Church, Church Planting, Missional Living, Redeemer Church

Friendship with Our City

Our church has been challenged by the idea of Biblical Friendship. According to James 2:23, the gospel is that God has made us His friend through our faith in Christ. James also teaches us that if this faith is genuine, then it will produce good works. Friendship is a good work. Over and over again in the New Testament we see calls for the church to love one another…forgive each other (Ephesians 4:32), bear with each other (Colossians 3:13), confess our sins to each other (James 5:16), out of love we even need to rebuke each other (Luke 17:3). All of these are examples of the good work of friendship…friendship to His Church.

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However, Biblical Friendship does not stop at the door of the church. Friendship with each other is a pleasant spiritual blessing that we can’t rush past. However, it should become an apologetic for the truth of the gospel. Again, remember what Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” They are to know that we are his disciples. They are to know this by our love for each other. But, Jesus wants them to know the truth of the gospel. This means that we are be known for friendship and love, but not just for each other, but also for our city. Jesus loves “all people.”

Like friendship with God’s People, friendship with our City takes time and intentionality. I am not going to be a good friend with my neighbors if I don’t take time with them or if I am not intentional to get to know them and serve them. Do you know those around you? Are you a good friend to your neighbors, and your co-workers, and those you share activities and hobbies with? Do you patiently listen to that lady in the office? Do you care for the needs of the family next door? Are you encouraging to the other parents on your kid’s team?

But I also want us to ask some hard questions of ourselves this year with regards our city. Are we truly serving the needs of our city? Are we living openly and generously with our city? I followed a contentious political debate in our city this Fall, and I was struck by some of the needs in our city that I did not know about. Personally, as your pastor, I am committed to learning more about the needs of our city this next year.

Our Pastors have felt a deep conviction about being a friend to our city. We have spent much time praying about and thinking about how to be a friend to our city. We haven’t done a poor job, but we want to improve our efforts as a church.

This month we began a new monthly effort we are simply calling Service Sundays. Service Sundays are a way we can be a friend to our city. Even though we are a new church and a small church, we are committed to making the biggest impact we can.

January 17th was Sanctity of Life Sunday followed by Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the 18th. I preached on the church being a Statue of Hope. The 17th was also our first Service Sunday. We began a three week baby bottle fundraiser to help support the Woman-to-Woman Pregnancy Resource Center. This campaign is designed to support a ministry wholistically addressing the sin of abortion. This group lovingly ministers to gospel of grace to those in need and brings truth and healing to our city. Even if you weren’t able to grab a baby bottle, if you feel led, bring an offering to the center this Sunday.

Every month in 2016 we are planning efforts to be a friend to our city because God has called you his friend as a call to be a friend.

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Church, Church Planting, Gospel Spirituality, Missional Living, Redeemer Church

A Year of Friendship

One of my favorite parts of the holidays is finding pockets of time to read. One of the books I have been picking through is a biography of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Anytime I read about Spurgeon I am inspired. Before there were megachurches, his was a megachurch. He became the pastor of a historical London Reformed Baptist church at a young age. When he became pastor there were less than 300 members. 38 years later, at the end of his ministry, there were over 5,000 members of the church. He routinely preached to 15,000 people on a Sunday and many times preached to over 20,000 people.

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I know Denton is not London, and I certainly know that I am no Spurgeon, but I have to admit that reading Spurgeon has given me a renewed excitement about our church in 2016. You see, Spurgeon and the Metropolitan Tabernacle share our same Biblical gospel convictions…the Bible is the Word of God and his gospel is the power of God to save and thus I believe our best days are in front of us.

God has truly been glorified in our new church this past year. We saw God’s glorious faithfulness in 2015. We experienced his grace, saw him save souls, experienced him conforming us to him image, and watched him establish his church. Let me throw some exciting numbers at you:

  • After we launched the church, we averaged 88 on Sunday morning. Then, in 2015 we averaged right at 100 on Sunday mornings.

  • We grew from 44 Covenant Members in 2014 to 59 Covenant Members in 2015.

  • We moved into Game On Athletics, thus saving us some money, and providing a semi-permanent facility for the coming years. This facility enables outreach events and provides an office and a place to gather beyond just Sunday morning.

  • We began 2015 internally covering about 40% of our budget, now we cover 70% of our monthly needs.

  • We launched 2 new Neighborhood Groups.

  • We launched a Shepherd Training discipleship and leadership development track.

  • We added a new Redeemer Kids teaching team.

  • We launched a Youth Ministry and added Reece Bishop as our Student Pastor.

  • We served our city through Service Projects and Attractional Events like Trunk or Treat.

  • We gave away $18,000 to missions efforts.

Each of these graces should be celebrated. However, I believe our best days are ahead of us. As I have spent the past 4 to 6 weeks praying about next year, I continued to come back to a little verse that is loaded with meaning.

James 2:23 reads, “And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” – and he was called a friend of God.”  In this verse James explains God’s grace as salvation coming to Abraham through his faith in God, which makes Abraham a friend of God.

