FeelMyFaith.com

Creative Biblical content at the intersection of life and faith.

Brian is the author of #TheWalk and Lionheart, as well as a contributor to the Faith, Hope, and Love Daily Devotional.  He is a pastor and teacher.  Brian speaks regularly for various groups and events.  FeelMyFaith.com began as a writing project in 2007 and has expanded into the media outlet of Brian's ministry.

3 Words to Help You Understand the Bible


Most people understand the Bible to be 66 disjointed books full of random religious sayings and stories.  Even if this is not our understanding of the Bible, most of us read the Bible as if this is indeed what it is.  We skip around, pick and pluck, and often approach it in a random fashion with no intent to engage the plot of the story at hand.  The end result is that we may find a verse here and there that seems to have something meaningful to say.  Yet even then, our interpretation of the golden nugget we find is not faithful to the context; and as for the context, it is categorically ignored and the rest of what we do not take time to understand is flushed into the abyss of the Bible scholar.  Scholars may find the blessing in the obscure passages, but there is no meaning in them for the rest of us.  I assure you, this was not God’s intent and it is simply not the case.  
This week I want to share with you three words that will help you better understand the story of the Bible.  Although these three words do not account for all that the Bible says, they are three words that do seem to give the story of the Bible cohesiveness.  The three words are:  son, land, and blessing.  I will explain more as the week goes along, but for now entertain these three questions as you approach the story of the Bible:
  1. Who (sometimes where) is the promised son?
  2. What is the promised land?
  3. Who is receiving the promised blessing?
If you will hold these three questions at the forefront as you read the Bible it will help you to see the big picture of what God is doing to fulfill His promises to give man a son that will redeem him from sin, to redeem the land from the curse of sin, and to bring a group of chosen people to a place where they will enjoy His blessings forever.
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The Church Emerging from the Reformation (Church, Who? What? How?)


Though there have been attempts to construct a successionist lineage of Baptists back to the Apostles or even John the Baptist, these constructions are revisionist at best and often end up as simply poor historical scholarship.  Doctrinally these attempts do more harm than good as they are heretical attempts to prove that the Baptist church is the only, true church.  In the end these attempts are dishonest and unnecessary.
The historical truth is that Baptists emerged not from a single stream, but more from the convergence of several movements that stemmed from the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.  Therefore, to properly understand Baptist history one must examine the context of the Reformation.  

Background of the Reformation
In our previous session we discussed two of the major challenges of the Patristic or Early Church; persecution and heresy.  Both of these issues raised major questions as to who are the people of God, or who is the church?  In response to the rising tide of persecution through the first 500 years of its history, the church was forced to ask, “What becomes of the lapsed?”  For those who renounced Christ to save their skin, is there room for restoration?  This question resulted in several church councils, the most notable of which being the first meeting of Carthage under Cyprian in 251 AD.  Subsequent councils or synods of Carthage would meet over the next century to deal with other issues; perhaps the most notable of which being the Canonicity of certain books of the Bible.  Yet, before dealing with questions about the authenticity of the Bible, Carthage was called together to deal with the authenticity of the church.  
Another notable council dealt with the other critical Patristic issue, heresy.  The most looming issue was the identity and nature of Christ.  Arius (250-336 AD), an elder in Alexandria, taught that the Word, Jesus, was not coeternal with the Father but rather the first of God’s creation.  Arius’ teaching did serious damage to the identity of Christ and caused quite a schism in the church.  
The controversy also had an adverse affect on the Roman Empire.  Constantine, who had experienced a dramatic conversion to Christianity, had risen to power in the western section of the empire.  Constantine’s attributed his victory to the blessing of Christ in his life.  Therefore, Constantine represented the end of the persecution of the church and the beginning of Christian favor in the empire.  Constantine allowed the church to own land and build places of worship so that it could establish itself as a legitimate faith in what was otherwise a pagan, polytheistic state.  With Constantine being the first Christian emperor, the church and the state became bedfellows.  This turn of events becomes critical to understanding the next 1,000 years of church history leading to the Reformation.
Because the church was so closely related to the state under Constantine, the Arian controversy not only brought unrest to the western and eastern Church, but also to the western and eastern empire.  Constantine knew that it was not only critical for the church, but also for the state, that consensus be reached concerning the nature of Christ.  In 325 AD Constantine called a council of church leaders together from both western and eastern sections to draft a common statement concerning Jesus.  The end result was the Nicene Creed:
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;
by whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth];
who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man;
  
he suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
Conspiracy theorists would argue that the church did not understand Christ as the divine Son of God until Nicaea.  The idea of the conspiracy is that Constantine manipulated the meeting to his own ends as to legitimize Christ as King and himself as divinely chosen emperor.  This is simply not the case.  Because this is only a contextual accounting for purposes of Baptist history, there is simply no time to deal with this charge.  I would only state simply, that to assume the church had no understanding of Christ as divine before Nicaea is a total fabrication that is unscholarly, dishonest, and illogical.  To charge that the church did not believe something strongly before it stated it in council is a major historical and philosophical leap into total conjecture.  In fact, Philippians 2 could be argued as one of the earliest creeds of the church.  A text in which it is plain to see that indeed the church held that Jesus Christ was equal with God.  
The positive of Nicaea is that it was the beginning steps to quench a critical heresy.  The negative is that after Constantine the marriage of the church and the state became adulterous.  The next 1,000 years of church history are riddled with deep corruption in the Catholic Church as popes, bishops, and priests competed with and against emperors for massive amounts of wealth, popularity, and power.  It is from this fabric that the Dark Ages, the Medieval period is woven.  
Yet even in this time one can trace the struggle for purity in the church as the key question comes to the front over and over again, “Who is the church?”  During this time monastic life and the ascetic movements find reasons to flourish.  Against an increasingly immoral church certain men and women of the period would separate themselves to demonstrate extreme holiness and seek to find the true people of God.      
The Reformation
The question of “Who are the people of God?”, “Who is the church?” reached its boiling point in the 16th century.  Many people associate the Reformation with Luther, but he did not work alone.  Luther was certainly the voice and face of the Reformation, but the seed of the thought can be found in the humanist movement, most notably in Erasmus (1466-1536).  With Erasmus came a revival of reading original and sacred texts.  In an otherwise illiterate generation, scholars began to study the Bible in its original languages (Greek and Hebrew) and translate it into the language of the people (refer to Wycliffe 1328-1384).  The humanist movement inspired a revival of learning and began to loosen the grips of the Catholic Church on the Biblical text.  Until this point the Catholic Church conducted worship from the Latin text, a language long lost in Europe by the 16th century.  With the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press (1440) the Bible was no longer the exclusive property of the papacy (leaders of the Catholic Church).  Despite persecution, revival began to break out in remote corners of the Holy Roman Empire.  The flashpoint would come on October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.
The immediate context of Luther’s 95 Theses was the selling of indulgences by Johann Tetzel (1465-1519).  Tetzel’s occasion for selling indulgences was to not only raise money for the building of St Peter’s Basilica but also to pay off debts to the pope owed by the Archbishop of Mainz, Albert of Brandenburg.  Indulgences promised those who paid that deceased loved ones would spend less time in purgatory.  He would travel the streets singing, “When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.”  While Tetzel’s heresy may have pushed Luther over the edge, it was the greater corruption of the Catholic Church and the lack of theological orthodoxy that Luther addressed most poignantly in his 95 Theses.  As he stated in his introduction, Luther protested for one reason alone, he sought the truth.
In the early stages, at the core of the Reformation movement there was affection for the Catholic Church.  The primary desire was to reform the church from within.  Yet as the Catholic Church declared the protestant reformers heretical and excommunicated them, the need to begin something new become increasingly apparent.  Yet again, it is important to note that despite the fact that the end result was Protest-ing or Protestant Churches, this was not the initial agenda of Luther and the Reformers.  So as the Reformers saw that they could not bring about Reform within the church the question became how far should they go in their reform and separation from the church?
This question resulted in two Reformation camps:
  1. The first camp would be those Reformers who in the end retained some influence of Catholic doctrine, polity, and praxis.
      • Martin Luther (1483-1546) - Although these ideas were not original to Luther, his proclamation of Sola Fide (by faith alone), Sola Gratia (by grace alone), and Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone) began the great divide between Catholic theology and the Protestant churches.  As a powerful preacher and a brilliant scholar, Luther’s skills to communicate his message fueled the flames of the Reformation.  Although he did not subscribe to the Catholic understanding of Transubstantiation (the bread and wine become the body of Christ) in communion, Luther did hold to consubstantiation (the bread and wine are with the body and blood of Christ) in communion.  Calvin strongly disagreed with Luther in this point.  However, along with Calvin and Zwingli, Luther held similar views of the church’s relationship to the state and the necessity of infant baptism.  
      • John Calvin (1509-1564) - If Luther’s contribution was the idea of the Reformation, Calvin’s was the organization of the idea.  It was through Calvin’s well organized theology that the doctrines of the Reformation spread throughout Europe.  Calvin’s Institutes became the standard for a Reformation theology that centered on the sovereignty of God.  As such, ultimate authority did not reside with the pope or the state, but in God alone.  The state could not rule over the church, but if the state was not accomplishing the will of God it was the duty of the church to right the ship.  In the end Calvin retained an idea of a magisterial state heavily influenced by the church.  Also, along with Luther and Zwingli, Calvin believed that infants should be baptized as a way to remove original sin and bring them into the covenant of grace.  For the Reformers, like the Catholic Church, baptism had not only implications for membership into the church, but also citizenship with the state.  
      • Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) - Zwingli was the militant arm of the Reformation.  He did not agree with Luther’s ideas of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but he was persuasive in retaining the Catholic praxis of a close state/church relationship.  Because of his military prowess Zwingli was able to wrestle several municipalities away from Catholic control and establish Protestant states.  Zwingli had no problems using the power of the state’s military might to continue the spread of the Reformation ideal.
      • The legacy of the Reformers could be summarized as follows:
        • The recovery of the authority of Scripture and salvation by faith.
        • The emergence of Protestant states and the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire.  
        • Close relationship between the church and the state.  An unrighteous state had no power over the church, but the church had the responsibility to bring the church to righteousness and could then use the power of the state to enforce righteousness.  (It is interesting to see the legacy of the relationship of the church and the state post-Constantine, yet notice the Reformers still had great faith that this relationship had redemptive potential). 
        • Lutheran form of church government.
        • Presbyterian form of church government.
        • Reformed theology.
  1. The second camp would be those Reformers who held that the Reformation fathers did not go far enough.  In the end these Reformers retained nothing of the doctrine, polity, and praxis of the Catholic Church.  The movement first began to emerge with a group known as the Swiss Brethren.  Some of the original members were students of Zwingli.  Their disagreement arose when they did not feel that Zwingli took the principles of the Reformation far enough.  Their sharpest point of disagreement was over Baptism.  The Brethren held that Baptizing children gave people a false sense of conversion.  They were Christians only because they were baptized into the Christian church and were citizens of a Christian state, but there was lacking in many a real sense of repentance, faith, and following Christ.  When the Brethren saw that Zwingli would hold fast on his views, the Brethren sought to begin a new congregation of true converts.

