We’ve Never Done It This Way Before

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“We’ve never done it this way before.” The old joke is that these words are ostensibly Baptistic and are the usual evidence of an impending church decline. It is true that refusal to change our methods while the culture around us constantly shifts is a sure death sentence for the church; the message of the gospel never changes, while our methods of delivering and embodying it do. Change is hard. There is something characteristically human about refusing change in favor of the comfortable or the familiar. But the nature of the church’s mission demands that we are ever ready to step into new territory, embracing necessary, biblical change for the glory of God and for the sake of the gospel.

The Israelites faced a similar dilemma under Joshua’s leadership. As they prepared to break camp and cross the Jordan River, God’s instruction was to allow the Levites to lead the way carrying the ark of the covenant:

“After three days the officers went through the camp and commanded the people: ‘When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God carried by the Levitical priests you are to break camp and follow it. But keep a distance of about a thousand yards between yourselves and the ark. Don’t go near it, so that you can see the way to go, for you haven’t traveled this way before.’ Joshua told the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, because the Lord will do wonders among you tomorrow.'” (Joshua 3:2-5, CSB)

“You haven’t traveled this way before.” Those words may have caused a church split in some of our contemporary congregations. But not in the Israelite camp. They trusted the Lord’s leadership and stepped into the waters of the Jordan River with faithful expectation that God would deliver on His word. They were not disappointed.

Pastor or church leader, here are a few important, applicable things to learn from this text:

  1. New does not always mean bad. Several times in Scripture, God indicated that He was doing something new: a new song in Isaiah 42:10, a new name in Isaiah 62:2, a new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31, a new heart and a new spirit in Ezekiel 11:19, a new commandment in John 13:34, a new creature in 2 Corinthians 5:17, a new Jerusalem in Revelation 21:2, and all things new in verse 5. I wonder how many times we miss what God is doing in us and around us simply because we associate new with bad. Can you imagine the painful disappointment on the scene, should the Israelites have responded to God, “No thanks, God. We’ll stay on this side of the Jordan because this is what’s familiar. We’re comfortable here.” God said, “You haven’t traveled this way before” (v.4). But what was ahead of them was infinitely more glorious than anything behind them.
  2. Wherever He leads us, God goes before us. The Israelites, at this point, had a concrete historical example of this truth from the pillars of cloud and fire which went ahead of their fathers (Exodus 13:21). Here in Joshua Chapter 3, God’s presence is again going before them as the Ark of the Covenant leads the way into uncharted territory. Whatever is new – ahead of you as a congregation – if you embrace it with faith and step into it from a heart of obedient surrender to God’s will, you’ll not find yourself alone there. God Himself has cut the path ahead and He will be with you every step of the way.
  3. Don’t get ahead of God. Necessary change is good, but often effective, biblical change takes time. The instructions were for the Israelites to keep a distance of about a thousand yards between them and the ark: “Don’t go near it, so that you can see the way to go,” (v.4). Substantive change in the church needs to be approached with care, always keeping our eyes on the Lord. Here’s some advice: if you see change ahead but you can’t see God in it, don’t go there. Or at least slow down a bit. Wait for God to give vision and clarity for the road ahead. Here’s the deal… wherever you go, the destination is not the prize; God’s presence is the prize. Church, if you can’t see God in it, slow down. Wait for God to give vision and clarity. Don’t get ahead of God.
  4. Before stepping out into the unknown, get spiritually prepared. “Consecrate yourselves,” said Joshua, “because the Lord will do wonders among you tomorrow,” (v.5). Sometimes we follow God’s lead in faith but we’re not spiritually prepared to receive what He has for us there. The church of Jesus should be stepping into every tomorrow with the expectation that “the Lord will do wonders among” us. So let’s be sure to stay prayed-up, cleansed from sin, and restored from unrighteousness (see 1 John 1:9). Don’t even think about following God into the unknown if you’re not spiritually prepared to meet with Him there.
  5. Don’t be so committed to yesterday that you miss what God has for you tomorrow. “The Lord will do wonders among you tomorrow,” Joshua reported. But while the guiding presence of the Lord was evident in the Ark’s procession, it wasn’t exactly like the pillar of cloud or smoke they knew only a generation before. And while the waters of the Jordan River stacked up for them to cross, it wasn’t exactly like the parting of the Red Sea. In fact, even Joshua himself, though being used powerfully by God, was unlike Moses in many ways. But that’s just the thing. Churches are often so committed to what God has done in their yesterdays that they completely miss Him in their tomorrows. Tomorrow will not look exactly like yesterday. The music will change. The architecture will change. The particular English translation of the biblical text with change. The outreach and in reach methods will change. No, you’ve never done it that way before. But that’s good… because God’s doing a new thing. If your expectation of tomorrow is that it will mirror the things of yesterday, you’ll never step into the Jordan River. And you’ll never step foot onto the promises that God has ahead of your church.

