Over the years, our family has established some wonderful traditions in celebrating Christmas. I look forward, for example, to Christmas Eve, when we as a family sit down and have a festive meal and enjoy one another’s company and love. The next day, we wake up at dark-thirty (yes, we still do) and open presents with big smiles and happiness. The rest of the morning, music plays in the background as we pray, eat breakfast, and enjoy the day the the Savior brought to us!
- Read Scripture at the Christmas meal. It’s a wonderful thing to take some time and read the Christmas story during your Christmas or Christmas Eve meal. There’s a really neat bible out there called The Merged Gospels in which you can read the entire Christmas story (and more!) from a combination of all of the gospels.
- Give thanks. As everyone gets thinking about the many things related to our traditions of Christmas, it would be a big help to bring everyone together to share how God has shown His love to us. Let everyone share a bit (especially children), and take the time to be thankful. Word of warning: timing is everything!
- Pray together. Spend some time after the Scripture and sharing time to pray- pray for each other, but also pray that the message of Christmas may live beyond the moment, that the gospel goes forth.
- Reflect alone. This can happen before, during or after Christmas, but one great way to reflect before Christmas is to use this idea: As you wrap presents for a person, stop and think about some of the memories that you have shared with this person and then pray for him or her. Also, reflect on the love that God has shown to you.
- Give to missions. all around the world, missionaries are away from families and friends to spread the gospel. We spend large sums of money for Christmas gifts, but what about giving to Jesus’ mission? Can you start with a gift that equals the amount of the largest gift you bought someone else?
At First Baptist Church of Mt Healthy, we pray for and support cooperative missions, church planting, and the gospel work. As a congregation, we have focused on doing more with less, squeezing every penny that we could to reach as many people as we can in the little time we have left on this earth. We work hard to place the gospel at the forefront of every activity we do, whether it is to share Christ at a Block Party, hand out tracts at Trunk n Treat, or give away Bibles to anyone who needs one. We are a solid, theologically conservative church, placing the message of God’s love to be preeminent while at the same time being willing to change the message in an attempt to reach more.
Though I became a Christian in the midst of the SBC Conservative Resurgence, I am indebted to those pastors and lay leaders who spoke out for the SBC to go back to its values involving Scripture. I am proud to have attended a Southern Baptist Seminary, spending over nine years to receive a MDiv and a PhD. I am thrilled for the renewed interest in church planting, seeing so many young men and women sacrifice all for the sake of the gospel in this venue. When the Great Commission Report was passed by the SBC messengers, I was in support of change. I saw bureaucracy, bloatedness, and ineffectiveness in some SBC entitites, and I saw the need for the SBC to do some radical things to end the decline within the convention. I am equally joyful to be in Ohio, who as a frontier state, has done radical things for the gospel in the areas of church planting, outreach, and church strengthening. This is why I am scratching my head about the proposed changes from the North American Mission Board (NAMB), led by Dr. Ezell. The changes, mostly in terms of funding and structure, may impact our work adversely in Ohio, an unreached and unserved state.
Truth is, this just doesn’t make sense. In Ohio, we have seen a sizable percentage of church plants succeed, plants that make up a large number of our total church number and of baptisms. We have demonstrated a willingness to give and to sacrifice, devoting a significant part of our SCBO budget to church planting. For example, our most effective ministries also center around reaching the lost in college campuses and community ministries, yet even now it is unknown if these ministries will be funded by NAMB beyond 2012. Even more, though the Send North America strategy seems to be a wonderful attempt to reach cities in Ohio, details are sketchy and slow in coming. All of this piled together makes for a confusing and frustrating experience in churches, associations, and the SCBO.
Is this the Great Commission Resurgence we talked about a few short years ago? So far, I think not, because there is little doubt that it has been disruptive. We in Ohio are going to vote on resolutions calling for change within NAMB, and I wholeheartedly support these resolutions that we will discuss. It is shameful that we must do this, but we must, and I grieve that we have to do this rather than talk about the progress of our vision to reach 1 million people and 2020 churches in Ohio by the year 2020. However, in the spirit of being constructive, and to show that not everything that NAMB has done has been off base, I am recommending seven changes to NAMB’s methods regarding the state of Ohio to help us reach more souls for Christ:
- Continue to emphasis church planting. Church planting is the lifeblood of our gospel work- if we do not plant churches we will die. Fund planters and fund our state planting directors- currently, NAMB is proposing to cut this for 2013 (a very strange move indeed). Put your money where your mouth is.
- Reaffirm commitment to State Conventions. Okay, let’s be honest about this. Dr. Ezell, I love you, brother, but the perception is that you did not had a good track record on State Convention support when you were in Kentucky. You claim to support state conventions, but the latest cuts in funding while wanting an increase in funding from conventions (a 50/50 split in CP) over a very short period of time communicates otherwise. You need to reaffirm your commitment to the conventions in a real way, working with executive directors such as our well loved Dr. Kwok, and understand them before seeking to be understood. Not doing this may mean disastrous consequences for relations with NAMB and for the gospel work.