    On January 21, 1525 at the fountain in Zurich square George Blaurock, a former priest, asked Conrad Grebel to baptize him.  Blaurock and Grebel held that baptism was reserved only for believers and because children were baptized without willing consent, theirs was illegitimate.  The followers of Blaurock and Grebel soon became known as Anabaptists or “re-baptizers.”  Their views on Baptism drew strong opposition from both Protestant Reformers and Catholics.

    The Anabaptists also took the Reformation to other ends.  Unlike Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, the Anabaptists were pacifists, believed strongly in separation of the church from the state, and religious freedom.  Most all of the early Anabaptist were martyred, tortured as heretics, drown in rivers and burned to death by Protestant Reformers.  The more they were persecuted the more the movement grew. 

    Persecution not only brought about the deaths of the first generation of Anabaptists, but it brought about some diverse and more radical views in subsequent generations.  Some later Anabaptists forsook Pacifism and incited rebellion against Protestant states.  This led to the idea that a New Jerusalem must be established first in Strasbourg and later in Munster.  The end of the radical movement came in unfulfilled prophecies, a lost sense of the foundational principles of the movement, and a great deal of bloodshed.

    The restoration of the Anabaptists ideal came through Menno Simons ( 1496-1561).  Simons returned the Anabaptists he influenced to pacifism, forbid the taking of oaths, and advocated obedience to civil authorities.  Because they would not take oaths nor serve in the military, Simons’ followers were considered subversive to the state.  Being persecuted they were scattered, migrating to new lands that offered the prospects of religious freedom.  Subscribing to Menno Simons’ principles the Anabaptist became known as the Mennonites.
The Legacy of The Reformation and Its Influence on Baptists
  • It may be argued that Baptists are not Protestant in the true sense, but there is no doubt that Baptists “are a Reformation people.”
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  • From Luther Baptists continue the legacy of Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura, and the priesthood of the believer.
  • From Calvin Baptists have been heavily influenced by Reformed theology.
  • Because of Zwingli the Anabaptists emerged giving another Reformation root from which Baptists owe a great deal.
  • The Anabaptists heavily influenced Baptists in their ideas of the relationship of the church to the state, believer’s baptism, the importance of discipleship, religious freedom, and congregational forms of church government.
  • The initial question that sparked Reformation continues, who are the people of God?  If anything, Baptists have gleaned that this is a question that should never be lost.
Bibliography
Cairns, Earle E.  Christianity Through the Centuries 
Gonzalez, Justo.  The Story of Christianity vol. 1 and 2
Leonard, Bill J.  Baptist Ways, a History
McBeth, H. Leon.  The Baptist Heritage, Four Centuries of Baptist Witness
Shelley, Bruce L.  Church History in Plain Language
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The Church from Jesus to Constantine (Church Who, What, How?)


