Ready to Worship? Online?

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This is a very strange Saturday.  I’ve already preached my Sunday sermon.  Most Saturdays my mind is consumed with thoughts of the upcoming message and how to enhance and bring it to life. However, we recorded the service on Friday and Lane has been getting it ready. Except for not making me look thinner, it looks great.

It is a very unique time in the history of our nation.  As a church, we have chosen to do what we can to help minimize the risk of the virus and practice social distancing. We have decided not to meet as a church on March 22nd and 29th.  We will reevaluate at that time.  All of this to say, you will worship as a family in your home for at least the next two weeks. What will it look like?

Allow me an opportunity to encourage you in a few things.

  1. Keep your Sunday “normal.” Make Sunday as normal as possible. Wake up at your normal time. Eat breakfast as if it were a normal Sunday. You may even want to pile into the car, drive around the block, and get into a family fight before worship. Again, keep your Sunday normal.  I know some will watch the service in the pajamas or sweats, and that’s sure ok. Others may want to dress in their Sunday best. But up to 10:30 am, create the atmosphere that you are actually attending church.
  2. Pray before the service. We will post our service at 10:30 am. Before the service, pray with your family. Expect God to speak to you.  Expect to be moved by the Holy Spirit.  You are going to church!
  3. Engage in the worship service. Our service will be streamed online. Our worship pastor, Shawn, did an amazing job leading in worship. Sing with him. Pray with him.  Treat it just like you would if you were in the room with Shawn. Parents lead the way.  Your children will follow your lead.
  4. Open the Bible. Follow along. Things are a little different this week. This is more a topical message on attributes of God. But take time to look at scripture. My next series will journey through the book of Colossians. It’s a great book. On Sunday, I’ll be looking at a passage in Isaiah 40 and 43.
  5. Give as a family. This is a great time to teach your children about the importance of giving and its worship implication. In your offering, you are worshiping God, stepping out in faith and acknowledging He is the source of all our blessings. You can give online at www.fsbcsalina.com. I’d encourage you to do this as an act of worship and as a family.
  6. Follow-up – After the service, take time to follow-up. Ask questions to your family. Dad, if you are able, ask your children if they have questions. If they don’t, ask them a question. It can be as simple as, “If God is all-powerful, what does that mean for you?”  “How does that help us right now?”  Your children need to be reassured this week.  Let them know God is in control even over the coronavirus. Remind them it’s temporary and will not last forever.
  7. Plan on eating as a family. Take time to eat lunch as a family. This would be a great place for follow-up.

Be a part of our service. Actively engage in worship. Take notes. If you have any questions, please let me know. It’s not the ideal situation for corporate worship, but you and your family will be blessed. Remember, part of our desire is to take the gospel of Christ from our corner to every corner.  This Sunday we will do just that.  I’m a little excited.  Join our church this Sunday at 10:30 am.  Find us on our public Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/fsbcsalina/. It will be posted on a website later that day.  The church may be online tomorrow, but remember, the church is not where you meet but who you are. We are the body of Jesus Christ.

The Coronavirus

samoan bible verses Pretty Do not be afraid I am with you Isaiah 43 5It is an extraordinary time indeed.  As you wake up today, Thursday, March 12, 2020, you find yourself in very uncharted waters. In my fifty some odd years, I’ve never seen anything like this. On Wednesday, the World Health Organization officially declared the Coronavirus a pandemic, The National Basketball Association suspended their season, and the NCAA have decided to play games in empty stadiums.  It is a fascinating time. How should a Christian respond to events like this pandemic?