- Open more dialogue with our associations, pastors, and SCBO personnel. One-way communication rarely works in any setting, and in Baptist settings, it doesn’t work at all. Right now, there is a great deal of mistrust as to the intentions of NAMB toward associational and state convention work. Having open dialogues with knowledgeable representatives from NAMB will help. The days of shoulder shrugs and statements of “I don’t know” for most every answer need to be over, and NAMB reps need to be better informed and empowered to give straight answers to difficult questions.
- Respect associational and state autonomy. Associations and state conventions are voluntary, autonomous fellowships of churches. Rather than forcing the hand of these groups to change through finances and job descriptions, work with member churches to help come up with simple, logical solutions to achieve a common goal: use less money for administration and more for direct gospel work. For example, in Cincinnati, it could be argued that we have four associations inefficiently overlapping this area, but NAMB and the SCBO can be a catalyst to help make change in this area rather than force the change financially.
- Reach our college campuses. An influx of college aged students in a church has been a huge blessing for us at FBC Mt. Healthy. Most churches would be more than thrilled to have them. Without collegiate ministries, we would have little to no presence at college campuses. If we are serious about the Great Commission and reaching the lost, why would we ignore campuses that often have the population of small cities? There’s a serious disconnect here.
- Remember the poor. We have a great deal of talk about the gospel, but we are commanded to share verbally and care physically. Funding the church and community missionaries will help churches be reminded of the need to meet physical needs while sharing the eternal truth of Jesus Christ. In fact, as a pastor of a ever changing and multicultural church in Cincinnati, we have little to no hope of reaching more people in the cities unless we show them that we care.
- Be clear on Send North America. Most people haven’t heard about it. If they have, they don’t know details. Why? Because the concept either hasn’t been fully developed or fully explained. Tell us what you want to do, and I think we as gospel focused churches will want to partner in it, but we need to have clarity.
Camping’s site: What Happened on May 21st?
My reaction: I do not know the date or the time for the end of the world, but I know when it will not end: Oct 21st. Pretty cocky, am I? Maybe a bit, but I think I am on pretty solid ground in saying this.
Harold Camping, the radio preacher for Family Radio, predicted the judgment day for May 21, 2011. When May 21 rolled around and nothing apparent occurred, many of his supporters were confused. His explanation: May 21st marked the beginning of the end, and the end of the end will occur on Oct 21st. Confused? Well, for the past five months, according to Camping, the world has been under final judgment, “shaken with fear” in an emotional and spiritual earthquake that commenced on May 21 and will end on October 21 with the rapture of the elect. Since that time, again, according to Camping, there has been no new salvations, nor will there be. What is done is done.
So is this true? Have preachers been preaching all summer long for no reason? Have we had Vacation Bible Schools with no true fruit? Has the baptismal waters been for nothing? Not at all. Camping is speaking complete rubbish. He is a false prophet in the truest sense of the word, and to his shame, is leading his followers astray.
The Scriptures speak clearly that we will not know the day nor the hour, not even the Son (Mt 24:46, Acts 1:7). Camping has acknowledged this to be true, yet goes on to state in an extrabiblical “revelation” that this all changed thirty five years ago- he can place a time on Judgment Day. Really? Camping now has new revelation? Are we to believe him?
There are several reasons why we should not believe Camping. First, no one who speaks for God should ever, ever contradict the Scriptures. Revelation is found in the Bible, not in the whims of a man. Second, God will not give His glory to any man, and He will not allow Camping to receive the glory for correctly predicting a date. It is the Triune God that receives the glory, and when we see Jesus next, He will be gloriously riding in from the clouds as the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev 19:16). Third, context matters. Camping has taken Scripture out of context, such as using Rev 22:10-12 to justify the reason for the delay in the rapture. He used Gen 2:7 to reason that earthquake can also mean “mankind shakes,” well out of context of the intent of the account of the creation of Adam. These are serious errors in thinking, and no serious biblical scholar gives him credibility.
So, will when Judgment Day occur? I know when it won’t. It won’t be Oct 21. Instead, I look forward to the day my Father decides it to be, in His own perfect timing, not Camping’s timing. In the meantime, we have work to do for Christ, so let’s get back to business sharing the gospel, as the fields are ripe for harvest.
This week was a wonderful, incredible, week. We had 110-120 children each day enjoying crafts, music, food, games, and most of all, the life changing message of the gospel. We rubbed elbows with parents and grandparents from the community, hugged crying kids who had mini “crises,” and loved on each and every child who walked through the door.
We all experienced what God desires for His church: that every tribe and tongue will praise Him (Rev 7:9-10), that people may see our good works and glorify the Father in heaven (Mt 5:16), and that we were one body and one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all (Eph 4:4-5). We saw children come to Christ, workers overwhelmed with joy, and very difficult goodbyes at the end of the week.
It was, in so many ways, a course in Ministry 101. We got back to the basics and thrived in it. We discarded the VBS in a box, pushing aside the polished slogans or graphics to play off of- we ran straight for the gospel of Christ. We kept it simple and flexible. For example, when a child had difficulties adjusting to one class, we moved him or her somewhere else. Or when a youth worker (junior helper) needed a place to serve, we gave them a mentor to shadow. It was always focused, even laser focused on making disciples, and we stayed on task as we began to serve and share Christ!
