I’ve tried this blog thing before and to be honest i’m terrible at it. Really truly terrible. It is, however, my aim to be a better pastor than I have been and to provide some more resources for those who are part of our body and for those who, though now far off, may wish to keep in step with what we are learning. That being said, I will do my best to post a synopsis of each weekly message here for your enjoyment and edification.
I have been preaching for the last five months or so through the book of Matthew. This came about after six straight years through the Old Testament. We have not finished the OT but have made it all the way through the kingly reign of Solomon and his writings. I really wanted a slight change of pace and so we are tackling the gospel of Matthew now. However, the last two Sundays have been spent on what it means to be the body of Christ, the ekklesia, the assembly. (what most of us call the church).
The Four 56 (where I serve as one of the teaching elders) is now moving away from the word “church”. We don’t find it to be offensive or sinful in the least and this statement isn’t meant to push you away from the use of the word “church” in your own vocabulary. Simply put, ekklesia (the Greek word we render “church”) has never meant church. It means quite literally “assembly”. Simple as that. I do think it matters a little bit since when people ask, “What church do you attend” we speak more of locations, programs, and denominations than we do the purpose for which we meet. An assembly gathers for a common purpose. An assembly gathers with common interests and intents. I can travel half way around the world and join my dear friend Ryan in his assembly in Australia and be completely at home because they assemble for the same purpose that we at The Four 56 assemble. I don’t have to get caught up in how their church may differ from mine because at the core the reason for the assembly is the same. Furthermore, in the Greek version of the Old Testament (The Septuagint) ekklesia is never translated “church” but always translated “assembly”. We also see the word ekklesia translated as assembly three times in the New Testament. Like I said, I am not condemning the use of the word church, it has a cultural meaning to be sure, but for our group we are trying to move more to the use of “assembly” along with its implications. It is the belief of our staff that this subtle move will help to break down dividing walls, at least within our own hearts, between us and the other assemblies that congregate here in San Angelo. I certainly don’t feel there should be any division over the use of one word or another. I simply state to you where I am at the writing of this blog so you can understand why from this point forward I choose to use the word “assembly” when speaking of our body of believers.
Thoughts from my sermon February 14, 2016. (you can listen to the sermon “The Church Part 1″ here and yes I do find the humor in the sermon title)
POINT ONE: It is clear from Scripture all believers make up the universal body of Christ and yet there are individual assemblies of believers in various homes and towns around the world.
“To the assembly of God that is in Corinth” 1 Corinthians 1:2
“The assemblies of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the assembly in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 16:19
“Paul an apostle… to the assemblies of Galatia” Galatians 1:1-2
I will not spend more time here trying to make the case that just as all people of faith are part of a universal assembly so we also who gather together in smaller groups are equally an assembly and body. It is clear from Scripture and you are welcome to listen to the sermon.
POINT TWO: It is clear from Scripture (and abundantly from 1 Corinthians 12) the body is made up of many parts and each part (person) is gifted by the Holy Spirit with certain spiritual blessings. These varieties in the spiritual gifts are for the purpose mutual edification and care. It is silly to believe I as the pastor, gifted in preaching, should also be personally responsible for every other gift mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4. Those who, through faith, have entered into the family of God and have found themselves part of The Four 56 are each gifted by God for the health and wholeness of the assembly. In this case for the health and wholeness of the assembly known as The Four 56. With an estimated 15,000 people in church gatherings here in San Angelo it would be foolish to think my gift of preaching is for all of them. It would be equally foolish for me to believe i’ve been gifted in preaching and to not use my gifting for the equipping and strengthening the saints who choose to assemble with us week after week.
That being said, if you are a faithful follower of Jesus you have been gifted by God in such a way that your gift is useful and necessary within the body of believers you call your church home. Being part of the body/assembly of Christ is not a passive thing. If we believe only pastors/teachers are called upon to equip the saints we have failed to function as a healthy body in the same way that if only my mouth worked but my hands ceased to respond to the commands of my brain it would be an indication of deep sickness within me. If you are part of an assembly and you could be lifted out without being missed then you are not operating as part of the body like you should. You have been gifted and those of us around you need you as much as you need us.