James is quoting Genesis 15:6 where God’s Word calls Abram to believe in something hard to believe…that a very old childless man would not only have a child but his descendants would be a numerous nation. We have all been at those difficult crossroads of belief, when what God is saying doesn’t really seem plausible. However, we are called to believe. What Genesis 15:6 teaches us is that God’s grace came to Abraham when he trusted God’s Word and thus experienced God’s salvation.

After James quotes this verse, Paul quotes it twice. He quotes it in Romans 4:3 as well as Galatian 3:6. Both passages help us understand the AVENUE of salvation. How do we move from being declared guilty to being declared righteous? Most believe it is by keeping all the rules. However, these passages use Genesis 15:6 to explains the AVENUE of salvation is via faith, not keeping all the rules. Thus, God’s grace came to Abraham not by strict adherence to the rules, but by faith in the Word of God. The AVENUE of Abraham’s salvation, and thus our AVENUE, is faith.

James’ goal is a little different. Many have concluded that James and Paul are somehow at odds with each other here, however that is not the case.

First, James is likely the earliest NT writing (most likely between 44AD and 49AD), while Romans is most likely written between 55AD and 57AD and Galatians between 49AD and 55AD. This is important because it helps us see that James is not arguing against Paul’s writings, because Paul’s writings had not been written yet.

Second, James and Paul are not at odds because James is not talking about the AVENUE of salvation (which is faith), but rather the NATURE of that saving faith. James is not saying keeping all the rules redeems anyone. James agrees that salvation is through faith alone, but his concern is with the NATURE of that faith. James 2:23 is advocating for genuine faith. So, God’s grace came to Abraham not by strict adherence to the rules, but genuine faith in the Word of God. The NATURE of Abraham’s saving faith was genuine to the degree that good works were evident. Because of Abraham’s genuine saving faith, he was categorized as a friend of God.

James is saying that genuine faith produces faithful works. He is arguing against false faith that remains private, that doesn’t produce faithful works.

We are entering into an election season (yuck) and politicians are in pandering mode. Many politicians are trying to demonstrate their religious credentials. However, in a secular age, many don’t want to come off as too religious. Thus, one path for them is to simply say they are a Christian then say their convictions are private and they don’t want to talk about them. That leads me to believe they are hiding something, that they are not genuine in their convictions. It leads me to believe they are just sleazy politicians.

Look at our passage again. James 2:23 says, “And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” – and he was called a friend of God.” What does genuine faith produce? It doesn’t produce quiet private politicians who don’t let their faith impact any area of their lives. No, genuine faith produces faithful good works.  How does genuine faith change us? When we have genuine faith in the gospel, we don’t remain enemies of God or objects of his wrath. No, genuine faith changes us to become friends with God.

When looking at the three New Testament citations, James is the only one who makes this point about “friendship” when citing Genesis 15:6. Once we have genuine faith in Jesus’ gospel, we become friends with God. BIBLICAL FRIENDSHIP is what I pray Redeemer Church is all about in 2016. Over the coming weeks, I will be laying out our vision of friendship with our Church and with our City.

All Christians should love Spurgeon. We should love his theology, his sermons, his books, and his classic quotes. But I have always loved that he left a legacy of more than sermons and books.

You see, Spurgeon lived during the Industrial Revolution of the mid and late 19th Century. The population of London had just doubled from 1800 to 1850. Rapid urbanization brought new social problems. But Spurgeon didn’t just preach sermons and write books, he sought friendship with his city. He started:

  • A Pastor’s College where young pastors could come and prepare for the ministry free of charge.

  • 23 mission stations around the city of London.

  • Hundreds of new churches all around Great Britain.

  • A gospel literature society to get the truths of the gospel into the hands of London residents.

  • Almshouses for people who lost their jobs.  They could come and stay and be fed and have time to get back on their feet.

  • Nursing Homes, before there were Nursing Homes, where the elderly could live their final years with dignity.

  • Orphanages for boys and girls.

  • Homes for single mothers and their children.

Matt Carter wrote in his book “For the City”: “It got to the point that if [the] Metropolitan Tabernacle had shut down during that [those] decade[s] of grappling with the problems of the Industrial Revolution, the city of London would have been crippled.  They would have grieved the loss of the Tabernacle.

I love that! Friends, I know we are new and don’t have millions of dollars and don’t even have a building like the Metropolitan Tabernacle. I know Denton isn’t London, and I am no Charles Spurgeon. But, I want to us to ask the question, “If we were to cease to exist, would our city grieve our loss?”  Would our schools miss us? Would our neighborhoods feel a void?

In 2016, my prayer is that we would fulfill the call of James 2:23. My prayer is for us to be good friends to each other and to our city. God has called us his friends as a call to be a friend.

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Church Planting, Gospel Spirituality, Missional Living

GO and TELL…Digitally

GO and TELL frames the mission for each and every believer in Christ.

