Monday, December 17, 2012

Sunday's Sermons

Yesterday morning at CLBC we continued our way through Galatians. This was our seventh sermon in this book. The message was, "Perfected by the Spirit" from Galatians 3:1-9.

Last night we concluded our series through The Gospel of Luke. This is a fantastic book! There are 102 messages recorded in this series (and several others that didn't get recorded for one reason or another). My last message is from Luke 24:36-53, "Jesus Appears and Ascends."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Five Areas I have Focused on for Revitalization

When I first came to CLBC in September 2010 I was told the road ahead would be difficult. There was much change and refocusing that needed to take place. If I'm honest, I came into this more blind than with a particular plan. In fact, after 27 months I really don't know that I have a plan at this point! However, I did consult several friends to ask for advice. I read books and articles, and talked with pastors, church planters, church revitalizers, and church re-planters. Through the process I was connected with Joe Thorn, whose story and situation is different than mine, but he suggested 5 areas to focus on that were of great help. Below are those five things. I feel fairly confident that he and I would apply these differently given the fact that our contexts are different. However, I found them extremely helpful. By the way, I found advice from others very helpful as well. These just seemed to sum up where I felt I should focus.

I have been asked by several people through email, Facebook, twitter, or phone calls to share what I have focused on in attempting to revitalize our church. In the upcoming posts I plan to share some of what I did in an attempt to implement these things, but for this post here are those 5 areas.

1. Gospel Recovery and Centrality

2. Missions Emphasis and Strategy

3. Worship Culture and Structure

4. Leadership Development and Deployment

5. Community Life Defined and Implemented

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Sunday's Sermons

Here are the two sermons from this past Sunday:

AM - Justified by Faith - Galatians 2:16-21

PM - Burning Hearts - Luke 24:13-35

Get your Beard On!

I thought I'd have fun with this post. I'm blogging about my beard. That's right, my beard. Last October I commented on a picture of Joe Thorn about his beard on Facebook. I'm not 100% sure of how it happened from there, but he encouraged me to grow out my beard. So I thought I'd give it a try. I honestly wasn't even sure if I could grow a full beard! Throughout the next several months I took weekly (or almost weekly) pictures so that I could track the progression. Here are a few over the first 7 months or so:

November 15 (about 3 weeks in)

January 17, 2012

April 3, 2012 (I had it trimmed, but I wasn't all that happy about it!)

June 13, 2012 (Just before I made a HUGE mistake!)

The mistake right after this was to go in for the second trim. For some unknown reason the barber decided to take me back to about a 6 week beard. I was devastated! But I didn't give up. I started the process over again. Without going back through the process again, here is a picture from today. 

Why did I blog this? Let me say two things. First, I realize I am still quite the novice in beard growing. There are many, many, beards that are bigger and healthier than mine. Second, I want to encourage more men to grow out their beards. While many people will not like it. Many will think you should shave. I can honestly say the process of growing (and regrowing) your beard is worth it. In the words of Charles Spurgeon:
Growing a beard 'is a habit most natural, scriptural, manly, and beneficial.'
So I say, get your beard on!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Book Recommendation: God at Work

In 2007 (I think) a friend told me I should pick up a book by Gene Edward Veith, Jr. called "God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in all of Life." This is one of those books that came to me at the right time and is one I often think about. Here is what the publisher review says on the Westminster Bookstore website:
When you understand it properly, the doctrine of vocation--"doing everything for God's glory"--is not a platitude or an outdated notion. This principle that we vaguely apply to our lives and our work is actually the key to Christian ethics, to influencing our culture for Christ, and to infusing our ordinary, everyday lives with the presence of God. For when we realize that the "mundane" activities that consume most of our time are "God's hiding places," our perspective changes.
Culture expert Gene Veith unpacks the biblical, Reformation teaching about the doctrine of vocation, emphasizing not what we should specifically do with our time or what careers we are called to, but what God does in and through our callings--even within the home. In each task He has given us--in our workplaces and families, our churches and society--God Himself is at work. Veith guides you to discover God's purpose and  calling in those seemingly ordinary areas by providing you with a spiritual framework for thinking about such issues and for acting upon them with a changed perspective.
This morning I was reminded of this book as my 6.5 month old woke up around 6:00 ready to play. In that moment the Lord reminded me that I am a husband and a father. In that moment (and I don't do this nearly as often as I should so this is not a 'look how awesome I am' type of thing) I knew I could better glorify God by focusing on my calling as a husband (by allowing my wife to get some much needed sleep) and as a father (by getting up with my son).

Oftentimes it gets difficult to realize that the numerous 'vocations' you have are all to be used to glorify God. Whether it's as a father, husband, son, pastor, wife, mother, child, or job, we can and should see every opportunity as an opportunity to glorify God.

I highly recommend you pick up this book: God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in all of Life.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Four Things I (Re)learned on Vacation

I am just back from a vacation that was very much needed. Without going into all the details, this past year of ministry has been busy, exciting, difficult, discouraging, and draining. That may be how most years go, but spiritually and physically I was exhausted.

So last Sunday night after preaching we loaded up the van and headed north to North Carolina. It was the first time anyone in my family was able to see our newest addition (6 months old today!) and also gave us a great opportunity to spend time with family and friends. I cannot express how joyful it was to see our family, watch our kids play with cousins, as well as visiting with some of my our closest friends. It felt really good to be back in North Carolina!

However, what was better still was the opportunity I had to rest. I didn't sleep as well has I would have liked (especially early in the week), but by the third day of being away from Fort Myers my mind began to rest. For the first time in nearly a decade I actually took time away mentally from the ministry. It was great. We worshiped on Sunday morning as a family before driving back to Florida on Monday. I have learned a few things this week that I think are helpful.

1. Pastors, take time to rest. Ministry is difficult. It is challenging, exciting, exhausting, and a thousand other emotions. However, during the business pastors can begin to assume the church "needs" them. A church does need a pastor, but does not need a pastor who is burned out from exhaustion. You (and I) need time to rest our minds and to focus on nurturing our own souls so that we will be better fit to lead God's church. Implement a Sabbath in your life regularly.

2. It is God's church. While this seems to be a no brainer, I know I often fall into the mentality that the church "needs" me. What I mean is I often feel the pressure to build the church. I was freshly reminded that this is wrong this past week. Our attendance didn't really drop, I wasn't called while away, and there was not a long list of things to catch up on when I came back. I am grateful for the reminder that the church is not mine, nor is it built on me. Jesus will build His church. I've learned this again. And I hope to remember this often!

