Tuesday, June 30, 2009

ENCOURAGE

One joy and privilege the Lord has given me as a Christian and pastor is the opportunity to lead small groups. Right now, my wife and I have the honor of hosting a young marrieds small group of about seven couples from the church. It's been a rich blessing to gather with them twice a month, read good Christian books together, and encourage one another in our marriages.

Currently we're reading Paul Tripp's excellent book War of Words. I can't commend this searching and helpful book enough. Every meeting is a time of confession, repentance and gospel hope as we think about what it means to be ambassadors of Christ and to have our Lord determine our speech agenda.

Last night we consider a chapter on confrontation. It was good chapter from start to finish, as Tripp unpacked the challenge of our indwelling sin, an unbelieving heart, and the challenge of lovingly confronting others with the goal of helping people see and accept God's view of themselves. In the chapter, Tripp provided an a model of biblical confrontation using the word "Encourage" as an acrostic. It's long, but it's a helpful way to think through the sometimes unpleasant task of talking with others about difficult issues.

Examine your heart. Confrontation always begins with you. Because we all struggle with indwelling sin, we must begin with ourselves. We must be sure that we have dealt with our anger, impatience, self-righteousness, and bitterness. When we start with our own confession, we are in a much better place to lead another to confess.

Note your calling. Remember that confrontation is not based on your opinion of the person. You are there as an ambassador and your job is to faithfully represent the message of the King. In other words, your goal is to help people see and accept God's view of them.

Check your attitude. When you speak, are your words spoken in kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, forbearance, compassion, and love? Failure to do this will hinder God-honoring, change-producing confrontation. We need to examine both our message and our attitude as we speak.

Own your own faults. It is vital to enter moments of confrontation with a humble recognition of who we really are. As we admit our own need for the Lord's forgiveness, we are able to be patient and forgiving with the one to whom God has called us to minister.

Use words wisely. Effective communication demands preparation, particularly of our words. We need to ask God to help us use words that carry his message, not get in the way of it.

Reflect on Scripture. The content of confrontation is always the Bible. It guides what we say and how we say it. We should enter moments of confrontation with a specific understanding of what Scripture says about the issues at hand. This means more than citing proof texts; it means understanding how the themes, principles, perspectives, and commands of Scripture shape the way we think about the issues before us.

Always be prepared to listen. The best, most effective confrontation is interactive. We need to give the person an opportunity to talk, since we cannot look into his heart or read his mind. We need to welcome his questions and look for signs that he is seeing the things he needs to see. We need to listen for true confession and the commitment to specific acts of repentance. As we listen, we will learn where we are in the confrontation process.

Grant time for a response. We must give the Holy Spirit time to work. There is nothing in Scripture that promises that if we do our confrontation work well, the person will confess and repent in one sitting. Rather, the Bible teaches us that change is usually a process. We need to model the same patience God has granted us. This patience does not compromise God's work of change, but flows out of a commitment to it.

Encourage the person with the gospel. It is the awesome grace of God, his boundless love, and his ever-present help that give us a reason to turn from our sin. Scripture says that it is the kindness of God that leads people to repentance (Rom. 2:4). The truths of the gospel--both its challenge and its comfort--must color our confrontation.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Audio from the New Life Conference

This year's theme was "Spreading the Gospel," expositions from the Book of Acts. Audio is here. As is the case every year, the fellowship was rich and refreshing.

The conference talks included:

A Kingdom Mandate (Acts 1)
Thabiti Anyabwile

The...Holy Spirit (Acts 2)
Anthony Carter

Exclusivity of Jesus(Acts 4)
Hensworth Jonas

Purity in the Church (Acts 5)
Thabiti Anyabwile

...Church Planting (Acts 13)
Anthony Carter

The Blessings of Opposition (Acts 16:19-40)
Hensworth Jonas

This year, Sis. Evelina Thomas joined us and blessed us in song. Here's a sample, "There Is A Fountain Filled with Blood," a song that stunningly enough she had never sang before. Enjoy!



