Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Church Planting is Difficult!

Once per month Kevin Feder (Pastor for Family Discipleship at Glory of Christ) and I meet with other church planters from around the country who have been supported/sponsored by Bethlehem Baptist Church. One of those guys, Sean Cordell, has become a real hero of mine over the last several years.

Sean and his team are planting a church in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina. It's 75% African-American and Sean and his team are 100% white. They have a real passion to develop a multi-ethnic church. They have had a very difficult time finding a stable place to worship. In fact, Sean said on Monday that, in a span of about two years, his church has moved seven times to six different locations. Wow, that's difficult.

During that time, this little church has poured itself into a group of folks that have a heart to go over seas in full-time ministry. They are on the verge of sending about 20 missionaries onto the field--did you hear that? A church of a little more than 100 persons, meeting in a very difficult area with no stable meeting place for over two years, and they're just about to send 20 missionaries into the world! I am amazed at the grace of God on this church.

And as if this wasn't impossible enough, Treasuring Christ Community Church insists that each missionary develop a team and relocate to the field with that team. This is healthy missions philosophy but it takes a tremendous amount of time, effort, and money. But they have stuck to their guns and they're about to bear the fruit of their faith, patience, and labor.

Friends, how I pray with all my heart that we would learn to look to heros like Sean Cordell and let them inspire us to pursue higher things than this culture would have us pursue. How I pray that we would die to the world and our flesh, take up our crosses and follow Jesus all the way. How I pray that we would know the joy of total dedication to the person and beauty and purposes of God.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Please Pray for Our Men's Retreat

This weekend the men of Glory of Christ Baptist Church will gather at Miracle Bible Camp, Lord willing, to commune with God, commune with one another, feed on the Word, and play together. We'll be singing songs old and new, we'll be meditating pretty deeply on 2 Timothy 2:15, we'll be praying and sharing with one another, and we'll be shooting guns, playing floor hockey, baseball, football, and whatever else meets our fancy.

And by the way, this is all set to take place on Woman Lake--no joke!!!

Our aim in every single thing we will do is to bask in the glory of God together and to build and maintain the unity of the Spirit in he bond of peace (Eph. 4:3). The more I've prayed for the retreat this week, the more I've had a rising sense of the importance of it in the life of our church.

So, please if you will, pray with us that God will meet us there and have his way with us. I sincerely appreciate your partnership in this labor of love.

For the glory of Christ,
Charlie

Monday, October 22, 2007

Please Pray for my Brother-In-Law

When he was a kid, Kim's brother Jason had cancer. Because of this he had to have three major surgeries in two years, one of which was to remove one of his lungs. He affectionately refers to himself as the "one-lung-son."

As positive as Jason is about his past, the surgeries took their toll. Over the last couple of weeks he's been having some chest and arm pains and thus he went to see the doctor last week. The initial tests turned out well, but to be sure they feel they need to look directly into his heart. Thus, today he is underg0ing that procedure and Rachel and I are going over to watch his three little children so that his wife, Carla, can be with him.

If you have a moment, please pray for him and his family. They are both believers and are raising their children in the ways of the Lord.

Thanks for your partnership!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

On Being a "House of Prayer": Part 2

Last Wednesday night at Glory of Christ Baptist Church we continued our discussion of why we ought to strive to be a house of prayer for all peoples. I began by reminded those gathered of the first reason: God's house is a house of prayer for all people, and we are that house (see "On Being a 'House of Prayer': Part 1" below). Then I led to consider John 15:1-11:

"1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full."

The second reason we ought to strive to be a house of prayer for all peoples is because, as a church, we are utterly dependent upon God. I have often spoken of prayer as a barometer by which are conscious dependence upon God is measured. In actual terms we are 100% dependent upon him for every thing. But one of the key questions of life is this: Are we living in such a way that acknowledges our actual dependence upon God?

The amount of time a person spends in prayer, in communing with God in all circumstances of life, is the answer to this question.

Thus, we want to be a church that is so deeply conscious of our dependence upon God that we strive for the biblical goal of praying without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Culture & Crime

I received an e-mail newsletter today from the President of Prison Fellowship Ministries, Mark Early. You may or may not appreciate the article but I hope you agree that we evangelicals must think more, and better, about how to apply the gospel to vast social problems. Of course, we must avoid the mistakes of Walter Rauschenbusch and his followers, but we must not continue to turn a blind eye to issues like systemic justice and injustice.

