5 Ways Community Groups Have Changed Our Church’s Culture

In the Fall of 2016, my church launched community groups. For us, community groups are multi-generational, home-based, sermon discussion small groups. We’ve been encouraged by the great participation from our church body, but now several months into these groups, I’m encouraged to observe how these groups are changing our church’s culture and equipping the saints. Here are a few anecdotal observations about the ways community groups have changed our culture at Forest Hills Baptist Church.

1. Community Groups Provides a Ripe Environment for Disciple Making

I’m convinced that programs don’t make disciples, people do. We’ve designed our community groups to be as bear-boned in their structure as possible. The intention was not to create another complicated program for people to follow, but to form an environment in which personal disciple making happens. By the grace of God, we are beginning to see such disciple making occur. Members are discussing their struggles and seeking encouragement for one another. Relationships have grown out of these community groups, nurturing a culture of personal disciple making.

2. Community Groups Have Increased Attention for the Sunday Morning Sermon

The climax of our worship each Sunday occurs when the Scriptures are opened, and we hear and respond to the word of God. Because these groups are sermon-discussion based, its encouraged community groups participants to listen carefully to the message. They listen to the pastor much more intensely and digest the material through copious note taking. Knowing that they will be gathering with their group that night to discuss and apply God’s word, the accountability of community forces them to engage with the sermon personally.

3. Community Groups Form Multi-Generational Relationships

Many churches struggle with an age chasm between generations. Many churches still structure their disciple making strategy around age-segregation. I’m convinced such practices are misguided, and can actually hinder Titus 2 type relationships from developing within your members. When all the older men and women are sequestered off from the younger members, how will such disciple making occur? We’ve sought to be intentional in forming community groups at the start with a multi-generational ethos. In the majority of our groups the 70-year old saint is meeting with the young mom with a brood of children. By bringing the old and young together, this has already begun to bring unity across generations.

4. Community Groups Stir Missional Fervor

Many of our community groups are beginning to think together how they can reach their neighbors for Christ. I’ve been encouraged by one group recently who has taken it upon themselves to provide meals for a neighbor who just welcomed a new baby into their home. Such outreach has begun to occur organically, without any prompting or prodding from the pastoral leadership. It turns out that as people live life together in community, they look for ways to share the Gospel and reach out to others.

5. Community Groups Have Provided a Pathway for New People to Get Connected

One of the greatest challenges as a pastor is helping people go from Sunday morning visitors to community participants. Community groups have provided an excellent first step in helping new people get connected to the life of our church. It provides a safe and non-threatening environment to built relationships with other members in our congregation. It also allows our members to utilize their gift of hospitality to open their homes to outsiders, something the New Testament very much calls us to do.

Life in Community

God has used community groups to bring spiritual growth in our church. As our people live together in community, dig into the Scriptures together, and care for one another, changed lives are the inevitable result. Though we are only a few months in, it’s encouraging to see the way Community Groups have begun to change the culture at Forest Hills Baptist Church. If your church offers something similar to community groups, I’d encourage you to get involved. After all, the Christian life cannot be lived in isolation, but we must habitually meet together, so that we can encourage one another as we wait for the day of the Lord to draw near.

If your a member of Forest Hills and your reading this, and your not in a community group, what are you waiting for? Sign up for one online at our website!

Jump Starting the Blog

If you are a frequent reader here, you will have noticed that there hasn’t been many posts recently. I’ve kept many a plate spinning these past six months and I had to let one drop. That plate happened to be the blog. By the grace of God the other plates remain in rotation. Yet, I hope to jump start this blog this week posting on a more frequent basis. My family and I just came back from a week of vacation and I’m feeling recharged and refreshed. My schedule slows down a bit over the summer, so I have a little more energy to devote to the blogosphere. I hope to have some new posts this week! Stay tuned!

A Brief Update on the Deeter Family

2015 was filled with God's blessing on the Deeter family. As I look back over the past year, I'm amazed at God's grace to us. For many of our friends and family, we keep up with one another online. So, I wanted to write a brief update on our family and share some ways you can best pray for the Deeter family for 2016.

Family

In 2015 we welcomed our second Child, Elizabeth (Ellie) Grace Deeter, into our home. Adding a second child proved to be both chaotic and wonderful all at the same time. The second child does go by faster, as she is now ten months old! Her feeble legs are close to walking, and she roams the floors looking for food to eat (She stays hungry!). She DSC_0405-2looks just like her mommy, and has mastered the word "Dada," much to Daddy's pleasure.

