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.