  1. Do not be afraid – God is sovereign. He knew this virus and has allowed it to hit the United States.  Scripture tells us, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power, love, and of self-discipline” (2 Tim 1:7).  God has sovereignly given us an excellent outline to follow in life. Don’t be afraid, love each other, and conduct yourself with self-discipline.  That seems very wise to me. Don’t live in fear. Find practical ways to love others during this time and use measures of self-discipline. 
  2. Do not worry – Likewise, don’t let yourself jump to a conclusion of worry.  We find our contentment in Christ. Remember the Savage paraphrase I gave you on Sunday of Matthew 6:33. “Your commitment to God’s causes and His character will produce your contentment.”  Don’t live in worry. Seek first God’s Kingdom, even during a pandemic. God is! God reigns! And God is in control! Live as if you believe these truths.
  3. Be Wise – Now for the flip side.  Live wisely. If you have a suppressed or compromised immunity, be extremely careful. Do what you can to not put yourself in a position where you can contract this virus.  Keep healthy hygiene habits. Wash your hands. Do everything you can not to spread a cold or flu to others. If you have symptoms, stay home. Some of this is merely using self-discipline and keeping yourself as healthy as possible. To our “older” population in the church, be very careful.  I keep hearing you are at the most significant risk. It’s ok to stay at home. If you need anything, please let me know. Lane and I will be happy to serve you in any way possible. However, we can’t if you don’t contact us. Furthermore, if anyone has symptoms of the flu or a bad cold, please take appropriate actions.  Again I say, it’s advisable to stay home. 
  4. Be Salt and Light – Christians have an opportunity to respond with great faith in God and trust in His care.  Let people see your faith. Talk to them. God may allow you to share why you are not afraid. Many people will be afraid and will be very worried. Let your world know in whom you believe and trust. We are holy, different, and we need others to see our confidence in God.

I want you to know I am taking the Coronavirus very seriously. I realize I am not an expert, but I am in communication with our experts.  God has blessed our church with many doctors and nurses. As of today, we do not have plans to cancel our services or other events. I have opened a dialogue with our doctors and I’m taking their recommendations very seriously. They confirm we are safe to meet.  There are no known cases in Salina. This might, and probably will change. At that time, we will readdress this issue and will get the recommendations of our doctors. This is a very fluid situation. Our decision to continue to meet may change if the virus spreads.  If we must cancel services, we are set up very well. I will be able to teach and preach via our Facebook page. Our Life Group ministry will be even more critical. Please remember, you can continue to faithfully give your tithes and offerings through our online giving function on our website www.fsbcsalina.com.

Don’t be afraid and don’t worry. Be wise. Take good care of yourself and do what you can to personally limit the spread of any illness.  Our older members must be especially diligent in this matter. If you are not connected to our church by Facebook or email, please do so. You can sign-up for our emails at www.fsbcsalina.com.  We have a public and private Facebook page. Please contact me if you would like more information. 

Let me close with two tweets from James Merritt, former President of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor.  “I pray a cure will be developed, the infected will be healed and the healthy will be protected. From a divine perspective, I pray that God would be glorified, the gospel would be magnified, and the church would be edified.”  Will you join me in this prayer? He also sent out this tweet, “The Coronavirus gives all Jesus followers a divine opportunity to display to the world how to respond rather than react. So today I choose worship over worry. I choose faith over fear. I choose peace over panic, believing in a sovereign God who gives saving grace.”  

Join me in the same choice of living for the Kingdom of God.   May God be glorified today and every day. How can God use you to advance His Kingdom during this virus for His glory and the good of others?  

 

Sovereignty & Free Will

 As we prepare our hearts for Easter, I’ve been walking through a series of sermons on the attributes of God. My greatest desire is to have our people know God better so they will love Him more.  We’ve looked at His uniqueness and His holiness. There is none like God. He is holy and set apart. This week we come to an attribute that ties all the attributes together. We are looking at the sovereignty of God. Put simply, as the word itself hints at, our God reigns (Isaiah 52:7).  God is above all, superior to all He is in control of all our God reigns. In His sovereignty, there is nothing that happens that is not allowed by or caused by God. God’s sovereignty is His absolute rule and control over all creation. When looking at the sovereignty of God, it does not take long for someone to ask, “How about man’s free will?”  In light of that question, I want to submit to you a short theological answer to the balance between the sovereignty of God and man’s free will.

Allow me a simple note.  I realize I am trying to make a very complex issue probably too simple.  I know there are many avenues to traverse when looking at the teachings of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will.  I’m not directing this blog to the many incredible scholars but to the “common” person sitting in the pew of my church.  I want them to know the basics of the argument and to know this is not an either/or debate but believing a balanced view of sovereignty and free will is well within the boundary of orthodoxy.

