For a number years, God has been growing a passion in my heart to see the body of Christ know, understand and discern His Word correctly. It can be very easy to miss the heart of some texts and allow convincing voices in your life to teach you something incorrect concerning Scripture. Here is a great example of how a Prosperity Preacher might teach a text, versus how the Word of God teaches it. Context is key!
On Thursday night at Community Group, we had a fascinating discussion about Jehovah’s Witnesses. We addressed some of the different beliefs that exist between them and us and then spent time talking over useful Scripture-centered questions that could be asked of them to challenge those differences. I thought that the questions that came out of our conversation were profitable enough to share with the rest of the church. I’d also like to point out that all of these questions have come out of our Sunday morning study of John’s Gospel. It’s a powerful thing to be able to apply the truth we’re learning to real-life situations.
I pray that the next time they come knocking you might be tempted not to close your door in their face, but instead engage them with grace and diplomacy.
- Can you explain your interpretation of John 10:30. What else could Jesus have meant when He said that He and the Father are one?
- Why did Jesus preface most of His statements as though He was God?
- Why did Jesus identify himself with God’s name; I AM (John 8:24)?
- Why did Jesus claim equality with God (John 5:18)?
- How could Jesus demonstrate omnisciences if he wasn’t God (John 2:23-25)?
- If Jesus wasn’t God, why was He worshipped as God by those who followed Him?
- How can Jesus merely be a created being if scripture claims he created all things (John 1:1-3)?
- Do you give worshipful honor to Jesus as God, just as you give honor to the Father as God? If not, then what does Jesus mean in John 5:23?
- If you don’t believe that Jesus is God (I AM), then why does He say that you will die in your sins if you don’t (John 8:24)?
- If you only believe in a spiritual resurrection, not a bodily one, then what was Jesus referring to in John 2:18-19.
Please note that these ten questions are not exhaustive, but are certainly a great place to begin. May we always recount the sobering words of C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Chrisitianity.
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as aC.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
demon;or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to
Jesus was either God, wholly insane, or he was the devil himself. He doesn’t leave us with the option of solely being God’s son by the claims He made.
This blog is a great little read from Stephen Nichols (President of Reformation Bible College), about the real story of St. Patrick. Get to know the saint who isn’t actually a green leprechaun.
When it comes to Saint Patrick, the true story is even more exciting than the legend and the myth. The facts are far better than the fable. This day that belongs to St. Patrick has become about leprechauns, shamrocks, pots of gold, and green—green everywhere. Famously, the City of Chicago dumps forty pounds of its top-secret dye into the river. A green racing stripe courses through the city. But long before there was the St. Patrick of myth, there was the Patrick of history. Who was Patrick?
Patrick was born in 385 in Roman Britannia in the modern-day town of Dumbarton, Scotland. Patrick opens his autobiographical St. Patrick’s Confession with these opening lines:
My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers. I am looked down upon by many. My father was Calpornius. He was a deacon; his father was Potitus, a priest, who lived at Bannavem Taburniae. His home was near there, and that is where I was taken prisoner. I was about sixteen at the time.
Patrick skips over much of his first sixteen years. But who can blame him? At sixteen and being captured by barbarian Irish pirates is a pretty exciting place to begin a story. When the pirates landed on the Irish coast, they took Patrick about 200 miles inland where he was a shepherd and farm laborer. Six years passed and Patrick had either a vivid dream or a vision in which he was shown an escape route. Emboldened, Patrick made his break form his captors, traveling back over the 200 miles to the shoreline. As he approached the docks, a British ship stood waiting. The sails unfurled and Patrick was home. But he didn’t stay long.
Before he was a prisoner, Patrick’s Christian faith meant little to him. That changed during his captivity. His previously ambivalent faith galvanized and served to buoy him through those long, dark days. Now that he was back in his homeland he committed to his faith in earnest. He became a priest and soon felt a tremendous burden for the people that had kidnapped him. So he returned to Ireland with a mission.
Patrick had no less of a goal than seeing pagan Ireland converted. These efforts did not set well with Loegaire (or Leoghaire), the pagan king of pagan Ireland. Patrick faced danger and even threats on his life. He took to carrying a dagger. Yet, despite these setbacks, Patrick persisted. Eventually the king converted and was baptized by Patrick and much of the people of Ireland followed suit. A later legend would have it that Patrick rid all of Ireland of snakes. Snakes were not native to Ireland at the time. Instead, Patrick rid Ireland of marauding ways and a cultural and civil barbarianism by bringing not only Christianity to Ireland, but by bringing a whole new ethic. It was not too long ago that a New York Times’ bestselling book argued that St. Patrick and his Ireland saved civilization.
Patrick would come to be known as the “Apostle of Ireland.” He planted churches, the first one likely at a place called Saul, in Northern Ireland, a bit inland from the coast and just below Belfast. Patrick planted more churches as he crisscrossed Ireland. The challenge with Patrick is sifting through the legend. Take the shamrock for instance. Some biographers claim definitively that Patrick used the shamrock as an object lesson to teach pagans about the Trinity, that God is one in essence and three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is no evidence, however, for such a claim.
Curiously, like most of his legend, St. Patrick is not even truly a saint. He has never been canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. Patrick himself told us he was a sinner, not a saint.
