On What Issue Will Grace Fellowship Stand or Fall?

In 1 Corinthians 12-14 we have Paul’s summary of the importance of spiritual gifts and how they

are to be used in God’s local church. Paul then adds a parenthesis of sorts. He breaks up his

teaching to talk about something that (in his opinion) REALLY matters. In a sense, he says, “this is

really the most important thing in church life, the issue that will cause your ministry to stand or

fall”. I just wanted to take a minute to highlight what Paul says.

His focus turns to love. Without this you have NOTHING, Paul says. The truth is, in discussing our

church’s success we often talk about everything BUT this. We focus on things like gifting,

organization structure, worship styles, etc. If our church ever finds itself in a lull we look for every

reason, other than what Paul states here, to be the root issue.

But Paul sets us straight by making love the cornerstone of all things in a Christian’s walk and in

Church life (as did Jesus). So, my question to you is, “Do you love? And, is Grace Fellowship a loving

church?”

Most of the problems in church life occur because we love ourselves far too much. In 1 Corinthians

13 Paul characterizes what love is. He puts flesh on it for us. Please read this passage slowly and

 

Paul says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a

clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge,

and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I

have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and

kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not

irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all

things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (ESV)

 

“Love is patient”

Are you patient with each other? Do you easily jump to judgment and conclusions? Do you give the

Spirit a chance to work in each other’s lives, for God to sanctify?

 

“Love is kind”

Is your life marked by kindness? Does your life display the love of God even when things aren’t

going your way? God’s loving-kindness was displayed this way to us, in that “while we hated him he

loved us”.

 

“Love does not envy or boast”

Is your life marked by jealousy? Beware; jealousy will tear a church apart. Do you boast? Are you

braggy? Do you feel a constant need to build yourself up?

 

“Love is not arrogant or rude”

Common acts of courtesy are important. Be polite. Be courteous of each other’s feelings. Don’t put

your nose in the air. Be humble. Don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought.

 

“Love does not insist on its own way”

Are you flexible? Is it your way or the highway? Do others have to do things your way or you take

your toys and go home? Community is difficult. Sometimes we have to be willing to bend,

oftentimes making suggestions with the understanding that others may not do what we want. 

“Love is not irritable or resentful”

Are you irritable? Do those around you have to walk on eggshells? Are you too emotionally fragile

and too easily frustrated? Are you resentful? Is the list of folks you can hang out with getting

shorter and shorter?

 

“Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth”

Are you actually happy when others struggle? Or do you rejoice with the truth? Would you give

anything to see others walk with the Lord? Would you even give your own comfort to see this

happen?

 

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”

Be willing to stick with people through hard situations. Don’t walk away. Love demands it. Believe

the best about each other. Don’t be too quick to jump to negative assumptions. Don’t pick each

other apart. Instead, be optimistic that the Spirit will move and change lives. Hope the best. And

above all, persevere with each other. Whatever you do, don’t give up!

 

A lack of love in God’s church will tear it apart quicker than anything else. On this issue Grace

Fellowship will either stand or fall. As Jesus said, love is the culmination of all the law and the

prophets. God’s people can love because we have been loved. So, it is not ultimately about our

programs, our gifting, or our great marketing strategies. It is love that will make or break us. God

bless you as you earnestly contend for the faith.

 

David Swinney

 

Family Worship under Examination

Family worship is almost non existent in Western Christianity. Over the past decades we have bought into the belief that instilling truth and faith into the lives of our children is better left to the trained professionals. This false belief has led to the practical decision to over program our churches, scatter the family during corporate worship, and design sub-ministries that exist to separate people into homogeneous groups rather than promoting unity within the body of Christ. Most Christians under thirty years of age cannot conceive of a church without a youth group, college ministry, singles ministry, children’s church (during the adult worship hour separate from “big church”), etc. Yet, in the history of the church all of these sub-ministries are in the infancy stage. This mentality of “let the professionals teach my children” has disarmed fathers and mothers from the task of discipling their children. Jason Helopoulos has tackled this issue head on in his little book, A Neglected Grace: Family Worship in the Christian Home. Let’s take a few minutes to highlight the important points of the book.

First, Helopoulos says we are all created to worship. This is a basic truth for Christians, but Jason does a great job teaching the reader that if worship is only what we do on Sunday morning, if it is only the nebulous idea of everything we do is worship, then we are missing the opportunity to discipline ourselves and our children in daily intentional worship. Yes, we need to worship each Sunday as a gathered family of worshipers at a local congregation. Yes, everything we do is worship or at least should be worship. But if we do not discipline our families to worship daily, then the other types of worship will fall short of their intended purpose. We are reminded and encouraged to practice secret worship, corporate worship, and family worship so that all areas of our life are centered on Christ. He writes, “These three spheres of worship are related, informed, and encouraged by one another, because in each I am meeting with the Lord and benefiting from His grace. (27)” Our children will see worship as central when we practice worship regularly!

Second, Helopoulos affirms that family worship is our joyful responsibility. In the United States the practice of family worship has become almost non existent. Our lives move at a hectic pace. Our minds are filled with “other” things. Our understanding of worship has been confined to professional teachers/preachers leading a public service. We desperately need to recapture the understanding that family worship is our joyful responsibility. Johnathan Edwards said, “Every Christian family ought to be as it were a little church. (30)” Fathers, it is our responsibility and privilege to lead our families before the throne of God in worship. We must rise to the challenge so that the next generation may know the mighty works of God (Ps. 78:4)! Helopoulos writes, “The church has historically seen family worship as one of the best and most helpful means of declaring this truth to the next generation and of giving glory to God in the current generation. (35).” The children we are raising in our homes will only consider Christ worthy of devotion if they see us displaying devotion, honor, and love to him. What better way to display this to them than through committed, consistent, joyful family worship?

Finally, Helopoulos encourages us to “Just Do It!” The bottom line is we need to just get started with family worship. There will always be excuses not to do it. There will always be awkwardness when we start the practice. But nothing is more important for us to commit to for the future of our family and the kingdom than family worship.

I challenge everyone reading this blog to begin family worship tonight. Father, single mother, newly married couple, and singles you can begin this faithful practice today. Sit down with your family in a quiet room of your home. Lead the family in singing, praying, and reading the Bible. After reading the passage, give a short simple explanation and exhortation to the family. Allow your family to participate. Most of all be consistent and joyful as you lead the people you love the most in worshiping Christ.

I recommend you get this small book. Read it and apply the truth you find in its pages. God will give the increase!

Talk to you soon,

Carlton

 

Do I have Enough?

It is a troubling thought. Do I have enough? This is a question that we seldom pause to consider. There may be many reasons we do not want to consider this question in areas of our lives. We may be concerned that in areas like love, grace, friendship, sacrifice, patience, humility, faith, or other content of Christian character areas we would have to admit, “I do not have enough.” While applying this simple yet revolutionary question to areas like money, leisure, clothes, cars, house, food, space, convenience, time, or other like categories would reveal, “I have more than enough.” Several weeks ago I was browsing through a bookstore while I waited on my wife who was shopping a few stores away (because we obviously do not have enough!). A book caught my eye and I purchased it to add to my already large collection of books (because if you have been in my office you know I do not have enough books!). In all seriousness, the book that I purchased and subsequently read is entitled, More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity by Jeff Shinabarger. My life has been impacted by the content of this book, and I would like to give three summary observations in way of review.

  1. We all live in a world of excess that drives us to accumulate more excess. This is a point that has been made in many ways over the past several decades, but Jeff Shinabarger makes the case for our life of excess in several compelling ways. First, he does not attack the economic system that we cherish in the United States. Nowhere in this book are we challenged to become socialist, communist, or step outside of our economic comfort zone. This is refreshing because far to often Christian writers have been guilty of championing alternative economic philosophies as if they are “more Christian.” To be honest, after reading the book I am unsure where the writer stands on this particular issue. Second, Jeff challenges not just the top 5% of Christian wage earners in the world, but he challenges every Christian to think of their life in terms of excess. To often we are programmed to think that only the “wealthy” need to be more generous. The truth of Scripture, which is also contained in this work, convicts all of us of our selfish desire and lack of generosity. Third, the writer lays out practical ways to examine areas of your life to better understand the excess that you possess. It is one thing to get a good philosophy lesson on excess versus generosity. It is a completely other thing to receive practical encouragement to live more simply.
  2. We must be willing to draw our own line of enough in each area of our lives. While reading this book I never felt like the message was, “Do exactly what Jeff has done in his life so that you can be like him.” Actually the message was clearly pushing me to self examine and draw my own lines of what is enough. In the past I have left books like this feeling either self justified or depressed because I either seemed to meet the external standard or fall short. After reading Jeff’s book I left challenged to rethink my own life, draw my own lines of enough, and live a generous lifestyle for the glory of God.
  3. We can all maximize God’s grace throughout life by living generously. The bottom line is we can all live lives filled with generosity. 2 Corinthians 8:9 says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake  he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” All of us as followers of Christ must reckon with his generosity toward us. The implications of the gospel are that because we have been loved much we can love others much. Jeff calls us in his book to live this type of grace filled, Christ energized, grace giving life.

I could say many other things about this book. It is witty at times. The book is filled with personal stories, stories of friends (I do not know Jeff Shinabarger but I found out while reading that we share mutual friends. He is friends with Jim and Allison Dudley who were once members of Grace Fellowship.), and practical advice of how to maximize what God has entrusted to your stewardship. Do I have enough? The answer is yes, and I am committed to use my enough resources to impact others for the glory of God. Join me in this lifelong journey of radical generosity!

Talk to you soon,

Carlton

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Cultural Engagement that is Faithful

It seems that the church has lost the art of cultural engagement. On the one hand, people in the church dismiss the truth so that they can fit in with the changing culture. On the other hand, people in the church are withdrawn from the culture while trying to maintain the truth. The Bible gives us a clear example of properly engaging the culture. We must remember that the truth cannot be compromised, and we must uphold the truth with respect and love for those who disagree.

Paul in Athens is the best example of this type of balance. Acts 17:16-21 details for us his encounter with the confused and sinful culture of idolatry in Athens. In verse 16 we are told, “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.” It is clear that the sin that surrounded Paul in the city of Athens caused him to respond. This word translated “provoked” carries two ideas. First, Paul was angered by the sin of idolatry. Second, he was grieved over the lostness of the people trapped in idolatry. His anger and brokenness over their sin drove the apostle to action. We continue reading, “So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, ‘What does this babbler wish to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities’—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, ‘May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.’ Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.” First, Paul preached the truth to the people in Athens. The fact that Paul was provoked led him to preach the truth. He did not change the truth. He proclaimed the truth in the face of opposition. Second, Paul centered his teaching on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. When Paul was confronted with the wicked culture surrounding him, he stood on the truth of the gospel. He seems to present his argument from a presuppositional stance. Rather than spend a ton of time arguing about idols, Paul spends his time arguing for the truth! He is positive and persuasive. The context of this opening speech in Athens is the Synagogue. But if we continue to read this chapter we find that Paul then moved into the market place of philosophy at the Areopagus. Acts 17:22-34 continues, 

“So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: ‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, “To the unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for

“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. the times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.’ So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.

A few principles from this cultural engagement. First, Paul connects with the culture he is speaking to without compromising the truth. Paul recognizes the idol to the unknown god and uses it to preach the gospel! This is a picture of cultural engagement. Another example is when he quotes the poets of the Greeks. Rather than simply quote Old Testament passages that his audience would have been unfamiliar with or against, Paul finds popular passages that show the men of Athens that their own poets are looking for truth. Second, Paul does not shy away from the full gospel message while engaging the culture. It would have been easy to talk philosophy only with these men at the Areopagus but Paul shifts to the gospel in his presentation. It was not his objective to simply prove the flaw of the philosophy in Athens. Paul was “provoked” or burdened with the lostnness of the people. He was not only angered by their rebellion. He was broken over the state of their souls.

This is the point of this blog post. We as conservative evangelicals need to engage the culture. We must do so with intelligence and passion, but we also need to remember that our engagement is not about winning arguments. Our engagement is for the purpose of seeing God save lost people! Paul is a wonderful example of faithfully engaging the culture of idolatry. Will you be “provoked” in this manner today?

Talk to you soon,

Carlton

The Defense of Marriage: God’s Institution for His Glory

Marriage is a covenant institution that was and is defined by God. In Matthew 19:1-12 Jesus affirms the definition and limits of marriage. “Have you not read (Genesis 2:21-24) that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. (19:4-6)” Jesus defined marriage as between one man and one woman. Because he is God, Jesus defines marriage from Genesis till today. This definition is unchanged. It is eternal!

