Category Archives: Community

YOLO is Anti-Gospel

Over the past year, it seems like the letters YOLO have taken over. Whether on facebook, twitter, or whatever other forms of social media exist, YOLO is popping up everywhere. Some of us writing this blog had to look it up. If you’re still living under the perverbial nerd rock, YOLO stands for “you only live once.” It’s the mindset that has quietly pervaded our society for years, but in recent days has become a proud motto, not just of the teenage generation, but all age ranges. The most disheartening thing about this new catch phrase is that it’s a part of Christian circles, just as much as it is a part of non believers. In this blog, Carter and Nathan weigh in on YOLO and the danger this mindset threatens believers.

Carter – One might argue that this is an innocent phrase that simply means carpe diem or work hard for the days are short. Well that may be what it means, but its not innocent. Why? Doesn’t it produce a working spirit? Or at least one that realizes the frailty of life? I mean after all does not Scripture say, “Lord, teach us to number our days”? Surely knowing that you only live once would produce in you exactly the Christian attitude of righteous living that we need. Right?

Wrong.

It is not focus on this life at all that produces righteous living.YOLO only produces an attitude that whatever fun things you want to do on this earth you better get it done soon! We develop bucket lists which are nothing more than a declaration saying, “My hope for joy or enJOYing things is here, on this earth, in this ONE life.” The biggest questions people have about heaven are as follows; Men want to know, will there be sex, and women want to know, will we know each other? Because of these fears, we live our lives focused on what we can accomplish, “while we still have time”.

I John 3:2-3 says, “Beloved, we are now God’s children, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”

What gives us the inspiration to live christ-like? It is the fact that scripture promises that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. One day we will be made like Jesus! We will co-heirs with him, in a kingdom where all things are made new and set right. Jesus said he came to give us life, and that abundantly! Heaven is not the end of life…it is true life. What spurs us to live righteously is not that you only live once, but that this one life is an everlasting one.

Nathan- As I have watched the YOLO mentality sweep through social media, I have continually thought of Biblical figures who’s lives fell into ruin because of a YOLO attitude. From Genesis to Revelation we see pictures of humanity giving into YOLO. The men and women of Noah’s day, the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Canaanites, and the list of evil men and women goes on and on. But there’s another interesting aspect of humans and YOLO. The righteous fall prey to it as well. Take for instance a certain man said to be a man after God’s own heart.

One day, when he should have been doing his job, this man after God’s own heart went up to the rooftop and began scanning the kingdom. His eyes stopped just a few rooftops ahead as destruction in the form of a beautiful woman bathed. He wanted her. Forget his wives, his children, this woman’s husband. He wanted her. He was the king. He got her and she became pregnant. The story unravels from there. Her warrior husband was taken from the battlefield and brought to her, but being a righteous man, wouldn’t sleep with his wife while his colleagues were still fighting. So the king had him killed. This king, this man after God’s on heart is David. He was never the same after that day on the rooftop. Destruction filled his household.

Years later, Solomon, David’s son was said to be the wisest man to ever live and he was also quite wealthy. We read about his earthly pursuits in the book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon lists everything under the sun that offers happiness and pleasure, but in twelve chapters he concludes that is the wrong attitude. YOLO doesn’t stand. It’s destruction. His conclusion is both simple and hard in this world: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”

There you have it. Yolo isn’t biblical. It’s not the call of the believer. Fear God and keep his commandments.

 

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Like a Thief in the Night

Today began a new chapter in my ministry. I began serving at First Baptist Church in Fort Smith, AR as the Associate Minister of Missions. This past week, I packed up my belongings, said goodbye to some dear friends, and changed from an on-campus student to a long distance one. All of those are difficult things, but the Lord had called me to this new journey, so I went, without much questioning, actually. I was expectant of the things the Lord would teach me over the next months and years in this new ministry calling. I did not expect a trial so quickly.

Sometime between Sunday night and the early morning hours of Monday, someone broke into the minivan we had rented to haul some of my things, and stole my television, a box of books, and a box of pictures. At first I was enraged, later I was just really sad, but now, truthfully, I’ve been pointed to Christ. I’ve learned several lessons, but one thing that has rested at the forefront of my mind is the idea of experiencing trials before a watching flock.