So, embrace the new things God’s doing in your church. New doesn’t always mean bad. God will never lead you where His presence does not go before you. Make sure you don’t get ahead of God. Be spiritually prepared, expecting every day for God to do a fresh, new work. And don’t be so committed to how God has worked in the past that you miss what He’s up to in the present and what He’s leading you toward in the future.

Grace and Peace,
Tony

Preaching: From God & Before God

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“For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To some we are an aroma of death but to others, an aroma of life leading to life. Who is adequate for these things? For we do not market the word of God for profit like so many. On the contrary, we speak with sincerity in Christ, as from God and before God.” (2 Corinthians 2:15-17, CSB)

Pastor, the weekly privilege of preaching God’s word to God’s flock is no small task. Some would say it is the most significant, most valuable thing you do every week. After hours of studying the text and praying for the Holy Spirit’s discernment, wisdom and anointing, God gives you the awesome responsibility of representing him and re-presenting his word before a group of people who have gathered to meet with him and to hear from him (not with you or from you). The message of Christ is a matter of “life” and “death”, writes Paul; the gravity of the Sunday morning hour should be an occasion for sincerity and awe.

“Who is adequate for these things?” asks the apostle, rhetorically. “No one” is the appropriate response. Apart from the calling of God in Jesus Christ, not one of us is educated enough, dynamic enough, faithful enough, or eloquent enough to represent God and re-present his word every week. Apart from Christ, the preacher brings absolutely nothing to the table. There is no room for boasting or pridefulness in the pulpit. The gravity of our weekly task would completely devastate us, apart from the call of the Father, the redemption of Christ Jesus and the anointing of the Spirit.

“Profit” is a dangerous motive for preaching God’s word. If the question is “what might I gain from preaching today?” you have failed before you have begun. What is it you hope to gain from preaching? Money? Acclaim? Admiration? Experience? The preacher is only prepared to stand in the pulpit when he seeks no such earthly reward. Our only gain is found in our humbled obedience to God. In the words of Richard Baxter, 17th Century preacher, we must walk off the stage each week able to say with integrity: “I preached… as a dying man to dying men.”

In verse 17, the apostle offers a single guiding thought that may do us all good as we prepare and preach every week: “as from God and before God.” Is this message a message from God? Am I preaching it today, as if God himself is in the room watching and listening? Biblical preaching is not biblical preaching if the message is not from God and before God. Preach the word, trusting the Holy Spirit to do the work of conviction in listening hearts. Deliver every word with sincerity, knowing that the Author of your message is in the room, listening intently as you deliver his message to his people.

When Paul meditates on the gravity of his preaching task, he comes to the conclusion that on our own, none of us are “adequate for these things.” But you can stand in the pulpit every week in humbled, impassioned obedience to God when the message you have prepared is “from God” and is being delivered as “before God”.

Grace and Peace
Tony

 

The SBC/SBTC Movement

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Having the privilege of visiting with many Southern Baptist pastors and churches has given me a renewed encouragement and sense of kingdom-expectation within our denomination. For too long Southern Baptist churches have carried the stigma of being “stuck in their ways” with regard to church life. But there is a fresh wind within the SBC, stirring pastors and churches who still hold to biblical inherency and solid Baptist doctrine, but are experiencing a new season in the movement of gospel initiative. As it turns out God is still on His throne, the gospel of Jesus Christ is still the only path to salvation, and the Bible, in its 66 Books, is still inerrant and infallible. The Southern Baptist Convention is a denomination who understands that the church can hold firmly to these things while widely varying its methods of church life together.

The Southern Baptist denomination is replete with healthy diversity: diversity in ethnicity, church polity, outreach methodology, discipleship methodology, worship style, and the list goes on. There is no single ‘face’ of our denomination; the faces of Southern Baptist life are as varied as the geographic and generational landscapes we navigate. Part of this fresh, new wind is an understanding that there is such beauty in diversity: it carries with it a “Look Like Heaven (SBTC)” kind of approach to church life together. But not just in ethnic diversity – in worship style, too! Any given Sunday, you can walk into a Southern Baptist church somewhere that emphasizes old hymns, contemporary songs, hip-hop and rap Christian worship, yee-haw backbeat TX singin’, or soulful gospel music. And the methods of discipleship are as varied as the methods of worship style. Some SBC churches employ a traditional Sunday School model, some Home Groups, some Cell Groups, some one-on-one mentorship programs, and more. Every SBC/SBTC church decides for herself what methods and styles help her to be most successful in Great Commission advance.

