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Today was a bitter sweet day at our church. Today was the last Sunday for our pastor, Preaching Pastor (PP), to be in the pulpit at our church.  He is moving on to another ministry that God is calling him to and there are exciting days ahead for him and his family. I just want to take this opportunity to write down what PP and his family mean to me. I am sure there are many others who feel the same way but just have not expressed it to him.

I live in a city in the deep South in the United States. Our county has over 400 churches but, to be honest, it is really hard to find a good church here — in my estimation. When I mean good church, I mean a church that is committed to the gospel and submits everything it does to the authority of God’s Word. I also mean a pastor who preaches the whole counsel of God and does so unashamedly. A good church should have a pastor who submits his sermons to the words on the page of the Bible and the very points of his sermon are driven by the authors who penned (not literally) the words of Scripture. When I look for a church, I look for a church where the pastor is someone that I trust and I can willingly submit to as the leader of the local congregation.  Our pastor until today, PP, was such a person and here is why.

One of the first things I noticed about him was the points in his sermon came from the text that he was preaching. He did not impose his own ideas into Scripture but let the Bible determine what he was saying to us in his sermons. He was truly biblical in his sermons. He also tried to be biblical in all aspects of how he led the church. He knew that the ultimate authority in the church is God and that God revealed Himself to us in Scripture — so the only way to lead the church was to submit to God’s Word. He was this kind of man (and still is). I believe this is a principle that was a driving force behind all that he did at our church. I believe this will continue to be the case at his new place of ministry and the result will be that his congregation will be blessed, well-fed, and well-led.

Another great thing about PP is that he constantly was reminding the congregation of what was going on in the world; not just politically but also within the church. He was leading his church members to be World Christians; not worldly Christians, but World Christians. That is, he exposed them to the persecution that continues to persist around the world and the constant dangers our brothers and sisters in Christ face just to name the name of Christ or to meet for worship and Bible Study. He reminded us that the call to follow Christ comes with a cost and rejected the false claims of the property gospel. PP kept before our congregation the need to take the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth where the name of Christ is not worshipped and where people have no access to God’s Word nor is there anyone there who is attempting to share the gospel with them. We call this world missions and PP was faithful to keep this need before the church. Our pastor, PP, did not focus on world missions to the neglect of the gospel needs in our own community. He was very much aware of the needs in our city and how we need to be Christians taking the gospel to our places of business and to our community.

I don’t really intend this to be a long post so I will not go into great detail but another great thing about PP is how he was willing to invest in me and my family. I knew that any time I had a need or my family was in crisis, I could call him and he would do whatever he could even if that was just to listen. He has ministered to me on numerous occasions and has helped our family in times of crisis. He has truly loved us with the hands and the love of Christ during the time we have been at this church.

Last but most certainly not the least, we all love PP’s family. His family reflects his godly leadership as the head of his family. His wife is a wonderful pastor’s wife who has a warm and welcoming spirit about her. She shows love to everyone who walks through the doors of the church. Also, their children are great kids who clearly are being raised to love the Lord. They are a wonderful family and they will be missed. Their next place of ministry is getting a great family. Their next church is being blessed with a great man of God as their pastor and he will bring with him an awesome family. Our loss will most definitely be their gain.

Having said all of this, I know that this is not good-bye. We will see them again. I am sure we will see them when they come back to visit our city. We may even go visit them in their new city. Either way, it will not be the last we see of them. We will worship God together for eternity at the feet of Christ. God continues to mold us and shape us as He finishes the work that he started in us. It is a lifelong journey and God uses fragile and cracked (or even broken) vessels to carry out his purposes. He uses us where we are to bring glory to his name and sometimes he sends us off to new places to minister to and build up the church. This is exactly what is happening with PP and his family as they move on to a new phase of ministry. I pray that God may use PP and his family mightily as they obediently follow God to their next place of ministry, and beyond.

