Thursday, June 24, 2010

Of distress, disaster & deacons...

I've been greatly burdened to have so many people in our church family to be in physical need. With a church the size of Calvary, it is inevitable that some part of our church family will be in distress with physical needs or the loss of a loved one nearly every week. Honestly there are times it is just overwhelming to me as a human pastor. Many times I find myself so burdened for the physical and emotional needs of people in the church it’s hard for me to concentrate on messages I need to be preparing as Sunday morning and Wednesday night roll around with great regularity and frequency. Then I'll hear a little bit of feedback on occasion that someone doesn't feel like they are being cared for properly by the pastor. This breaks my heart as a shepherd that one of my sheep is in distress and all I'm able to do at that moment is pray for them. Well the "all I can do is pray" thing is the most important thing I can do for them. I'm thankful for a great staff and deacons who take the pastoral care seriously and serve as extensions of my arms to care for you. Please know if they come and minister to you they share the heart of your pastor and his concern for you, they represent me but more importantly they represent the Lord Jesus Christ.

Then there are seasons in the church family where on top of the physical need, the wheels come off and disaster strikes. It could be some tragic trauma, sudden accident, or it could be someone stumbles and falls into sin that becomes very public in nature because of the type of sin they are ensnared with or they got arrested in the process of their sin. Our first response upon hearing of this kind of disaster among the body should be a broken and contrite heart that begins to pray for the individual(s) involved. One thing I've learned about these times of disaster and public sin in people's lives is that Christians are notorious for shooting their wounded soldiers who fall on the battlefield by how we respond to such situations. We talk about it, we gossip, speculate and criticize to the detriment of the persons involved, to the church and the testimony of the Lord before a lost world that is watching. We will turn people off to the Gospel and they'll want nothing to do with being a disciple of Jesus Christ if that's how we operate. The Scriptures give us instruction on what to do when disastrous sin entangles a believer. Paul said in Galatians 6:1-2 “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

These are simple and straightforward instructions of how we are to respond when one of us gets tangled in Satan’s web of sin. Our aim is to be restoration of the individual – helping them to get back on track spiritually and in fellowship with the body. We are to conduct ourselves in a spiritual manner in a spirit of gentleness. This means we’re careful to not cause more hurt and damage in an already difficult situation. But we’re also to keep watch on ourselves because we could be ensnared in sin also so we guard against that. Bearing one another’s burdens – we do that in prayer. We don’t put our mouths in gear to talk about it to others; we simply talk to God about the situation.

This brings me to deacons and deacon ministry. They are the individuals God has given to His church to assist the pastoral staff in ministering when there is distress and downright disaster going on in a member’s life. According to 1st Timothy 3, God holds them to the same standard as He holds pastors to so they will not take advantage of anyone in difficulty. I called on one of our deacons Monday evening to respond with me to a situation where one of members was caught in sin and disaster has overtaken. The details will become known soon enough but we’ve already begun the process of restoration and caring for this distressed member and his family. How we respond as a church will be critical to show the lost around us how Christians are to care for our wounded. I’m determined to lead us to respond Biblically and in a way that brings glory to God.

I’m also burdened as I’ve talked with deacons who are approaching men about the possibility of serving alongside them as deacons. Often, the response is “I do not feel like I’m called to do that” or “I do not feel like I’m worthy to do that.” I think there are some false notions about what deacon ministry is all about when I hear that type of response. Acts 6 helps clarify what deacons do – aid the pastors with pastoral care and solve disputes. The initial qualifications were twofold: of good reputation, full of the Spirit and full of wisdom. You say “Pastor, you can’t count that’s three.” I would respond its two because if you’re full of the Spirit, you’re full of wisdom and He will give you what you need when you need it. So men, if you are approached or have been, do not base your response on how you feel. You’re being asked to serve because someone observes these two qualities in you. Pray about it and let God call or not call you, but let God decide who He wants to help us aid the body in distress and disaster. It’s not just the burden of the pastors or individual deacons, we bear these burdens together…from my little corner of the world to yours…

Pastor Ralph Green

Senior Pastor, Calvary Baptist Church

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

SBC Annual Meeting Recap

For those of you who couldn’t attend the convention but are interested, here is a great recap and some insight from a pastor friend of mine who summarizes the annual meeting well. I would echo his sentiments and observations for the future of our convention and the clarion call reach the unreached peoples of the world. His comments follow:

The 2010 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention is over. Here are some thoughts I'm thinking:

--A big initiative called the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) was passed overwhelmingly. A high profile committee of 23 presented 8 recommendations for change to/in the SBC after an extensive and far ranging 1 year study of the SBC's agencies and systems. These recs are meant to refocus the SBC on the GC after a 10-plus year lack of focus on the GC.

Time will tell if our churches have truly recommitted themselves to the GC. It will be reflected in international missions giving and going as well as church planting and revitalization here in the States. It will be reflected in the reallocation of monies in our 41 state conventions. Currently, only 2.5% of SBC money makes it overseas to 95% of the world's population. Most of the money gets kept in our state conventions which too often try to substitute for the work of the local church instead of supplementing it. I'm thankful our state convention, the SBTC, does the latter.

--The GCR debate over the past year has demonstrated there are at least two distinct camps in the SBC. My prayer is that we aren't divided over whether the SBC is broken in many ways, but rather over the solution to the problem. The fact that the SBC needs an overhaul is clear: we have had declining #s of CP giving and baptisms for years, we can't hit our missions offering goals, and we can't afford all of our current missionaries, never mind sending new ones to the field. We need change.

--The passing of the GCR rocks at least expanded the pool of top tier SBC leadership, if it didn't usher in new leadership. Most opposition to the GCR came from the SBC's old guard, with notable exceptions, and opposition was strong. Thus, the overwhelming approval of the GCR means SBCers are listening to new voices. Men like Johnny Hunt, Danny Akin, and Al Mohler are now the official visible leaders of the SBC.

