A Declaration of Reenlistment

The internet is a horde, a vitriol mob of perpetual outrage. Each day elicits new battles to fight and new controversies to analyze. Competing tribes narrow each day the line in the sand drawn yesterday. Watchman have stood the walls of our culture decrying and warning that the schismatic vile spewing from social media feeds demolishes public discourse and weakens society. Though the past was not an idealized age of peace and charity we blissfully remember, we sense intuitively that something has gone awry.

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Passing the Baton at Forest Hills

At the conclusion of our centennial celebration, I couldn't help but be filled with joy. Seeing so many faithful saints return produced great thanksgiving in my heart. In many ways, I'm still humbled that God has called me to shepherd a church like Forest Hills. I've developed a profound appreciation for the legacy and heritage of Forest Hills over the years. As I thought about this weekend, I knew it would be special. In some ways this weekend symbolized a passing of the torch, the handing off of the baton to me and my generation of believers. IMG_0901

As I stood on stage and introduced James Herron, our oldest living senior pastor, I couldn't help but be thankful for men like him whom God used mightily for his Kingdom. Yet, in his sermon this Sunday, he cautioned about making too much of the past, but charged us as a congregation to move forward into a new century. Nostalgia is a wonderful, powerful sensation, but too much of it will drug you as you become gloomy about the present and pessimistic about the future. Ironically, we never realize we were living in the good ol' days, until those days are gone. By the grace of God, we tend to forget about the dark days, as our memory preserves the bright spots.

Yet, nostalgia cannot hinder God's work in the present and his vision for the future. The work is not yet over. The Great Commission lies before us, and lost souls need to hear the Gospel of Jesus. In our nostalgia, we cannot run our race backwards. This is the tension of churches with such great history like Forest Hills. We must simultaneously give thanks and honor those who have come before, and at the same time run with our eyes on the finish line, not on the starting line. Indeed, that's what those who came before us desire. Who runs a relay race, takes the baton from his teammate, then turns around and backtracks towards the starting point? Our teammates want us to move forward, not backward. We must sprint towards Christ, not to an idolized vision of the past.

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Over the weekend, I've felt that tension within my own soul. My gratitude for my forebears, the faithful shepherds of this church who've come before me, cannot adequately be expressed in words. They have preserved the apostolic Gospel, preaching Christ now in our church for a century. In an overwhelming and monumental way, that mantle has now fallen on my shoulders. By the calling of God, I now stand with the baton of the Gospel in my hand, charged to lead these wonderful people into the next century.

As I think about my own shortcomings as a leader and inadequacies as a pastor, the responsibility can be overwhelming. Yet, press on in the race we must. We must preserve the integrity of the Gospel and innovate new methods of reaching a new generation in a drastically new American culture. As a result, change is afoot in Forest Hills Baptist Church. Ministry strategy and programs have been and will continue to shift over the next several years around our vision to treasure Christ, equip believers, and send disciples for the glory of God.

As we run our race, may we not falter in our steps, but press on towards Christ, prepared and ready to pass off the baton to the next generation. May we not break the chain of faithful saints who came before, and may the great relay race of the saints, that has continued at Forest Hills now for 100 years, continue in our church till Christ returns for us.

Spirit Led Change (Acts 11:1-18)

Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” But Peter began and explained it to them in order: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”” (Acts 11:1–18, ESV)

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The early church members were furious that Peter, a circumcised jew, visited with uncircumcised men and ate with them. Peter wants so desperately for his people to understand why he did this so he goes through his vison and the vision of Cornelius and what the Spirit did to pave the way for the Gospel to reach the Gentile’s heart. Lets pick up at vs. 15 and read until 18.

You cannot argue with the work of the Holy Spirit, so why do we? Why are we content grumbling over changes in our churches? Let’s embrace the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our church. Beg that the Holy Spirit will fall down on our church. Invite him in.

I’ll warn you, when you do get ready to embrace uncomfortable change. The spirit will not, I repeat, will not let our lives or our church stay comfortable. He will not be confined to time lines, human experience or any other stipulations we place on Him. He will however cause change and we must humble ourselves and embrace the spirit in our church.

After all, church is not about us. So why do we make it about us? Why are our preferences elevated above the movement of the Spirit. Let our focus shift to living in a state of total discomfort. Let us put the needs of others above our own for the sake of the Gospel and allow us to stop suppressing the work of the Holy Spirit so that dead hearts my come alive to Christ.