The Vision of Christ for the Church
Jesus referred to the church twice, Matthew 16:18 and 18:17.
Matthew 16:18 (ESV)
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Matthew 18:17 (ESV)
If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
So what exactly did Jesus mean when He said He would build His church?
  1. Old Testament ancestry - At its core the church is a gathering of God’s people.  An important theme in Scripture is the work of God to gather a people for Himself.
    1. Genesis 12:2-3 - the call of Abraham
    2. Exodus 6:7, 19 and 20 - In the Exodus story we literally see God “pull out” a group of people who would establish their identity in worship, morality, and in civic life according to His ways.  In their days, their moral codes, their ethics, and in their worship habits Israel was to identify themselves with Him.
  1. The New Testament word for church is the Greek term ekklaesia.  The word is used 114x in the New Testament and is translated 109x as the word church.  Ekklaesia literally means “the called out ones.”  Prefix ekk - means from or out of.  Kaleo - means to call.
  2. Greek context - In Greek life an ekklaesia most often referred to as a civic organization or society of people who had decided to gather around a common cause.  They would agree to adhere to a common creed, set of organizing principles, and purpose.
  3. When Jesus used the word ekklaesia (church) then, He referred to:
    1. The continuing work of God to call a people unto Himself.
    2. Those who He would redeem.
    3. Those who would adhere to His teachings.
    4. Those who would agree to accomplish His purpose.
    5. In the Greek sense, a fraternity or society of people defined by Him.  The church is literally the Jesus Society - a group of people who subscribe to His teachings and seek to fulfill His purposes.  In the historical context in which Jesus is speaking His hearers would have made an immediate connection between the Greek  idea of ekklaesia and Jesus’ claiming it as “my” church - my ekklaesia.  
  4. There is no New Testament understanding of the word “church” as it refers to a gathering place or a worship ritual.  Whether the term was used in Greek life or the Biblical text, the term church always refers to a distinctive group of people.  Church is not where we go or what we do, church is who we are.
The Apostolic Church
Jesus’ reference to the church has an obvious future aspect.  So when did the church begin?  In His parting talks it is apparent that Jesus is preparing His closest followers, the apostles, for a critical mission.  This mission would come through great trial, but it would also come with great help.  Jesus told His apostles that the Holy Spirit would become a comforter and a helper to them.  John 14 - 17 are critical passages to understanding the role of the Holy Spirit and the task of the apostles after Jesus’ departure.  
Other key texts come from Luke; Luke 24:36-53 and Acts 1:6-11.  These texts teach us that the inauguration of the work of the Christ followers and their new relationship to the Holy Spirit was soon coming.  Before any work would commence the apostles and disciples were instructed to wait in Jerusalem.  Once the Holy Spirit came, their work would begin.
The account of the coming of the Holy Spirit is shared in Acts 2.  The church, in its apostolic sense, was born on the first Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection.  The rest of the New Testament then, particularly the Book of Acts and the epistles, gives us important insight into the development of the church.  Some important themes begin to emerge:
  1. The church would engage in a distinct task of taking the gospel global (Acts 1:8).
  2. The church would subscribe to a distinct set of doctrines that centered upon the identity of Christ which includes: defense of Him as Messiah to the Jews, proclamation of Him as a global Savior to the Gentiles, defense of His bodily resurrection, and application of His teachings as authoritative in the lives of His followers.
  3. As the church spread, its people would express shared life in Christ through continuance in the apostle’s teaching, baptism, communion, and distribution of material wealth through offerings and contributions for the purpose of missions, support, and benevolence (Acts 2, 4, 5, Romans 6, 15, 1 Cor. 11, 16, Ephesians 4, Col. 2, 1 Peter 3).
These shared distinctives would not come without great challenge.  The three main threats to the purity of the apostolic church were:
  1. Persecution – Therefore the church had to endure.
  2. Corruption – Therefore the church had to be faithful to exercise discipline (Acts 5), to preaching/teaching (Titus 2), and to study (1 and 2 Timothy).
  3. Attrition – Therefore the church had to be committed (Acts 2, 4, Heb. 10:19ff).
It is also important to note that as the church spread and developed it organized.  In many people there is resentment towards “organized” religion.  This resentment is often expressed along with a romanticized ideal that the apostolic/New Testament church was raw, bohemian and resistant to organization.  This is not the New Testament picture.  In the Apostolic church, clearly we see:
  1. Leadership (Acts 6, Titus 1, 1 Timothy 3, 1 Peter 2)
  2. Localization (the address of the epistles themselves, also seen in the movement of the gospel in Acts)
  3. Accountability both financially and doctrinally (note several episodes in Acts especially in distribution, missions, and in Gentile conversion as well as the closing statements of several epistles).
As a collective witness of the New Testament we see an important theme emerge concerning the church.  The major question concerning the church became “who?”  Who are the people of God?  Who is the church?  This question was not only answered by initiation:
  1. Repentance of sin and faith in Christ as Savior
  2. Clearly exhibited indwelling of the Holy Spirit
  3. Baptism
The question was also answered by continuance:
  1. Devotion to Jesus teaching (kerygma) and apostolic doctrine (didache)
  2. Continued identity with the church
  3. Participation in the mission
  4. Moral purity
Those who did not continue were not considered to have eternal life (1 John 2:19).
The Early Church (@90 AD - 325 AD/451 AD)
Whenever we speak of the Early Church we measure its beginning by its apostolic successors and end the period approximately at the Council of Nicaea 325 A.D.  Some would end the period at Chalcedon (451 AD).  When we speak of this period then, we are speaking roughly of the church’s first 500 years.  This period is also referred to as the Patristic period which is a term that notes the men who led this early period.  These men are commonly called the Church Fathers or its patriarchs (latin - pater), hence the term patristic.  
Characteristics of the era:
  1. Succession - This period is led by men who succeeded the apostles.  Many of them exhibit a relationship to the apostles such as Polycarp (70-155) who had a relationship to John.  Their writings are critical as they exhibit that the early church:
    1. Saw the teachings of Christ and the writings of the apostles as authoritative as they referred to them often and used them as base texts for their teaching (refer to Papias 60-130, Clement of Rome 30-100, The Didache).
    2. Continued to organize and especially took the issue of leadership seriously.  For the church to succeed it must continue in the authority given to it by Christ through the apostles (refer to Clement of Rome 30-100)
  2. Heresy - Heresy was an issue even before the death of the apostles.  The most notable challenge being the identity of Christ.  The most common strain of heresy came through the teachings of the Gnostics.  We see their influence greatly upon the writings of John, in both his gospel and epistles, as it is clear in his choice of terms that he is refuting their teachings.  In short Gnosticism was a fusion of Greek philosophy with Christian thought.  The end result was an understanding of the spiritual and material world that did serious damage to the person of Christ.  Gnostics did not see Christ as God in the flesh (as this was impossible due to the evil nature of flesh), but rather Jesus was a human being who achieved “gnosis (the Greek word for knowledge).  As a man achieving gnosis he lived as the supreme example of what man is to achieve.  In the Gnostic system there is no understanding of the atoning death of Christ, His suffering, or His resurrection.  As such the orthodox understanding of salvation, sin, creation, the fall, most all Christian doctrines are distorted heavily or lost altogether. 

    The Patristic period is noted for the important documents generated during the era.  From the Gnostics came a series of psuedographic (false names) writing.  During this period it was common to write under the name of an apostle or early follower of Christ so that one’s statements were lent instant credibility.  The discovery of Nag Hammadi (@ 50 documents discovered in Egypt 1945) revealed the nature of these early Gnostic writings.  In the Nag Hammadi we find documents such as the gospel of Thomas,  The Secret Book of John, The Gospel of Mary, etc.  Currently one will see documentaries aired on The History Channel, Discovery, and National Geographic reporting these documents as “lost gospels.”  The charge is that there was a conspiracy to leave these documents out of the New Testament cannon.  Had they been accepted, they would certainly have given us a much different picture of Christ.  The Nag Hammadi also serve as the plot of the popular book and film The DaVinci Code.  What is important to note here is that these writings were NEVER accepted by the early church and are proven to have appeared at least 200+ years after Christ (compared to the gospels and New Testament epistles which were completed within 60 years after the resurrection).  If there is any positive to heresy it inspires orthodoxy to be clarified and recorded.  In response to the Gnostics and to other heretical writings of the period, the Patristics generated numerous manuscripts that help us affirm a sense of orthodoxy and practice within the Patristic church.
  3. Persecution - We see Christian persecution beginning in the New Testament.  It certainly increased dramatically under Nero (54-68), who probably killed Paul, Peter and most of the early disciples of Jesus (especially the 70) and reached  its greatest intensity under Diocletian (284-305).  Christian persecution in the Roman empire did not end until Constantine I (306-337).
  4. Formation - It is important to note that during the Patristic period the New Testament Canon began to form as the writings of the apostles circulate and gained wide acceptance in the church.  The writings of the Patristics are critical here as they quote New Testament texts, reject false texts, and use accepted texts as the basis for their teaching.  Each time they did so they gave attestation to many parts of the New Testament that were affirmed early and received by the post-apostolic church as the Word of God.
  5. Gentilization - In 70 AD Jerusalem was destroyed.  This not only marked the end of an important era of Jewish history, but also an important era of the migration of the gospel.  With the loss of Jerusalem, Rome became the center of the Christian universe.  As the gospel moved to Rome the church became decreasingly Jewish and increasingly Gentile in nature.  It is here that we begin to see how culture begins to influence the expression of the gospel in the church as it migrates.  As the church becomes more Roman we see it take on many of the values of Greco-Roman society as well as its organizations.  It is here that the Church “Catholic” or “Universal” (intentional use) is born.
Conclusion:
Early on the church established that the people of God would trace themselves back to the teachings of Jesus and those of the apostles.  Though the ancestry of Baptists can become cloudy at times throughout the centuries, there is no doubt that a distinctive Baptists hold dear is that they are ever seeking to be nourished from the roots of Christ through God’s Spirit and God’s Word.  Baptists may not find succession through a catalogue of great historical names, but it does find lineage in the Word.  No matter how far removed we are from first century Jerusalem holding to the Bible as the authoritative text keeps us connected to the teachings of Jesus and the birth of the church in Acts 2.
Ultimately the church is not a chapter within a denominational fold, nor is it an addressed structure on a street.  The church is a group of people defined by Christ.  Church is not a place one goes nor is it something one does, the church is something we have become because we have been born again by the Spirit of God.  People should also not carry a false sense of salvation if they have an affinity for Christ but have no relationship with His people.  The church is the Jesus society.  On the first Pentecost day after His resurrection Jesus gave His people His Spirit, they gathered together, and by His Spirit He made them His church.  The church is His society and as such His people subscribe to His teachings and seek to fulfill the purposes of Christ, the one who defines them.  
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Georgia Lottery Players Are Nation's Biggest Suckers

Here is an excerpt from an article published today on Bloomberg passed on to me by David C.  $1 wins you 63 cents!  I'll give you 75 cents for your $1 if you still want to play!

