Sunday Sermon: “God is Faithful in Every Season” (Psalm 71)

brown book page
Photo by Wendy van Zyl on Pexels.com

This week, I wanted to share the transcript of a sermon I preached about a month ago at a nearby Baptist church–a church that my home church is considering merging with in the near future. That congregation is made of mostly older adults (as opposed to our church of mostly young families), so this sermon provided a unique opportunity to focus my message to their particular church family. I hope it encourages you.

=====

Greetings from the believers at Baptist Church of the Redeemer. It is a privilege to be back here with you, and I’m grateful for the opportunity. Our text for the morning is Psalm 71, so please turn there if you haven’t already.

It didn’t occur to me until it was pointed out by one of our elders that I would be the first man up after your pastor’s retirement last Sunday—no pressure! But as I was considering what to preach today, I realized that what I wanted to do most was to encourage you that our God is faithful in every season of our lives and every season of the life of our churches. My prayer is that you will see this clearly today.

If you are taking notes, you can break this sermon down into 3 sections: 1- The Security of God’s Protection (v. 1-6); 2- The Testimony of God’s Faithfulness (v. 7-16); and 3- The Witness of God’s People in their Later Years (v.17-24).

Number One: The Security of God’s Protection (v.1-6)

Let’s take a look at the first 6 verses of Psalm 71.

In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;
    let me never be put to shame!
In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
    incline your ear to me, and save me!
Be to me a rock of refuge,
    to which I may continually come;
you have given the command to save me,
    for you are my rock and my fortress.

Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked,
    from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man.
For you, O Lord, are my hope,
    my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
Upon you I have leaned from before my birth;
    you are he who took me from my mother’s womb.
My praise is continually of you.

While this psalm is not directly attributed to David in a notation (as other psalms are), it does mirror the language of other psalms of David, which leads commentators to think that it was likely penned by David, sometime between the middle and (more likely) latter years of his life.

Notice right off the bat the personal language here: God is not some distant and unapproachable being. No, David proclaims that YHWH, the Lord God of Israel, is his refuge, his fortress, his God. He calls on the faithful, covenant-keeping God to uphold him in the face of wicked men and enemies who want to see him fall.

David asks God to deliver him because of God’s own righteousness—for the sake of God’s own name. We see this later in the history of Israel when God tells his wayward and rebellious people in Isaiah 48 that He will preserve them and deliver them for His own glory, even though they’ve broken His law. How often do we deserve God’s righteous punishment for sin, and yet because of His great kindness and mercy, He holds back from letting us be destroyed?

Look particularly at verses 5 and 6.

For you, O Lord, are my hope,
    my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
Upon you I have leaned from before my birth;
    you are he who took me from my mother’s womb.
My praise is continually of you.

Consider for a moment David’s history: before he was a king, he was a shepherd boy who defended the flock against a lion and a bear. He was the brave young man who faced down the taunts of a giant in front of two standing armies. He withstood the jealous rage of King Saul, who sought repeatedly to take David’s life because he was anointed to be king over Israel instead of Saul’s son, Jonathan. Surely when David says the Lord is his hope and his trust ever since his youth, he’s thinking of these events and more!
Beyond that, though, David says that God was there from before his birth—that it was God who “delivered” him by His providence from the darkness of the womb. As Spurgeon writes, God has been faithful to David since before he was born. God knows who are His, and He cares for them. In the perilous hour of birth, God is present and cares for both mother and child.

Spurgeon goes on to call us to consider that childbirth is a daily miracle! Although each person fulfills their assigned role (the mother, the doctor, the midwife or nurse), yet it is God who carries us out of darkness and into light. What a beautiful metaphor this is for salvation. As Jesus told Nicodemus during their late-night conversation, you must be born again if you are to see the kingdom of God—born of the Spirit. While God does use human beings as his means of proclaiming the Gospel of salvation, it is God who brings us from death to life, God Himself who is the author of salvation. As Jonah proclaimed from the belly of the great fish, salvation belongs to the Lord!

So how do we respond to such gracious Divine care, from the very beginning of our existence? In Matthew Henry’s commentary, he writes about this section: “The consideration of the gracious care which the Divine Providence took of us in our birth and infancy should engage us to an early piety and constant devotedness to His Honor. He that was our help from our birth ought to be our hope from our youth. If we received so much mercy from God before we were capable of doing Him any service, we should lose no time [now that] we are capable.” In other words, as soon as we can consider God’s faithfulness to us from the earliest moment of existence, it should compel us to love Him and follow Him in all things. How can we respond any other way?

If you’re here today, and you don’t follow Jesus, first, I’m glad you’re here. And I want you to think on these things: God has given you life, breath, and all good things. Yet, because we are born rebels, we break God’s law as soon as we are able to do so. We are, all of us, sinners by nature and choice. Because of this, we are all deserve God’s righteous condemnation. Yet, because God is patient and merciful, he didn’t destroy us instantly, but instead has provided a way for sinners like you and me to be declared not-guilty, washed clean, and made brand new—and this is only through Jesus, the Son of God, wholly God and wholly man, who lived the perfect life we couldn’t live, and then died in our place, paying the penalty of our sin, fully satisfying God’s righteous wrath against us, and 3 days later, rising to life again, demonstrating that Jesus is Lord and King over all things, including death, and that His sacrifice satisfies the just judgment of God.
If this good news of Jesus is something new to you, or if you want to find out more about it, please come talk to me after the service.

Let’s look at the next section.

Section Two – The Testimony of God’s Faithfulness in All of Life (v. 7-16)

I have been as a portent to many,
    but you are my strong refuge.
My mouth is filled with your praise,
    and with your glory all the day.
Do not cast me off in the time of old age;
    forsake me not when my strength is spent.
10 For my enemies speak concerning me;
    those who watch for my life consult together
11 and say, “God has forsaken him;
    pursue and seize him,
    for there is none to deliver him.”