Next year's theme is "None Better Than Christ: The Supremacy of Christ in the Book of Hebrews". Carter, Jonas and myself will be returning, Lord willing, along with our dear brother Redditt Andrews, Pastor of Soaring Oaks Prebyterian Church in Elk Grove, California.

Don't miss next year! Make this one of the spiritual investments you make in your life and church!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Vacation Gems

Last Friday, the family and I set off for a two week vacation. We'll be spending the bulk of our time with my mom and family in N.C. We'll head up to the Chicago area for the New Life conference, which should be a fabulous time in the Book of Acts, but otherwise we're enjoying the hometown pace and people we love.

But already, I've learned a lot about life and family on this vacation.

First, when you're not looking, all your nieces and nephews and great-nieces and nephews grow up really fast and really big! Don't blink! And don't stop praying for them.

Second, your 2.5 year old son experiences culture shock over the most interesting things. Turns out, Titus is afraid of squirrels. Having never seen the cute critters, he's convinced they're out to get him. Apparently, sitting on your haunches and nibbing nuts with large front teeth constitutes an attack position. So for literally 4 hours yesterday, he paced around the house peeping out of my mother's windows and doors wondering every seven minutes where the squirrel had gone and if it was coming back to get him. Poor lad.

Meanwhile, his adult aunts and uncles all confessed their fear of iguanas, something Titus would likely pet but they've never seen and are convinced must be related to flesh-eating dragons! I guess "menacing creature" depends on where you were born and grew up.


Third, amazingly enough, Titus heard his first train today. He has plenty to play with, and loves all kinds of locomotion and automobiles, but we hadn't realized that he had actually never heard one before. He stops mid-stride, ears perked, and asks my wife, "Mommy... is that a train?" Priceless. We're planning a trip to some of the many railroad tracks that criss-cross my hometown. It'll be fun. The most amazing things to children cost nothing but time. A couple months ago while visiting with a friend from Trinidad, he shared with me a wonderful picture/history book on trains in the Caribbean. Will be looking for a copy of that for Tito.

Fourth, hadn't realized this either: but the boy had never seen a bridge. There's no need for them in Cayman. So for as long as he's been old enough to comment on the world from his car seat, he's never observed and noted an overpass. Driving up I-85 from the Charlotte airport, about a dozen times he called from the back seat, "Hey... we went under that thing." About the third time we realized Titus had discovered bridges. Because of the blessing of living in Cayman, he knows far more about airplanes and boats than most 2.5 year olds, but major road improvements leave him a little awestruck.

Fifth, I was really startled to read a couple of newspapers in the area and see the proliferation of word of faith churches in the area. When I left, I could count them on one hand. Now, they either take up the entire section of church announcements or the word-faith "flavor" infuses everything.

Sixth, the only sad spot in the vacation so far... the Lakers won the NBA finals. But there won't be any Laker fans in heaven, so it's all good.

It's vacation. I'm sleeping a lot and visiting with family. Blogging while be light with the exception of a few notes like these and perhaps digging out some old posts for re-thinking and perhaps your comments.

Grace and peace.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Declaration of Dependence

A friend sent this to me. It's written by a fellow named Skip Moen:

I believe that God is the sovereign ruler of all creation.

I believe that God is a God of order, not confusion or chaos.

I believe that God is compassionate beyond measure, faithful to a fault, merciful and forgiving.

I believe that I am lost and hopelessly ruined without His daily intervention and interaction in my life.

I believe that the systems of this world lie within the power of the evil one who unfailingly pursues the destruction of all of God’s creation, including me.

I believe that reliance on human effort, human thinking and human willpower aligns me with the systems of this world and places me within the power of the evil one.

I believe that my own experience confirms my total inability to rescue myself from destructive choices.

I believe that I am addicted to my own agendas, mood-altering behaviors and self-sufficiency.

I believe that Yeshua died on the cross to redeem me from the power of sin that would otherwise dominate and control my life.

I believe that Yeshua alone can set me free from this slavery to self and systems.

I believe that Yeshua calls me to a baptism of death in order to destroy self-sufficiency and system-addict thinking.

I believe that until I surrender completely to His will and lordship, I will falter in every attempt to live a life pleasing to God.