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Georgia (STOGA1)’s lottery players are the biggest suckers in a nation buying more than $50 billion a year in tickets for state-run games, which have the worst odds of any form of legal gambling.
Players in Georgia, whose per capita income is about 10 percent below the U.S. average, are doing the most damage to their personal finances. They spent the second-highest chunk of their income on the lottery, which funds college scholarships and pre-kindergarten, according to the Sucker Index created by Bloomberg Rankings.

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Bringing Life Back to Our Town (Signs Series, Sermon Manuscript)


The main road through Chatsworth is dedicated to G.I. Maddox.  Do you know who G.I. Maddox was?  The following statements are excerpts from the bio of G.I. Maddox as it appears on the Georgia Agriculture Education Hall of Fame website.
Mr. G. I. "Shorty" Maddox's love of teaching agriculture was exceeded only by his love of students. After eight hours in the classroom, he visited his students' homes and farms, applying and reinforcing principles taught in the classroom.
He taught at Murray County High School for 34 years.
Many of Mr. Maddox's students were elected state FFA leaders, including a state FFA president. Several students received national FFA recognition, including the American Farmer Degree. Chapter members showed more cattle at the Atlanta Steer Show than any other chapter as long as the chapter exhibited. One of Mr. Maddox's major contributions was the establishment and operation of the Murray County cannery, which was named in his honor in 1981. The facility processed home breads, cakes, meats, and other products. During World War II and the Korean War, many of these products were sent to those serving in the armed forces.

Mr. Maddox was instrumental in assisting families in establishing college education funds through student participation in the Atlanta Fat Cattle Show and feeder calf sale. Many students earned enough money through the sale of their show animals to pay a major part of their college expenses.
G.I. Maddox was a man that involved himself in the community in such a way that he brought marked change to people’s lives that had long lasting results.
Jesus tells a parable in Luke 13:6-9 about a fig tree of which the vineyard owner had given up any hope that it would bear fruit.  He commanded the vinedresser to cut it down.  If a tree did not produce in three years it was deemed worthless and in need of replacement.  Yet the vinedresser asked for the grace of a year in which he would change the conditions of the soil.  If after a year the tree remained barren it would then be cut down.
The parable of the barren tree seems like an odd story without much spiritual significance.  What’s the point?  Here are some important elements to notice in the story:
  1. In context, the barren fig tree image is not uncommon in the Bible.  It generally refers to Israel and is a symbol of her fruitlessness and impending season of judgment (Jeremiah 8:13; Mark 11 and 13). 
  2. The vinedresser identifies that the problem may not be with the tree.  The problem may rest in the soil.  He seeks to change the conditions of the soil to give the tree a chance to respond.
  3. The grace of the year works in conjunction with work to change the conditions of the soil.  The parable ultimately implies that given the new conditions the tree is expected to fruit, if it does not it will ultimately be lost.
  4. The conditions of the soil may be changed, but ultimately the tree must respond.  Notice the context in 13:1-5.  Jesus was telling the Jews who were listening to Him that now was the season of change or judgment was coming.  

Do you know what G.I. Maddox did?  He changed the conditions of the soil in the lives of people.  By involving himself in lives G.I. Maddox helped to change a community that could have otherwise been lost.   What I admire about him is that he was a well educated man who did not only have ideas, but he went to the places where those ideas needed to be applied.  He did not only identify what needed to change in his community, he went out and changed the soil.  G.I. Maddox applied himself.
Jesus gives us several metaphors to describe His followers and their work in the gospel.  Two of the most popular are salt and light.  We are to enter situations and become agents of change.  In this parable (Luke 13:16-19) we become manure.  It seems less than flattering.  Yet there is an important principle here about the potential of manure to change soil and bring about change:
  1. Manure contains enzymes, microorganisms, and nutrients that when added to the soil stimulate growth in the plants that pull from it.  Eugene Peterson calls manure, “the stuff of resurrection.”
  2. It takes time for manure to work.  Real change does not come instantaneously.  It must be nurtured.
  3. There is nothing glamorous about manure.  Bringing about change in lives and communities is no easy task.  It takes getting involved in the dirty aspects of life.  Many of the strategies of the contemporary church are attractional in nature.  We are trying to make the church attractive enough for people to want to come in.  This may work to some extent, but to really penetrate the lostness around us we must realize what we must do is not attractive at all.  It is going to be dirty work performed in grace over a long period of time.
  4. For manure to be life giving it must be applied.  The only way manure makes change is if it is worked into the soil.  The church will not positively impact the community unless it becomes a part of the soil.
This is what we are, manure.  We are the stuff of resurrection.  The church was never designed to simply exist in a community.  The church was designed to change a community.  After all, the church is supposed to be an expression that indeed the gospel is working in a community.  If the church effectively sows the gospel into the soil of the community resurrected life will begin springing up all over town.
Yet if the church becomes isolated and institutionalized it not only separates itself from the surrounding community but in so doing takes something incredibly life giving out of the soil.  Somehow we must do what G.I. Maddox did and what Jesus commanded us to do.  We cannot simply exist in a world of proclamations, instruction, and ideas.  At some point we must do the dirty work.  We must be applied manure and get out into the soil if there is to be any chance at new life.
Randy White writes a book about missions in the inner city entitled Encounter God in the City.  He gives us some great principles from which I want to glean, that help us not only become aware of what is going on in our town but help us to apply ourselves to it.
Questions of Observation:  These are questions we need to be asking that will help us begin to identify the story of our town and the places to which we can apply ourselves.  Ultimately this is the exercise of this series about looking at the signs.
  1. What are the influential institutions?
    • Here we are asking questions like where are the schools?  How many are there?  How do they represent the surrounding community?
    • What sorts of businesses are in the area?  Are there more quick cash stores than banks? 
  2. What are the perceptions/or problems of these institutions?
    • What are people in the community saying about these places?
    • Who uses them and why?  
    • What do the places people gather in certain sections say about those sections of town?
  3. What are our relationships to these institutions?
    • Do we have people who work in these places or hold memberships?
    • Do we involve ourselves as a church with their events?
    • Do we use their facilities?
    • Do any leaders, managers, or owners attend our church?
There are four major sectors that make up the soil of our city:
  1. Local Government
    • How does the community relate to the local government?
    • What are the perceptions?
    • What are the experiences of the community with the government?
      • Is trash being picked up?
      • Are public facilities in disrepair?
      • What are the zoning laws and how do they impact surrounding neighborhoods?
      • What is being said in the newspaper?
  2. Private Sector/Labor
    • What industries drive the town?
    • What are the employment opportunities?
    • What is closing?
    • What is opening?
    • How are people equipped to work?
  3. Education
    • What are the educational opportunities?
    • What schools are in the area?
    • Where are the schools?
    • What is the reputation of the schools?
    • How does the school represent and impact the surrounding community?
  4. Churches/Places of Worship/Ministries
    • What are the other churches in the area?
    • Is there a predominant theology or set of core beliefs?
    • How does the community perceive the churches?
    • Is there an organized non-Christian presence in the community? 
    • What is the history of religion in the community?
So how do these questions relate to us as a church?

