Monday, November 13, 2017

Our Faith and Social Reform

To what lengths should we go to confront and eradicate evils apparent in our society today? As believers living in Jacksonville, Florida in 2017, how does Jesus want us to engage a world so enamored with sin? Are we fulfilling Jesus’ calling to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matt 5:13-14)? 
Carl F.H. Henry helped found several major
evangelical organizations, including Fuller
Theological Seminary, Evangelical Theological
Society, and Christianity Today.
See: 
http://www.henryinstitute.org/henrys-story/
In 1947 Carl F.H. Henry gave a lecture that was eventually published as a book titled, “The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism.” This work articulated a core value for Fuller Theological Seminary, which began that year and with  whom Henry served as a professor. Henry’s thesis in the book is that the Evangelical (Fundamentalist) church is not doing enough to confront and eradicate the social evils present in the world. When he wrote the book, the world was enraptured in or recovering from horrifying evils such as the Holocaust, World War II, class warfare, unethical labor practices, and slavery. In Henry’s opinion, the Evangelical church wasn’t doing enough to combat these evils.
Why did evangelicals seem to disengage from the social evils of the day? Henry believes it was partially due to the church’s reaction against the Social Gospel movement, which generally did not adhere to the same fundamentals of the faith as theologically conservative evangelicals and tended to focus more on meeting social needs rather than sharing the Gospel and conversions. He writes, “Fundamentalism  (Evangelicalism) in revolting against the Social Gospel seemed also to revolt against the Christian social imperative." The Evangelical church overreacted and disengaged from global social work. Thus, Henry wrote to beckon the church back to our rightful place as the leader in righting the evils of their day.
Henry’s work, though written to challenge the Evangelical church in the 1940’s, is applicable to the Evangelical church of 2017. He writes, “It remains a question whether one can be perpetually indifferent to the problems of social justice and international order, and develop a wholesome personal ethic.” Can we really call ourselves followers of Jesus and at the same time remain disengaged with global, social evils like sex trafficking, unfair labor practices, and genocide? Henry states, “A Christianity without a passion to turn the world upside down is not reflective of apostolic Christianity.”
How do we react to a challenge like this? Maybe we should think about what the Bible says about the issue. There is no single answer for everyone that applies to every circumstance. I think we should use the principle, rather, that Jesus outlined in Matthew 5:13-16:
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Where has God given you a platform to reach into the evils of our world in order to be salt and light? Are you willing to follow Him into those dark places and to be a part of experiencing His Kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven?

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Now is Our Time...To Harvest!