The beauty of it all is that these extremely diverse Jesus-centered, Bible-believing churches join hands together under the banner of cooperation as defined by the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. The Bible alone is our creed, and the BFM 2000 is a common confession of our core, guiding doctrines. As it turns out, this Christian denomination which gets such a bad wrap for division and controversy actually exhibits an unparalleled unity in our biblical convictions and our Great Commission initiative. When 46,000 Southern Baptist churches give faithfully to God’s kingdom work through the Cooperative Program, tens of thousands of missionaries, church plants, church revitalization efforts, and seminary students are effectively funded with one guiding purpose in mind: that the gospel of Jesus Christ would reach the ends of the earth.

The Southern Baptist Convention is experiencing a fresh, new movement in this generation. It’s a Jesus-centered, Bible-believing, heavenward-looking, gates-of-Hell-shaking, forward-reaching movement. We’re moving forward together, lifting high the name of Jesus, pushing back the darkness of Hell, and heralding the light of the gospel to all nations. I’m honored to be a part of a denomination that is experiencing forward momentum for the cause of Christ.

If I were a young pastor wanting to lead my church to partner with a gospel-centered movement for the glory of God, I’d do everything I could to catch the wind blowing through the Southern Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention right now. I’d refuse to get lost in things I’ve heard about or experienced within the SBC in ages past, and I’d look to how God is using this denomination so powerfully right now to accomplish His plan, unfolding throughout the ages. I’d long to catch the wind of the Holy Spirit breathing new life into their churches. I’d want to be a part of this movement.

The SBC is not a historical platform. We’re a Holy-Spirit filled, God-fearing, Bible-believing convention of like-minded churches locking arms together for Great Commission advance. We know who our enemy is, and we live daily in the victory we already have over him. We’re moving forward. Together. And I’ve got to say… we’ve got some serious momentum, and we would love for you to be part of the movement.

Click HERE to see how your TX church can lock arms with us and be a part of the movement.

For the Churches,
Tony

5 Reasons You Need to Go to Church

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Sporting events, recitals and performances, hunting seasons, sleepless nights, family problems, conflict with others in the church, bad hair days, too much rain, too much sunshine… If you’re looking for an excuse to not be regular in church attendance, you don’t have to look for long. The culture in which we live pulls each of us in a thousand different directions every weekend, vying for our time, resources, and energy. But let’s get to the point. If you are a born again believer in Jesus Christ, you need to go to church. And here are 5 reasons why:

1) To be an active part of the mission of God.

In Mt. 16:18, Jesus tells the disciples that He will build His church for His mission. Later, in Mt. 28:18-20, He empowers His church for that mission. God is up to something in the world. He is advancing His kingdom through the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This gospel will reach the ends of the earth (Mt. 24:14), whether you are part of that movement or not. God’s mission is that every person lost in sin and scarred by its ravaging effects would hear the good news of salvation, then be given the opportunity to receive that salvation through repentance from sin and faith in Jesus. “What is God’s plan for this global gospel initiative?” you ask. The answer: the local church. That’s right. God’s created and chosen vehicle for worldwide gospel propagation is the local church. And if you are a born again believer in Jesus, He has invited you to be a part of His gospel movement, pushing back the darkness and heralding the light of Christ all over the world through the work and witness of the local church. Through your faithful attendance, sacrificial financial giving, and active service within the Body of Christ (the local church), you are being an active part of the mission of God. You are joining the movement of gospel advance.

2)  To develop contextualized spiritual wisdom and understanding.

In the local church, you have the weekly opportunity to sit under the Spirit-filled preaching of God’s Word and to participate in the interactive teaching of God’s Word in small groups. Christ has chosen and set apart some to be teachers, preachers, and evangelists who are divinely charged and enabled to equip you for the mission of God (Eph. 4:11-12). If you are not regularly positioning yourself under the preaching and teaching of God’s Word in a local church body, you are depriving yourself of being equipped for the mission. In 1 Thess 3:10, Paul told the Thessalonian church that he was praying to see them “face to face” so that he could “complete what is lacking” in their faith. In order to grow up in their faith under the teaching of God’s Word, they didn’t need another internet sermon or social media quick-shot Bible verse. Paul was praying for the opportunity to see them “face to face.” He wanted to brush shoulders with the people he was leading. He wanted to do life with them. Sermons and teaching series within a local church body are timely and contextual. When you hear a sermon on the internet or television, keep in mind that sermon was developed and delivered to a certain group of people in a certain context at a certain time in their life together. If it was a biblical, Christ-centered sermon it still carries value as such, but it is deprived of the contextual elements of church life together. However, if you are regularly positioning yourself under the Spirit-filled, Christ-centered preaching and teaching of God’s Word in a local church, the spiritual wisdom and understanding that you are gaining is being contextualized to your geographic area and to the timely issues of your own day. You need this.