Here's the article:

I recently told you that events in Jena, Louisiana, raised important questions about the role of race in our criminal justice system. But there's more to this issue than just race—there is a cultural dimension to the problem as well.

That cultural dimension was recently articulated by the distinguished sociologist and historian Orlando Patterson of Harvard. In a Sunday New York Times op-ed, Patterson cites the numbers—African-Americans make up 13 percent of the general population, but 50 percent of those in prison. He asks: "How, after decades of undeniable racial progress, did we end up with this virtual gulag of racial incarceration?"

Part of the answer undeniably lies in the way that our laws, especially our drug laws, are enforced. As Patterson writes, our criminal justice system "unfairly focuses on drug offenses and other crimes more likely to be committed by blacks . . ."

Combine this with "draconian mandatory sentencing" laws, and there is little wonder that so many young black men are behind bars. Still, the sad truth is that even if racism were eradicated from our criminal justice system, young black men would still form a disproportionate percentage of prisoners.

Why? Patterson points the finger at what he calls a "crisis in relations between men and women of all classes." The result of this is the "catastrophic state of black family life, especially among the poor."

This "catastrophic state" is best illustrated by the fact that "some 70 percent of black babies are born to single mothers." Patterson writes that this "absence of fathers" is "undoubtedly a major cause of youth delinquency." As a result of this absence of fathers, "far too many African-Americans" face a "lack of paternal support and discipline." Single mothers are forced to work "regardless of the effect on their children's care." This leaves their children vulnerable to gangs, which often function as "parental substitutes" and what Patterson calls the "ghetto-fabulous culture of the streets."

These conditions then combine with the criminal justice system to make "hardened criminals of nonviolent drug offenders." The result is a self-perpetuating "vicious cycle" that produces young men who are "unemployable, unreformable, and unmarriageable."

These are hard words from Patterson, not only for African-Americans like Patterson, but for all of us. The "catastrophic state" Patterson writes about is the result of cultural trends and ideas about the family that originated outside inner-city neighborhoods. As political scientist James Q. Wilson has pointed out, the poor and marginalized were simply more vulnerable to these forces.
Whatever the causes, Christians cannot stand by and do nothing while this "vicious cycle" perpetuates itself.

Prison Fellowship is dedicated to breaking the cycle: by working for a more just criminal justice system and through Angel Tree, which reaches out to the most vulnerable victims of this cycle, the children of inmates. And here at BreakPoint, we seek to equip Christians to oppose the false values and ideas that help to cause so much misery.

A great deal has gone wrong to bring us where we are today. It is time for God's people to dedicate themselves to setting things aright.

Monday, October 15, 2007

On the Providence & Being of God

I've just begun reading Stephen Charnock's massive treatise on God called The Existence and Attributes of God (Baker Books, Grand Rapids: 19996). It was written some 154 years ago and will, I'm sure, prove a sumptuous feast on the excellencies of God.

I was taken straight away with something he said in the seventh paragraph of the book:

"Those that deny the providence of God, do in effect deny the being of God; for they strip him of that wisdom, goodness, tenderness, mercy, justice, righteousness, which are the glory of the Deity. And that principle, of a greedy desire to be uncontrolled in their lusts, which induceth men to a denial of Providence, that thereby they might stifle those seeds of fear which infect and embitter their sinful pleasures, may as well lead them to deny that there is any such being as a God. That at one blow, their fears may be dashed all in pieces and dissolved by the removal of the foundation: as men who desire liberty to commit works of darkness, would not have the lights in the house dimmed, but extinguished. What men say against Providence, because they would have no check in their lusts, they may say in their hearts against the existence of God upon the same account; little difference between the dissenting from the one and disowning the other" (page 24).

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A Lesson for Preachers

This morning, among other things, I read Nehemiah chapter 8. The book of Nehemiah, as you probably know, tells the story of the exiles who returned from Babylon to Palestine to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, the temple of God, and the Jewish society. Chapter 8 tells the story of of Ezra, one of the leading religious figures of that time, reading the books of the Law to the people.

The text says that he read "from early morning until midday," and that "the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law" (v. 3). And then near the end of the chapter it says this: "Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading."

