Monday, November 16, 2015

Pastoral Prayer Concerning the Attacks in Paris

Yesterday I led our church in prayer concerning the attacks in Paris.  I am including below the full text of my pastoral prayer.

Father, we come to you this morning confessing our lack of understanding.  We know that the hearts of all people are sinful.  But we do not understand why people's evil hearts cause them to commit such acts of terror against their fellow human beings.  We cannot begin to comprehend the fear of those who witnessed these attacks, and the pain and hurt of those who lost loved ones.  Our hearts are troubled.  So often in this world, evil men seem to prevail.  The attacks of this week in Paris are but one example where evil seems to have prevailed. 

We come to you this morning crying out on behalf of the people of France, especially those in Paris.  We ask that you would provide healing for those who were injured in the attacks.  We ask that you would provide comfort and strength for the families of those who lost loved ones.  May they know your peace that surpasses all understanding.  May your strength be made perfect in their weakness.  Prove your grace to be sufficient for them.  We pray for peace and a sense of calmness to prevail in the days to come in Paris.  Provide healing for that city.  We pray that fear would not prevail.  We pray that the believers in Paris would rise up and be an example of unwavering trust and confidence in you.  May your gospel go forth in the midst of tragedy.  May your Word be a source of comfort and strength.  We pray that many would be drawn to you. 

We also pray for justice for those responsible.  You are a God of justice.  You have ordained civil government to carry the sword on your behalf.  Use government to execute justice on your behalf, we pray.

We pray also for ourselves.  Help us not to be overcome by a sense of fear.  Help us not to fear uncertainty.  Help us not to fear terrorists.  Help us not to fear death.  Help us to trust in you.  Strengthen our confidence in you.  God, you have not guaranteed us safety in this fallen world, but you have promised to be with us.  You have promised us that you will not forsake us.  You have instructed us in your Word not to be anxious about anything.  Help us in that, we pray.  Remind us that you care about us as your image bearers and those who have been reconciled to you by the shed blood of Jesus.  We are your children.  Help us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.

Finally, we look forward to a day when you will right every wrong.  Vengeance belongs to you, O God.  Our confidence is in Christ.  Our confidence is in the one who will return riding on a white horse.  He is called Faithful and True, and He judges in righteousness.  We long for the day when He will judge the evil of this world in righteousness.  Help us to look forward to that day.  Help us to set our eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ.  We pray these things in the name of our Savior.  Come, Lord Jesus, come!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Some #BGAV15 Clarifications

I have written a couple of blog posts about this week's meeting of the Baptist General Association of Virginia.  I have also read some other blog and social media posts and comments that have been written.  As I prepare to head to Richmond tomorrow, I thought I would write one more post with a few clarifications.

Unity is not the same as unanimity

The calls for unity have been clear.  I hear those calls, and I agree with them.  That is, as long as we mean the same thing by unity.  Unity is not unanimity.  A commitment to unity means that we commit ourselves to treating one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.  It means that we don't threaten to leave the family when we don't get our way.  It means we recognize that the BGAV is not about us, but the work God is doing in and through us.

We can be united together even if we disagree on some items of business.  If disagreement is not allowed, we'll have to stop boasting about the diversity of Virginia Baptists.  We should not be afraid of having things challenged from the floor.  We should not be afraid of discussion related to very important matters concerning our partnership together.  We certainly should not be afraid of having more than one candidate for the BGAV's top elected officer position.

I'm not Brad Hoffmann's campaign manager

Brad Hoffmann, the pastor of Cool Springs Baptist Church in Mechanicsville, VA, is running for BGAV President.  I have written about his candidacy here.  I am glad he is running.  I will be voting for Brad.  I am bringing members of the church I pastor with me to vote for Brad.  But no one should assume that my concerns are the reason Brad is running for BGAV President.  I had never heard of Brad Hoffmann until his candidacy was announced.  Though I expect this to change tomorrow, I have never met him in person.