It’s easy to get up and preach Matthew 5:38-42, but it’s difficult to live it out. But, be warned, brother pastor, the way you live preaches just as much, if not more, than what you say. Now listen, I did not say, “preach the gospel and use words when necessary.” Gospel proclamation should be the top priority. What I did say is that your life sends a message. As a pastor, minister, lay leader, or whatever, how you live out Scripture will send out a message to your people. If we’re inerrantists, and we should be, then we have to live like it. I have to believe my Father owns the cattle on a thousand hills. I have to believe that he works all things out for good. I have to believe he gives and he takes away. I have to believe that he is the greatest treasure I have.

Do I want my priceless pictures back? Yes. Do I wish I still had my television? Yes. Am I sad that all my John Piper books got stolen? Yes. Has it ruined my life? Absolutely not. So, when the trials come, cling to Christ. Point your people to the cross. Let them see you rely on the Lord. Don’t be a wuss, there’s time to be angry, there’s time to mourn. But your emotions do not nullify the sovereignty of God, so don’t confuse your people with your life responses.


Sparks from the Tongue: Words Matter

In the past few days I have had 5 blog ideas, all of which were reactions and none of which were well thought out. Some of them could have gotten me in trouble. By the grace of God, none of them were typed out. What has come from those thoughts though, is the reminder that words matter. Read what James says in 3:1-12. It’s shocking.

The most shocking and uncomfortable verse for me and in light of our goal with this blog is 1. “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” As one who’s mouth is constantly a stumbling block, that’s disturbing, if not damning. Below I want you to think with me about just two areas in which our words matter most.

The Gospel: Without words, there is no gospel. God Almighty has revealed himself to us in his Word. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The gospel is articulated in words. (Dr. Mohler’s sermon from T4G on this). People will not, and I submit cannot, come to salvation without words. Speak the gospel, and do it well.

Leading the Flock: When you get up behind the pulpit, what you say matters. When you talk to your people in the hallways of your church’s meeting place, what you say matters. When you weep and mourn as your people traverse through the valley of the shadow of death, your words matter. The way you respond to your wife, kids, brother pastors, friends, acquaintances, strangers, and enemies matter. You will be judged with greater strictness, and words matter.

There are countless other areas in which our words matter, but those two haunt me. If you’re calling is to the ministry, I hope they haunt you. I hope you think about your words and the way you articulate the gospel, doctrine, and every conversation that bounces off your tongue. For the record, I’m not writing from a viewpoint that says, “I’ve got this down.” I”m writing from a viewpoint that sees the blazing fires my tongue has sparked. So pray with me, brothers and sisters, that our tongues would speak the truth and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and not spew the fiery darts of Satan.


CHURCH AS COMMUNITY – (Part 1) Community and Identity

This is Part 1 of a series of posts entitled “Church as Community.” Collectively, these posts will explore the various implications of the biblical truth that the local church is, by definition, a community to which believers belong. You can review the Introduction to the series here.

We’re busy. I get it. And I’ll be the first to admit that I’m the chief of sinners in this area. But seriously, it’s ridiculous how much stuff is going on. It doesn’t take rocket surgery to note that we live in a culture that celebrates individualism and hinders true and deep relationships from forming simply because there’s so much happening. So how do we get everything done that needs to get done and still have time to do church well?

I submit that one of the deepest-rooted problems in the Western Church today is that we are trying to do just that. Whether or not we ever admit it, most Christians think of church as one of the things on the calendar. It is something to be done. It’s an item. No, it doesn’t have to be a chore. It can be a joy, but there’s something fundamentally wrong when church is something we do or are even a part of, rather than who we are. Consider Ephesians 2:14-19:

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. (ESV)

As future pastors, one of the great challenges we will face is getting people to stop doing church. We will be fighting all the schedules, jobs, activities, and yes, sports allegiances that occupy our people’s time and affections as we try to help them understand that foundational to the Christian life is the Church. This is not because it offers them anything—though it does—nor because it is helpful for their marriage and family—though it is—but because the church was woven into the marrow of our being the moment Christ covered our sin with his blood. In doing so, he brought us into his family and gave us a new identity.

Because community is an identity issue, it’s also a maturity issue. If we find ourselves in love with theology and God’s Word but not in love with the Church—longing to be with her, to serve her, and to build her up—then we are in some sense immature believers. There’s no other way to put it. If we identify ourselves more with our work, our city, our socio-economic status, or our sports team more immediately and more practically than we do the church, we have a maturity problem.