3. Family matters. In the midst of business it's possible to be home, and yet not be there. It's possible to still have family worship, still pray, still kiss the kids and wife goodnight, and not be there mentally. I don't think this is just applicable for pastors. Men, make sure you love your wife. Make sure you really love her as Christ loved the church. Women, make sure you love your husband. Make sure you really love him. Parents, make sure you love your kids. Invest in their lives. Make sure you are "there" with them. They are gifts given to you.

4. Care for your own soul. All of these and more are based on the importance of caring for your own soul. In the business of ministry, family, and life, it's easy to neglect your own soul. I have been freshly reminded again that caring for my own soul actually helps me think and act better with the previous 3 points of this blog post. Actually, when I walk with the Lord more closely I'm a better man, husband, father, pastor, and friend.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Called to Preach the Gospel

Yesterday I preached "Called to Preach the Gospel" during the morning worship service with Cypress Lake Baptist Church. It was a really good morning. I don't know about the sermon itself, but the Spirit of God was evident. It's a humbling reality to know that as a pastor I too have been called to preach the gospel. I only pray and hope I preach it faithfully.

You can listen to the sermon here:

Monday, November 5, 2012

Only One Gospel

Yesterday I had the privilege of continuing through Galatians. This is a fantastic book! In Galatians 1:6-10 Paul lays out in strong language that the gospel matters. Verse 6 says a desertion of the one and only gospel is a desertion of the God who calls. You can listen the sermon here:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Grace and Peace

Grace and Peace is the title of my first sermon in Galatians this coming Sunday. I love what John Stott says about these two words:

"Although 'grace' and 'peace' are common monosyllables, they are pregnant with theological substance. In fact, they summarize Paul's gospel of salvation. The nature of salvation is peace, or reconciliation - peace with God, peace with men, peace within. The source of salvation is grace, God's free favor, irrespective of any human merit or works, His loving-kindness to the undeserving. And this grace and peace flow from the Father and Son together."

Monday, October 22, 2012

Can the Gospel Set us Free?

God-willing, this Sunday I will begin preaching through the book of Galatians. I love this book. In this book Paul lays out the reality that the gospel, properly understood and applied, leads to freedom. This is the reality of being justified in Christ. And I am really excited about preaching this book! If you are close to Cypress Lake Baptist Church we would love to have you.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

To Know Christ and to Make Him Known

This morning I preached my 26th sermon in the series titled A Display of God's Glory. I enjoyed the series on the church, but am excited about starting the book of Galatians this next Sunday. If you're interested, you can hear this morning's sermon here:

To Know Christ and to Make Him Known

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sunday Sermon

For some reason our Sunday PM sermon didn't record again. However, Sunday morning did. In the morning I preached from John 4:1-26 with a hope that we would take seriously God's expectations for our worship. You can listen here:

Acceptable Worship: Part 2

Monday, October 1, 2012

Let the Children Come

I just finished a three week focus on how we ought to seek to point the children of our church to Christ.  My focus was it starts in the home, the church assists the parents, and the children are expected to obey and honor their parents. You can listen to the three sermons here:

Let the Children Come: Part 1

Let the Children Come: Part 2

Let the Children Come: Part 3

Friday, September 28, 2012

Monday, September 24, 2012


Over the past several months I've been preaching a sermon series on the local church that I called "A Display of God's Glory." In this series we've covered several areas, and I had planned to preach a sermon on how we should view and treat the children in our congregation. That one sermon turned into three. So far, I've preached the first two of these sermons (below) and will finish this weekend.

Let the Children Come: Part 1 

Let the Children Come: Part 2

As a father I have been extremely challenged by the Scriptures about what the Lord expects from me in this area. In my home I have to make sure that I am fixed on Christ so that I can also point my wife and children to Him. Through this conviction I am working on being a better husband and father in my home. Included in this is being more intentional about leading my family in regular family worship times. Here are a few resources I'm either using now, have used in the past, or are beneficial for thinking through family worship.

The Big Picture Story Bible (by David Helm)

ESV Bible

The Jesus Storybook Bible (by Sally Lloyd-Jones)

Training Hearts and Teaching Minds (by Starr Meade)

The Family Worship Book (by Terry Johnson)

Family Worship in the Bible, in History, and in your Home (by Donald Witney)

A Children's Catechism (by Wil Owens)

A Baptist Catechism (by John Piper)

Do you have any resources you'd recommend for family worship?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Hole in Our Holiness

I have been waiting on this book for several months. Kevin DeYoung has become one of my top authors/preachers. I love the balance he has when coming to the Scriptures. Though I have not yet read this book, I feel confident I can highly recommend it. And right now it's only $11.00! 

The Hole in Our Holiness

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Is Church Membership Biblical?

That was one of the main questions I sought to answer in my sermon this past Sunday morning. You can listen here:

Members of One Body

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Judson Elijah Alston

It's been a while since I blogged, but for a good reason. On May 27, 2012 at 10:10 AM my third child, Judson Elijah Alston, was born. It was a glorious time in our lives! It was also a difficult time, so I thought I'd do a blog overview of the last couple weeks.

On Saturday evening, May 26, I looked at my wife and knew she was miserable with the pregnancy. We were very grateful to have been at this place, especially since we had miscarried the last child, and thought we lost this one. God proved gracious and faithful! So on that evening I looked to my wife and said, "I know you're miserable. I know you're ready to have this baby, but could you at least not go into labor on Sunday morning. That is the worst possible time for me." Yeah. Sure. Right.

Around 4:45 AM on Sunday morning my wife woke me up and said it was time. As a pastor, I had to find someone to preach for me (wasn't too hard thankfully). As a father I needed someone to watch our other two kids. Again, my secretary who lives close by came immediately and then one of our members came and relieved her. This was quick and easy. So off to the hospital we go!

He's born!

After arriving and getting checked into the hospital they got ready for the c-section. Everything went great. Judson was born. He looked good. Mommy looked good as well. At least, mommy and Judson appeared to be good. My wife came back to the room having a major reaction to one of the medicines she had been given. She was bright red, swollen, and had difficulty swallowing. They gave her a major dose of meds and she was quickly feeling better. Praise the Lord!