Marriage has been under attack since the first days in the Garden of Eden. Satan has used deception and coercion to lead mankind into an unhappy mess! Since the Garden marriage has struggled under the destructive devices of divorce, adultery, spousal abuse, abandonment, and neglect. Marriage has often been besieged by those who wish to redefine its God-given boundaries. In the Old Testament examples of attempted redefinition abound in the forms of polygamy, incest, homosexuality, and sex with a partner outside of marriage. My point is simple. Marriage has faced serious attack since the fall of man into sin. Because God is the author and defender of marriage we can be certain that it will thrive till the end of the age. Even though many have followed the counterfeits that pose themselves as marriage, the covenant institution remains strong. This is cause for celebration and thanksgiving to our great Lord God.

Yesterday, The Supreme Court of the United States issued two rulings that injure the defense of marriage in our nation. I do not intend to detail the decisions of the court in this blog, but I would encourage all of you to read the decisions of the court in Untied States vs. Windsor and Hollingsworth vs. Perry. You can find both decisions in their entirety at www.scotusblog.com. Whatever you believe about the rulings of the court in these cases, we all must recognize the fallout of these cases will be myriad and unprecedented. The United States is on the fast track to approving and sanctioning a redefinition of marriage at the federal level. Dr. Albert Mohler says, “Even though the Court did not rule today that all states must legally recognize and allow for same-sex marriages, the handwriting is on the wall. Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion implicitly invites any citizen who resides in a state that does not allow for same-sex marriage to claim that his or her constitutional rights are violated on the basis of the Court’s opinion handed down today. You can count on a challenge of this form arising in short order. (albertmohler.com; “Waiting for the Other Shoe: The Supreme Court Rules on Same-Sex Marriage”)”

So what should we as evangelical Christians do in the face of this coming change? Several points come to mind.

  1. We should remain steadfast in our defense of biblical authority in the marriage debate. As Christians, we do not need the state to define marriage. God has already defined this institution, and He has already authorized its perpetuation until the end of this age. Evangelical Christians must remain steadfast in this conviction regardless of the opinion or human laws to the contrary.
  2. We should love God and our neighbors. Jesus commanded us to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul. He said the second great command was to love our neighbor as ourselves. Evangelical Christians should not see the changing tide of public and political opinion as an opportunity to forgo these commands. We should embrace the opportunity to fulfill these commands.
  3. We should preach the Gospel without comprise because this is the best way to fulfill the Great Commandments. The command to love our neighbor is not a provision that allows us to sanction so called same-sex marriage. The only loving thing we can do as Evangelical Christians is humbly and lovingly tell our neighbors that rebellion against God leads to eternal death. It is not loving to accommodate rebellion in the short term by changing our belief system to fit the whims of society. Homosexuality is one of many sinful lifestyles that express rebellion against God. A lifestyle of rebellion means that a person has rejected the only hope for salvation the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Evangelicals must continue to preach this hope in the face of social change.
  4. We should prepare for ridicule and persecution. It is not helpful to hide from the inevitable changes that are washing over our nation. Evangelical Christians need to prepare spiritually for the coming of real persecution over the issue of homosexuality. The Supreme Court’s majority opinion yesterday equated those who defend traditional marriage to bigots. Justice Kennedy writes on behalf of the majority, “The avowed purpose and practical effect of the law here in question are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the Sates.” This is one of several statements in which those who defend traditional marriage are said to be acting against same-sex marriage. Language like this is used to allow future rulings to go further in the attack of those who support real marriage. My point is to simply state what appears obvious. We as Evangelical Christians must recognize and prepare for the coming persecution over this issue.
  5. We should resolve to be at peace with all men as far as is possible, but we must also hold our ground in this and many other areas of political and social change.
  6. We should commit ourselves to prayer. God hears the prayer of His people. Our prayer must be for revival in the biblical since, repentance, and purity of the Church.

These are just a few thoughts on the events of yesterday. I know that there will be many other issues over the coming months and years to react to in this areana. We as a people have to think quickly and clearly in regard to homosexuality. Dr. Mohler again writes, “The Christian church does not ask the U. S. Supreme Court, or any other human court, what marriage is. Marriage is a pre-political institution defined by our Creator — for His glory and for human flourishing. Today’s decisions will create serious religious liberty challenges for all churches, Christian institutions, and Christian citizens in this nation. But the greatest impact of these decisions is the further marginalization and subversion of marriage. The destruction of marriage did not start recently, and it did not start with same-sex marriage, but its effects will be devastating. Christians will have to think hard — and fast — about these issues and our proper response. We will have to learn an entire new set of missional skills as we seek to remain faithful to Christ in this fast-changing culture. “ May we be faithful to our Lord, good neighbors in this world, and have our eyes focused on our eternal reward!

Talk to you soon,

Carlton

Ministry at Grace Fellowship in the next Months!

We are in the midst of a very busy season here at Grace Fellowship. I know that with all that goes on in our busy lives it will be easy to miss some events that we would other wise be involved. As a pastor at the church, I want you to know that we understand you are busy. Second, we do not want you to feel guilty for missing what we have planned. But we do want you to join us for all you can. It is important to serve, fellowship, and worship with others in the body of Christ. If we constantly exempt ourselves from the activity of the church, then we will begin to feel disconnected from the body. Don’t be guilty of opting out of ministry because it is a sacrifice! You will never regret prioritizing community in the Lord.

The following is a short blurb about the up coming events. I hope to see you all soon!

Stepping Up Men’s Conference: May 3-4, 2013 – This coming weekend we will be hosting a conference for men called “Stepping Up Men’s Conference.” This conference will be filled with food, fellowship, and teaching. The focus of our time together will be looking at what it means to be a godly man. If you would like to join us for this time of spiritual growth, then contact me ASAP!

Children’s Ministry Program: May 12, 2013 – during our Sunday morning worship service the children of Grace Fellowship will present their annual program. All of the children have worked hard over the past year learning songs, catechism, and Bible lessons that they want to share with our congregation. Join us as we celebrate God’s work in each of their lives.

Church Fellowship Meal: May 19, 2013 – we will eat our next fellowship meal in the community center after our morning worship service. During this fellowship meal we will have a question and answer time with the pastors of the church, and we will close our meal with Communion. Please set this date on your calendar so that you are involved in this important aspect of community.

McClellan Outreach: May 19, 2013 – After we eat our fellowship meal, we will split into teams and go door to door in the neighborhoods of McClellan to invite the residents to participate in our summer back yard Bible club. Anna Weathers has designed a door hanger with all the info on it and we need as many church members as possible to participate in this event. This is a great way to reach out and have gospel conversations with our neighbors!

Back Yard Bible Club: June 1, 2013 – Our church will host a Bible club this year on June 1, July 20, and August 10. Each event will last from 10:00 AM – 1:30 PM and will include a interactive lesson, fun games, and food. This time is designed to strengthen the children’s faith and to present the glorious truth of the gospel. On August 10th we hope to end our time together with a celebration of all that God has done. 

Sunday Morning Bible Study: June 2 – July 28, 2013 – Eric Davis will be teaching a class during our morning Bible study on giving. I believe that our church needs to grow in this area because we are missing the blessing of living sacrificially. Join this class each week at 9:00 AM.

Home Bible Fellowship: August 2013 – After taking a year off from these small groups, the elders have decided to begin this ministry again. I believe this will help our fellowship grow in prayer, Bible study, ministry, and community. This time will center on in home Bible study designed to encourage participation through prayer, discussion, and fellowship. We will also plan two dates for community service projects.

There will be other opportunities during these months, but I believe it is crucial for all of us to plan to participate in at least these up coming events. We are so blessed to serve together!

Talk to you soon,

Carlton 

Is the gospel powerful in all situations of life?

I was having lunch with one of my friends in the ministry yesterday. The main purpose of the lunch was for us to discuss our church calendars so that we can partner together in ministry as often as possible over the next few months, but during our time together the conversation turned to a much more important conversation. Is the gospel powerful in all situations of life? The spark for this conversation was an upcoming counseling pastoral counseling seminar that is designed to equip our church members to counsel one another with Scripture during the hard times of life.

I asked my friend, “Do we really show our people that we believe in the power of the gospel when we immediately refer all the difficult sin cases to outside counselors?” This is a burden for me because in our day it seems that pastors are less and less inclined to personally get involved in the life of the members of their church. It appears that we have lost the fortitude, patience, and compassionate mercy to help the sheep when they have fallen into the enticing trap of sin.Frankly, I believe that we as pastors are often scared that the Word of God and the power of the gospel is not sufficient to help people with life’s most pressing issues of sin, struggle, and brokenness. 

Now before you write me off as a man who has an ax to grind about professional counselors, pause and read the following sentence. I believe that Christian counselors are needed, and I personally recommend some members go to professional counselors. My problem is not that there are people willing to work hard as counselors for very little monetary gain and massive emotional strain. I love well trained men and women who have given their time and talent to receive specialized training in counseling. I believe we need these blessings in our community. But fellow pastor, let’s not run from our God given responsibility to shepherd the flock of God. The following list is the basis for this exhortation.

Pastors must be in the Word. This seems to be basic, but many pastors in our day are not men of the Word. The call to pastor is the call to teach/preach, counsel, pray, lead, and disciple. This calling cannot be carried out effectively without committed study and meditation on the Scripture.

Pastors must be in the flock. It is impossible to shepherd sheep that we are not around! 1 Peter 5:1-4 says, “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” Sheep trust a shepherd when they are convinced that he loves them and knows them. If we want to discharge our duty as pastors, then we must be men who spend time in the Word and time with our congregation.

Pastors must confront sin, encourage the weak, and counsel the brokenhearted. Paul instructs Timothy (and us) in 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. 4:1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” We have not discharged our duty given by God until we have applied the Scripture as a healing balm to the brokenhearted, sinful, and weak that are members of our flock.

Pastors must be wise in identifying when it is time to seek outside counsel. It is dangerous for the spiritual health of a congregation if the pastors of the flock are unwilling to counsel them in time of need. It is equally dangerous for pastors to ignore clear signs of true mental disorders that need the attention of medical professionals. While we as pastors do not want to avoid our duty of counseling, we also do not want to ignore the need for trusted professionals in some cases. It is helpful if we remain alert to these conditions that require extra attention.

Pastors must be confident in the power of the gospel. I want to end by saying that as pastors we must be confident in the power of the gospel before we will be able to instill confidence in the people we shepherd. They will never see the glory of Christ in the gospel if we do not see it. 

Let’s commit to be good shepherds who have no need to be ashamed when the Chief Shepherd returns. If we call our selves shepherds and we don’t know where the food for the sheep is located (Scripture), then we are blind guides. If we are shepherds who do not smell like the sheep we have been entrusted with by God (you have to be with them to “smell” like them), then we are callous lords. If we are shrinking back in the face of sin, brokenness, and disease, then we are not worthy of the name under shepherd. May each of us shepherd the flock with the zeal of the Lord and the compassion of our Savior!

Talk to you later,

Carlton 

Paying Tribute to a Mentor

How does a man pay tribute to a mentor in the ministry that he has only met on two brief occasions and barring a providential work of God will only meet again in eternity? In some ways it is a misuse of the term to apply it to a man one does not know on an intimate level, but on the other hand it is the fullest since of the term that applies in this situation because of the deep impact that has been made on my life through the work of this distant mentor. I hope this blog post suffices in some small way to show the abundant gratitude that I have in my heart for him.

March 31, 2013 was the day he walked from his home to the church to deliver his farewell sermon. His ministry at the church began when I was only two years old. I was living in Columbus, Mississippi in 1980 playing with toddler toys while he was launching, what would become, one of the most influential evangelical ministries in the world in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota. I am 35 yrs. old and he has been shepherding the flock at Bethlehem Baptist Church for 32 yrs. and 9 months. This is my way of thanking him for mentoring me through hundreds of sermons and dozens of books and several conferences. My aim in pastoral ministry was significantly altered because of his philosophy of Christian Hedonism. Thank you John Piper for being faithful to extol the magnificent name of Christ in my life over the past 17 yrs. You have been a good mentor.

I just finished listening to his farewell sermon from Hebrews 13:20-21. Tears streamed down my face as I sat at his feet again learning the glory of God in Christ and him crucified and raised! I am a better man, husband, father, friend, pastor, and disciple of Christ because John Piper has poured out his life in faithful Bible preaching and teaching at his local church for over three decades. Thank you God for giving us this good gift in this grace saturated, blood bought man. May you lift up the light of your face on the remaining years of his ministry to the global church. Be pleased to raise up many others in his place for your glory and the churches good. Amen!