Jude will turn three in January. We are already planning his Captain America birthday party. He has morphed from a baby to a little boy this year. He is full of energy and full of love, a little boy with a sweet and tender heart. Jude loves going to church, playing with cars and trains, and annoying his sister. His speech development continues to progress as Kaitlyn and I are dumbfounded with where he picks up all these funny phrases (I guess he gets them from Mommy and Daddy.) Just the other day on Christmas morning he opened up a present and cried out "That's what I'm talking about !" He is full of life and fills our home with laughter and joy.

Kaitlyn faithfully fulfills her God given call of motherhood. We are blessed to have her stay home so she can fully devote herself to her motherly calling. The woman was born to be a mother. She loves and cares for our children well, and teaches them so much about God and his Word. Kaitlyn is the love of my life, and that love only deepens as I watch her sing "Jesus loves me" to my children at bed time. She stays busy with MOPS and with church life. She is preparing to teach a woman's Bible Study starting in 2016 on the book of Acts. Her evenings are normally filled with diligent studying.

We are also enjoying our new home. As of October 2015, we have lived in our home a full year. Our house continues to be a blessing and a tool for ministry. Though we have had a few challenges with repairs and such, homeownership has brought such joy.

Church

I continue to serve as the Senior Pastor at Forest Hills Baptist Church. The church has largely become our Wilson family, and with each day my love for these people deepen. As in any church, there are great joys and great frustrations, but God continues to be good to Forest Hills as we submit ourselves to his word. We are preparing in 2016 to celebrate 100 years of God's faithfulness as a church. At Forest Hills, I have a wonderful team of pastors and staff to help share the load of ministry. My co-laborers have become my very best friends. Everyday I get up and I look forward to serving the Lord and serving the people of Forest Hills.

PhD Studies

As many of you might know, I began my studies for my PhD at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, studying historical theology under the advisement of Dr. Nathan Finn. I just completed my first semester and I loved every minute of it. This semester has stretched me as thinker, writer, and theologian in ways I greatly needed. I've grown a great deal academically this year, and I've met some wonderful people along the way. The work is rigorous and time demanding, but God continues to be faithful to get me through.

Blogging

This year was sort of an off year with blogging. Since Ellie Grace's birth and starting the PhD program at SEBTS, blogging has largely taken a back seat. However, I plan to increase my efforts for 2016. Over December I've redesigned the blog and plan to post more regularly. Each week I plan to write one or two original posts on theology, the Christian life, or the church. Also each week I will continue the series Praying the Psalms. This is an expositional series through the psalter that I'm writing for Forest Hills for our Wednesday night prayer meetings. I also plan to have a recurring series on Friday called Reading for Your Weekend which will be a collection of my favorite links from the previous week.

I see this blog as an extension of my ministry. I pray that the musings and thoughts from this blog would serve you well, deepen your faith, and increase your joy in Christ. If you ever find anything I write helpful, you are welcome to share it with others.

Looking forward to 2016

Overall, I'm blown away by God's faithfulness in 2015 to my family, and I can't wait to see what he has in store for 2016. If you remember us in your prayers here are some ways you can pray for the Deeter family.

  • Pray for the health and growth of Jude and Ellie Grace, that they would grow in wisdom and in stature.
  • Pray for Kaitlyn as she manages our household and cares for two crazy preschoolers. Also pray for her as she teaches this Bible study through Acts.
  • Pray for me as I pastor Forest Hills. Pray for growth (both numerically and spiritually) and for steadfastness as we move into the future.
  • Pray for my studies at SEBTS, for both time management and mental dexterity.
  • Pray for this blog, that God might use it to bring glory to his name!

Two of My Favorite Christmas Albums

It is not Christmas without Christmas music. Music has a way of moving the soul and engaging the heart. As Christmas approaches, I've had these two albums on repeat. If you have yet to check them out, do so.

1. Behold The Lamb of God

cover170x170-1

The album Behold The Lamb of God by Andrew Peterson is one of his bests. It is a concept album revolving around the theme of Christ's incarnation. There are some amazing tracks on this album. A few of my favorite are So Long Moses and Labor of Love. Here is a sample via youtube.

 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZcG88bIbmW0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQZmni-oeg4

 

2. Prepare Him Room: Celebrating the Birth of Jesus in Song

cover170x170Prepare Him Room is a Christmas album put out by Sovereign Grace Music. Filled with new songs and creative reductions of old favorites it is worth a listen. Perhaps my favorite song on the album is an original called Who Would Have Dreamed.

 

 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Sqx8cDL8V8

 

Christ Over All: The Struggle of Ministry

http://www.foresthillsbaptist.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/R_20150125-110710.mp3  

Each Monday (Tuesday this week!) I’ll be putting up my sermon notes and audio file for the sermon series from Forest Hills Baptist Church “Christ Over All: A Study from Colossians”. This is an edited copy of my sermon notes, not a transcript of the sermon. You can listen to the sermon audio above or directly for at the church’s website

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.” (Colossians 1:24–2:5, ESV)

Have you ever worked a dead beat job? Reformation brought dignity to every human profession and endeavor. Luther overthrew the notion that clergy, monks, and nuns were engaged in holier work than the housewife and the shop keeper.

