Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Theory of Attendance

I think that I'm so convinced of this now that I could nearly write a book on it. I've thought this for years as I served at different churches. It didn't matter where I was: Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and back to Oklahoma, I think that this relationship is true. My theory is, if you will, that church attendance is an indicator of a person's spiritual walk. If they are struggling, they tend to stay away (or are being lured away by the evil one). If they are strong or at least growing and open to growth, they are here more often than not. Now before you get your feathers ruffled, let me explain further.

I have seen this all the time, it seems. You have an individual or a family that are members or regular attenders at church. They are committed to being there, at least on Sunday mornings. They are seen on Sundays and fellowship with others in the body. Then, you don't see them. It's like they were here and then they vanished. They are like a vapor. You notice that they are missing and feel like you should call, but you don't want to offend them. If you do call they give you a LONG list of excuses to their lack of attendance (and commitment really). Maybe it's been a few weeks now and you know that you should call. Then you find out what's really going on. In many cases, they have now grown cold to God or the fellowship of the saints. They are stuck in a sin pattern and don't want to feel the guilt of facing it on Sunday mornings (even though the guilt may be exactly what's keeping them away from the church). Usually the attendance is an indicator of the spiritual walk.

Derek, our youth pastor, came to me this morning. He's had a student who was heavily involved become uninvolved of late. The student's attendance has decreased over the last 2 months. Now that student seems to be in a lot of trouble and making some very destructive choices. Regardless of age, the theory still holds true.

And it really makes sense if you think about it. When you are strong in the Lord and walking with Him everyday, it's easier to worship Him and be involved in corporate worship with brothers and sisters in Christ. When you're making poor sinful choices, or choosing worldly things over Godly things, it's hard to "face the Christians" every Sunday. It's even hard to be in the presence of God in worship, taking communion, etc. So many people live this way and choose to put masks on and "play" Christianity. This is sad but true in many cases.

So, the next time you notice someone who's been missing from your congregation, pray for them and call them. Get them back into the fellowship of the saints. Encourage them to deal with their sin or their feelings or whatever is holding them back, and help them work through it. Their lack of attendance is probably an outside indicator of an inward spiritual struggle. Be prepared. Getting in people's lives can be messy, but God has called us to help one another in the faith.

Galatians 6:1 "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted."

Hebrews 10:25 "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching."

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Reverence or Relevance?

Six weeks ago, Greg Laurie posted a helpful article on the growing trend among pastors to use worldly speech from the pulpit. I have excerpted part of that article below, with a link to his blog where you can read the rest.

It seems to me that for some we have lost the “fear of the Lord,” even in the Church.

There was a time when things were perhaps too uptight, and one spoke in whispers in the Church, and laughter was rarely heard. But today, many churches, in their attempt to be thought of as “cool” or “contemporary,” they have lost their focus.

I am not suggesting we attempt to be irrelevant and uncool, but my question is “Have we traded reverence for relevance?”

For instance, you have preachers talking in great detail about sexual issues, ranging from programs to have “sex every day for seven days” to more extreme versions in which they speak very graphically about specific sexual acts from the pulpit.

Then you have the “Cussing Preacher” syndrome. The pastor thinks it’s cool to use profanity in the pulpit so people will see him as one of them.

Is this all really necessary? I don’t think so.

Look, I have been a pastor for 35 years, and we have never had a problem reaching our culture and seeing people come to Christ. I am all for being real and authentic, but I also stand up on the platform to speak God’s Word.

. . . I am all for relevance. We need to make sense to the people we are reaching. But let’s not lower our standard in order to extend our reach.

Read the rest here Comment and tell me what you think.

The Tuesday Funny

Monday, April 27, 2009

Monday, Monday

So here's how it started...I get a call from Nancy (my administrative assistant) at 7:40 this morning. I'm thinking that she's being nice and calling to see if I wanted a Davinci's. Boy, was I wrong! She called from her cell to tell me that the phone system was out. Completely out! All 6 lines at the church, the voicemail/PBX, the whole closet was dead. When I got in about 8 she informed me that the internet was down as well as the network. I troubleshooted with it for about an hour or so and then realized that the APC backup got fried last night at some point. So, no power was the problem, and it's not on the electric side but the actually battery back-up unit. So, off to Staples for surge protection and battery back-up extraordinaire.

