Gospel Encouragement

 

I have just begun to read a new book called Jesus + Nothing = Everything, by Tullian Tchividjian (the grandson of Billy Graham).  So far it is an outstanding book that I highly encourage everyone to read.Part of the reason that the book has so captured my attention is that Tchividjian begins the book by recounting one of the most stressful and taxing times in his life.  As I read that opening portion of the book I was amazed at how that painful time in his life paralleled one in my life in remarkable ways.

You see, it was near the end of 2008 when Tchividjian was approached with the idea of merging his church plant, New City Church, with Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, the church of the late D. James Kennedy.  At practically the same time in 2008 the little church plant that we had started in Dacula, called Harbins Community Baptist Church, was also approached about a merger with another church on the other side of town.  Of course, our merger was not nearly as big or noteworthy as Tchividjian’s church merger, but the timelines were strikingly similar, matter of fact they were identical in many respects.

Both our church and Tchividjian’s completed the mergers in April of 2009 with the first official service being the 2009 Easter service for both of us. And also like Tchividjian’s experience, our church merger began to hit some rocky waters by the time summer had rolled around and we both entered into some of the most painful and difficult chapters of our pastoral careers.

Here’s where our stories do diverge a bit, for the problems at Coral Ridge were not identical to those at Harbins, but they were problems none-the-less.  What was the same was the stress that the church leadership and congregations endured. Tchividjian seriously considered resigning as pastor of Coral Ridge, and I too remember typing up my resignation letter as quitting became a serious option in my mind.  I will never forget the stress and pain that I, my family, and all the families in our church endured during those difficult days.

I was amazed to read that Tchividjian was struggling with the same weakness I struggled with.  What was that you ask? Well, I’ll let him explain it (he is the one who wrote a book after all):

“I’d never realized before how dependent I’d become on human approval and acceptance until so much of it was taken away in the roiling controversy at Coral Ridge…Now for the first time I found myself in the uncomfortable position of being deeply disliked and distrusted…Now I realized just how much I’d been relying on something other than-something more than-the approval and acceptance and love that were already mine in Jesus.”

I began to get choked up as I read these words.  I know exactly how Tchividjian felt, because it’s the place I still often find myself.  For far too many days of my relatively short life I’ve worried about being accepted by people instead of finding my contentment in the gospel. Some may call it a self-esteem problem, but let’s call it what Scripture calls it: idolatry!

Tullian Tchividjian was guilty of the same idolatry I was guilty of, namely putting our hope in something other than the gospel-other than Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished on the cross. What Pastor Tchividjian learned, and what I’m learning, makes up the content of his great book and it can most simply be stated like this: The gospel teaches us that we are to find our ultimate fulfillment in nothing outside of Jesus Christ, and only when we find our fulfillment in Him will we ever have anything of any value at all.  Jesus + nothing = everything!

This Sunday, from Acts 20, we looked a lot at how we are called to be encouragers like Paul.  What we did not have time to dive into completely was the question of where our own encouragement must come from.  If we are banking on uplifting words, good circumstances, and acts of kindness to keep us encouraged then we will be sorely disappointed when times like the aforementioned merger problems come around.  The question is not if we will hit storms during life’s journey, but when.  And when they inevitably come, what are we standing on?  If it’s not the gospel of Jesus Christ then it’s only sinking sand.

It’s during times of great stress that God graciously purges us of our idols and false confidences, and drives us to the cross where we find our only true encouragement.  Our encouragement rests on the truth that in Christ we have been fully forgiven of our filthy sin; we have been given new robes consisting of Christ’s own spotless righteousness; we have been irrevocably sealed in Christ through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit; we are unconditionally adopted into the Father’s family, secure forever; we stand with full assurance that our sanctification will be complete and one day we will be with God forever without any hindrances of sin and self.  That’s our hope.  That’s the gospel.  That’s encouraging!

The gospel of Jesus Christ is all we need, so why proclaim anything else?

The Continuing Work on the Tower of Babel

The world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, opened on January 4th of 2010. It has 160 floors and is an astounding 2,717 feet tall. It uses as much electricity as a small city and it requires and intricate and powerful pump system that can run the water to its upper floors. This impressive building in Dubai is the just the latest structure in man’s attempt to build higher and higher.

For much of recorded history the Great Pyramid in Giza, Egypt, was the tallest structure known to man. Amazingly, it was not surpassed until the Lincoln Cathedral was built in England in 1311. That structure would stand as the tallest accomplishment of man’s ingenuity for nearly 600 years. Other churches would eventually surpass it, and in 1884 the Washington Monument took the title of tallest man-made structure. It was surpassed a few years later by the Eiffel Tower which kept the crown until 1930 when the Chrysler Building in New York City reigned for only a year until the famous Empire State Building was completed. It stood as the tallest for 46 years. Several spires, towers, space needles and skyscrapers would take over as the tallest structures until man built the Sear Tower in Chicago, which held the title from 1974 to 1998. Since then new buildings in 1998, 2004 and lastly 2010 have proven than men can continue to scrape the sky with structures that almost defy belief.