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For some reason our culture is now trying to deny or cover up what is sadly part of our history.  We want to pretend that there was no slavery in our country by removing the confederate flag and banishing it from every possible place.  We want to deny the fact that revered leaders of our country had slaves and that this great evil was ubiquitous in our country — in the south and in the north.  We want to deny the history of racism and segregation.  It is almost as if people think that if they cover it up so it is out of sight, we can pretend that it never happened. It happened.  Sadly, it is part of our history.  It is undeniable.  We should learn from the past and not just try to cover it up.

There is another part of our past that we try to deny.  We try to deny the fact that we are born a spiritually dead people in our trespasses and sin.  Yet our society tries to tell itself that people are inherently good.  They say that we are evolving into something better and they can do this without God.  The truth is that we have inherited Adam’s original sin.  We cannot deny it.  Even if we do, it does not make it any less of a fact.  Rather than denying our condition of sin we should face up to it and realize that God has provided a perfect sacrifice to pay the penalty for our sin. May we not live in denial. May we, rather, turn to Christ our sacrificial lamb in repentance and faith.  Let’s not deny that we are sinners but recognize the truth.  We are sinners in need of a savior.   May we turn our eyes upon that savior and cast ourselves on Him.

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There has been much made lately on youth leaving the church. I subscribe to a lot of podcasts where this has been a topic of conversation. This is not a conversation among just Calvinists or just Arminians but is a conversation that is taking place among Evangelicals of all stripes. There is apparently some kind of data, collected by someone like Barna, that supports this position. What the experts are saying is that American Evanglicals who are active in church as a youth have a tendency to leave the church once they graduate from high school, leave home, and go to college.

I am someone who was part of church youth in high school and left home to go to college and remained in the church. I experienced college as someone who was part of a local church and am still part of a local body of believers today. I now have children who are youth-aged. In fact, I am a parent of multiple teenagers. (Feel free to pray for me. I need it.) I sit watching the youth of our day praying that I don’t screw up as a parent and that my kids will have faith in Christ that will be their own and that their faith will continue to grow into adulthood and that they would be committed lifelong disciples of Christ.

What I see from so many youth today is that they are not part of the church as young people. Their parents take them to church and drop them off with the youth group. They hang out with a bunch of youth at church. They have Sunday School with their peers — which is positive since they are all experiencing the challenges of transitioning from childhood to adulthood. While at the youth group, they usually sit around on comfortable sofas because we all know that NOBODY would come if they had to sit in uncomfortable straight back chairs (gasp)! They listen to relevant music and not that boring stuff their parents listen to. And often times, they sit around and complain about how they are not respected because of their youth all the while remaining in their youth cocoon. After Sunday School, or Bible Study, they head off to the worship center for Sunday morning worship. And guess who they sit with during worship? That’s right: they sit with youth. After worship, they find their parents and ask to go eat lunch with the their friends in the youth.

On Sunday night often times the youth have their own get together for more fellowship and study — separate from adults. On Wednesday nights they are with the youth again. They may even have some other get-together on Friday or Saturday because there isn’t enough youth fellowship time already. Yes, I am being a bit sarcastic here.

So, I’ve mentioned four meetings at church: Sunday School, worship, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening. How many of those times do the youth at your church integrate with the church body and how many times are they with just the youth? Your answer is probably that the youth are with just youth about 75% or 100% of the time, if your church is like most American churches. If this is the case, how can we say that’s youth are leaving the church? I don’t think we can say that. I submit to you that youth are not leaving the church. I say that they were never part of the church–at least not while they were in the youth group. What they were part of during their youth years was a para-church group called “the youth ministry” but were not really part of the local church. If your church is like this, here are some critical things that your young person is missing out on.

1. First and foremost, they are missing out on worshiping with their family — particularly their mom and dad. They need to see that mom and dad are serious about worship and that they are there to worship God; not just to take their kid to the youth group. They need to see that mom and dad take the sermon seriously by taking notes and not texting and checking Facebook during the preaching.