12 O God, be not far from me;
    O my God, make haste to help me!
13 May my accusers be put to shame and consumed;
    with scorn and disgrace may they be covered
    who seek my hurt.
14 But I will hope continually
    and will praise you yet more and more.
15 My mouth will tell of your righteous acts,
    of your deeds of salvation all the day,
    for their number is past my knowledge.
16 With the mighty deeds of the Lord God I will come;
    I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone.

 

Notice in verse 7, David says he has been a “portent” to many. Your Bible may translate that a bit differently; some versions may say “sign” or “marvel” or “wonder.” All these words point to the fact that this believer in the one true God is a bit astonishing to the people around him. In fact, God’s people are always going to be distinct, strange, perhaps even a bit unsettling to nonbelievers. “You mean, you actually believe all that? You really think that God is there and listens to you? You’re willing to do what? To go where? Are you crazy?” Peter writes in I Peter 2 that the church is to be a people of God’s own possession—or as the King James translates it, a “peculiar” people. In I Corinthians 4, Paul writes that God uses the righteous persecution faced by the apostles as a spectacle for the world, for men, and for angels—a testimony to all who see them of the power of the Gospel. Or, as Paul would say later in II Corinthians 2, those who are following Jesus bear the aroma of death to the unbelieving world. The church stands as a proclamation of God’s great mercy to those who would be saved, but a proclamation of God’s coming judgment to those who refuse to turn from sin and believe in Jesus.

How does David respond to God being his refuge against those who gawk at him? In verse 8, he says that his mouth is filled with God’s praise and glory all day long. Verses like this challenge me to ask: what is my mouth filled with? More pointedly, what is my social media profile filled with? Is it praise to God, or anxious worry and frustrated clamor? (Should I save that question until after November?) There is no room for murmuring or backbiting when your mouth is full of praise. As James says in James 3, a fresh spring shouldn’t produce salt water.

Take a look at verse 9 and following. [read 9-11] David is asking God not to abandon him in his twilight years. In Charles Spurgeon’s “Treasury of David,” a rich commentary on the Psalms, Spurgeon reminds us that the world casts off its elderly, but God never does; even those who are weary and infirmed are held fast. If we look later in Israel’s history, to the prophecy of Isaiah in Isaiah 46:3-4, we hear God’s reassurance to the remnant He will save from His people Israel that He will not change—from birth to death, He will still be their God.

“Listen to me, O house of Jacob,
    all the remnant of the house of Israel,
who have been borne by me from before your birth,
    carried from the womb;
even to your old age I am he,
    and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
    I will carry and will save.

(Isaiah 46:3-4)

David’s cry to God is that He would not abandon His servant in the twilight years. He says that his enemies are surrounding him, waiting for God to abandon him. This is sometimes the way of this sinful world—godless men try to prey upon older folks, to stoke their fears, to deceive, to try to get them to slip up. David here expresses a concern that many people have. But look how David responds, after pouring out those concerns to God.

12 O God, be not far from me;
    O my God, make haste to help me!
13 May my accusers be put to shame and consumed;
    with scorn and disgrace may they be covered
    who seek my hurt.
14 But I will hope continually
    and will praise you yet more and more.
15 My mouth will tell of your righteous acts,
    of your deeds of salvation all the day,
    for their number is past my knowledge.
16 With the mighty deeds of the Lord God I will come;
    I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone.

David prays like a child in the dark, reaching for His father’s hand—and I don’t think there’s one of us who is too old to do that: to call out to our Father in need and desperation, trusting him to answer. David asks His Father to turn the accusations, attack, and shame back on those who would do him harm. Rather than being crippled by worry about the threats of his enemies, David says in verse 14 that he will choose to hope in God and praise Him more and more! Instead of giving in to fear, David defies those who seek his destruction by doing what? Proclaiming God’s faithfulness. Testifying of what he has experienced of God’s salvation and righteous works. Their number, he says, is beyond calculation.

I love verse 16: “With the mighty deeds of the Lord God, I will come.” David brings his testimony of God’s power and faithfulness into battle—his greatest weapon is praise. He carries the testimony of God wherever he goes. And don’t miss this—what he’s bringing isn’t human wisdom or philosophy, but the pure testimony of someone who has experienced firsthand what God does for His people.

I have to stop here and remind you: Church, you have that, too. You have a story. You have a testimony of how Jesus died on the cross to save you from your sin, how He brought you from death to life, how He made you a new creation. You have testimonies of how God has been faithful time and time and time again. No matter what the world brings against you, no matter what the Enemy accuses you with, no matter how age or sickness or suffering may try to take away your hope—you come bearing the mighty deeds of the Lord God. Don’t forget that. He has done great things among us.

In preparing for this sermon, I was reminded of the story of an early church martyr named Polycarp. This was around 155 AD, under the Roman emperor Trajan. Polycarp was an old man, perhaps in his late 80’s to mid-90’s, who was still serving as the Bishop of Smyrna (a coastal city in what is now modern-day Turkey). He had been a friend and student of Ignatius, another church leader who had been martyred some years earlier. It happened that a group of believers who had been rounded up, had refused to deny Jesus, and were put to death had infuriated the bloodthirsty pagan mob because of how they boldly proclaimed Jesus was Lord, all the way to the end. The mob then cried out for Polycarp to be arrested and killed—he was known in that region as being a pastor and church leader. Polycarp’s congregation urged him to hide from the Roman soldiers, but after several close calls, he turned himself in. The Roman official gave Polycarp a chance to recant, since he was so advanced in years. The official said, “Just say ‘Away with the athiests!’ and you can be released.” The Romans called the Christians “athiests” because they denied Roman gods. Polycarp then turned to the Roman crowd and shouted “Away with the athiests!” After this, he was told to curse Christ and swear by the emperor, and he would be freed. Here’s how Polycarp responded: “For 86 years I have served Him, and He has done me no evil. How can I curse my King who saved me?” The Romans threatened Polycarp with being burned at the stake, and he responded that this fire will last a moment, but the fire of Hell is eternal. As he was about to be burned, Polycarp prayed aloud, thanking God that he was deemed worthy to join the martyrs and suffer with Jesus.

