A Question For You

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I have a question for you, “Who are you discipling?” How hard do you have to think about that? Would anyone say you are discipling them, mentoring them, or investing in them?

Probably no question will cut more quickly to the reality of your success or failure in life and ministry than this simple question. Jesus’ final words, “Go make disciples of all nations,” were not an option—this is what we are to be doing. While there are many gospel implications, there is one very clear command. We were, in the words of Dawson Trotman, “born to reproduce.”

Granted, there are a lot of good things Christians do these days; preaching, teaching, writing, leading, organizing, giving, etc., but at the end of the day, who are they discipling? The same question that we ask the average Christian needs to be asked of the professional clergy—pastor, evangelist, seminary professor.

Think back on your own experience. Who impacted your life? How did they do that? Books, sermons, programs, and college lectures all have their place, but nothing changes the world more quickly than investing in others “one life at a time.” That’s what Jesus did.

“Who are you discipling?”

The Courage to Lead Through…An Example

Courage to Lead

The words have come back to me so many times, “Do the right thing, keep a right spirit, and leave the results to God.” I am not sure if I ever heard these words expressed or if I just formed the thoughts over time. They did, however, come from somewhere. They came from the men and women who impacted my life along the way—through their teaching, but most of all through their living. One of those men was Robert D. Crowley.

My father was in and out of the Washington, D.C. area during his military career, and when we were there, we attended the Montrose Baptist Church in Rockville, MD. As a young boy I still remember the larger than life presence of Pastor Crowley, his strong preaching, and a church that was growing by leaps and bounds. He baptized me when I was nine. He would stop by our home on Saturday mornings and take me with him up to Summit Lake Camp in Emmitsburg, MD, where he would let me help the men with construction projects, mow the grass, and take care of the horses. I ended up working at Summit Lake for seven consecutive summers and realize now, more than ever, how much of my life was shaped by being around my pastor.

Bob CrawleyPastor Crowley was a Southern Baptist and Montrose was a Southern Baptist Church. That really didn’t mean much to me at the time, for all I knew was that I was part of a very healthy and vibrant church—there was no negativity. We were multi-cultural, had strong teaching and preaching, and were evangelizing our community. I also remember how many of the adults would take particular interest in the young people. I still remember their names— think it was because they remembered mine.

Toward the end of my high school years my father was transferred to Rhode Island. I really didn’t want to go to a place I’d never been, so I followed some friends at camp to a fundamentalist university in the south. It was my first real exposure to the south and my first real exposure to fundamentalism and separatism. I would spend the next seven years of my life there and God would do many great things, including preparing me for ministry. I am very thankful for that experience. One of the decisions I made early on in my freshman year was to leave my Southern Baptist Church and the Southern Baptist Convention because of the liberalism that had crept into most of its seminaries.

When I left Montrose Baptist Church in 1975, I would not speak to my pastor again for twenty years. I knew I had hurt and disappointed him. Interestingly enough though, I had gone on to plant a church in Colorado and had patterned the entire ministry right after what I had watched at Montrose and in the life of Pastor Crowley. I had in many ways become just like him. In 1995 Pastor Crowley would retire from the pastorate and turn his attention to Summit Lake Camp and Middle Creek Bible Conference. Just before this took place, I reconnected with my friend Ken Coley. Ken is a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC and married to Kathy (Bob Crowley’s daughter). He encouraged me to reconnect with the Crowleys and to come to the retirement service. So, I did.

The retirement service was incredible. The church was packed and people had come from all over the country. Paige Patterson spoke, and so did Judge Pressler. I was asked to give a testimony. After the service, we went over to the Crowley’s home and we were able to share what had happened over the past twenty years. I had left Montrose and the SBC, become an independent Baptist, and planted a church in Colorado. Pastor Crowley had become a trustee at Southeastern and helped spearhead the resurgence from 1985-1995, something I was completely unaware of.

“He was at SEBTS during those tumultuous years when it was making the transition from a decidedly liberal institution to a conservative one that proclaimed the authority of the Bible,” said Kenneth Keathley, senior vice president of academic administration and dean of the faculty. “The school went through a tumultuous time when its theological future and very existence was unsure. There were a lot of things the board of trustees did, sacrifices they made, that had they not done them, Southeastern would not be what it is today.”