POINT THREE: When i was in college i was part of at least four different church ministries. Partly because there was a girl i liked at one of them. Partly because friends of mine taught at some of the others. Since I spent my time being connected to three or four assemblies I was unable to ever fully be part of a single assembly and never developed any depth of affection or relationship with any single group of people. There are certainly many assemblies gathering in your community, and ours, that faithfully love Jesus and proclaim him. There are certainly things you prefer about one over another. There are certainly positive and negative things about each of these assemblies. But if we continue to split our affection between multiple assemblies it will be difficult for us to ever be fully a part of any assembly. My hand, barring a tragic accident with a chainsaw, will always be my hand and fully part of my body. My hand can not be part of two bodies at once. It just isn’t how the body is made to function. Love multiple assemblies, pray for them, encourage them, but be fully plugged in to one assembly. Choose to be invested somewhere. Most of the time people split themselves between assemblies either so they don’t have to fully be integrated or because they are treating the body of Christ like a buffet, picking and choosing only those things they like best.
There is a biblical model for individual assemblies throughout history.(with multiple assemblies in one community or region)
As a Christian you have been gifted by God not to be passive but as a useful and necessary part of the assembly of saints.
It will be difficult, if not impossible, for you to be part of multiple assemblies using your gifts as God has designed.
Find an assembly, get plugged in, let your gifts be used, and build a legacy.
First of all, let me say that i think Kickstarter is a really amazing opportunity for people who need to raise funds for their various efforts. I have no problem with the company.
Still they rejected my project. You can’t really blame them. They apparently have a policy on not allowing any projects through that deal with sexuality. I can understand that. It could put them in weird situations if they just let anything through of a sexual nature. My two new books deal very clearly with sex. Of course the purpose of my books are to guard people and to help people treat sex as holy. I want people to understand that God made sex for a purpose. I want those who are single to honor the marriage bed and keep it holy long before they find themselves there. I want those who are married to enjoy their spouse according the the biblical and God honoring plan for the marriage bed. I want all people to be protected from sexual sin that can cripple and undermine marriage. I want marriages to be holy and satisfying. I want people to be free from shame and guilt. Unfortunately for me, Kickstarter can’t make an exception for me just because my intents are noble.
However, I still need the nearly $12,000 it is going to take to get this project completely funded. So here is my Kickstarter form along with our video that we made and i want to ask you to help us get this project off the ground. (You will have to scroll down to see the video)
$4000 will be used for the layout, design and editing process. $8000 will be used to purchase the first run of each book and cover the shipping required to send them all to you. My family doesn’t have the ability to do this project without your help.
Here are the incentives i can offer for your donations. TO MAKE A DONATION SIMPLY GO HERE. BE SURE TO WRITE THE APPROPRIATE PACKAGE NUMBER IN THE SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS. Incentives will be shipped out in the middle of July when the books become available.
*$12 PACKAGE ONE: you get a copy of EITHER the Red Band (if you are married) or The Green Band (if you are Single)
*$15 PACKAGE TWO: you get a signed copy of EITHER the Red Band (if you are married) or The Green Band (if you are single)
*$20 PACKAGE THREE: you get both of the new books.
*$25 PACKAGE FOUR: You get both of the new books signed and sent right to you.
*$50 PACKAGE FIVE: You get both of the new books signed and shipped to you and you also get your very own kit to host a murder mystery party for up to 21 people. Yes, i am a nerd. Yes, I write my own murder mystery parties. Yes, they are epic. Yes, i will help make sure that when you use the Traveling Circus Murder Mystery kit you too will have a blast. I wrote this one over a year ago and would love for you to enjoy it. It comes to you via email and i’m available for questions if you need help getting your party going.
*$75 PACKAGE SIX: You will get one of each (6) of my books signed. The original LOVE NOTES. The Shadow: Not Mere Words: LOVE NOTES second edition. The Red Band: The Green Band:
*$100 PACKAGE SEVEN: You get each of my six books signed and you also get your name mentioned in the “thank you” section of the two new books.
