Monthly Archives: May 2016

Why is the Churched Organized Like it is?

One of the things that has always confused me is why Baptists have organized their churches as they have. I have served in and been a part of several churches in my life, and asked multiple pastors over the years why the church is structured as it is, and instead of getting the answer “Because we have studied the Bible and this is what we believe it teaches,” I’ve heard things like: “Well, it’s not perfect, but it is what it is,” or “I’d love to make changes, but our church is too entrenched in its current system to change,” and even “I’m not sure why we are governed like we are.” None of these answers are acceptable to me. As a pastor, when asked why we do what we do, I always want to be able to genuinely say, “Because we have studied the Word of God, and this is what we believe it teaches.”

The Scripture is clear, there are two offices in the church: elders and deacons (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1). In nearly every instance where elders are mentioned in the Scripture, it’s always in the plural. From the Old Testament through the New Testament, the Scripture seems to be clear that shared leadership is God’s design. Yes, there always appears to be a leader emerge among equals as the spokesman (e.g. Moses, Peter, Timothy, Titus), but when it comes to burden and responsibilities of shepherding, there is equality in calling, qualifications, authority, and responsibility.

For nearly two years, I have studied the subject of church leadership/government with twenty men in our church. We studied the Scripture, read multiple books/articles, looked at Baptist history, interviewed pastors and church leaders, prayed, and sought the Lord. The result of our work led to the creation of a twenty-six page booklet that we have called, Rediscovering Church Leadership: A Biblical and Historical Overview. What we discovered is that a plurality of pastoral leadership is biblical, Baptist, and ultimately best for the church. A definition we have grown to love and embrace is that:

A biblical, New Testament church is ruled by Jesus Christ, governed by the congregation, led by a plurality of elders, and served by a plurality of deacons. 

Lord willing, we are seeking to make this transition at FBC Newcastle. Fortunately I serve a church that has a high view of Scripture and truly cares about doing what God has said…so, thus far, our people have responded with great maturity and wisdom (you know Baptists don’t like change :-)). We are going very slow in this transition process though and will walk through this unified, and the result, I pray, is one that will bring great glory to God and allow us to better shepherd all the people God brings to us.

Below is a link to our booklet and a sermon I recently preached. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

BOOKLET LINK:
https://s3.amazonaws.com/media.cloversites.com/31/316b8d1d-8b04-428c-bbe1-3ff2a39d5d0d/documents/FBCN_Elder_Book.pdf

SERMON LINK:
http://player.subsplash.com/41fcb81

When God Doesn’t Remove the Thorn

The Apostle Paul is largely known as the most influential Christian of all time. Next to the Lord Jesus Christ, no one has had greater impact on the Kingdom of God. Paul hated and was a persecutor of Christians early in his life, but was radically transformed by Jesus Christ, turning him into the one of the greatest Christ-followers the world has ever known. His life and testimony are incredible examples for all believers.

As impacting as the Apostle Paul was, he did not have an easy life. The Bible and church history tells us that he suffered greatly for his Lord, and ended up dying a horrific martyr’s death. One of the most incredible lessons we learn from Paul is how to be faithful in the midst of suffering. Paul was uniquely blessed by the Lord to receive divine revelation from God, but to keep Paul from becoming conceited and proud, the Lord gave him a “thorn in his flesh.” This was a figurative expression reflecting that God put something in Paul’s life that made him dependent on God for strength. 2 Corinthians 12:7 says, “…a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.”

There has been great speculation as to what this “thorn” was. Some have speculated that it may have been something physical, like trouble with his vision. Some have stated that it may have been a spiritual problem, or an emotional problem. Whatever the thorn was, it was extremely troublesome to Paul. It was such a problem to him that the Scripture says, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.” But, the Apostle Paul’s answer from the Lord was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” In other words, God was not going to remove the thorn, but would teach Paul how to trust Him with the thorn.

As I have reflected on Paul’s circumstances, I have learned much from his situation. So often, God does not remove hard things in our lives, but chooses to leave them, in order for us to truly trust Him. Here are three principles necessary for living when God doesn’t remove the thorns in our lives.

First, God’s grace gives endurance, but we must rely on Him!

Much of the Christian life comes down to sheer endurance. God often likes to test us before He uses us. As I heard a preacher say one time, “God never uses anyone mightily that He doesn’t test thoroughly.” Paul was being tested. His situation was not about having faith in God to remove the thorn, but having faith in God, even if He didn’t remove the thorn. God may not always remove the trials in our lives, but He will give us what we need to endure them. We simply must rely on Him. 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “My grace is sufficient, for My power is perfected in weakness.” God may test us, but He never leaves us empty handed. As the above Scripture says, “His grace is sufficient.” If you want to be used by God, which is the desire of every true Christian, prepare to be tested. God wants us to rely on Him and fully trust in Him, even if things do not go how we want or plan. But, we must always remember James 1:12, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” Christians may suffer in this life, but as we endure and rely on the Lord, one day it will all be worth it.