William Tyndall said, “There is difference between washing of dishes and preaching of the word of God; but as touching to please God; none at all.” They began to recognize the dignity of every human work from the garbage man to the neurosurgeon, From the McDonald’s employee to a Senator, From the grocer to a pastor, none of these positions where more sacred than another.

Though this is not a sermon about the dignity of all human work. However, what I want to set the stage for this morning is how this brought down the wall when it comes ministry. You see another doctrine that came alongside this collapse of the sacred/Secular divide was the priest hood of all believers.

What began to develop was the idea that every person is a minister. Sure there are those like myself that are especially set aside for ministry in the local church, but for the Puritans their aim was to integrate their daily work with their Religious devotion to God. Every Christian is a minister who does ministry.

Today we are going to see Paul talk about his struggles as a minister of the Gospel as an apostle. Yet, as we read this just don’t shut off your mind thinking he is talking only to pastors and missionaries. Rather, he has words here for all of us who are in Christ, because every Christian is a minister.

Paul rejoices in his sufferings as an apostle as he toils to proclaim Christ and to build up Jesus’ Church among the Gentiles. May we too rejoice in suffering to proclaim Christ to build up the Church.

1. The Posture of Our Ministry: Joyful Suffering

Americans tend to ignore or out right reject a key aspect of the Christian life: Suffering. Suffering doesn’t seem to fit into the way most of us think about Christianity. We don’t want to hear how Jesus tells us we will suffer if we follow him. That’s not the kind of Jesus we want to follow. So we create a Jesus that encourages us to have a comfortable life that includes lots of vacations and a big fat pay check and more stuff than we know what to do with.

So there are many churches and teachers that forsake the Bible’s teaching in order to scratch itching ears preaching a false Gospel of “health, wealth, and prosperity”. In a day and age where theological innovators are trying to market Christianity to Americans, a suffering savior and a suffering Christian life just doesn’t seem to sell very well. Yet, the Bible tells us that Christians are not to expect a life of ease, comfort, and worldly success, rather we are promised just the opposite.

To be a follower of Christ means that in differing ways we suffer for the cause of Christ. There is no one who lives this out better than the apostle Paul. In his task to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth he suffered greatly. In fact, as he writes this letter to the Colossians he is sitting in prison for proclaiming Jesus. Yet, for Paul suffering for Christ was joy! He tells us that he rejoices in his sufferings for the Colossians sake.

As we think about what it means to live and minister to others, suffering is part of the job description. We should not be surprised by trails and hardships, rather it is to be expected. Suffering is the norm of the Christian life. But Paul saw these sufferings not as something to be avoided, but something to rejoice over!

As Paul thinks about his suffering in advancing the Gospel and ministering to the nations, he tells the Colossians that in his suffering he is “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions”. What does he mean by this strange phrase?

Well we know that Paul is not saying that there is anything lacking in Christ’s work on the cross. Paul has already been teaching us in Colossians that our reconciliation and salvation is accomplished only by the blood of Jesus. In the sufferings of Christ we are given salvation by faith. So Paul isn’t saying he is trying to finish up Jesus’ job in paying the penalty for our sins. Its not like Jesus started the job, and now Paul has to come and finish it.

So what is Paul saying here? Paul isn’t adding to the work of Christ, but he is extending the work of Christ to the world. In other words, Christ through Paul is appealing to a lost and dying world to be reconciled through Jesus. So Paul is filling up what is lacking in Christ’s affliction by taking the Gospel to the lost. As he suffers in his missionary task, he does so following in the footsteps of his savior.

Paul’s understanding of his sufferings is tied to his union with Christ. In other words, by faith Paul is sharing in Christ’s life. His life is permanently grafted to the true vine. So Paul, being united to Christ by faith both share in the victory and afflictions of his savior. Just as Paul would experience resurrected victory that Christ achieved, so too does he suffer in Christ. His life is wedded to Jesus himself. So Paul is suffering in Christ to extend the work of Christ to the world.

So what does the Christian suffer for? Well the Bible does tell us that all who seek to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. In other words, Christians endure suffering simply by being hated by the world. That’s to be expected, but that’s not what Paul has in mind here. The reason he is experiencing these sufferings is for the sake of the Colossians. He is suffering in his labor to take the Gospel where it has yet to be heard. Once he became a Christian, his whole life was devoted to this ministry. As he sought to take the good news of Jesus to the gentile people across the Roman Empire, it was incredibly challenging. He is suffering so that the name of Jesus may advance.

