Why Family Night Matters To Me

This Sunday evening, June 14, at 5 PM, OGC will have its second Family Night Member’s Meeting. I wouldn’t dream of missing it. And not just because I’m one of the shepherds of the flock. I’m pretty certain I would make this a priority, if I were a “mere” regular sheep of the fold.

Why? Because I made promises before God and His church about being in covenant community with the rest of the membership at OGC. And that means commitments of love spelled out in a place like 1 Corinthians 13.

I love how Jonathan Leeman, in his book The Surprising Offense of God’s Love, grabs back the pretty lyrics of that passage from weddings (not that it doesn’t fit there, of course) and reads it to the local church:

Do you want to exercise, practice, embody, and define the glorious love of heaven, he asks us? Then do it in a local church, a church where factions are pitted against one another (1 Cor. 1:12-13), where people have big heads (4:8), where Surprising Offensemembers are sleeping with their fathers’ wives (5:2), where members are suing and defrauding one another (6:1-8), where members are getting drunk on the communion wine and not leaving enough for others (11:21-22), where spiritual gift one-upmanship is rife (chaps. 12 and 14), where the meetings are threatened by disorder (14:40), and where some are saying there is no resurrection from the dead (15:12). Bind and submit yourself and your gifts to these kinds of people. Love them with patience and kindness, without envy or boasting, without arrogance or rudeness, not insisting on our own way, not irritably or resentfully, not rejoicing at wrongdoing but rejoicing at the truth. 

People often complain about the sinners they find in the local church, and with good reason. It’s filled with sinners, which is why Paul calls Christians to love one another by bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things. If you won’t love such backstabbers and defrauders like this, don’t talk about your spiritual gifts, your vast biblical knowledge, or all the things you do for the poor. You’re just a noisy gong. Don’t talk about your love for all Christians everywhere; you are just a clanging cymbal. But if you do practice loving a specific, concrete people, all of whose names you don’t get to choose, then you will participate in defining love for the world, the love which will characterize the church on the last day perfectly because it images the self-sacrificing and merciful love of Christ perfectly.”   

Family Night gives us one of the many ways to grow in love for those with whom He has called us into covenant commitments of membership. Here we learn to grow in that which is greatest and put the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus on display.



Ride or Shove


I read this today from Oswald Chamber’s Baffled to Fight Better: Job and the Problem of Suffering:

The majority of us prefer to get up and ride rather than to “get out and shove.” It is only the people who “get out and shove” who really make things go. The men who are up against things just now and who are determined to get at reality at all costs, and will not accept a thing on the religious line unless that line states reality–these are the men who are paying the price for the next generation.

Tomorrow at 9:30 AM in the auditorium, the covenant members of OGC get to do Q&A with a man prepared “to get out and shove” as a new elder in our church. I am extremely thankful to God for raising up James Harvey to join our team. Here are twenty questions I hope our people will pose to him (or at least some of them):

  1. Why do you aspire to the office of overseer in Christ’s church?
  2. Where have you served in the past and how did God confirm your ministry in those contexts?
  3. What are your spiritual gifts?
  4. When the Bible says that elders must be “able to teach,” what does that look like in terms of the way you do ministry?
  5. How do you assess your personal strengths?
  6. How do you assess your personal weaknesses?
  7. What does your family think of you becoming an elder, especially your wife?
  8. What are the four “Gs” of biblical peacemaking? Note: he’d better know these!
  9. How is your reputation with those outside the Christian community, particularly in your vocation?
  10. What exceptions, if any, do you take to our confession of faith and why?
  11. Where would you like to see OGC grow and improve in its ministry in the future?
  12. What, if anything, gives you pause about becoming an elder?
  13. Just how “Reformed” are you?
  14. What do you believe are among the greatest threats to the church in our times?
  15. Who are your personal heroes?
  16. What two or three books other than the Bible have made the greatest impact on you and why?
  17. Why did you think God wanted you and your family at OGC in the first place?
  18. How do you do personal evangelism?
  19. How are you involved in disciple-making?
  20. What unique contribution might you make to the leadership team at OGC?

I can hardly think of a more important task for covenant members to embrace than the constructive scrutinizing of a potential addition to the elder team. He will pay the price for the next generation. I trust as many of you as possible will join us for the congregational meeting tomorrow. Non-members are welcome to observe, but again, we would ask that you leave the question asking to our covenant members only. See you soon, Lord willing!

Top Ten List for Teaching a New Member Class

membership class

Not sure how many times I’ve taught Discover OGC over the years, but I get to do it again starting April 26. My excitement for the task never lessens. Here’s my own version of a top ten list as to why I look forward to teaching the same stuff every time.