There are basically two large schools of thought. First, there is libertarian free will.  This camp is most rooted in Arminian theology and is fleshed out in the teachings of Jacobus Arminius.  Libertarian free will states that man is free to make choices that have not been predetermined by any outside agent.  They would argue that libertarian free will is essential for moral responsibility. In this school, a person has the power to act or refrain from action at any point.

On the complete other side of the debate is a school of thought called determinism.  This school of thought is rooted in John Calvin and is best expressed in Calvinism. In determinism, all events that happen are preordained, predestined or predetermined by God.  Within this camp, there is a group that stands as “hard determinist” which completely takes away man’s freewill and places all responsibility on God.  There is also a “soft determinist” thought that allows for the sovereignty of God but also allows for the man’s free will.

Are these two schools mutually exclusive?  Are they the only option Scripture allows?  Even a cursory reading of the Bible will show both the free will of man and the sovereignty of God.  For good verses on free will see: John 5:40, John 7:17, Isaiah 55:6-7, Jeremiah 29:13, Ezekiel 18:30-32 just to name a few. Even the theological teaching of temptation obviously implies the person’s ability to choose right or wrong.  Temptation makes no sense without free will. The sovereignty of God is also an obvious teaching in Scripture. For verses on the Sovereignty of God see Psalm 115:3, 1 Chronicles 29:11-12, Job 42:2, Isaiah 46:9-10 and Psalm 103:19 to only name a few.  The basic nature of God demands sovereignty.  I think we can actually see a strong tension between free will and sovereignty in John 5 and 6. You see throughout the text that only the Father draws man and no one can come to the Father unless drawn by him (Sovereignty, election etc.).  But you do not look far in John 5 and 6 to see over and again, “anyone who believes has eternal life” (free will, man’s responsibility, etc.)

Who is correct in this debate?  The Arminian school seems to take God out of the equation while the more hyper-Calvinist seems to take the man out of the equation.  In my life, I’ve found that so often when there are two diametrically opposed views, the truth is often found somewhere between two poles. This is true in politics, theology, and life. Allow me a chance to offer you a more balanced perspective. It is what theologians call compatibilist freedom or sometimes called “soft determinism.”  I have found this to be a very good balance between the two views. This view says free will and sovereignty are compatible with each other.

Compatibilism affirms that man freely chooses what God has determined He will choose. In this view, God is sovereign and rules and reigns over all things. Man is free to choose but will not choose against his nature and desires.  Due to the effects of the fall, man’s nature is corrupted, and he is unable to choose contrary to his broken nature unless God intervenes.

Millard Erickson is helpful to us.  Here are a few quotes from his Christian Theology book[1]:

– “God, foreknowing the infinite possibilities, chooses to bring to existence the individual who will freely decide to respond to every situation as God intends.” (in notes on page 329)

– “… I may choose one action over another because it holds more appeal to me. But I may not be fully in control of the appeal each of those actions holds for me. (328)

– “I am free to choose among various options. But my choice will be influenced by who I am. Therefore, my freedom must be understood as my ability to choose among options in light of who I am. And who I am is a result of God’s decision and activity. (329).

– “Most of the time, however, the picture is more like God making his will so persuasive and attractive that persons willingly and even joyfully accept it and carry it out.  As an old song put it, ‘He didn’t compel them against their will; he just make them willing to go.’” (331).

– I have adopted the compatibilistic view, not because Scripture explicitly teaches it, but because it fits better with the teaching regarding God’s plan…” (331)

 

In other words, you are free to choose but your freedom is limited to God’s plan and purposes for you. God has given you freedom but he has limited your freedom in how He created you, where you live, and by the person you are.