An effective strategy for making disciples in our town will demand that we take the time to learn the story of our town from these perspectives.  Investing ourselves in answering these questions is imperative to our strategy.  When we take the time to learn the story of our town perhaps we will begin to see:
  1. We do not need to start a “Christian” version of something or even start something new as much as we need to realize that the institutions of the community are the soil.  The existing institutions are the vehicles of the message.  They already influence every life of every person in our town.
  2. We need to evaluate our personal involvement in the institutions.
    • Who works where?
    • Are we equipping and encouraging our members to make disciples where they work?
    • Are we encouraging and equipping our members to work?
    • What are the connections we have with leaders and influencers in the institutions?
  3. We need to engage in intentional partnership.
    • What can we do as a church to connect with the various sectors of our city?
    • What can we do to make our church (people and ministries) a place in which the various sectors of our city intersect?
    • How can we create a climate of connectivity with Chatsworth and Dalton at Liberty?
  1. Engage the problems in our town with long term solutions that not only change the soil but give people a chance to change.
    • Instead of simply doing things that ultimately ignore the real issues, do things that will consistently involve us in changing the issues.
    • A tent revival or a crusade in town is exciting for a certain audience, but is the audience we are trying to reach going to attend?  Are there any long term “soil” changes that take place if we only choose to use revivals, crusades, etc.?  I am not saying that churches should not hold revivals, crusades, concerts, or other events.  What I am saying is that we must think of ways invest ourselves beyond them.
    • I have heard several times in only a few weeks about how great VBS is at Liberty.  I have also heard that the Hispanic population comes to our campus for VBS week each year, but does not return.  How can we invest ourselves beyond VBS?  What can we do to consistently engage this population of our town?
In order to bring life back to our town we must realize:
  1. There is something in us (enzymes, microbes, etc.) (gospel witness, testimonies, life lived in Lordship) that is the “stuff of resurrection.”
  2. It takes time for change to happen.
  3. We must get into the soil.
  4. There is nothing inherently desirable, glamorous, or enticing about what we must do.    An attractional strategy will not ultimately change the soil of our town.  We cannot think only of how we can get people to come to the church building.  We must think far beyond it.  It will take doing the dirty work for  a long time to change the soil of our town.
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Conversational Gospel (The Real Meaning of the Great Commission) Part 5


(Continued from Thursday)

To further demonstrate my point of the conversational nature of proclaiming the gospel I want to offer you some simple observations about the conversational nature of spreading the gospel.  I give you two examples:
  1. The prophet Jeremiah - The Book of Jeremiah is unique in that he is one of the premier prophets, yet there are no visions and there are no miracles.  The nature of His calling and His messages is really rather common.  All of Jeremiah’s prophecies are based on simple observations of everyday life. 

    Jeremiah 1:11 - What do you see?  Jeremiah answers, an almond branch.  This means he is simply walking a path he has probably travelled many times before, but God calls his attention to see a message in something he has grown accustomed to seeing everyday. 

    Jeremiah 1:13 - What do you see?  Jeremiah sees a boiling pot.  This is probably someone out in the open doing some sort of work that boils water and it is either boiling over or spilling.  God uses something that is once again, along the way, to speak into Jeremiah’s life and help him enter a conversation about his town.

    18:1-19:15 - This is probably the most well known of Jeremiah’s prophecies, but notice it is a conversation with God about Jeremiah’s town and people over something that happens everyday, a potter making pottery.  In the normal movements of making and molding pottery God has a conversation about the nature of Israel’s heart.  In chapter 18, as long as Israel stays pliable, soft, God can mold and reshape the nation.  Yet in chapter 19 if they harden against the message judgment will be final, they will be broken to pieces and beyond repair.  These are powerful images that birth powerful messages.  Yet we cannot miss the fact that these are conversations with God about things that happen in Jeremiah’s town every single day.
  2. Jesus and the parables - Luke 10:25 - The language of the parable is everyday “life-speak.”  This is not church lingo.  This is not religious rhetoric.  Jesus shared the gospel by telling stories.  These are stories told on the road, and along the way.  These are not proclamations from the pulpit, nor are they sermons.  They are stories that are told in conversations that begin with such mundane topics as, “How was your day?” or “Did you hear about ______’s son?” or “May I ask you a question?”

    We make a grave mistake to believe that the venue for bringing people to Jesus is the church worship service.  While God may use this venue, this is not the primary place people come to Jesus.  People come to Jesus in the highways and hedges.  The church is a foreign country to the lost.  It is full of foreign words and concepts.  It makes no sense to anyone in the world except church people.  The proclamations made in the church are necessary, but to the common Christ-less man they are not very user friendly. 

    This is why it is so dangerous to not only equate evangelism to bringing someone to church, but to also equate evangelism to sharing a pre-packaged “church” message.  Evangelism is not a presentation.  Evangelism is a conversation.  It is story-telling.  Evangelism is helping people to see what God is doing in the everyday.  It is pointing out almond branches.  It is having conversations about boiling pots.  It is going to the mall and talking about how clay pots are made.  It is talking about a father whose son left home and blew his inheritance.  Evangelism is about talking about lost coins.  It is watching shepherds deal with sheep.  Evangelism is the story of the search.  It is talking about life and introducing people to God.

    Conversations about God are not easy things.  Whenever we go to speak to people about these things there is a level of fear because it seems to intrusive.  How do you bring God into a conversation at the ball field?  How does the gospel become the discussion at Kroger’s?  This is why we must not allow evangelism to become the work of the institution - inside the church house and relegated only to the preachers and teachers.  What I do on Sunday is NOT what you should do on Monday.  You cannot disrupt baseball practice and give an exposition of Matthew 28.  That is NOT the place for the outline.  When we talk about God people have their own ideas and they become very defensive.  So how do we get around the seeming disruption of sharing the gospel and yet bring it into the conversation?

    I love the way Eugene Peterson talks about Jesus‘ masterful way of using conversation to bring people into discussions about Spiritual truth.  Jesus did not forsake preaching and teaching, but He knew the proper venues.  In his book Tell it Slant Peterson writes,

    “When Jesus wasn’t preaching and when he wasn’t teaching, he talked with men and women with whom he lived in terms of what was going on at the moment - people, events, questions, whatever - using the circumstances of their lives as his text.  Much as we do.  Preaching begins with God:  God’s word, God’s action, God’s presence.  Teaching expands on what is proclaimed, instructing us in the implications of the text, the reverberations of the truth in the world, the specific ways in which God shapes in detail the way we live our daily lives between birth and death.  But unstructured, informal conversations arise from incidents and encounters with one another that take place in the normal course of going about our lives in families and workplaces, on playgrounds and while shopping for groceries, in airport terminals waiting for a flight and walking with binoculars in a field with friends watching birds.  Many of the words that Jesus spoke are of this nature.  Most of us are not preachers or teachers, or at least not designated as such.  Most of the words that we speak are spoken in the quotidian contexts of eating and drinking, shopping and traveling, making what we sometimes dismiss as ‘small talk.’”
The point is simply this.  We have exiled evangelism from the simple conversation and in doing so we have not only failed to do what Jesus did, but we have failed to fulfill His commission and just make disciples along the way, as you go, while you eat, shop, play, and live.
We need to look around us and realize that discipleship is not to be quarantined to the church house.  Discipleship takes place in the highways and hedges, underneath the signs.  Bringing people to Jesus takes place behind the windows that advertise how much meat will cost us this week.  Discipleship happens in stores in which everything must go!  The gospel is spread where people are.  This is the place where God, in the gospel, collides with life.
I leave you with this.  Genesis 28:16.  Jacob is in the desert.  He is on the run from his angry brother Esau and in the middle of the night he has a dream.  God shows him a ladder that connects earth with heaven.  An otherwise barren place becomes a place where God intersects with humanity.  Jacob wakes up and says, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.”  
I think that is a common problem for us.  God is having a conversation with our town that is all around us.  Look at the signs.  Look at the almond branches.  Go to the place of the potter’s wheel.  Enter into the conversation.  Every sign, every business, every slogan has a story behind it.  It is a conversation with us.  They are inviting us to talk, to respond to the message.  Let’s do what the Great Commission has told us to do - just live life, just go!  But while you are going and living  - tell the story of God.  We are not going to forsake visiting, outlining, or teaching.  But if we do not become conversational we are not “disciple making” and we will not be effective.  Let’s go into the venues of life where we can answer people’s questions.  Let’s develop relationships with people so that conversations about Christ begin with simple questions like, “How was your day?”  Invite them to know you and in so doing to know Christ.  Enter into the conversation of making disciples.