Brad has been very clear about the reasons he is running.  He believes that he is the best person on the ticket to lead the BGAV forward.  I agree with him.  He has a vision to see Virginia Baptists move from being mission minded to truly living missionally.  I appreciate what he has written in this regard.  Brad pastors a church that has been very generous in its mission giving both in total dollars and percentage.  He is well-positioned to challenge and encourage churches to do more to financially support our cooperative work together.

I hope some will read what I have written about the reasons why I am glad Brad is running and decide to vote for Brad.  I also hope that my stated reasons for supporting Brad will not cause anyone to assign motives to him that he has not verified himself.  Don't allow your disagreements with me to keep you from voting for a very qualified candidate in Brad Hoffmann for BGAV President.

My SBC/CBF concerns are not political

My concerns are theological.  The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship held a panel at their annual meeting this year addressing the subject of homosexuality.  One pastor who participated in the panel pastors a church that welcomes committed homosexuals into the membership of the church.  The other pastors a church that is more closed toward homosexuality.  These two pastors argued in the panel that homosexuality should not be an issue that divides us.  I could not disagree more.

You do not have to agree with my theology, but it isn't necessary to accuse those who disagree of having political motivations for their concerns.

I don't think homosexuality is the only issue

I believe that homosexuality is a big issue facing the BGAV.  There are churches within the BGAV who believe we should remain committed to one another regardless of what individual congregations decide to do regarding homosexuality.  I disagree very strongly.  Each local church is autonomous.  But so is the BGAV.  The BGAV has the right and responsibility to define the parameters of cooperation.  We are Baptists.  Therefore, Baptist distinctives are non-negotiables in our association of churches.  It is my contention that nothing that is more important than our Baptist distinctives should be negotiable either.  I believe in local church autonomy as much as anyone, but it is not more important than whether something is sinful that the Bible clearly calls sin.

While it is a big issue, homosexuality is not the only issue facing the BGAV.  The $1 million budget reduction is a big one.  I am concerned about it too.  But neither are the two mutually exclusive.  If the BGAV doesn't figure out where it stands now (not 20 years ago) on the issue of homosexuality, the bleeding will continue.


I am looking forward to gathering together in Richmond this week.  I am looking forward to the worship times, seeing the new governance structure in action, and even having important discussions about issues that can sometimes be controversial.  I am looking forward to spending time with friends and meeting some new friends as well.  I am looking forward to spending Wednesday with some people from my church.  I am expecting a good meeting.  I am expecting to learn things, and walk away giving thanks to God for the things He is doing among Virginia Baptists.  See you in Richmond!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Resolution for 2015 BGAV Annual Meeting

I have submitted a resolution to the Resolutions Committee of the Baptist General Association of Virginia that addresses the subjects of homosexual behavior and the sanctity of marriage.  I am hoping that this resolution will receive consideration at the annual meeting of the BGAV to be held November 9-11 at Second Baptist Church in Richmond, VA.  In 1993 the BGAV passed a resolution on homosexual behavior that is representative of the Bible's clear teaching on the subject.  In 1998 the BGAV also passed a resolution on the sanctity of marriage that defines marriage as a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman.  My resolution is intended to be a reaffirmation of the BGAV's historic position on these important issues.

The cultural climate in America has changed very much over the last 20 years.  Homosexual unions are now recognized as marriage in all 50 states.  The president has shifted his views on the subject.  Public opinion in America seems to support giving homosexual couples the ability to have their unions solemnized as marriage by the government.  Baptist ethicist David Gushee has shifted his opinion on homosexuality, and undoubtedly many others who claim the name of Christ and the denominational identifier of "Baptist" have as well.  In fact, within our own BGAV, I read a sermon where one pastor endorsed homosexual relationships without explicitly giving his support and the support of the church.  He said that he did not know if he would perform a homosexual marriage in the future.  Part of it would depend on whether the deacons of the church would give their approval to his participation.

In fact, during the floor discussion that took place regarding Ginter Park at the 2012 meeting of the BGAV, one person contended that the BGAV's official position was 20 years old and should be reconsidered.  I agree that the position should be reconsidered.  But it is my contention that it should be reconsidered with a reaffirmation of our historic position.  Passing the resolution I have written would be such a reaffirmation.