Legend further has it that Patrick died on March 17, 461. He likely died in Saul, where he planted his first church. A significant monument stands atop the hill overlooking the town. Panels depicting scenes from Patrick’s life surround the monument’s base.
What casts a far greater shadow than his monument, however, is St. Patrick’s Day. And that day in the middle of March raises a significant question: Should Christians celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? If you do, you might want to consider wearing orange. Orange? Here’s why. After 1798 the color of green was closely associated with Roman Catholicism and orange with Protestantism—after William of Orange, the Protestant king. The holiday is certainly not to be used as means for excessive partying and celebration. But wearing orange and trying to tell people who St. Patrick really was might be a good way to celebrate.
So we remember Patrick best not in the legends and fables and not in the ways his holiday tends to be celebrated. Perhaps we remember him best by reflecting on the “St. Patrick’s Breastplate,” which has traditionally been attributed to him. The word breastplate is a translation of the Latin word lorica, a prayer, especially for protection. These prayers would be written out and at times placed on shields of soldiers and knights as they went out to battle. St. Patrick’s Loricapoints beyond himself and his adventurous life. It points to Christ, the one he proclaimed to the people who had taken him captive:
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
We’re excited to be welcoming Dan Nichols this weekend. He is a gifted communicator and coach for the Glory God, not to mention a great friend of mine too. Dan has asked me to share the following information with you as you prepare your hearts for Saturday’s MyCircle Training. This workshop will run from
The MyCircle Initiative is not meant to simply be a five-session training. However, it is meant to be a line in the sand, a catalyst in your life, to take God’s mission, and your part in that mission, seriously. The real measure of effectiveness is not whether the training is attended but by what happens afterward. Will you be a person of distinction in the world you live in, in the midst of the people God has placed you, so that people can see, hear, and understand The Gospel of Jesus Christ? Will you be found to be a faithful steward of your relationships for the glory of God?
Please take time to prepare your heart and mind prior to the kickoff of the MyCircle Initiative. Allow God, through His Word and through the Holy Spirit, to expose what you really believe about some very important and foundational things. Below are three sections to help you focus on key Scriptures. Each Scripture is accompanied by a couple of questions for you to prayerfully consider. Spend time
Reflection 1: The Person Of Jesus Christ
Scripture: Colossians 1:15-23
Questions to consider:
- What does this passage teach us about the Person of Jesus Christ?
- How should this teaching affect your daily life?
- Are you convinced that Jesus is who He says He is?
Reflection 2: The Hope of The Gospel
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:11-16; Romans 1:16-17
Questions to consider:
- What is Paul’s stance on the importance of the Gospel for mankind?
- Are you convinced that The Gospel is the only Hope for every man, woman, and child?
Reflection 3: Ambassadors for Christ
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:17-21
Questions to consider:
- What does this passage teach us about God’s people?
- Are you convinced that God desires to work through you, in the world you live in everyday, for His glory?
Over the last week, I found myself reflecting on the culture of the celebrity pastor and how we have seen well respected, loved and largely followed men fall from their positions of pastoral authority.
It’s effortless for us to point the finger at them and think, ‘it was about time, it was bound to happen at some point’ or ‘we’re not surprised.’ I know I’ve found myself uttering those words during conversations about James MacDonald’s situation. However, after some further reflecting, I felt challenged by the Holy Spirit to begin asking myself some honest questions.
What is our responsibility?
As a local church pastor, ‘how have I contributed to the erroneous animal that is now the celebrity pastor culture? And how have I encouraged my flock in this direction too?’ Yes, these men are entirely responsible for their own choices, emotional responses, and actions over the years. I don’t want to take anything away from those they have sinned against, but I do think it’s important that we don’t overlook the question, ‘how could we (as the big-C Church) have been better stewards of the power they were given?’ Yes they are talented, and yes they have strong leadership personalities, but let’s face it, without the support and attention, they would never have been elevated the way they had. The power one man or women has is typically given to them by a group of people (large or small) who gravitates to their strengths, resonates with their message and ability to articulate it. I truly believe that God gave them their gifts and skills, but did we then paint them in gold? Did we begin to worship them instead of the one giving the gifts?
No man was created to be an idol
I think of the struggle that the Nation of Israel experienced in their desire to have a king. They wanted to look like the other nations around them that were prospering at the hand of their human leadership. And even though the God of the Universe was their King, they failed to see it and continued to request a monarchy. After a time God gave them over to their desires and raised up kings for them. This era was a season of great unrest in the Nation’s history. Israel experienced over 40 different kings, with only 9 of them being men after God’s own heart, the others fell prey to the temptation of power and prestige. They became men who desired the praise and worship of the people, and the people gave it to them. God’s loving hand eventually removed these kings, and after a significant season of destruction and exile, the Nation of Israel began to see and return to their True King again. Perhaps our hearts still desire an earthly king today, but do we know that no man was created to be worshiped like God?
Our contribution to their fall
The truth is, people, love to belong. People gravitate to strong personalities. And humans often desire to belong to something that is impacting the world in a significant and positive way. Therefore rallying around a vivacious disposition who articulates the message of Jesus effectively, makes complete sense. The danger, however, lies in our temptation to then turn a blind eye on their inconsistencies and character flaws for fear of halting the momentum we want to belong. Making a difference is nice. Making a difference can become our identity. And making a difference comes with a lot of cool things, like awesome worship sets and state of the art facilities. Could it be then, that we have played more of a role in who they’ve become than we care to admit? Could it be that we have failed to stir them towards growth in their weaknesses, and instead hung on their every word and decision as authoritative and profitable for our continued benefit at times? We cannot forget that they, like us, are fallen and broken people who are redeemed by the same grace as you and I?