On the other side of the room was our precious little boy, who looked fantastic, but was breathing very rapid, shallow breathes. The nurses felt it would pass soon, but after about 4 hours it was still happening. This led them to do a blood test on our little boy, which showed a possible infection. That night we received word that he was heading to the NICU for antibiotics. This is not what any new parent wants to hear. We were exhausted, and obviously quite emotional.

In that moment I began asking myself whether I truly believed God was sovereign over all things. Do I truly believe He's in control here? Do I really believe He works for His glory and our joy? In that moment the Spirit of God reassured me that He is sovereign. That didn't mean I knew the outcome, but I did have faith that God was able.

To make a really long story short, Judson spent 7 days in the NICU. It was heart breaking and difficult. My wife and I came home on Wednesday of that week without him. We drove back and forth trying to take care of him while having two other children at home. By the way, we were blown away with the love and care we received from our church family through this. They took care of the two older kids for us.

In the NICU

As of Sunday, June 3, Judson was home with us. He was doing very well. The infection was gone. We were finally home as a family. God has been very kind to us.

Judson is doing very well!

And since there is never a dull moment in the Alston household, my two year old son, Owen, decided to run through the living room, trip and fall, hit his head on the fire place, and thus have us back at the hospital for him to receive one staple in his head. At least he was able to act like a pirate while they gave time for the medicine to kick in!

My pirate:

Monday, May 21, 2012

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sunday Sermons

This past Sunday morning I took a break from our series on the local church (which you can access here) in order to preach a message on the gospel and how Jesus cared for His mother until the end. You can listen to it here:

Jesus, the Cross, and Honoring His Mother

On Sunday evening we continued our study through Luke's gospel by looking at the reality that Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. You can listen to that sermon here:

Jesus Came to Seek and to Save the Lost

Friday, May 11, 2012

Sunday Sermons

This past Sunday morning we continued through our series on the church, which I've called "A Display of God's Glory." My text was Ephesians 5:25-27. The charge is for husbands to love their wives, but Paul shows how this should happen by showing how Jesus loved the church. That was my focus in this sermon. You can listen to it here:

Jesus Loves the Church

On Sunday evening we continued our study through Luke's gospel. In this text we see Jesus tell his disciples, again, that He is going to die. Following this we see Jesus heal a blind beggar, which causes an eruption in praise of God. You can listen to it here:

Death, Power, and Praise

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sunday Sermon

This past Sunday I continued our series on the local church by preaching Romans 12:4-5. I titled the sermon "Our Union with Christ and One Another." My hope in this sermon was to show that when we are united with Christ through faith we are also united with others who are in Christ. We indeed become one body. When it comes to the local church this is to be clearly seen so that the glory of God might shine forth.

You can listen to the sermon here.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Sunday Sermons

Sunday morning we continued our new series on the church. I wanted to bring out the importance of the centrality of God's Word. I preached from Psalm 119:1-16. You can hear the sermon here.

Sunday evening we continued our exposition of Luke's Gospel by focusing on Luke 18:18-30. In this passage Jesus lets the disciples know that salvation is impossible by man, but it's quite possible with God. You can hear it here.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Being One for the Glory of God

Yesterday morning I started a new preaching series on the local church. I started this series for a couple of reasons, but one of the primary reasons is that I hope we, Cypress Lake Baptist Church, will be united as one in Christ as we continue to move forward as a faith family. You can listen to the sermon here.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Sunday Sermons

Yesterday morning I preached Romans 4:23-25 for an emphasis on the resurrection of Jesus and our justification. Last night I preached Colossians 2:11-14 with a hope that our people would be helped to walk freely in Christ knowing that all their sin has been washed away by the blood of Jesus. You can listen to either sermon here:

Romans 4:23-25 - Raised for our Justification

Colossians 2:11-14 - Alive in Christ

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Books on the Church

I asked a question recently to get some feedback from friends on Facebook, Twitter, and through this blog. I plan to preach a series soon on the local church and wanted to find out what books were recommended. Below is a list of books that were suggested. I have not read a lot of these books, so I cannot necessarily endorse them, but here they are.

Total Church

Biblical Eldership

The Deliberate Church

What is the Mission of the Church

What is a Healthy Church Member?

What is a Healthy Church?

The Church and the Surprising Offense of God's Love

When the Church was a Family

Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church

9 Marks of a Healthy Church

Dangerous Church

For the City

Vintage Church

The Trellis and the Vine

Elders and Leaders

Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches

40 Questions about Elders and Deacons

Church Planting is for Wimps

I'm sure there are more to be added. Any suggestions still?

Sunday's Sermon

This past Sunday morning we continued through our exposition of Luke's gospel. The text was Luke 18:9-14. The subject was on humility and mercy. You can listen to that sermon here.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Any Book or Subject Recommendations?

I am planning to preach a series on the local church beginning the week after Easter. I have several areas to emphasize, and I plan on this being an extended series covering as much as possible. With that being said, what are some of the best resources (books, articles, etc.) on the local church? What are some subjects that are of most importance?

Monday, April 2, 2012

God's Power and God's Plan

There are times when I'm reading God's Word that thoughts come to my mind. I hope and pray these thoughts are from the Holy Spirit, but I also recognize that is only true when it lines up with His Word. A thought came to my mind recently as I was reading through Exodus. When God is sending the plagues upon Egypt He displays His power and His plan.

Even before this God displays His plan by making sure Moses goes to Pharaoh. If you recall Moses is called by God, and yet comes up with excuse after excuse to not go to Egypt. God continues to counter those excuses until Moses has none. And then he goes to Egypt and begins pleading for the people of Israel.

Back to the plagues. In Exodus 9:15-16, I believe, we see clearly God's power and plan declared. I hope you see this. His power is declared in verse 15. His plan is declared in verse 16.
(15) For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth.
From this verse I can see clearly God's power. He states that He 'could have' put out His hand and struck the Egyptians (talking specifically to Pharaoh). If God decided to do this the result would be that they would have been cut off from the earth! Surely our God has great power.
(16) But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.
From this verse I see God's plan. God raised Pharaoh up for the purpose of God's name being proclaimed in all the earth. That was Pharaoh's purpose. And the all-powerful God of the universe will accomplish His purose.