I was convicted while thinking of God’s grace in my life through Piper’s ministry to never take for granted the trust that I have been given to shepherd the flock at Grace Fellowship. I love each of you because of who you are in Christ Jesus. Let’s continue to serve God as a church. We are so blessed to serve our King together. I am continually amazed by what He is doing in and through us. I can’t wait to see what He does in the next 10 yrs.

Talk to you soon,

Carlton

Studying for the Glory of God

At any given moment I am working my way through three books that deal with some aspect of Christian life and theology. Right now I am reading Kingdom Through Covenant by Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, What is the Mission of the Church? by Kevin Deyoung and Greg Gilbert, and Neither Poverty nor Riches by Craig L. Blomberg. These books are being read while I also read through the Bible with McCheyne’s Bible Reading Plan and studying for weekly Bible studies and sermons. I say all of this to help you understand the discipline of the mind required to feed the soul and the people of God. Pastoring is not a place for lazy mental types. We must work hard to show ourselves approved, and it is to this point that I want to challenge each of us this week. Let me ask you a couple of questions that I have to ask myself on a regular basis.

Are you feeding on the Bread of Life through the Word of God? Jesus resisted the temptation of Satan in the desert in Matthew 4:4 by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3 which says, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Later in his ministry he teaches his disciples this principle again when he says, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe. (John 6:61b-64)” The Bible is the very life bread of the believer. Therefore, if we are not regularly feeding on the Word then we become weak and powerless. Paul later tells us in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.” The fact is that our thoughts are taken captive by saturating our heart and mind with the Word of God. After taking in a good portion of Scripture we should spend time praying over the Scripture, meditating on the Scripture, and then obediently applying the Scripture to our life and the life of others. So I ask myself regularly, “Am I feeding on the Bread of Life in the Word of God?”

Are you studying points of theology with the aid of other godly men? We live in an age where we have endless access to all types of information. It has occured to me that one of the ploys of Satan in our day is to keep our minds distracted with Facebook, Twitter, and other technology to the point that our minds are overloaded and tired. Don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I am not against technology! I am not against Facebook and Twitter. As a matter of fact when this post is completed I will use both mediums to distribute this blog post. What I am saying is that if we are not guarded in our use of those information gateways then we will be distracted from the more important work of sharpening our mind in theology, we will be disconnected from friends and family, and we will not apply the truth God has entrusted to us for the good of our soul and others. Part of being a Christian is disciplining our minds to think critically and deeply about theology (the study of God), our world and culture, and our mission! That’s why I find it helpful to read, think, and argue with books that great men have written. Books are tools that can be used to shape and sharpen our hearts and mind for the Glory of God.

So these are two important questions for all Christians to ask themselves regularly. I especially think it is important for pastors to ask these questions. We are called to lead the sheep of God’s flock by example so we cannot be the weakest minds in the room! Let’s all commit ourselves to study that when he come he will approve of us and our work (2 Timothy 2:15)

Talk to you later,

Carlton

God’s Design for a Melancholy Spirit

It is troubling to suddenly enter a time of melancholy spirit. Melancholy is defined as “low spirits; sad; depression.” In modern language we often refer to a person as being depressed, but I think it is good to retain the old language of melancholy spirit. This does not mean that a person is in a state of perpetual depression or clinical depression. Frequently in our society a person is encouraged to medicate this condition prematurely. This is not always helpful. I believe it is God’s design for his children to experience seasons of low spirits for several reasons.

  1. Melancholy seasons cause a believer to think introspectively. This often leads to repentance of deeper sin and better understanding of the souls connection to Christ.
  2. Melancholy seasons cause the believer to run to Christ in faith.
  3. Melancholy seasons cause the believer to live on faith rather than emotion or physical pleasure.
  4. Melancholy seasons give us a taste of separation from God so that we appreciate communion with him.
  5. Melancholy seasons cause the believer to lose any allusion of heaven on earth in this life. These seasons tend to make the believer long for our eternal home.
  6. Melancholy seasons cause the believer to persevere and endure which brings them into fellowship with Christ’s suffering.
  7. Melancholy seasons are an opportunity to display the truth of the Gospel because the believer is left fully dependent on the grace of God for satisfaction and hope.

These are just a few of the things I am learning during this season of low spirits. I am far from discouraged. I am hopeful! It is evident to me that God is humbling me in mind and spirit so that I can be used in his kingdom work in even greater ways. It truly is a blessing to serve among people who display the gospel to me and my family. After yesterday my heart was lifted. I know that you are praying for me, and this gives me great courage. Even though this season of melancholy started less than a week ago, I sense God at work in powerful ways in my life. I am confident that this valley will be short lived, and I look forward to returning to the peek of passionate communion with Christ! God is amazing and his love endures forever. I am praising him during this season because he is worthy to be praised. Let’s continue to grow in his grace together. Talk to you soon!

Carlton

Why I am Choosing to celebrate the Lent Season this Year

As Evangelical Christians, most of us have not celebrated the holidays of the Liturgical Calendar. It seems Roman Catholic. It seems archaic. We have not been trained to view the calendar as a structure that shapes our spiritual life. This year I have chosen to celebrate the holidays of the traditional church calendar. This includes Lent.

What is Lent? Lent (from Latin, meaning “fortieth”) is the forty days beginning on Ash Wednesday and leading up to Easter Sunday. Sundays are not counted in these forty days, because they are days of renewal or “mini-Easter” celebrations. Lent is a season of preparation and repentance during which we turn our focus toward Christ crucifixion and resurrection. It is a time for Christians to long for the Resurrection!

How am I celebrating Lent? I have considered two areas of my life that can be given up during these days so that I have more time to focus on God and his people. It is not helpful for me to announce the specifics of my fast to the world, but I have made this commitment to the Father. A second way I will celebrate Lent this year is by following a devotional guide designed specifically for this season. These devotional times are structured for worship, confession, contemplation, and prayer. The hope is that through the next weeks I will gain a deeper affection for Christ, and that I will die to myself in practical ways that he may live through me.

Should you celebrate Lent? This is a personal decision. I do not think it is necessary for every believer, but I do think it is good to at least consider a season of fasting and repentance. My hope is that Grace Fellowship will continue to grow in true discipleship. Lent is a season that can help us in our walk with Christ as it drives us toward purity and fellowship with God!

The following are good resources for you to consider on this subject.

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2013/02/13/why-bother-with-lent/

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2013/02/11/lent-is-about-jesus-a-free-devotional-guide/

 

 

Topisitional January at Grace Fellowship

Grace Fellowship is committed to consistent expositional preaching as the steady diet of pulpit ministry. This typically leads to preaching systematically through books of the Bible. Over the past 9+ years we have covered 1 Timothy, Titus, Ephesians, John, 2 John, Acts 1-8, Hosea, Jonah, Ruth, and most recently Proverbs 1-9. God has blessed the preaching of his Word by granting grace to save lost sinners, disciple the saved, and he has created a faithful and strong body of believers. I would never change the steady pattern we have established. But in January, we focus on several topisitional sermons that are designed to emphasize issues that are close to the heart of our people. 

First, on January 6th we focused on Galatians 2:15-21 and the heart of justification by faith in Christ alone. We may get any number of doctrines right in our study, but if we do not stand firm on the principle doctrine of the gospel, then all of our other teachings are for nothing! Grace Fellowship has a burning desire to make known the good news of salvation in Christ alone by grace alone through faith alone for the glory of God alone as taught in the Scripture alone! We took this first Sunday of the year to reaffirm our commitment to the gospel.

Second, on January 13th we celebrated Sanctity of Life Sunday. Grace Fellowship is committed to protecting the innocent life of the unborn, the precious gift of the disabled child, and the dignity of the aging. We believe that all human life is precious and is a gift from God. This past Sunday we experienced the grace of God in many ways. I have to admit that our worship service was on of my favorite services of all time. During the congregational testimony time we saw how God has extended grace to a family with a special needs child, heard the testimony of a young lady whose family is riddled with abortion, and listened as a doctor shared his journey from a lost man preforming abortions to a Christian who now rejects his past ways and fights for the right of every baby to live. The Holy Spirit ministered to all of us through his Word from 1 Peter 2:13-17 as we considered the command to respect and honor our President and other political leaders even though many of them support the murder of innocent children. This past Sunday will be a day the people of Grace Fellowship remember for a long time because of God’s goodness and his patient forgiveness of our sin.

This coming Sunday, January 20th, we will focus on Genesis 9:25 as we seek to continue our fight against racism within our culture. Grace Fellowship has been blessed over the years to grow in our understanding of how the gospel eradicates the sin of racism in the church. I am excited about this sermon because I believe it will go along way to destroying the foundation of false teaching that has centered on this passage for the past 150 years in the South. Please pray that God blesses our time in his Word.

Finally, we will end the month with our yearly Vision Day on January 27th. The elders and various ministry leaders of Grace Fellowship will present a plan for the church to follow in ministry for 2013 and beyond. The plans that will be presented will challenge us as a congregation to press on in gospel ministry. I hope that the plan will encourage us as a congregation to greater ministry impact.

After a month of topisitional preaching we will return to the pattern in February. From February 3 – November 17 (with the exception of Easter Sunday) our weekly teaching will focus on Psalm 1-41. I am looking forward to this year of preaching, and I pray that God will continue the growth of his church for his glory!

Talk to you soon,

Carlton

Newtown and Bethlehem: What does Christmas have to do with a massacre of children?

I was at my daughter’s, Lily, school Christmas play when the news began to break out of Newtown, Connecticut this past Friday. Lily is in kindergarten. My heart was flooded with emotion just thinking about “what if” this had happened at my daughters school. When we see this type of evil, our first response is to question why God would allow such a terrible event. This is logical, but I believe it is important for us to answer the question with biblical and theological accuracy.

  1. We can be certain that God is providentially overseeing and administrating all things in this world. It might feel better to say things like, “God had nothing to do with this tragedy.” but this is short sighted and simply not true. The Bible clearly teaches that God is superintending all things. (Isaiah 45:5-7; Job 1-2)
  2. We can be certain that God will not allow the guilty to go unpunished. (John 5:28; Romans 12:19-20)
  3. We can rest in the fact that God knows our suffering and He is always with us to offer the hope of eternity in the Gospel (2 Corinthians 1:3-7; Hebrews 4:14-16)
  4. We should seek to minister to the families and love those who are hurting.

The events of Friday were awful. While we can never errase all the pain and suffering that has been caused by the evil acts of one man, we can love our neighbor as our self. We can also deliver the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in this wicked and depraved age in which we live. There is no greater love that can be given than the love that Christ gave from the cross. I pray that we will remember this Christmas season that Christ has come so that all the sin and evil of this world will one day be destroyed. That’s what Christmas has to do with the massacre of children. Because he came to us we have the hope of a day without violence, pain, and death. I long for that day. May we all remember the real hope of the Christmas season in the days and weeks to come.

Talk to you soon,

Carlton

 

Finishing Strong

As we draw to the close of another year, we must fight the subtle temptation to cruise through the end of the year. November and December are packed with travel, holiday celebrations, and built in distractions that can make finishing the year difficult. This is especially true in our spiritual lives. Paul gives us great encouragement in this area when he writes in Philippians 3:12-16, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” So often I am tempted to rest on past success and accomplishment rather than continuing to press toward the goal of eternal reward! I am challenging all of us at Grace Fellowship to finish the year strong. We have seen God bless our congregation in tremendous ways over the past 11 months, but I believe this next month could be our greatest month yet. Let’s continue to pray for God’s blessing, study to show ourselves approved, and labor in the harvest field of the gospel. When I look at all that God is doing among the families of Grace Fellowship, and what God is using this body to accomplish for His kingdom I am humbled and amazed. Thank you for being faithful to the gospel, and let’s finish strong together!

Talk to you soon,

Carlton

Making Sure We Use a Verse In Context

When studying the Bible, context is king. The misapplication of verses that I encounter every day from good hearted believers is simply astounding until I catch myself doing the same thing with a verse or two. Let’s face it. We all get caught up plucking a verse or two out of the natural flow of a text and using it for our own purpose rather than the purpose of the biblical writer. I want to give you an example of what I mean. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for  those who are called according to his purpose.” We have all heard this verse quoted in the line at the funeral home, in the hospital room of a suffering patient, or in the home of a newly divorced friend. The sad thing is that the verse is often used as a general statement about everything in life. How often have you heard this verse paraphrased in these words, “Well buddy, we know that God works all things to the good.” Notice the problem. Your right. That is not what Paul said! He said that God providential superintends everything to work together for the good of those who are called according to his purpose. This is not a verse that should be used in dealing with those who are outside of a personal relationship with Christ. It is a verse to comfort believers. So remember, context is king. We need to keep the verse in its proper context so that we do not stretch its meaning beyond the authors intent.