What can we do?
Now I’m not naive. I am fully aware that most of us don’t have front door access into the lives of these celebrity pastors, which makes the solution to this problem difficult. However, how can we act in such a manner (even from afar) that will promote the health of this person instead of their demise? Honestly, I think it starts with a prayer and a heart change.
Father, give us discernment. Teach us how to embrace these gifted communicators and leaders. Give us the wisdom to love and encourage them well. Convict our hearts when we begin to idolize them, and show us when we value them over you. God, may we always remember that you are our King and Redeemer, not them. And may we never forgot that life, freedom and real prosperity belongs in your hands.
Humbled by an accountable church
As I reflect on own my journey as a pastor, I’m keenly aware that the celebrity pastor culture is not solely exclusive to the mega-church scene. It’s very possible in any sized-church because the issue is not one of size, it’s one of the heart.
I am grateful to God for giving me the church that He did. When I think about this body at Wilson FBC I see a crucial ingredient in our culture that continues to prohibit me from acting out on some of my sinful and selfish tendencies; that ingredient is accountability. I became a Lead Pastor at 22 years of age (after serving as Youth Pastor since 21), and within the first couple of years, we experienced significant growth in our small country context. However, despite that growth, the body has never been shy to hold me accountable, encouraging me to consider the choices I was making on their behalf, as their leader. I can’t say that I enjoyed every challenge or that the motives of all those who challenged were genuine; however, I continue to believe that the principle of accountability remains vital to my health and the health of the church. We must all be willing to kindly to call our leaders (locally, Nationally and Globally) towards explanations when we spot inconsistencies in their character or are confused by their choices, and as leaders, they must be willing to receive the challenges. The more significant the platform, the larger the influence. We must think through ways of encouraging those close to them to press into their motives and desires. We cannot, and must not, for the sake of Jesus’ Bride (the Church) turn a blind eye on the things we see for fear of rejection or halting momentum. Have we walked through tough seasons that dwindled the energy at FBC? Absolutely! Has it been hard at times? Very! But I know that after ten years of pastoring that I would take those hard, humbling seasons any day, over the day I disqualify myself from ministry because I was never held accountable.
This culture is a complex one that doesn’t have an easy answer attached to it, but I know that if we don’t play our part, then we will continue to read articles of Pastors falling.
May we be a people who aren’t searching for another earthly king, but a people who are partnering with our leaders in pursuit of our True King.
Losing a sense of God’s holiness is the first warning sign of entering a spiritually dangerous place.
Externally, everything might look fine: Our families might be well, our ministries might be flourishing, we might be receiving recognition and walking powerfully in our spiritual gifts. But inwardly, we’re wandering.
External phenomena do not reliably indicate our spiritual health. Families and ministries can struggle and go wrong for reasons that have nothing to do with our spiritual states. And history is full of examples of men and women who exercised spiritual gifts with great power for a period of time — even when involved in gross secret sin. Besides that, externals are usually lagging indicators of spiritual decline. By the time our decline starts surfacing, it often has reached a serious state.
What to Watch
The thing to watch is our sense of God’s holiness.
I don’t mean our doctrinal knowledge of God’s holiness. That’s something we might affirm and even teach when secretly we are in a place of decline. The doctrine of God’s holiness is real to us only when we have real fear of God. And one clear evidence of this is our fear of sin. The loss of the sense of God’s holiness always produces the loss of the sense of sin’s sinfulness. When God is not feared, sin is not feared.
A tolerance of habitual indulgence of sin — a lack of fear over what slavery to sin might imply (John 8:34) — is an indictor that the fear of God is not governing us. And when we are in such a state, Jesus tells us what we need to do: cut off our hand.
Absolutely Terrifying Reality
Matthew 18 is a sober read. Jesus gets very serious about the extremely horrible consequences of sin. And he says this:
Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. (Matthew 18:7–9)
Note the words eternal fire in verse eight. For most of the history of the church, some have asserted either some form of ultimate universal salvation for everyone or ultimate annihilation of the lost. But for the entire history of the church, the vast majority of Christians and the vast majority of the church’s most eminent and reliable theologians have affirmed that what Jesus and the apostles taught about hellis eternal, conscious punishment. Those three words describe an absolutely terrifying reality.
Metaphor, But No Hyperbole
I used the words “extremely horrible” and “absolutely terrifying” very carefully and intentionally. They are among the only fitting words we have to describe hell, the eternal death that is the wages of sin (Romans 6:23). No one wants to experience this. And it will be the reality experienced by everyone who is a slave to sin and not set free by the Son (John 8:36).
That is why Jesus uses the extreme metaphor of cutting off our hand and tearing out our eye. Extreme danger calls for extreme measures of escape. Yes, the mutilation imagery is a metaphor, but it is not hyperbole. We know it is a metaphor because the literal loss of a hand or an eye doesn’t get to the root issue of sin. But radical and painful amputation of stumbling blocks out of our lives may be the only way to escape falling headlong into sin’s insidiously deceptive snare.
We may need to “mutilate” — chop off — a habit, a relationship, a career, certain personal freedoms, whatever is causing us to stumble. Because far better that we enter life having lost those things than kept them and lose our souls (Luke 9:25).