I am concerned that a failure by the BGAV to speak clearly on this important issue will cause great harm to our association of churches.  There are some who will argue that we should just agree to disagree on the sinfulness of homosexuality.  The problem is that if we have to agree to disagree about something on which the Bible speaks very clearly, I am not sure what we can agree on.  If we are going to cooperate together for the cause of the gospel, there has to be a certain level of theological agreement for that cooperation to work.  We have in the past decided that there are some theological issues not worth dividing over.  It is my contention that this issue does not fall in that category.  We must be clear about what sin is if we are going to point people to the salvation that is only found in the Lord Jesus Christ.

I have included my resolution below.  You can find links to the 1993 and 1998 resolutions above.

Resolution Reaffirming the 1993 Resolution on Homosexual Behavior and 1998 Resolution on the Sanctity of Marriage:

WHEREAS, the Baptist General Association of Virginia approved a resolution at its annual meeting in 1993 affirming the Bible's teaching on the sinfulness of homosexual behavior; and

WHEREAS, the Baptist General Association of Virginia also approved a resolution at its annual meeting in 1998 affirming the sanctity of marriage as a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman; and

WHEREAS, the cultural climate in our country has changed dramatically since that time as it relates to both homosexual behavior and the definition of marriage; and

WHEREAS, in October 2014 the Commonwealth of Virginia began recognizing same-sex marriage in response to a ruling by a federal judge that Virginia's marriage amendment is unconstitutional; and

WHEREAS, in June 2015 the United States Supreme Court ruled that the United States Constitution grants the right to same-sex marriage, and consequently all fifty states must now recognize same-sex marriage; and

WHEREAS, many state and national government leaders have applauded the Supreme Court's June 2015 decision; and

WHEREAS, various religious leaders—including many Baptists—have now spoken in favor of same-sex marriage, and have begun to officiate same-sex weddings; and

WHEREAS, the Bible's clear teaching on the sinfulness of homosexual behavior and the sanctity of marriage as a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman has not and will not change; and

WHEREAS, there is an increasing need for Christians to speak with moral clarity regarding the issues of our day; therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED that the messengers to the Baptist General Association of Virginia meeting in Richmond, Virginia, November 9–11, 2015, continue to affirm the Bible's clear teaching on the sinfulness of homosexual behavior and the sanctity of marriage as a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we continue to affirm both the 1993 resolution on homosexual behavior and the 1998 resolution on the sanctity of marriage.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Four Reasons why I'm Glad Brad Hoffmann is Running for BGAV President

The church I pastor, Drakes Branch Baptist Church, is affiliated with the Baptist General Association of Virginia.  The BGAV was instrumental in the initial formation of our church, and helped financially when the church first decided to hire a full-time pastor in the 50s.  The ties between our church and the BGAV are strong.  While not agreeing with everything that happens within the BGAV (Isn't that the case with any group you choose to be a part of?), I am thankful for the things God has done over the years through our association of churches.

For almost 20 years now, the election for president of the BGAV has been uncontested every year.  Since 2000, the first vice president from the previous year has been elected as president.  This year that will change.  Two candidates have been announced for the election for BGAV president that will take place on November 11 at Second Baptist Church in Richmond, VA.  The current first vice president who will be nominated for president is Nancy McDaniel.  She is the pastor of Rhoadesville Baptist Church in Rhoadesville, VA.  The other candidate will be Brad Hoffmann who is the pastor of Cool Spring Baptist Church in Mechanicsville, VA.

I do not know him personally, but I am thankful that Pastor Hoffmann will be running.  I have been able to use the internet to find out some information about him and the church he pastors since I learned of his candidacy.  I will be in Richmond to vote, and I want to give you four reasons why I am glad that Brad Hoffmann is running for BGAV president.