*$150 PACKAGE EIGHT: You get 16 of my books signed and shipped directly to you. You can pick any combination that you desire. You get your name mentioned in the “thank you” section of the new books.
*$250 PACKAGE NINE: You get a piece of original artwork shipped directly to you. Yes, i was an art major in college. Yes, i still paint. When it comes time for you to collect your piece of art i will send you images of the 10-15 i have available and you will get your pick. I will not be able to do custom works. Sorry. You will also get The Red Band and The Green Band, signed and shipped to you with the painting. You get your name mentioned in the “thank you” section of the new books
*$750 PACKAGE TEN: (I HAD TO LIMIT THIS ONE AND WE HAVE SOLD OUT) I will come to your church and do a two day one night event of your choosing. I will pay for my travel and my hotel. I just want to come serve you. If you are outside of Texas i will need mileage paid. Inside of Texas? I’m there. We will confirm that your event fits in with my current calendar schedule and we will make your event happen. You get your name mentioned in the “thank you” section of the new books. (SOLD OUT!)
Thanks for helping me out and thanks for spreading the word for me.
UPDATE: 2-27-14 As of today we are 43% funded. I would be more than happy to have you still support this project but unfortunately i can no longer add your name to the “thank you” section of the new book as it is now officially out of my hands and with the publisher. Thanks again.
First of all, you should know that this isn’t intended to give you a specific lists of things you need to be doing to be an effective parent. Most of the time people write those things and are simply expressing what worked for them. I only have two kids but they are completely different from one another. What works for one of my kids doesn’t work for the other so how in the world could i expect to give someone a set of rules for their children?
That’s just silly.
Second, it has dawned on me that only about three people a year actually ask my opinion about anything, so for me to run off at the mouth in an effort to “enlighten” you to the conviction that i just gained today (and will be done with in six months as i move on to the next thing) is just arrogant and silly.
This past week on FB a Christian, husband, father, author posted, “All those “how to” articles on social media telling you 10, 12, and 15 ways to be a better parent/spouse/Christian will destroy you”.
So this blog will have nothing to do with how much TV you let your kids watch or whether or not you spank. I don’t care how many vegetables you give your kids or if they aren’t allowed candy. I couldn’t care less if you do Santa Clause or not and i’m not the least bit interested on your ideas of Halloween. I will not tell you how to sneak broccoli into brownies (because i’d rather add peanut butter) or blast you for rocking your kids to sleep (or never rocking them to sleep).
You do you.
Whatever that is.
I’m here for one reason: To turn Christian parents to the heart of God in parenting and away from the trivial things.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that i command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:4-9
There you have it. Parents, love God with every ounce of who you are and diligently teach them to your children with every opportunity you have in life. That about sums it up.
Train up your children in the things of God. That is all.
Too often as parents we put standards and “laws” on our children that the Bible doesn’t. We hold them to impossible things that the Bible never mentions and we make them disobedient because we have set unrealistic expectations on them. Children are commanded to submit to and honor their parents, but when we add to their duties of obedience things that Christ has never proclaimed then we make life (and obedience) unduly cumbersome.
Asher is my oldest. He is four. When he was 16 months old and moving to the toddler bed we would often hear him up and around his room gathering as many Hot Wheels into his bed as he could. (upwards of 50)
Night one: I went into his room and told him that was unacceptable. I removed the cars.
Night two: I went into his room and told him that it was still unacceptable. I removed the cars. I informed him that he would be spanked if he did it again. (I added a law to his life that Christ had not)
Night three: I went into his room. I reminded him that it was unacceptable. I spanked him. I had him remove the cars from his bed.
Night four: I went into his room. I reminded him that it was unacceptable. I spanked him. I had him remove the cars from his bed. I went back to sit on the couch as he went to sleep. My heart broke. Why did i care if he slept with 1 or 50 cars? What was wrong with it? I tucked him in every night before i went to bed anyway. I could pull the cars out. I could cover him up. Why was i making something “sinful” that the Bible didn’t care about at all? Why was i provoking my child to anger rather than bringing him up in the instruction of the Lord? (Eph 6:4) I got back up off the couch. I went back into his room and scooped him into my lap.