Cut Off Every Hand
When we lose the sense of God’s holiness, Jesus’s warnings in Matthew 18 land lightly on us. We reason that such a warning is for someone else. We don’t seriously think it applies to us. Nor do we seriously think it applies to other brothers and sisters who are characterized by worldly concerns and pursuits and are rather numb when it comes to sin.
We might take consolation that our affirmation of orthodox doctrine, external affirmations, and “fruitful” labors demonstrate we’re on the right path. But if in the secret place, we’re tolerating sin, tolerating relative prayerlessness, tolerating a lack of urgency over lost souls, it is an indicator that something is wrong. If we don’t reverence God as holy in our private lives, we are on a perilous path that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13).
Jesus provides us the cure to this deadly infection: cut off every hand that is causing you to stumble. And he really means it. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart” (Hebrews 4:7). Whether we have just ventured on to this road or been on it way too long, the time is now to repent and take the extreme measure to amputate whatever is entangling our feet in sin (Hebrews 12:1). We must plead with the Lord and do whatever it takes to see the fear of the Lord restored in our hearts.
For the Christian, the fear of the Lord does not compete with our joy in the Lord. Rather, it’s a source of our joy in the Lord. Isaiah prophesied this about Jesus: “And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:3). Jesus delighted in the fear of his Father, and God wants us to enjoy this delight too. Because “the fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death” (Proverbs 14:27). And “the friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant” (Psalm 25:14).
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). Conversely, losing the fear of the Lord is the beginning of foolishness. The reward of such wisdom is eternal life (John 3:16) and fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). The reward of such foolishness is absolutely terrifying.
When we notice a diminishing of our healthy fear of God, the loss of a sense of his holiness, that is the time to take action. Let us repent by cutting off every foolish hand and, as Deuteronomy 30:19 says, choose life.
This is a great article from Ed Stetzer at Christianity Today. Ed sat down with Jerry Gillis, Lead Pastor of the Chapel and discussed what God was doing through the Church of Western New York. Take some time to read this and celebrate how God is using us in this mix.
Jesus set us up in such a way that it requires his whole body to bring the whole gospel to the whole geography.Jerry Gillis
Not too long ago I talked with Jerry Gillis, Lead Pastor of The Chapel in Buffalo, NY. Jerry and others are leading a movement to saturate western New York with the gospel called The Church of Western New York. Below I talk with him about what God is up to in their region.
Ed: Tell me about the Church of Western New York and Pentecost Together. The video shows a remarkable array of Christian leaders who I never imagined seeing together in one place. What did you do and how did you get there?
Jerry Gillis: Two things. We’ve had two large scale events for the church in western New York. One was a 2013 Good Friday Together. We basically gathered ourselves together in downtown Buffalo and had worship and communion. There was preaching around the seven last sayings of Jesus during the time leading up to his crucifixion. We took up an offering and invested it into the city through a number of different city initiatives, whether that was toward education, housing, or other similar things.
And then we had another event in June of 2017, which we called Pentecost Together. It took place around the time of Pentecost, June 9th, which was right before Pentecost Sunday. Thousands of believers from all across the western New York region gathered together to worship. We hosted it in the First Niagara Center, which is in downtown Buffalo where the Sabers play.
To be able to have those kinds of events in the First Niagara Center takes time and intentionality – those things don’t just happen. Over the course of the last 12 years or so there has been a relational development in the Church of Western New York where brothers and sisters in Christ have determined that we are better together.
We believe that no local church can do the ministry and mission that Jesus has called us to on their own. Jesus set us up in such a way that it requires his whole body to bring the whole gospel to the whole geography.
So there were a lot of relational investments – meetings, coffees, breakfast, lunch, hanging out with one another, getting to know one another. Then, ultimately through a handful of us that God brought together, God birthed this vision to pull together an event as a testimony to the region and to the community.
Western New York has been a declining population for the last 40 years or so. Our community has struggled a bit over the last few decades, although signs are much better now economically.
We wanted to say to the community that we live in – the community of western New York – that we’ve come to the realization that we’re all on the same team and that we are united in the mission God has for us.
We believe our mission is that every man, woman, and child here in western New York would have a repeated opportunity to hear, to see, and to respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Ed: The event was quite diverse, both ethnically and generationally. That might have been a first for some people. What was the response of the people in the room?
Jerry: It was tremendous. I mean, the funny thing is that I have a tendency to think that sometimes we as leaders and as pastors are behind our people rather than being in front of them. In other words, it seemed as if the people that were there thought Yeah, this is what we should be doing. What took you guys so long?So sometimes it feels like we as leaders are trailing the people rather than leading the people.
In this instance particularly, that’s what it felt like in the room. It felt like people were thinking to themselves “I’m at a family reunion. There are people here that I don’t know.” We did some things intentionally to help people get to know, learn the names of, and pray with people they would never ever run into otherwise.
The only common denominator they had was Jesus. That was the only commonality in the room for everybody. And that was enough for all the people who attended. It was the beginning of relationships with people who weren’t like them but who were a part of the body of Christ. At that event, these kinds of relationships began to foster and start. It was super encouraging to be part of that.
Ed: I want to ask you a little bit about the title of your movement, “the Church in Western New York.” Why that language?