A few weeks ago our network had the opportunity to hear from Trevin Wax. Dr. Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher for LifeWay Christian Resources and author of “This is Our Time: Everyday Myths in Light of the Gospel.” He spent three hours with our pastors and ministry leaders discussing the major points of his book and how these trends influence our ministry today. While he made a number of important points, in this article I want to discuss a couple that will impact the way we plant churches in Jacksonville and abroad over the next few decades.
First, an analysis of past and current trends indicates that God will continue to grow His Kingdom! In light of passages like Matthew 16:18, you probably said, “Well duh,” when you read that but recent trends in the U.S. seem to paint a different picture. Dr. Wax presented several facts, however, that indicate that the future is bright for the Evangelical Church:
    • Born-again believers are growing in the U.S. (A lot of people are still being saved every day)
    • On a global scale, the percentage of people unaffiliated with any religious system will decrease from 16% to 13% from 2010 to 2050.
    • Evangelicalism will become more ethnically diverse in upcoming years.
I could write volumes about the importance of each of these trends, but for the remainder of this article, I would like to focus on the second point.
If you happen to read the local newspaper, scan social media, or watch almost any news broadcast, it may feel like “the world is going to Hell in a hand basket,” and the future will never be good as the past. While I, like many of you, lament some of the changes in our culture, the Bible assures us that God will use even the most horrible things for His Glory and His Purpose. If Wax’s projections are correct, than Christians have an unprecedented opportunity for harvest over the next three decades.
In 2010 there were 6.9 billion people in the world and 1.1 billion (16%) were unaffiliated with any religion. By 2050, the U.N. estimates that there will be 9.6 billion people in the world and Wax concludes that 1.25 billion (13%) will be unaffiliated with any religion. So in 2010 5.8 billion people were affiliated with a religion and in 2050 8.35 people will be affiliated with a religion. If those numbers made your head spin or you just woke up face down on your tablet in a pool of drool, let me sum this up. In the next 3 decades over 2.5 billion people will begin following some religious system. The question is, will they be born-again believers or will they be Muslims, Buddhists, or Hindus (the 3 largest religions after Christianity in 2015)?
There are, obviously, a number of different potential methods we can use to take advantage of this tremendous opportunity and impact the world for Christ. Many of you are more qualified than me to talk about them. Please grant me one more moment to offer three ways we may best use the time Jesus gives us over the next three decades to share the gospel with and make disciples of the 2.5 billion people who will choose to follow some religious system.
  1. We must sacrificially give everything we can to the global mission movement, which is spearheaded by the International Mission Board. The greatest population growth over the next three decades will be in Africa and India will be the world’s most populous country. We need to send more people and resources to those places.
  2. We need to make disciples of our children. Our family is our first and most important ministry. We need to make a concerted effort to teach and live the Gospel with our spouses and children. We also have a responsibility to the orphan who has no family. They need to hear the Gospel, from us, and not the gospel of other religions.
  3. We must embrace and celebrate our ethnic diversity, not just tolerate it. This means we cling to our biblically-based, fundamental theological beliefs and utilize effective methodologies based on ministry context. The Southern Baptist Convention of Churches began in the U.S. but we have an opportunity to expand our reach for Christ and make an unprecedented global impact in the next three decades.


While recent events leave many feeling like our best days are behind us, I believe we have an opportunity to be a part of a spectacular future. Now is our time to harvest!That leaves one remaining question: What part will you play in the harvest?

Friday, July 8, 2016

How Do I Know if My Church Plant is Healthy

How Do I Know if My Church Plant is Healthy?
 
Do you ever wonder if your church planting ministry is healthy? Sometimes that's the last thing on the mind of a planter when he just finished the Sunday morning worship service that was packed with unplanned events. I remember one Sunday we showed up to set up and the school cafetorium (cafeteria + auditorium) had no power. Of course this happened in the middle of August in Florida! Once we finally got the power turned on, it was too late to cool the space for worship. We worshipped in a 90 degree room. We found solace in the idea that people all over the world worshipped God in much worse circumstances. It was still hot but at least we convinced ourselves that we were "suffering for Jesus" or something like that...
As we engage in the journey of church planting, in between the catastrophes that seem to happen on a regular basis, sometimes we have a moment or two to ponder the health of our church plant. Do you ever find yourself asking if your plant is healthy?
In his book, Kingdom First, Jeff Christopherson discusses this question and provides four metrics for measuring the health (Kingdom effectiveness) of your church plant.
I think these four metrics are a great place for us to start as we evaluate our the health o our church plants.
#1 New Believers
Christopherson writes, "The first and primary phase of any new church plant must be a concentrated and intense focus on effective evangelism." How many of the people involved in your ministry are individuals who became believers as a result of your ministry? How many of the people involved in your ministry joined your ministry from another church or were believers before they joined your work? Don't get me wrong. Believers who know how to serve and desire to do so are like gold for us. It's hard to measure their value because they might bring encouragement, spiritual fruit, and financial support to the plant. If the majority of your folks were believers before they joined your plant, however, you might need to evaluate your evangelistic efforts.
#2 New Disciple Makers
Are the believers in your plant making disciples? Christopherson writes, "A church plant that will have substantial kingdom impact will regularly measure its effectiveness in engaging the breadth of its membership in the assignment of being fishers of men." Remember, however, that you must be the lead disciple maker. We can't expect our team to do something that we are unwilling to do ourselves. An effective church plant fulfills the Great Commission and makes disciples.
#3 New Communities of Faith
I realize that there is a tremendous amount of pressure at the onset of a church planting ministry. I have often felt like I had a huge clock above my head ticking down and once I ran out of time I would be at the end of my financial support and better have a self-sustaining church at that point. What I realized from this experience is that we need to create longer runways for our planting ministries and develop more realistic financial plans for our personal and ministry budgets. If we do this, perhaps we will have a greater likelihood of planting pregnant (engaged in the process of planting a second gen church from the beginning of our own plant). We must integrate rapid multiplication (planting churches that plant churches that plant churches) into the DNA of our plant from the beginning. It isn' something that happens by accident. Christopherson writes, "Developing metrics (or a road map) for a new church plant to sacrificially multiply (or partner with others in planting) new congregations as a normal part of its lifestyle is a vital sign of kingdom health." I realize some planters are just struggling to develop a critical mass and consistent ministry but every planter must be willing to develop a "Timothy" in order to expand the Kingdom.
#4 Transforming Communities
The phrase is quoted so often, it has become unclear with whom it originated, but it is still an effective question: "If your church ceased to exist, would anyone care?" Effective church plants transform the communities where they exist. Christopherson describes this as the membership transforming the community through good works. Christians should be the number one doers of good works all over the world all of the time. Our works are the consequence the the chief good work Jesus did for us on the cross.
 