“Asher, i’m sorry. Daddy shouldn’t have spanked you. You aren’t disobeying God to have cars in your bed. God doesn’t care if you want to have cars in your bed. I am so sorry. Will you forgive daddy?”
Then he lifted his head from my chest, “I can get my cars?”
Then i helped him put them all back in his bed.
Think about it for a moment: Cars in the bed or not in the bed do nothing to make my son more like Jesus. So why should it matter to me?
More recently my boys (Asher 4 and Ryker 3) have taken to “reading” their Bible with their mother and me in the mornings. Asher asked if he could have a marker to write in his Bible, “like Daddy does”.
Day one: I said no. I mean, c’mon, kids aren’t supposed to write in their books. And it would be all scribbly and incoherent.
Day two: I was writing in my Bible. Then it dawned on me. I write in every book i own. There isn’t anything wrong with it. It doesn’t mean someone is more holy if they don’t write and less holy if they do. My boys saw me writing in my Bible and wanted to take “notes” in theirs. Why wouldn’t my heart leap at that.
Day three: Asher observed Michele making triangles around every occurence of “Lord”. Asher piped up, “Hmm, that’s neat.” He got his bible and did the best he could to make triangles on all the words he felt mattered most in that moment.
I won’t battle my kids on the things that don’t matter. I’ll just love them.
Asher eats everything. Ryker, though he eats healthy things, only eats about 5 basic foods. So what?!
Asher always wants to play under your feet. Ryker wants to play by himself. So what?!
The other night Asher told me he wanted to be, “a bug splorer”. I told him that was called an entomologist. Ryker said he wanted to be a scuba diver. I told the boys that they could be anything they wanted, do anything they wanted to do, all that mattered to me was that they love Jesus.
“Cool!” Asher shouted as he ran off to play.
Our house has a lot fewer mom and dad rules than it used to have. We just want our kids to love Jesus.
The standard of parenting is still Jesus-
I weighed 100 lbs at the beginning of my Sophomore year in high school. I wore girls jeans until I was eleven because my legs were long but my waist was tiny. I dropped the bench press bar on my face when i was 14 because I didn’t have the strength to move it even an inch.
I was just a big wimp. Not much has changed.
The one area of my life that i thought i had under control was my spiritual life. I was a Christian from the time i was a little kid. I knew i wanted to preach from the time i was four. I went to church to learn. (And my junior year i went to sit behind Joni) I went to camp because i really wanted to understand God. I thought i was a Christian stud.
Until my world began to fall apart.
It was pretty typical stuff I suppose, but by the time I went to college I was clinically depressed, afraid of the dark and overcome by nightmares every night.
In February 1995 something changed. A Sunday school teacher got in my face and told me that i needed to be in the Bible everyday. I scoffed. He clearly didn’t know who he was talking to. I had been in church for 19 years. I attended two youth camps a summer. I knew the Bible stories by heart and had even led a Bible study for my fellow youth senior year.
But he was right. I needed to be in the word. I never was. I didn’t know it yet but I was just as much a spiritual wimp as I was a physical wimp.
That February i began to read and i haven’t quit yet.
The Bible isn’t just a good idea. It is absolutely necessary in the life of a believer…not just Sunday mornings… not just the latest group Bible study curriculum and certainly not the latest Christian book by the faithful teacher/preacher.
The Bible is necessary. All by itself. Free from the trappings of popular Christianity. (There isn’t anything wrong with sermons, curriculums and books on “Christian Living” but they are Not a substitute for the Bible itself)
Living in the Bible for the last 19 years has changed every single aspect of my life. It dictated how i marry and do marriage. It has shown me how to spend my money wisely. The Scripture has instilled in me how to raise my kids. The Bible is rich with ways to overcome sin and to pursue holiness. It has flooded my heart with peace. It gives me the resources to weather the storm.