I believe that discipleship is the invitation to become a voluntary slave to the will of Yeshua and the plan of the Father.

I believe that God desires my devotion to Him above all else and He will tax the farthest star and the last grain of sand in order to help me express that devotion.

I believe that obedience is more valuable than knowledge.

I believe that the will of the Father is manifest in the midst of suffering, affliction and hardship because these are the principles of kingdom redemptive work.

I believe that God provides for His children, lifts them from affliction, grants them peace and joy and prepares them for purposes beyond this life.

I believe that God’s path of righteousness is clear to those who are led by the Spirit and trust in His Word found in Holy Scripture.

I believe that I must live by every word from the mouth of God, eschewing all temptations to rely on my own understanding, efforts and abilities.

I believe that I am called to emulate Yeshua, accept his path, identify with his suffering and experience the power of his resurrection.

I believe that God is trustworthy regardless of all my circumstances and that He will not fail to bring about what is best for me.

I believe that others should see Yeshua in the conduct of my life.

To this end, I declare today a commitment to act only under the direction of my Lord and God, leaving behind any consideration of the world’s measures of success and any attempts to determine my own agendas for life. I realize and acknowledge that this commitment will require my total dependence on moment-to-moment interaction with my Lord. Today and henceforth, I am a slave of Yeshua the Messiah.

Signed _____________________ Date ____________________

Friday, June 05, 2009

And the Swine Flu, Too!

In pastoral ministry, you get exposed to a little bit of everything.

We learned yesterday that one of the students in our elementary school has been diagnosed with a case of H1N1 virus, otherwise known as swine flu. It's the first reported case in the Cayman Islands. We're taking all the precautions necessary, quarantine for some, closing the school, extensive disinfection of the classrooms and building, etc.

Things appear to be under control. The young man, who apparently contracted the virus while on a family trip to New York , is doing well and recovering at home with family.

It's been great to see how the health officials have responded with promptness and effectively. Now we pray, and ask you to join us in praying, that the flu does not spread but is contained.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

May We Meet in the Heavenly World

I want to give thanks and praise to God for the many, many things He has allowed me to do in life and ministry. Giving thanks and praise should be a life-time long post unto itself, but here I just want to thank Him for the privilege of working with Reformation Heritage Books on their Profiles in Reformed Spirituality series. It was a joy to contribute a volume on the piety of Lemuel Haynes. The book is called May We Meet in the Heavenly World, and today only RHB is offering a 50% pre-publication discount on the volume.



John Saillant, author of what I think is the most significant Haynes biography to date, Black Puritan, Black Republican, offered a kind endorsement:


“This well chosen selection from Lemuel Haynes’s writings represents a significant part of the earliest African-American engagements with the Reformed theological tradition. In that tradition Haynes and his black contemporaries, both American and British, found a language of justice and inspiration that allowed them to criticize slavery and racial prejudice, and to offer a Christian vision of a free society. “May We Meet in the Heavenly World” can be recommended to students of Christian theology and of American history.”

My brother Tony Carter wrote the forward. Many thanks, bro, for your faithful labors and encouragement.

Apart from a short biography considering some shaping influences on Haynes' piety and thought, the remainder is Haynes himself. Every since I read that first sampling of Haynes' ordination and funeral sermons, which are included in The Faithful Preacher, I've been impacted by his consistent heavenly-mindedness and view of meeting Christ in the world to come. The promise of eternity seemed to inform everything he wrote. I want to live like that. And I pray May We Meet in the Heavenly World helps me and you live that way as well.

Many thanks to the entire RHB family, especially Jay Collier for his tireless editing and project managing labors, for the joy and privilege of working on this volume.

I love no one on earth more than my wife of nearly 20 years, Kristie, whose constant example and exhortation is "serve the Lord with gladness." Thank you, babe. I see you in my eyes.

And most of all, thanks be to God who saved us by the blood of His Son and prepares a place for us in the heavenly world. Psalm 73:25-26.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Gospel and Peacemaking Women, 2

Kristie and continued our study of The Peacemaking Church Women's Study: Living the Gospel in Relationships with session 2 last night. This is the second in eight lessons, and it picks up where the first left off--with the gospel.