2. They miss out on the inter-generational nature of the body of Christ. By being with youth all the time they are hanging out with those who are facing similar problems. That is true. But why not hang out (sometimes) with people who have already experienced those problems and have come through them? Why not learn lessons from people who can encourage youth as examples of those who have been through those tumultuous years?

3. They miss out on opportunities to serve and to be the body of Christ. To be part of the church they should be plugged in. They have no right to complain about being disrespected by adults due to their age if they aren’t trying to plug in and serve. Let us not encourage our youth to be spiritual navel gazers but people who are committed to building up the body of Christ by serving!

So, why shouldn’t youth drop out of church when they go to college. They don’t know what it is like to be part of the church and how beautiful the bride of Christ really is. Don’t misunderstand me. Teenagers need teenage friends. They need to know how to build friendships and develop relationships and hold each other accountable in the Lord. However, I don’t think that their relationships should be limited to those with peers. I am praying for a change in the church youth culture and that this change would take place before all of the youth that were never in the church leave the church.

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Whether you move to a new community or your church decides to shut its doors, you may find yourself looking for a new church home at some point.  When you are looking for a church, what do you consider the most important issues or reasons in selecting a particular church.  As I consider this, these are what I consider the most important issues in the selection process of a new church home.

1. Agree on primary theological issues. The first and most important characteristic needs to be that we agree on the primary theological issues. That is, they must have a biblical understanding of the gospel. This is a non-negotiable point. They must understand the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ’s work on the cross. They must agree that one’s salvation is by grace and grace alone. Salvation is a work completely of God and He doesn’t need our help. You must only repent. The church must agree with the inspiration, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture. We may not always agree on how to interpret Scripture but we must at least agree that the Bible alone is the rule for all that we do.

2. Credobaptism. Any church that I join must practice believer’s baptism. I will not join a church that does not practice baptism by immersion. Sprinkling is not baptism. Baptism is, by definition, dipping someone under water. Baptism must be reserved for believers who have demonstrated a credible evidence of regeneration and who want to join the church and become part of the community of believers. They cannot baptize infants. They must baptize only believers.

3. Ministry to all ages. I need the church to minister to all ages, at least the ages of the people in my family. Since I have youth aged children, I need it to be a place where my youth aged children can live in community with other youth. I need it to be a community of believers where adults speak truth into children’s lives and show them what it means to live as an intentional disciple of Christ. I need the church to be intentional about preparing the youth biblically for a world that is hostile to Christian ideas. I don’t need it to be about parties, concerts, and amusement parks. I need it to be intentional and gospel driven. I need to it to be a church that understands the parents’ role in the youth’s lives but will alongside the parents in discipleship.

4. Expository Preaching. I believe that a church needs a steady diet of expository preaching. It is okay to depart from it on occasion but in general, expository preaching needs to be the practice of the preacher. It helps in preaching the full counsel of God and not just focusing on the favorite texts of the pastor. It also allows the text to drive the message rather than using a Bible verse for a launching pad to say whatever they want.

5. Welcomes workers. I hope that my next church would be open to having new people serve and minister in the area of their gifting. There are areas in which we could contribute to the ministry of the church but I need the church to be open to having new people get involved. I don’t want to be a part of the church that always goes to the same people to step in and minister.

6. Missions. I would hope that the church would have a biblical understanding of missions. But, if they don’t, it needs to be a church where the pastor is leading them to give financially to support missions. It should be a significant part of the budget, prayer, and preaching.  It should be a climate conducive to the church growing in this area.

7. Love in spirit and practice. Does the church have a sense of unity in spirit? Do they love on one another? Are they welcoming to visitors?

The answer to these should be a resounding “yes!” These are really the minimum of what I think should characterize a church that I join. There are several other traits that I think are important but are not must-haves such as high expectations and accountable church membership.  However, if the church is getting a steady diet of expository preaching, these other issues will eventually fall into place.