An old man—a man that the world would have passed over without a thought—stood firm and proclaimed the mighty deeds of God, and his testimony still rings out almost two thousand years later.

Let’s move on to the final part of the psalm.

Section 3 – The Witness of God’s People in Their Later Years (v. 17-24)

17 O God, from my youth you have taught me,
    and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
18 So even to old age and gray hairs,
    O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
    your power to all those to come.
19 Your righteousness, O God,
    reaches the high heavens.
You who have done great things,
    O God, who is like you?
20 You who have made me see many troubles and calamities
    will revive me again;
from the depths of the earth
    you will bring me up again.
21 You will increase my greatness
    and comfort me again.

22 I will also praise you with the harp
    for your faithfulness, O my God;
I will sing praises to you with the lyre,
    O Holy One of Israel.
23 My lips will shout for joy,
    when I sing praises to you;
    my soul also, which you have redeemed.
24 And my tongue will talk of your righteous help all the day long,
for they have been put to shame and disappointed
    who sought to do me hurt.

 

Again, David recalls God’s faithfulness throughout his life and asks God not to forsake him, so that he can proclaim God’s might to the next generation. See, David understands that in his later years, he still has a mission to complete. I think this is the same mission for all of us, when we reach this stage of life: our responsibility as followers of Jesus is to proclaim the goodness of God to those coming after us.

As we see so many fall away over the years of their lives, we must marvel in gratitude over God’s preserving grace as we grow older. Those whom God saves, God keeps to the end. David had seen what happened to Saul when he turned his back on God in disobedience. David’s desire is to continue proclaiming God’s goodness, even as age and infirmity may limit him. He wants to train the next generation to follow God, just as he was trained. This makes it all the more important that older saints never stop being disciples first, and never stop learning all they can about the Scriptures. When you do that, like David, you can delight in God’s righteous character and deeds, as we see in verse 19.

In verse 20, David notes that God has “made [him] see many troubles and calamities.” Because we know that God is sovereign over all details of our lives, we can say with confidence that whatever we have to face in life, we know that God is in control of it. We can further say with Paul in Romans 8 that God is using all of these experiences—even the most painful ones—for His glory and our ultimate good, to make us more like Jesus. So, like David, we can say with confidence that God has brought us through “many dangers, toils, and snares.” But God is still faithful, and he will revive us again. And here’s the thing: there may come a day, if the Lord tarries, that we will each face the final enemy, death. But even then, we can echo David’s words in verse 20: “From the depths of the earth, you will bring me up again.” This is the hope we have as believers in Jesus Christ. Because we have repented of our sins and trusted in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, just as He was raised back to life again, we know with confidence that God will bring us up again from the depths of the earth, and that on the last day, we will be raised to glory.

So how do we respond to these great truths? The way David does: we sing. As one pastor said, “redeemed people are singing people.” When we meditate on how God has been faithful to us since birth, and will be there to carry us when we breathe our last, we can respond with singing, with shouts of praise, and with testifying of God’s help all day long.
This is the exhortation I want to bring to you this morning, College Park: remember what God has done for you; recall His mighty works; look to Him to hold you and guide you into the next chapter of your life as a church; and never stop proclaiming His goodness.

And if I may add, specifically for those of you who are in your later years, who perhaps have known and served the Lord a long time: we need you. We need your faithfulness. We need your testimony. We need your wisdom. I say this for myself, as a man who has been married for less than 6 years, with a toddler and an infant at home: I need your prayer and your counsel. I need to hear your stories of God’s faithfulness.

And whatever happens in the next few months with this potential merger, I want you to know that you, brothers and sisters, are not done by a long shot. God still has work for you to do for His Kingdom and for His glory. So be ready to step into what comes next.

Let me close with one more story: As I was preparing for this sermon, I was using that Matthew Henry commentary, as I noted. It actually belonged to my grandfather. As I was flipping the pages, I found his old American Legion membership card (he served in the Navy during the Korean War). He must have been using it as a bookmark. It made me laugh because I do the same thing with business cards or random scraps of paper. My grandfather was a middle-school teacher by profession, but he was also an ordained Baptist minister. For decades, he and my grandmother would gather a kids’ Sunday School class and Vacation Bible School in the large basement of their home for the local children in the neighborhood who didn’t have any other church influence in their lives. He would pick them up every Sunday morning in their minivan, and then drop them off afterwards. Not only that, but my grandparents were faithful members in their local church and served well into their retirement years. My grandmother still plays piano and organ when she can make it to church. My grandfather eventually developed Parkinsons, which would slowly take his mobility, his speech, and finally his life, a little over a year ago.

I bring this up because as I looked at that American Legion card, I was reminded of a few things that disease and age could not steal from my grandfather. First, illness couldn’t take away his legacy of faithfulness. That card was updated less than 10 years ago—which means that even as he was likely starting to feel the effects of the disease, he was still studying the Scriptures. He was still a disciple. The last time I saw him, a few years ago, even as he had trouble speaking the words, he told me he wanted me to take whatever I wanted from his theological library, to use in my own studies. I relied on his commentaries to help prepare for this sermon. But more than that, all the way to the end, my grandfather was a man of prayer. Over and over, he and my grandmother reminded us that they prayed for us every day. The greatest gift an older saint can give to their family and their church is the gift of prayer.

Brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers in the faith—pray for those of us who are following behind you. Tell us your testimonies. Proclaim God’s faithfulness to each new generation, so that we all will stand together in wonder, praising our faithful God as one people.

Friday Five: The First 5 Books I’ve Finished So Far in 2020!

white book in white table near yellow wall
Photo by Stas Knop on Pexels.com

Happy Friday, faithful reader! Wanted to take a minute and share what I’ve been reading so far this year. Maybe you’ll find something new to add to your hold list or Amazon cart!