Number Ten: I know the content cold so there’s no additional preparation I have to do!

Number Nine: I get to meet a bunch of people who are new to the church and begin to forge pastoral relationships with them. One of the highlights of the class, a recent innovation, is a luncheon one Sunday after church where we hang out and get to know each other.

Number Eight: I get to practice my vision casting as a pastor. This is a perennial weakness for which I need all the help I can get.

Number Seven: I make a case for why church membership matters. I’ve blogged about a theology of church membership here, in case anyone is interested.

Number Six: I unpack our church’s core values starting with the one that matters the most in my mind–passion for God at the core. I exist as a pastor to labor for my sheep’s joy (2 Cor. 1:24)!

Number Five: I expose people to the rich tradition of the Protestant Reformation and the God-glorifying Solas and Doctrines of Grace that it gifted to Christ’s church.

Number Four: I argue for the necessity of the baptism of disciples alone (credo-baptism) as the only appropriate application of the sign of the New Covenant.

Number Three: I teach biblical peacemaking to prospective new members so they are prepared to eagerly preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3), if they choose to covenant with OGC, or not for that matter.

Number Two: I exegete each and every word of our treasured mission statement: engaging peoples everywhere for pursuing ultimate satisfaction in Jesus.

And the number one reason I delight to teach Discover OGC each and every time?


CT Highlights for April 2015

CT April 2015

CT stands for Christianity Today magazine. I try to read it cover-to-cover each month. Though my views bend more toward the conservative end of the spectrum than its editors, I find it keeps me in touch with the state of the faith in many ways. Seems to me a pastor should make it his business to stay informed this way to some degree. For that, I am grateful for the publicati0n.

Here at the ten most interesting things to come out of the current edition, at least from my perspective.

  1. Kevin DeYoung has written a new book published by CrosswayWhat Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality (p. 1). I suspect this resource will help a lot of us better navigate the cultural waters of this challenging issue from a biblical perspective.isis
  2. The Bible Society of Egypt transformed the ISS propaganda video’s “two rows by the seas” (beheading of 21 Coptic Christians) into its largest outreach in 130 years. In 1.65 million tracts on God’s promise of blessing amid suffering, it asked: “Who fears the other? The row in orange, watching paradise open? Or the row in black, with minds evil and broken”, (p. 15)?
  3. Last year, 2.6 million Twitter users shared Bible verses 43 million times. The number one tweeter (including retweets)? Desiring God’s John Piper–105,836. The number one verse tweeted? Philippians 4:13 (p. 16).lecrae
  4. Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae won four top spots in gospel categories last year, including No. 1 gospel artist of the year (p. 17).
  5. When five Christian pastors in Laos prayed for a sick woman who later died, a Laotian provincial court imprisoned and fined them for being “illegal doctors” (p. 17).
  6. Nearly one year after Jews for Jesus launched one of its most successful and controversial evangelism campaigns, more than 1.3 milli0n people worldwide have watched That Jew Died for You. The three-minute YouTube video depicts Jesus carrying the cross to a gas chamber (p. 19).
  7. Today, an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 Ukrainian Jews worship Jesus as Messiah. This makes Ukraine, a nation of 45 million, the region’s fulcrum of the Messianic Jewish movement (p. 20). (By comparison, Ukraine has about 1.7 million evangelical Christians and more than 23 million Orthodox Christians, who constitute about half the country’s population.)
  8. A new breed of apologists defend the faith now and they are female (see image above). CT calls them “the unexpected defenders.” I was familiar with Nancy Pearcey, but not Holly Ordway, Mary Jo Sharp, Kristen Davis, Melissa Cain Travis, and Amy Orr Ewing. Empathetic AND rationalistic apologetics. Excellent! Ladies, check it out (p. 35ff).
  9. In England, 38 percent of youth now say they don’t believe in God (p. 46).
  10. Up to 1 in 3 Swedes claim atheism, and only 18 percent say ‘I believe there is a God’ (p. 65).

My gift to those who may not have the bandwidth or inclination to read CT but can still profit from the highlights.

No Comparison, No Way, No How


I enjoy Fridays. Unlike a lot of pastors who take Mondays off, I work that day. Keeps me out of trouble. I started taking Fridays off years ago.  I never looked back.

One of the things I look forward to that day of the week, among others, is reading the paper with more leisure than the other days afford. Something dawned on me this past Friday as I perused the Calendar section of the Orlando Sentinel. I have no sense of loss that my delight in Jesus keeps me from certain pleasures, if you want to call them that, in this world. I don’t feel that I am missing a thing in choosing not to view “Fifty Shades of Grey,” though I must admit a day when I would not have thought that way. Thank you, Lord, for delivering me from bondage to lust. I don’t feel cheated that the club scene doesn’t make its way on to our weekend calendar, especially on Saturday nights.