I think A.W. Tozer can help explain this better. In his classic work, “The Knowledge of the Holy” he acknowledges “one of the marks of God’s image in man is his ability to exercise moral choices.”[2].  In the chapter on sovereignty, Tozer gives a very good balanced view. He writes, “Here is my view: God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it… Man’s will is free because God is sovereign.” [3]

Tozer also gives us a very good illustration that seems to balance the two views very well.  “An ocean liner leaves New York bound for Liverpool.  Its destination has been determined by proper authorities.  Nothing can change it.  This is at least a faint picture of sovereignty.  On board the liner are several scores of passengers.  These are not in chains, neither are their activities determined for them by decree.  They are completely free to move about as they will. They eat, sleep, play, lounge about on the deck, read, talk, altogether as they please; but all the while the great liner is carrying them steadily onward toward a predetermined port.  Both freedom and sovereignty are present here and they do not contradict each other.”[4]

There are none who are totally free except the Triune God alone.  God has rendered certain the end, His plans will not be thwarted. Is man free? I think Erickson is very helpful here as well and sums up my thoughts and allows us to see the tension between sovereignty and free will. Erickson writes, “We conclude that if by freedom is meant a random choice, human freedom is a practical impossibility.  But if by freedom is meant the ability to choose between options, human freedom exists and is compatible with God’s having rendered our decisions and actions certain” [1](332).  God is sovereign and man is free.  You will be responsible for the choices you make in life.  Like Moses, I say to you, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30:29).  It is your choice and you are responsible.  I pray God is drawing you to Himself.

In closing, let me remind you, “The hidden things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things belong to us…” (Deuteronomy 29:29).  There are truths God has not fully revealed to us.  We are also reminded we know in part (1 Corinthians 13:9) and we can affirm with Paul, “Oh the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God. How unsearchable His judgments and untraceable his ways” (Romans 11:33). Don’t be so arrogant to think you know it all or even can fully comprehend the sovereignty and free will of man.  In the tension of the two, there remains a mystery that only God comprehends. Therefore, leave the tension, accept the mystery, trust in His sovereignty and worship our great good and wise God.

 

 

 

 

[1] Erickson, Milard J., Christian Theology Third Edition, Grand Rapids MI: Baker Academic, 2013

[2] Tozer, A.W., The knowledge of the Holy, New York, NY: HarperCollins, 29.

[3] Ibid., 110-11

[4] Ibid., 111

 

The Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit

As we prepare our hearts for Easter, people in the church are reading the Gospels.  Yesterday we read Matthew 12.  Questions about the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit have come up.  Has anyone else wondered about the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? In a little over 300 words, let me help you out. First, always look for context.  Note verses 18-21.  Matthew is reminding the reader that the coming Messiah would be endowed from on high with the Holy Spirit.  Next, notice too that this passage is dealing with evil and good. It is dealing with things of God and things of Satan.  He talks about a good tree and an evil tree. He talks about an evil generation and unclean and evil spirits.  This entire chapter is a picture of the work of Satan and the work of the Holy Spirit. Consider verse 24.  “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.” Do you notice anything there?  The Pharisees are speaking to Jesus with such contempt calling Jesus simply “this fellow” or “this man.” You can see and hear their hard hearts (See 12:34).  They had seen the work of the Holy Spirit, but instead of embracing Jesus as the proven Messiah, they credit the miracles of God to Beelzebub.  It’s not that God is unwilling to forgive, but the person is rejecting God. Therefore, anyone who has willfully and blatantly opposed the work of the Holy Spirit, and misidentifies His work as that of Satan, this person has rejected, not only the Holy Spirit, but he has rejected God’s Messiah. Jesus is the only way to heaven.  Reject Him, and only eternal condemnation remains. Henry Alfred is helpful: “It is not a particular species of sin which is here condemned but a definite act showing a state of sin, and that state a willful, determined opposition to the present power of the Holy Spirit; and this as shown by its fruit, blasphemy. The declaration, in substance, often occurs in the New Testament” (The New Testament for English Readers, from Desiring God).

Lesson From a Three-Year-Old

Brennan and FamMy wife, Heidi, and I have enjoyed this season of life as much as any we have lived.  The empty-nest years are not bad at all, especially when your granddaughter comes to town.  Last weekend, our oldest son and his family visited our home. We love it when they come and when they bring our granddaughter, Kennady, it’s even more special.  We decided to take the family fishing to a family friends’ pond. We had such a great time but also witnessed the worst case of fishing we have ever seen.