We who hear the word of God and do it are the blessed ones. We are the ones who are not in danger of being knocked down. We are the ones who are firmly planted trees by rivers of water. We are the strong ones. (James 1, Matthew 7; Psalm 1)
The legacy of Christian faith, the story that inspires generations to follow hard after God, is filled with people who knew well the God they served. They held fast to the Scripture. They were/are giants in the faith.
I’ve looked to those men and women. I have thought that they were different from me. I thought they were better than me. Then I realized some things.
They were purchased by the same blood.
They were filled with the same Spirit.
They had their hearts set on the same hope.
They were given the same purpose.
So what made them different?
It was simple… they were weightlifters. They were dedicated godly athletes. They sacrificed sleep and meals and fellowship for knowing God better. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
And it showed!
They changed the world through the power of Christ at work within them. They weren’t self-indulgent. They condemned their earthly appetites. The word of Christ took root in their hearts and the work of Christ flowed forth from them.
I want that!
I don’t want my Christian life to fade into the annals of history without so much as nod. I want to make Jesus famous! I want to know him better than I have previously thought possible. I want to love him more passionately than my heart has to this point. I want my neighbors to know Jesus and my barber. I want the manager at HEB (his name is Daniel) to want to know Jesus. I want to love my wife and kids more faithfully than i ever have. I want to be a gracious friend and a trustworthy pastor.
There is more to be had. There is more to be done.
But it must start by knowing him in the Scripture. Otherwise we leave ourselves open to every wind of doctrine, every deceitful proclamation, every fleshly whim. The Scripture makes our foundation, our pillars, our walls, our buttress, our weapon and our sustenance!
We place the word of God faithfully into our hearts and then we guard our hearts with such ferocity that the demons themselves would flee. (Proverbs 4:21-23)
We taste of the word of God and enjoy it more than honey, we find that it causes us to be more in line with God and we fill ourselves with it more intently than we would fill our pockets with gold. It warns us and keeps us straight. (Psalm 19:7-11)
We unfold it as a treasure map and it gives us insight and understanding. (Psalm 119:130)
It lights our path and indicates for us which is the right way to go. (Psalm 119:105)
The Scripture is breathed out by God himself, proclaiming Christ, and equips us for every task which lines itself up before us. (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Luke 24:44,45)
I won’t be content any longer to sit on the sidelines. I will rise up in the power afforded to me through the grace and mercy of our good God. (1 Cor 15:10)
I will know him more tomorrow than i did today and for that knowledge of him i will serve him more faithfully.
I won’t stay a spiritual wimp. I will get stronger. I will move from strength to strength, faith to faith and glory to glory until the day comes that i stand before my King in Zion. (Psalm 84:7; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 1:16-17)
I have had this rolling around in my head for over 18 months and should have said this sooner.
It began when a friend of mine got in my face about something I said in a sermon my last day at a youth camp. It was July 2012 and i was leading a camp alongside my friend Aaron Wagner. I was closing out one of my sermons and was addressing the youth pastors and pastors that were in the audience.
I made the comment that if the pastors were basing all of their sermons off of the most recent summer block buster movie hits then they were doing something wrong. I went on to say that we as preachers aren’t entertainers, but we are proclaimers of Christ.
Aaron approached me after the message and graciously corrected me. He informed me that his pastor was a very biblical teacher and that he also used movies as a frame-work for presenting the gospel story of Jesus. Then he said something to me that i’ve thought of nearly every day for the last 18 months; “We aren’t enemies, Ryan. We are on the same side.”
I took his words to heart and apologized in my closing comments at the camp the following morning.
The problem was, as usual, my pride. I love the Bible. I really do. But somewhere along the way i had come to feel that those who didn’t teach the Bible in the manner i did probably didn’t love the Bible enough. I was puffed up. I was thoroughly pleased with myself. My methods. My approach.
What a shame!
Then i remembered what Paul said in Philippians; “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that i rejoice.”
If Paul could feel that way about people who were preaching the gospel from impure motives then why should i be so divided over people who preach Christ faithfully but do so in different ways than I? I’m loud and animated. Some men are quiet and stationary. I love to use examples and anecdotes from Scripture, but could equally use some from my life. I don’t really care for flashing lights, smoke machines or elaborate sets. But some people are gifted at creating a wonderful stage presence all while proclaiming Jesus.