Full Manuscript - http://www.libertybaptistchurch.ws/images/Conversational_Gospel.pdf

to be continued
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Conversational Gospel (The Real Meaning of the Great Commission) Part 4


(Continued from Wednesday)


With this sermon I want to accomplish two things:
  1. I want to prevent us from throwing out the baby with the bath water.  I am not saying we should not visit, share Bible verses, learn outlines, or offer classes.  These things are not the cause of our failure.  We need to be intentional and make visits.  God uses visitation to spread the gospel.  We need to learn Bible verses and outlines.  These are tools that give us confidence and help us process and communicate theological truth.  We need to offer classes in the church building.  God uses classes to help people become informed disciples.  What I intend to do in this regard though is to challenge us to see these expressions as part of a process rather than as an end in themselves.  Without a personal discipling relationship at the core of these things, they are simply mechanical processes that will not make disciples.
  2. I want us to realize the conversational nature of discipleship and commit ourselves to entering into those conversations with the people of our town.
Back to our word study of the Great Commission.  There is only one imperative; one command.  Make disciples.  There are three participles.  A participle implies an ongoing activity.  In English we often express the nature of this action by adding “ing” to the verb.  So the Great Commission actually looks more like this:
  • As you are going - Going refers to living life, taking your kids to baseball practice, eating at the diner, buying in the market, conducting the activities of everyday work and life.  Jesus did not command us to go anywhere any different than we go on any given day.  The problem in our churches is not a lack of going, but a total lack of the realization that we already are.
  • As you are baptizing - While the term certainly pictures the act of immersing a person in the water, it is the meaning of baptism that is important here.  We are constantly challenging people to come out of the world and identify in a radical way with the Messiah by forsaking the old life and uniting with Him.  This is no easy task, but it is not enough for us to simply tell people about Jesus.  It is not enough for us to persuade them to even like Jesus.  It is not enough for us to ask them to pray a prayer and be baptized.  We must ask them to repent, to turn, and to begin a new life in Jesus.  Baptism pictures the death of the old self a a new resurrected union with Christ.
  • As you are teaching - Teaching carries the sense of an ongoing instructive conversation that helps a person unlearn the former life, learn the new life, and create new parameters for living.  Teaching takes place in the context of life, not necessarily in the classroom.  Teaching can be done by anyone who is willing to invite another into their world and show them how they walk with Christ.  Teaching is not about filling in blanks in a workbook, nor is it about gaining knowledge for the sake of knowledge.  Teaching is about changing habits and demonstrating real life in Christ.  
The sense here is that making disciples is a conversational business.  We may share an outline, but we need to be personally interested in people.  We may have classes, but we need to be sure they are in the context of equipping an ongoing conversation.  We may invite a person to church, but the pastor’s sermon does not need to be the end, but the beginning of a discussion.
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Conversational Gospel (The Real Meaning of the Great Commission) Part 3


(Continued from Tuesday)

The problem is very simple.  We are not making disciples.

  • We are asking people to come to church.
  • We are sharing an outline.
  • We are asking people to believe in Jesus.
  • We are trying to grow churches.


WE ARE NOT MAKING DISCIPLES.  If we are not making disciples we cannot call ourselves a GREAT COMMISSION CHURCH no matter how many times we go out, no matter how many times we share, no matter how far away we go, no matter how many classes we teach, and no matter how many people attend.
This is a painful realization that is difficult with which to come to grips.  Personally it took me a long time to not only see this, but once realized it took an even greater amount of time for me to stop doing this.  I simply knew of no other way.  To be honest, I am still working out all the ramifications of this in practice.  Yet, I know that something in my life and relationship with the lost must change from where I once was to something that more accurately reflects what Jesus told me to do in the Great Commission.  
What I am certain of is that I cannot give you a great report with large numbers of people who have believed upon Christ.  But I can tell you stories of several men, and where they were a few years ago.  I can tell you about the times we met and talked and learned to live life in the context of Christ.  I can tell you now that they are following Jesus and asking others to do the same.  I can tell you where the men I discipled are now.
What I cannot tell you is where most of the people are that I shared an outline with or simply prayed with.  There were hundreds of them that actually prayed to receive Christ.    I know where very few of them are now and I have no assurance that the vast majority of them are following Christ today.  I asked them to believe.  I asked them to enroll in the church program.  I did not ask them to follow Jesus.  I did not show them what this meant.  


Full Manuscript - http://www.libertybaptistchurch.ws/images/Conversational_Gospel.pdf

to be continued
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Conversational Gospel (The Real Meaning of the Great Commission) Part 2


(Continued from Monday)  

This being the case, a more Biblical understanding of the Great Commission turns our evangelistic process on its head.  I would submit to you that our unbiblical understanding of evangelism has resulted in:
  1. An approach that measures success in “deciders” rather than in “followers.”
  2. An approach that ends with the decision.
  3. An approach that is presentation oriented.
  4. An approach that is impersonal.
  5. An approach that is unnatural (it is unlike any other way of interacting with human beings).
  6. An approach that is not working!  It is not working because:
    1. Church people grow weary of doing it and eventually don’t.
    2. Church people feel guilty if they don’t do it.
    3. Lost people are not responding to it.
    4. It assumes a high degree of prior knowledge of the gospel and as such is becoming more and more irrelevant in an increasingly Biblically illiterate culture.
    5. It does not allow anyone to explore what it means that Jesus is the Christ and learn what it means to follow Him.
    6. It does not result in fully devoted followers of Christ, but rather very fickle church members who are uncommitted, undisciplined, uneducated, hypocritical, and in the end non-existent when difficulty arises. 
The problem is very simple.  We are not making disciples.
  • We are asking people to come to church.
  • We are sharing an outline.
  • We are asking people to believe in Jesus.
  • We are trying to grow churches.
WE ARE NOT MAKING DISCIPLES.  If we are not making disciples we cannot call ourselves a GREAT COMMISSION CHURCH no matter how many times we go out, no matter how many times we share, no matter how far away we go, no matter how many classes we teach, and no matter how many people attend.


Full Manuscript - http://www.libertybaptistchurch.ws/images/Conversational_Gospel.pdf

To be continued

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Conversational Gospel (The Real Meaning of the Great Commission) Part 1


Title:  Conversational Gospel
Series:  Signs
Text:  Matt. 28:16-18
Matthew 28:18-20 is probably one of the most well known Bible verses in evangelical churches. This is our mission to go into the world and share Christ with people.  When you study  the passage word for word it has an interesting break down that is often missed in our translations. The common understanding of the passage is that our mission consists of several components:

1) Going
2) Discipling
3) Baptizing
4) Teaching
Because of the way we understand the passage the church has developed a more
institutional approach that often looks something like this:
1) Going - is expressed in mission trips and visitation programs that are most often built
around a canned approach to sharing the gospel message. The success is
measured in converts. “We had 15 people saved” and so forth and so on.
2) Discipling - is expressed in a set aside time of teaching, a program of offered classes,
etc. The purpose of discipling is to help a person gain a certain degree of
understanding. In this sense success is measured in what one knows or by how many classes one has completed.
3) Baptizing - is something a church does to its converts that is viewed as an
initiatory rite of passage. Once a person is baptized, then they are a member.
Success is measured by merely participating in the act of being baptized.
4)  Teaching - is the ongoing process of instruction that the church offers.  It is most often done by its most gifted congregants who become “teachers” or pastors.    We trust the teaching to them.  The place of teaching is inside the church building. In this sense there are very few if any discernible differences between discipling and teaching.