I think these metrics, while difficult to practice, are four of the most important things our plants could do for Jesus. Aren't these the definition of a healthy Christian church? Are they a part of your church plant?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

My Encounter with the World Mission Society Church of God

This evening I had an opportunity to talk about Jesus with a couple of nice women while shopping with my family in Walmart. As we wondered down an isle looking for cooking oil, the two women approached us and asked us a question. One of them said, "Excuse me, did you know that the Bible talks about a mother god?" My wife responded, "No, we have never read that before."

At this point, Darlene moved on with the girls and I talked with the ladies. I asked them, "What kind of Bible are you referring to? What translation?" They used a New International Version and opened up their Bible to Revelation 22:17 and proceeded to make an argument for the existence of a mother god who provides salvation for mankind with Jesus. We spent some time talking about various texts in the Bible. They claimed they read the texts like Revelation 22:17 literally and interpreted them accurately. I disagreed and challenged their conclusions using Ephesians 5 and what I believe to be a contextually appropriate interpretation of Revelation 22. Unfortunately, once our conversation ended I was unable to persuade them to change their beliefs about a mother god. I pray the Lord will continue to place people in their paths who will provide a biblically faithful testimony about Him. The Christian Apologetics and Religious Ministry site offers a quick explanation about the cult whom these ladies represent. It is named the World Mission Society Church of God.

These nice ladies helped me learn 3 things about myself and the way I talk with others about Jesus.

 1) For most of our conversation I felt like they were talking at me instead of having a conversation with me about our theological beliefs. When I talk with people about Jesus, am I truly engaging in a conversation with them about Jesus or am I talking at them about Jesus. Do I respond to their questions and concerns? It seems that I should do more listening and less talking. Jesus asked a lot of questions.

2) I didn't feel like they cared about me as a person but really cared mostly about communicating their beliefs to me. I completely understand the importance of clearly explaining the gospel to those who do not yet have a relationship with Jesus. I must remember, however, that I am talking with people who have feelings. If I truly love people the way Jesus loved people, perhaps I will have more opportunities to tell them about Him.

3) They shared their beliefs with me. I would have walked past them if they had not said anything. This is the hardest lesson I learned tonight. I was in Walmart and there were probably many other Christians in Walmart too. Yet, these two women who worship a false God were the ones sharing their faith. As followers of Jesus we must be about fulfilling the Great Commission. In short, our purpose is to share our faith with others. Lifeway Christian Resources published a study about the frequency with which Protestant believers go about fulfilling the Great Commission. See below for some of the general conclusions of this study.
Churchgoers Believe in Sharing Faith, Most Never DoI thank the Lord for my time with the two ladies in Walmart. While the enemy surely desires to use them to lead others away from true faith in Jesus, perhaps God used our conversation to draw them to Himself.