But this week the verse hit me in a way I had never grasped it. Paul is not even speaking to believers about general events in the life of Christians. He is, in the context of Romans 8, specifically talking to believers about the assurance of their salvation. Yep. I had not payed close enough attention to the context of this verse. Look at Romans 8. Paul says 1. We have life in the Spirit through the process of the mortification of sin (Romans 8:1-11). 2. We are joint heirs with Christ because the Spirit of adoption has been granted to us (Romans 8:12-17). 3. We have the future glory of the New Heaven and the New Earth because of the sanctifying work of the Spirit (Romans 8:18-30). And it is in the middle of point three that we find our verse Romans 8:28. Which should have clued me into the fact that what Paul is primarily talking about in this passage is our eternal salvation. Yes, we can trust that all the things in our lives are being worked together for our good. Why? Because the Author of our salvation has completed our glorification in Christ! Salvation is mine in Christ. Romans 8:28 is connected to the assurance of salvation that comes with knowing that God has known the end from the beginning.

So, there is a lesson in context. Context is king. If we do not pay close attention when reading and studying the Word, then we will run the risk of creating a new meaning separate from the meaning of the Bible. I hope you are encouraged.

Talk to you soon,

Carlton

 

Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done

As I have listened to friends, read newspaper articles, and kept up with social media over the last 24 hours my heart has been moved to worship! I know that many of you are now seriously questioning where this is going, but I promise to get to the conclusion quickly. My heart has been moved to worship our King. This is what my heart is focused on today. Joshua 5:13-15, “When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, ‘Are you for us, or for our adversaries?’ And he said, ‘No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.’ And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, ‘What does my lord say to his servant?’ And the commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, ‘Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so.” This passage is a great comfort to Christians because it reminds us that no matter the earthly condition we find ourselves in, God’s Kingdom is unshaken.

How does this apply to the results of a very divided national election in the United States of America? Simple. God’s concern should be our concern which is the expansion of His Gospel Kingdom over the next 4 years. So many times the victories and the disappointments of this life expose where our hearts are really trusting. We get to see part of what we are building our hope on in days like today. Like Joshua we need to realize that the great commander of God’s army, Jesus Christ, is establishing the Kingdom in the U.S.A. and around the world. He is not a partisan of any political group. He does not favor oneside over another. He stands as head of One Holy Nation, the church. So if you voted for President Obama, then you should not glory in his victory. The Lord will not usher in his Kingdom through the rule of a President. President Obama will not ultimately bring the peace and satisfaction that only Christ can bring. If you voted for Governor Romney, then you should not despair because he lost the election. God is not bound by the decisions of our electorate. No. He will continue to work in our midst for his glory and the ultimate coming of his consummated Kingdom in the New Heaven and the New Earth.

So while you might be disappointed or excited by the election returns today, please remember our responsibilities as citizens of the Kingdom of God.

  1. We swear ultimate allegiance to no king but Christ.
  2. We pray for the God given leaders of our local, state, and national governments.
  3. We continue to Love God and love our neighbor as ourselves (that means Democrat, Republican, Third-party, or Independent).
  4. We exist as salt and light in the culture.

While I have serious disagreements with President Obama on important issues that will shape our nation for decades to follow, I will also pray for his leadership. I will submit to him as I would have submitted to Governor Romney had he been elected. Submission does not equal acceptance of all ideas and policy without voicing displeasure. Submission does mean that I am called to respect the man God has placed in the highest office of the Land. Let’s take the opportunity that we have to positively impact our community with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have much to thank God for in our current condition, and I pray that God sees fit to use this generation to bring revival to the world! I am worshiping the Lord today because he is bringing his Kingdom to bear on this world and He will not fail.

Talk to you soon,

Carlton

A Look at Ministry from the Front Line

Grace Fellowship has been in the middle of a ton of ministry over the past weeks, and I would like to step back to review and encourage you for all that God is doing in and through you as a church.

  • Worship has been particularly sweet over the past few months. Grace Fellowship has experienced a since of God’s immediate presence during our time together, and this has led many of you to private and family worship. One of the ways that I have been encouraged through our time of worship lately is the freedom that we are enjoying. During our series on Proverbs it has become apparent that you are applying what is taught and God is growing our fellowship both wide and deep! We will continue to focus on Proverbs for the remainder of the year. Our goal is to finish the first nine chapters of the book before the Christmas season.
  • Community has been deepened at Grace Fellowship over the past few months through planned fellowship meals on Sundays. I have been encouraged at the response of the church to these events. It is also exciting to see new families joining our community. The membership class is overflowing with people that God is bringing into fellowship at Grace Fellowship. This month we will celebrate a Thanksgiving meal together on November 18 @ 6:00 PM. I hope you guys join us for this special time together.
  • Service was focused this quarter on working in the community during Big Serve Weekend. Many of you helped us work at widows homes, paint at Kitty Stone Elementary, do maintenance at the north campus of Sav-A_Live, work at the Alabama Baptist Children’s Home, and help a single mom move across town. Other ways that we have joined together to serve include helping Jason Gilbert’s parents in the construction of their home. Once again most of the church served during our annual CP Telethon weekend, and these are just a few of the ways that you have used your time and talent to serve our community with the love of Christ.
  • Church Planting has been a desire for Grace Fellowship from the beginning. This year God has been so gracious to launch Redeemer Church in Oxford through the joint effort of Anniston Bible Church and Grace Fellowship. Ryan Limbaugh and the families of Redeemer have been blessed with spiritual and numeric growth. Since the public launch of the church in August they have had a high attendance day of 65 and average weekly worship attendance of 55. The gospel is being preached and lives are being changed through this ministry.
  • Campus Outreach Jacksonville is a true blessing! Dave Swinney and the many church leaders who are laboring on campus have brought excitement and energy to Grace Fellowship through their effort for the kingdom. The ministry has experienced great connection with our local church over the past semester. They have also seen an influx of new faces this fall. The weekly meetings are being attended by 35 to 40 students each week, and I am most encouraged by the participation of the students in small groups. We are hoping to take our largest contingency of students to New Years Conference at the end of December so please pray that we will finish strong this year!
  • Outreach Building is now a work in progress. The construction crew has been at work for about two weeks now and we are hoping to finish the project in the spring of 2013. The elders see this building creating better opportunities for education, fellowship, and outreach. We are praying that God will provide increased financial support so that this facility is payed for in the near future.

I have only mentioned the highlights of what God is doing among us. We have experienced increased Bible study attendance, small group development, and growth. Please continue to support the ministry with time, talents, money, and most of all prayer. Grace Fellowship has developed into quite a ministry over the past 9 years. By God’s grace we hope to continue the pattern of growth over the next years. You are vitally important to the ministry because it is through all of us that God will preach His gospel and gain His glory!

Talk to you soon,

Carlton

It is easy to fall into the trap of parenting like those in our culture. Most of us are working to hard, living to fast, spending to much money on silly things, and ignoring our relationships with one another and Christ. When we are under the stress of life, it is easy to lose our focus in parenting. What should our focus in parenting be? Let me give a simple yet biblical answer.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commands depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

The Gospel should be the center of our parenting. The entire Old and New Testament can be summarized by the verses I have quoted. Jesus wants us as parents to teach our children that unless their life belongs to him then they will never love God or others. The goal of parenting is to train our children to treasure Jesus Christ above everything in life, and to prepare our children to give their lives to making Christ known to all tribes, languages, and people! We do not need more self-help parenting strategy. We need to be transformed into men and women who live out the power of the gospel every day. The parent who lives out the truth of the gospel in front of their children each day will see the fruit of their labor!

So, what should our practical instruction and discipline look like with our children. Here are several areas of focus for our parenting.

  1. We must treasure Christ in our own lives and treasure him in our families life.  Dad and Mom must treasure Christ in their own lives if they expect to raise godly children. You can reproduce into your children what you do not possess yourself. Start your parenting by taking time to establish healthy patterns of engaging Jesus in your personal time and in your time as a couple. If you children see that God and his Word are important to you, then they will be more likely to view God and his Word as important for them.
  2. Fathers must give strong godly-servant leadership to the home. Men, we need to grow-up and be men! To many of us define manhood by rugged independence, tough talk, macho persona, or worldly accomplishment. Others of us are so soft that our 5 year old sons are embarrassed of our girly mentality. We need to exemplify Christ-likeness in our leadership of the home. When we display resolute, disciplined love for Christ, our sons are gaining invaluable knowledge of what it means to be a man. When we display servant-leadership and passionate romantic affection for our wives, our sons are gaining knowledge as to what it means to be a man. When we live with a broken heart over our sin and their sin, our sons grasp the ugliness of sin and the need for holiness. Men, your wife cannot teach your son or your daughter what God has entrusted to you!
  3. Mothers, we need helpmates not competitors. Ladies, it would serve our homes well to have wives and moms who joyfully embraced the call of Titus 2:3-8. You are displaying the goodness of God to your children when you joyfully live out submission. This does not mean you are mindlessly following your man, but it does mean that you see his leadership and respect and honor him as the head of your house.
  4. Parents, we need to reach for the heart of our children not seek to contain their actions. So much of our parenting is focused on behavioral modification. The truth is we are embarrassed because our 2 year old is “pitching a fit” at the restaurant. Rather than focus our training and discipline on always getting right actions, we as parents must dig in to the center of the being and apply the gospel to their heart. We will never raise children who live lives that matter for eternity if our parenting is focused only on moral reformation. We must plead with our little ones to trust in and treasure Jesus Christ!

I am praying for all of us to be Gospel-centered in our parenting. We will see the coming generations changed if we commit to building a kingdom perspective in our children from the beginning of life to graduation. Let’s do it for the glory of God!

Talk to you soon,

Carlton

Gospel-Centered Parenting

God is all glorious and good!

I have been thinking this week of the overwhelming goodness and glory of God. He is not good because he does good things. God, unlike humans and other created beings, is by nature good. In God there is no hint of evil so that everything he is can be categorized as good. Have you ever thought of the fact that God declares and defines what is good and what is evil? Yes, this is our God! He is not defined by his actions as good, but he himself defines the quality of goodness.

I also think of the fact that God is glorious. The God of Heaven does not share this all encompassing glory with any other being. How should we think of glory as it relates to God? Glory is that intrinsic characteristic of God that sums up all of his other characteristics. Glory is God’s weightiness. It is often expressed in the Bible as light. In other words, his glory beams forth from his being and cannot be contained by heaven, earth, or universe. The brightness of his glory shines forth from sea to shining sea!

With all of that said, I want to point us to a verse of Scripture that should cause us to marvel at God’s goodness and glory. 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 says, “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

This all glorious and good God has expressed himself in the clearest way possible. He did not leave the revelation of himself to natural creation, words from a prophet, or even the written Scripture alone. All of these things are good tools of communication. But God did even more to make his glory known. The all glorious and good God put on flesh and dwelt with us (John 1:14). He spoke to us in the last days through not a prophet but his son (Hebrews 1:1-4). The megaphone through which God shouted his glorious gospel was Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:10-25). We as believers have been given the faith to see the light of the glory of God in the face of our savior Jesus Christ. Let us forever praise his holy name!

So when everything in life points to defeat and darkness lift your eyes and look into his marvelous face! This gospel-focused, christocenticism will cause you to be renewed in strength. You will be able to live each day on the grace extended to you through the life and work of Jesus. Let’s not lose heart. Let’s continue to believe the gospel and challenge the world around us to believe in Christ with us!

Talk to you soon,

Carlton

Is Technology Good or Evil?

A world of information at the tip of the finger. That used to be a comment made about a clunky machine known as desk top. In today’s fast-paced world we have that same (actually greater) world of information in our pocket. It is called a smartphone. Our world seems to revolve around Facebook, Twitter, texting, and Instagram. I have heard more than one person question if this technology is good or evil, and my answer is, “Technology is both good and evil while at the same time it is neither good or evil.” Confused yet? Well let me explain.

