Is Sunday School Still An Effective Ministry?

I recently sat down with The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina to talk about the role of Sunday School in church ministry. Here is one short video from our time together.

Cherished in God’s Eyes

IMG_2073What is man that you are mindful of him? – Psalm 8:4a

Genesis 1:26-31 informs us that God intimately created humans in His likeness. According to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary professor John Hammett, creation in the image of God is the basis for human dignity and that killing a human or to even curse one is an affront to and an attack upon the living God.

This is certainly true of babies, the weakest and most vulnerable among us. Indeed, all human beings are lovingly knitted together in their mother’s womb by God (Psalm 139). According to Psalm 8:5-8, humanity is set apart and crowned with authority over the earth and its creatures. What causes us to think we can use our God-given authority to usurp God and slaughter the helpless babies made in His image?

We should be thankful and tremble over the fact that God is mindful of all humans. The sovereign God of the universe has His loving eyes on every single one of us and always has even when we were “unformed substance.” God values and deeply cares for even the weakest among us.

As our culture sacrifices infants on the altar of personal convenience we must stand and declare, as Russell Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission reminds us, “The image of God cannot be bartered away, at the abortion clinic counter or anywhere else.”

Let’s pray and work for an end to the injustice of abortion. Let’s pray and work for better solutions for women in crisis. But let’s pray for doctors like this as well. Even more, let’s move beyond standing outside abortion clinics with hateful picket signs, let us lovingly plead, “We will adopt these children, or we’ll stand beside you and help you raise those children.”

We must remember Roe v. Wade does not hold eternal jurisprudence in the Kingdom of God. With convictional kindness, we need to speak clearly of the judgment to come. But we also need to proclaim that the blood of Christ can provide mercy for those who repent.

This was originally published at The Biblical Recorder.

Clever Church Sign Leads to Conversion

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Note: This story was originally published at Fox News.com, I felt led to share it here.

Last Sunday, Hugh pulled his conversion van into a gas station on HWY 235 to use the free WiFi at the gas station. “I was searching for something meaningful, a message, a sign.” However, all Hugh found in his inbox was junk. Not too long after that, his iPad died. Downtrodden and flustered, Hugh tossed his iPad into the back seat.

It was then that he looked across the highway and noticed the Church of Christ sign.

Hugh, an avid fan of Apple products since the Lisa, realized the sign was written just for him:

iPhone? iPad?

Try iPray.

God is listening.

Hugh unbuckled his seatbelt and exited the car, talking to himself about the sign. “I was overcome with emotion, the church sign really tugged on my heart strings.”

At that moment Don Shardy, the chairman of the deacons from Christ Church walked out of the gas station with two dozen doughnuts and heard Hugh’s mumbling. “When Don asked me if he could help me,” said Hugh, “I realized it was time to let go and let God.”

A few minutes later Hugh and Don walked into Christ Church together, where Hugh asked the congregation if anyone had an iPad charger. Once his iPad was charging, Hugh shared the story of how the church sign led him to Christ in front of the entire congregation.

As deacon Don reflected on that event he noted that “if Eleanor had not eaten most of the doughnuts I would not have drove over to the gas station, if I had not gone over to the gas station, I would not have met Hugh.”

Philip Nation, the captain of the church’s evangelism sign team, was in tears when he proclaimed, “I am just so excited to see fruit from the tiring labor of finding thoughtful and clever sayings to display on the church grid and lock sign system.”

Philip and Hugh stood speechless for several minutes until Hugh looked at Philip and said with a tender voice, “…thank you for giving to the Lord. It’s becuase of your faithfulness that I saw the sign, it opened up my eyes…I saw the sign.”

Do 20% of the people do 80% of the church work?

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This was originally published at The Biblical Recorder.

We have all heard of the economic law labeled the Pareto Principle. According to Vilfredo Pareto, for many events, roughly 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes. This principle has been applied to the fields of business, science, software and even criminology. In church life, it is usually said that 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work.

In other words, 80 percent of the congregation remains passive when it comes to living on mission for God.

While it may not be true of all congregations, I think it is safe to say that large portions of the body of Christ do treat church like consumers. For the 80 percent, as theologian David Wells has reminded us, the church is a place to come and receive religious services and goods. If their needs are not met, they begin church shopping.

However, in 1 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul is clear, the body does not consist of one member but of many. And the apostle Peter is even more explicit, “… As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). This is how God designed the church. And God calls each and every individual to serve the body with the gifts they have been granted.