Why is that? Because I want to be able to get up and go to church the next day. And that’s not just because church is what I do for a living. I have spent more Sundays that I would like to admit without a pulpit charge and I still went to church on those days. I agree wholeheartedly with the Psalmist in Psalm 84:10.

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

Talk about a comparison! The poet of Israel wouldn’t trade one day in God’s courts for a thousand some place else. I can think of a lot of places and things I thoroughly enjoy, but nothing, no way, no how trumps the pleasure I have in Sunday worship.  I can think of several reasons why that is true even over sleeping in, watching TV, going to the beach, eating brunch out, or whatever.

First, and the best of all reasons, God shows up at church. At least He does for me. Psalm 63:2 happens for me all the time.

Second, I hear the word of God preached. Well, in my case, I get to do the preaching. Double bonus. I get built up in my most holy faith as a result (Acts 20:32).

Third, I get to hang out with saints. That’s what the Bible calls every believer. And they are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight (Psalm 16:3). I even get to eat with them tomorrow evening when we gather for family night!

I could go on. I wonder sometimes if we take for granted just how much the Lord has done for us in redeeming us from tents of wickedness and transporting us to His very own courts, even if we are only keepers at the door?

No comparison. No way. No how.

The Flourishing Life


It was a delight to climb back into the pulpit at OGC this morning after our sabbatical. To get to preach again, particularly on a passage in Psalm 92 that so thoroughly expresses my desires for this next season in my life and ministry, gave me great pleasure. If you care to, you can access the audio here.

I blew through the the eight takeaways at the conclusion of the message. Someone in the body asked me for them. Decided it would make for an easy blog post. Here they are:

  1. One, offer praise to God as the tenor of your life.
  2. Two, gather with God’s people on the “Sabbath” and more. Be a fixture in God’s church. No fellowshipping, no flourishing. Be a churchman and churchwoman.
  3. Three, reject the lie of our materialistic culture and its flourishing-only-for-a-brief-while ways and invest in life-long flourishing commitments that will serve you well to the end of your days.
  4. Four, beware the American retirement dream in terms of having earned endless days in front of the TV or on the golf course. Have a robust theology of leisure to be sure but believe in “rehirement” not retirement. My thanks to David Sims for that play on words.
  5. Five, treasure a church body with multiple generations not just a bunch of folks your own age.
  6. Six, if you are young, badger some old saint until they own you in a mentoring, discipling kind of way. If you are old like me, give yourself away. Invest in the next generation. Declare that he is your Rock to all who come.
  7. Seven, speak up and announce the praise of God when given the chance. Regularly testify to His faithfulness.
  8. Eight, pray this text for me and the rest of our elders as long as you are a part of OGC. I beg of you.

The Church & Infertility


I don’t pretend to get this. Nancy and I never suffered the trial of infertility. We have known and know even now dear brothers and sisters humbling themselves under the mighty hand in this journey (1 Peter 5:6-7). We see the hurt. We feel the pain. We ache with the longings that go unfulfilled. Still, without walking a mile in those shoes, it makes it tough to identify as well as one might wish.

Jeff Cavanaugh has written a helpful blog post on this subject for the Gospel Coalition. He speaks from his own agonizing experience. It opened my eyes as to how the church can powerfully comfort but also unwittingly afflict folks bearing up under their inability to conceive. He explains:

I’m painting a bleak picture of infertility here, I know. There is no way to ignore how painful it is. It’s certainly the biggest trial my wife and I have ever faced, individually or together. But God has used this trial to grow us spiritually and demonstrate his love for us in ways we couldn’t have anticipated. And the church—that network of loving, supportive, prayerful relationships we have in Christ’s body—has been used by God to comfort and sustain us and others like us.

That’s not to say relationships in the church are easy when you’re struggling with infertility. Those aforementioned feelings of isolation and alienation are real. Friends in the church have seemed thoughtless at times, not considering how things they say might be hurtful; at other times they’ve been awkward, aware of our struggles but at a loss for what to say. Often the strain has been entirely our own fault—we’ve promised in our church covenant to “rejoice at each other’s happiness and endeavor with tenderness and sympathy to bear each other’s burdens and sorrows,” but sometimes jealousy and bitterness sap our motivation to do any rejoicing or accept any comfort.