Each new structure has also marked important social, economic and political power shifts. The shift from European churches to the US skyscrapers coincided with the rise of American power in the world and the decline of the European empires. It also marked the decline of the church as the centerpiece of cultural influence as it gave way to capitalism. This also explains why terrorists targeted the World Trade Center (briefly the world’s tallest building from 1973-74). The towers symbolized American and capitalistic dominance. The newest super skyscrapers have been situated in areas of new economic and political power such as China, Malaysia, and the Persian Gulf. America may no longer be on top, literally.

As we enter a new decade, we are witnessing societal changes not seen in four generations; a global shift in power and economics that has already proven to create much anxiety for many Americans. And just what might these shifts mean for the American church?

Well, not too much if the church will keep it’s focus on God. Man, after all, has always been trying to exert his dominance and demonstrate his power by building buildings. It’s exactly what happened at Babel. Man tried to defy God’s Word and make a name for himself by building a tower that could reach up to heaven. This tower was more than a building, it was a pagan temple designed to help man reach God on his own terms instead of on God’s. Thousands of years later man is the same and doing the same things. He defies God’s Word, he tries to make a name for himself instead of trying to exalt God, and he tries to get to heaven on his own terms. God didn’t like it then and He will have nothing to do with it today.

Let me clarify a bit. I’m not saying that all of man’s tallest structures are in and of themselves sinful or are pagan temples, but I do believe that what drives man is build is often times power. We like to have power over other men, and even power over God, and if we can build bigger and badder structures we may be able to demonstrate our power. Even churches have fallen, and continue to fall, into the trap of demonstrating our “greatness” through what we build. Big buildings with big steeples show everyone just how many members we have and just how powerful we are. Surely church buildings can exalt God, but usually they exalt the architects, the builders, or even a super-pastor and his flock.

At his core man is sinful and in rebellion against God and we want to made much of ourselves instead of doing what we were designed to do, which is to make much of God. That’s why I find it very interesting that at the time when the latest “world’s tallest building” was inaugurated in 2010 it was named after a Arab political figure and the ceremony marking it’s opening was eerily similar to a pagan worship celebration. Man still worships himself instead of the Creator.

But it doesn’t take a big building to fall into these sins. All of us are guilty of building our own towers of Babel when we refuse to submit to God’s Word and instead try to do things our way. We all commit the sins of the Babylonians when we seek our name and our fame over God’s. We all fall into the sin of the line of Cain when we set up “religious” structures and try to impress God or work our way into God’s favor instead of trusting in God alone.

Ultimately there is only One who has been lifted up and deserves to made much of. There is only One who perfectly kept God’s Word and who exalted the Father in all He did. There is only One who made a way, who is the Way, for men to come to God. The One is Jesus.

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32).

Is the multi-site church model Biblical?

This is a great article breaking down the Biblical arguments for and against the multi-site movement in churches:

eJournal : Theological Critique of Multi-Site: What Exactly Is a “Church”? | 9Marks.

This Week’s Sermon at Harbins

Follow this link to the subscribe to our podcast or listen to this week’s and previous week’s sermons from Harbins Community Baptist Church.

Spurgeon on Cultural Relevance

This great post from Pyromaniacs is a quote from the great C. H. Spurgeon.  These words could have been written about our day and our time.  It just goes to show that the church has been and always will be in a titanic struggle to be in this world while not being of it.

Read the post:

Pyromaniacs: The [Post]modern Missional Strategy.

A Vital Message

When I was in college I read a book called Organizational Communication Imperatives which was based on a 25-year-long study of the organizational communication structures of NASA. The author wrote the book based upon his experiences working with the space agency as a organizational communication consultant. He had been hired after the tragic 1967 Apollo 1 accident that claimed the lives of three NASA astronauts. Investigations had revealed that there had been serious concerns about the design of the escape hatch by various different people in NASA, but the message about the design concerns never reached the people it needed to reach. There was a communication problem inside NASA.

NASA spent much time and money restructuring the organizational communication framework of the agency. Many changes were made and communication was greatly improved. For the next decade and a half NASA accomplished some amazing feats, like landing on the moon, and developing the shuttle program. But before long, old patterns of communication and message failures resurfaced and tragedy struck again in 1986 when the space shuttle Challenger exploded due to faulty o-rings on the liquid fuel tank. The subsequent investigations again revealed that critical messages and data about how the o-rings fared during very cold temperatures didn’t get to the people who made the decision to launch the shuttle on that exceptionally cold January morning.