So we see the Great Commission as being something very command driven and numbers oriented. If I am to win people to Christ I must go, teach, baptize - institutionalize. The goal is to get a person into the program of the church.
It is here that a careful study of the words used in the text reveals something very interesting. There is only one command in the Great Commission. Do you know what it is?
The most popular answer is “Go.”  Yet you may be surprised to know that “Go” is not the command. Jesus is not commanding us to go anywhere.  You may also be surprised to know that Jesus is not commanding us to teach or to baptize. The only thing Jesus commands us to do is to “make disciples.” What is a disciple?
Here are some perspectives that may help us get a sense of the word:
  1. A historical example - A disciple was someone who devoted his life to not only learning the teachings of a master but mimicking his life.  A disciple would leave his former life and attach himself to the teacher.  In that format he was not only able to hear what the teacher had to say, but he was also able to see how the teacher lived out his teaching in the public square - at the market, with the family, raising children, in good days and bad.
  2. The literal definition is one simple word - learner.
  3. The modern “slogan” or definition that is most popular and memorable to us is to describe a disciple as a “fully devoted follower of Christ.”
I think what is important to note here is that we are not thinking of evangelism in terms of “conversions” as if it is fulfilled in a moment.  The concept of evangelism that is true to Jesus‘ commission to us is disciple making, which is something all together different than simply persuading someone to believe.  We are not merely asking someone to pray “a sinner’s prayer.”  Jesus did not simply ask us to believe or to pray, He called us to follow.
Notice in the gospels when Jesus is calling his first disciples together; notice the term here; He did not call on any of them to believe upon Him or to pray to Him.  Jesus called them to “follow” Him (Mark 1: 16, 2:14).  He was asking them to leave their former life of fishing, or tax collecting, or whatever had defined their life to that point and attach themselves to Him as master.  They would now take the next three years to learn life “the Jesus way.”  They would not only listen to His teaching, but they would observe His life, and learn to live it out in the public square.  In the end the measure of success would not be the decision they made in the beginning, nor would it be how much they learned, but rather it would be whether or not they were willing to die for Him in the end.  He did not measure the success of His mission on how many people raised their hands in response to His invitation.  He measured the success three years later on whether or not they were willing to stay with Him to the cross and carry on the mission long after His death; until their own death.  


Full Manuscript - http://www.libertybaptistchurch.ws/images/Conversational_Gospel.pdf 

(To be Continued) 
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The Perils of Paradise Lost


Milton described the perils of our present world simply as paradise lost.  In each of us is not only the desire to live, but the desire to live in a pleasurable place.  Yet we contend with our vulnerabilities.  Children should never get sick, but they do.  Accidents are surprising twists of reality, sinister interruptions of the good life.  We don’t want them to happen, but they will.  We travel familiar paths everyday and take it for granted that we will always make it from point A to point B, then one day we don’t.  Such is life in paradise lost.
The world was not supposed to be this way.  God created a world in which we could enjoy His rest (Gen. 2:1).  Rest, in the Gen. 2:1 Shabbat sense, is not to be thought of as physical exhaustion, but as paradise completed.  Rest comes from the will of God being fully satisfied.  Man was created with full access to life.  It is the life you have never experienced but your soul can never forget.  This is why accidents are so disappointing and sickness seems so unfair.  You were created for paradise.  This world is chaotic and confusing because it is so foreign to the cravings of our soul.  We want life to be good.  Before paradise was lost life was very good (Gen. 1:31).
The Woman gets a bad rap because she believed the devil’s lie, “You will not surely die (Gen. 3:5).”  But let’s be honest.  We still believe the devil’s lie.  We have yet to come to grips with how awful life can be in paradise lost.  An even more ironic twist to the scheme of Satan is that when people die we become angry, not at the deceiver, but at the Creator.  God was honest.  Eat the fruit and you will die.  It was the devil who lied - but we still believe he was right; die - we shall not!  This is why we are so apt to blame God; because we never believed Him in the first place.
So onward we trudge in paradise lost, confused, disillusioned, and angry.  As awful as life can be and as vulnerable as we all are, we must take hope that one day the curse will be conquered in Christ and the redeemed will enter into God’s rest (Heb. 4:9).  The danger is that we will continue to believe Satan’s lie; that its God’s fault we die, blame Him.  If we continue in this line of thought we have not once bitten the forbidden fruit, we have made a feast of it.  Paradise lost is not the world that God intended and it is not the world that will always be.  God will redeem a people for His own possession and He will create for them a new world (Rev. 21).  This is the good news of the gospel.  
Until paradise redeemed we must contend with paradise lost and if we are to be saved we must wake up from the lie.  People die.  We are vulnerable.  Satan has deceived us.  God was honest that if we disobeyed life would be this way.  With whom should we be angry?  
God has sent His Son into the world to save the lost (Luke 19:10); the exiles from Paradise 1 (Gen. 3:22-24).  That’s us.  What makes coming to Christ most difficult is that we have a hard time believing we have lost anything at all.  When life goes wrong we believe it is God who has lost His mind, not we who have sinned and lost paradise.  Faith calls us to awaken from the deception, to trust Christ, to contend with the world, and to strive to enter the rest - Paradise 2 (Heb. 4:11).  And this we should choose to do if we desire to be rescued by grace.  Understanding the nature of living in paradise lost, being honest about our vulnerability, and being careful on whom we place the blame.     
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:18–25 (ESV)

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James Canupp Coming to Liberty

I know many people in the congregation at Liberty are Southern Gospel music fans.  I know I have only been your pastor for a day and a half, but I wanted to get things rolling quickly.  Therefore, I give you James Canupp!  I hope you enjoy and I would like to know, which Sunday you would like for us to schedule him?

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Election? (Just Ask)


What is the doctrine of election? Is it Biblical?


The doctrine of election speaks simply of God’s choosing.  While God may choose people to do or be certain things (ie. David as King 2 Sam. 6:21), the greater act of God’s election is His choosing of a people for salvation.  
Election is definitely a Biblical doctrine that can be readily found in both Old and New Testaments.  While the word “election” may not be used or rendered to English in every case, the act of God’s electing is apparent, especially in the Old Testament.  In the Old Testament Israel is the most prominent example (Deut. 7:6).  We also see the heritage of election traced back to the patriarchs in Genesis as God chose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to be the family of blessing for the whole earth (Gen. 12, 15, 17, Isa. 41:8).  In the New Testament we see Jesus introduced as the “chosen” of God (Luke 9:35, 1 Peter 2:4,6).  Interestingly, the word “chosen”, in most cases, is a translation of the Greek word “electos.”  In the New Testament those chosen by God for His salvation are referred to as “the elect (Matt. 24:22, Rom. 8:33).”    
Election is a Biblical doctrine that if misconstrued can do serious damage to our understanding the nature of God, salvation, and the nature of the church.  Where most of the theological debate is centered is not as much on “election” but on the knowledge of God.  What does it mean that someone is predestined?  How did God know?  Did He know the choices they would make or did God destine them for His choosing?  Another strain of the debate here is that if God has chosen or elected some for salvation does that necessarily mean that He has chosen others for destruction?  But you didn’t ask, so I did not want to bring us into all of this :)!
Wherever one falls on these issues there is no debate that election is certainly a Biblical doctrine.  Thanks for asking.
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The Dirt Series


">The Dirt Series from Brian Branam on Vimeo.
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A Short Trip Down a Long Road


Last summer we drove to San Diego, CA and back.  It took us 14 days and we logged almost 6,000 miles.  Yet I can recall 100 great stories and 1,000,000 images from that trip in my mind in about 30 seconds.  I guess this is why everyday is 24 hours no matter how you approach it, but looking back makes life seem as if it happens way too fast.  
If I could sum up my ministry here at Ridgecrest it would be to describe it as a short trip down a long road.  There were times it seemed as if we would never get there and like impatient children we pleaded with God, “How much longer?”  By the calendar we have been together for about 9.5 years, but looking back it doesn’t seem long at all.
When a pastor enters a new situation the focus is on what must be done for the church.  The agenda is on where the church is headed.  What will be its new direction?  Where does it desire to be?  We call this vision.  Personally I can look back and realize there was another journey on the agenda of God.  He had a vision for me.  In the end where did He desire for me to be?  It was a long road.
I can say that I am at a much better place now that I was when I came here 9.5 years ago.  Our congregation has experienced a geographic relocation.  I have experienced a spiritual one.  The church has bought and sold campuses.  My soul has been humbled and my faith reconstructed.  When I came here I thought it was the church that had a long way to go.  Looking back now I realize that I was the one who had the greater distance to travel.
I am thankful for those who remained faithful and loyal.  You have extended great grace to me throughout these years and your love for me makes it very difficult to leave.  Yet we must continue to go.  There is another long road ahead for each of us.  
For the rest of my life I will recall 100 great stories and 1,000,000 images from Ridgecrest in my mind.  The mind replays memories at odd times.  Walking down halls.  Listening to the radio.  Driving down the road.  Eating a biscuit.  We see, hear, or smell something that reminds us of an episode in the past.  Memories are manufactured films in our brains that have been removed from time.  Our mind takes a minute to think about nine years.  It was a short trip down a long road for which I will be forever grateful.
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Random Thoughts on Friday (2/10)