Then I kind of got sucked in on the projector project. We had a projector go down, probably due to the storms, so we were running with one projector in the sanctuary on Sunday. So, ladders up and trying to get that done.

All of that being said, it's now 11AM and I've got nothing done that I really needed to get done this morning. Ah, tis a Monday. Monday, Monday.... On Monday's you never know what you're going to get.

Hopefully my Tuesday will have a better start. Now I'm just praying for God's provision and blessing of time for the rest of today. It is the day that He's given me as a gift. Even though it hasn't gone as I hoped, I'm no less called to "rejoice and be glad in it".

Make it a great day and dedicate it for the Lord!

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Commitment Struggle

In a society where commitment isn't fashionable anymore, more and more people are tempted to drop commitments to Christ and His church. This is nothing new. The devil has used these priorital shifting tactics since the inception of the church. Focus on the world and the here and now. Forget eternity and the things that God demands while you are here on earth. Hebrews 11:13 reminds us that we are aliens and strangers in this world: "All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth." We're just passing through.

Jesus shared a teaching about the reality of Christians remaining faithful. In Matthew 13, Jesus shares the parable of the sower: "3Then he told them many things in parables, saying: "A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown."

So what does this teaching mean? Jesus explains it later in that same chapter: "18"Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. 22The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. 23But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown."

Bob Russell writes: "Some people drop out of church because they can't take the heat that comes from believing in the basics of God's Word. (and the changes it demands, I might add) Some get so caught up in the pursuit of worldly success and pleasure that they think the don't have the time for the church anymore." I think that the latter is true for most people in Enid. They want to do the right things, but they are struggling with priorities. When a biblical church comes along and actually musters up enough courage to lovingly call them to repentance, to line up with the Word of God, most people never look at the actual truth of the situation. I've rarely heard a backslider say: "I'm sorry. I'm so consumed with making money and being a success in the eyes of this world, that I must have my priorities messed up." But what usually happens is quite the opposite. Almost always they go into a defense of their sin. They blame the church. The preacher offended them. The church just isn't meeting their needs. They weren't being fed. They didn't ever connect with friends here. The list could go on and on. These are the sad excuses of the uncommitted.

But here's the crux of the issue: people don't own up to their stuff. We don't like to look in the mirror and see ourselves and our lives as a contradiction to God's design for us. It's not the church's fault for their faith default. And Jesus warns of this in Matthew 13.

The encouragement that I get from this is to do all that I can in teaching the Word of God in a powerful and relevant way so that people understand it and understand the commitment that Jesus calls us to as believers. The cost of following is high sometimes, but the benefits are out of this world (literally!). I will keep speaking God's truth in love so that believers will grow up in their commitment to His cause. Like Ephesians 4:15 says: "Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ."

Be blessed and be a blessing to someone this week.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Special Day

Easter was a special day at Oakwood. This was by far the smoothest Easter Sunday we've had since I've been here (2003). There was no major foul-up today. Everything went very smooth in spite of the couple of roof leaks that we discovered in the building this morning. I think smoothness of everything this morning is largely contributed to God's grace, of course, and the faithful volunteers that made everything happen in the ministry today. As I began to figure, we had more than 100 volunteers serve in different aspects of ministry this morning. What a blessing to have a maturing church that's willing to serve the risen Lord in some "unseen" ways that are still very necessary for ministry. To the many volunteers that are in thankless ministry positions, I say thank you. You do not go unnoticed. I believe you made God smile today.

I'm truly blessed to be the lead man of such a great church. I can see people outreaching now, inviting friends, neighbors, and co-workers. I'm excited to see what God continues to do as we move ahead.

If you're reading this, be sure to be a part of what God is already doing around you. Want to know how to get directly involved in ministry? Call the church office (580) 233-1225 and ask for myself, Derek or Amanda and we'll be glad to get you started.

I thank the Lord so much for Jesus death and resurrection. I stand amazed at His love, patience, and mercy.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


I just returned to my desk from witnessing my daughter, Abigail's, preschool Easter party. You see, when your child is in a Christian preschool, it's okay to say Jesus and learn about the real reason for our national holidays. I was blessed to see our preschoolers go to the tomb and learn that Jesus wasn't inside, that he had risen from the dead. The shear excitement in the room was contagious as the children sang and shouted "hosanna". It was great!

