Thursday, November 28, 2013

What Would Jesus Say About Your Church?

In order for a sick patient to get treatment an individual must admit that he/she is not well.  The same principle is true with regards to sick churches.  In a previous blog post Dr. Rainer suggested some of the warning signs that often reveal that a ministry is unwell.  When a sick church lives in denial over their true spiritual condition they are often only "one stage away from becoming terminal."  Many ministries slowly but surely whittle away (numerically, financially, and most importantly spiritually) because they are unwilling to humbly admit that genuine repentance and biblical change are drastically needed.  Pride and apathy often make people blind or indifferent to the words of Christ

Having said that, many ministries that appear to be successful on the outside are often plagued with stage four cancer on the insideNot everything that glitters is gold.  Just because a church is packed each and every Sunday does not necessarily mean they are growing spiritually.  Just because a church is the talk of town does not mean it is a model ministry.  In fact, many evangelical churches that are a mile wide are often only an inch deep.  If you think "bigger always means better and more successful" in the eyes of God than you have not carefully read through the New Testament Scriptures.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Beloved Physician

Colossians chapter 4 serves as a wonderful reminder that effective gospel ministry is a team effort.  Many different friends served both Paul and the cause of Christ during Paul's very fruitful ministry.  In many of his inspired epistles the faithful apostle humbly acknowledges his ministry "teammates."  It is certainly appropriate that we give "honor to whom honor is due."

As Paul faithfully upheld the truth of God's Word in the trenches of ministry the Lord's bondservant experienced a life full of pain and suffering.  Along the way this "spiritual piñata" was given a most loyal friend in doctor Luke.  In fact in Colossians 4:14 Paul refers to Luke as "the beloved physician."  One can only imagine the practical ways God would have used Luke during Paul's missionary journeys. 

In my previous post I described some of the physical ailments that I have experienced during our church revitalization efforts in Freeport.  In God's good Providence the Lord provided me with a "beloved Christian physician" as well.  Doctor Brian Bennett was the compassionate and gifted doctor that I needed during some of the more challenging and painful valleys in ministry.  Doctor Bennett is a faithful church member at another evangelical church in town and so he is uniquely gifted to minister to both body and soul.  Dr. Bennett's medical expertise and love for Jesus make him the perfect pastors' physician.  In the spirit of Colossian 4:14 this article is dedicated to my ministry partner Dr. Brian Bennett.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

..."for the sake of your stomach and infirmities"

In 1 Timothy 5:23 the apostle Paul instructs his ministry protégé Timothy to not drink water exclusively but to use a little wine for the sake of his stomach and his frequent illnesses.  It is impossible to say with absolute certainty what specific physical ailments were plaguing this faithful pastor.  Timothy's gastrointestinal tract appears to have been seriously out of whack.  It's also clear that his aches and pains were somewhat constant.

We also know from the biblical text that Timothy was a young pastor.  At times Timothy struggled with being timid in the face of push back, potential persecution, and real pain.  Like all Word-dominated leaders Timothy's ministry in Ephesus experienced highs and lows.   He needed a lot of encouragement, counsel, and care as he served Christ's cause in Asia minor (see 1 and 2 Timothy).   As a loving shepherd and spiritual father Paul instructs his son in the faith in 1 Timothy 5:23 to take a little wine for the sake of his aching gut.   

When I came to Freeport in 2008 God had blessed me with twenty-eight years of very good health.  In the summer of 2009 however I began to experience many painful gastrointestinal symptoms.  When the fires of "revitalization ministry" blazed most (for example note this, this, or this) my stomach often "flared up" as well.   My "Timothy ailments" included internal burning, regurgitation, constant gnawing stomach pain, and massive abdominal bloating all of which resulted in weight loss (thirty pounds over four years) and at times radical restrictions in diet (hence the weight loss) to help manage the chronic pain.  After a particularly painful season where I experienced my own "Black Tuesday" I was only able to stomach Ensure and a few other liquid food items.  During these painful seasons I sometimes found it quite laborious just to make it through the day.  By the grace of God I never missed a day of work and pressed in gospel service.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Calvin and His Ailments: Pastoral Productivity in the Midst of Pain

This six minute video highlights the life of Calvin and how he pressed on in Christian service even in the midst of many physical ailments.  This video complements the articles that follow this particular blog post.