=====

The Whole Christ, by Sinclair Ferguson

This book may be an early candidate for top-five reads of the year, because I think it’s one of my favorite books of the last few years. Ferguson uses an event from church history called the Marrow Controversy in the 18th century as the springboard for a discussion of the key theological ideas involved: the relationship between grace and works, assurance of salvation, and the believer’s union with Christ. Every time I sat down to read a bit more of this book, I came away encouraged. Ferguson’s insightful commentary on the facets of this semi-obscure theological debate helped me to sharpen how I think and speak about the love of God in Christ Jesus. I would strongly, strongly encourage you to pick this one up.

A Great and Glorious Game, by A. Bartlett Giamatti

This slim volume of baseball essays by Bart Giamatti, former Harvard president and commissioner of Major League Baseball until his untimely death, is a quick and delightful read. Giamatti’s command of imagery and metaphor was masterful. His essays, especially the most famous entry “The Green Fields of the Mind,” are like rich dark chocolate for the lover of words–roll it around on your tongue a bit, read a few lines out loud, savor the sound of them. Even if you don’t like baseball, you will appreciate the deft and delicate intricacies of Giamatti’s writing.

The Memory Police, by Yoko Ogawa

On an unnamed island ruled by an oppressive regime, random things are suddenly outlawed and immediately begin to disappear and be forgotten. So begins the plot of Yoko Ogawa’s novel The Memory Police, and when I first heard the concept, I immediately put the book on my library hold list. In the end, I found the book to be enjoyable but not as moving as I had expected. I’m not sure if that’s due to occasional stilted writing (perhaps an issue of translation from the original Japanese?) or because it felt very self-consciously *literary,* and I find myself enjoying high-brow literary fiction less and less lately. In any case, the concept is intriguing, and the climax of the book is quite unexpected as it dips its toe into urban fantasy. If you’re interested, it’s worth your time.

The Prayer that Turns the World Upside Down, by Al Mohler

If you are a Christian of almost any tradition, you were likely taught the “Lord’s Prayer” (a/k/a the “Model Prayer”) at some point in your theological training. Many of us who grew up in the church have recited it from early childhood. This level of familiarity might often cause us to gloss over this short but powerful prayer without considering its ramifications. In this fine little book, Dr. Mohler works through each phrase of the prayer and spells out some of its world-shaking implications. The writing is very accessible and approachable, and while some of the content may seem like review, it’s all worth reviewing. The things we’ve known the longest are often the things we need to be reminded of most often.

Budgeting for a Healthy Church, by Jamie Dunlop

Truth be told, this isn’t the type of book I’d have picked up in years past. It’s only on my shelf because it was a giveaway book at last year’s Southern Baptist Convention, and you know how much I love free books. Obviously, being a lay elder at my church makes a book on church budgets a bit more meaningful to me than it would otherwise; much more so that I providentially have this book on my radar as our church is potentially merging with another local church, so the discussion of church budgets is a pertinent one for us. That said, I was surprised how much I enjoyed and benefitted from this short and practical volume. Even if you are “just” a church member in the pews, I think you’ll also benefit from Dunlop’s thoughtful discussion of the “why” of church budgets and his framing of how our church budget shows what our local church values. I definitely recommend this one, especially for anyone involved with church finances or who is interested in thinking through the topic.

=====

There you go, folks. My first five completed books of the year!

What have you been reading lately? Let me know in the comments below!

Friday Feed (10/18/2019)

blue screen of death in silver black laptop
Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com on Pexels.com

Happy Friday, y’all! Here are a few links I’ve enjoyed lately that I hope will be interesting and/or encouraging!

=====

Have a great weekend, friends! I’ll be back on Monday with the next installment of #SmundaySchool and more #52Stories a bit later in the week. See you then!

Friday Feed (8/23/2019)

silver macbook pro on tabletop
Photo by Andrew Neel on Pexels.com

Happy Friday, friends!

I need to take a quick breather from the #52Stories sprint, so here’s a list of updates and interesting links for your perusal:

  • First, a quick sneak peak for what’s next on #52Stories: Lately, I’ve been reading stories by Phoebe Gilman and Wendell Berry, as well as working on notes for stories by Raymond Chandler, Ray Bradbury, and Flannery O’Connor. I’ve got a big stack of short story collections on my shelf from the library, as well, so we are set and ready to go. I hope you’ve been enjoying these entries–I sure have!
  • In addition to short stories, I’m currently still reading through Dr. Al Mohler’s new book on the Apostles’ Creed (and really enjoying it), and I’m a little ways into Jocko Willink’s Disclipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual. With other obligations ramping up in my life, I’m having to dial back my long-form reading quite a bit for the next month or so.
  • Speaking of Dr. Mohler, his annual list of recommended summer reading is always worth a look. Of course, his definition of “summer reading” may be a bit different than everyone else’s.
  • I found this Washington Post article about the challenges of student journalism at Liberty University quite fascinating. The issues described aren’t just limited to universities with presidents currying presidential favor. Some elements of this sounded a bit like my own minimal experience at a private Baptist university.
  • We’re entering an exciting and challenging season at my church, as we’re contemplating merging with another congregation and reforming as a new body. (We would appreciate your prayers on this issue over the next several months!)  This story about a successful church merger was an encouragement to read at such a time.
  • I forget at the moment who recommended the webcomic Wondermark to me (Amanda? Matthew? One of you lovely people…), but if you’re not reading it, it’s a hoot. This recent entry hits a little close to home, if you’re an expert procrastinator like I am.
  • This admonition from Tim Challies is a good reminder that creative work (especially things like blogging) are best when they’re focused on doing good by the audience.
  • Great writing advice from the king of pithy posts, Seth Godin.
  • And finally, a few videos I dug recently:

Ben Kenobi has PTSD–this one’s heavy:

Childish Gambino covers Chris Gaines (Garth Brooks’ pop start alter-ego):

I love “How It Should Have Ended,” and this is another homerun entry:

That’s all I’ve got. See you next week, gang. Stay outta trouble, okay?