Something else I noticed was the great teamwork of the preschool staff, parents, and church staff. Our own Amanda, our new children's minister, was there kneeling with a group of kids and telling the story of the empty tomb. My wife and others were washing hands, singing songs, getting kids ready for the Easter party they were about to have. It was great to see a well-oiled staff/volunteer combination. Everyone seemed to really buy in, to really enjoy the kids and what they were doing. Did any of those extras have to help this morning? I'm sure that they could have found something else to do. But they all showed up and had all hands on deck and pulled a very successful Easter celebration for Oakwood Christian Academy. I thank God for the maturity that leads to wonderful harmony amongst a group of believers who serve the Risen Savior. That's true Christian teamwork.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Signs of Life

There's nothing more exciting than seeing the signs of life in your ministry and your church. At Oakwood, the signs of life are everywhere. The last couple of weeks we've felt very much under attack, but the Lord sustained us and here we are! It's Holy Week, Passion Week, the pinnacle of our salvation and faith. I'm excited to preach my first Easter message this Sunday. We've been praying that God's house would be full and that God would bless our efforts to reach the lost for Him. It's an exciting time to be a part of His church.

We have had a great few days here. We are seeing God's Spirit moving among people. I'm thankful to the Lord for allowing us to be encouraged by the signs of life we're seeing. People are serving. People are loving. People are helping one another. It's refreshing and amazing at the same time.

God has really been working on me with something over the last week or so. Tracy Morris, the head of our eldership, and I had a great conversation late one night last week that really challenged my thinking on how we can better minister to people.

So many times in God's Word we are called and implored to confront sin. Confrontation is that gift that nobody wants. Confrontation is always hard and never fun. The stakes are always high. But we are nonetheless called by God to confront sin, especially sin "in the camp" if you will. How can you do that and look most like Jesus? Obviously the answer is "do what the Bible says", and that it true. But my challenge has been, how do you do that in the spirit of Jesus, who loved sinners especially and died for the lost?

When we confront sin (and we do and will) we must always do it in a spirit of love. You know as well as I do that if we approach the stumbler or the lost with a spirit of pride or superiority, that we will lose that battle.

The best way that I know to express it is this. The person you are called to help are lost in a swamp. They have no idea how to get out. They are desperate and dying to find a way to fix their problems, be forgiven, and get out! We approach them. We tell them, "You are lost in the swamp!" The problem is, they already know that they're lost in the swamp. That's not the problem. That's why they are visiting church. That's why they are trying to build relationships in Sunday School. That's why they are reaching out by talking to you. We don't need to tell them what they already feel and know. What they need is a friend who will reach out and say, "I know that you are in the swamp, can I show you the way out? How can I help you?"

You see, in this we are speaking the love. No stones to throw, just a tough love that wants people to get(understand) God's grace.

Look out church. The preacher gets it and is going to love anyone through their muck and mire. The lay leaders and staff are catching this vision too. We are going to still speak the truth, but we are going to speak it in love and help the lost and hurting out there. There are many in our church that are catching this too and living it out in their daily lives. Join us!

If you smell Jesus when your here, it's probably us, though it all come from Him. I hope you are fragrant too! (If not, get smelly and wreak of Jesus with us!)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

School House Rock

I went to the "School House Rock" musical play at the high school tonight with my 2 older girls. We had a blast. It was a great show. I got to see Nick Enabnit (one of our youth from Oakwood) in it as the lead roll. I also got to see Kaitlyn Myers as she sang and danced in it. I was so proud of them. That was a TON to memorize. Amazing! Anyway, the girls and I had fun, learned a whole lot and made a good memory.

We got a 10 minute intermission and during that time the girls and I went to get a drink and check out the panels in the hallways. We found mommy, aunt Jan and uncle David. The girls just laughed, but also thought that it was way cool to see them. Madalyn commented, "Man, everyone looks like kids." Well, she's right. Too funny!

I enjoyed spending the time with my girls.

What does it mean "to me"?

That’s a fashionable concern, judging from the trends in devotional booklets, home Bible study discussions, Sunday-school literature, and most popular preaching.

The question of what Scripture means has taken a back seat to the issue of what it means “to me.”