Pastors, when you’re leading your people to grow into maturity, help them ask the identity questions: Who am I? What is the church? How do those things go together?

True community will flow from biblical answers to these questions.


Disaster Relief is Gospel Proclamation

Clay, Alabama, is a community tucked away in the very last foothills of the Appalachians that rest in the central part of the state. It’s an unsuspecting place, quiet, and beautiful. The high school is a source of intense pride. We’re proud to be from Clay-Chalkville. You may have never heard of us, but that won’t diminish the pride. That quiet community, however, gained a national spotlight last Monday.

Before the sun could do it’s job in bringing light and life on that Monday morning, terror and disaster awoke Clay’s residents. A tornado touched down and destruction ensued. The event itself wasn’t long, but the impact will last forever.

I had the opportunity to travel back to my Alabama roots. It was painful. Gut-wrenching doesn’t quite describe the feeling of seeing the things you once knew so well left in a pile of debris. Praise God my family was ok, and, for all practical purposes, left untouched by the destruction. My neighbors aren’t, though. They’re picking up the pieces of their lives. Literally.

Survivors guilt. Why was I spared? Why is my stuff ok? Why aren’t my childhood memories scattered across the neighbor’s yard, tossed about carelessly like a child’s legos? It’s a feeling the Lord is making all too real in my life. You see, tornadoes aren’t new to me. As a student at Union University in 2008, a tornado hit our campus, removing 80% of the residence life buildings and leaving 40 million dollars in damage. I was in the 20%. I didn’t lose anything. Let me share what I gained though, and what, once again, another tornado reminded me of.

Storms are a reminder of the gospel. They are a part of the gospel story. Prior to sin, destruction wasn’t there. But sin entered the world, and so did tornadoes. Storms are a reminder that the world is not right. We as humans are not right. We live under the curse.

An interesting thing happens, though, in a tornado and the days that follow. I experienced it at Union, and I experienced it in Clay. The sun comes up. The body comes together. Hope is born. Do you see the gospel there?

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, says “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”

As believers we hope in the coming resurrection. We will be raised with him. To what? Look at Revelation 21:3-4: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.'” There will be a day, when things will be right again.

While they are not, though, preach the gospel. Don’t cower down to destruction. In the wake of the storm, point to Christ. Preach the gospel. It’s the only thing that can truly put a life back together. The blood of Jesus saves sin cursed people. The gospel is the best disaster relief there ever will be.


The Death of a Saint

Wednesday, in the still darkness before the sun brought the world to life, a dear saint of God breathed her last breath. Death, sickness, and sin all seemed to win this one. Grief began to sit in, first in family members, then friends, and dear brothers and sisters in the faith who knew her well. There was, no doubt and rightly so, a sense of hopelessness in her lifeless body.

Something greater was happening in that body, though. Her sin cursed body was finished, but her Blood bought soul was freed. You see, at some point in her life, Mary Elizabeth Vann was seeking self righteousness, attempting to fix herself. In one instant, though, the Spirit of God fell on her, snatched her from the burning fires of death, and presented her with Christ, the One who bought her on the cross. In an irresistible moment of the purest grace, she ran into freedom in the kingdom of God.

The Lord began working in her, moving her new heart of flesh towards Himself. She grew in the knowledge and wisdom of the Word. The Great Comission wasn’t a story in a book, it was a command the Lord God had given her. She deeply desired that her brothers and sisters knew it was theirs too. The gospel must be advanced, and that task belongs to us.

Today we mourn that this one is gone. We talk of her passing and our laying her body to rest. The real truth though, is that this saint isn’t past. She’s more alive than we’ve ever been. She’s found rest, but it’s in the presence of Christ. Her body will continue to decay on this earth, but don’t stand too close when the Day comes. You see, that body’s coming up out of the ground and it’s going to be made new.
So friends, mourn that sin curses, but rejoice. We’re headed to endless freedom too. Life will be eternal, and everyday it will be greater than the day before.


A Time of Hope

Last night and today I had the opportunity to visit my parents’ church in Birmingham. Both services had me in tears at least once. As I looked out over the congregation, many of whom I’ve known since birth, I saw many who were celebrating Christmas with the groans of creation.