What Your Faithful Pastor Needs.

brown and blue house on mountain
Photo by Matt Hardy on Pexels.com

I’ve been an elder for 6 months or so, and it’s been a blessing and a challenge. Although I was warned about the weight of this “mantle of responsibility,” I underestimated how heavy it can be to carry the knowledge of the challenges and pains your flock is enduring–and to know that you have a part to play in ministering the Gospel of grace to those hurts each week.

Here’s the thing, though: your pastor, your elders–they do it because they love it. And they love it because they love you.

Pastoral ministry is heavy and it’s hard, but your pastors love serving you in this way. You may not like when the way they serve you is through exhortation, challenge, or even discipline. But this is how they love you. This is how they care for your soul.

So going into this weekend, Christian, I wanted to encourage you briefly with a reminder of what your faithful shepherds need, so that you can be a blessing to them.

  • Pray for them. Pray for their hearts, as they carry the responsibility of leadership and ministry. Pray for their marriages and families, that God would guard them against the attacks of the Enemy. Pray that God would keep them humble and hungry for Him and His Word. Pray that God would guard their witness in ministry. If you know of struggles they are facing, lift them up before the Lord.
  • Encourage them. Tell them that you prayed for them. Thank them for teaching or serving or administrating. Let them know how their work is bearing fruit in your life. There can be stretches where all an elder hears from his congregation is hurt and critique and doubt, and in those moments a gentle word of encouragement is a refreshing drink of water that squares the shoulders and straightens the spine.
  • Show them respect. By this, I don’t mean that you should give them undue deference or any sort of silly “anointed” and untouchable status–far from it. Pastors and elders are exhorted throughout Scripture to live as examples before the congregation; this is a high standard. What I mean is this: recognize that your pastors and elders are not only under-shepherds entrusted with the care of the flock, but they also your brothers in Christ. They are (hopefully) your friends; by that I mean, you treat them in a friendly and brotherly manner. So if you have concerns or even critiques, you don’t put them on blast as the world does, or trash them on social media or in snarky conversations with others. Rather, you should seek to discern the best time and the best way to address those issues lovingly, as a brother or sister in Christ.
  • Buy them coffee. Okay, this last point is from me, not the Lord, but I too believe I have the Holy Spirit. 🙂 This may sound self-serving, and I admit it may be so, but a small token of appreciation for a pastor who labors faithfully can make a huge impact. October is Pastor Appreciation Month, and I would encourage you to plan on blessing your elders and pastors in some small but meaningful way.

Most importantly of all, follow the example of your pastors and elders this weekend by being in the Lord’s house with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s day.

Have a great weekend, friends. See you next week.

#FridayFive: 5 Takeaways from #SBC19

20190611_1249498757454447924968621.jpg

Happy Friday, readers! I am back from 3 days in balmy Birmingham, Alabama, where I (along with 3 friends) represented our church in the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention.

This year, there were several serious issues to address, and some contentious dust-ups online, leading up to the 2-day convention. What were my thoughts on the affair?

Here are my 5 key takeaways from #SBC19:

  1. The main thing needs to stay the main thing. One of the most important moments of the convention was the International Mission Board’s commissioning/sending ceremony. Twenty-six people shared some of their testimony and why they were leaving the US to become international missionaries. Some of them had already spent 2 years as part of the SBC “Journeyman” program and were going back for full-time mission work, while others grew up in missionary families or went on trips as a teenager and felt the call then. Several of the missionaries are going to dangerous or challenging parts of the world, so their faces weren’t shown as they spoke. Then, after a time of recognition for their stories, they carried lighted banners with their region of service into the crowd, and groups of people prayed over each one of them. Standing there in that darkened arena, I was reminded that this is what the SBC Annual Meeting is really about. Not the squabbles, not the posturing–reminding ourselves that we have a mission to fulfill, and then honoring and being inspired by those who are ready to risk all to fulfill it.
  2. We need to learn how to disagree well. This theme kept cropping up, both in the mouths of people in my theological “sub-tribe” and people who get the side-eye on my Twitter feed. Mark Dever, during the “State of the SBC” discussion at a 9 Marks at 9 event said, “You younger folks do a lot of things well, but you just don’t know how to disagree.” Al Mohler agreed, adding that the younger generation of Baptists online need to learn how to do theological triage and distinguish between differences of practice and disagreements on what characterizes our denomination. Russell Moore, during the Baptist 21 panel, quipped, “There needs to be more than just ‘I would do that differently’ and ‘Die, heretic!'” This repeated exhortation to learn how to argue and disagree well, how to represent your rhetorical opponents fairly, and how to treat brothers and sisters as such–it struck home with me. This is something I still need to grow in.
  3. True diversity begins at the dinner table. Something Dhati Lewis said during the racial reconciliation panel caught me up. I’m going to mangle the quote, but: the question was about representation of people of color in conferences, panels, church leadership, etc. Lewis said the way you achieve real diversity on a conference stage or in an elder room was to start at your dinner table–who do you know, who do you have a real relationship with. But that caught my attention and made me think about my typical dinner guests, and how often they look like me. Now, I know, you may scoff at the thought, but it’s something I have started thinking about. One of the ways I can teach my daughters to love and honor all people equally is to model that before them, both in the weekly gatherings of the church and, as we have opportunity, in our home. This isn’t about diversity quotas in my friendships; it’s about widening my circle and learning from my brothers and sisters in Christ whose experiences are different than mine.
  4. The sexual abuse crisis is urgent and must be addressed wisely and decisively. This is the deep dark shadow that has hung over the SBC for even longer than the last 4 months. We were reminded that a group was commissioned last year at the annual meeting to address this issue. However, in recent months, as more and more survivors of abuse within Baptist churches have come forward, it has only emphasized that this is a moment of unique challenge, a valley of decision, in which this ragtag network of cooperating churches must decide if we truly believe that our God is a God of righteousness, justice, and holiness. I was glad to be part of the first big steps toward dealing with this terrible sin in the camp, as we voted to amend our constitution to make way for churches that do nothing about abuse or cover up abuse to be removed from fellowship with us. This is essentially church discipline on the macro level, and I think it is an appropriate step. Furthermore, the realities of sexual abuse and its destructiveness were addressed head-on, and survivors were given opportunities to speak and to challenge the denomination to listen. There is much work to do, but there is a clear passion from the executive leadership down, to press in and fight for those who have been abused.
  5. There are still some big questions to work through. One of the major discussion points involves how churches can encourage, equip, and support women to use their gifts and serve in every way the Bible allows them to. What that looks like is still being wrestled through, and there are going to be a lot more discussions and debates as we decide as a denomination where we draw clear lines and where we show grace. Another flashpoint of debate is over the SBC’s stance on specific elements of the social justice conversation, like Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality. Some say that these are useful frameworks for understanding secular perspectives and that they can be considered while still submitting them to the authority of Scripture. Others argue that these frameworks are built on secular and anti-Biblical worldview assumptions that render them counter-productive or even harmful when trying to address justice concerns. This debate will continue, as the implications and after-shocks of Resolution #9 play out (if any). Suffice it to say, #SBC2020 will be a wild ride.