Aaron was right, his pastor (whom i’ve never met) is not my enemy.
I’m not in competition with the other pastors in my local area.
I don’t need my church plant to be more successful than yours.
I don’t think people would be better off at my church instead of yours.
I don’t have better insight into Jesus than any other believer being taught by the Holy Spirit.
My personality, preferences and tendencies don’t establish me as a better shepherd than those who contrast me.
So, how far have i taken this?
I have friends from multiple denominations who, by the nature of their church culture, do things very different from me. But without a doubt i know that they proclaim Christ. I hang out with these men. We talk Jesus together. We digest the Bible together. We pray together and praise God together. We are separated by small things.
They use wine for communion. (We use grape juice)
They have beautifully intricate (and biblical) liturgy. (We are working on incorporating more)
They wear slacks, ties and robes. (Blue jeans and tennis shoes are my costume of choice)
Their service is limited to 55 minutes to accommodate their growing body. (ours typically runs two hours)
Some baptize infants (not for salvation but for dedication). (we give away a bible and pray for the parents)
They sing songs from centuries gone by. (so do we, but we use drums and guitars)
They use lights, smoke and incredibly beautiful stage designs. (we don’t have any money to do cool things like that. But i probably wouldn’t anyway just because i don’t care that much)
Their sermons series have clever titles and artistic videos to introduce them. (i always forget to title my sermons and only think about cool videos when it is too late to do anything about them)
But they preach Jesus! (so do we)
They love the Bible! (so do we)
They want to see the lost saved! (so do we, but they are better at it than i am)
They want to disciple the body! (I love doing that!)
So they are not my enemies. They just aren’t.
Here is where i’m at on all of this. If you preach Christ faithfully (that he is the son of God, fully God, wholly God, born of a virgin, destroying sin through the cross, purchasing people for himself through the cross, rising from the dead, saved through no one but him, ascending into heaven, coming back again to gather his church to himself)… If you preach that Jesus, i have no problem with you.
We won’t always agree. We won’t always do things the same. I am certain that there are things that i am doing wrong but I am growing. I know that you are missing on a point or two as well and i’ll give you the grace that i so desperately need. We will hold each other accountable. We will pick one another up. We will pray for each other. We will rebuke one another. We will be forgiving. We will grow together. We will rejoice in the fruitfulness of the other and we will labor together for the name and honor of Jesus.
Thanks to Aaron i have learned new grace. I have learned new compassion. I have come to be excited about ministries that i previously felt “in competition” with. I have made new friends. I have been challenged and taught.
If i have talked down to you… discouraged you… divided myself from you… treated you as base or menial… i am so deeply sorry.
Please forgive me.
You have been more faithful than i have. You have loved better than i have. Please allow me to labor along side of you. Please allow me to rebuild the bridges that i have callously burned. I need you. I need your help. I want to serve God well and i need to learn from and share with you as i journey forward.
You will preach Christ and I will preach Christ.
We are not enemies!
Some of my favorite people who are doing ministry well in the name of Jesus that you should get to know better:
Aaron Wagner (great worship leader and wonderful rebuker)
Jed Roseberry (one of my dearest friends in college. we have recently reconnected.)
Ryan Laden (wonderful friend from college who straight up moved to Australia to preach)
Scott Donaho (friend and roommate from college. one of my oldest friends)
Micah Mariano (he and i started a church together)
Reid Johnson and Tony Doland (I love these guys so much. some of my favorite people)
Kevin Kirkland (love this guy. talented preacher and writer)
Lance Dockrey (One of the coolest guys i’ve ever known. He continues to make me cooler)
Ryan Connel (he and i hang out regularly because i love this guy)
BJ Stewart (He and i did our first ever camps together. wonderful worship leader)
Josh Lilly (He is planting a church right here in San Angelo and has a passion for people)
I have forgotten easily twenty guys but i have to stop now and start teaching Bible class.
I love you guys!