I had read this book years before before the Columbia tragedy of 2003, and therefore I wasn’t surprised to hear news stories that detailed new lapses in communication regarding safety issues that had contributed that that terrible accident. The continual communication problems regarding safety issues had lead people to describe NASA as having a “broken safety culture.” It seems that again and again NASA had struggled with getting life-saving safety messages to the people that needed to hear them. After each tragedy NASA would take steps to improve communication, yet they would fall back into old habits and distractions that short-circuited their communication structures.

In Acts 13:13-43 we read about the life-changing message of the mission that Paul and his companions had embarked upon. It was the pure gospel message of the cross of Jesus Christ. It was the message of salvation for all who would believe. It was the message that the Church was charged to carry to the ends of the earth. And it’s still the message for the Church to be heralding and spreading forth today.

Like NASA, it seems that the Church has often struggled with communication breakdowns and distractions. It seems that the Church falls into sinful habits that short-circuit the message of our mission. Throughout history whenever the Church has drifted away from the central gospel message of the cross the results have been predictably tragic. By God’s grace there have been great corrective moments in history, such as the Reformation, when God righted the Church’s course and got it back on message. Even today, there are many messages that the church is sending, and not all of them are gospel-centered. We continue to struggle with our tendency to get off message. Popular messages about cultural relevance, social justice, and felt needs are the fad in many evangelical churches today, but those messages must be secondary to the central, gospel message of freedom through the finished work of Christ. Is cultural relevance important? Yes, but it’s important only because the gospel message is absolutely relevant to any person in any culture. Is social justice important? Yes, but only because of the fact that true justice can only be found in the gospel message of Christ. Are felt needs important? Yes, but only the gospel message can deal with the greatest need that all mankind suffers from, the need to be right with their Creator. All of the churches messages must be rooted in its primary message: the gospel!

So the organizational communication imperative for the church in Paul’s day and in our day is to communicate the gospel message of our mission clearly and boldly and take that message to the very ends of the earth.

Fear of Confrontation

I nervously sat at my computer this morning trying to muster up the strength to open an email response I had received to a long letter I had sent to a couple of people very close to me. These two are atheist/agnostic and are far from God and in need of a bold dose of the gospel. I was scared to open the email and thus see how my letter had been received. As I sat there, in fear, I became very convicted (yet again) of my serious struggle to confront people with the truth.

Why am I afraid to confront people? It is one of my greatest weaknesses, and I hate it. As a pastor in our church, confrontation will only continue to increase as I am called to stand faithfully on doctrinal issues, or face down those in the church who are brining disunity, or when it’s time to confront or even discipline a church member for a moral failure. Yet, I struggle with it as much today as I did ten years ago.

I think the fear of confrontation masks itself in false pretenses that make it sound like a noble, honorable trait, when it reality it’s a weakness born in idolatry. Let me explain.

When I am afraid to confront someone, a voice inside me says, “You will hurt them if you do this…it’s better to keep the peace…you will damage your ability to minister to them…love them into the kingdom…, etc., etc.” Yet, this is foolishness. It’s arrogant and self-centered, it’s idolatrous self-preservation, it’s me trying to sit on the throne of my own heart in a position of comfort and pride.

The Holy Spirit says in Hebrews 13:5: Keep you life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear, what can man do to me?” The spiritual principle of contentment is so key here. I’ve not struggle much of late with the love of money (although it’s an ever-present battle in the life of every American), but other loves have kept me from being content. I think the non-confrontationalist aims for contentment but finds none because his contentment sits on a faulty foundation, namely the lack of conflict. Just as the lover of money thinks more material possessions will bring contentment, so too the one who is afraid to confront others thinks avoidance of conflict will make him, and others, content; but it’s not true.

Whenever our contentment is resting on anything other than Christ we are idolators. Idolatrous contentment is driven by fear. We are afraid we will go without, so we accumulate money. We are afraid someone won’t like us so we avoid confronting that person directly about their sin. But for the one who finds their contentment in Christ, fear is no longer in control: “…I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

Another passage is helpful here. 1 John 4:18 says that there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. When fear enters the picture, you can almost be assured “self-love” is at hand; when perfect love (the love from, through, and to Christ) takes over it enables us to no longer fear and thus release our resources over to God, or speak the truth in love to the one who needs to hear it.

If I truly love Christ then I will truly love sound doctrine, I will love the church, I will love His people, and I will love the lost. Perfect love requires that I boldly stand up for Truth. If I say I love Christ but fail to confront false doctrine, disunity in the church, His wayward children, and those who need the gospel, I become an idolator who loves himself and his comfort more than the Truth.

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