Jerry: Well, plain and simple is that we don’t think Jesus is a polygamist. We believe he has one bride. At the end of the day there is one church in our region. I could say it this way: if Jesus were writing a modern-day letter to the church like he did in Revelations 2-3, it would be addressed to the Church of Western New York. It would be to all of us believers who are making up his bride in this region.
We intentionally decided that this was the title we wanted to have because we didn’t want to give a sense of a bunch of local churches. We do have a bunch of local congregations of the Church of Western New York that are represented together, but what we wanted to communicate is that we are one church.
Ed: Back in the days of the early church, they would have one church united under a bishop. You don’t have a bishop. Usually when people talk like about unity and really mean it, there is somebody in charge that makes it one church. How does it work since you don’t have a bishop-like figure?
Jerry: We run around a phrase on occasion here in our local context that Jesus is the senior pastor. Once we get that theology straight, that Jesus himself is the head of his church, we can understand that Jesus is the senior pastor. For all the rest of us that means that, regardless of what we do in the body of Christ, we are some part of the body other than the head because he himself is the head.
We just have to find our place in the body. So we basically got a consensus from a bunch of churches in the region to form a core group which would be a part of pulling [the initiative] together and help set an agenda for what it would look like.
There were a handful of us leaders pulled from all over the place to help in a variety of capacities. We were granted permission by those in the Church of Western New York to lead and serve in that way. It was a mutuality of interdependency – nobody was the boss, which was remarkable.
Ed: The church you lead, The Chapel, is the largest church in western New York. Why not operate within your own system? Why help plant churches that are in other denominations as well?
Jerry: Here’s the motivation: If I’m compelled by what I believe the mission of God to be, and if I genuinely believe that God’s desire is that every man, woman, and child have repeated opportunities to hear, see and respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ, if I believe that rises up out of Scripture from beginning to end, that this is his heart, that his glory would cover the earth as the waters cover the sea, that there would be a saturation of the gospel in our region, I have to know that that can’t possibly happen just with my church, even though we might be the biggest fish in the pond.
We measured our church members and their gospel presentations in our region and we accounted for less than one percent of the population of western New York in our gospel presentations. We’re the largest church in western New York, and we only got to one percent of the population. It can’t just be us. We need a team if we want to live into our mission.
It’s either ignorant or arrogant to even think in terms of doing it by yourself. Jesus has set this up in such a way that it is going to require the whole body to fulfill his mission. If we want to reach every man, woman, and child, it’s going to take every man, woman, and child in the body of Christ do it.
Whatever God is going to do in the world and in our geography, he’s going to do it through all of Christ’s people, not just through a select few. He’s going to do it through the mobilization of everyday people who are walking temples, who are a mobile presence of God in the places that they work, and eat, and hang out.
That is the only way this is going to happen. If I’m committed to that vision, our mission cannot be simply brand replication for The Chapel. If it was, we would not actually be helping move forward the mission of God at that point. We’d be growing our own empire. We can’t waste time doing that. We have a job to do.
The Chapel has a big role in that, because “to whom much is given, much is required.” We have a responsibility to partner with other local congregations to help plant other workers. And if those other workers are Southern Baptist, or if they’re Evangelical Free, or if they’re nondenominational with a bent toward being charismatic, we have a responsibility to partner in planting them all.
Ed: If you continue as you are doing what you’re doing, what’s the hope and the goal ten years from now?
Jerry: We put saturation at the center of the bullseye. We believe it’s God’s heart that this whole entire region has access to the gospel. Maybe even without coming or going anywhere, because God’s people are in all of these locales and locations.
Then we can measure that by looking at how many local congregations we have per populous. A number of years ago we had one local congregation that had this kind of mission for every 150,000 or 250,000 people in what we call western New York. That’s gotten down to 1 for every 50,000 people, and we’re on our way to one for every 25,000 people.
Where we’d like to get to is 1 for every 10,000 or even 1 for every 5,000. Can we do that in 10 years? I don’t know, that’s a little aggressive, but that’s where we’re headed.
Ed: So if I was in, say, Dubuque, Iowa, and I want to create the Church of the Dubuque, what pattern would you encourage me towards?
Jerry: I would have a couple of recommendations. There’s a pattern and a resource. The pattern that I would suggest is, first of all, if you don’t know your brothers and sisters who are leading other congregations in your region, then you have to get to know them. This is going to be painstakingly long to do. This is generally the price that people don’t want to pay because it’s messier. It’s harder, it can be more challenging, it’s going to require of you a lot of coffees, and a lot of breakfasts, and a lot of lunches.
You’re going to have to get together and start asking questions across the table of other leaders saying, “What is it you think God wants for our city?”
Here’s the bottom line: When the Spirit of God is doing work in the hearts of people, we come to generally the same conclusions. It’s going to be something that sounds a whole lot like the Great Commission. That’s where we end up.
When we ask those questions and other leaders start thinking about them, then we start asking ourselves, “What does God want for the city? And what would it look like if God did what he wanted?” Those two questions are vision casting and match striking enough in the hearts of people that they’ll start thinking about it.
But this means we better know one another first.
Once you have a relationship you can start asking strategic questions. What does pursuing God’s heart for our community look like? Do we need to plant churches together? Do we need to partner together on some initiatives in our community and our city? How’s that going to look?
I try not to make that prescriptive city to city myself because I think the Spirit of God knows far better than I do what it needs to look like in a particular location. In any specific place there will be a lot of cultural relatives.