What are your thoughts?  What do you look for in a church?

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I really enjoy listening to J. Warner Wallace and his podcast called Cold Case Christianity.  You can find him at Please Convince Me or Cold Case Christianity.  I enjoy apologetics and listening to thinkers reason about faith and cultural issues.  I was recently listening to J Warner Wallace discuss the issue of abortion with an atheist.  Wallace mentioned to the atheist that his objections to abortion were not based on the Bible but based on pure reason.

I understand that you can’t reason with an atheist using the Bible.  You must use reason.  However, as a Christian I believe that the foundation for our convictions must be the Bible and not reason.  Reason and logic are a reflection of God’s character and the order that He has created.  On the other hand the Scriptures are direct revelation from God.  As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV) says:

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

God’s Word is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, training in righteousness that we may be complete and equipped for good works.  How can we use anything else as the foundation for our convictions?  Only God’s Word is without error.  I agree that when we are in “arguments” with non-Christians we should use reason but that is not the foundation for our convictions.  It is what we use to convince others of the reasonableness of our positions.  God’s Word is His revelation to us and should be the foundation on which we stand.  Reason is a reflection of his character and we must use reason as we look to His Word and apply it.  We should use reason in the public square but may we never say that Scripture is not the foundation for our beliefs and convictions.

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It appears as though Putin is going to take Crimea from Ukraine just as he wanted.  It is amazing that one country can  just go in and take over part of another country.  What is even more amazing that there is nobody who can stand up to Putin.  Behold the new superpower, Russia.  They can take whatever country they want because nobody is going to do anything to stop them.  The USA was the country of the Greatest Generation and now we are the country of the weakest generation dwindling into irrelevance.

It is sad, not only because of what Putin is doing to Crimea, but because the citizens of the USA are so provincial that they could care less about what is going on across the world.  They are not students of history and have no idea of the gravity of the events we are witnessing before their eyes.  We have become a nation of isolationists that will sit by and watch Russia rewrite the map.

I hope the Europeans will, at some point, have enough sense to come to each other’s aid.  If not, their children will all be speaking Russian one day.

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The Screwtape Letters is one of many books authored by the late C. S. Lewis.  Lewis taught literature and Cambridge and Oxford universities and wrote over thirty books during his lifetime.  Some of his better known works include The Chronicles of Narnia and Mere ChristianityThe Screwtape Letters is considered to be a classic.

The Screwtape Letters is a collection of letters from a fiend named Screwtape to his nephew, Wormwood.  The book is simply a collection of these thirty-one letters from Screwtape to his nephew.  Wormwood’s job, as a fiend, is to be the devil’s representative in a particular human being’s life in order to cause him to live a defeated lifestyle which will lead him to hell.  Through the letters written to Wormwood, the reader is able to chronicle the events in the human’s life and the ways in which Wormwood attacks.

Screwtape first tells Wormwood to not teach his person to think, but this fails and the human eventually becomes a Christian.  At this point, Screwtape tells Wormwood to cause his person to stumble by having him focus on Christian hypocrites.  Wormwood attacks this man in other ways as well: by damaging his relationship with his mother, by trying to impede his prayer life, by sexual desire, etc.  However, in the end Wormwood fails, for the man to whom he was assigned dies and goes to be with their enemy, God.

This book brought to light many encumbrances which people face in their Christian life.  One fact that some believers seem unaware of is that we are in a spiritual battle.  Christians who do not know this are not prepared to face the adversary and consequently live a defeated life.  Christians who are aware of this fact often times forget about the battle and are not prepared.  They end up falling flat on their face as a result.  This is the message that I get from Lewis in reading The Screwtape Letters.  Although we need to be reminded of this battle, the focus on the battle is an inherent weakness of this book.  This book causes the reader, presumably Christian, to focus on the spiritual battle and on our adversary, the devil.  This is probably what has made this book a classic.  Contemporary culture is enamored with evil and invites it into their home on a regular basis.