Monday, March 26, 2012

On Worship of God

James Montgomery Boice:
To worship God we must know who God is, but we cannot know God unless God first chooses to reveal himself to us. God has done this in the Bible, which is why the Bible and the teaching of the Bible need to be central in our worship.
Quoted in: Give Praise to God

This Week's Sermon

This week I preached on Luke 18:1-8 where Jesus encourages His disciples to continue to pray and not lose heart. Specifically He tells them to continue to pray for the return of Christ and the justice that will come with Him. You can listen to the sermon here:

Persistent Pleading (Luke 18:1-8)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Sunday Sermons

AM - Unworthy Servants - Luke 17:7-10

PM - Cleansed and Thankful - Luke 17:11-19

Revitalizing CLBC: Part 8 (Final Post)

This is part 8, and final post, in the series walking through the revitalizing process, thus far, of Cypress Lake Baptist church. You can read part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, part 4 here, part 5 here, part 6 here, and part 7 here.

This is my final post in this series, and it has been a clarifying series for me. After saying all that I have I must admit the process has been pretty amazing. I've been in this church for just over a year and a half at this point. Our attendance has gone up pretty significantly, we've been more engaged (though I still want more!) in reaching out to those around us and to the ends of the earth, we've seen God do amazing things, and yet we haven't been all that engaged in doing the work like I had hoped.

What I mean is that when we get to the end of this post I realize that the changes that have taken place thus far, the growth we've seen, the desire to know and study God's Word, have all happened in spite of what I have or have not done. We are in a very good season as a church, yet I constantly see the need to shift, strengthen, organize, mobilize, and a thousand other things. Yet God continues to grow His church numerically as well as in depth.

This is exciting. But what really has caused this?

When I look at the success of the early church I realize two things were taking place. The apostles stated it clearly in Acts 6:4, "But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." Most of my plans haven't come to fruition, at least, not at this time. Most of my thoughts haven't happened the way I thought they would (or at least how they should). However, one thing that has happened with our church is a growing love for God's word as well as realization that we are absolutely dependent upon God for anything to happen. By realizing this we have seen God do amazing things as He's answered prayers and created in us a hunger and thirst for righteousness and His word.

There are areas I think we need to improve upon, but then again there will always be areas we need to improve upon because we are still in need of final redemption. The story of Cypress Lake Baptist Church is still being written. God is still doing an amazing work in and among us. But rest assured, it is God who is doing the work. It is God taking His word, accompanied by His Spirit, who is doing the work in His church. It is as though Jesus was serious when He said, "I will build my church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Revitalizing CLBC: Part 7

This is part 7 of an ongoing series walking through the revitalizing process, thus far, of Cypress Lake Baptist church. You can read part 1 herepart 2 herepart 3 herepart 4 herepart 5 here, and part 6 here.

It's about time for me to close out these posts, but I have this one and then a concluding post for this series. This one is crucial. This one is prayer. Prayer has no doubt contributed in unbelievable (and probably unknowable) ways. However, I do not simply mean prayers over the past 18 months. I came to this church 18 months ago, but they had their pastor search committee for over a year. Since I was the second pastor of CLBC this was a new process for them. I've heard several members of the committee talk about the process, the struggles, and the drive to prayer that they were often led to individually and together.

However, that's not where it began either. The truth is I came into a place that had prayed for years for God to do a work, reach the community, and increase His glory in this place. I came into a place that had labored in prayer and work for over 30 years together. I came into a place that God had already been working in and moving to accomplish great things for His name's sake.

I have recently come to realize this truth more and more. While it is true that 18 months ago our church was struggling in some ways, they were not struggling in prayer. They believed God had a plan for them and they continued to seek His face to see what that plan might be.

Over the past 18 months God has answered numerous prayers in our midst. They called me as pastor, which was an answer to their specific prayers in that season. We've seen God work in and through our people to bring about healing spiritually, emotionally, and physically. We've seen guests show up nearly every Sunday for 18 months, and the overwhelming majority of them have not been invited by us. I've also seen and heard of many of our members mention how they pray for my family and I daily. I cannot stress enough how important this is and how blessed I feel.

God is doing a work. God is answering prayer. And these are prayers that have been going on for many years, by many people, at many times, in many ways, and in many places.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Revitalizing CLBC: Part 6

This is part 6 of an ongoing series walking through the revitalizing process, thus far, of Cypress Lake Baptist church. You can read part 1 herepart 2 herepart 3 herepart 4 here, and part 5 here.

As I have thought through more and more of how we have come to where we are today as a church I realize that it's completely God's doing. This post will focus on one of the many ways that God has brought revitalizing to CLBC.

Not long after I came to CLBC I realized that our people were wonderful. They cared deeply for one another and for the Word. The previous pastor was here for 34 years (he planted the church) before I came. That pastor was a very generous, loving, and kind man. These characteristics have been evident to me in this church since the day I arrived. He is still in our church actually. I almost didn't come because I knew that beforehand, but after much prayer and discussion with him we decided it was the Lord's doing.

One day I was talking with him about the church. I was asking questions about his ministry and giving some thoughts about where we were going. He has been extremely supportive of me since I arrived and has honestly contributed greatly to the transition for his ministry to mine. One of the subjects that came up was the reality that we needed some new members in our faith family. Let me be clear here. We needed new members because our church was growing older and had become stagnant in many ways. The members who were here before I arrived had been praying for new members and for a reviving of this local body long before I came. Of course, we realized that Christ would build His church in His ways and in His timing. With that being known I began praying that God would send us some new members. However, I didn't just pray for new members, I prayed that God would send us some folks with ministry experience and solid theological understandings.

Over the past 12 months or so God has answered these prayers far beyond my expectations. New people coming into a congregation has a way of encouraging the folks who have been there for years and years praying and asking God for these things. By God's grace we have people coming with a variety of gifts and talents. We have people coming with different passions to minister to others, to extend mercy, to reach our community, and to reach the nations. And the truth is we know that it is God's doing because we are still rebuilding and refocusing areas and ministries. What I mean is we haven't focused nearly as much on outreach as I'd like, but we have prayed and asked God to help us. We have trusted that as we proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ and seek to faithfully preach/hear His Word and faithfully obey what Christ has commanded that He would work and move in and among us. And by God's grace, we have seen these prayers answered with 'yes.'

So, another item that has helped us in the revitalizing process thus far is the addition of more people. Whether you add or subtract from the body of Christ it produces change. Thus far it appears God is changing us for His glory.