I will never forget this week and our unity in doing God’s good work. I pray that this week will change FBC Mt Healthy forever as we learned so much about ourselves, our community and our future. I can see that we are fast becoming a church of many faces, to become a shining example as a mosaic of many ethnicities, different that the world around us. For this, I am very grateful and humbled that I am able to witness firsthand God’s work in us. It is very exciting!
Pray for the work to continue. Pray that we continue to glorify God by bringing more to our Sunday ministries, making many new disciples for Christ!
This week, I lost my dad, but the Lord gained a faithful servant in Heaven. My dad was a man who would light up a room whenever he entered it. He was a successful businessman throughout his life and worked hard in every way. However, none of that mattered for him once he met Jesus almost 27 years ago. Once he came to know Christ, he was never the same again.
It is very tempting to ignore, run from, or roll over, but while this may seem loving, it is actually very cruel and very unhealthy. When the truth is ignored and “peace at all costs” becomes the practice, unholy long term conduct continues. This cancer will spread and affect the godly.
We will be coming to this topic when I preach 1 Cor 5 in a few weeks while going through the sermon series on 1 Corinthians. For now, however, you may ask, “how do you deal with a factious person?” Very simple rule: keep the spiritual battle in the Spirit. Speak the truth in love. Don’t insult the person directly, but focus on the spirit and the conduct that resulted. Call them to repent, and call them to change (as Paul instructed in this passage and others). Give them suggestions to get help, whether it is through the church, through counseling, or through a mentor. Most of all, be ready to receive the repentant, hoping for a change in heart and in action.
The idea is to restore the sinner, the goal is truth and love expressed, and the hope is the glory of God. It IS a positive thing, though it IS very difficult. May we live holy and call one another to be holy!
Sometimes, life is really tough. In fact, life is almost always very tough. Lately, it’s been a bit more difficult than most days, yet these are the best times to grow closer to God. On a personal basis, I have been dealing with a multitude of issues on many levels for me, for my loved ones, and within the local church. Yet, as I think a bit about these struggles, I can’t help but turn to see what is really important in life.
Don’t get me wrong- we really are blessed. I mean, we don’t know persecution in this country. In my home, we don’t have to struggle to find food, drink, or shelter. We don’t have any major life or death issues, and if we did, we know whose we are, right? So why is it that at times I have to fight for joy, to push through discouragement, to shut out the cutting comments of a miserable curmudgeon so that I can stay encouraged? Why do I feel physically and emotionally exhausted after a full day of ministry, feeling like I have been swimming upstream against a current of the sewage of sin? I do it because my Jesus doesn’t deserve anything but the best.
You see, it’s not really about what is important in life, but who. Christ followers running the race for Jesus will receive bumps and bruises on the journey- some may even have serious injuries. In a world of 7 billion people with many headed for the depths of Hell, I must count myself forever grateful for the grace God has given to me…and my response must be “to live is Christ.”
So as I continue to do, you must do too. Fight for joy when the chips seem down. Agree to remove the feelings of self preservation and ego, and humbly accept God’s calling on your life. Press forward in trust to the God who cares for you. Cast burdens at the foot of the cross as He strengthens you. Live for Christ, live for His glory, and lift up His Kingdom. As you do this, and as I do this, God gets all the glory, a glory that will endure forever.
Let me begin by saying that before I moved here, I never thought that Opening Day was that big of a deal, but of course, this is Cincy. So after living here for over three years, and adopting and falling in love with the Reds and everything Cincinnati, I decided to attend this year’s festivities. Taking a vacation day off (yes, I had to say that), my son Jamie and I drove to downtown and took on our first ever Opening Day Parade here in Cincinnati.
I will sum it up like this: it will go down as something we will talk about for years to come! We got to downtown early, parked in one of the garages close to the ballpark, and hiked it up to Findlay Market. After checking out all the floats, cars, and even horses, we began to head downtown to look for a spot in which to see the parade. It was at that point that we came up with an even better idea: we decided to be in the parade. After all, we reasoned, what better way to see the parade than to be in the parade!
Looking around for some unknowing legitimate parade participants that we hoped to leech on to, my nervous son and I found a group that was dressed similar to us and began to blend in with their group. We smiled and talked to each other and just kind of waited around in our place in line (toward the front of the parade). After about twenty minutes of waiting, the parade began and we were on our way.
I wish I could tell you that we didn’t stick out from the group, but nothing was further from the truth. You see, I decided that if I was going to be in the parade, I would really be in the parade! I hooped and hollered, I clapped my hands, I danced, I led cheers from the parade watchers, and I slapped high fives with adults and kids alike. We walked the entire parade route and we started to head for the game, but was stopped by one of the participants from the group that we had walked with. She asked who we were and when we hesitated, responded with a wry smile, “you totally crashed our parade, didn’t you?” As we all laughed, she invited us back for the next year, so we look forward to our next Opening Day! GO REDS!