The difference may seem insignificant at first. Nevertheless, our obsession with the Scripture’s applicability reflects a fundamental weakness. We have adopted practicality as the ultimate judge of the worth of God’s Word. We bury ourselves in passages that overtly relate to daily living, and ignore those that don’t.

Early in my ministry, I made a conscious commitment to biblical preaching. My first priority has always been to answer the question, “What does this passage mean?” After I’ve explained as clearly and accurately as possible the meaning of God’s Word, then I exhort people to obey and apply it to their own lives.

The Bible speaks for itself to the human heart; it is not my role as a preacher to try to tailor the message. That’s why I preach my way through entire books of the Bible, dealing carefully with each verse and phrase–even though that occasionally means spending time in passages that don’t readily lend themselves to anecdotal or motivational messages.

I am grateful to the Lord for the way He has used this expository approach in our church and in the lives of our radio listeners.

But now and then someone tells me frankly that my preaching needs to be less doctrinal and more practical.

Practical application is vital. I don’t want to minimize its importance. But the distinction between doctrinal and practical truth is artificial; doctrine is practical! In fact, nothing is more practical than sound doctrine.

Too many Christians view doctrine as heady and theoretical. They have dismissed doctrinal passages as unimportant, divisive, threatening, or simply impractical. A best-selling Christian book I just read warns readers to be on guard against preachers whose emphasis is on interpreting Scripture rather than applying it.

Wait a minute. Is that wise counsel? No it is not.

There is no danger of irrelevant doctrine; the real threat is an undoctrinal attempt at relevance. Application not based on solid interpretation has led Christians into all kinds of confusion.
No discipline is more sorely needed in the contemporary church than expositional biblical teaching. Too many have bought the lie that doctrine is something abstract and threatening, unrelated to daily life.

It is in vogue to substitute psychology and spoon-fed application for doctrinal substance, while demeaning theological and expositional ministry.

But the pastor who turns away from preaching sound doctrine abdicates the primary responsibility of an elder: “holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9).

Practical insights, gimmicks, and illustrations mean little if they’re not attached to divine principles. There’s no basis for godly behavior apart from the truth of God’s Word.
There are only three options: We teach truth, error, or nothing at all.

Before the preacher asks anyone to perform a certain duty, he must first deal with doctrine. He must develop his message around theological themes and draw out the principles of the texts. Then the truth can be applied.

Romans provides the clearest biblical example. Paul didn’t give any exhortation until he had given eleven chapters of theology.

He scaled incredible heights of truth, culminating in 11:33-36: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given Him that it might be paid back to Him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”

Then in chapter 12, he turned immediately to the practical consequences of the doctrine of the first 11 chapters. No passage in Scripture captures the Christian’s responsibility to the truth more clearly than Romans 12:1-2. There, building on eleven chapters of profound doctrine, Paul calls each believer to a supreme act of spiritual worship–giving oneself as a living sacrifice. Doctrine gives rise to dedication to Christ, the greatest practical act. And the remainder of the book of Romans goes on to explain the many practical outworkings of one’s dedication to Christ.
Paul followed the same pattern in Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and 1 Thessalonians. The doctrinal message came first. Upon that foundation he built the practical application, making the logical connection with the word therefore (Rom. 12:1; Gal. 5:1; Eph. 4:1; Phil. 2:1) or then (Col. 3:1; 1 Thess. 4:1).

True doctrine transforms behavior as it is woven into the fabric of everyday life. But it must be understood if it is to have its impact. The real challenge of the ministry is to dispense the truth clearly and accurately. Practical application comes easily by comparison.

No believer can apply truth he doesn’t know. Those who don’t understand what the Bible really says about marriage, divorce, family, child-rearing, discipline, money, debt, work, service to Christ, eternal rewards, helping the poor, caring for widows, respecting government, and other teachings won’t be able to apply it.

Those who don’t know what the Bible teaches about salvation cannot be saved. Those who don’t know what the Bible teaches about holiness are incapable of dealing with sin. Thus they are unable to live fully to their own blessedness and God’s glory.

The nucleus of all that is truly practical is sown up in the teaching of Scripture. We don’t make the Bible relevant; it is inherently so, simply because it is God’s Word. And after all, how can anything God says be irrelevant?

excerpt from Pulpit Magazine