Southeastern’s current president, Daniel Akin, said he and Paige Patterson, who led the seminary from 1992-2003, have said “on many occasions that neither one of us would have served at Southeastern were it not for Bob Crowley. He is as responsible as any person for the miraculous theological turnaround of Southeastern Seminary.”

Pastor Crowley and I had travelled different paths and yet came to the same place. I “got out” because of my convictions. He “stayed in” and fought for his convictions. Who was right? Who was more courageous? Who was more of a “fundamentalist”? I feel no need to answer that. But, it was my joy to unite again, to have Pastor and Mrs. Crowley as our guests at Tri-City Baptist Church in Westminster, CO, and to have him preach for us. He was a hero to me. And, what I have found is that there are many others like him that stayed in and fought; Southern Baptists. Danny Akin, Al Mohler, Mark Dever, Dan Dumas, Ken Coley, etc. Good friends. Fellow laborers.

Men like Bob Crowley did not travel an easy path—for many of them endured cruel and harsh attacks through those years, by enemies and “friends.” They had their character assaulted, motives questioned, and abilities ridiculed, but, they never lost sight of what they were called to do, and they did not lose the joyful, steady resolve of following through in the will of God. I have seen men called “cowards” because they didn’t “stay in,” and others called “compromisers” because they didn’t “get out.” At the end of the day every man will have to do what he believes is right before God and be ready to give an account. The full story is yet to be told.

So, my challenge to the next generation; “Do the right thing, keep a right spirit, and leave the results to God.”

Other Books (Part 2 of Growing “Systematically”)

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In my last post I talked about how “other books” can be helpful to Christians in their process of spiritual growth. In particular, I pointed out Grudem’s Systematic Theology. But, what about books that are completely “secular” or written by non- Christian authors? Should we read them? Are they helpful? Can they help us grow?

One thing we have to recognize is that the Bible is unique literature. It is inspired of God, inerrant, infallible, and a pure means of grace (as is prayer and the the work of the Holy Spirit). It is fully reliable, authoritative, and sufficient (2 Timothy 3:17, 17; 2 Peter 1:21), and as the Reformers would say, “sola Scriptura” (scripture alone). There is no equal. But, this does not mean that God does not work His grace in our lives and cause us to grow through people, circumstances, or even other books—sacred or secular. It is just that all of these other works must be subordinate in our thinking to God’s Word.

All “other” literature is impacted by the fall of man. It is, and should be carefully scrutinized. I have heard people say, “I don’t agree with everything Grudem says.” My response is, “does anyone agree with everything you say?” Any earthly writing will require us to “eat the fish and spit out the bones.” The answer is not to censor all other works, but to grow in our biblical discernment, teach it, and practice it. There is a difference between developing a discerning spirit and developing a critical spirit. A discerning spirit will strengthen the church, a critical one will tear it apart.

In particular, pastor’s have also asked me about reading secular business and leadership books. I am thinking of books like Good to Great by Jim Collins and Peter Drucker’s classic, The Effective Executive. I have found many of these to be extremely helpful in the pastoral ministry. My admonition is to keep reading books—sacred and secular! Read them and interpret them through the lens of scripture, and grow!

Growing “Systematically”

Growing Systematically

There are many ways we grow in our Christian faith and one of the most significant ways we do this is through the thoughtful reading of good books—often beginning with the Scriptures. Not only are the Scriptures the very words of God, true and authoritative in every way, they go beyond giving us just an intellectual knowledge of God to bringing us into a relationship with Him through His Son. This work is supernatural and transformational. Because of this fact, many believers make an effort to read their Bibles daily. Few, however, expand beyond this to other Christian literature. Over the past two decades of ministry I have become more and more convinced that the study of other literature is an invaluable resource. In this post I want to talk about the benefits of studying “systematic theology.”

Systematic Theology - GrudemTo quote Wayne Grudem, “Systematic theology is any study that answers the question, ‘What does the whole Bible teach us today?’ about any given topic.” The reason it is so beneficial is that it helps us answer our questions by looking at the whole of scripture. So where should we start? In the past, I have somewhat hesitated to recommend some of the best volumes to the average reader because they can tend to be a bit heavy and academic. A number of years ago, however, I came upon Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology and was thrilled with what  I found. Not only has his work become a personal favorite of mine, it is what I recommend to every Christian—whether young or mature in the faith. I am reading it now again for the fourth time.