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If you are a follower of Jesus then you have the mandate to GO to the nations. Matthew 28:19-20 provides the mandate to GO. Each and everyone one of us are to figure out ways to GO to “all nations.” We are certainly to send missionaries through the tithes and offerings that funnel through our local churches. But, how does the average busy suburbanite Mommy and Daddy fulfill the GO mandate?

Further, when we go, then what?! Showing up might be the first step but what did Jesus tell his disciples to do once they went? Believers in Jesus are to TELL people about Jesus’ gospel of grace. In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus told his followers to teach others. Specifically they were to teach others to follow everything he called them to follow. Missionaries TELL others about Jesus and his ways. Again, I recognize that we enable people to do this through the tithes and offerings of our local churches.  But again, how does the average busy suburbanite Mommy and Daddy fulfill the TELL mandate?

First, in our zeal for “all nations” we need to remember that our own nation is included. I live in a state and a city facing declines in the percentage of the population that claim faith in Christ. Much of this is due to our healthy economy (yay Texas) and thus the large numbers of people who move here for work. I don’t believe these numbers are necessarily an indictment on the local church, but rather a warning bell that our work is not done. Here is my point, your neighborhood is a mission field and your neighbors need you to GO and TELL.

Utilizing social media is a great way to participate in our missionary mandate. Let me put my cards on the table, I feel a constant tug to slip into my hobbit-hole and not engage others. I also roll my eyes at social media, even as I post images of my own kids. However, suburbanite Mommy and Daddy, take advantage of social media as a simple way to GO and TELL.

I am not encouraging you to be the obnoxious power-poster who throws up ten tweets a day…don’t wear people out! I am also not encouraging you to be the weird hyper-spiritual guy who only talks Christian-ease…be a real person! Also, hear me, I DO want to see pics of your kids (they really are cute), and I agree that they are probably the next Dirk Nowitzki.

All I am saying to the busy suburbanite Mommy and Daddy is also make room to be a social media missionary. When a verse impacts you..post it. When an article is helpful…share it. When your church is gathering people for something…help get the word out. In this digital age love your friends by being a social media missionary.

 

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Church, Church Planting, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus, Redeemer Church

lessons I am learning from starting a new church

We moved our family back to Denton late last Summer to start Redeemer Church.  Like any step of faith it has been scary at times, filled with ups and downs, yet we can conclude that it has been an amazing joy to be part of this new church.  I praise God every day for the opportunity to be the pastor of Redeemer.

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We are close to securing a location for our official launch on August 31st which has caused me to really get excited about the future, but also reflect on the past 10 months.  I have learned countless lessons since we began gathering people last September.  I certainly don’t have it all figured out, but here are a few of the lessons I am learning from starting a new church.

 

Redeemer Church is largely born through my walk with Jesus so my character and spiritual life are everything.  This experience has only further solidified a deep conviction that character is what counts.  We have all seen corrupt pastors, and I long never to be one.  I firmly believe that churches who have leaders with suspect character are being built on sandy ground.  Josh Yen and I constantly talk of the importance of our spiritual health.  The new church can’t happen if I am not communing with Christ and loving my family well.  I make daily mistakes in those areas and need a ton of gospel grace.  This has forced me to be more humble and really live out our mantra of being “broken people who love broken people.”  Planting Redeemer Church has caused me to love Jesus more than ever!

 

Planting Redeemer Church has highlighted the fact that I need to be a priest.  That might be strange verbiage for some.  One of the networks we are joining is the Acts29 Network.  Within that network there is a culture of talking about the giftedness of pastors as being either a “prophet” (or insightful teacher/preacher), a “priest” (or a patient empathetic shepherd), or a “king” (a bold visionary leader).  I have always felt that God created me in such a way that I was low in the “priest” department.  But, if you are going to start a church you have to be a priest.  One of my coaches keeps wisely telling me that most people will follow me if they know I love them.  I have loved stripping things down and getting to genuinely just love our people.  With joy, I can report that planting Redeemer Church has caused me to love people more than ever!

 

I have a twin passion for starting new churches.  First, it is biblical.  New Testament missionary work is exclusively people starting new churches.  I don’t think that all missionary work should be just church planting, but it should be our primary way to reach and disciple the world.  Second, is how effective it is at reaching the unreached.  Many guys look at an area and think they should plant because there is not their brand of church in that area.  At the end of the day I fear some guys are planting churches because they want their brand of evangelicalism as opposed to primarily wanting to reach the unreached.  It is about reaching the lost not establishing your brand of evangelicalism.  Please hear me, this is not a sellout to all things gimmicky.  If you know me, you know that I have deep convictions.  But, at the end of the day our people care that I am devoted to the Bible and the gospel, trying to walk faithfully with the Lord, and am striving to love them and their family.  Convictions are vital, but our missionary conviction should be the ultimate driver of our efforts.  Redeemer Church has caused me to love my city more than ever!

 

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