There you go: my five key takeaways from this year’s Southern Baptist Convention.

…But I have so many more thoughts! So here’s a rapid-fire list of observations from my first SBC experience!

  • I love free stuff, but man, I really had to check myself on this trip. There were so many freebies that, even being selective, I still added about 10-15 pounds to my luggage–and that’s just free stuff; I didn’t buy anything. Most of what I brought home was (big surprise) books. I told my wife that I’m making a challenge to myself: I’m going to read all the books I got from the 2019 SBC before I (Lord-willing) go to the 2020 SBC. (Considering I’m still not done with many of the books I received at the 2012 T4G, this may be a tough task!)
  • Picking up free stuff from exhibit hall booths is like an advanced-level version of grabbing a grocery-store snack sample. Feigning interest, awkward small talk, names and handshakes exchanged. I’m going to be really honest here, folks, and I know I sound plain mercenary, but sometimes I just would like a free coffee or book. That’s probably wrong of me, but there it is.
  • Getting to see old friends is a joy. I got to talk for a few minutes with a dear brother I served with at a previous church for 8 or 9 years. I hadn’t seen him in 4 years, so it was a sweet thing to get to catch up.
  • That said, seeing old acquaintances who apparently didn’t recognize you: less joy, more awkwardness. More on that some other time.
  • The exhibit hall floor is a roaming multitude of people, and it became overwhelming really quickly.
  • One of the ways the in-person experience of the meeting is so different from watching it online is that I found myself caring about all the reports a whole lot more (for the most part). And I have to admit, when people streamed for the exits during some of the prayers or presentations, I became a bit judgmental in my heart. (I’m sorry, y’all.) Watching these conventions from home, I can dip in and out while on Twitter or working, but being there in person is such a cool experience, because you’re reminded that you’re part of something bigger. All these believers around you, representing tens of thousands of churches, all together working toward our singular mission of proclaiming the good news of Jesus to all people. It’s thrilling in a way you just can’t appreciate from a distance.
  • I think my favorite part of the convention activities was the “9 Marks at 9” event. The vibe was very relaxed and familial, and the panelists (Mark Dever, Danny Akin, Al Mohler, and HB Charles) were relaxed and open. They were able to speak off-the-cuff and joke with each other, and at one point Mark Dever even opened up a can of worms that left Dr. Mohler flustered and caught off-guard, but he was able to take it in stride. It was just refreshing to hear these faithful men speak candidly about the issues of the denomination, disagree with each other, and still demonstrate respect and friendship. I’m thankful I was there to witness that.
  • One of the things that frustrated me greatly was that some of the people who beat the drum against misrepresenting your opponents on social media were more than happy to make straw-man arguments in their talks. I’m not going to name any names, because I don’t want to rustle up any more controversy. But it was irritating.
  • JD Greear repeatedly making the “deep state…of unity” joke got old. That said, as I noted on Twitter, evidence of the so-called “SBC Deep State” came out when Dr. Mohler accidentally claimed during the seminary report to have been president of the Southern Baptist Convention for the last 27 years. (I, for one, welcome our bow-tied overlords.)
  • Birmingham was NOT ready for us. Long lines, crazy waits. At least 4 of the 6 restaurants in Terminals A, B, and C of the Birmingham airport ran out of food on Wednesday night, before 7:30pm. That said, Birmingham was a neat town, and I’m sorry I didn’t schedule an extra day or two to experience more of it than the four square blocks or so of downtown where we stayed and convened.
  • Eugene’s Hot Chicken in Birmingham, y’all. Don’t sleep on it. It’s gooooooood.
  • I spent almost all my time with my fellow elder Travis. Two and a half days of fellowship with a brother I admire and am encouraged by was one of the biggest blessings of the week.
  • You never appreciate your own bed so much as your first night back from a trip.

I’ll stop there for now, but may have more to say later. If you have specific questions (for example, about the B21 panel and Matt Chandler’s interview), let me know in the comments.

Suffice to say, it was a great experience and I look forward to going back in the future!

If you were at #SBC19 as well–first of all, why didn’t you TELL me?!? We could have hung out!!!–or you watched it online, let me know what you thought in the comments below.

If you have questions about the SBC in general, I can try to answer those as well. 

Have a great weekend, and I’ll be back next week with new content!

Placing the Big Rocks.

20190311_084109My wife made this picture for me when we were dating. (One of her many gorgeous papercraft creations.) It’s based on the analogy of the rocks, gravel, and jar. In short: a teacher challenged his students to put several sizes of rocks, along with sand and water, in a jar, but they could only do it by putting the big rocks in first. The lesson is this: if we don’t prioritize the things that matter most, they will get crowded out by the lesser things that take up all the space.