1. Someone had to do it.

The pattern of electing the current first vice president to the presidency year after year without opposition needs to be broken.  I have no issue in theory with candidates running unopposed.  I have no issue in theory with the first vice president being elected as president the following year.  But we should not just assume that the current first vice president is the best person for the job.  There has not been a contested officer election in recent years.  If I jumped out ahead of everyone with a nomination of Pastor Billy Bob for first vice president one year, should we just assume that he should be elected unopposed and become president the following year despite the fact that he can't spell BGAV?  Of course not!

We should not feel as if we are breaking some unwritten rule by nominating a qualified candidate for an officer position within the BGAV.  I had been saying for a while that I wished someone else would run for president.  Apparently Pastor Hoffmann felt the same way.  I am glad he chose to stick his neck out there and run.

2. There are churches with in the BGAV who oppose the election of Nancy McDaniel.

I was at the annual meeting last year in Hampton when McDaniel was elected first vice president.  She ran unopposed so there was no other candidate to vote for.  When the moderator held the vote for first vice president, he gave the opportunity for messengers to vote for McDaniel.  He then gave the opportunity for messengers to vote in opposition to her election.  I am no expert on parliamentary procedure, but that seemed very strange to me and was likely a mistake by the moderator.  Regardless of whether they should have been given that opportunity, several messengers voiced their opposition to McDaniel's election as first vice president when the vote was held.

My position is that if you oppose the election of someone who is running unopposed, you should either keep your mouth shut or run against them yourself.  Since I wasn't running, I kept my mouth shut.  I would have done the same thing this time if McDaniel were running unopposed again.  I am glad that Pastor Hoffmann is running because now I won't have to be silent during the election for BGAV president.

3. Pastor Hoffmann's SBC connections are strong.

I am concerned by what I perceive to be an ever widening gap between the BGAV and the SBC.  Many churches within the BGAV are no longer connected to the SBC.  They either give a token amount to the SBC and its offerings, or they give nothing at all.  Many have strongly aligned themselves with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which continues to move further and further from traditional Christian beliefs.  We need a president who will strengthen our state connections with the mission sending entities of the Southern Baptist Convention.

According to the BGAV's 2014 Annual Report of Church Contributions, Cool Spring Baptist Church gave $105,908.43 to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.  They also gave $16,514.43 to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.  Surely those numbers come from a large congregation of 1,150 in regular attendance on Sunday mornings, but they are still impressive because the LMCO offering amount is an average of over $90 per regular attender.  Cool Spring Baptist Church is to be commended for their generous giving.  And I am thankful for their strong commitment to the SBC.

4. The BGAV needs a proven leader.

These are critical times in the Baptist General Association of Virginia.  Various factors—from financial difficulties to theological differences—threaten to undermine our cooperative work.  The executive board recently announced that they are proposing a budget for the coming year that is being cut from $11.5 million to $10.5 million.  There is no positive way to spin that news, except to say that it is good that they have reduced the budget to match expected receipts.  Being forced to decrease the budget almost 10% is a major blow to the BGAV.  It is a trend that cannot continue indefinitely.

I am also concerned that the SCOTUS decision in June will highlight theological differences that exist within our association of churches, as some churches will undoubtedly choose to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies and receive homosexual couples as members and leaders in the church.  It is being argued in some circles that this is an issue on which we need to be able to agree to disagree.  If we have to agree to disagree on whether something is sin that the Bible clearly defines as sin, what can we agree on?  I have submitted a resolution to the BGAV's Resolution Committee that tackles this issue head on.  I will be posting more about that in the coming days.

Brad Hoffmann has proven himself to be a capable leader in the churches he has pastored in the past and in his current church.  I believe that he will be a bridge builder when possible, but also will stand for what is right when necessary.  I say all of this to say that I am thankful for Brad Hoffmann and his willingness to run for BGAV president.  If you are a Virginia Baptist, I hope you will strongly consider him as a candidate for this important office.

You can read more about Pastor Hoffmann's decision to run here, here, and here.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Word Concerning Friday's SCOTUS Decision

On Friday the Supreme Court handed down an edict declaring that all 50 states must now recognize so-called same-sex marriage as marriage.  