"Calvin and His Ailments: Pastoral Productivity in the Midst of Pain"

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The High Cost of Church Revitalization

"Consider the cost before building a tower."  This principle is true not only in regards to Christian discipleship it is equally true of pastoral ministry; especially if God calls you to join His cause in the work of church revitalization.  If you want to understand more fully what church revitalization is and why it is often needed please consider these excellent resources here, here, and here.

In hindsight I wish I would have better understood the high cost of church revitalization before I ever stepped into the deep end of the ministry pool.  Had I known then what I know now maybe I never would have come to Freeport in the first place?  Perhaps like Jonah I would have run away from God's calling on my life?  I certainly hope not!  "Here I am Lord. Send me!" is the heartbeat of every minister that is truly called into 'vocational ministry.'

The following resources have helped me and my leadership team put our challenging ministry into a larger context: Note this, this, and thisIf God uses our experiences to help encourage and instruct other believers along the way that would be a tremendous blessing.  May we all press on towards the goal of the upward calling in Christ!  Wherever the Master takes us may we serve Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength!  As Pastor Rick Holland says, "If it bears His name it is worth our best."

At times I have to remind my heart that it is a mercy to serve the Lord's cause no matter how difficult one's ministry lot may be.  All ministry that is truly biblical is costly.  If you faithfully honor Christ and seek to uphold the full counsel of God you will experience various hardships.  However if the Holy Spirit leads you to a "Corinth like ministry" rather than taking you to "Philippi"" you will likely experience a different sort of ministry.  I believe every church leader involved in biblical reformation work has experienced very similar challenges.

I was not fully prepared for the ministry of church revitalization when my family moved to Freeport.  I am certainly not adequate for these things.  God continues to refine me and teach me and shape me and mold me as I attempt to serve Him faithfully in the ministry trenches.  Here is one quote that every pastor and lay leader involved in church revitalization ministry needs to prayerfully consider:  
By this point in the book, you may be greatly inspired by the numerous stories of leaders who persevered in the midst of significant trials. On the other hand, you may be scared to death by the high cost these leaders paid to move their churches to new levels of excellence. You have already read of leaders who were dismissed, stressed-out leaders who found themselves in the hospital, and leaders who faced the wrath of those who were once supporters. Unfortunately, difficulties are commonplace in churches that move to greatness (greater biblical fidelity). Sometimes moments of crisis are sensed internally by those who lead the change in the church. Inevitably the crisis also takes place with many of the members. And more often than not, the members who experience the crisis blame the pastor for the difficulties they encounterThom Rainer.
Below you can read various emails from former church members.  I have chosen to include these unedited letters (without any person's name attached) in effort to illustrate three principles: 
1) I want you to understand that Thom Rainer's quote (listed above) is very insightful and is often quite true of reformation ministries.  "Consider the cost before building the ministry tower."  On going conflict (growing pains) can lead ministry allies to leave the same ministry they once so esteemed.  Self inflicted ministry wounds need to be humbly acknowledged along the way.  At the same time fighting the Lord's battles and making tough/unpopular decisions as you attempt to do the work of church revitalization is at times very messy.  You will get your hands dirty.  Thom Rainer is correct.  The one at the tip of the spear will be blamed and sometimes attacked when those crisis moments in ministry come.  2) I have included notes from different members to further validate that my overall evaluation of the work here is accurate. In the spirit of 2 Corinthians 13:1, By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.   As I open up my heart in this ministry blog I am trying my very best to not misrepresent the story.  In other words, many members (current and former)  have made these same observations.  This blog does not just represent the perspective of one person.  3) To remind my readers that the work of church revitalization is not the work of one personThe "human heroes" of our story are actually the courageous lay leaders of the church.  Their steadfast perseverance combined with the essential prayer support and encouragement of many faithful members is the chief means God used (outside Scripture) to bring about the necessary changes at First.  Some of the letters listed below encouraged us to press on during those intense crisis moments in gospel ministry.

I was praying for you and your family this morning during my prayer time at home thanking the Lord for bringing you here to this “spiritual desert” and asking Him to continue to give you wisdom and understanding of people. I understand the nature of these meetings today and will be interceding for you dear brother.