The simple truth of the matter is that Christ came to seek and save the lost so that the saved would serve one another and seek the lost. In fact, it is very clear from the New Testament that by the fruit of ones life, others can observe the genuineness of their salvation. Church consumers attend church to have their needs met.

True members of the church have been served to deeply by Christ, that their needs are abundantly met, and that flows over into their desire to meet others needs. The church body is just that, a body. And a body needs all of its parts functioning in order to be healthy. The question is, if you have been saved, are you being a good steward of God’s gracious gifts?

Every Believer Equipped For Ministry

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This was originally posted at The Biblical Recorder.

There is a strange idea in the American church, namely, that the church is a body of believers with a gifted pastor or pastors equipped to do the ministry. At first glance, one might not see the error in this ministry philosophy. Certainly, the pastors are gifted. However, according to Ephesians 4:12, the pastors are called to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. Therefore, it is more biblical to conclude that the church is not just a body with gifted pastors, but also a body of supernaturally gifted believers.

God has uniquely gifted each person in the church to serve Him. No one pastor has all the gifts necessary to fulfill the ministry of the church. In fact, Jesus Christ is the only individual who ever walked the earth that embodied all of the spiritual gifts. This is why the church is referred to as the body of Christ.

A body is made up of different parts, each one fulfilling its specific purpose for the health of the whole.

In 1 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul reminds us that there are a variety of gifts and services. The common thread that holds the entire body together is the same God who empowers each one. And each one is empowered to work together in order to bring God the glory. In fact, if only one person were gifted in the church for ministry, it would be hard for that individual to not receive the glory for their service. This is the root cause of the error that Paul is addressing in this passage.

The Corinthians church had begun elevating certain gifts over others, and thus, the body was not functioning properly. We are all called to use the gifts God has given us for the common good. Valuing the various gifts God has granted the church helps guard against the natural envy, rivalry and superiority that comes with elevating certain gifts over others.

Let us remember, the church is a body of supernaturally gifted individuals to bring God glory through collected ministry. It is God who has gifted each one according to His sovereign will.

Evangelism Training with Dr. Alvin Reid

Alvin Reid

Live around Raleigh?

Join us for an evangelism training event titled “Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out” with Dr. Alvin Reid from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Alvin Reid is the author of dozens of books including Evangelism HandbookIntroduction to Evangelism, and the forthcoming Share Jesus Without Freaking Out.

This is a great opportunity for individuals and church groups to consider Dr. Reid’s call to “move from gospel presentations to gospel conversations, from specialists to normal people living for Jesus in gospel-focused ways.

The training will be from Friday, March 11th from 6:30-8:00pm to Saturday, March 12th from 9:00am-12:00pm at Fairview Baptist Church in Apex, NC.

Free childcare will be available for those who register. Sign up today! 

Strengthened by God’s Power

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This was originally published at The Biblical Recorder.

When we read the theologically rich letter to the church in Ephesus, we get the sense that these early Christians needed gospel encouragement. Like us, this church found herself in a world of hostility toward the Christian faith. One of the great themes of Ephesians is that Christ has given powerful gifts to His church to, among other things, stand against the onslaughts of the defeated one and his allies.

The Christian life is war. In Ephesians 6:12 we are reminded that we wrestle with the cosmic powers of the present darkness. If we are honest, this is a tiring thought. But the Good News is, we will not be overdone.

God does not leave us on our own but empowers us through His Spirit. We war with the power of God’s strength. And on the cross, Christ defeated the powers of evil. In the resurrection, their defeat was sealed. In the gospel, we have an announcement that it is finished, Christ has won!

So, while we may be weak in body, we are strong in spirit. When we are brought to our knees in fatigue from the war, we find that we are in the appropriate position for prayer. For this reason, we pray “… according to the riches of his glory,” that God would grant us “to be strengthened with power through his Spirit” in the depths of our souls (Ephesians 3:16).

The Good News is that God is able to “… do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” Though we are weak, He is strong. This juxtaposition of power and weakness, shows that victory is a gift of grace. When we realize this truth, we can triumphantly proclaim, “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).

What gives us the power to fight when there is no fight left within us? We are empowered by the spirit of God. We are also encouraged to endure, when the Spirit reminds us that Jesus’ victory is our victory.