The reality is that in many ways nothing has changed:

1.  Marriage is still the one flesh union of one man and one woman as established by God in Genesis 2:24.  Nothing else has ever been marriage.  Nothing else is marriage now.  And nothing else will be marriage in the days to come.

2.  Sexual perversion still exists today just as it did on Thursday before the ruling, and as it always has.  You do not have to read very far in the book of Genesis to discover that there is nothing new under the sun.

3.  The sovereign God of the universe is still on His throne.  He has always been on His throne, and He will always be on His throne.  He did not take a break on Friday and come back to discover what had happened while He was out.  He is not out of control.  Though the culture all around us may feel like sinking sand, we can stand firm on Christ the solid rock.

4.  The gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is still for all kinds of sinners who would repent of their sin and place their faith in Jesus.  This is the message we must carry forth.  We must be clear about what sin is.  And we must be clear about what grace is.  None of that has changed.  May we continue forth as ministers of reconciliation, calling people to be reconciled to God in a world that is broken in many ways, including but not limited to sexual brokenness.

While there are many ways in which nothing has changed, there is much that has changed:

Make no mistake.  Friday's expected decision was a big deal.

1.  It means that the laws of our land now contribute to the confusion experienced by so many who feel attracted to people of the same sex.  Those five justices who represented the majority in this decision have blood on their hands.  The President celebrated (complete with rainbow lights on the White House) a decision that will lead people further down the path that leads only to destruction.

2.  It means that religious liberty is and will be in jeopardy in the days to come.  We have seen it already with a few individuals who have chosen to stand on their convictions rather than bowing to the new sexual orthodoxy.  I don't mean to sound like an alarmist.  I am not concerned that someone is going to bust open our doors today and prevent me from speaking the truth of God's Word.  I am concerned that there will come a day when churches and religious institutions begin to lose their tax exempt status for standing firm on God's Word.  I am concerned that many of you will be forced to make difficult decisions in the workplace about whether you will stand firm in what you believe and refuse to do certain things that violate your conscience.

3.  It means that the wrath of God is upon this nation.  I do not mean that God's wrath is going to fall because of this decision, though certainly it may.  I mean that it has already fallen with this decision.  Romans 1 is very clear that one of the ways God pours out His judgment and wrath is by turning people over to their own desires.  America has been turned over to her own desires.  A radical shift has taken place in public opinion over the last 10 years.  America got exactly what she wanted on Friday.  Those five justices did not find a right to so-called same-sex marriage in the constitution.  They found a desire for it among the people of this country.  And they ruled with the people.

As your pastor I commit to helping us think through these things in the days ahead as we navigate the rough waters in front of us.  But now I want to pray and ask God's help for all of us.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Let's Recover BIBLICAL (i.e. Congregational) Church Discipline

Church discipline has made its way into the news recently as a result of a situation at The Village Church in Dallas, Texas.  I first became aware of the situation there as a result of some watchdog blogs picking up the story.  It began to spread like wildfire on social media.  Then Sunday I opened up my computer to discover that the front page of Yahoo had picked up the story.  I was grieved as I read the way the Bible's teaching on church discipline was misrepresented to paint the Christian church in the worst possible light.

It is not my intention in this post to address the situation at The Village Church.  The details as reported by the media are certainly concerning.  But it would be wrong headed of me to presume that I know all the facts.  Even if I did have all the facts, I do not pastor The Village Church.  Let's pray for this church as they seek to honor the Lord in this very difficult situation, whether self-inflicted or not.

I never heard anything about church discipline growing up in church.  I do not recall ever hearing a sermon on Matthew 18 or 1 Corinthians 5.  I do not mean that as an indictment on the churches I attended or the pastors who served those churches.  There has been a renewed interest in church discipline in recent years that simply did not exist 15-20 years ago.  Because I wasn't there, I cannot speak as to whether there was teaching on church discipline taking place in the classroom when the generations who have preceded me attended seminary.