As a preacher, this is one of my favorite texts in all the Bible. So many today are trying to make the Bible more palatable for people by preaching topically on subjects they think the people will care about. So many are trying to make the Bible more marketable. But the main problem I have with this approach is that it causes the preacher to skip over difficult and important things that God means to communicate to his people. It is a preacher-centered way of preaching, rather than a God-centered way of preaching, in that it puts the ingenuity of the preacher above the wisdom of the Word of God.

Our job as preachers is two-fold: (1) to read the Word of God clearly for the people, and (2) to explain what has been read so that the people understand what it means and how it applies to their lives. That's it!

The Word of God, clearly read and helpfully explained, has great power to change people's lives, including the preacher's life. We should trust in God and his Word and not in our own ingenuity and that of others. God makes no promises about our ingenuity, but about his Word he says things like this:

"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (Hebrews 4:12-13).

Thursday, October 11, 2007

On Being a "House of Prayer": Part 1

Last night at Glory of Christ Church we commenced our mid-week service which is wholly dedicated to fellowship and prayer. For the next 6 or 8 weeks I will be bringing a devotional for the service which will try to show why Glory of Christ should dedicate an entire service, every week, to prayer. Below is a summary of the first devotional. I hope to post summaries of each of the subsequent devotionals on Thursday mornings.

Why should Glory of Christ seek to be a house of prayer? Why should every Christian seek to be a house of prayer? Because God’s house is a house of prayer, and we are his house.

I get the idea that God’s house is a house of prayer from Isaiah 56:6-8: “6 ‘And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant—7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.’ 8 The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, ‘I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.’”

When Isaiah penned these words, he was referring to a physical “house,” the temple of God in Jerusalem. But now that Jesus Christ has come and that, by his grace, we have believed in him, we are God’s temple. Here are a few passages that show that:

1 Corinthians 3:16-17: “16 Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.”

1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

Ephesians 2:19-22: “19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

1 Peter 2:4-5: “4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

The nature of God’s temple has changed since the days of Isaiah, but his vision for his temple has not: he wills that it be a house of prayer for all peoples, and thus we above all people ought to be a praying people. The aroma of prayer ought to rise from our hearts every moment of every day. We ought to pray without ceasing, as we ever commune with God and call upon him in all circumstances of life.

And as we do, we will know the joy of the Lord because in Isaiah 56:7 the Lord promises to fill us with joy in his house of prayer! What is the source of this joy? It is God himself. As the people of God delight themselves in the being of God—not the blessings of God, but in God himself—they are filled with joy inexpressible and everlasting, and obeying this great and gracious God, even to their deaths, is the thing they long to do.

To put this another way, to build a house of prayer is to build a house of joy. To be a person of prayer is to be a person of joy.

And Jesus Christ was very serious about this joy in the house of God. Look at how he reacted when religious leaders perverted God’s vision for the sake of financial gain:

Mark 11:15-17: “15 And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 16 And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 And he was teaching them and saying to them, ‘Is it not written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”? But you have made it a den of robbers.’”

Jesus is still that passionate about prayer and about joy in God’s house of prayer. He will protect this vision with fierce vengeance!

In sum, the reason we are dedicating an entire service to prayer at Glory of Christ is because God’s house is a house of prayer. Therefore, it is the nature of a Christian person to be prayerful, and it is the nature of a Christian church to be prayerful as well. We simply must learn what it means to live a life where the admonitions of Scripture characterize our manner of life: “Devote yourselves to prayer,” “pray without ceasing,” “pray and do not lose heart.”

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

White Horse Inn

When I was a sophomore in college I stumbled across a radio program called the White Horse Inn. It's hosted by some professors and pastors who hail from the reformed camp, and I always find myself invigorated and educated when I listen to it.

They post each program on the web now, and I strongly encourage you to check them out at www.whitehorseinn.org.

They also produce a periodical called Modern Reformation that I find very uplifting and helpful.

Let me know what you think!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Controversy in Australia

Generally speaking, I don’t like forwarded messages, especially the ones that lay it on thick: “If you care at all about ________, then you will forward this message. Otherwise you are a _________. “ I still have a bit of a rebellious streak in me, and so when I read a threat like that I refuse to forward it just on principle!

But every once in a while I read a forwarded message that’s worth my time. That happened this morning. A good friend of mine, Danny Kain, sent me a brief report on some things that Australian government officials said about Muslims in their country. And although I would have been more measured with my comments, I think I’m in agreement with the basic thrust of what they said.