Technology is evil. I fear that we have entered a phase of civilization where personal communication will become more infrequent because all of us feel that we are communicating all the time. The phony friendship status on Facebook is convincing a generation of people that they actually have 2,000 “friends.” Fewer people actually speak on the phone these days because it is much easier to text than to carry on a conversation over the phone (just think that my grandparents generation thought the home telephone would end real relationships back in the 1930′s) . We “cyber stalk” one another which in biblical terms would be known as participating in voyeurism. The bottom line is we were created for real relationship and all to often we are substituting that relationship with technology.

Technology has opened a world of sin that was previously impossible. The fact that I can get on the internet at any time, day or night, and look up images or video images of any act known to man has opened a world of sin that was impossible to imagine just two decades ago.

Finally, under this category of technology as evil, we have the unbridled slanderous gossip that destroys lives due to completely false information. The problem is in our world of instant access the lie never gets untold. A story can be posted to the net and within a matter of minutes the story has been re-posted on every social media outlet the world over.

Technology is good. There is almost endless ways in which technology is good. Through those same social media outlets mentioned above I am able to preach the gospel, reach out to old friends, comfort my family when traveling, post beautiful pictures of a growing family, and encourage a loved one. This blog is a form of technology which I pray is being used for good. Through technology we are able to access information that saves lives, brings comfort, and adds to convenience. I have more books on my computer and phone than Johnathan Edwards owned in his lifetime! Speaking of Johnathan Edwards, this morning I downloaded every word the man ever published, preached, or wrote in his journal on an iPhone App. That is simply amazing and good!

Technology is neither good or evil. In the end we have to agree that technology is a-moral. We as humans have a choice to either exploit technology for evil purposes or the expansion of the glorious Kingdom of God. Let’s commit to the latter. We should use every advantage God has graciously given us to expand the knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ! Now, let me get back to reading the great JE on my iPhone!

Talk to you later,

Carlton

To Vote or Not to Vote, that is the question

This is election season, and things are starting to take form now that we are only a month away from Election Day 2012. Many people have asked my opinion on the political contest that is going on in our nation. Some have wanted to know my stance on the issues or my opinion of the Christian’s responsibility in the election process. I am aware of the importance of these issues so I want to respond to these questions through this blog. First, I want you to know that I will not be telling anyone which candidate to vote for in the election. It is not my job or my desire to campaign for any candidate in any race at any level of government. I find it reprehensible for a minister of the Gospel to tell others to vote for one candidate or another. That is not my place. Second, I want to give the biblical imperative that we as Christians must embrace if we are to be good citizens in this nation. Although I do not believe it is my role to tell others to vote one way or the other, it is very much my calling to say what the Bible says about civic responsibility. Third, I want to give a clear perspective on how to form an opinion in regard to voting for one candidate over another. To tell others to vote for a candidate is overtly political. To tell others how to think about voting as a Christian is responsible pastoring. I will do my best to be responsible and not political. For the record, I have voted in every election I have been qualified to participate in at all levels of government. I am an Independent voter who refuses to belong to any political party. As a matter of fact, I would prefer we did not have political parties in this country, but that is another blog for a different day. My point is that I do not belong to nor give my allegiance to any political party. Yes, I have voted for members of several parties in every election! So let me give my perspective.

Romans 13:1-7

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

1 Timothy 2:1-4

 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

1 Peter 2:13-17

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

Mark 12:13-17

And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

I wanted to place this sampling of passages on the role of government in this blog to dismiss the idea that God’s Word does not speak to the role of government. God is not only interested in government, but He is the author of government and all of the power of the state has been granted to the state from God! I want to zoom in on the passage in Romans 13 for this discussion. What is a Christian’s responsibility in regard to government?

  1. We are to live under the authority of the government willingly and submissively as unto God. Paul makes it plain for us to believe when he writes, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed… (Romans 13:1-2a)” We do not get to rebel against the government which God has placed over us. Our society must live under the government in order to promote peace and common good. God has seen fit in the United States of America that our government take the form of a Representative-Democracy. We do not live in a democracy! We live in a Republic. It is important that we understand the system of government that God has given us to live under. By better understanding our government we can live in true submission to it by being the best citizens possible. As Christians we cannot simply sit out of the political process. We have to participate in the selection of leaders because this is the way we show proper submission to the rulers that rule our great nation.
  2. We should view the leaders of our government as God’s servants for our good. Paul says in 13:3-4a that our leaders are God’s servants for our good. Respect and honor should be given to the officials in our local, state, and federal governments. They are serving the purposes of God whether we agree totally with them or not. We should view government as our umbrella of protection, institution of justice, and agent of God’s cause in our nation.
  3. We should pay taxes, vote, and serve in all levels of government because God has commanded our participation. The Christian does not vote to simply play a part in the political drama. We are people who vote because God has entrusted us with this great responsibility. We also pay the taxes due the government because in this act we are obeying our King! There is no room for a position of blanket consciences objector status as a Christian. This is a grave mistake. We are called to support our leaders within the proper bounds of personal involvement.
  4. We should pray for our leaders not against them. Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 2 that we are to pray for our leaders because it is God’s will that we do so. In praying for our leaders we are acting as change agents under the sovereign hand of God. This is our greatest responsibility as Christians, and this is the main way that we will see the government changed for the good not for evil. Voting and paying taxes are civic duties that we should all undertake after we have fulfilled the command to pray for our leaders!

Before I end this blog I want to give some tips on how to think about voting. Voting is a great privilege that many in history have not enjoyed. We should undertake this opportunity soberly. Here are the criteria that I use to decide which candidate to vote for in any election. I will  tell you it is my conviction that you should never vote against another person by voting for a “lesser-of-two-evils” candidate. Our vote is a civic trust that should not be used to block the process. As a Christian the following is a good way to think about a candidate.

  1. Does this candidate display the moral character and integrity to discharge the office which he is seeking? If a man is not of good character, then he will never be a good leader. The stance of a candidate on individual issues is far less important that the make-up of the man. A candidate will consistently fail to make good choices on the issue if he is not of high moral integrity.
  2. Does this candidate have a history of following the Constitution of the United States of America? This is an idea that unfortunately gets little discussion in our public discourse but it is crucial. If a man takes office in our nation without a basic conviction of constitutional law, then he will consistently act in ways that are unbecoming of his office. The Constitution of the United States is the governing document of our nation. It must be read, understood strictly, and applied strictly as our founding fathers intended. 
  3. Does this candidate defend the rights of the weak and strong, the poor and the rich, the religious and the non religious, etc.? Is this candidate for maximum liberty to all citizens? This is a fundamental issue in my opinion. We must continue to elect leaders who seek to protect the liberty of all citizens of the United States of America. Liberty can be defined in several ways: a) the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges b) freedom from arbitrary or despotic control or c) the quality or state of being free. In view with this question is whether or not the candidate is committed to the maximizing of liberty to all citizens within the rule of the Constitution.
  4. Finally, If I vote for this candidate, will I stand before the Lord with a clear conscience? This is the last and greatest determinate in the Christians mind as he votes. If you are about to vote for a candidate that you are not certain will leave you without guilt of conscience before the Lord, then you should not vote for that candidate. We are accountable to God for every vote we cast!

I think it is time to end this blog post. If you read this rambling, then I pray you will be responsible as a Christian and vote in the upcoming election. May God be glorified in our actions at the polls this fall.

Talk to you soon,

Carlton

Gospel of Jesus’ Wife… really?

While driving to work last week I got a text from my wife that said, “Watching the Today Show and they are saying new evidence released that proves Jesus had a wife.” My response was simple, “He did not have a wife.” I am thankful that my wife, who is beautiful and extremely intelligent, knows enough to simply shake her head at reports like the one broadcast world wide last week. But it has occurred to me over the last few days that some people could be troubled by this type of “document.” Here are my thoughts on the subject.

  1. We as Christians should not be fearful of this type of interaction with the world of ancient manuscripts. I have heard from some folks that simply wish all study of ancient manuscripts would come to a screeching halt. This is not becoming of Christians. We are the people of God and the burden of proof falls on the scholars who want to change accepted historical evidence. Christians should welcome the study of ancient manuscripts because up until now the study has done nothing but further prove the validity of our Scripture.
  2. Textual study of ancient manuscripts is a difficult and long process that will often take many twists and turns on the way to confirming the authenticity of  a text. I do not pretend to be an expert in the field of ancient textual study, but as a person who studies and reads about these findings with great interest I can tell you that this supposed Gospel of Jesus’ Wife has a long way to go before it will be accepted as authentic. Dr. King, the respected chair of theology at Harvard University, is a very capable Coptic manuscript expert. She has admitted that further study will have to be done to either verify this fragment of papyrus or prove it to be a phony. According to Darrell Bock  and Christian Askeland there is much suspicion surrounding this text and the process is in the early stages of scholarly criticism. My encouragement is to be patient as the process plays out because this find has a long way to go before it is legitimized.
  3. We should not be surprised by the existence of alternate anti-historical accounts of Jesus’ life from the second to sixth centuries. The fact that there are alternate histories surrounding the person and work of Christ should be an encouragement to us not a discouragement. The mountain of ancient text point to the orthodox understanding of the life of Jesus as presented in the New Testament. The fact that we have orthodoxy should cause us to readily expect heterodoxy. The fact that the Gnostic Gospels exists has been confirmed since 1945. We also know that since the finding of those heretical documents there have been multiple forgery and counterfeit documents presented from various people. I am not claiming that we can know that the postcard size papyrus scrap presented by Dr. King is a phony knock-off version of the heretical Gnostic Gospels but I am comfortable with either conclusion. The fact that people in the ancient world made up stories about Jesus only gives further evidence of his existence! People do not waste time making up stories of ancient characters unless there is a historical character. I welcome the discovery of heterodoxical documents because I am confident that the New Testament manuscripts will be proven true again and again!
  4. In the end this is a ploy to sensationalize a possible archeological find to sell books or movies! I hate to say this but what we are witnessing is a rush to sensationalize for the sake of profit. The money made off the Gnostic Gospel accounts of Thomas, Peter, Mary, and Judas is proof that if you want to make a fortune in ancient documents you need something sensational. Sex sells!!! Dr. King has readily admitted that even if the document she is presenting is proven to be authentic it has no impact on the historical Jesus. News flash… I only worship the historical Jesus so whatever evidence is found on the non historical Jesus does not impact me! So why would people run news stories about a document that is not proven to be authentic and even if it is authentic is not about the historical figure under consideration? Because you can sell millions of books based on a phony Jesus. Add the fact that he might have been having sex with Mary Magdalene and you have yourself a gold mine!!

Let me end by saying we have nothing to fear in the area of ancient manuscript study. We should embrace the fact that many will make much out of nothing in the area of spurious gospel accounts because sensationalism sales. If you are interested in reading more about this subject from some experts please look at this link to Justin Taylor’s blog. His story on the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife is from September 22 so you will need to scroll down the page a little to read. He also includes the earlier links along with even more expert opinions.

As a pastor I respond simply, “Jesus did not have a wife.” I welcome the historical study because my faith is solidly placed in the historical Jesus of Nazareth. I know that he was, is, and always will be the one and only God as presented in the Bible. Let’s worship him today and call others to faith in him.

Talk to you soon,

CW

Part of the New Creation

I have been thinking about “last things” for the past month. So often our discussion of eschatology (study of last things) centers around what will happen in the final days of the current administration of time. We spend time arguing over details regarding the millennial reign of Christ, Israel and the Church, and whether or not there is a literal rapture and when will it take place. All of these topics are important. They are all worthy of discussion, but I fear that one of the most important New Testament teachings about the end is forgotten in our debates. Christ’s resurrection brings the blessings of the New Creation into our lives today.

Here is what I am talking about. First, because believers were crucified with Christ, we have been raised with Christ also (Romans 6:4-11; Ephesians 2:6-7). Paul speaks of our resurrection in spiritual terms as having already taken place. Even while we live in the current state we are positionally with Christ! Our lives are controlled by the ethic of the New Creation where we really live.

Second, Christ has gifted us with His Spirit so that the fruit of the New Creation is springing up in our lives daily (1 Corinthians 12:1-11; Galatians 5:22-26; Acts 2:32-36). The Spirit of God living in us is a benefit of the New Creation which we currently experience through the power of the resurrection. We are not left in this world without the presence of our Savior. As he promised his followers, He has poured his Spirit into our hearts so that we are never left alone!

Third, we experience the love of God that exists in our inner man through the Spirit (Ephesians 3:14-21; 1 Corinthians 13). This is not a human love which is self-focused. The love we have through the Spirit brings us into communion with God and our fellow man. Because of Christ’s resurrection we are able to experience the communion of the church which is a taste of the New Creation.