When we do that, we will see the Lord bring the “unclean” peoples in. The people who look and act differently than us and he will even redeem them, set them apart and adopt them into the same family as ours, God’s family. The Holy Spirit can save even those whom we fear and those who look differently than us. Friends, let this be our prayer and our mindset before we walk into church each week. Step out and invite the spirit in!

Why Bringing Your Kids to Church Is Not Enough

The conversation goes like this. A well meaning parent comes up to me, expressing their desire to get involved with the church. Always curious, I ask why, and the answer I typically get is this: “I want my child to grow up in church.” Though certainly we should want our children to grow up in church, I’m gravely concerned with what is often meant by this innocent statement. Usually what people really mean is this: “I want my children to be raised with some sort of faith, preferably the Christian faith, because it was so important to my moral upbringing. Since I am either unwilling or unable to provide it myself, I’ve come to the church to get them to take care of the spiritual life of my child while I’ll take care of everything else.” To put it more simply, parents want to outsource the spiritual nurturement of their child to the church. 8483660163_3fd14630eb_z

Though I certainly welcome any family and any child into the community of the saints, I do want to challenge the idea of outsourcing the spiritual care of your children to the church. Unfortunately the church has only reinforced this mindset within many people through our programs and ministry methodology. We have taught parents to come and drop off their children where paid professionals stand by to handle the tenacious work of discipleship. As a former youth pastor, I’m fully aware that ministry to teens without the parents simply doesn’t work. The responsibility for the spiritual care of our little ones cannot be placed upon the church entirely, but rather the full weight of responsibility rests on the shoulders of daddy and mommy. God has called the parents to evangelize and disciple their children. The church then exists to come alongside mom and dad to equip them for their task and supplement what is already taking place at home.

So if you are a Christian parent, please bring your children to church, but you must do *more* than that. As any experienced parent will tell you, more is caught than taught. Therefore, in addition to just dropping your child off at church, we must model the Gospel to our children. We must live out what it means for Christ to be our greatest love and greatest treasure. We must display what it means to submit our lives to king Jesus and his authoritative word. If you take seriously your job as a parent, you must live out your faith to those little eyes who are always watching.

Here is the main point: In addition to bringing our kids to church, we must model a life of devotion to Jesus.

Though we certainly never do it for the show, our children should see our devotion to Jesus in action. Our children watch us in the most private and mundane of moments and they should see our professed love for Christ on display. They should see us pray and read the Bible, growing in our relationship with Jesus. Our children should be able to look to us as example of what the Christian life is. Sadly, for far too many families, Jesus only comes up on Sunday mornings and is ignored the rest of the week. When you tell your children to follow Jesus on Sundays, but ignore him every other day, chances are your kids will follow Jesus none of the days. Why? Because your own spiritual life screams hypocrisy.

How can mom or dad tell me Jesus is worthy of my devotion when they show no evidence of that devotion themselves? Why make Jesus the Lord of my life when he isn’t the Lord of theirs?

I’m afraid many parents do more harm than good by forcing their kids to go to church, teaching them that church is like broccoli—nobody likes to eat it, but you have to eat it because it's good for you.

I’ve talked with many parents who struggle with their children who don’t want to come to church, particularly in the teenage years. Every Christian parent encounters this at some point in their parenting, and parents should indeed require their children to come to church, whether they want to or not. Though what is most likely happening behind the scenes is something much bigger than just refusing to come to church; the teen calls the bluff on the parent’s hypocrisy, reacting against the parent who speaks out of the both sides of the mouth.

We must repent of our Janus-faced parenting and confess our hypocritical compartmentalization. After all, the goal of our parenting is not to produce well-behaved, moral little monsters, but contrite sinners, redeemed by the blood of the Christ. If we hope our children will join the redeemed, we must not cast doubt on the truth Gospel by our hypocritical life. Parents must authentically live out their faith before their children. Though we may have the rest of our church fooled, our children are not. Our rehearsed play-acting will only put a bitter taste of Christianity into our children’s mouths. We need less Christian thespians, and more parents who authentically, consistently, and genuinely live their lives in devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ.

So bring your kids to church, but you better demonstrate devotion to Christ in your private life. If not, your legalistic requirement of church attendance and your hypocrisy could very well estrange your children from the Christ you profess to love.