Here are a few of the reasons I recommend the book:

  1. Grudem is faithful to the text of Scripture and uses it to support his points.
  2. He uses language that is clear and understandable to the average person without giving up the richness of theological terms.
  3. He is practical. He brings the teaching to where we live and makes helpful application.
  4. He writes with both humility and conviction (a rare blend today).
  5. He informs his readers of the differing views. He does this with respect and not a condescending rhetoric.
  6. Each chapter ends with “Questions for Personal Application.” These are also helpful for group discussions.
  7. He has an expanded bibliography at the end of each chapter which can direct reading from different viewpoints (i.e.. Anglican, Arminian / Methodist,Baptist, Dispensational, Lutheran, Reformed / Presbyterian, Charismatic / Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, etc.
  8. He recommends verses to memorize at the end of each chapter.
  9. He also references a historic hymn at the end of each chapter (coinciding with the doctrine covered).

This is a reference book, but it is more than a reference book. It is the kind of work that you can read devotionally—a little each day if your prefer. A shorter version written by Grudem and his son, Elliot, can be used in group studies, Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know.

Either of these books will help you as you study God’s Word and explore’s its teaching. We love to live in the “practical,” but everything we do in life will find its way back to what we believe or don’t believe about God. Our view of God is the ground upon which we stand, the security in which we rest, and the future to which we hope.

Our “Small Group” to be Remembered

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Start them young. For most weeks over the past eight months we have met together at Starbucks—David Rudie, his son Beckham (the Beckman), and me. David and I would meet for discipleship and Beckham would pretend he was interested. He is such a great kid! This past week was our last time to meet together like this as David has taken the position of a full time youth pastor at the Topeka Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. For the past three and a half years David and Julie have poured their hearts, time, energy, and resources into the ministry here at Valley Community Church. They have significantly invested in the whole church—particularly the youth and young couples. While doing all this they have at the same time been working secular jobs and raising a family. We are so thankful for them  and for what they have contributed to our church family. While we are sad to see them leave, we are also happy for their new opportunity! So, we are praying that God will bless their future endeavors in Kansas as well as fill in the gaps here at our church in Colorado. Thank you, David, Julie, and Beckham. We love you and you will be greatly missed. We look forward to crossing paths many times in the future. Keep discipling at Starbucks! The great commission is fulfilled one life at a time.

Churches & Institutions in Decline

Why are so many many churches and institutions that were once thriving now in a rapid state of decline? There may be many reasons, but a significant part of the problem is what Jim Collins addresses in his book, How the Mighty Have Fallen; “When institutions fail to distinguish between current practices and the enduring principles of their success, and mistakenly fossilize around their practices, they’ve set themselves up for decline.”

For many church ministries and organizations, their enduring principles and convictions produced methods and practices that served as tools to accomplish mission in their present day. Over time the methods become sacred right along with the principles. The longer the methods go untouched  the harder they are to change, and the more quickly the decline.

Leaders need to step up to the plate and lead with:

  1. A clear vision to take timeless principles into a new day with effective methodologies.
  2. Wisdom to navigate from where they are to where they need to be.
  3. Boldness and courage to make the hard decisions and then to stay the course to completion.
  4. Grace in relationships along the way.

Join me in praying with and for the leaders of tomorrow. The needs and opportunities have never been greater!

Contemporary

Is it wrong to be contemporary? I don’t think so. Being in touch with people and in touch with your times is a good thing—Jesus was. Paul was. For some, being contemporary in our service for Christ means being contaminated—or “worldly.” I think Charles Spurgeon was another good example of a man who was current with his times but not contaminated by them.