Early on in our relationship, H. knew that one of my greatest challenges in our marriage would be trying to manage the big rocks, so she made me this as a reminder.

Lately, I’ve been focused on three big rocks in particular.

My Household: Thing have been going well at home. My wife and I will be married 5 years this summer, and married life is a blessing. We’re looking forward to a family beach vacation in a few months and making plans for the near future. The kiddo is now a year and a half old, and just brilliant; her mind is a sponge, and she’s got a goofy and playful personality.

But the biggest news on the family front is this:

20190222_103729

Baby girl #2 is set to arrive this summer, and we couldn’t be more excited. We have been duly warned that going from 1 to 2 kids is a game-changer, but nevertheless we’re eager to meet this little sweetheart.

My Church: Being an elder at my church is already rewarding and stressful. There are new and more challenging questions I’m asked to consider, more conversations to be had, more responsibilities to shoulder–but I love it, y’all. The biggest challenge for me currently is working through the vast amount of material and training for child safety and abuse prevention materials. As I’ve noted before, this is becoming a big ministry focus for me lately, as I work to make sure all of our policies and procedures are consistent and up-to-date. I’ve been filling up a legal pad with ideas and questions, and what I really need is a day or so to sit and synthesize all the information I’m learning. (Anybody got a spare day laying around that they could loan me? Because I’m time-poor at the moment.) Unfortunately, this isn’t an issue that can or should be put on the back-burner. The time to address these issues is now, and I want to make sure I’m moving forward with the intentionality the issue deserves.

My In-Person Relationships: One of the ideas kicking around in my head as a result of reading Cal Newport’s latest book (review forthcoming) is that in-person communication and relationship-building is more powerful and more meaningful that digital, mediated communication. What this means is that being in the same physical space as the people you care about and want to connect with is worth the time and effort to do so. Sometimes that looks like driving across town through the evening rush to visit a family member in the hospital, or meeting a long-time friend for breakfast whom you haven’t seen in a few months. Maintaining these connections takes effort and grates against the easy-everywhere connection of likes and comments. But I’m finding that it’s worth it.

That said, there are a few big rocks that I’ve neglected lately, like exercise and writing and prayer, that I need to work back into my life. The fun distractions like social media and movies are sand and water in my jar. They work fine as fillers, but if I don’t get ALL these big rocks in place first, they’re just not going to fit.

I’m chewing on some ideas about how to do this better. I’ll share those when I come to conclusions worth reading.

So there’s the update. Hopefully, you’ll see me back here sooner than 2 weeks from now, which appears to be my average time between posts lately. I bet we can do better than that, though, right? Let’s try.

=====

Your Turn: What are the “big rocks” in your life right now–the most important things you actively make time to pursue? Feel free to share below. See you next time!

Midweek Odds and Ends (2/13/2019)

black business computer desk
Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

Happy Wednesday, friends! What can I say, I can’t bear to stay away too long. 

I don’t have anything specific prepared for today, so I figured I’d provide a little “This is Where I Am Right Now (TIWIARN)”-style update.  Brace yourself for the hail of bullets!

  • My current season of work is uniquely challenging. There have been times when the vibe around the office has been pretty light, pretty loose. The current atmosphere is…decidedly not that. Nevertheless, we persevere. I’ve been reading Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin and have had opportunity to put their personal discipline and leadership principles into practice (thinks like “taking ownership,” “prioritize-and-execute,” and “simplify”). And if that sounds like cubicle-jargon…well, whatever, man. It’s useful to me. All this to say, work has been a beast, and my lunchbreaks have become times to shut off my brain for a bit (usually watching Youtube or reading fiction). The downstream effect of that is that I’m not writing as many posts during that mid-day break. Sorry.
  • Man, I am LOVING this #52Stories project. I’ve got notes on 5 or 6 stories that I’m going to turn into posts soonish, but just the actual reading has been a joy. Plus, as I had hoped, it’s getting my brain clicking on some short-form ideas of my own. At some point (the procrastinator said), I’ll share the fruit of that brainstorming with you. But for now, just know: this project was a great idea. (Though not an *original* idea; check out Jay’s yearly “Deal Me In” Challenge! Dude has been killing it for YEARS!)
  • Interesting and providential confluence of events: the Houston Chronicle’s heartbreaking series on sexual abuse and cover-up inside Southern Baptist churches, coming just one month after I become an elder in my Southern Baptist church. Needless to say, I see addressing this issue as a serious and urgent responsibility. While I’m not aware of any concerns in our church, I’m also not naive enough to think something awful *couldn’t* happen. We have plans and policies in place to vet our children and youth workers, but we can always do more. If you know of any good resources for churches who want to do more to prevent abuse, drop it in the comments or shoot me a message in one of my other feeds. I’m happy to read and learn so I can serve my church family well.
  • Married life is great. We’re coming up on five years in June, which itself is amazing to me–it seems so much shorter, and yet longer (in a really good way). It’s becoming harder and harder to remember daily life before marrying H. She’s so much a part of my day to day, I couldn’t imagine life without her. She has my heart.
  • Not only that, but our little baby isn’t so little anymore. She’s 18 months old, talkative, fearless (climbs on EVERYTHING!), and a sweet kid. She’s also getting a head start into the “terrible twos.” We need prayer, y’all. Kidding aside, this little girl–ugh. She’s my delight.
  • I will try to post something on Friday, but realistically, my next post may be Monday. Lots going on. Thanks for hanging with me.