But church discipline is biblical.  It is not a new invention.  It is not something practiced only by the so-called "New Calvinists."  Jesus' instructions in Matthew 18 are very clear.  The church has been given the keys of the kingdom.  This means that the church must do the work of binding (membership) and loosing (discipline).  The Apostle Paul is very clear in 1 Corinthians 15 when he addresses a situation that was going on in the church at Corinth.  Paul told the Corinthian church to "Let him who has done this be removed from among you" (1 Cor. 5:2b).

My goal here is to point out that it is not simply a recovery of church discipline that we should desire, but a recovery of BIBLICAL (congregational) church discipline.  We do not need to recover a means of removing people from the church.  We need to recover loving confrontation of sin in an effort to restore our wayward brothers and sisters in Christ.  It may be that through this process we discover that a wayward member is likely not truly a believer.  Then, and only then, do we move to the final step of church discipline.

There is much that could be said about biblical church discipline.  I could unpack the relevant passages of Scripture and lay out exactly what I believe the Bible teaches concerning church discipline.  But that would likely fill much more than a single blog post.  Here I want to highlight a very important, yet sometimes neglected, component of church discipline: the role of the congregation.

Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas, addressed this in a recent Baptist Press article.  Barber said that one way churches err in their discipline processes is by failing to include the entire congregation in votes to withdraw fellowship from individuals in sin who refuse to repent.  He went on to say that the process of church discipline outlined in Matthew 18:15-18 involves confronting a sinning church member individually, then confronting the person again with two or three witnesses if he or she refuses to repent.

Bingo!  Bart Barber hit the nail on the head.

Church discipline is not a group of elders confronting an individual and then deciding to remove the unrepentant person from the membership of the church.  No, church discipline begins with an individual Christian confronting another individual Christian with the hope of helping that brother or sister remove the speck from their eye, after having removed the log from his/her own eye.  After taking one or two others along to aid in clear communication and demonstrate the seriousness of the situation, if the sinning member still refuses to repent, Jesus says to tell it to the church.  While this necessarily involves the leaders of the church, it does not leave the matter in their hands alone.

Jesus made it very clear that the authority to discipline unrepentant professing believers belongs to the church.  Paul wrote his instructions in 1 Corinthians 5 to the entire church, not just the leaders of the Corinthian church.  But why is congregational involvement so essential to biblical church discipline?  Let me suggest five reasons.

1.       It is the way Jesus said church discipline is to be done.

This is by far the most important reason listed here.  This would be enough if none of the other reasons existed.  No other reason would be totally convincing without this one.  Dear pastor, you do not know better than Jesus.  I know that congregational church government sometimes feels cumbersome, but God has ordained it this way for a reason.  He knows better than we do.  Trust Him and do what He says.

2.       Church discipline starts with the congregation.

When many people think about church discipline, they think about removing people from the church.  This ought not be.  Rare should be the times when we reach the final step of church discipline where excommunication becomes unavoidable.  Church discipline begins in a very informal manner (Matt. 18:15).  It is so informal that we would never refer to it in such a formal way when actually doing it.  We would be more likely to use the language of the writer of Hebrews, "stirring one another up to love and good works."

Church discipline begins with one believer confronting another believer in his/her sin.  It doesn't begin when the leaders of the church are made aware of the situation.  It doesn't begin when the congregation is formally made aware of the situation.  And it certainly doesn't begin when the congregation votes to remove an unrepentant member.  It begins when one believer comes alongside another believer to help him/her grow in Christ.  This should be a regular occurrence in the life of the church.

So if you find yourself frustrated because your church doesn't practice church discipline, I wonder if you have opened yourself to loving rebuke by your fellow believers in the church.  I wonder if you are willing to go and lovingly confront those who have wandered into sin that they may repent and be reconciled to God because of Christ.  This is where church discipline begins: with individual members of the congregation.

3.       It will prevent you from being rash.

I can make a biblical argument for the first two reasons.  This one is of a more pragmatic nature.