We baited Kennady’s hook with a juicy and luscious worm.  She was a little disgusted as I pulled the worm up out of the dirt it came in. She closed her eyes as I carefully ran the hook through the slimy body of the worm.  Once it was securely attached to the hook, Kennady opened her eyes and screamed with excitement. “Throw it in the water, Pops,” she said. I took her “Snoopy-Type” little pole and tossed her line gently out into the water.  I gave her the pole, and she began to violently raise her pole up and down. The bobber would come flying up out of the water each time with only the worm in the water. “Kennady,” I tenderly said. “you can’t keep bringing your line out of the water.  Let Pops put it back in the water. Now be patient. Let it sit there and watch.” I think she would have rather watch paint dry than to see if the bobber would sink. Once again, she grabbed her pole and began to raise it up and down like a seasoned fly fisher.  She was officially the worst fisherman I had ever seen. There was zero chance she would catch a fish; until she did. In fact, with the worst technique I had ever seen, our dear Kennady caught three fish. I think it may have been a miracle of God, but it was three fish, nonetheless. She was so bad, her initial response when the bobber sank, was to drop her pole on the ground.

I’ve thought about Kennady’s fishing exploits and quickly realized that there are some good lessons for you and me on evangelism.

  1.       You can’t catch fish if you never go fishing.  She may be the worst fisherman in the world, but you know what, she caught three fish on Saturday. How many fish did you catch this week? 
  2.       Even bad fishermen will catch fish every now and then.  If a bad fisherman will cast a line enough, or fish in a well-stocked private pond, even they will catch fish every now and then.
  3.       Catching fish is sure fun.  It’s hard to explain the joy Kennady had on Saturday.  She smiled, laughed, giggled, and slept very well on her way home to Topeka.  It was a very good day.

God has given the task of catching people (Luke 5:10) to you and me.  Often, we feel veryLuke 10 b inadequate for this task. My challenge to you, throw your line in the water.  You will never lead someone to Christ if you never try. With the help of the Holy Spirit, you will be able to see the transformation occur before your eyes.  Leading someone to Christ is fun! Most of us never get to enjoy the thrill of leading someone to the Lord because we never throw our line into the lake. God has stocked our “pond” with a lot of people. Go fish!

We have encouraged our church to participate in “Who’s Your One?” campaign of the North American Mission Board. This Saturday, September 21, we are going to have specialized training to help you build bridges to reach your “one” with the gospel.  Make plans today to join us Saturday at 8:30 am. Also, on Sunday, Chicken Missionary, Jim Adkins will be with us to preach a very evangelistic message. It would be the perfect time to invite your “one.” Get to fishing. You’ll never catch a fish if you never fish and you will never have the joy of leading someone to faith in you never throw your line in the water. 

 

 

Great is Thy Faithfulness

Lamentations 3

This morning I read the small but profoundly powerful Book of Lamentations.  This short book is filled with brokenness, heartache, tears, mourning, and deep sorrow.  It doesn’t take long to realize it is speaking about life. Every one of us has gone through difficult and heart-wrenching times.  Today is the anniversary of my dad’s death, and I still feel the pain and loss at his passing. But great is God’s faithfulness. His faithful love is great, and His mercy will never end. 

Jerusalem lay in ruin.  God’s people are starving, cannibalizing one another and wondering where their God is during the pain.  The enemy has laid siege upon the city and the people’s despair and brokenness are palatable in every word. However, God is not done with Jerusalem.  Tucked in the middle part of this solemn book is a wonderful promise: The lovingkindness of God will never cease; His compassion will never fail because His faithfulness is great.  I’ve come to realize it is only in the juxtaposition of life’s heartache and God’s mercy that we see His faithfulness. It is only as we gaze in the mirror of our sinfulness that we can realize that his mercy never fails and they are new every morning. 

The winds of suffering and pain often crash upon our lives.  It is difficult to see God during our heartache and grief. When you are unable to see God or understand His ways, trust in Him, anchor your heart to His faithfulness.  Believe deep in your soul that the Lord is your portion and He is enough and you will find this hope in Him will be sufficient. Don’t expect God to make things “right” today; fathers die of cancer and that can’t be resolved this side of heaven.  Give Him eternity to settle things. Put your hope in Him today, and He will prove Himself faithful today, tomorrow, and every day. I sure miss my dad. But the joy of the Lord is my strength. God is good, He is faithful, He is able, and I have no doubt, He will! 