"Just a quick note of encouragement to keep pushing forward. Hope the recent attacks are not discouraging you too much. Remember the source that they are coming from; Not very reputable, not spiritual, definitely not very discerning. Again consider the source.

Now if someone like Phil Johnson wrote an "open letter to Caleb Kolstad" on Pyromaniacs that might be kind of concerning. =) But seriously, it's a comfort for us to know we have a pastor that will keep his "hand to the plow" and one who preaches the Word to us every Sunday.

More than likely FBC has been in diapers for the past 165yrs. so it will take time to get them out of them.

I continue to pray that one day FBC will be a healthy church and one that will "adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect" (Titus 2:10b).

Your friend,

"I just wanted to send you a little note of encouragement. I know last night couldn't have been easy. I was at times embarrassed, angry, and encouraged by what you were compelled to do. But the lasting impression I have is that God is good and has blessed us with a true man of God. I have never been under the shepherding of someone capable of doing what you did. I know last night was difficult, but at least for me, it was a HUGE blessing. I cannot explain to you how powerful it was to see my shepherd expose his heart and reaffirm that 1. he is a man that is 2. submitting in word and deed to the truth of the Word. The humility, grace, patience, and prayerfulness that has been consistently exhibited by you and the other men in leadership has not gone unnoticed. As you said last night, this is an exciting time! God is working!

 Anyway, "John Doe" challenged me last night to be more vocal about the good God is doing in our midst and in the community at large. I guess sometimes it's just assumed that you know you are appreciated and loved. That's an incorrect assumption on my part. You have served to bolster me and my family in a time when what we need is a strong, gentle hand. I thank God and pray for you (almost) daily. :-) There is a peace I have in worshiping at FBC that I have NEVER experienced before. Much of that comes from your spiritual shepherding. Thank you for your testimony, your willingness to do the difficult job of shepherding, and your preaching of the Word."


XX and I were talking afterward and wonder if some within the mutinous minority were expecting you to say ‘I’m sorry, please forgive me and I will accommodate your preferences’. That did NOT happen; and when you directed our thoughts toward ‘we have run out of pastors to blame for our inner turmoil and it is time to begin looking at the man in the mirror’ then this will be the dividing line. Yes indeed another line has been drawn in the sand and it is time for some folks to recommit or remove themselves.

The Lord has blessed your ministry efforts in leading us back toward a more biblical model what the Lord’s church was intended to be. The battles along the way will be necessary and yet I believe the Lord will reward us for our faithful obedience to His word both now and in the next life.

Grace to you dear brother!


I thought Sunday night went wonderfully!!!! I am SO pleased we did not get/take questions… would not have facilitated the healing process or the working out of grievances…It was pretty clear to me that you had everyone’s attention, and my hope is that people got the message….doing things biblically is not always easy, it can be tough, but it’s right (that’s most important), and THAT is the direction we intend to stay on.

Had anyone jumped up with comments/questions I would have reminded them of the wisdom of Solomon recorded in Proverbs: He who troubles his own house shall inherit the wind……, and that we consider the words we have heard—they were heartfelt, biblical, well spoken….to lapse into a nasty congregational to/fro would have made that the headline of the night, and people would have talked about THAT. My prayer is that instead of talking about it, people think about it and consider what was said…..My prayer this week is that people look in the mirror a bit….

Keep at it….. XX

Thanks for the encouragement! Just know, that you and your family are precious to us and we thank you for bringing the true word of God through expository preaching and teaching and by the humble example you and Andrea lead on a daily basis.

In His Arms,


Thursday, November 7, 2013

"O You of Little Faith, Why Do You Doubt?"

Jesus and the Storms of Life
In John 6 Jesus tests his disciples in order to help them grow in the knowledge and grace of Christ.  Jesus' disciples quickly fail heaven's pop quiz before receiving an invaluable spiritual lesson from their Master Teacher.  After the Lord Jesus flexes His Deity muscles for all to see He sends the twelve back across the Sea of Galilee.  Less than twelve hours later the disciple's faith is tested once again this time in the middle of a giant sea storm.  Without the perceived presence of Christ the disciples panic (Mayday!!!).  These manly fishermen are quickly overcome with white-knuckle fear and in short order have to basically relearn the same lesson Jesus taught them just a short while ago.  Sound familiar anyone (my hand is raised)?