3) To participate in corporate worship of King Jesus.

Yes, you can worship God on your own. But no, it’s just not the same. Scripture is replete with teaching on the value of corporate worship gatherings. When we lift up our voices together in song, prayer, and Scripture reading, it is a powerful thing. In Acts Chapter 4, the believers all “raised their voices together to God and said…” (v.24). The result of this corporate prayer was that “the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak God’s message with boldness” (v.31). Even in Heaven, there is and will be untold power in the joining of the saints’ voices: “they sang a new song…” and “they said with a loud voice…” (Rev. 5:9, 12). In Luke Chapter 19, The religious better-than-you’s instructed Jesus to stop His followers from worshipping Him. He responded that if they did not corporately do so, the stones would cry out! Psalm 19 teaches us that the heavens and the skies proclaim the glory of the King. When we gather together in corporate worship, we may be singing new songs but they are all part of an old song which has been sung since the foundation of the world. Through participation in corporate worship within the local church body, we have the great privilege of joining in with all of creation to declare the greatness, goodness, glory, and grace of King Jesus. But if you don’t go to church, well, you’ll miss out.

4) To live in biblical community.

Believe it or not, the word “fellowship” in the Bible is not a synonym for “potluck.” Fellowship happens as a group of people become more and more united in a common identity, with a common mission born from a common motivation.  It happens when God’s people begin to understand that we don’t attend Outskirts Baptist Church; we are Outskirts Baptist Church. Fellowship was something to which the early church “devoted themselves” (Acts 2:42). The believers were not in a constant consumer-driven, church-shopping state of mind, ready to move on to the next greatest thing. They were devoted. When things were good, they celebrated together. When things were difficult, they dug in and shared a common commitment to each other. This fellowship was unique in their cultural context. It was different – a good different. So much so that they were “enjoying favor with all the people”; as a result, “every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Listen, 21st Century American Christian… you don’t just need to go to a local church; you need to be the local church. Learn to live in biblical community. Learn to give up your preferences and desires so that the unity of the church body and advancement of the gospel will be gloriously peculiar in your day, as it was in the day of the early church. Serve and be served. Do life together with the believers in your local church body. Be committed. Be devoted. This is what it looks like to live in biblical community.

5)  To live in obedience to God. 

This is where God plays the “because I said so” card. Even if you don’t completely understand why being actively devoted to your local church body is valuable, if you are going to live in obedience to God’s Word you must regularly attend a Bible-beleiving, Christ-centered local church. In Hebrews 10:24-25 we read, “And let us watch out for one another to provide love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” Not attending church regularly can become a habit very quickly. The culture in which you live pulls you in a thousand different directions every weekend. Your options are endless. But God’s Word is clear that Christians are to make regular church attendance a priority. Even if you don’t understand why, the biblical instruction is to trust God’s will and live in obedience. Christian, if you are in the habit of not attending church, it’s time for a new normal.

Grace and Peace,
Tony

I Believe in Christian Teens

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I believe that from within the church God is raising up an army of counter-cultural warriors for the faith. I believe that this generation of born again believers will be sold-out for Christ, not bending their intellect to the whims of cultural godlessness, but unreservedly living out a faith that is firmly grounded in biblical Christianity.

I believe that this coming generation of Christ followers will speak boldly where we have kept silent. I believe that their speech will be seasoned with salt, but unabashedly truthful in witness to the authority, inerrancy, and reliability of God’s Word. Their mouths will not only sing praises to God, but will actively tell future generations of the Gospel-grace of God that is found through repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ.

I believe their conduct will bear living testimony to the joy of doing life God’s way. They will walk worthy of their calling in Christ. They will put to death the cravings of the flesh, and bring to life those actions that are congruous with the holiness of God to which they have been redeemed. Their lifestyles will model the message of Christ that their lips proclaim.

I believe they will love people – all people – like we have failed to love them. Their self-sacrificing, Christlike love will not be bound either by old stereotypes or by current events. This love of theirs, fresh and deep, will be living proof of their loving God.

I believe this new generation of Christians will return to biblical purity – sexually, mentally, and relationally. I believe the curse of sinful sexual temptation, having spiraled out of control in recent generations, will be obliterated as they crawl out of the salacious cultural bed we have made for them, preferring instead to honor the marriage bed as holy unto God.

I believe in Christian Teens.

“Don’t let anyone despise your youth, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12, CSB)

Grace and Peace,
Tony