Quick round-up of my “currently’s”:

  • Currently watching: Life Below Zero on Netflix — a BBC docuseries about people who live near or above the Arctic circle in Alaska. FASCINATING program about what it takes to live in such an unforgiving environment. The language is often harsh, and the footage itself can be unflinching when it comes to hunting/trapping for subsistence and survival. My wife discovered this one, and I started watching it with her pretty early on. This is the only TV show I’m watching these days. I lost interest in what’s currently on network TV–which is probably for the best, to be honest.
  • Currently Listening: My favorite Pandora channel lately is “Coffee Shop Covers” because I am a SUCKER for good covers. My favorite track on there right now is “Wish You Were Here” by the Milk Carton Kids. At work, if I’m not listening to podcasts, I’ll listen to video game soundtracks as background music–today’s selection was Assassin’s Creed, I think, but SimCity is my usual go-to.
  • Currently Reading: Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin; The Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever; and a bunch of short stories!
  • “Currently” Playing: When I have a little bit of extra time once in a while, I fire up my SNES Classic. I’m about halfway through Super Metroid and a few hours into The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (my favorite video game of all time, I think). “Extra time,” however, is becoming more and more scarce.
  • Currently Thinking: Oh yeah! I have coffee brewed. See y’all later!

=====

What’s going on with you? Anything cool happening that you’d like to share? Drop it in the comments below!

 

#30ThankYous Day 4: Baptist Church of the Redeemer

Family,

Coming to BCR three years ago was a breath of fresh air for my wife and I. Here, we found a faithful community of believers who loved the Lord and loved His word, and who welcomed us in from the first time we walked into a church service or visited a Care Group meeting at the Hamilton’s house. BCR has become our family in a way that none of my past churches have been. We are known, we are loved, and we are challenged to walk out our faith sincerely and consistently.

Thank you for your commitment to meaningful membership. Every member of the church is expected to take their membership seriously and to live by the covenant we signed. You walk out that commitment every day. That is a blessing (and sometimes a challenge, on the days when I want to be invisible!). Thank you for not letting me hide.

Over the last year and a half, we’ve also experienced first-hand how generous you are as a people. When our daughter was born, you not only brought us meals, but you were eager to share your baby items with us. We have been blessed to take part in the “giving culture” of BCR, as God has provided us with baby items exactly when we needed them, from friends who were open-handed and eager to share what they no longer needed.

It is our honor and joy to love you, to serve you (and with you), and to grow together with you in the Lord. Whether it’s cook-outs over holidays, or one-on-one encouragement over coffee, our lives are richer with you in them.

So thank you, church family. God bless you. And we look forward to being part of this community for (Lord-willing) decades to come.

–Dave

The4thDave Reads: “From Death to Life” by Pastor Allen S. Nelson IV

FDTLWhen it comes to books about Christian theology, there seems to be a handful of approaches: they can be written toward an academic or seminary audience with an advanced-level, specialized focus; they can be written primarily for lay readers, with minimal theological concepts and jargon and a heavy emphasis on illustrations and application ideas; and then there is a third category that lands in the sweet-spot of deep-but-not-dense, accessible-but-not-shallow. Nelson’s slim volume on the process and implications of salvation falls into this group.

In From Death to Life (subtitled: “How Salvation Works”), Pastor Nelson seeks to lead the reader through the complete doctrine of salvation: our state outside of Christ, the way we are drawn to Christ, what is needed to be born again, and what being born again means to us. In ten chapters and several appendices, Nelson seeks to give the full scope of what is needed to become a Christian, and what being a Christian demands of us, in just 200 pages.

What Works

From Death to Life is a worthwhile study for a few key reasons:

It’s Biblical. I love it when a book on Christian living is steeped in Scripture. It may seem axiomatic, but a trip to your local Christian bookstore would clear up any question of how much purportedly “Christian” writing actually relies on the Christian Scriptures. Pastor Nelson does not shy away from building his arguments first and foremost on the Word of God.

It’s approachable. What I appreciate so much about this book is that Nelson isn’t trying to impress the intelligentsia or appeal to the academic–but this is not to say the writing is simplistic. He writes with a pastor’s heart, desiring to bring out the new treasures as well as the old for his flock to appreciate. As such, the book addresses important spiritual ideas in a way that even new believers can understand.

It’s comprehensive. While the book doesn’t give an exhaustive teaching on salvation (and doesn’t seek to, for that matter), it does provide a fully-orbed examination. Nelson seeks to ensure that the reader gets the full picture of why we must be saved, how we can be saved, and what being saved produces in us. He makes sure that the reader understands the Bad News, so that we can then more fully grasp the Good News. In an age full to the teeth with half-gospel presentations, this full treatment of the Gospel is refreshing.

It’s encouraging. I was blessed and encouraged as I read this book. In particular, the chapters on sanctification and evangelism were helpful and challenging. Again, Nelson writes pastorally, so even when he steps on your toes, he does so with grace and truth.

Technical Nitpicks

While the book is certainly worth reading, it is not without problems. However, all of these concerns involve style rather than content.

This is (as I understand it) Pastor Nelson’s first book (hopefully first of several!), and it shows a bit in how it’s formatted. There are an abundance of footnotes that often may have been better kept in-line without taking away the flow of his argumentation. There were typographical errors in several places that should have been caught during the editing/proofreading process.

There were also some places where the sections felt too casual and read more like a blog post instead of a book chapter. In a few places, the argument seemed to wander and then double-back. I think such sections could have used a bit more formality without losing Pastor Nelson’s voice or approach.

Finally (and this is really a nitpick), some chapters would have been better served to include section headings in order to help the reader find his or her way through the argument. There were times when I had to put the book down and come back to it later, and it took me a minute to remember what the argument was at that point.

All in all, any critique I have of the book is that it may benefit from a bit more polishing up–but that is only to help the gem sparkle more brightly.

My Recommendation

From Death to Life by Pastor Allen S. Nelson IV is a blessing to the church and will be useful and edifying for Christians in any walk of life. It’s as profitable for the person in the pew as it is for the pastor in the pulpit. Despite some minor technical issues, I would heartily commend it to you.

=====

Please Note: I was given a physical copy of the book to review, in exchange for my honest and unbiased thoughts.