Second, God’s power gives strength, but we must yield to Him!

Jesus said to Paul, “…My power is perfected in weakness.” God’s grace is sufficient for us, but His power is also available to us. God does not just provide what we need to endure, but also what we need to overcome. It is in our weakness that God’s strength is made strong. This is why Paul was able to say, “…I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” There is a certain freedom when a Christian realizes they have no power in themselves. But, a Christian must then yield to the Lord in order to have the necessary power to overcome the trials in their life. James, the half brother of Jesus said, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” God’s power is greater than anything we will ever face, and all He asks us to do is yield to Him. When we boast in our weaknesses, His power rests on us and works through us!

Third, God’s presence gives peace, but we must glory in Him!

Paul says that he endures what he endures for the sake of Christ. His ultimate desire was to glorify God. He even went so far to say that he boasts in his weaknesses so that Christ might get the glory through his life. Paul took no pleasure in the pain itself, but rejoiced and received peace knowing that God received glory through his suffering. God loves to display His glory and strength through our weakness, because it is then that He gets immense glory, the glory He alone deserves. We must learn and remember that it is not the absence of problems that brings peace, but rather, the presence of God. When God doesn’t remove the thorns in our lives, He still provides Himself in the midst of our pain, and He is enough.

As Christians, we must rely on Him, yield to Him, and glory in Him. Then we will have the endurance, strength, and peace we desperately need when God doesn’t remove the thorns in our lives!

The Blessing of Suffering

A word that everyone likes to hear is the word blessing. In fact, I do not know of anyone who does not like to be blessed in some way. Christians especially love to use the word blessing. I often hear things like, “I am so blessed,” “What a blessing,” or “God has really blessed me.” While all of these things might be true, I often wonder if we misuse and misunderstand what it really means to be blessed.

For many, blessing is often associated with receiving something that benefits them. Generally, people associate the blessing of God in their lives with certain answers to prayer, or specific provision in their life. People will pray for things such as a job, the birth of a healthy child, or for their cancer not to return, and when those things happen, they declare, “God is good. He has blessed me.” I would contend that in those instances, God is good and He has blessed you, but is getting what we want, or what we pray for on this earth, the truest definition of what it means to be blessed? I think there is a deeper meaning and understanding to the blessing and goodness of God.

Think of it from this perspective: the next time you pray for something, or ask God for something, and it does not happen the way you prayed, what will you declare? When you do not get the job, when your child is not born healthy, or when your cancer returns, will you declare that God is good and that He has blessed you? It is not often that people declare with great boldness and joy the blessing and goodness of God in their suffering or trial. We say things and sing things like “God is good all the time and all the time God is good,” but when things do not go like we want or expect, we are not quick to make such a declaration. Could it be there is actually blessing in suffering? Could it be that we discover the goodness of God in a much deeper way in the midst of suffering instead of in spite of it? I think the answer is yes! The Bible teaches that suffering is indeed a blessing from God.

1 Peter 1:6-7 says, “In this rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” There is an invaluable blessing, which is gained through our trials. One blessing gained is that our faith is tried and proved. As C.H. Spurgeon said, “The way to try whether a ship is well built is, not merely to order the surveyor to examine her, but to send her to sea: a storm will be the best test of her staunchness.” It is one of the great mercies of God to have your salvation proved to you under trial. Trials prove the genuineness of our faith, and as we remain true to God under trial, we can be sure that our relationship with Him is not mere profession, but real consecration.

Christians in every age of time have always seen the blessing of suffering. They knew that when they suffered for Christ, they were in a way becoming like Him. The early Christians are recorded as being arrested and beaten for their boldness in preaching the Gospel, and after they were beaten, the Bible says they went home praising God because they “counted it an honor” to suffer for their Lord. The Apostle Paul declared that he wanted to know Christ through the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings. The Apostle Peter said that we should not be surprised by trials, but should welcome them with joy, knowing that as we share in Christ’s suffering on earth, we will also share in His glory in Heaven. These, and countless others, saw suffering as blessing. They knew they were not storing up treasure on earth, but rather treasure in heaven. They had the right perspective and knew the deeper meaning of blessing.

As you think about the blessings in your life, do you only count the things you can see? Do you measure your blessings based on the things that benefit you? I am convinced that it is time we start seeing suffering as a blessing. It is time we show the world that real faith is not trusting God when He gives you what you want, but trusting Him even when He doesn’t. There is tremendous blessing in suffering, for when we suffer, we discover the goodness of God and genuineness of our faith. Rejoice in those realities!

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