You have been dealing with a situation where one of your members is caught in sin for what feels like an eternity.  You are ready to move on from steps one and two of church discipline.  You have spent time thinking, praying, and seeking the advice of others.  You are convinced that this is the right thing to do.  But then you think about the day you announce the situation to the church.  You realize that things aren't going to go well.  You know that the congregation is going to stop you dead in your tracks.  This should cause you to slow down.

Barber said in the Baptist Press article referenced earlier, "Having that congregational basis to [discipline] is helpful because my experience is that congregations are unwilling to extend church discipline sometimes when I'm willing to do it. So there's something of a mediating force in having to go to an entire congregation."

You may be right.  In a perfect world the congregation would see things as you do and willingly (but with sadness) remove the unrepentant member.  Well, scratch that.  In a perfect world there would be no need for church discipline.  But you get my point.  This reason for congregational involvement leads to the next one.

4.       God will graciously use it to prevent you from causing harm to His church.

Again, you may be right.  It really may be time to remove the unrepentant sinner from the fellowship of the church.  But the fact that you can't do it alone will prevent you from creating a situation where half of your people walk out because you removed someone that they didn't think should be removed.

Church discipline is for the good of the unrepentant sinner and the name of Christ, but it is also for the good of the church.  If proceeding with steps 3 and 4 of church discipline is going to cause irreparable harm to the church and your ministry there, God may sovereignly keep it from happening by the very fact that you need a congregational vote to proceed.  He is in charge like that.

In such a scenario, you can trust the sovereign God of the universe, and know that you have done all you can do on your own for the good of the unrepentant sinner and the name of Christ.  You can trust the Chief Shepherd to protect His flock.

5.       There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors.

I keep saying that you may be right.  But you know what?  You may be wrong.  Not only does congregational involvement in church discipline procedures involve the wisdom of your fellow leaders, it also involves the wisdom of your brothers and sisters in Christ who fill your pews and have been serving Jesus for a long time.  You do not have a monopoly on God's wisdom.  God speaks to all believers through His Word.  We can lean into that wisdom when we seek to do things as God has told us to do them and involve the congregation.

There are also varying perspectives among your congregation that may not necessarily be present among the leadership of your church.  This is particularly true regarding ladies.  Some of us men who are gung ho about speaking clearly based on the authority of God's Word in a given situation need the ladies in our midst to help us demonstrate love and compassion to those caught in sin.

The bottom line in all of this is that God has told us in His Word that church discipline is the work of church.  Pastors have a role to play in this.  Other church leaders have a role to play.  But it is the church that has been given the keys of the kingdom.  Those who shepherd God's church must exercise oversight, but they must do so not as those who domineer over the flock, but as examples and fellow sheep under the Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

National Day of Prayer

Every year Gene Hall and his team put together a National Day of Prayer event at Red Oak Excavating.  I had the privilege of speaking at this event this morning.  I am posting my manuscript for my speech below.