We do so by sacrificing our own wants, preferences, and needs so the Gospel can spread. So the question for us this morning is this – how are you denying yourself so the Gospel can go forth? What sacrifice are you making so that the Gospel is proclaimed?

Not everyone is called to sacrifice in the same way, like Paul. Yet, there are those who are called by God to sacrifice much more significantly by uprooting their families and moving to a foreign country to proclaim Christ. There are some who are called to incredible financial generosity giving away just about all they have for Christ’s mission. There are some who are even called to give up their lives so the Gospel advances.

But it is a mistake to say, well suffering to spread the good news of Jesus is only for full-time missionaries. Although we are called to suffer in differing ways, every Christian is called to suffer in some capacity for the Gospel.

Sacrifice Financially

This involves prayerfully seeking God asking what we could give up for his name sake. This might mean an incredible financial sacrifice. Putting vacations and luxury purchases aside to fund Gospel ministry. Perhaps God might be calling you to live like John Wesley who willingly lived on a fixed income and gave anything more than that away. I think most recently of the late Rich Mullins who wrote the song “Our God is an awesome God”. He told his financial manager to take his money and only pay him a small salary and then to give the rest away. As a successful Christian musician he had no idea how much he actually made. He gave the rest away for Gospel advancement.

For those of us in America who are among the wealthiest in the history of the world, perhaps it means putting to death our love for stuff and seeking to reduce our standard of living so that we can increase our standard of giving.

And I’m not just talking about giving to FHBC. Though I hope you do and that you give generously. We are seeking to partner together pulling our financial resources to spread the name of Christ. So yes, give generously to FHBC because we are seeking to steward that money so the Gospel can advance. But there are other ways to be generous in addition to giving to your local church.

Sacrifice in Time

There are ministries and avenues of service that take a great deal of time to do. There are always areas of service we need in our church. Serving In children’s ministry. Serving in a local church can be a great sacrifice of time, especially leading an area of ministry. In fact, in some areas its like working a part-time job on a volunteer basis. Serving in ministry takes commitment, it means you have to commit and be reliable, sacrificing your own leisure time for Gospel ministry. It might mean saying no to other activities and trips so that you can be committed in serving and advance the Gospel. It might mean prioritizing Sunday and giving the day to the Lord for worship and devotion to him.

There are many other ways to sacrifice for the cause of Christ, but the key thing we must understand is that to be a Christian is to suffer in some capacity for the cause of Christ. The Christian willingly lays down his life so that others can here about Jesus. It is what he or she lives for! Yet, the sacrifices I just shared with you are rather small compared to our brothers and sisters across the world who suffer daily for Jesus. Paul is not complaining about his sufferings here. Rather he is rejoicing in them! It his joy to suffer in this way, why? Because Christ is his all consuming treasure and joy. Jesus is the reason why he exists, so to sacrifice for his greatest treasure really is no sacrifice at all.

To understand what genuine sacrifice looks like we almost have to get out of the country and outside of our Americanized Christianity. We largely tend to be unimpressed by the widow who out of her poverty gave all that she had (Lk 21:4). Most would call her foolish, but it is this sort of generosity and sacrifice that garnered the attention of our savior.

• Stanford Kelly illustrates this from a story from Haiti

The church was having a Thanksgiving festival and each Christian was invited to bring a love offering. One envelope from a Haitian man named Edmund held $13 cash. That amount was three months’ income for a workingman there. Kelly was as surprised as those counting a Sunday offering in the United States might be to get a $6,000 cash gift. He looked around for Edmund, but couldn’t see him.

Later Kelly met him in the village and questioned him. He pressed him for an explanation and found that Edmund had sold his horse in order to give the $13 gift to God for the sake of the Gospel. But why hadn’t he come to the festival? He hesitated and didn’t want to answer.

Finally Edmund said, “I had no shirt to wear.” (Illustration cited here)

2. The Message of Our Ministry: The Mystery of Christ

Within this passage Paul talks a lot about this mystery. What is he talking about? He talks about this mystery hidden from ages, but now revealed to the saints in v. 26.

This mystery is the mystery of Jesus. It is a secret that has now been revealed. It was God’s intention from eternity past to redeem the world through Jesus. Jesus has always been God’s plan to bring glory to himself. But, for millennia God’s secret plan was unknown. As God created the man and woman, as he chose Abraham to bless and as he gave the law to his decedents, God’s full plan was hidden. But now, the curtain has been dropped. God has laid his cards down on the table. He has revealed his plan from the beginning, to save the world through Jesus Christ.