“When 19-year-old Charles Spurgeon was called to the New Park Street Pulpit in 1854, London newspapers derided him as a brash upstart. Critics complained that his plainspoken, direct speaking style was too edgy—and dangerously innovative. A secular magazine referred to his colloquial speech as “slang.” A newspaper editorial categorized his preaching as “ginger-pop sermonizing.” One particularly harsh critic wrote:

‘He is nothing unless he is an actor—unless exhibiting that matchless impudence which is his great characteristic, indulging in coarse familiarity with holy things, declaiming in a ranting and colloquial style, strutting up and down the platform as though he were at the Surrey Theatre, and boasting of his own intimacy with Heaven with nauseating frequency. His fluency, self-possession, oratorical tricks, and daring utterances, seem to fascinate his less-thoughtful hearers, who love excitement more than devotion.’

During that first year, pundits regularly predicted an early end to Spurgeon’s ministry in London: “He is a nine days’ wonder—a comet that has suddenly shot across the religious atmosphere. He has gone up like a rocket, and ere long will come down like a stick.

Spurgeon’s critics were wrong, but they weren’t silent. They attacked him, slandered him, and fiercely opposed his ministry. They called his successes flukes and his failures proof of his character. What did Spurgeon do? He just kept preaching. He kept writing. He kept sharing the truth of Scripture as plainly and directly as he could for 40 years of faithful ministry.”    -Faithlife

Serving God in a Box

Serving God in a BoxWithout realizing it, we can build very nice boxes to live in and then function in ministry happily ever after. The box is safe. It protects our culture and way of life. It protects us from “worldliness”. But God didn’t put us in this world to live in a box. He created us to be salt and light in a dark and pagan society. Our box may be comfortable but it is irrelevant to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.

We should step back and take a look at what has happened to our homes, churches, and institutions over the past three or four decades. Our kids have grown up in boxes; sheltered homes, sheltered schools, sheltered colleges, and sheltered seminaries. When they attempt to enter the world, they are incapable of functioning outside the protective box – their “safe house”. And then we lose them. We lose them to repeat the same thing for their children – and often we lose them from Christianity altogether.

The need is to live and serve God “in the world” as salt and light.  Yes, it is possible to be current with our culture and not contaminated by it. Jesus did. He was a “friend of sinners” and still holy. How many “sinner friends” do you really have? Would sinners feel as comfortable coming into your home or into your church as they were in coming to Jesus? It’s something to think about.

Leading Without Presumption

leadingPrayer without planning presumes upon God. Planning without prayer presumes without God. As we look ahead it is not an “either or” proposition but one of  “both and.” Every venture in life for the Christian should begin with prayer and continue in prayer. But, we also need to plan. Planning is part of our stewardship and responsibility. In fact, we should do this better than anyone else because we have a higher calling and more compelling cause. Investigating, planning, organizing, and setting goals is not in place of prayer but rather fueled by prayer. It flows from a core conviction that is rooted in a desire for God’s glory and His will to be done. When God does answer prayer we are not surprised. In fact, we are already at the plow and ready for work. You can see this in action when you read Nehemiah 1-3. Pray and Plan. Then, expect great things from God!

Crying Out to God (thoughts from Exodus 14)

ebc1af26e4a5392d0e6c5abd313b2141Out of God’s great love for His children he miraculously leads them out of Egypt. Yet at their first resting place they find themselves hemmed in between the desert and the Red Sea. Then, to make matters worse, the whole Egyptian army is now bearing down on them! You can understand how they all start crying out in complaint to Moses and to God. Finding yourself “between a rock and a hard place” is not a pleasant place to be. What is God doing?

God is doing many things. But, the most important thing He is doing for His people at that Red Sea is revealing to them who He is. They will come to know Him by these overwhelming circumstances. And it is the same for you and me today. It is through difficulties, the most hopeless of circumstances, that God is teaching us about himself in ways that we will never comprehend by reading a book or sitting in a class. He sets the stage to demonstrate His glory and show you Himself. This is how you come to know Him – by experience. The cloud by day, the pillar of fire by night, the parting of the sea, the water from the rock, the bread from heaven; without the crisis we see no need and we have no reason to cry out to him. “And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of he Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.” Exodus 14:31.

God will keep hemming you in and putting you into impossible places. He is setting the stage to do something great once again. Yes, it is a test of your faith – that is the nature of the Christian life! The next time you find yourself wanting to cry out to God in complaint, start looking for what He is going to do. I can promise you – it will be great, it will be good, and you will come to know him in ways you have not known him before.

“Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” Exodus 15:11