Adopted Into God’s Family (1 John 3:1-10)

This was originally posted at The Biblical Recorder.

dsc02697I will always remember the moment that Laura and I received Solomon into our care. We were in the city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Our driver came and picked us up from the guest house and drove us through the city into the hills and up to a gated house full of orphaned children. Laura and I stood outside the gate while one of the agency case workers went inside, and after a few moments, our agency worker opened the gate and walked out into the street and handed us our son.

We turned and got back into the van and got situated. As the van pulled off Solomon started screaming and crying frantically. This little child had no clue what was going on. We were pulling baby Solomon away from everything he had ever known. But after a few minutes, he reached his little arms around Laura’s neck and tightened his grip and held on for dear life.

It was moving to see Solomon hold onto Laura, but what really mattered, was Laura holding onto Solomon. Laura and I knew where we were going. We also knew that he was our son.

Solomon came to understand this reality as time went on.

Since that moment, I have never been able to read passages like 1 John 3:1-10 the same: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”

As J.I. Packer once said in his classic book, Knowing God: “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father.”

As we live the Christian life, we must realize that years may transpire before the believer who is adopted by God may know that he is adopted, have a deep sense of feeling of it. We live in the comfort and hope of our loving Father’s arms. And as we grow, that reality shapes us more and more as we head towards eternity.

A Christmas Devotion

simeon holding baby jesus 2One of my favorite accounts surrounding the birth of Christ involved a man named Simeon. Simeon was a righteous and devout man. During his life, the Holy Spirit promised him that he would not see death until he had seen the savior of the world.

In Luke 2, Simeon was lead by the Spirit into the temple. At the same time, Mary and Joseph brought baby Jesus to the temple. It was forty days after his birth, and he was brought to the temple for circumcision as it was custom according to the law. Luke 2:28 tells us that Simeon took infant Jesus in his arms and blessed God and said;

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

What a moving moment! As Alexander Schmemann once noted, Simeon had waited his whole life for this moment. Up until this point he was restless, longing for the comfort and salvation of his people. And then, at last, the Christ child was handed to him.

In that moment, he held the life of the world in his arms.

Let us remember that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ. In the birth of Jesus, God delivered on His ancient promise to provide salvation from sin, and eternal life over death.

May we all stop today and thank God that He is a promise keeping God. The Christ child that was held in the arms of Simeon, is the same Christ that would sacrifice his life in order to deliver sinners into the loving arms of a Holy God.

The Message of God (Jonah 3)

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This is an excerpt from a message I preached at Fairview Baptist Church. You can watch the whole thing here.

God offers to transform our lives with grace. This simple truth is the bedrock of redemptive history. This truth is also fully evident in Jonah 3:4-5.

Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God.

It is a strikingly simple, yet an eternally significant message. With 7 words Jonah brought the great city to its knees.

The word translated overthrown/demolished is the same verb used for God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis. This is a serious call.

The people of Nineveh – going about with their hectic lives, consumed with the pressing needs of the moment – were met with the eternally significant words of the prophet. And it seems from the outcome that these 7 powerful words stopped every Ninevite in their tracks. For 3-days Jonah walked across the city, saying the same thing over and over again, until everyone heard.

There is something about God’s word that always engages people with eternal issues. It lifts our eyes from the immediate interests of our lives to the imminent and overwhelming reality of either everlasting destruction or eternal life.

“Whatever you are doing now,” Jonah was saying, “you need to realize that you will soon face the judgment of God—and that day is nearer than you think.”

And look who God sends to proclaim this eternally important message. God uses imperfect servant.

In my last church I taught a class on evangelism. In one of the classes I asked everyone to tell me why they have been anxious about evangelism in the past. Two of the answers I received were:

Once I have it all together, I’ll share. If you are able to fully get it together you wouldn’t need Jesus in the first place. We are all imperfect sinners who are trusting in, staking our eternities on a perfect savior. Our message is that God shows grace on sinners like you and I.

There are some people that I just done think would ever come to faith. If this narrative is about anything it is about a God who loves the most religious (Jonah) and the most pagan (Ninevites). God is powerful to save.

God used Jonah – a rebellious prophet in the streets of Nineveh. He will certainly use you and I in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and among our friends to proclaim the perfect message of salvation.

The message of God is simple: God intends to overthrow this broken world through His saving grace.

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it (Jonah 3:10).

God doesn’t just pass over sin. He takes it serious. Christ consumed on the cross the sins of the world. God looked forward from Nineveh, looks back from wherever you are at this moment. Thankfully, as Richard Sibbes once said, “There is more mercy in God than sin in us.”

God offers to transform our lives with grace.