So when Paul says mystery, he is not saying that God’s plan is some sort of puzzle to be figured out. Rather, the secret and mysterious plan of God is revealed to all!

God’s plan was never to just save Israel but to save all people, Jew and Gentile alike. Jesus is the savior of all people. Through his death on the cross he provides salvation, redemption, and forgiveness to all who would believe in him! Jesus endured the sufferings of the cross so that our sin could be paid for and we could become reconciled children of God.

The mystery of this plan was a startling discovery that Jesus is not only the Messiah for the Jews, but for the whole world. This was the surprising twist to God’s plan. And Paul sees it as God’s calling on his life to take the good news of Jesus to the gentiles. Paul wants to share this revealed mystery to everyone!

As we seek to be ministers of the Gospel, we must always remember that our message is Jesus. “Him we proclaim” Paul says. As Christians we have one message, one hope, one story, and its the story of the Son of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Jesus is the message of our ministry, and we proclaim Him alone. I’ll give you a little secret about Pastors and preaching. The best pastors and preachers have only one message: Jesus Christ. As a pastor I’m a one-trick pony. I’ve have one message and one message only: The good news of Jesus Christ.

So every sermon, teaching from the Bible, is a variation of infinite applications of one simple, single message: Jesus is Lord.

As we think about our task as ministers of the Gospel whether you are a pastor or a church member, Jesus must always be the center-point of all we do.

So the posture of our ministry should be in suffering, and the message of our ministry is Christ, but what is the end goal of our ministry? What are we hoping to accomplish?

3. The Goal of Our Ministry: Maturity in Christ

Col 1.28 - Proclaiming Christ, warning and teaching everyone, so that others might be presented mature in Christ.

Col 2.1–2 - Paul even though he has never met the colossians and others labors on their account writing his letters, teaching them, encouraging them so that they might be built up together. encouraged, unified, and confident in the truth of God’s mystery.

So one of the things we are passionate about here at FHBC is equipping one another with the Scripture and Christian Community. We understand that every member is called to serve one another in ministry so that each one of us is built up in maturity. One of the purposes we gather is so we can sharpen one another and push each other on towards godliness. So we prioritize the teaching of the Bible and the teaching of the Gospel. We encourage relationships to be formed among members that are for discipleship. Relationships that challenge one another, confront one another, pray for one another, and encourage one another towards maturity in Christ.

How are you helping others to become mature in Christ? How are you using the gifts God has given you to equip the saints for ministry?

The Labor of Church Teachers

Here I can’t help but make some application on the role of the pastors of our church and others in our church who particularly labor in the preaching and teaching ministry. As I make some personal application to my own ministry calling (the teaching of the Bible) I hope that you are also able to make some application to your own ministry calling. As we read Paul in this passage he emphasizes again and again his role of teaching and proclaiming.

The Teaching and Preaching ministry is vital to presenting one another mature in Christ. The Bible gives high honor to those who are gifted and labor to those ends, because they are so essential to the maturity of the church. When the teaching ministry of the church is replaced with a myriad of other concerns the church begins to flounder in immaturity. Paul labors here proclaiming Christ both warning everyone and teaching everyone to present them mature.

As the primary teaching pastor at our church you as a body have set me aside to labor and serve the church in this way. This is a huge calling and a huge labor. So like Paul I personally felt this week the labor and toil of the teaching ministry. I felt as I was studying this own passage the struggle of trying to faithfully feed the flock of God. Its a struggle and toil I feel each week. But, here I not only ask you to pray for me as I try to serve you through the teaching of Christ, I also want you to see what my motive should be as I teach. And this is not only for me, but for all who labor in teaching.

The motive of the teacher is not to impress others, its not to be liked by others, its not to entertain others. The purpose of teaching isn’t on the ego of the preacher. But, rather the goal is to present you mature in Christ. That’s my motive. This is my hearts desire, a motive I always want to keep in check – that as I stand up here to teach you that my desire is to one day present you to your savior mature in Christ! No matter the struggle or the toil in serving you as a pastor, I endure it with joy because Christ will be glorified as you are sanctified!

So may God bind our hearts together as we seek together to understand the assurance of this mystery of God. May you be firmly planted in Jesus through the faithful teaching of God’s word so that you will not be shaken by plausible arguments and false teachings.

Like Paul, my hearts longing is to see you firmness in faith in Christ Jesus. Its because I love you and because I love Jesus.

But equipping one another doesn’t only happen through teaching and not only through pastors. Every member should feel this weight and concern for one another. As we love one another, sacrifice for one another, and yes even suffer for one another, may we rejoice. In this bond of love may we serve one another and this world as faithful ministers.

Final Thoughts

  • So are you ministering in a posture of suffering?
  • Are you ministering proclaiming the message of Christ?
  • Are you ministering to others so that they can be presented mature in Christ?