But these are things that we’ve done before so you can easily go to Christtogether.orgto be able to see how we’re doing some of those things. There are a bunch of free resources that are there.
This a great blog (from The Village Church Resources) for any of us who not only hold onto the victim mentality but enjoy weaponizing it too.
When we’ve been wounded, some of us have a tendency to inflict that pain on others, hoping to lessen the pain we’re feeling. But in this hurt, we have hope in Christ—the Wounded Healer.
I was a bit of a sulker growing up. Being sent to my room or even grounded felt, in some way, like a secret reward—there I could nurse my wounds in whatever which way I wanted. Thank God He saved me, or I’d still be sulking in a corner somewhere. Quieting ourselves away with a wounded heart or spirit can be a good thing—God can bring clarity to situations, slow our response time before saying something sinful and reveal our own sin. But sulking over a seeming injustice against us can also result in a grievous sin against God and others. We may see the ways God hasn’t answered a specific desire or has answered it and the answer brings with it difficulty we couldn’t imagine, so we react with pride or anger or bitterness. Forgetting that Christ was wounded on our behalf, setting us free from the power of sin and death, we can begin to weaponize our wounds against others, wounding them in the belief that it will lessen the ache of our own.
God is like a surgeon, slicing our skin and piercing our protection in order to reveal and remove what festers within us. He does it because He’s good and He desires us to be healed and whole. If we only view our wounds as punitive punishment from Him or others, we will be prone to weaponizing them against others instead of receiving the grace of God for whatever we face.
Whatever season of life you’re in—a tired parent of little ones, a single person who desires marriage, an infertile couple who longs for children, a janitor who’s qualified to be an executive, a business owner who feels thwarted, a father who just lost your job, a mother whose children have left home, a minister who feels unseen and unthanked—God is working in your wounding. He’s working in the ways you feel overlooked, unheard, unseen and hurt. He’s working in your weakness. The Psalmist wrote of God, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Ask your Father to help you lay down the arms you use to self-protect, step off the platforms you use to keep yourself separate and silence the screams that no one cares about your season of life.
When we come out of the corners where we sulk over our wounds and lay down the weapons we form from them, we begin to see the great level land before the cross—all of us in equal need of the gospel for whatever season or struggle or sin we are engaged in. Christ’s wounds were weaponized with finality against the Enemy so our wounds wouldn’t have to be weaponized against anyone ever.
For further reading/listening:
This week has been a tough week for the evangelical Christian community (a community that I consider myself very much a part of). On Tuesday night, January 22, I posted a blog detailing my perspective on the new Abortion Bill that had been passed in Albany that day. My goal was to offer a unique viewpoint as a 31-year-old male pastor who was adopted from birth. I understood that the timely nature of this post would mean that it would experience some traction, but I didn’t anticipate quite as much as it did. As a small town pastor, you don’t expect any level of wide-spread exposure, but I suppose that’s the potential that Facebook offers anyone with an internet connection.
As I have spent time with God this week, navigating through my emotions, I believe He would have me share the journey He has had me on, and where He has taken me in scripture. I am forever grateful to have a God who helps me navigate my thought process in challenging situations.
This blog today is explicitly written with the Christian in mind, and I pray that, as a Pastor, God would grant me enough authority to speak into the lives of those who sit under the grace of Jesus Christ (even those who are not directly under my oversight).
What if we were all murderers?
I am not the only evangelical Christian who has responded to this situation, and I’m certainly not the only evangelical Christian who struggles with any Bill that legalizes abortion at any level. But I do want to be one of the first Christians to remind Christ’s Bride (the church) of what Jesus said to all those who would listen in Matthew 5.
 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.  So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,  leave your gift there before the altar and go.Matthew 5:21–24
Firstbe reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Jesus’ best friend, John, also reiterated Jesus’ heart in his first letter to a bunch of house churches in Ephesus as he encouraged them towards loving unity.
 We know that we have passed out of death into1 John 3:14–15
life,because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.  Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
Yes, John is explicitly talking to a group of believers in regards to how they ought to interact with one another. But we can’t over contextualize this text and treat this advice as unique to believers only, and thus negate how we are called to love the world in and through its mess. The second greatest commandment still stands true today (Matthew 22:36-40).
This week social media has seen a flurry of Christian’s responding (including me) to this Bill in ways that could potentially open the door for hatred to take root in our hearts and distance us from a world we’ve been commissioned to with the Gospel. As you read this, ask God to reveal your heart to you. Was it filled with hatred? Is it still filled with hate? If so, recognize that you to have fallen into the same category as the one involved in abortion; you too are a murderer, and you also need the same grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ at this moment. It’s sufficient for you and sufficient for them.
You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.Matthew 7:5
We cannot and must not forget to examine our own lives before casting judgment on a lost world that we once belonged to. If it wasn’t this week, at some point, we have all murdered. Therefore it’s imperative that we allow His new mercies – every morning – to inform the truth and grace that we walk in daily. May we walk in humility and not arrogance.
Now, please do not think that this my attempt at minimizing what I still believe to be murder. Any termination of a third-party’s heartbeat will always be considered murder in any circumstance or situation. But as far as Jesus is concerned, so will hate; and as Christians, we cannot miss this. The danger for us doesn’t come in minimizing abortion as something less than murder, but reducing the hate in our heart as less than murder.