Friday, February 24, 2012

J.C. Ryle on the Law

In J.C. Ryle's commentary on Luke (p. 214) he writes:
Let us settle in our minds that "the law is good if a man uses it properly" (1 Timothy 1:8). It is intended to show us God's holiness and our sinfulness, to convince us of sin and to lead us to Christ, to show us how to live after we have come to Christ, and to teach us what to follow and what to avoid. The person who uses the law this way will find a true friend for his soul. The established Christian will always say, "In my inner being I delight in God's law" (Romans 7:22)." 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Revitalizing CLBC: Part 5

This is part 5 of an ongoing series walking through the revitalizing process, thus far, of Cypress Lake Baptist church. You can read part 1 herepart 2 herepart 3 here, and part 4 here.

I have to constantly remind myself that Jesus said He would build His church. I have to constantly remind myself that He does this through His disciples seeking to make disciples of all nations. I have to do this by defining what a disciple is and how one goes about making disciples. While certainly missions, outreach, and evangelism are part of the Great Commission, I think often times we neglect the importance of teaching Christ-followers to obey all that Christ has commanded.

When I first arrived at CLBC I wanted to make sure that we had disciples. I defined this simply by saying that I wanted to make sure that we were devoted followers of Christ who sought to make other devoted followers of Christ. I decided to do this by investing in a few men. I wasn't exactly sure who that would be when I first came, but I did want it to be men who had respect and support from the church. My decision was to first look at the deacons. I had several friends point me in this direction, and at this point it has been very good and beneficial for us.

Our deacon chairman is also a Sunday School teacher and one who is able to think through doctrine and Scriptures well. After talking with him for several months I asked him if anyone had ever walked with him and mentored him in his faith. They had not. I asked him if I could. He was overjoyed with the possibility. Not knowing exactly where he was we started with a book, Living the Cross-Centered Life, but by the end of this I could tell he wanted to be challenged more. We moved on from there to The Deliberate Church. This was good, but I could tell that he still wanted more. At this time we are reading Bible Doctrine together. While we are still early in our reading I think it will benefit him greatly to have doctrinal categories to help him in his walk with the Lord. Beyond the reading, however, we have also opened up to one another and prayed for one another. He has seen and heard many of my own personal struggles and I have his as well. This has been greatly beneficial for me (and I believe him).

In the meantime I had two other deacons who wanted to grow in the Lord through Scripture reading. We decided to meet weekly and work through the book of Galatians together. This was great! We met once a week, had breakfast, read a portion of Scripture together, and thought through ways to apply this in our context.

This, I truly believe, has been huge for us. It's been huge not because of what I've done, but because it has caused us to focus on Christ. It has caused us to realize the importance of truth found in the Scriptures and to make decisions based on these things. It has also allowed us to know one another better so that we can stand together. It has also allowed these men to know me better, which means they are able to tell me to slow down, speed up, stop, or something else. And with a group united together on the gospel of Jesus and the Word of God we have been able to move forward in some pretty remarkable ways.

We're not there yet. We have a long ways to go. But it has been good to spend time with these men. My long-term hope is that they will begin mentoring others and I will as well. By God's grace I hope to see this become part of who we are as a church. I pray that we will take seriously the command to make disciples of those to whom the Lord has allowed us to fellowship with.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

My Sister Provides a Great Laugh!

My sister recently had some baby teeth removed. She found this video a few days later that she apparently took just after they removed them. I have found this hilarious!

Revitalizing CLBC: Part 4

This is part 4 of an ongoing series walking through the revitalizing process, thus far, of Cypress Lake Baptist church. You can read part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here.

Part 4 of what has happened with CLBC that has, I believe, contributed to what seemingly is a revitalizing of God's people is an emphasis on missions. By God's grace I've been blessed to go to India (twice), Trinidad, Mexico, Haiti, and Myanmar on short-term mission trips. I've also been blessed to minister to several people within the local context of the church I've served with.

With that being said, I used to think that it was my responsibility to make sure that my people knew as much as I could possibly teach them before they began engaging the lost with the gospel and hoping to see disciples made. This led me to be extremely hesitant to have too many outreach or mission opportunities in place. However, I have over the past several years come to the conclusion that part of the equipping process is to have disciples engage in the work of outreach and ministry. I immediately wanted our church to develop the mentality that we are about helping other people become devoted followers of Jesus.

Of course, this does mean that I need to teach and prepare my people to do the work of the ministry. I have attempted to take time to consistently point out ways that we could engage the people around us in personal evangelism, ministry projects, or even just inviting them to one of our worship gatherings where I try to make sure the gospel message is clearly proclaimed. By God's grace CLBC has responded to the challenge to find ways to make disciples of all nations.

We've done this in a few different ways. One way is that we've had the opportunity to display our care for others through our benevolent ministry as well as opportunities to help gather backpacks for kids who needed help, and to help support a local ministry providing meals for families at Thanksgiving. While neither of these provided the face-to-face evangelism opportunities that are certainly needed, they did provide us opportunities to care for others. Prior to my arrival at CLBC they had a couple other yearly opportunities to help others (which we still do), but we have upped our emphasis and strategy here.

Another way we've emphasized this is through praying through and finding ways to minister at the local state college, Edison. Again, while we haven't had as much face-to-face engaging conversations as I'd like, we have had more than in other avenues. It's been good. It's been a way to help our people see the needs and opportunities with a younger generation. I believe this has been used by God to help open the eyes of our people and given them a passion to reach out to others with the good news of Jesus Christ.

A third way that we've seen the development of our missions strategy is through a short-term mission trip to Myanmar. I was the only one from our faith family who went, but all the money raised for me to go and money to help with a couple projects while there, came through the giving of our people. This helped our church 'own' the trip to a very unreached area of the world. In order to help CLBC feel a part of what the Lord was doing there I spent a Sunday PM sharing pictures and stories of the opportunities overseas.

While this was my emphasis from the start Joe Thorn was again helpful in this for me. The truth is, however, this is still an unfolding and remolding process. We are presently praying through and seeking through ways to best use the limited resources of workers with a smaller congregation to reach those around us. Just last night I shared a brief outline of ways we can think through how we can engage our immediate area. We live in a county were over 90% is not affiliated with any kind of evangelical church. We want to be good stewards with the opportunities God has given us here.

Developing a missions emphasis and strategy has been crucial for us. We're certainly not there yet. We still have much, much work to do. But God has seemingly been pleased with our desire to care for and reach out to others in our local communities and to the ends of the earth. I have come to realize you don't make disciples (devoted followers of Christ) and then help them engage the lost. Rather, you help them engage the lost as you help them become devoted followers of Christ.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Revitalizing CLBC: Part 3

This is part 3 of an ongoing series walking through the revitalizing process, thus far, of Cypress Lake Baptist Church. You can read Parts 1 here and Part 2 here.