 

Great is Thy faithfulness

Great is Thy faithfulness

Morning by morning new mercies I see

And all I have needed Thy hand hath provided

Great is Thy faithfulness

Lord unto me

The Invasion

This Sunday, churches across North America and the world will be invaded by a special breed of person.  They grace us with their presence every Christmas and Easter and are thus called, Chreasters or CEOs (Christmas Easter and Other). To be honest with you, when in my first few years of ministry, I was a little agitated with them. How dare they come only once or twice a year?  I wanted to stand up in church and scream in Christ-like righteous anger, “Where in the world have you been all year?”  But then I began looking for them every holiday.  It wasn’t long until I appreciated them and now I even plan for them.  There are many reasons I love Easter, and few more important than it brings many people who only hear the Gospel once or twice a year into your church.  Are you ready for them?  Are you expecting them and wanting them to come?  Here are a couple of reminders to pastors and churches.  Be on point

Pastors, it’s ok to consider your guests as you plan your sermon.  This is probably not the Sunday to bring out that hour-long sermon you’ve been longing to preach to your seminary professor to prove to him how smart you are.  Don’t worry; your wife knows your not as smart as you think you are.  Be gospel-rich, theologically sound and point your audience to the hope of our risen Lord.  Remember, the gospel is powerful enough on its own.  Here’s a good rule of thumb: Don’t create on Easter Sunday what you are unable or unwilling to create on Labor Day Sunday.  Don’t create a show you put on but communicate so the Spirit will put Himself in. By all means, be on point this Sunday; make sure Jesus is your point.  Preach Jesus.

Regular attendees, as you arrive, if you are able, park a little farther away.  Wear your Fitbit that morning to assure you receive credit for your steps.  Try and sit closer to the front this week. If you are a Baptist, I know that goes against all holy and godly habits, but don’t make your guest walk down the aisle.  Remember, there is no assigned seating at church.  If all goes well on Sunday, someone will be seated in your seat.  That is gloriously good news.  By all means, go out of your way to talk to people you don’t know. However, if you see someone new, don’t say, “Wow, it must be Easter. I haven’t seen you in a year.”  Also, don’t say to a person, “Are you new here?.” There’s a chance they’ve been coming to the church for weeks and they are only new to you.   It’s probably not in the interest of retaining your guest to say, “What in the world are you doing here? This is the last place I expected to see you.”  Instead, when you see someone new this weekend or someone you haven’t seen since last Easter, simply say, “It sure is good to have you in church today.”  It’s simple, direct and effective.  Mingle. Be kind.  Be joyful.

Finally, sing this Sunday.  Let your guests see and hear the joy of your salvation.  You will be singing about our risen Lord, Jesus.  Don’t sing with a frown on your face. Smile.  Let your guests see you are really happy to be in church and feel remarkably blessed to be a child of God.  There should be a joy in your church this Sunday that will be able to be felt by everyone there.  I like to remind people that Jesus will still be alive next Sunday too.  It might be appropriate to have some joy next Sunday as well, just a thought.

To our guests: Churches welcome you. We are looking forward to having you with us.  Come early, grab a cup of coffee and fellowship with us. We are genuinely glad you are here. Don’t worry about anything, simply be our guests.  We have been expecting you and want you to know God loves you passionately, and we are excited to have you worship with us.  If the service raises any questions in your mind, please contact the church. I know the pastor would love to meet with you and discuss your questions. In the future, if we can ever be of service to you, please let us know.

Have a great Easter Sunday.  My prayer for all churches is the Holy Spirit will prepare you well, use you greatly and exalt Jesus deeply.  Welcome your guests, preach Jesus, and all will be fine. Wake up on Monday and get ready to do it all again.  Easter may come once a year, but we get an opportunity to welcome guests every Sunday.  Be ready.  If you aren’t careful, you may realize Easter Sunday is the way it’s supposed to be every Sunday.  He is Risen!