National Day of Prayer
May 7, 2015

            Have you had a good time this morning?  I count it a privilege to be a part of this event again this year.  Thank you to Gene Hall and others who are responsible for putting this wonderful event together.  It is a great blessing to gather with brothers and sisters in Christ in this free land to consider the importance of crying out to our God in prayer, and then to do just that.
I have been given the task this morning of pulling all of the speeches and prayers together in kind of a concluding fashion under the banner of the theme: Lord, Hear Our Cry!
Of course, as you have heard, the verse of Scripture associated with this theme comes from 1 Kings 8:28.
“Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day.”
This verse is found in the context of Solomon's prayer of dedication for the recently constructed temple.  If you are familiar with the story, you know that Solomon's father David desired to build a temple for the Lord.  This would be a place for the Lord to dwell.  There the people of God could have fellowship with their God.
            But it was not God's plan for David to build this temple.  Instead, He told David that his son would be the one who would build the temple.  God said to David, "Whereas it was in your heart to build a house for my name, you did well that it was in your heart.  Nevertheless, you shall not build the house, but your son who shall be born to you shall build the house for my name."
            And here in 1 Kings 8 we see the fulfillment of that promise that God made to David.  Solomon has overseen the building of a temple.  Now He is dedicating that temple to God.  In doing so, He cries out to God, "Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day."  Solomon's hope was in the fact that the God He worshiped hears the cries of His people.  That is certainly the source of our hope this morning as we unite under the theme of "Lord, Hear our Cry!"  God hears the cries of His people.
            Because of the fulfillment of God's promise, Solomon's heart was filled with worship to God.  Solomon prayed, "O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart."  He goes on later in the chapter, "Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised.  Not one word has failed of all his good promise which he spoke by Moses his servant."  Friends, this God that Solomon worshiped is our God.  He is still a covenant keeping God.  His promises never fail.
            Now, while there is a sense in which God's promise to David was fulfilled in his son Solomon, there is also a sense in which it was not fulfilled until many years later and is still being fulfilled.  As we turn to the New Testament in Matthew chapter 1, we see that Jesus the Messiah was a descendant of David.  This promise that a descendant of David would establish a place of worship for the one true God was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  In fact, we see Jesus refer to his own body as a temple during His time here on earth.  Also, we see Jesus establishing a people for God through His sinless life and death on our behalf.  And one day, we know that Jesus will return to establish a new heaven and a new earth where God will dwell with His people forever.
            But in the meantime, we are God's temple.  Those who have repented of their sin and placed their faith in Jesus, the people of God, are His temple.  The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit of God resides in all believers.  Thus we know, that just as God heard the cries of His people in 1 Kings 8, He hears the cries of His people today.  Romans 8 talks about the Spirit interceding to God on our behalf.  The writer of Hebrews talks about Jesus as the mediator between God and man.  We have access to God this morning, as we gather for this day of prayer, because of Jesus.
            The cultural situation in which we find ourselves is bleak.  All one needs to do to see this is turn on the news.  Often it feels as if the enemy is winning the battle.  We see rioting in the streets of Baltimore.  Buildings burned.  Police cars are smashed.  Gunshots are fired.  We see more injustice piled on top of injustice.
            Then just a short drive down I-95 our attention shifts to arguments before the Supreme Court of the United States about whether states should be forced to recognize something as marriage that cannot and never will truly be marriage.  Confusion abounds as the truth of God is exchanged for a lie.  Rather than the worship of the Creator, we see men and women worshiping and serving the creature.
            And if you're paying attention, you know that the crowd screaming "tolerance" is the most intolerant of them all.  If you dare speak the truth of God and His Word to the culture, you better be prepared to face the consequences.  You may be ostracized and cast aside as a bigot.  While our nation was founded on the principle of religious freedom, that freedom is eroding before our very eyes.
            So where is our hope?  I truly think that perhaps the changing cultural tide in our nation is a good thing.  It doesn't feel good, but perhaps it will serve to set our minds on the author and perfecter of our faith.  For far too long we have placed our hope in the political process.  For far too long we have set our minds on the ballot box.  But the reality is that there is nothing our elected officials in Richmond or Washington can do to change the hearts of men and women.
            And friends, that is what we need more than new laws in Washington.  We need new hearts.  And this change must begin with you and me.  It must begin with the people of God.  We must fall on our knees first in repentance.  We repent of having trusted the political process more than we trusted God.  And we vow to live differently moving forward.  We vow to walk by faith, and not by sight.  We vow to be the instruments God uses to effect the change we desire to see.
            Our God is the same God who made His promise to David.  He is the same God who kept His promise in Solomon.  He is the same God who is keeping His promise even now in Jesus.  We carry with us, fellow believers, the greatest message in all the world.  It's the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who lived in perfect obedience to the Father.  The one who died to pay for the sin of all those who would repent of their sin and place their faith in Jesus.  The one who was raised on the third day.  The one who ascended into heaven and is right now seated at the right hand of the Father.  And He is the one who will one day return to establish His kingdom forever.  At that time, He will right all wrongs.  Friends, this is the only source of hope for us, and it is the only source of hope for this great nation.