Not long after coming to CLBC I realized that I needed help thinking through steps to take and areas to work on to refocus our church. I consulted several friends (and still do) and others who have been able to see churches in plateau or decline come back. There are several books out there with some helpful material in them, but often those are more practically driven than anything else. Practical issues are good and important, but only insomuch as they reflect the Biblical pattern.

One of the people I contacted was Joe Thorn. I had actually talked with Joe several years ago when I prayed through planting a church in Chicago. This time it was different, but I wanted to hear his story and what he focused on through his process of church planting. Our stories are different, but the goal of having a healthy church is the same. I'm sure we process and apply things differently, but the first item he talked about I loved. He shared the need to focus on Gospel Recovery and Centrality. It's interesting that he stated this because I was already focusing on this in many ways, but this helped me to clarify to others within our faith family that this would be a focus for us.

I came to CLBC in September 2010. I immediately began preaching through the book of James on Sunday mornings and evenings. By the end of November we had finished James and I decided it was time to focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ. This launched us into an exposition of Luke's gospel. I started that at the end of November 2010 and am still preaching through it today. I've taken breaks, but it has certainly been the primary text of preaching since I arrived. My goal here was, and still is, that we would know and love the person and work of Jesus. By this I mean that we would recover, or renew, or refocus, on what the Bible says about Jesus instead of what we often want to believe about Jesus. This has been really helpful for me and it appears for our church.

I'm a huge fan of expositional preaching as the primary form of preaching when the church gathers. However, as we were working through Luke's gospel I decided that we needed to really focus on the gospel message itself. This was partly due to my observation of our church, as well as other churches, and how easy it is to drift away from being centered on the gospel. What I found in our church is that we need to have a center on something other than preferences. Of course this center is Jesus, and we know Jesus through the declaration of God's Word, and specifically the gospel message. This was also sparked because I read Trevin Wax's book Counterfeit Gospels (which I recommend!).

I have recently realized that no matter where you are as a church you need to constantly be reminded of the gospel message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus on behalf of sinners. I do not ever want our church to assume the gospel. I don't ever want to assume that everyone in my church fully understands the gospel. A recovery of the Biblical gospel is huge. God seems to have used my preaching through Luke's gospel, as well as a message series on the gospel, to help us recover the gospel message.

In that sermon series, however, I also wanted to show how the gospel should be applied beyond initial salvation. I wanted to show that the gospel was applicable everyday for believers as well as unbelievers. Knowing that there was noway I could cover every area that the gospel applies in (since it applies in each and every situation!), I decided to focus on how the gospel message creates the gospel community (the church) and that the gospel community belongs to Jesus Christ. From here we established that since it's Jesus' church He decides how the church ought to be.

We're not there yet. We have a long way to go. But again I think we'll always have a long way to go. We are a work in progress. But I have heard testimony after testimony within our faith family of men and women seeking to apply the gospel in their own lives, in relationships, at work, at home, and in the church. I believe it pleases God when His people seek to apply the Scriptures daily. I believe this is crucial for the revitalizing of any church. I must admit that while sermon series can be good and helpful, and for us I think it was, expositional preaching of God's Word has been the number one means that God has used thus far to strengthen His people and to draw in new ones to this flock.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Revitalizing CLBC: Part 2

This is part two in an ongoing series walking through the revitalizing process, so far, of Cypress Lake Baptist Church. You can read part 1 here.

In the process of making the decision to leave my church in VA and moving to Fort Myers, FL to pastor Cypress Lake Baptist Church I came to visit Fort Myers for several days. It was in August 2010 when my family and I hopped on a plane and flew south. We immediately loved the area. I had never been to Fort Myers before (in fact, I didn't even know about Fort Myers until I started talking with this church!). The weekend that we were here the pastor search committee asked me to preach in both the morning and evening services. In these two meetings I preached two messages that would lay a foundation for how I planned to work and see CLBC become a living and thriving church again.

My morning message, The Church's One Foundation, was from Matthew 16:13-20. In this message I wanted to highlight the truth found in verse 18. Jesus told Peter, and the disciples, that He would build His church and the gates of Hell would not prevail against it. That is a comforting promise. I wanted our church to know from the very beginning that if our church would ever live and thrive and make an impact for the kingdom of God it would be through Christ building His church.

I recognize how simplistic this sounds, but it's actually not simplistic at all. It's not simplistic because I like to build things. It's not simplistic because I like to come up with ideas and ways to 'do' church. The idea of trusting that Christ will build His church takes a certain patience that I do not typically display very well. Nevertheless, I found it important to lay out this truth before this church voted to call me as their pastor.

That evening I preach a message, The Church's Mission, from Matthew 28:18-20. In this message I wanted to highlight that the way in which Christ builds His church is through His church. What I mean by this is that the church is to be about making disciples of all nations. It is true that the people of God ought to be about the work of God. It is true that as a church we would think about making disciples of all nations. We would become involved, quickly, in reaching others with the good news of Jesus Christ. And this wouldn't be limited to one people group or one particular area. We would certainly seek to be faithful in serving and reaching those in our immediate area, but we would also be about reaching the unreached peoples of the world. And while we would do this we would have to remember that it isn't our church that is building the church, but rather Christ working in and through the church to build His church.

With these two messages preached I had hoped to lay out a vision for how we would see CLBC revitalized. My hope was that if this church asked me to be their pastor they would realize that my plan for the church would be fairly simple. I would preach God's Word to the best of my ability. I would lead our church to reach out with the gospel of Jesus Christ to those around us. I would lead our church to engage the nations for Christ. But the foundation for all of these things would be the promise that Jesus said He would build His church. We would seek to do it God's way because that is the way that God will build His church. If this were to happen we would have to not on sing, but whole heartedly believe, that the church's one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Revitalizing CLBC: Part 1

Over the past 12 months or so I have had several people contact me by phone, email, or social media, asking me how I have gone about revitalizing Cypress Lake Baptist Church. Let me say from the start that I'm not sure why I have had the contacts. I've been the pastor of this church for 17 months, and I don't know if it's right to say we have 'revitalized' anything. The history of our church is filled with ups and downs like so many other churches. I do not plan to deal with those here.

