns, aka Misawa, and fellowship over a cup of coffee with him. He is a frequent visitor and commentor here and is just as pleasant in person as he is on the web.

   After a quick visit to Bass Pro Shops (I could have stayed there all day) we returned home yesterday feeling a little tired in the body, but very refreshed in the spirit. The only problem is, since my dad is preaching a revival for us at Pine Park next week, I don’t get to preach for another week and a half or so. I may burst a blood vessel or something in the meantime.

Squeezing One In

   I really am sorry for the lack of posting the last few days. I had fully intended to follow up on the previous post much sooner.

   We had a death in the family this past week and our family has been spending some time together around that. I have sandwiched several committee meetings and a concert in between that and homeschooling. Two basketball games, an RA Derby, and spending time with my wife’s family who is in town for a visit have kept me busy up until this point.

    Tomorrow, we have our normal church schedule with an ordination service at another church tomorrow afternoon. Monday I have to go to Madison, FL, for a funeral, then come back to Bainbridge, GA, that evening to teach my class. Tuesday morning my dad and I are traveling to Atlanta to attend our GBC State Evangelism Conference where I am looking forward to hearing Ergun Caner, Johnny Hunt and David Jeremiah among others. We are supposed to return home Wednesday.

    I said all that to say this, it will probably be Wednesday or later before I get to post again. I hope to post on the conference as well as the next article on Christian Statesmanship at that time.

    In the meantime, I pray that God’s grace and peace will be upon all of you.

Taking Responsibility

This weekend has flown by. I had wanted to post on two or three occasions in the last few days but just could not find the time.

I would like to speak to something that is sort of a follow-up on the joke I wrote last week about biblical ignorance in the church.

I think that one glaring weakness among Christians is a lack of knowledge where scripture is concerned. They have Bibles, they may even bring them to church, they would claim to revere the Word of God, yet they do not know it. I realize this is hardly an earth-shattering revelation, but it is the source of a lot of problems in the church.

A former pastor of mine used to tell the story of the lady who argued the Bible with him, swearing up and down that the Bible says that, “Every tub must stand on its own bottom.”

For some reason, many Christians have adopted the notion that they can get enough Bible while sitting in church or Sunday School to suffice for their spiritual growth. They place the entire responsibility for their maturity on the shoulders of a pastor, elder or teacher.

In some discussions relating to this matter, I have heard the opinions of some who have suggested that this is the pastor’s fault. I have, personally, never known a pastor who has told his people that they were to rely on him for their spiritual growth. I would say that any “pastor” who does such a thing is no pastor at all, but a cult leader. I have known, however, many pastors who tried to encourage their flocks to take personal responsibility for their growth.

I Peter 2:2 tells us that as newborn babes, we should desire the “sincere milk of the word”. That is, every believer needs to have a hunger for the word of God. We should have a desire to grow that stems from our “spiritual DNA” as children of God. As members one of another in the body of Christ, we have a responsibility to one another to grow. Above all, we should seek to glorify Christ in lives that are transformed by the power of His word.

I have nothing against books, study courses, seminars, conferences, etc. I partake of all of them at any opportunity that I have to do so, but none of these will ever replace the spiritually nutritional benefit of scripture. A Christian cannot grow apart from God’s Word.

How hungry are you?

An Oldie Goldie

A pastor who had just recently come to a new church was visiting each Sunday School class by turn to get better acquainted with his members.

One Sunday, he was visiting the Junior Boys’ class and the teacher invited him to ask the class a Bible question. He asked them, “Who tore down the walls of Jericho?” After a moment of awkward silence he fixed his gaze on a bright-looking lad in hopes that the boy would come up with the right answer.

The boy said, “Don’t look at me, Preacher, I didn’t do it.”

The pastor looked at the teacher with a quizzical expression on his face. The teacher said, “Pastor, I have known this boy his whole life. If he said he didn’t do it, I believe him.”

The concerned preacher went to the Sunday School director and apprised him of the situation. “Pastor,” replied the director, “I have the utmost confidence in that teacher. If she is willing to stand behind that boy, then so am I.”

Realizing that he was being faced with a real problem of biblical ignorance in the Sunday School staff, the preacher called an emergency meeting with his deacons in which he told them the details of what had happened.

After a moments pause, the chairman of the deacons said, “Preacher, I don’t think this is going to be a problem. We should just get an estimate on the damage and then take up an offering to pay for it.”

Is Loving Christ the First Love of the Church?

I want to write a follow-up to the post I wrote last week on what I believe to be the source and solution of the problems in the church. I want to say again how much I appreciate everyone who participated in the discussion and particularly the grace with which you did.

In the discussion that followed the post, we began to look at what is involved in worship and whether or not the “first love” of the church is actually love for Jesus. Some very good ideas and arguments were presented from a variety of viewpoints.

I think we can all agree that love for God and love for the brethren are inseparably linked. I think the question that remains is, are they one and the same?

While the two are closely linked, I believe there is a distinction between loving God and loving people. I listed several reasons why I believe this in one of my comments, let me briefly reiterate some of those reasons now.

1.  It is possible for unbelievers to have a degree of love for one another, but I believe that only believers can love one another in the way that God has prescribed. Thus, a relationship with God is a pre-requisite for loving the brethren.

2.  When asked about the Great Commandment (Matt. 22:35-39), Jesus first named loving God, then listed loving the brethren. He even made a distinction between the two, calling the one the “first and great commandment” and the other “the second”.

3.  In John 15, Jesus spoke of His disciples loving Him first, then gave the commandment to love each other.

4.  In I John 1, John begins the epistle (which many think was written to the Ephesian church) by describing his close relationship with Christ, then expressing his desire to fellowship with others based upon that relationship.