Ministry is the calling of every Christian. It is hard, difficult, challenging, and painful – yet like Paul we rejoice in our suffering for one another – because Jesus is our all consuming treasure. Whatever your profession and whatever your calling you are there to be a minister of Jesus Christ in a posture of suffering with a message of the mystery of Christ with the goal of presenting others to God mature in Christ. Christian whatever our life’s work may we utilize it for this eternal work ministering together for the glory of God.

A Personal Prayer

I don't typically publish my private prayers. I normally seek to pray in secret. I never want prayer to be a means of gaining personal attention. Yet I know that there is great benefit for the church in learning from how others pray.  A huge encouragement to me is to read the prayers of other people. I typically write out my personal prayers because I do not have the mental self-control to pray silently. What follows is a personal prayer I wrote last week. Its purpose is to help encourage you in your prayer life.  Refresh my soul my Lord. Cleanse me from hidden sin. Cleanse me from my known sin. Purify my heart by the power of your grace. How quick I am to wander from my true love! How hastily I abandon the pleasures of your eternal presence for the temporal things of earth. What wretched sinner I am and how undeserving of grace. Break my heart my God for my transgressions. May I see my sin as you do, as the horrific blackness that nailed my savior to that cross!

Make me a realist Lord to see my shortcomings as they are. In the dreaded chasm of despair may you lift me up to see the  offer of grace. Lift me up from the pit so I may look at the savior and live! May I sit at his feet both now and into eternity relishing in his wisdom, his love, his compassion, and his generosity. How poor in Spirit I am when left in my sin. But how rich I have become as you pour out your blessing and seal me with the inheritance of Christ!

In my ministry never let my zeal be sacrificed on the alter of the familiar. Never let me become so understanding of grace that I become numb to its beauty. I have the extreme treasure of spending my life’s work gazing at the intricately cut diamond called the Gospel. It is my joyous labor to examine, inspect, and discover new levels of beauty to share with others. Although I handle the Gospel so frequently, do not let me become so familiar that I cease to be in awe! Deepen my love. Increase my delight as my knowledge and experience of these truths accumulates over the years.

Protect me from my sinful eyes that takes the sparkling treasures of heaven and begin to ignore the blinding glimmer of grace. As I preach and proclaim this Gospel to the lost and to your church may my passion for this truth be ever increasing. May I not just be imparting knowledge but may it be evident that I rejoice over the truths I am proclaiming!

Create a pure heart in me, my Lord. Overcome my weakness and my stubborn heart. Thank you for turning my heart of stone into a heart of flesh. May my heart ever beat in sync to the rhythm of you grace as I live for the glory of Christ.

6 Lessons Learned when I had the Flu

This past week I was afflicted with pestilence. I got the flu and was out of comission for about five days. I tend not to get sick very often, but if I do it typically knocks me out. The unusual period of extended rest in my life caused me to do some reflection while in my sick bed. Here are a few lessons I learned while I had the flu last week.

1. I'm not Nearly as Important as I Think I Am

Somehow I believed that this world would not continue to operate without me. If I was sick for even one day I foolishly thought that all of Wilson would cave in beginning with Forest Hills Baptist Church. Yet, everything was perfectly fine without me. It was a good dose of humility that I desperatly needed. Many times we think that we have become so essential to God's plan that he needs us to accomplish his purposes. Simply put, He doesn't need me. Although he chooses to use me, and for that I am joyful!

2. A Good Team is a Life Saver

The reason that things went so well at Church while I was home sick, was because I have an incredible team behind me. I was so thankful for our secretary Cindy who rescheduled all my apointments for the week or our Worship Pastor Grant who was able to lead some meetings in my stead. Having a great team who is competent to carry the load makes all the difference. While struck with the flu I was reminded the great blessing that the staff at Forest Hills are to me.

3. Technology is a Wonderful Tool

While stuck in bed for about days on end, I was able to get a great deal of work done from home. I was able to send out emails, work on sermons, and more. Technology has truly allowed me to operate from a mobile office as necessary and it was wonderful to get some things done in between medicine doses.

4. Sunday is Coming

The burden of preaching week in and week out is a heavy one. As a pastor, you always have a deadline each week. Even though I felt terrible most of the week, I still had to prepare to stand before my Church and preach the Word. Most weeks it is a joy, but it was difficult to concentrate to prepare for that Sunday's messages. Yet, it is a wonderful labor to which I am humbled to even be called to do.

5. My Wife is Wonderful

My wife Kaitlyn was by my side while I was quartined in my room. From running to Target to pick something up for me or making me dinner, she was a great gift in serving me during my illness. I am a very blessed man to have Kaitlyn as my wife.