Specifically, Tara examines "The Gap between What I Believe and How I Live." I appreciated this study on many levels.

First, I love women's material that doesn't shy away from sound theological categories. I'm not a woman (surprise!), but I can identify with women like my wife who wearied to no end with the significant number of "women's books" and studies that aim to be "devotional" with no theological heart. The amount of sentimental, pietistic, touchy-feely stories masquerading as Bible teaching is just plain staggering. So, I'm thankful for material I can recommend to women, material that does not shy away from good biblical truth.

Second, I appreciated the particular theological categories introduced in this session. Session one began with the entire plan of redemptive history, from eternity past to eternity future. Session two introduced the categories of confessional theology and practical theology as a way of describing what we claim to believe (confessional) and what we actually practice (practical).

The main application Tara drew from these category distinctions is that our main sin is fundamentally unbelief. That's our continuing besetting sin: unbelief. So the Christian life is a life of constantly confessing, repenting, and trusting.

Third, I appreciated the meditation on Eph. 1:5, pointing out that God saves us because He is happy to do so. He does it for the pleasure of His own will. He is pleased to save, happy to save. How often do we--in our practical theology--think of the gospel and God's rescue as a 'plan B' or as something God grudgingly does to help folks who can't seem to get it right? Or, we think of God's gift of salvation as something He is forced to do because He is good, but we're left with the nagging suspicion that if He had his druthers, He'd leave us out. Tara's exploration of this wrong thinking which hinders so much of our living was really very helpful.

As was "The Cross Chart." I can't replicate it here (graphic design skills are too limited--non-existent actually). But, trust me, it was helpful. The longer we live the more aware of God's holiness and our sinfulness we become, the bigger does the cross loom in our view of life. Taking our eyes off sin and depravity and grace leads to legalism. Taking our eyes off of God's holiness and the cross leads to licentiousness.

Finally, Tara introduces the "already/not yet" of the Christian life and the truths of justification and sanctification. Really helpful practical application.

Perhaps the best measure of this session was the continuing discussion Kristie and I enjoyed. It's one thing to answer the study questions following the video, which we did. It's an entirely different thing to take up half our morning walk with more reflection on our hearts and lives following the video's teaching. Which we also did.

We've watched two sessions thus far, and thus far they've gone from strength to strength.

I'll close this post with a quote Tara included in the workbook and Hebrews 10:14 which figured prominently in the session.

"Are you too bad to receive grace? Grace woos and comforts us when we think we are too far gone to be rescued. How could you be too bad to receive what is for the bad?" --David Powlison

"By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy." --Heb. 10:14

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Gospel and Peacemaking Women

Last night, my wonderful bride of 18 years and I began watching and discussing Tara Barthel's study, The Peacemaking Church Women's Study: Living the Gospel in Relationships. I first mentioned this study here. And I've been looking forward to extending the number of gospel-centered resource materials available to the church.

The study includes eight sessions and draws upon the book Peacemaking Women: Biblical Hope for Resolving Conflict, co-authored by Tara Barthel and Judy Dabler.

Session 1: What It Means to Live the Gospel
Session 2: The Gap between What I Believe and How I Live
Session 3: My Real Problem Is...
Session 4: Real Hope for Lasting Change
Session 5: A Biblical Response to Conflict
Session 6: Repenting and Confronting
Session 7: Forgiveness and Mercy
Session 8: Relationships that Show the World Jesus

The hope for the study is expressed well on the back cover of one of the study booklets for the study. It's a resource aimed at all Christian women, but especially those who "are tired of women's studies that are either so shallow that they never dig deep into Scripture... or studies that give you so many rules and to-do's that you leave feeling weighed down...." The study aims to help women "see how the Gospel is your hope in all of life, particularly in your relationships."

True to the aim of the study, the first three sessions are all looks at the Gospel from various perspectives. Session 1 begins by thinking of the gospel as "the entire redemptive finished work of God" from eternity past to eternity future.