Now having given those reasons, let me say that our love for Christ will not be fulfilled until we love the brethren. I would never want to discount our love for one another. Those who have read my series of posts on I John from last year will know the value that I place upon koinonia and agape. But love begins with our love for Christ.

It is only when I am walking in love with Christ that I will be able to love the brethren in the way that God wants me to love. I think we could describe this as vertical love/fellowship and horizontal love/fellowship. The vertical, of course, is our relationship with Christ while the horizontal is our relationship with others.

We could illustrate this concept by comparing it to the crosshairs of a rifle scope. Ideally, when aiming a scope, the vertical crosshairs need to be straight up and down which by default causes the horizontal crosshairs to be properly aligned. When the crosshairs are properly lined up, the target will be hit. I learned this lesson the hard way last deer season when I missed a nice buck trying to shoot it from a cock-eyed angle.

When my love for Christ (vertical) is properly aligned, it will cause my love for the brethren (horizontal) to be properly aligned as well. In this way, they are inseparably linked, yet the focus is on Christ. When both are properly aligned, we will hit the target of glorifying Christ in the church.

Getting To the Root Of the Problem

As the discussion of ecclesiomethodology has unfolded over the past few months, a number of problems have been identified and discussed. Among these problems are lack of or stunted Christian growth, “worshiptainment” (that’s a good word that Steve coined) replacing genuine praise and worship, biblical ignorance, misunderstood and misapplied roles of leadership and probably several more that I am not listing here. If you think of one that I haven’t listed, feel free to add it to the rest.

These are legitimate concerns, please do not think that I am not giving them the attention they deserve. Anyone who thinks that I am overlooking these problems need only dig through the archives of some of the blogs I mentioned yesterday (especially Steve’s) and they will find that I have already stipulated the existence of these problems. So I see no need to revisit them in their details at this point.

There are two considerations that I would like to suggest before I progress any further.

First, I would suggest that, serious though these problems may be, they are but symptoms of a larger and deeper problem within the church.

Second, while these problems are certainly present in the traditional church model, could it be that they are not inherent to that model, but are so visible in that setting only because (until recently, at least) the traditional model has been the only game in town?

Church “systems” are, I believe, a product of the evolution of the church within its culture. Look at history and you will see the impact that culture had on the way that church was “done”. Persecution of the early church caused its dispersal around the civilized world of that time. The persecution by the Roman Empire literally drove the church underground. The politicizing and corruption of the medieval church gave birth to the Reformation, etc., etc.

Even in our time, if you look around the world you will see how geography, economics, political tensions, persecution and a host of other factors impact the way that church is carried out in various cultures. Believers may meet under a tree in the Sudan, in a house in China, in a hut in the South Pacific, in ancient buildings in Europe or in modern facilities in Western settings. I believe that this suggests that ecclesiomethodology is a fluid concept, not bound by rigid mandates of scripture, but a liberty given by God to adapt to the best way of letting us demonstrate the graces of God.

In whatever form the church has appeared, there have been problems. Every “system” has had its strengths as well as its weaknesses. Like forms of government their effectiveness is largely based upon the abilities of the people who administer them (I know, the church has a spiritual source of power, I am coming to that.). Monarchy can be a good thing, if you have a good monarch. Democracy is wonderful until elected officials become corrupted (are we there yet?). Some would even argue the merits of socialism, yet history is full of examples of the abusiveness of that form of government when it is in the hands of greedy leaders.

My point is, every church “system” is a method that is developed by flawed people. The problems that each system experiences are not a result of the structure, but are a reflection of the tensions between what the church ought to be and our sinful human nature (Romans 7:14-25).

So what then? Is the church just to limp along in its humanity, limited to the abilities of its members? Not at all. It is the body of Christ. We have a spiritual head that is able to compensate for and overcome our weaknesses. We have the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to carry out the legitimate functions of the body. We have the gifts and grace of God to strengthen one another and complement the individuality of each member.

Why then do we still have problems?

I believe the source of the problems as well as the solution is identified in the warning to the Ephesian church in Revelation 2:1-7. The Ephesian church was characterized by their work, their labors for others, their patience, their separation from worldliness, their doctrinal purity and their steadfastness. Sounds like a pretty good church doesn’t it? And yet we find they are chastised because they have departed from their love for Christ.

When the church, regardless of its format, is motivated by anything other than passion for Christ, its methods are doomed to failure. When we fail to obey the Great Commandment, we lose our connection to the source that guarantees our success. We become guilty of committing the most satanic of sins, pride.

Consider the difference that passion or Christ makes. If the Word of God is presented, whether in a sermon or around a table of fellowship, a heart that is in love with Christ will benefit from it. When music, drama or any other art form is presented by one who is truly performing as an act of worship, Christ will be glorified and it will cease to be entertainment. When leaders are motivated to serve others because of their love for Christ, abuses of leadership will not take place.

Christ is the foundation of the building, He is the husband of the bride, He is the head of the body. Whatever analogy you choose to use to describe Christ’s relationship with the church, it all comes down to this, the church’s first priority is to worship Christ Jesus. The church is about Him, not us. It is not about our needs, frustrations, hurts, or any other human factor. We are called to worship Him with all that we are.

I believe that the overall effectiveness of the body in fulfilling this priority is determined by the willingness of individual members to comply with God’s command to love Him. I have a personal responsibility to each of you as fellow-members to worship Christ.

For the sake of the body, let us look beyond our problems, our methods, our preferences, yes even beyond our ideals and return to our first love.