A church of murderers
My prayer for us as the hands and feet of Jesus today, is that His churches would be full of murderers. Murderers who all humbly sit under His grace and forgiveness. Murderers who lift their hands and hearts in awe of a God who saved them from their wicked ways and moved them into a relationship with Him. Murderers whose souls are enlightened to His design for His creation. Murderers who now value what He values, as He values it.
I do believe that abortion for some is a solution to maintain a level of selfish convenience, but I also recognize that for some, it was a genuine struggle as they navigated through problematic waters without guidance and support. Either way, the last thing that these women need from the church is shame and condemnation. Instead, they need a group of people ready, willing and able to welcome them and walk with them to the open, reconciling arms of Jesus Christ.
Grace and forgiveness are available for all murderers without exception, and Wilson FBC will forever be a place for anyone to come as they are, but never stay as they are.
Heavenly Father, we not only continue to pray for our country, and it’s leaders; that they would turn from their wicked ways. But we pray that we would not lose sight of the unmerited grace that you have saved us with. God protect us from our pride and hatred, and allow us ALWAYS to be your body that responds equally balanced in truth and grace. Freedom is ONLY and FOREVER found in you! In Jesus’ name, amen!
Over the years when it comes to politics, I have chosen to stay in my lane. I’m a Pastor, not a politician. Yes, God has appointed both of those roles, but they are significantly different in their functions and responsibilities. As most conservative evangelical Christians out there, I too believe in the importance of the separation between Church and State in a fallen world. I have never been one to post or comment my political opinions on social media; however, when the issue of morality as scripture would define it, is challenged, I believe we then have a Biblical responsibility to voice our concerns graciously and firmly rooted in truth.
Over the last two weeks, I have heard more frequently about the proposed NY Abortion Bill that has now been voted on. Initially, when I saw it on Facebook, I wrote it off as another fabricated news article looking to get a rise out of people who only read titles, not the whole article. However, as I realized this was indeed a real story with an actual Bill, I was mortified at what it was proposing. The Bill is effectively removing the 24-week term limit from the current abortion law, allowing women the opportunity to abort their pre-born babies at any stage of the pregnancy. Currently, the policy writers are ensuring the public that the removal of this term limit is only to protect the health of the mother in case of an emergency that would put her life at risk. However, we all know that moral collapse doesn’t happen overnight. Therefore I’m concerned that it would merely be a matter of years before the term ’emergency’ is redefined.
Adopted not aborted
Not only am I a pastor, or even a Father awaiting the birth of his second son, I am also a 31-year-old male who was adopted at birth. I don’t know all the details surrounding my conception story, but I know enough to know that if the women who gave birth to me lived in 2019, she could have legally chosen when to terminate my inconvenient life being formed inside of her, and justified it as ‘moral.’ Had she elected to do so, I would cease to exist today.
- I would never have had a name.
- I would never have experienced love.
- I would never have known what it felt like to kick a soccer ball or score a goal.
- I would never have been able to hug my dad or kiss my mom.
- I would never have become a pastor.
- I would never have had the joy of serving people.
- I would never have become a husband or a father myself.
One little choice to remove what was brewing inside of her would have killed all that has come about in my life and all the people I have connected with over the years.
This world and its policies continue to enable a society to stop thinking about the greater good and focus on the greater-self. We are too focused on our life that we fail to consider how we might be affecting the lives of others. Jesus said, ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ not, hate your neighbor by loving yourself.
Now even as I type this, I am fully aware of the counter-arguments that include questions surrounding rape victims, etc. This blog isn’t intended to get lost in the sensitive nature of those arguments, but I will acknowledge again that I do not know the details surrounding my conception. I only know they were complicated. My goal for this blog is to share a Biblical perspective on the value of all human life, born or unborn.
The Value of Human Life
“…God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.'”Genesis 1:26
I think it is important to notice here that the value of human life was given to us to steward, but not define. Yes, as humans, we have dominion over this world, but God Himself remains the definer of our value. As our Creator, He kept that role for Himself. He did not give that to us. H
All Children are blessings.
I have always subscribed to the saying that there might be unplanned parents, but there are never unplanned pregnancies. Even if the circumstance proves to be far from perfect, I continue to hold fast to the truth of David’s Psalm in chapter 139;
 For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
Even if conceptions (like mine) don’t come through the traditional Biblical marrital union, the miracle of birth still has God’s hands all over it. No one can tell me that God didn’t have a plan for my life but had to make one up because two people made a mistake. Also, anyone who has been pregnant or witnessed the process cannot argue that there isn’t a miraculous nature to those 9-months. Each life is precious in the sight of its creator, and its Creator has been active in its creation. Nothing is created without a creator.
God Bless America?
The struggle for our Nation arises when we examine scripture and see that God has always been opposed to the Nations who disregarded the precious sanctity of infant life and opted for its murder as an option to its inconveniences.
Since 1970, around 60,000,000 unborn babies have been terminated in this country. Each one of those is a life lost. Each one of those is an opportunity missed. Each one is a ball never kicked; a hug not shared, and a name not given. Each one of those is a rejection against our Creator’s creation.
I firmly believe that until we as a Nation (leaders included) can become a people who place the appropriate value back on the image and likeness of God and cherish the sanctity of human life, we will forever be a hypocritical Nation asking for God’s blessings. We cannot pray for God’s protection in one breath and kill His creation with the next. May our prayers begin to change; from blessings to mercy. God forgive us and have mercy on us as we turn from our wicked ways.