Barthel helpfully avoids diving into "practical applications" in order to focus on God's work in Christ. I loved this line: "Any false religion could give you a list of ten things to do." Instead, she calls us to "let our minds rest on the gospel." The first session includes rather transparent personal testimony from Tara which helpfully illustrates how wrong thinking about God's character and work leads to imprisoning legalistic attitudes. Understanding the doctrines of sin and grace in Christ set us free to enjoy meaningful relationships. "In general, we give grace to others to the extent we are daily experiencing grace ourselves."

The workbook for the study is a helpful combination of main teaching points from the video session, a paragraph summary of the session, three questions for group discussion, several questions for personal study and reflection, and a list of recommended resources for in-depth study.

My wife and I enjoyed the group discussion questions. It was a fruitful time of recalling God's work of grace in our lives and of thinking about the assumptions at work in our relationship with the Lord. All in all, a great start to what we trust will be a great study.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Peep This

A new look at GirlTalk, but the same solid fellowship and reflections.


Recent Rejoicing

The past few weeks have been filled with the Lord's goodness. I feel like the Lord has indulged us in rich and surprising ways.

Each of the last two Sundays we've celebrated baptism with two new Christians. There is the young lady from a Hindu background who grew up trying to blend Christianity and Hinduism. Fencing the table at a communion service awakened her and she saw her need to follow Christ alone. There are the two persons from Cayman who grew up in a house church movement, and both, in their own ways, sought solace and refuge in themselves. The Lord has brought them to Himself through the reading and preaching of the word. And there is the young woman from Honduras, terrified during a turbulent fright and made to admit that if the plane should crash she would not be ready to meet her Maker. She began to listen to the word preached with eternal interest, and the Lord has given her eternal life. Sweet times of testimony. These have overcome the Accuser "by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony" and I pray "the [would] not love their lives so much as to shrink from death" (Rev. 12:11).

There is the congregation-wide elation that comes from having paid off the church's remaining debt. It's been over a decade and over $6 million C.I. (about $7.2 million U.S.), about 3-4 campaigns and drives to eliminate the debt, a lot of prayer, a lot of pennies and bills, a lot of God's providential blessings, and now we're a debt free church! Praise the Lord! And I trust we're only just beginning to realize the many freedoms that come with being debt-free.

The public praises of the people has been rich beyond compare. We're rejoicing before the Lord in music and song with such sweetness and zeal. Could hardly preach a couple weeks back after a wonderful medley arranged by our pastor of worship.

This past weekend a dear sister had her membership removed from this church and joined the perfect church in glory. She was known for her joy and her exuberant praise for the Lord. it was a surprise to us all, a sober and yet sweet reminder of how fleeting this life is and how preciously is the life to come with our Christ and King. Yesterday was almost a memorial service as we sang so many songs that would have had our sister Debbi singing with arms outstretched and face beaming. Now her face beams in the glow of her Master who loves her best. "I long to be where the praise is never ending" was her theme and our song yesterday. We were reminded of such sweet hope amidst the suffering and surprising losses of this life. And, I think, many of us longed more for glory yesterday.

And how sweet it is when brothers dwell together in unity. We've experienced now a long season of unity in the congregation. Relationships are good and deepening. Communication and trust are flowing well in so many directions. Membership is meaningful, warm, friendly, and joyful. In our new members' class last weekend, several of the folks mentioned that the witness of the congregation in its friendly, eager hospitality overwhelmed them when they came. Amen! Our hearts and our bodies are increasingly in the same place, and our hearts increasingly open to others.

We've seen the Lord's healing mercies and power in the lives of several saints. There is the ready reception of the word as we focus on parenting in Proverbs 1-9. There are the constant emails of encouragement shared between so many. Better attendance at our Sunday evening service and members' meetings of late. Really great times hanging out with couples from the church and hospitality at home.

The Lord has been incredibly kind to us, indulging us in His love, and leading us by His Spirit and word. What an indescribable joy it is to pastor these sweet saints called First Baptist Church.

Praying you know the joys of being with God's people in your local assembly.
Grace and peace in Him whose blood has made us new and holy.