To start this series of posts I want to begin by simply pointing out where we were and where we are at this point. Before I came to CLBC I was pastoring a church in Pulaski, VA. It is a good church. In fact, I had only been there for 22 months and things were really going well. The issue for me was I went into that church planning to plant a church after a couple years. I shared that with some on the search committee, but they needed a pastor and trusted that God's will would be done. With that being said, after about a year or so of being there I realized the way to go about planting wasn't really happening for me (I would need to move my family to a church that would be able to evaluate me and then decide if they wanted to send me out as planter, and that just wasn't happening at the stage of life we were in). With the doors of church planting seemingly closing I began to pray and ask God what was next for us. Would we stay in VA? Would we move? Where would we go? What kind of church would it be?

I begin sending out my resume, but had decided I would not go to any church that was in decline (funny how that works). I spoke with several churches over the next few months, but they didn't seem to work out. The next part of the process is admittedly not very well planned. In the mountains of VA we had a very difficult winter my second winter there. I don't like snow. I don't like cold. In a reaction to this I sent a resume to almost any church in FL because it was warm. As I said, not really the way I would recommend decision making! During the summer of 2010 I heard back from CLBC while on vacation with my family in SC.

I had filled out several questionnaires already, and almost didn't fill out the one they sent. In God's providence (and my ignorance) I was sunburnt pretty bad our first day at the beach. This gave me extra time the next day, so I decided to fill out the questionnaire. To make a long story short, I was moving to SWFL within the next few months.

When I arrived it was September 1, 2010 and our attendance was down to around 65 or so. Immediately we saw an increase. Part of that is because we were entering our winter season, and many winter residents were beginning to come into town. Part of it was people in the area wanting to know who the new pastor was. Part of it was just word of mouth from our members. Whatever the case was, we had over 100 people after about 6 weeks. I had no idea who belonged to CLBC, who were local visitors, who were winter visitors, or anything else. We were unprepared for this. We lost almost everyone by the end of the winter season.

During the first year I spent time focusing on the gospel by beginning the exposition of Luke's gospel. I also preached a long sermon series on the gospel and some implications of the gospel. It's been good. I'll talk more about this 'gospel recovery' in a future post. We also spent some money remodeling our nursery so that when young families did come in they weren't afraid to leave their children. This has proved very helpful as well.

Just yesterday we had our highest attended service since I came to CLBC with around 130 men, women and children. Of course, we are in season right now. However, we have had several local people coming to worship with us. All of this certainly makes me feel as though revitalization has taken place, but I want to be very careful jumping to that conclusion. What does that even mean? Is it possible to have more people coming and yet not really be growing in grace? It certainly is! Does revitalizing a church simply mean we have more people coming? If so, then maybe we have been revitalized. However, I think there is more than that to the process. My goal for our church is that we are a healthy church. My hope is that we will see many, many more changes come to CLBC.

In my next post I'll talk about some of the practical things I've done since coming here that I think have contributed to where we are. I hope this will be an encouragement to many other pastors out there.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Don’t Give up on the Evening Service – Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung has written a post about not giving up on the evening service. This is an area that I have thought a ton about over the past several years. The past couple churches I've served as pastor of have a significantly smaller crowd on Sunday evening. I also see the benefit of small group settings where believers can pray for one another, encourage one another, exhort one another, and seek to apply the other 'one another' passages of the NT. Of course, this doesn't have to happen through a small group ministry, but I can see how it could.

With that being said, I have recently started thinking that a recovery rather than an abandonment of the evening service might be better for CLBC. We have one. We have about 25% come back. It appears we are in a similar situation (though smaller) as Kevin DeYoung's church. As I have reflected more and more on the Lord's Day I have come to the place where I think it's best for our church to continue what we have, but to make it better (by intentionally focusing on what needs to be focused on).

I like a lot of what DeYoung says in this post, but I must admit I wish he elaborated more on his points at the end. You can click on the link below to read his post. In a world and time when so many other things are going on around us, I think it may be helpful to truly set aside the whole day to gather with God's people, rest in Christ, and sit under God's Word.

**Others also pointed out that they wished DeYoung elaborated on his concluding points. He has now added to those. What are your thoughts? 

Don’t Give up on the Evening Service – Kevin DeYoung:

'via Blog this'

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

9 Keys to Reaching College Students

Our church is seeking and praying through how we might more effectively engage the students on Edison State College's campus. We are only a couple blocks away from the campus, the student body is growing, they are now putting in dorms, and we want to minister to these men and women. I found this article helpful as we think and pray through this opportunity.

The Nine Keys are:

1. Whatever you do, don't shy away from depth

2. Preach the gospel

3. Love on display is often the most effective apologetic

4. Remember that we live in the Bono generation

5. Lift their eyes to the nations

6. Aggressively develop summer projects and overseas opportunities

7. One-on-one meetings and small groups are often more effective for evangelism than large gatherings

8. Providing multigenerational connections within the church is essential to discipleship

9. Cultural adaptation is important, though not essential

You can read the whole article here:

9 Keys to Reaching College Students

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sunday Sermons

Yesterday I continued through the gospel of Luke with CLBC. The morning sermon received a lot of feedback from our congregation. By God's grace, it appears it has ministered to several people. If you listen to it, I hope and pray it serves you well and points you to Christ.

AM - Strive to Enter through the Narrow Door - Luke 13:22-30

PM - O Jerusalem, Jerusalem - Luke 13:31-35

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Large or Small Gathering?

I would greatly appreciate your feedback. I know many churches who used to have Sunday night and/or Wednesday night services that made the switch to small groups (and thus canceled one or both evening meetings). I recognize the importance of gathering in smaller groups as well as the importance of gathering with the whole body and experiencing the several means of grace in a corporate setting.

If you had to choose between small or large gatherings, which would you choose and why?

My church presently has Sunday AM and PM corporate gatherings, plus a Wednesday night prayer meeting and Bible study. There are many reasons for me to rejoice in this. I also see the benefit of gathering together in small groups for prayer, accountability, application of the Scriptures, and encouragement. I do not see the benefit of adding another night to the busy schedule of people's lives.

So if you had to choose between small or large gatherings, which would you choose and why?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Is Jesus Anti-Religion?

I'm not one who likes to argue or get things started. However, I do feel the need to caution people with terminology, especially as it relates to this video and several other preachers, articles, and videos with similar sayings.

There is much in this video that I applaud, and the heart certainly seems to be sincere. I am grateful for this brother's salvation and his desire to use his gift (which, by the way, I do not possess but wouldn't mind if I did!) to spread the good news of hope in Christ.