When Jesus came to this earth, he restored many of our attempts to redefine His standard, and in one particular instance, he showed us how all children should be treated. In Matthew 19:14 Jesus said,
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”Matthew 19:14
Children born or unborn have never been an inconvenience to God, but always a blessing. When Mary was pregnant with Jesus (might I add, through an incredibly unplanned circumstance), ironically the first person to recognize who He was, was another unborn baby, his cousin John (see Matthew 1 and 2).
So my prayer for us today is that we would not treat this as another political party conquest or ideology, but that we would see this issue, and many others, as God sees them. Would we recognize today that as we nailed Jesus to a cross to die, that He even restored that through His resurrection? He was killed so that, if we believe in Him, we might have life and give life to others. I will be forever thankful to Jesus and the lady who chose life for me, not death, even though I was a significant inconvenience.
Heavenly Father, break our heart for what breaks yours, in Jesus name.
Make sure your voice is heard. Help stop this bill from passing by clicking here
Does God ever say no? This has forever been a timely question. One that Christians have wrestled through for years. One that Christians have also come to many different conclusions on. Below I believe R.C. Sproul communicates one of the healthiest thoughts on this issue. This article was found on Ligonier Ministries.
I am astonished that, in the light of the clear biblical record, anyone would have the audacity to suggest that it is wrong for the afflicted in body or soul to couch their prayers for deliverance in terms of “If it
Away with such distortions of biblical faith! They are conceived in the mind of the Tempter, who would seduce us into exchanging faith for magic. No amount of pious verbiage can transform such falsehood into sound doctrine. We must accept the fact that God sometimes says no. Sometimes He calls us to suffer and die even if we want to claim the contrary.
Never did a man pray more earnestly than Christ prayed in Gethsemane. Who will charge Jesus with failure to pray in faith? He put His request before the Father with sweat like blood: “Take this cup away from me.” This prayer was straightforward and without ambiguity—Jesus was crying out for relief. He asked for the horribly bitter cup to be removed. Every ounce of His humanity shrank from the cup. He begged the Father to relieve Him of His duty.
But God said no. The way of suffering was the Father’s plan. It was the Father’s will. The cross was not Satan’s idea. The passion of Christ was not the result of human contingency. It was not the accidental contrivance of Caiaphas, Herod, or Pilate. The cup was prepared, delivered, and administered by almighty God.
Jesus qualified His prayer: “If it is Your will….” Jesus did not “name it and claim it.” He knew His Father well enough to understand that it might not be His will to remove the cup. So the story does not end with the words, “And the Father repented of the evil He had planned, removed the cup, and Jesus lived happily ever after.” Such words border on blasphemy. The gospel is not a fairy tale. The Father would not negotiate the cup. Jesus was called to drink it to its last dregs. And He accepted it. “Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).
This “nevertheless” was the supreme prayer of faith. The prayer of faith is not a demand that we place on God. It is not a presumption of a granted request. The authentic prayer of faith is one that models Jesus’ prayer. It is always uttered in a spirit of subordination. In all our prayers, we must let God be God. No one tells the Father what to do, not even the Son. Prayers are always to be requests made in humility and submission to the Father’s will.
The prayer of faith is a prayer of trust. The very essence of faith is trust. We trust that God knows what is best. The spirit of trust includes a willingness to do what the Father wants us to do. Christ embodied that kind of trust in Gethsemane. Though the text is not explicit, it is clear that Jesus left the garden with the Father’s answer to His plea. There was no cursing or bitterness. His meat and His drink were to do the Father’s will. Once the Father said no, it was settled. Jesus prepared Himself for the cross.
This excerpt is taken from Surprised by Suffering by R.C. Sproul.
These moments are what we pray and strive for as believers. These moments are why I have done what I have for the last ten years. It should be the fervent prayer of the believer that not only God would use us as mentors for the lost we interact with, but as He captures their heart with His grace that He would begin forming a relationship that would blossom into a family bond with Christ at the center. A friendship that would allow us to walk through all of life’s struggles and milestones with them. Nicole and I have had the unmerited privilege of watching Brianna O’Donnell (now Moreland) grow from a young teenager – trying to figure life out- into a beautiful young lady who loves Jesus passionately, and now loves her husband unconditionally.
It was indeed one of the biggest honors of the last ten years of my life to play such a special part in this day. I was the officiant and Nicole was the Maid of Honor! Brianna is no longer a spunky teenager, but a beautiful sister in Christ.
I want to take this minute to encourage everyone today. Committing to Gospel-centered relationships are worth it. Not everyone we interact with will come to know the Grace of Jesus Christ, but when those who do kneel down next to you – before Him – declaring Him Lord an Savior, there indeed is nothing sweeter. Stay the course. He is faithful and just!
Join me this year as I (Stephen) read through Crossway’s one-year reading plan for Proverbs.
Just a Few Verses Per Day
The book of Proverbs is a unique and treasured part of the Bible, rich with timeless wisdom. It is meant to be read slowly and meditatively, yet most reading plans require whole chapters of reading at a time.
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This reading plan leads you to open up space and time to absorb the truths of Scripture at a slower pace. Read through the book of Proverbs in a year—a few verses per day—with this 365-day plan.