I could continue this list for quite sometime, but I want to end with the reality of our situation. We live in a sinful world. We ourselves are corrupt in our human nature. The fact is that if God withdrew the Holy Spirit from our lives we would return to our wicked rebellion and be subject to the wrath of God! But thanks be to God for his unmerited favor. The fact is we are not “new creatures” but more correctly we are the “New Creation!” Yes. We are the embodiment of the New Creation according to 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is new creation; old things have passed away, and look, all new things have come.” Christian, the greatest truth of the “last things” or eschatology is that we are living the New Creation today! By the power of the Holy Spirit we are capable of tasting the fruit of eternity. Our God’s grace is so sweet. Rest in Him today!

Talk to you soon,

Carlton

Jus Another Week In The Trenches

I have come to appreciate the question, “So, what did you do this week?” It has become a standard question around Grace Fellowship over the past years. When I first started hearing that question I admit it made me somewhat paranoid. The question seems loaded if you are workaholic. I admit that workaholism, also known in the Scripture as a lack of faith in God’s provision, has been a major struggle for me over the years. Those who have worked with me have often warned me of my tendency to work to the extreme, and this causes stress in my own soul and the souls of those who are working with me. My wife has suffered through my struggle and without her I would not be able to say that God has begun to deliver me from this sin. Why do I call it a sin? One verse I would point to is Psalm 127:1-2, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” Two quick points:

1.  God is sovereign over our work.

2.  Because God is sovereign over our work, we can rest in him and trust Him for his provision.

The Bible teaches us consistently that work is to be used to worship God, provide for our families, and give us a place to live out the gospel in our daily lives. So, I admit that I have really struggled over the idol of work. God has been gracious to protect my family when I have been irresponsible, but I am renewing the commitment to work for the glory of God not for my glory!

Here is the answer to the question, “What did you do this week?” for the average week:

  1. Sunday – Prayer; Preach; Meetings
  2. Monday – Elder Meeting; Blog; visit widows and church members; administration
  3. Tuesday – Pastor Meetings; Lunch with Member/Visitor; Study for Sermon
  4. Wednesday – Discipleship Meeting; Ministry; Study for Sermon; Counseling
  5. Thursday – Men’s Bible Study; Prayer and Ministry Planning; Lunch with Member; Study
  6. Friday – Discipleship Meeting; Final prep for Sunday Sermon; Plan for Following Week
  7. Saturday – Rest!

This is what I call “Just Another Week In The Trenches” and I love it!

Talk to you soon,

Carlton

Walking Through the Proverbs

I started preaching through the book of Proverbs yesterday at Grace Fellowship. We have traditionally taught through a New Testament book and then an Old Testament book. For the past couple years we have been slowly teaching through Ephesians. Yesterday was just a brief introduction to the book so there is still time for you to join us during our Sunday morning worship service which begins at 10:15.

Last night we had the privilege of commissioning our first church plant from Grace Fellowship and Anniston Bible Church! It would be an understatement for me to say it was exciting. Redeemer Church is located in Oxford, Alabama and will be preaching the gospel in that community for the glory of Christ! Ryan Limbaugh is the teaching pastor, and if you have not had the privilege to meet him, then you are missing out. Ryan and the people of Redeemer are Gospel-Centered, Christ-like, and Passionate. They are also very warm and hospitable. Please join me in praying for this new church as she seeks to exalt Christ through gospel mission!

As I close this post, I just want to look quickly at 1 Corinthians 1. Paul writes, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will set aside the understanding of the experts.’ (1:18)” Because I am studying to preach through Proverbs, it struck me this morning that Paul chose the word “foolishness” to describe the way the world perceives the Gospel. The Greek word here is “moria” which means foolish or godless. Did you get that? If you are foolish, then you are godless. If you make a foolish decision, then it is a decision made without God. Is that how you think about being foolish? I have to admit that that is not how I usually think about this word. Paul is saying that the Gospel is foolishness to the world because the world is godless. You can only find the Gospel as truth when you are understanding it spiritually! Now that makes since in light of what Solomon says in Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and discipline.” They despise wisdom and discipline because fools are godless. Let’s not be angry at those who do not believe the Gospel. Let’s be patient and understanding toward them knowing that without God’s gracious gift of faith we too would be fools.

Talk to you Later,

Carlton

What about Judging Others?

It has become very popular for people in my world to say, “Remember, the Bible says judge not lest you be judged.” This statement is usually used in the context of someone defending themselves against what they perceive to be an attack or confrontation. Christians and non-Christians seem to think that the Bible forbids any person from questioning another person no matter the circumstance. I have heard this so many times over the past few months that I thought it might be helpful to remind us all of what the Bible actually teaches on the idea of confronting another person on an issue of sin or possible sin.

First, we need to find out where the above quote comes from in the Bible. I believe most people are referring to Matthew 7:1 when they say, “judge not lest you be judged.” Jesus actually says, “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and look there is a log in your eye? Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Don’t give what is holy to dogs or toss your pearls before pigs, or they will trample them with their feet, turn, and tear you to pieces.” That sounds much different from the way most are using (twisting) the words of Jesus to defend a post-modern approach to right and wrong. Jesus does not seem to be saying, “You cannot determine what is right and wrong for your brother. Therefore, you cannot confront your brother in any possible sin because that will mean you will be judged.” That cannot be what the Lord is saying because we know that He calls on believers to confront sin lovingly and directly in passages like Matthew 18:15-20. So what does this passage actually teach us?

Second, we need to properly understand this passage and apply it to our lives. It is important to place this passage in the context of the gospel. Because we are all sinners, we do not have the moral high ground from which to level final judgment against others. We must leave all judgement to God and God alone. The gospel says we are all sinners, we all deserve death, and Jesus is the only one who can make us right before God. When this passage is placed in the context of the gospel we understand that we are not morally capable of leveling judgment against others.

We must then read the passage closely so that we have a clear understanding of what we should and should not do in regard to sin in our brothers life or our own life.

  1. We should approach every sin with an attitude of grace that flows from our understanding of the Gospel (1-2). Jesus says that if we use the harsh standards of morality or legalism or perfect law keeping, then that same standard will be used against us. Because God has forgiven us of so much sin we should also forgive our brothers sin. Our goal in confronting sin should not be to condemn but to restore through the grace of the Gospel.
  2. We should approach our brother about his sin only if we are dealing with our own sin (3-5). So that we can approach our brother about sin in his life we first need to deal with the sin in our own life. This does not require that we be sinless to confront others, but it does require us to live a life of repentance and humility before God and our fellow man. The loving, gentle rebuke of a brother is like medicine to the soul of a brother. When we honestly and openly confess our sin in repentance then we are free to talk with our brother about his sin. A heart that is clean before God is able to graciously remove the sin from another man’s heart.
  3. We should avoid the hypocrisy of relativism (6). It is wrong to act as if there is no such thing as sin. It is hypocritical to know through the reading of God’s Word and the power of the gospel that sin and ultimate judgement are real and ignore others sin. Yes. The most unloving thin you can do is say, “I don’t want to confront the sin in this brothers life because it is uncomfortable. I don’t want to judge because then I will be judged.” This is the truth, we will all face judgement if we continue to live in sin! When you have been saved by grace through the awesome good news of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, then by all means confront the sin in you brothers life. But when you confront sin in others remember the first 2 principles in this blog. Let’s not run from confrontation. Let’s confront our sin and the sin of others with the truth of the Gospel!

We cannot use this passage to excuse our sin and keep others from confronting us in our sin. We should use this passage to confront the sin in our own lives and the lives of our brothers with gospel grace!

Talk to you soon,

Carlton

Live, Work, and Play… Community that is Intentional!

Dave Swinney did an excellent job of introducing our sermon series “Life Together in Community” this past Sunday. This week we will be hearing from Carlton Brown as he brings a sermon centered on Acts 2:42. I want to encourage you to listen to Dave’s sermon. I want to take a moment and encourage each of you to think about doing community as you live, work, and play. Let me explain.

Live: Each of us has a community in which we live. God has placed us in this specific community for a reason. I believe it is crucial for all of us to think about where we live as our mission field. Grace Fellowship is made up of people from many small communities in our area. Think of the impact we can have on our area is each of us builds Christian community where we live. If you live in a neighborhood, then try to think of ways to get the people who live there with you together. God has given you a home that can be a center for outreach to those who live next door! If you live in a more rural area, then think about getting involved in the local school, community center activities, or community events throughout the year. Your purpose will be to build relationships with those who are lost and those who are saved with the hope of pushing them toward Christ. Are we willing to sacrifice time, comfort, and money to reach those we live with?

Work: Once again this is an area that we all have an opportunity to minister. God has providentially placed you in your position at work so that you can be a witness to his glory. Think about your work environment as a mission field. Take time to plan activities with co-workers outside of work, invite them and their family to attend worship with you, and be an example of true Christian living while you perform your daily tasks.

Play: At this point you probably know what I am going to say. What are your interest? What do you spend time doing in relaxation and recreation? These are good times to build community. Instead of only involving your family in recreation invite friends from Grace Fellowship to tag along. If you are targeting a particular family for evangelism, then invite them to relax with you and your family on the weekend. Use your hobbies as opportunities for the gospel!

The point of all this is to say that we all have time to build community and evangelize the world around us. Your mission field is where you live, work, and play! I believe that over the next year it is reasonable to expect your family to spend time with all the families at Grace Fellowship. It is also a good goal to try to have a neighborhood fellowship or work place social. Let’s be the church, and let’s be witnesses right where we live, work, and play.

Talk to you soon,

Carlton

Life Together: The Foundation of Christian Fellowship

As we prepare to hear from the pastors of Grace Fellowship concerning the reality of Life Together, I think it is important to stress the connection between our fellowship as believers and the fellowship between the members of the Godhead. It is possible to have a type of fellowship in this world without a true relationship with Jesus Christ, but it is impossible to experience the full reality of Life Together outside of Christ. I want to look quickly at a biblical text that will help us see the fellowship of the Trinity is foundational to our fellowship as Christians.

We have the words of Jesus during his High Priestly prayer on the evening before his crucifixion. John 17 records the prayer and we read, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:20-23)”

Jesus first says that he and the Father are in unbroken communion. “… just as you, Father are in me, and I in you…” This community in the Trinity is unified, eternal, perfect, and all satisfying. The fact is that this community is sufficient so that God has no need of anything or anyone outside of himself.

Jesus moves from the unity of the Trinity to the unity that is possible in Christian fellowship. He says, “… that they may also be in us… that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one…” In this statement Jesus connects the unity of the Trinity in community with the possibility of unbroken, unified, eternal, and satisfying community through Christ between fellow Christians. Notice that the fellowship is not perfect and it is not all satisfying, but it is God-like in that it is possible for believers to never lose the closeness that is supplied through true gospel community! This really is Life Together.

Finally, Jesus prays, “so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” That is an amazing statement! We have this God-like fellowship between true believers “so that” we can evangelize the lost world. The world will see our unity and recognize that it is humanly impossible. Our unity is not based on race, political party, socioeconomic standing, geography, or any other category that typically defines human fellowship. We are a rag-tag bunch of fallen sinners saved by God’s amazing grace in Christ who love one another as true family! WOW! If we allowed God to build this type unity at Grace Fellowship we would be shocked at the impact our little church would have on the world.

True Christian fellowship is based on the foundation of the community that exists between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We love one another because he first loved us! Let’s get ready to study deeply the idea of Christian community from Acts 2:42-47. We will be challenged to grow in our application of the truth of the Word as we sit under the teaching of the elders. Grace Fellowship, keep striving for gospel centered community for the glory of God!

Talk to you soon,

Carlton

Life Together in Community

The pastors of Grace Fellowship have decided to focus on the reality of Christian community in a series of sermons beginning on July 15th. Each pastor will be preaching a sermon that centers on the idea of community within the church as described in Acts 2:42-47. The series will be called “Life Together in Community.” We are excited about the work God will be doing in Grace Fellowship through this effort! I know that we are in the heart of vacation season but I hope that even on the weeks you will not be with us for Sunday morning worship you will listen to the sermons on the website! This would also be a great time to invite others who are looking for a church home, or it would be great if you invite your neighbors and co-workers who do not know the love of the community of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I invite each of you to join me in praying for this group of sermons. It is our hope that the Gospel community of Grace Fellowship will be extended and strengthened during this time.