Here’s the text of the report:

Muslims who want to live under Islamic Sharia law were told on Wednesday to get out of Australia , as the government targeted radicals in a bid to head off potential terror attacks. A day after a group of mainstream Muslim leaders pledged loyalty to Australia and her Queen at a special meeting with Prime Minister John Howard, he and his Ministers made it clear that extremists would face a crackdown.

Treasurer Peter Costello, seen as heir apparent to Howard, hinted that some radical clerics could be asked to leave the country if they did not accept that Australia was a secular state, and its laws were made by parliament. "If those are not your values, if you want a country which has Sharia law or a theocratic state, then Australia is not for you", he said on National Television.

"I'd be saying to clerics who are teaching that there are two laws governing people in Australia, one the Australian law and another Islamic law, that is false. If you can't agree with parliamentary law, independent courts, democracy, and would prefer Sharia law and have the opportunity to go to another country, which practices it, perhaps, then, that's a better option", Costello said.

Asked whether he meant radical clerics would be forced to leave, he said those with dual citizenship could possibly be asked to move to the other country.

Education Minister Brendan Nelson later told reporters that Muslims who did not want to accept local values should "clear off. Basically people who don't want to be Australians, and who don't want, to live by Australian values and understand them, well then, they can basically clear off", he said.

Separately, Howard angered some Australian Muslims on Wednesday by saying he supported spy agencies monitoring the nation's mosques. Quote: “IMMIGRANTS, NOT AUSTRALIANS, MUST ADAPT. Take It Or Leave It. I am tired of this nation worrying about whether we are offending some individual or their culture. Since the terrorist attacks on Bali, we have experienced a surge in patriotism by the majority of Australians."

"However, the dust from the attacks had barely settled when the 'politically correct' crowd began complaining about the possibility that our patriotism was offending others. I am not against immigration, nor do I hold a grudge against anyone who is seeking a better life by coming to Australia. However, there are a few things that those who have recently come to our country, and apparently some born here, need to understand. This idea of Australia being a multi-cultural community has served only to dilute our sovereignty and our national identity. And as Australians, we have our own culture, our own society, our own language and our own lifestyle.

"This culture has been developed over two centuries of struggles, trials and victories by millions of men and women who have sought freedom. We speak mainly ENGLISH, not Spanish, Lebanese, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, or any other language. Therefore, if you wish to become part of our society . Learn the language!

"Most Australians believe in God. This is not some Christian, right wing, political push, but a fact, because Christian men and women, on Christian principles, founded this nation, and this is clearly documented. It is certainly appropriate to display it on the walls of our schools. If God offends you, then I suggest you consider another part of the world as your new home, because God is part of our culture.

"We will accept your beliefs, and will not question why. All we ask is that you accept ours, and live in harmony and peaceful enjoyment with us. If the Southern Cross offends you, or you don't like ‘A Fair Go’, then you should seriously consider a move to another part of this planet. We are happy with our culture and have no desire to change, and we really don't care how you did things where you came from. By all means, keep your culture, but do not force it on others.

"This is OUR COUNTRY, OUR LAND, and OUR LIFESTYLE, and we will allow you every opportunity to enjoy all this. But once you are done complaining, whining, and griping about Our Flag, Our Pledge, Our Christian beliefs, or Our Way of Life, I highly encourage you take advantage of one other great Australian freedom, 'THE RIGHT TO LEAVE'.

"If you aren't happy here then LEAVE. We didn't force you to come here. You asked to be here. So accept the country YOU accepted."

Saturday, October 06, 2007

In Honor of my Nephew who Recently Died

It's been two weeks now since my nephew ended his own life, just as his father had done only four months previous. I had lived with their family (my sister, her husband, and their children) for two or three years when I was coming up, so I was close to them and these deaths have hit me hard. But in the midst of this trial, the Lord has been a rock of salvation and comfort and strength and help to me, and I love him for it.

Last Sunday, September 30, I preached a sermon that dealt with some issues surrounding this tragedy. It wasn't focused on my family but it was born out of this time of grief. I have never done this before, because I don't believe in commending myself to others, but I feel compelled to provide the link to my sermon and ask you to listen to it if you have time. The title doesn't fit the message because it wasn't the message I had intended to preach, although I stayed with the same text. When you go to the link below, look for the message entitled "The Glory of God and the Purpose of the Church."