When preaching through this narrative the Spirit reminded me how often I respond just like these knucklehead disciples. How many times must Jesus say to you and I, "O you of little faith.  Why did you doubt? Why are you so afraid?" 

After God's amazing and abundant provision for First Baptist Church just a few years ago I would like to tell you that every time our ministry ship has gone through various life storms that I've always responded with steadfast faith and courage; that would be a LIE.  So many times in life and ministry I find myself crying out, "Lord I believe!  Help my unbelief!" Or "Father, cure this spiritual amnesia of mine and forgive me for ever doubting You, Your plan, or Your Holy Word."  "Help me so I can help those entrusted to my care."

As I post this series of journal articles I want to do everything I can to make much of Jesus.  Even when we respond faithfully or make a Martin Luther like stand for the truth let us quickly direct all praise and glory back to God (Romans 11:36). 

In Christ alone
I place my trust
And find my glory in the power of the cross
In every victory
Let it be said of me
My source of strength
My source of hope
Is Christ alone

In Christ alone do I glory
For only by His grace I am redeemed
For only His tender mercy
Could reach beyond my weakness to my need
And now I seek no greater honor in just to know Him more
And to count my gains but losses to the glory of my Lord

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Lord Will Provide: Here I Raise My Ebenezer (pt 2)

How many times have you heard someone say, "Be faithful Christian and trust God with the results."  "The Lord will provide (per 1 Cor. 4:2, and Genesis 22:14)?" Or, "Trust and obey, for there's no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey." The longer I have been a disciple of Jesus the more this maxim has been tested and the more God has shown Himself to be Faithful and True.

As we began to see last time these simple principles however are not always quite so easy to live out. In my opening article I recounted father Abraham's extreme test of faith (Genesis 22:1-18).

The painting above is a powerful reminder of how God generally works. It is often not until the 'last moment' that the Lord chooses to rescue His people from the miry pit. God often "tests" His elect to prove and improve their faith (Job 1:1-21). King Jesus does this very thing with His beloved disciples in John 6. In Abraham's case it was not until the Patriarch "passed" his extreme test of faith that the Lord provided a glorious substitute.

Jehovah Jireh: The Lord Will Provide (part 1)

This chapter spotlights God's immutable reliability.  The God of Abraham is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Abraham's God is our God.  I want to share the particular details of this story in effort to raise our Ebenezer stone (1 Samuel 7:12) in honor of the One who is Faithful and True.  When God tests our faith (James 1:2-4) may we remember Genesis 22 that we might trust Jehovah-Jireh.     

The extreme test of faith that Abraham receives in Genesis 22 is one of the most familiar stories in Scripture.  Would Abraham trust and obey the Lord even when doing so made no sense at all?  "When praise demanded a sacrifice would he worship even then?"  Genesis 22:1-2, After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here am I."  He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you." 

For First Baptist Church our faith was tested when obedience to God's Word meant ongoing internal opposition, much slander and gossip, and eventually numerical and financial losses.  Let me be honest here.  Even when you are firmly convinced that the most important kind of church growth is spiritual growth (per Col. 1:28) it is still not easy to remain faithful to the Word of God when you begin to suffer for righteousness sake.  It is not so easy being a 'Word-dominated, 9-Marks' church when the going gets tough.

Abraham's radical response of faith is described in verses 3-10. So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you." 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, "My father!" And he said, "Here am I, my son." He said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" 8 Abraham said, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So they went both of them together. 9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.

Our response of faith was not nearly as "radical" or "moving" as father Abraham's but it was just as necessary if the reforming work of God was to continue at the FBC of Freeport.  From weekly sermon expositions of controversial texts (2 Timothy 4:1-5), to private one another type conversations with wayward church members (Gal. 6:1-4, Matthew 18:15), to explosive outbursts of wrath at congregational meetings, the temptation to compromise was ever before us.  Would the lay leaders continue to hold the line or would they try yet another ministry paradigm?  Would the membership continue to come back each week to worship, serve, and fellowship?  Would the pastoral staff persevere during the most trying of times?  Would our church continue to trust and obey even when doing so did not make a lot of sense (humanly speaking)?  When obedience demanded a sacrifice (time, treasure, reputation) would we worship and obey Christ even then?  This test of faith seemed to reach a pinnacle for us in 2012.