Ephesians 5:1-2 says, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” The foundation of Gospel community is the love of Christ. We are in the community of God’s family because Christ loved us and gave himself as the atoning sacrifice for our sin. He lived a perfect and sinless life, was crucified, dead, buried for three days, and on the third day he was raised from the dead by the power of God. In the act of his death, burial, and resurrection he satisfied the wrath of God against all of our sin. This means that he reconciled all believers to God so that we now live in true community with God through Christ for all eternity. We are in community with our Creator!

Secondly, the death of Christ reconciled us to one another. Because of the love of Christ we have true community with all true believers. We not only have the Father in heaven, our Elder Brother at the right hand of God, but we have brothers and sisters who are also living in community with God in Christ. The love of Christ is the foundation of our community with God and with other believers.

These two truths assure us that our community will never end. We not only live in community during this life, but we will enjoy God and one another in the New Heaven and New Earth forever. So, lets spend time building strong community at Grace Fellowship through the Gospel, founded on the love of Christ that will last forever. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says in Life Together, “Psalms 133:1 says: “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity. Without Christ there is discord between God and man and between man and man . . . Christ opened up the way to God and to our brother.” Let’s spend our energy building the “community of love” this week.

Talk to you soon,

Carlton

True Fellowship is Christ-centered!

I often hear people discussing the explosive growth of the early church as it is recorded for us in the book of Acts. It seems that most of the attention is generally placed on powerful preaching or strong leadership from the apostles. But if we dig a little deeper the growth seems to be driven by a different source. The New Testament church grew in the fertile ground of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We could say that the early church was thoroughly Christ-centered! I want to encourage everyone at Grace Fellowship to pursue Christ-centered fellowship this week. Acts 2:41-42 says, “So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers.” This week make plans to spend time with someone or a group within Grace Fellowship for the purpose of Christ-centered fellowship! God will add to the church as we live in Gospel community for His glory!!!

Talk to you soon,

Carlton

God is the great Promise Keeper

One of the benefits of reading through the Bible in a systematic way year after year is that you are able to begin to grasp the character of God as revealed in the Bible. I want to give you one quick example. If you are prone to pick and choose verses for daily reading, you will miss the flow of redemptive-historical revelation. God did not inspire disjointed truth in 66 books of the Bible. God inspired a detailed, organized, and unified salvation history that centers on the person and work of God. The most central message of the Bible is God’s gospel which is revealed supremely in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. You should be reading your Bible systematically from Genesis to Revelation on a yearly basis so that your mind and heart are flooded with the truth of God’s revelation and the person of Jesus! I personally follow the pattern of Robert Murray McCheyen (http://bibleplan.org/#mc). There are several really good plans out there for a Christian to choose from so find the one you can follow and get started. Here is an example of how the reading plan will help you.

When reading the book of Genesis you will discover that God made a promise to his servant Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3, “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’” This is a familiar passage to most students of the Bible. We know that ultimately Jesus fulfills this promise by being the Seed of Abraham that is a blessing to all nations. But because we are reading through the Bible in our reading plan, we are confronted with the depth and beauty of God’s promise keeping. You will read the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 on January 11. You might remember it as the story continues through the end of Genesis, the mighty miracles of Exodus, the detail of the law in Leviticus but it would be easy to lose sight of the promise during your reading. And then on April 24-27 you are confronted with the magnitude of the power of God in keeping his promise to his servant. Numbers 1-4 details the census that Moses undertook by the command of God. He counted all the males who were eligible for service in the army from 20 yrs. old and up. The Israelite army is over 603,000! That number doesn’t include women, children, and young men. One man Abraham has become a great and powerful nation! God has kept his promise. Abraham has become a great nation. This encourages the heart of a Christian. God promised that he would make Abraham a great nation. Our reading plan shows us that God kept his promise. God has promised he will give us eternal life in Christ, and He will do it. God is a promise keeping God!

Daily Bible reading that systematically carries the reader through the many contours of redemptive-historical history reveals the great work of God in a myriad of ways. You will grow in your faith by simply gaining a greater understanding of all that God has done in the world and for His people. Every Christian should engage in deeper study of the Word, Scripture memory as a discipline, but nothing replaces the regular reading of the Bible. Read with an eye toward the work of God. Read with a desire to know and love God. Read to discover the work of God in the person of Jesus Christ! Read for the ultimate pleasure of finding your treasure in Him!

Talk to you soon,

Carlton

Lesson Learned from Telemarketer

I know you are probably chuckling at that title. But hear me out on this one. So I was in my office studying when the phone rang. Since most of the people who know me and love me call on my cell phone and not the office phone, I was tempted to ignore the call. Out of curiosity, I looked at the caller ID and a company name was clearly displayed. The normal thing to do is ignore this type of call. But being a glutton for punishment I could not refuse answering. What happened next was shocking! I learned a lesson that I hope will never be forgotten.

Just so we are all on the same page about who a telemarketer is I stole the definition from Wikipedia. You should never use Wikipedia as a resource in school work or trust it as a fact unless verified in a more reliable place but it works for my blog post. Here is the definition,

Telemarketing (sometimes known as inside sales, or telesales in the UK and Ireland) is a method of direct marketing in which a salesperson solicits prospective customers to buy products or services, either over the phone or through a subsequent face to face or Web conferencing appointment scheduled during the call.

Telemarketing can also include recorded sales pitches programmed to be played over the phone via automatic dialing. Telemarketing has come under fire in recent years, being viewed as an annoyance by many.

Did you catch that last line? “Telemarketing has come under fire in recent years, being viewed as an annoyance by many.” This  is why you are wondering why I answered the call when I was certain it was a telemarketer. Here is how my mind works.

I picked up the call and went through the entire product explanation. I was kind when asked questions about my current service, followed the logic of the conversation, seemed genuinely interested, and then it happened. The telemarketer actually began to order the product for me without my approval. She entered the hard-sales mode because I was being kind and seemed gullible enough to get signed up for what she was offering without objection or questioning. I had sucker written all over my voice!

Before you panic thinking I was crazy enough to give consent over the phone along with all my personal information, the call ended pleasantly with me refusing to buy the product or give my information to the sales person. Why am I telling you this story? What is the purpose?

The lesson learned for me was that this should never be my tactic for sharing the gospel. Paul rejected the thought of him being a “peddler” or salesman of the gospel. I was gently reminded that when sharing the gospel it needs to be done with integrity. The person who is receiving the eternally Goodnews of Jesus Christ should not leave the conversation feeling abused, deceived, hard-sold on a message they “accepted” without their full consent and knowledge. Let me give you some examples of how this happens.

  • A conversation starts with a disclaimer that sounds as if you will not be asking the person for any type decision but at the end you press them for a prayer or commitment.
  • You work a person for emotional response without engaging their mind in the process.
  • The Gospel is held out as a product that will make life easier, make the person feel better, or bring the person all they ever dreamed in this life.
  • The Gospel is made out to be a one time decision that is not connected with true life changing discipleship.

I could go on with more bullet points but you get the idea. When our evangelism techniques look more like telemarketing than genuine relationship/community, we should not be shocked when, “Evangelism comes under fire being viewed as an annoyance by many.” Are we being telemarketers/peddlers of the Gospel? Or are we living in community with those who are without Christ so that we share the Gospel out of genuine love and concern? I am thanking God today for the interruption of a annoying phone salesman so that I could think about my life of evangelism.

Talk to you soon,

Carlton

God’s Friendly Reminder!

I was driving to work today and God spoke to me. Before you jump to conclusions let me tell you what I mean by that statement. My normal route to work carries me through the south end of Jacksonville. I was cruising along, listening to Lecrae, and thinking about all I wanted to accomplish before the day ended. All at once God spoke to me. He didn’t speak audibly. There wasn’t a message in the sky. I didn’t receive an e-mail from God on my phone. He spoke to me through a City of Jacksonville worker on the side of the road. As I hurried down the highway, this worker was on the side of the road picking up trash. What spoke to me was the broad smile on his face and the fact that when any car approached him he lifted his eyes, smiled, and waved! God in that moment said, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).” “Don’t work only while being watched, in order to please men, but as slaves of Christ, do God’s will from your heart. Serve with a good attitude, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that whatever good each one does, slave or free, he will receive this back from the Lord (Ephesians 6:6-8).” God spoke to me through this man, the Word, and the Spirit saying, “Carlton, I have called you to an awesome work. I have gifted you to shepherd my people. Do your work today with a smile and a wave!” I have to confess that in that moment tears ran down my face. My heart overflowed in praise to God for this man (whom I have never met but I will try to meet soon), for his loving reminder of the importance of a cheerful spirit, and for God’s Spirit working in my life.Today I have worked with a smile for God’s glory!!

I want to encourage you to work in your place of service for the glory of God. There are no jobs too small, too big, or too stressful for us to use them for the spread of God’s gospel. Be encouraged today. If your job is picking up trash on the side of the road, pastoring, or running a business, your work is God’s work!

Talk to you soon,

Carlton

The Life of a Spiritual Leader

My life has been enriched by the legacy of C. H. Spurgeon. He lived from 1834-1892 and spent most of his life in public ministry as a pastor. His brilliance remains unmatched in many ways. God blessed him with a passionate heart and a brilliant mind. The testimony of the power of his preaching is known worldwide even in our day, but one of his greatest works was his book Lectures to My Students. InLectures Spurgeon gave practical advice to young men being trained to preach the gospel in his Pastor’s College. Spurgeon said, “This is my life work, to which I believe God has called me and therefore I must do it. To preach the Gospel myself, and train others to do it, is my life’s object and aim.” I would encourage men to read this book even if you never intend on being in the vocational ministry. A group of friends and I have been reading through the first chapter “The Minister’s Self-Watch” again recently. It is very convicting even though I have read it many times. I want to share some of the encouragement I have received.

  1. I am encouraged to continue to grow in personal holiness through the power of the Spirit and the spiritual disciplines. Spurgeon says, “It is not great talents God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus. a holy minister is an awful (read dangerous) weapon in the hand of God.” I have found this to be true in my life. The most useful days of ministry for me are when I am abiding in the grace of God in Christ. As the Lord transforms my life by his grace, the people I am ministering to are challenged and encouraged to grow in grace also! The old proverb is true, “you cannot give what you have not received.”
  2. The danger of being disqualified from ministry is real and present. Again the words stuck me when he said, “Many are disqualified for office in the church who are well enough as simple members. I hold very stern opinions with regard to Christian men who have fallen into gross sin; I rejoice that they may be truly converted, and may be with mingled hope and caution received into the church; but I question, gravely question, whether a man who has grossly (read public and immoral sin) should be very readily restored to the pulpit.” Although I personally struggle with where the line is in this case of “grave sin,” I do know that my heart must be continually guarded by the Spirit if I am going to finish the race set before me. God is powerful to save and keep his children, but we should also stand guard over our lives lest we fall into sin that takes us out of public ministry. “We had need to live very near to God, if we would approve ourselves in our vocation.” AMEN!!
  3. The secret sin of my heart must be put to death by the Spirit so that my affection for Christ is not destroyed. Spurgeon writes, “If your zeal grows dull, you will not pray well in the pulpit; you will pray worse in the family, and worst in the study alone. When your soul becomes lean, your hearers, without knowing how or why, will find that your prayers in public have little savour for them; they will feel your barrenness, perhaps before you perceive it yourself. Your discourse will next betray your decline. You may utter as well-chosen words, and as fitly-ordered sentences, as aforetime; but there will be a perceptible loss of spiritual force …. And so, let a man have his heart weakened in spiritual things, and very soon his entire life will feel withering influence.” There is not much of a need to explain this powerful thought. I am convinced that it will be by my personal relationship with Christ that I will finish the ministry well. My heart is blazing with passion to know Christ but that is maintained by personal piety not public ministry. I am only good for the church if I am spending my days walking with Jesus. The power of prayer and the Word on my life and ministry are the key to the long haul.
  4. Finally, I have been encouraged to remember that the fight we have is with spiritual forces not flesh and blood. Listen to this quote in Spurgeon’s chapter from Richard Baxter, “Take heed to yourselves, because the tempter will make his first and sharpest onset upon you. If you will be the leaders against him, he will spare you no further than God restrains him. He bears you the greatest malice that are engaged to do him the greatest mischief. As he hates Christ more than any of us, because He is the General of the field, and the Captain of our salvation, and does more than all the world against the kingdom of darkness; so does he note the leaders under Christ more than the common soldiers, on the account of their importance.” Simply stated, when you became a Christian you were enlisted in a war. Satan hates you. He sees you as a threat to his influence and power, but if you go on to give yourself to the task of leading the local church, you can expect even greater attacks against your soul. Vocational ministry is not for the immature, weak minded, independent, and talented. It is for the mature, disciplined, submitted, and humble. It is true that pastors must be skilled but more than that they have to be pursuing Christ-likeness by God’s amazing grace!