6. I Long for Restoration

The irony about last week is that I was preparing to preach on the Fall. Through sin's entrance into the world not only did seperation from God result but also disease and death. Getting sick those days last week helped to wet my apetite for the coming restoration in which Jesus will return and abolish sin and the effects of sin on our world once and for all. I look forward to the day in which the flu will be no more and there will never be a reason to have to take a sick day.

My Top 10 Posts of 2013

I've had a lot of fun this year blogging. It is hard to believe I've been at this for 2 1/2 years now.  It has been encouraging to watch how God has slowly grown this blog. I love getting to meet readers and connect with new people.  2013 has been a great year, and the following 10 blog posts have been my most popular.

Top 10 Blog Posts (In Traffic)

1. A Case for Early Marriage: Why it is a Good Idea to Get Married Young

2. 6 Ways to Spiritually Lead Your Wife

3. Should Christian Teenagers Date?

4. An Uninvited Dinner Guest - Luke 7:36-50

5. 4 Reasons Why its Advantageous for a Pastor's Wife to Stay Home

6. We Live in a Fantasy World of Christian Community

7. What Should I Tell My Kids about Santa?

8. When Materialism Rules the Home

9. 7 Things We Can Learn From Jonathan Edwards

10. How I File My Sermons in Evernote

Thoughts and Reflections

My posts on family and marriage continually to be the most popular. The top blog post of the year bar none has been my post on early marriage.  This reveals to me that there is needed conversation among Christians about what the Bible says on family. Our culture is confused more than ever on marriage and parenting. As I go into 2014, I plan on continuing to write on the family. It seems to address the needs of many of my readers.

I've got some exciting blog posts and projects in the pipeline for 2014, including a possible ebook! Stay tuned for more information!

A Word of Thanks

Thanks to all of you who subscribe and regularly read my blog (If you haven't subscribe I'd love for you to!).  Thanks to all of you who share these posts on Facebook, Twitter, email, etc.  The reason I started this blog is to make an impact for the cause of Christ. Through writing, I seek to bring God glory as I try to encourage the saints and proclaim the Gospel.  Thanks to all of you for staying with me and I'm excited about 2014! Happy New Year!

Debunking 6 Christmas Myths

The Christmas story is wonderful isn't it? However, over the decades Christians have taken a lot of creative liberties with the Christmas story adding details that the Scripture either denies or does not state. The birth narratives of Jesus are found in Matthew and Luke, with Luke 2 as the go to text for the Christmas story. After all, it is the one Linus quotes for Charlie Brown. In this post, I figured I’d spread the Christmas cheer and help clear up some confusion and debunk 6 Christmas myths that many people believe.

1. Mary Rode on a Camel to Bethlehem

When we think about Mary and Joseph traveling to Jerusalem we often think about a lone couple in the wilderness with Mary on the back of a camel. Mary could have very well have ridden a camel, but the text doesn’t say. She might have had to walk the entire 80 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. It probably would have been a 4 - 7 day journey. It is also unlikely that Mary and Joseph would have traveled alone. Especially since many people would be traveling to their home tomes due to the census, they probably joined a caravan of people heading towards Bethlehem. Their was safety in numbers as you traveled so Mary and Joseph probably did not make the trip solo.

2. The Innkeeper was Rude to Mary and Joseph

One character who makes it into every Christmas play is the Inn Keeper. He is often portrayed as a wealthy business man who kicks out the pregnant woman to the barn to sleep. He is sometimes presented as cruel, sometimes he is shown as disappointed he could not do more to help Mary and Joseph. The only problem is that there is not a single inn keeper mentioned in the Scriptures. I’m sure they might have talked to a few, but we don’t know. It is likely that the young couple would have stayed with a distant relative of Joseph. The word “inn” in the greek can also be translated “guest room”. The young couple might have not stayed at an innkeepers stable at all, but a stable of one of Joseph’s distant relatives. The Gospels really do not give us a lot of information surrounding the detail of Jesus’ birth. Which is why many have created elaborate back stories to the birth narrative.

3. There are only 3 Wise Men

When we think of the Wise Men we often think of three of them riding on their camels with their flamboyant Flavor Flav jewelry. The reason we typically think of them as three is because the wise men presented three different gifts – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The Catholic church even goes on to name the three magi as Balthasar, Caspar, and Melchior. Despite the traditional depiction of three wise men, the Scripture again doesn’t specify. All we know is that there are more than one. There could have been two or their could have been ten. Scripture does not say.