Naturally I long for my church and all gospel-grounded ministries to act like the comforting network described in paragraph one. However, I realize too readily how easily we can miss the boat messing up as in paragraph two.

I encourage an entire reading of “How the Church Makes the Trial of Infertility Better (Or Worse).”

May Jesus and His gospel enlarge our hearts to enter the struggles of saints battling this hard providence as well as a host of others as we have opportunity.

Moved by a “Moving Church”


One of my favorite ministries is Voice of the Martyrs. They offer a free subscription to their monthly newsletter describing the plight of the persecuted church of Jesus around the globe. You can subscribe here. I encourage you to do so. The perspective God will give your own suffering is something you will not regret. And you will know better how to remember your brothers and sisters in chains (Heb. 13:3).

This month’s issue contains a brief article entitled, A “Moving Church” in Central Asia.” It gives an account of a city in one of the most religiously restrictive nations in that part of the world where the Christian population shrank to just 70 people after many fled relentless government persecution. It then explains how believers there found a creative way to practice their faith.

One pastor who had been under intense scrutiny from authorities thought of an inventive way to provide for his congregation. They couldn’t hold meetings in a set location, and many believers were afraid to be seen attending a meeting. With assistance from VOM, Pastor “Ramil” purchased a minivan that soon became known as the Moving Church.

On Meeting day, Ramil picks up four to six believers in the van. They sing, pray, read Scriptures and listen to teaching by Ramil or one of his elders as they drive around the city. After two hours, he drops the group off and picks up another small group of Christians. He does this throughout the week so all the believers under his care receive spiritual nourishment, fellowship and encouragement.

This account of ingenuity under duress moves me on multiple levels. Among other things it inspires me to want to serve my own people with greater zeal and devotion. Pastor Ramil clearly understands what it means to shepherd well the flock entrusted to his care.

Additionally it makes me want to find some way better to help those living under freedom to give up a nonchalant attitude about meeting in community for worship and fellowship. More often than I care to admit I confront a take-it-or-leave-it mentality when it comes to church attendance. The Scripture exhorts us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Heb. 10:24-25). With texts like that it makes me wonder how professing believers can treat the Word and the Table as optional.

Are you reading this and must admit that you are AWOL on your covenant member commitments at your local church? Worse yet, that you don’t belong to any gospel-treasuring community of believers? May I encourage you to let the “Moving Church” of Central Asia spur you on to love and good deeds such that you get a move on toward joining/rejoining a body of believers? If not, you might as well take a knife and cut Hebrews 10:24-25 out of your Bible.

We Interrupt This Ministry

Now that I have your attention.

That’s what it feels like.

Having to move the office this week so we can function out of our new building is a herculean task. In addition we needed to exit the SDA storage room once and for all. Checked that off the list today, with the help of a fabulous summer intern with a will to work. But all of this makes it really difficult to get after the work of the ministry that OGC is really about.

Teddie has declared war on the office move and has made a lot of progress. I go back in tomorrow to try and pack books and cull files. Everything is dictated this week by the looming deadline of the office move this Saturday. Please contact the deacons if you can help and need more information.

In the meantime it is a bit challenging to keep up with the emails, phone calls, texts and the like. We beg your forbearance during this week and next while we try to make this move happen. Hopefully things will return to normal as soon as possible and we can get back to the work we really love to do.

Of course, if you have an emergency, don’t hesitate to contact us, but be sure to call as opposed to email as I especially am not on line as often these two weeks.


Good Counsel for Helping the Bereaved

Today I learned of another couple in a different state who lost their nine month old son about three years ago.

They offered this testimony of what help brought comfort in their time of need:

For us, meals was essential as I had no appetite to cook, grocery shop or even eat unless someone told me to eat and placed food in front of me. We had meals delivered to our house, in a cooler outside so I didn’t have to answer the door and talk. We had meals for months, which was such an answer to prayer. Maybe going to the grocery store weekly or just bringing over essentials like paper products, milk, eggs, etc would also be so helpful. I know for me it was the cards, the emails and the love that people demonstrated to us that really meant so much. reminding the parents monthly weekly or daily that you have not forgotten and that you are praying is so encouraging. Knowing that people were praying was essential. The other thing is to talk about the child and not try to ignore it or not bring her up. It is so painful when people try to avoid talking about our son like he never exisited. I tell people all the time that it is not helpful when they avoid the subject or exclude him from our life. Of course it is painful to live without him but keeping his memory alive is what I need. People do not cause us more pain when they bring up our child as it is on our mind constantly. I think just embracing their pain and being willing to grieve along with them is what means the most.

May the Lord give us grace to love the Waltons at least as equally well.