There were at least three widows experiencing their first Christmas without their husbands, all well over 30 years. One mother, who has meant a lot to me since I was a teenager, was celebrating Christmas while her two sons were both away for the first time in their lives. There were cancer patients, others with various illnesses, and many who were, no doubt, tangled in sin. All these pointed to the painful truth that the world is messed up. But in the midst of despair and groans, the celebration of Christmas brings hope.

While much of our language, actions, and overall culture points out the loneliness of some, financial burdens of others, and dirtiness of sin in the face of light in many, Christmas should be a time of hope. There’s really no point in overlooking the sorrow, it’s a part of the human condition. We must, however, point to the hope of Jesus.

Jesus has brought hope, but he’s still bringing more. He brought hope that first Christmas morning when God laid in that manger. He gave even more hope in his sacrifice on the cross and resurrection three days later. He’s promised to return though and finish what he started. He’s coming back as our Warrior King. He’s going to slay the Dragon. We’ll celebrate his birth, death, resurrection, but sickness, death, and sin won’t creep in. We’ll be more alive than ever before.

As Christmas comes to a close, think about these things. The world as messed up. That’s why we’re going into the ministry. The Messiah came, though, and he’s coming again. So pastor the hurting, but point them to the hope to come.


Discussion: Small Groups

Ok, so many of us agree that believers need to be a part of a small group, but what does that mean. What would it mean to go into an existing “traditional” churches and slowly change the church culture to small groups. What do you think? I’m leaving it open for now and will come back with a post after some response with my thoughts.


CHURCH AS COMMUNITY – (Intro) Misconceptions About Community

This is the introduction to a series of posts entitled “Church as Community.” Collectively, these posts will explore the various implications of the biblical truth that the local church is, by definition, a community to which believers belong.

 

“Community” is a buzz word in many Christian circles these days, not least of which is the young missional crowd. Everyone is trying to find out how the church can hone in on what community is and how it can be cultivated in the context of the local church. I think this is, so far as it goes, a good thing. However, I would like to think some about the proper category for an idea like “community” (henceforth without quotation marks) in a local church. There are, I think, at least a few misunderstandings. In this post, I’ll explore some of these misconceptions, and in later posts I’ll try to provide some constructive suggestions for how a church can think about community.

Misconceptions

First, some churches think about community in terms of a ministry of the church. When we talk about community as a ministry, we often look to passages like Acts 2:42-47, or Acts 4:32-37. These passages depict the church gathering together, meeting one another’s needs, and worshiping together regularly. These are all great things for a church to do, but therein lies the problem. If we view community as a ministry, then it becomes something that the church “does.” It can be turned on and turned off as need arises and abates. Community mainly happens on Sundays and Wednesdays. If we’re really edgy, we might even get some community going at an in-home small group on a Tuesday or Thursday (but don’t go longer than an hour and a half!). Our view of community is often betrayed by how we talk about it. You might view community as a ministry of the church if you use community with action words. We “do” community, “make” community, and “pursue” community. These are good, but does that tell the whole story?

Other churches think about community as a distinctive of the church. You see this in language such as “having community” or “living in community.” These churches may recognize that people do not get a sense of belonging in their jobs or through their kids’ soccer teams, so they believe that cultivating such an atmosphere will meet a need. It’s a place where you can get to know people, go over to someone’s house, and babysit one another’s kids. Certainly this is a good thing. We need more churches that recognize this and actually do it. But I wonder if community is not deeper than this. Is being marked by community a means to an end, making the church a collective therapy session where isolated people can meet other isolated people and thus avoid loneliness? And this might be a little picky, but is it possible to have a church not marked by community? Shouldn’t all churches display this sense of community? (If so, can it really be called a “distinctive”?) What is a church that doesn’t have community?

Still other churches view community as a context. In this sense, you are a community church if you are composed primarily of people who live or work in the same area. Your kids go to school together, do boy scouts together, and play on the same baseball team. The alternative is churches that pull from various parts of the city—a commuter church, if you will. To me, this seems like the weakest understanding of community, because it is merely a consequence of circumstance. There is nothing convictional about it. It just happens.

I’ll go ahead and play my cards. I’m going to argue that community is not simply a ministry of the church, nor is it just a distinctive of a church, nor is it a product of context in a church. Instead, community is in the very identity of the church. A church is, by definition, a community. Community is not something we do; it is who we are. And it is this fact that affects how we serve, minister, live, and grow together. I’ll try to develop this more in my next post.