4. The Wise Men Saw the Birth of Christ

I seriously got into a fight with a girl in the third grade over this myth. She swore up and down that the wise men were there the night Jesus was born. This one is going to ruin your wonderfully quaint nativity scene on your mantel, but I hate the break it to you – the wise men were not there. The Gospel of Matthew describes the wise men arriving at a house where Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus were. They likely arrived when Jesus was one or two years old. Yet, in our nativity scenes we have the three wise men hanging out on their camels with the shepherds. So go to your nativity scene and take your wise men figures and move them to the other side of the room. Nice! Now your nativity scene is historically accurate!

5. X-Mas is Kicking Christ out of Christmas

Christians get very upset when you write X-mas. I saw a church sign this past week that rebuked the community for saying X-Mas. Yet, writing X-Mas is not kicking out Christ from Christmas. In greek the first letter of the word “Christ” (Χριστός) is the greek letter Chi which looks almost identical to an english “X”. X-Mas is just an abbreviation for Christ. It is perfectly legitimate to tweet “Merry X-Mas” and not be considered a heretic.

6. The Little Drummer Played His Drum

I don’t know if anyone actually believes the Little Drummer boy is a real character, but he is not. It is one of our modern additions to the Christmas story. It makes for a cool song, but the Little Drumer boy is a work of fiction. Besides, if I were Joseph I’d beat that Little Drummer boy tail for waking up the newborn baby with his loud “Rump-a-pum pumping”. Seriously? This kid must have zero manners.

Any Christmas Myths I Missed? Do you or your friends believe any of these myths? If so share with us in the comments!

Why You Should Listen to Podcasts

Apple_Podcast_logo With the age of smartphones, we have never had more instant access to a plethora of incredible Bible teaching and information.  One of the things that has been most beneficial to me this past year being a voracious podcast listener.  With the power of smartphone technology I can listen to some solid information anytime and anywhere.

Why Should I Listen to Podcasts?

  • Redeem the Time. Rather than Miley Cyrus sing Wrecking Ball for the 1,000th time on the radio, why don't you listen to something that will equip you and grow you?
  • Learn to Think. Listening to good conversation on deep issues helps you to think better yourself.  It is like getting mentored by some of the best thinkers out there.
  • Saturate Your Mind on Christ. As you listen to good Christian podcasts you will grow and mature in Christ as you think about him throughout the day.

When Should I Listen to Podcasts?

  • As you get ready in the morning
  • On your commute to and from work.
  • Anytime your traveling
  • While your doing mindless work like cleaning or mowing grass.

With the podcast app on the iPhone/iPad it is easy to subscribe and get automatic updates on some top notch podcasts. I know there are some great Droid solutions as well, but I'm Droid ignorant so you will have to google it for yourself.  If you are new to podcasting or are looking for some new podcasts to add to your diet of consumption check out a few of my favorite podcasts that I listen to on a regular basis.

My Top Favorite Podcasts

  • The Briefing by Dr. Al Mohler - Have you ever wanted to sit down and listen to one of the greatest Christian minds and thinkers today analyst the newspaper from a Christian worldview? If so, then you need to subscribe to this daily podcast.  In addition to keeping you informed with whats happening in the world, it will teach you to think deeply and christianly about current events. As I start out my weekdays this is the first podcast I play while getting ready or on the morning commute.
  • Ask Pastor John - Have a pressing or controversial question? Well John Piper takes them on in this podcast as he answers listeners questions.  As usual, his insights and responsive are insightful and thoroughly biblical.  You will be well served to add this podcast to your regular listening.
  • Rainer on Leadership - The CEO of Lifeway, Thom Rainer, deals with leadership and churches on his weekly podcast.  There is often some great practical discussion for pastors and church leaders.
  • 5 Minutes in Church History - Church History is so beneficial, yet for many it can be boring and an overwhelming task. Church Historian, Dr Stephen Nichols, helps make church history fun and engaging with his five minute weekly podcast.  If you want to learn more about what God has done in the past and learn lessons to be applied today check out this great new podcast.
  • Thinking in Public - Dr. Al Mohler has a second stellar podcasts.  In this one, he interviews many scholars and researchers on a variety of subjects and has an engaging conversation. It is like being a fly on the wall as intellectual superiors discuss and engage culture and history.
  • This is Your Life - This podcast by Michael Hyatt has a lot of practical wisdom and insight.  He deals a lot with leadership and productivity.  It is a helpful and productive podcast to add to your list.
  • The Dave Ramsey Show - This is the podcast of Dave Ramsey's radio show.  It is fun to listen to fun financial counsel and helpful as well.  Finances and stewardship are vital issues in the Christian life that should not be neglected.

Sermon Podcasts

In addition to these Podcasts most churches offer their sermon audio through podcast.  Here are a few sermon podcasts to check out.

These are a few of my favorite podcasts.  What are some of yours? Any I should add to my line up? Share with us in the comments below!