New systems, emphases, and leadership in no way devalue the success and victories of the recent past. In fact, the leadership of today is only possible because of the conservative resurgence. If this new leadership is wise, they will take heavily into consideration the wisdom and input of leaders from the conservative resurgence. They may be aging, but their wisdom and perspective are like precious jewels. As well, I hope the new leadership is like a wise successor to a long tenured pastor and regularly provide public affirmation and value to those who have made the SBC the incredible denomination it is today.

--Southeastern Seminary announced a formal intern program with local church partners across the country to give students field experience. Students can earn 3-15 hours of credit. The vision is for 100 partnering churches. The lack of apprenticeships are the biggest weakness in the SBC's system of training future ministers. This is really close to my heart and the announcement has me pumped.

--The SBC has launched a program to financially help ministers adopt children. This is a great move. If ministers adopt, many people in the churches will adopt. Adoption is an incredible picture of what the Father has done for us. Talk about painting a picture of God for the watching world!

--The SBC passed a resolution on divorce. As divorce becomes more common in our churches, pastors are addressing it less and less. The SBC churches resolved to continue to teach what the bible says about divorce and marry only those who meet the biblical guidelines for marriage. SBC churches must remain a people of the bible.

--The oil spill, the biggest nature related disaster in US history, spurred a resolution on our responsibility to steward nature well. Drilling for oil is fine and good as God has given us dominion over nature. However, the Scriptures define how we should steward our dominion and the SBC took a step toward defining it.

--The new CEO of the SBC was elected with a majority vote of less than 60%. I'm not sure I know any pastor who would accept a call to a church in peaceful times on such a small majority, so the new CEO's acceptance of a call of this nature has me concerned. Nonetheless, it's a done deal and I think Frank Page should be given the opportunity to prove he can do the job well. I pray for him to have great success.

--Attendance at our 6 seminaries is really strong which is a good sign, especially for our future.

To be sure, our SBC is in need of some changes, but she is a huge vessel and it takes time to turn around an aircraft carrier. The new de facto leaders, the passing of the GCR, the enrollment #s in our seminaries, and other signs of life are evidence that a course correction has begun. It may take time to see, but I truly believe a recalibration of the SBC is beginning. I'm optimistic about the future of the SBC and by the grace of God, we will see great years of harvest in the years to come.”

Ralph Green

Senior Pastor, Calvary Baptist Church

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Raising the bar of expectations...

Last night in our Wednesday worship service (yes we do have Wednesday worship that most members apparently don’t know about or are ignoring it); I was sharing “God’s Call to Abram” from Genesis 12. The context is roughly 292 years after the worldwide flood. The last time we’re told God spoke to anyone was to Noah & his sons and all of a sudden, God speaks to this guy named Abram (before the Lord changed his name to Abraham). Not only was it strange that God suddenly speaks, but He also makes a ridiculous demand of this guy Abram: Pack up, leave your home country, your extended family and your elderly father and move to a place I’ll show you when you get there. God then gave 7 promises to Abram that He would do for Abram if he obeyed and Gen.12:4 says “So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him.  Abram was 75 years old when he departed from Haran.”  Think about Abram’s radical obedience to this audacious God who interrupted Abram’s life and the turmoil God caused in Abram’s family – yes turmoil is the right word if you can imagine trying explain this to your wife, your parents and grandparents that you heard a voice from heaven and you’ve been told to move to some place, you don’t know even where it is but the voice is going to tell you when you get there so you’re going to listen to the voice…. our families might haul us off for a psychiatric evaluation! I was trying to put Abram’s experience in the context of our church life here at Calvary and I think we’re missing something, somehow we’ve come to expect less of people of faith.

We look at Abram and think it wasn’t that big a deal, that somehow it was easier for him than it would be for us to obey God today with that kind of radical faith and commitment. Abram was 75 years old at the time and I know how much stuff I’ve accumulated in 46 years and how much I detest moving. The Bible tells us Abram had a lot of people (servants) in this mix also so this was not simple. He didn’t have a moving company to come pack him up, he had herds and flocks to move and where God took him was nearly 400 miles away as the crow flies, all on foot. I read about a guy with this kind of radical faith and obedience and wonder why we can’t  get people to respond to our preschool director’s plea to move out of the sanctuary once every 8 weeks to pull a shift in the preschool department on Sunday mornings, much less move to the other side of the world as a missionary!

The faith and commitment to obey God like Abram convicts me and rattles my bones at how little we expect from modern Christians. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful for the many volunteers who faithfully serve here at Cavalry but I’ve got to wonder why we don’t raise the bar of expectations higher, why don’t we call people to a radical faith of service and sacrifice. I think it just could be that we’re not interested in a “radical Christianity”, we just want a “comfortable Christianity.” I would submit to you that the God of the Bible is not into “comfortable Christianity.” He makes radical demands to obey, He stretches us to do the unthinkable to further His plans and He expects, demands and deserves obedience from us as we seek to build His kingdom, and we do it by faith. The good news however is the rewards of having God be our supplier and protector, the one who promises He’ll take care of us as we obey Him is far more valuable than the sacrifice of stepping into the realm of the unknown and risking the upheaval of the status quo in our life. It really is a great adventure to obey God, to ask Him to call you to do something with you that is bigger than you can dream. It matters not how old you are, God has an adventure for each of us as believers to pursue if you have the courage to listen to the voice of God and obey Him like old Abram did. You too can be a hero of the faith in a modern context by obeying God, even if you don’t know all the details of the call. I think it’s time to raise the bar….from my little corner of the world to yours…

Ralph Green

Senior Pastor, Calvary Baptist Church

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