I preach long sermons--about 40 minutes each--so know that, but if you feel so moved I think it would be worth your time to give a listen. I'm not a great preacher by any stretch of the imagination. I rank myself at a 5 out of 10, and every once in a while I deliver a 6.

But every once in a while the Lord just pours a message through my heart, and this is one of those. You can access the sermon here.

Thanks for your time, and please pray for my family as your able.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Slavery, Justice, & Christianity

Yesterday I read the July/August 2007 issue of Mission Frontiers which is published by the U.S. Center for World Mission. The title of the issue is The Global Slave Trade: A Cause for our Time. I would highly recommend this issue, as well as the publication in general.

The cover story, composed by the International Justice Mission (www.ijm.org), gives a brief overview of the problem in our times, including such jarring facts as these:

1. There are more slaves today—approximately 27 million—than were seized from Africa in four centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade (National Geographic report).

2. The problem exists, to some extent, in at least 112 countries worldwide (U.S. State Department report).

3. Human trafficking generates about $9.5 billion per year (U.S. State Department report).

The article goes on to suggest three ways that we, as Christian people, can engage in the work of justice for these millions of human beings: educate ourselves about the issue, explore the issue personally by taking a short-term missions trip or two, and report cases of which we are aware to IJM.

In 1991 or 1992, Kim and I were ministering in a little village in Mexico called San Vicente. One day we went out with some Mexican friends to a field where migrant laborers were gathering in the harvest. There we preached the gospel and ministered to the needs of the workers. As we were coming to the end of our time with these precious souls, two of the men approached us in tears and asked if we would help them escape. They told us that they and their families had been taken by force from inland Mexico and separated from one another. They pleaded with us, “We just want to find our mothers.”

Our hearts simply broke for them and we agreed to help them. As we traveled down that remote dirt road toward the only paved road in the area, they shared more with us about their situation. After they had been abducted, they were forced to work the fields for a major farming conglomerate for only one-dollar per day. Once per week they were brought to the local store and allowed to spend their money. The store was owned by the company for which they worked. It is rare to see Mexican men cry: these men were weeping.

As we approached the paved road we noticed two military police men standing by the side of the road. They had M-16s or something similar in their hands, and they appeared to be drunk. We prayed and kept on driving, and by the grace of God they paid absolutely no attention to us.

We took the two men into the main town, dropped them off, and never saw them again.

As believers in Jesus Christ, we simply cannot turn a blind eye to such tragedies as slavery. We must stand and speak, and even die, for those who are weak, down-trodden, and oppressed. As the Bible says in Isaiah 1:17, we must “seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow.”

I close with a quote from Ralph Winter, General Director of Frontier Mission Fellowship: “Evangelicals are very well known at the Billy Graham level for talking and explaining and communicating and giving out information about Jesus Christ. Even commanding people to obey Jesus Christ. But we are not so visible when it comes to actual planning, to a presence in meetings that are now being held around the world on the really urgent suffering that is going on outrageously in many places, in many different ways” (Mission Frontiers, July/August 2007: 4).

Lord, help us display your glory in the world by laying our lives down for the helpless.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Desiring God Conference

Late last week Kim and I had the privilege of leading the prayer room ministry, along with our good friend Larry Agnew, at Desiring God's National Conference. The main speakers at this year's conference were John Piper, John MacArthur, Jerry Bridges, Randy Alcorn, and Helen Roseveare.

You can access all of the audio and video for the conference, free of charge, here.

Since we spent most of our time in the prayer room, we didn't catch many of the messages, but one we did catch was Helen Roseveare's meditation on persevering in Christ. PLEASE LISTEN TO HER MESSAGE!

Helen is an 82 year-old former missionary who is burning brighter now in Christ than she ever has. She was so inspiring to me. Oh how I long for my daughter to love Jesus at 82 years old as much as Helen does!

I thought about summarizing a few keys thoughts from her message in this post, but honestly if you just read the ideas without seeing the light of Jesus pouring through her I think her message will be weakened or lost. So again, please take the time to listen to her message. After all, what does the latest episode of your favorite TV show really matter in the end?

I'd love to hear your thoughts once you've listened to her message.