Monday, April 6, 2015


This year's tourney has been filled with excitement and great sadness for many of us. It doesn't seem to matter how unlikely it is that your favorite team will win once we get caught up on the madness of the tournament. That is the beauty of the tournament; anyone can win at any time. Kentucky now understands that truth. It also appears that anyone can win a bracket challenge too! Or at least come close to winning.

It's time to give you a quick update about my own little tournament challenge. Currently our resident CBS analyst, Gary leads with 91 points. My friend Jeff is second with 68 points. My daughters trail in third and fourth places with 57 and 21 points respectively. Things remain interesting, however, because one of my daughters has the potential to gain an additional 32 points if Wisconsin wins tonight. If they do, she will finish with 89 points, which will put her in second place and only 2 points behind Gary, the guy who does this for a living. In all fairness, I also must confess that she would also finish only 2 points behind me and I watched much more basketball this year than she will in the next decade!

This will be an exciting finish to another great NCAA basketball tournament. Next year, I will definitely use my daughter as a consultant for my bracket!

Friday, March 20, 2015


We are two days into the tournament and so many hopes and dreams have been crushed under the heels of two Cinderella teams named Panther and Blazer. I know, they sound like the lead guitarist and drummer of a bad 80's rock band but they aren't. they are the nicknames of the teams who dealt out the first two big upsets of the NCAA Tournament. These two upsets have a huge impact on the brackets of our four competitors: Jeff, Gary, Daughter #1, and Daughter #2.

Daughter #2 picked both upsets and Daughter #1 picked one of the upsets. Both Jeff and Gary did not pick either of the upsets. Here is where each person stands right now in the competition:

Daughter #1 is in first place with 10 points but only has 162 potential points to earn.
Jeff is tied for second place with 9 points and has 168 potential points to earn.
Gary is tied for second place with 9 points and has the greatest potential points to earn at 170.
Daughter #2 is in last place with 6 points and 156 potential points to earn.

Another big day of basketball remains to be played. Who will come out ahead? Who will win the challenge? We will soon see.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

It's that time of year again. It's time to celebrate the madness of a national collegiate basketball tournament. I personally love the excitement of the games. This is one of the only collegiate sports playoff systems that allows the little guy to make a run for a national championship. Who doesn't like a good Cinderella story? This year teams like Duke, Wisconsin, and Kentucky probably wouldn't like that kind of story but I for one love to sit on the edge of my seat and cheer on the tiny schools with the odds stacked against them as they knock down Goliath universities with thousands more students and much more money with a single shot in the final seconds of a game. Click here for a 15 minute reminder of the greatness of the NCAA Tournament.

I have never won a Bracket Challenge and often wonder if anyone consistently picks the right schools to win the tournament games. I wonder if the task of picking the winners of the tournament is a science, an art, or a mixture of the both? The folks at Kaggle, a community of data scientists are asking similar questions about the science of choosing teams to win the tournament. Intel, the inventor of the x86 microprocessor, is teaming up with Kaggle to host a competition among scientists to develop the most accurate algorithm for predicting tournament outcomes. Sadly, I do not have time to create my own algorithm but I do have time for my own little experiment.

I will be comparing the predictive capabilities of four individuals:

Jeff: Jeff is a businessman who loves basketball. He follows the game closely but he has a normal day job. Jeff participates in several bracket challenges each year and does his research about the teams in the tournament.

Gary Parrish: Gary is an analyst for CBS Sports, who call him a "College Basketball Insider." He will serve as our resident expert.

My Daughter #1: 7 years old. Does not care about basketball. Nor does she care who wins the NCAA tournament unless it means for some reason we would get to go out for ice cream at some point.

My Daughter #2: 4 years old. She doesn't care about basketball. In fact, she is mildly annoyed when I turn off cartoons in order to watch basketball games. She would, however, tolerate a game or two on a Saturday morning if there is a chance that a trip to the park would follow.

I posted the brackets for each person below and will update the blog regularly so you can follow their progress throughout the tournament.