However, I am concerned about what is said in this video. Words matter. Words matter a lot. What you say affects others. I learn this often when I say something while preaching, but later realize I hadn't said it the right way or said it in a way that misled. Is God still able to use my preaching, or this video? Yes. And praise be to God that He can.

Just to be clear about one more thing, this video is simply the latest that is making the rounds. I've heard preachers, read posts, heard comments, had conversations, and more where the same kind of thinking is portrayed. And to be clear, often times these are from people whom I love and respect in thousands of ways. With that being said, Jesus doesn't hate religion. Jesus isn't anti-religion. Jesus is certainly against self-righteousness and man-made religion, but that isn't all religion. We know this because in James 1:27 we learn of the 'religion' that pleases God the Father.

I do applaud this video (and the other things I've pointed out) for the stance against what is often seen in the church today as religion. There are certainly hypocrites everywhere in the church. There are certainly legalist throughout the church. And there are certainly those who make it quite easy to hate what is perceived as religion. Nevertheless, religion isn't against Jesus, nor is Jesus against religion.

The Bible clearly shows us that there is a set of expectations and practices that Christians are to be about. For instance, we know the early church was committed to the apostle's teaching (Acts 2:42). Paul told Timothy to devote himself to the reading and explaining of God's Word (First Timothy 4:13). Even Jesus said if you love Him you will keep His commandments (John 14:15). This, though very brief, shows us that there is a set of rules or expectations that the Bible has for believers. Again, Jesus isn't against religion, but against self-righteousness that makes up many religious people today.

Bottom line is this, Jesus possesses all righteousness and freely gives this to all who repent of their sins (even and especially self-righteousness) and trusts in His perfect obedience alone for his or her salvation. Would you repent and trust in Christ? Would you then join a local church and help redeem the word religion by seeking to obey Christ with other brothers and sisters?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

10 Ways to Facilitate Spiritual Growth in Christ

This morning I preached "Rooted and Built Up in Christ: Part 2" for Cypress Lake Baptist Church. I listed the following 10 ways to facilitate spiritual growth in Christ at the conclusion of my sermon:

1. Join a Sunday School Class (our small group)
2. Be Faithful in your Attendance (to all areas of the gathering of the church)
3. Find Accountability and Prayer from Others
4. Read your Bibles Often
5. Pray Regularly
6. Memorize God's Word
7. Meditate on God's Word
8. Find Ways to Serve Others
9. Read Good Books
10. Proclaim the Goodness of Christ to Others

I listed each of these and tried to offer a brief explanation for each one. You can listen to the sermon here.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Walking in Christ

This past Sunday I preached the first sermon of the year from Colossians 2:6-7. The text reads, "Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving." This coming Sunday I'll preach my second sermon from the same text. It is my goal for our church to seek to walk in Christ Jesus daily. Here is a quote from John MacArthur about what Paul mean in Colossians 2:6 when he said to walk in him:
The familiar term walk refers to daily conduct. In this context it means primarily to continue believing the truth about Christ, not allowing their Christology to waiver...In broader terms, however, walking in Christ means living in union with Him.
May we make it our intention to daily walk and live in union with Christ Jesus the Lord!

A Forgotten Text? Why is that, I wonder? - Reformation21 Blog

This is, I think, a good word for our day. His closing question is, "Here is a question: would it make any difference to you, any difference at all to the way you talk, to what you watch, to the way you "engage culture", if Eph. 5:12 had never been written?"

A Forgotten Text? Why is that, I wonder? - Reformation21 Blog

The Gospel, The World, The Church, The Glory of God

I am considering changing the name of this blog to "The Gospel, The World, The Church, The Glory of God" because it captures the process and emphasis of what I hope to focus on and be about in my life and the life of my church. I begin with the gospel because that is the foundation for who we are and how we are in Christ Jesus. That gospel goes out into the world of darkness. When those who hear, repent, and believe they become part of the church. The church is both universal and local. I will primarily deal with the local church, as I am a local church pastor. All of this is for the glory of God. Plus, by making the title and emphasis broad like that I feel free to really blog about all things pertaining to Christ and His church.

Does that make sense? Any other suggestions?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Learning to Love the Reality more than the Dream

Over the past couple of weeks the Lord revealed something in my heart. He revealed to me that I was loving the dream more than the reality. We live in a day when we are able to see the "successes" of other pastors and/or churches. We live in a day (nothing new here) when we seek to justify our actions and thoughts in a godly fashion. Here's what I mean. There is nothing wrong with wanting to see as many people in my community as I possibly can coming to faith in Christ. I live in a county that is said to be over 90% unchurched. There is indeed a great opportunity for the light to shine in darkness. I have called it "vision" when I say I can see so much potential before us. I can see so many wonderful opportunities to see people reached for Christ, growing in grace, planting churches, sending missionaries, reaching the unreached peoples of the world. And all of this is great and sounds good.

However, I didn't realize how I was drifting into a dream and away from reality. I was frustrated that our church wasn't keeping more people. I was frustrated that we weren't seeing more fruit. It was a slow progression in my own heart and easily justifiable because of the good nature of wanting to see these things take place.

God has called me to pastor this flock. God has called me to pastor Cypress Lake Baptist Church. I had somehow drifted away from that. I wanted to see "other" people here. I was taking for granted the fact that God has allowed me to pastor "this" particular people. In all my "dreaming" of more people (even for good reasons like making more disciples) I missed the most important aspect of my calling, which is to shepherd the flock among me. In all my dreaming I began loving the dream more than the reality.

This reminded me of a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community, "He who loves his dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial."

Ouch! That was me. The Lord, in His grace, pointed this out to me. A couple Wednesday evenings ago I confessed this to my congregation. Why? Because I want them to see that this is Christ's church and I had started to place myself as the head of the church. I had bought into this lie that I could make us grow and move forward. I had bought into the lie that I could create community if the church would follow.

I was wrong. Dead wrong. I cannot make us grow. I cannot make the church better.

Two Scriptures that make this point abundantly clear:

1. Matthew 16:18, Jesus says, "I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Emphasis added)

2. First Corinthians 3:5-9, "What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building." (Emphasis added)

My calling, indeed a pastor's calling, is to faithfully minister the Word of God. God is the One who does the work in and through His faithful ministers. God is the One who gets the glory. Instead of "dreaming" of how things could be, I am learning to love the reality of being with God's people more than the dream of a people yet to be known.