This is just the highlight of what God has been teaching me as I read this powerful work. I challenge every Christian to read at least this one chapter of Spurgeon. My challenge is especially for men because we are called to lead our families and our communities and our churches to walk with Christ. I am thankful for the men God has surrounded me with at Grace Fellowship. Let’s continue to pursue Him through his grace for his glory!

Talk to you soon,

Carlton

Giving Comes from the Heart

I am often asked, “How much money do I have to give to God?” The question comes from friends, neighbors, family, and the occasional church member. Because it is a common question, I thought I would answer on the blog. Before getting into the specifics I want you to know that there are many positions in regard to giving. My position has been developed through study of the Bible, church history, counsel from wise older men, and personal conviction. My prayer is that this blog will encourage you to continue to give if you are already giving, begin to give if you are not giving, or grow in the grace of giving if you are giving with a wrong heart. 

Two biblical passages form the foundation of my practice of giving.

Matthew 6:19-24, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light,but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

2 Corinthians 9:6-8, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”

Based on these two Scriptures I see at least principles:

  1. Giving is a reflection of our heart. Jesus tells his disciples that they cannot serve money and God. We will either place our treasure in material possessions or we will store our treasure in heaven. Paul says that the Lord loves a cheerful giver. Cheerfulness is a condition of the heart. You can give out of duty or you can give from a heart filled with joy. God is pleased when our heart is filled with joy in giving to His Kingdom because a joyful heart in giving reveals that our heart is in heaven!
  2. Giving is an expression of freedom. It is clear in 2 Corinthians 9:7 that our giving is not done as an act of duty. God is not calling us to meet our responsibility. We have been set free in Christ to give as we determine in our heart. There is no heavy burden of law for the Christian, but it is vitally important that we understand our freedom. Freedom from the law does not mean we stop giving. Paul sees freedom as a motivation to give more not less! Because we have been set free from sin, we can give abundantly from a cheerful heart.
  3. Giving will lead to great blessing from God. I know that this principle has been abused by the health, wealth, and prosperity preachers in our day but the principle is still true! When we give to God he blesses our lives more than we could ever hope or imagine. The problem with the false teaching surrounding this principle is that it limits God’s blessing to material prosperity. Paul assures us that when we give there is a reciprocal law of sowing and reaping. The more seed we sow leads to greater times of harvest.
  4. Giving reflects our understanding of the Gospel! I want to make this principle simple. If you are not a cheerful, disciplined, generous giver, then you have not fully applied the teaching of the Gospel in your life. 2 Corinthians 9:12-14 says, “For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you.” Did you see what Paul just said? The Gospel is being made evident in the lives of the people of Corinth because they are giving sacrificially, cheerfully, and freely. This is the inexpressible gift that Paul mentions in verse 15.

So the answer to the opening question is that I cannot tell you how much to give to the Lord. There is not a number to shoot for but rather a heart attitude to plead with God to grant you. If you are in Christ and you are not giving in this way, then you are missing a real blessing. My practical application would be to at least give 10%. That is a minimum starting point. The goal should be to increase your giving regularly until you cannot give more. I am thankful that an older man encouraged me to begin at 10% the year I got married and increase my giving by 1% each year. That simple and practical help has protected me from the snare of riches (materialism). The bottom line is give because God has given all we need in Christ!

Talk to you soon,

Carlton

T4G Highlight!

Every two years a group of guys from Grace Fellowship take a few days to attend the Together for the Gospel Conference in Louisville, Kentucky. The conference is made up of about 8,500 men (and a few women) from all over the globe who want to worship the King. To say that this is an encouraging time would be an understatement. We always return with fresh passion and zeal to live and preach the gospel. I am thankful for a church that supports their pastor continuing to grow in his personal walk with the Lord. Thank you Grace Fellowship for giving me the opportunity to spend time listening, worshiping, and growing!

David Platt preached the highlight message of the conference. Ligon Duncan said, “David Platt’s sermon last night was the greatest sermon on global missions that I have ever heard.” And as hard as it is to believe John Piper agreed! I will not retype the sermon, but I want to share a couple quotes and the main points of the sermon.

The sermon was “Divine Sovereignty: The Fuel for Death-Defying Missions” and the text was Revelation 5:1-14. Platt said, “A high view of God’s sovereignty fuels death-defying missions to the glory of God. Pastors who believe in God’s sovereignty over all things will lead people to lay down their lives for the sake of all people.” The sermon was full of quotes like that and I would highly recommend you listen to the sermon at http://t4g.org/media/2012/04/divine-sovereignty-the-fuel-of-death-defying-missions-2/

Two observations from the sermon. First, Grace Fellowship is already doing a good job of teaching and preaching the sovereignty of God in such a way that it inspires our people to be on mission and go on global mission. Today I was thinking about the five individuals who have left our congregation and spent extended time on the global mission field. We also have a steady and growing number of people willing to go on mid-level global mission trips. I pray that as we continue to grow at Grace Fellowship these numbers will grow exponentially! Second, Grace Fellowship must improve in our prayer emphasis. We have prayed together in the past for global missions, but we have not stayed with it over the long term. This is an area of weakness for our body. It is my prayer that all of our members will begin to commit to regular organized prayer for the unreached people of the world. In the coming months look for announcements and encouragements in this area of ministry.

We must continue to pursue the spread of the fame of our King. It might cost us our lives literally, but we can be certain that it will cost our lives in terms of comfort, riches, energy, and time. Jesus told us that if we seek to gain our life we will have to lose it. So lets commit to lay down our lives for the sake of the glory of God among all the people of the world!

Talk to you Soon,

Carlton

Delivered Up and Raised!

“Jesus was delivered up for our transgressions and raised for our justification.” That is a sentence worth reading again and again. The sin that I have committed caused Jesus Christ to be delivered to the horrible death of crucifixion. We also see in this sentence that when Christ was raised from the dead it was so that we would have right standing before God. This is an amazing sentence. It is a life changing truth. Paul wrote these words in Romans 4:25. Some might see this as two truths in one sentence, but the fact is this two part sentence is presenting the fundamental truth of our faith. Jesus lived a perfect and sinless life, obediently gave up his life on the cross to pay for the sin of all who believe in him, and was raised so that believers have eternal life with him! This is the Gospel. This is truly Good News! Jesus did what we could not do, he died a death we should have died, so that we could have Him for eternity. Join us as we celebrate both Good Friday and Resurrection Day at Grace Fellowship. Our service on Friday begins @ 6:30 PM. We will reflect over the significance of the cross in our time together. Sunday morning we will gather at 10:15 AM to celebrate the resurrection. I hope to see all of you this weekend!

Before I go I want to thank all those who served in our Big Serve Weekend with Ignite! Calhoun County. We were able to serve the community and plant some seeds of the Gospel in the process. I hope you will all plan to serve with us again!

Talk Again Soon,

Carlton

Grace Fellowship Multiplies Through Church Planting!

Pink carpet or blue carpet? Contemporary or traditional worship services? Sunday school or small groups in homes? These are the questions surrounding most of the “church plants” in our area. They are really church splits. Healthy churches in Calhoun County rarely make the decision to plant a church. The traditional mindset in these parts is build a bigger facility so you can house more people in your current location. It is almost unheard of that two biblical congregations would work together to give money, time, families, and staff to start a new church in this county. But as of Sunday March 18, 2012 Anniston Bible Church and Grace Fellowship are doing just that. Let me quickly explain the reason I am so over joyed about what you did as a congregation last Sunday.

Grace Fellowship is eight years old. It is hard to believe that we have been living life together for the past eight years. God has been more than gracious to us. Our fellowship started with less than 30 people meeting for prayer and Bible study and now we have over 230 serving God together. There are many ways to measure the spiritual growth that God has caused over the past years, but this past Sunday we expressed maturity in a significant way! Grace Fellowship is now the proud parent church of a soon to launch church plant in Oxford, Alabama. In partnership with Anniston Bible Church we are sending a group of families to birth Redeemer Church. Believe it or not there is no strife in our congregation. We are not trying to rid the church of a few troublesome families. The leaders of Grace Fellowship have desired from the infant stages of this fellowship to plant missional churches throughout this area for the glory of God. After 8 years we are seeing that dream come true. The people of Grace have committed almost $20,000, are in the process of sending 4 of our strongest families, and are committed to continue supporting Redeemer Church for the next 3 years through prayer and financial giving. Did I mention spiritual maturity?

I want the people of Grace Fellowship to know how proud I am of the grace of God in you. You consistently give beyond what is expected. Although many of you have never seen this process of planting churches actually happen in our area, you supported it with all your hearts. As a pastor your faithfulness causes me to praise God without ceasing. This past week made me think of Acts 13:1-3, “Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid hands on them and sent them off.” Because of God’s magnificent grace in each of you, Grace Fellowship will enjoy the fruit of missional ministry for years to come.  Thank you for believing in the vision of Kingdom growth.

Laboring with you for His glory,

Carlton

Spring Is In The Air

Spring is in the air! We are experiencing warm temperatures, high pollen counts, and frequent rain here in Alabama. This past Sunday we “lost an hour of sleep” due to the annual move to daylight savings time, and we will be observing Easter in just a few weeks. Spring is one of those times of year where the schedule is hectic for most families. I want to remind the Grace Fellowship family that although we are busy there are a few things we want to continue to focus on over the next months. First, let’s continue to come to our weekly Bible study and Worship Service with great expectations of what God will do in our midst. I encourage each of you to prepare for worship together by worshiping all week as a family. When all the worshiping families of the church join for corporate worship on Sunday, we will encourage one another and glorify God. Second, let’s continue to participate in our Home Bible Fellowship ministry. These groups are designed to promote relationship connections throughout our church. If you find yourself feeling disconnected or lonely, then Home Bible Fellowship is for you. Our elders decided several semesters ago to focus on the weekly sermon during small group. This is an effort to better understand and apply the sermon each week. The group time is also used for fellowship (usually around a meal), prayer, and accountability. Everyone is welcome and it is never to late to start! Third, let’s continue to minister to our community. This spring we have several opportunities for each of you to serve the people of Calhoun county. Ignite! Calhoun County projects will be taking place during the week of March 25-31. The projects include work for all ages, and our children will be ministering to the residents of Jacksonville Health and Rehabilitation. Grace Fellowship is also involved in several activities surrounding Relay for Life. These opportunities and more are a great place for you to practice showing the love of Christ to the world. I know we are all very busy. Let’s work commit to continue to pursue Christ, connect with our faith family, and serve the community so that God is glorified and we are made into His image.

Laboring with you for His Kingdom,

Carlton

Getting Started

This is my first installment of what will hopefully be a weekly pastor’s blog. I know there are thousands of blogs on the web, and you might be wondering why I would put time and energy into another blog. That is a fair question, so let me give you three concise answers (you knew it was going to be a three point presentation since I am a preacher!). First, my desire is for this to be a way for you to know me better. So often you only interact with me in the context of Sunday morning or a Bible study. I want this blog to be a place for you to read more about your teaching pastor. Second, my desire is for this to be a way for you to know Grace Fellowship. You need to know that all the views expressed on this Pastor’s Blog belong to Carlton Weathers, unless otherwise stated, but I will often talk about what is going on at and around the ministry of Grace Fellowship. For the past eight years my life has been centered in ministry here at Grace so that is what I love to talk about.  I also love the people of Grace Fellowship so you will often read about them. I want this to be a forum for getting to know our fellowship. Third, my desire is to encourage each of you through conversation about real life from a biblical worldview. This blog will not simply be a running Bible study. Over the weeks we will talk about a myriad of topics, but I always hope to present a solid biblical worldview. It would also be good for you to laugh sometimes so I will include humor from time to time. In closing (keeping with our preaching format), welcome to the blog. I am glad you are going to read along with me. Feel free to comment and question as long as you are respectful. Over the course of time my prayer is that Christ is honored, encouragement is had by all, and you get to know your nutty teaching pastor a little better! And like any good sermon, I want to add a little tease about this Sunday’s sermon. In January we had to delay the sermon on Racial Reconciliation. Now we return to that sermon. The idea of the sermon is simple. Racial reconciliation is a Gospel issue. We will be looking at Revelation 5:9-10. I hope you are able to join us for worship.

Talk to You Soon,

Carlton

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