I would contend that the focus should be on Christ.  As Paul says in his letter to the saints in Ephesus, we are in Christ and we must live our lives in a way such that the fact that we have God’s authority and power is clearly evidenced.  The ultimate victory has already been won and we should “put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:10 NASB)  As Jehoshaphat said in 2 Chronicles 20:12,

“O our God, will You not judge them?  For we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You.”

When Jehoshaphat was powerless against his enemies he focused on God, the only one who could save him.  Likewise, we should focus on our Lord and not Satan as we fight this battle.  It is only through Him that we “take up the full armor of God” (Ephesians 6:13) and can be victorious in this battle.

Although Lewis takes what I believe is a wrong approach to describing this issue of spiritual warfare, he brings out some key points in his book which I believe are worth repeating.  First, shortly after Wormwood’s assigned human becomes a Christian, Screwtape writes the following to him,

“As long as he retains externally the habits of a Christian he can still be made to think of himself as one who has adopted a few new friends and amusements but whose spiritual state is much the same as it was six weeks ago.  And while he thinks that, we do not have to contend with the explicit repentance of a definite, fully recognised, sin, but only with vague, though uneasy, feeling that hasn’t been doing very well lately (52).”

The point is not that Satan is afraid of Christians who repent of specific sins and live victorious Christian lives, as the context of the letter seems to indicate.  The point is that, if we have genuine salvation, there will be a spiritual change in our lives and the change will not be simply external but a change from the inside out.  Involved in this change is repentance of specific sins.  Lewis is right to point out that we will live defeated lives if we do not live in such a way that we confess each of our sins specifically.  We must not live defeated mediocre lives.

Lewis makes another point which also bears repeating.  Screwtape writes the following to Wormwood regarding what one would call “small sins:”

“But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy.  It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing…Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without miles-stones, without signposts (54).”

The enemy Screwtape speaks of is God.  The strategy is for the fiends to use small sins to gradually drive the man away from God.  This is a good reminder for Christians.  Just because we are not committing the so-called big sins, by committing small sins, we gradually drift away from God.  This is one way that Christians are attacked by our enemy and he knows just how and where to attack.  This is why Paul exhorts all of us through his letter to the Ephesian church “to take up the full armor of God.” (Ephesians 6:13)

Screwtape also writes to Wormwood regarding the redefining of Jesus.  He writes, “this idea must be used by us to encourage once again the conception of a “historical Jesus” to be found by clearing away later “accretions and perversions” and then to be contrasted with the whole Christian tradition (85).”  Lewis shows how our adversary can use the quest for the “historical Jesus” against the cause of Christ.  Screwtape writes that this quest will “tend to direct men’s devotion to something which does not exist, for each “historical Jesus” is unhistorical (86).”  By focusing on this, we also “distract men’s minds from Who He is, and what He did (86).”  The letter is fictional but it is good description of how Satan can use the teachings of people like John Dominic Crossan and Robert Funk of the Jesus Seminar to further the cause of evil in the world and to cloud the truth about Christ and who he was.  ABC and the late Peter Jennings produced a show a few years back on Jesus but the Jesus they presented on the show was not Jesus Christ at all.  They redefined Jesus, what he did, and what he said.  We, as Christians, must combat this kind of evil.

There are many other strategies of Satan which Lewis points out in The Screwtape Letters but space does not allow the discussion of all of them.  This book has helped me to become more aware of the ways in which Satan attacks me.  However, I must not let my focus be on the attacks.  My focus must be on my relationship with Jesus Christ.  I must major in discipleship and ways in which I can put on the full armor of God.  Only by doing this can I overcome the enemy and claim that victory which is already mine through Christ Jesus.

If you have never read The Screwtape Letters I recommend you pick up a copy and read it.  If you are a Christian who likes movies about magic, or likes books about witches and wizards, or are fascinated with exorcisms, etc., then you’ve got issues.  But you probably really like this book.

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