I am not a handyman, but when you are trying to sell a house you are motivated to fix things. For the past three weeks I have been repairing things I should have done 9 years ago. When you are not accustomed to stuff like this it is amazing how the little things can make you feel like a real man. I installed a new motion detector light over our garage. Our neighbor Ramone is an electrician, but I didn’t ask him to help because I’m a man. Yet after the whole thing was wired it wouldn’t come on. So I did an unmanly thing. I went down and asked Ramone why it wouldn’t work. “Well, its broad daylight right now. I bet if you cover the sensor the light will come on.” He was right. You the man Ramone!
This week is my final full week as pastor of Ridgecrest. I am not quite sure how to feel in this moment. There is a deep mixture of joy at what is next, but sadness that an important chapter of my life that is coming to a close. I know a large part of the memory of my ministry here will be associated with relocation. I hope it was about more than that. It was for me. These 9 years have been a spiritual relocation in my life. I am a much better man, pastor, and follower of Christ than I was when I came here in 2002. I will probably blog my thoughts throughout the coming week. Sometimes I can write much better than I can talk.
Ed Stetzer posted an insightful article about a decision made by officials in New York City to evict all churches that are renting space in public schools. It is amazing how quickly we are losing religious freedom in our country and the state is gaining freedom to discriminate against the Christian church. Last year people opposed a Muslim Mosque occupying a building in New York City. It was all over the news and the opponents were made to look like the devil, enemies of religious freedom. When the Christian Church gets the boot no one says a word. Read about it here: http://www.edstetzer.com/2012/02/big-apple-big-mistake.html
Have a great weekend.
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On the Good and Bad Economy (Reposted)

While listening to the radio today there was a repeated theme of government entitlements and bailouts.  In June of 2010 I wrote an article in response to an article that appeared in TIME magazine.  Since there are so many new readers to FeelMyFaith.com, and since we are in an election season, I thought it would be apropos to repost it.

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Michael Crowley’s entry into this week’s TIME magazine, “The Good and Bad Economy” outlines the difficult agenda of economic recovery facing the Obama administration as it deals with not only conflicting economic data but also with an electorate sharply divided philosophically on how to end the current recession.  There is a looming fear of the “double dip,” that after some signs of growth our nation’s economy will shrink once again.  Although the nation’s economy has “double dipped” a few times since, the dreaded “double dip” is most often associated with 1937 “when a U.S. economy fighting its way out of the Great Depression crashed a second time, requiring the massive industrial effort of World War II to rejuvenate it.”  In any historical period the “double dip” signals a long excruciating recovery from recession.
Even after an $862 billion stimulus package, soon to run out, the economy remains in peril.  The Obama administration, left minded economists, and Democrats believe that without more government stimulus spending, massive layoffs and budget cuts are a certain future.  “But Obama and his advisers know their hands are tied.  Polls show that voters either don’t understand – or don’t buy – the long established economic theory ofJohn Maynard Keynes, which calls for more government spending (even if it means running up deficits) to help the economy through hard times.  Instead, the public is in the mood to smack big Washington spenders hard this November.”
There are two assumptions that permeate this entire article: 1) If you are against the left/Obama/democrat agenda for economic recovery it must be because you are ignorant and 2) the government is the only answer.  I resent both of those assumptions.  True, I do not know who John Maynard Keynes is, but I manage a church budget and most of the people in our congregation manage their finances both at home and in business.  From my own experience borrowing money may serve as an immediate stimulus to my living room or my driveway, but borrowed couches and cars come with much larger price tags and longer periods of payment than ones paid for with actual cash.  I understand this reality clearly.  While the working man may not understand macro-economics, he is forced to manage his own paycheck week to week; if indeed he is currently drawing one at all.  It is presumptuous to assume that if the electorate “smack big Washington spenders hard this November” that they did it without really knowing why.
The Bible has quite a bit to say about economics both at a personal and national level.  People need jobs.  Man is meant to work.  None of us should expect something for nothing (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12).  The entitlement philosophy that pervades our current culture is burdensome, debilitating, and an economy killer.  People need to work.  Indeed this is the central burden of the recession.  How do we put Americans back to work?
The Bible outlines two approaches, one Egyptian (sort of) and the other Jewish.  According to Genesis 40 and 41, Joseph (serving as Prime Minister of Egypt at the time) interpreted dreams that led to the nation storing up during 7 years of prosperity.  Good economics.  After prosperity, there was famine.  In an agrarian society famine=recession.  When 7 years of famine struck the land the people ran out of money.  To stimulate the economy the people exchanged their personal wealth and businesses (land, livestock, etc.) for a government bailout check.  The end result was a massive exchange of private ownership for government control (Genesis 47:23-26).  When the government is the answer to recession the result is an exchange of power, from private ownership to federally funded, heavily taxed, and regulated institutions.  Those who are against the left/Democrat/Obama doctrine of recovery via government spending are not ignorant, but fearful of a less privately owned and more government controlled America.  What has happened to the banking system in recent days is only a first fruit of what could come from reaping such philosophy.  It is the slow, methodical death of the private sector and the expansion of government.      
The other Biblical paradigm is the Year of Jubilee outlined in Leviticus 25:13-17.  The economic philosophy of Leviticus 25 guaranteed there would be no bad loans.  It protected both the lender and the borrower.  The idea here also emphasized private ownership and personal worth.  It gave people a right to wealth while at the same time protected the poor and encouraged generosity.  Instead of penalizing success it created a climate in which everyone had an opportunity to succeed.  To recover or to succeed, one needed only an opportunity to work.
The government, through regulation and deregulation creates an economic climate.  Yet, Biblically speaking it is not the duty of government to create wealth, it is rather the duty of government to punish evil, protect human life, and assure its citizens that they can live quiet and peaceable lives (Romans 13:4, 1 Timothy 2:2).  When the government becomes the coffer of the people the end result is an undue tax burden, the exchange of private wealth for government control, and people who either do not have a mind to work or who do not have the opportunity to work.  People need loans, fair ones, private ones instead of government ones.  Much of this recession can be blamed on bad loans created by a bad governmental ideology.  Why repeat what has already failed?  These loans not only put the lender at risk, but the borrower as well.  The greatest evidence of this is in the collapse of the housing market.  Instead of more stimulus spending and loans for bureaucratic pet projects, American business needs less of a tax burden and more opportunity to employ people who can, in the spirit of Leviticus 25, relieve themselves of debt (from good loans), work in the private sector, and build personal wealth.   
Biblically speaking the path to recovery is through hard work, not government bailouts and stimulus spending.  According to Biblical texts like Genesis 47 and the lessons of history at large, the American people have every right to fear big government spending.  It is not an issue of ignorance, but one of precedence. 
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Bible Versions - The Bad Ones (Just Ask)


Question:  Are there any "bad" versions/translations of the bible? (KJV, NIV, etc.) 
Why does Ridgecrest use ESV?
When it comes to Bible versions there is a wide range of understanding from totally oblivious to militant.  Before I became a serious student of the Bible I was firmly in the oblivious category thinking that the different labels we used to designate Bibles KJV, NIV, NASB were simply brand names.  KJV was to the Bible what NIKE was to shoes.  You have the gold standard KJV=NIKE and then you have the rest NIV or NASB = Reebok or Adidas.
In my journey from oblivious to being someone people asks about Bible versions I have met the militant.  The militant would include people who believe that since the KJV was good enough for Paul, it should be good enough for the rest of us :).  Personally, I find those who argue passionately for the KJV as the only preserved Word of God to be misguided and divisive.  If the KJV is your personal favorite that is one thing, but to say it is the only version of the Bible ordained by God opens up a pandora’s box of ignorance and errors.  
I said all that to say this - I will try to answer your question concisely without getting into the entire debate over versions or the entire dynamic of how we bring a text from Hebrew and Greek into the language of the people which is, in our case, English (which is its own massive yet fascinating discussion).  Yet in doing so, please understand there is much more that should be said and there is also a wrath I expect from the militants to which I will not be able to respond adequately on this forum. 
In answer to your question, yes, there are “bad” translations of the Bible.  I would say this is the case for two reasons:

1.     There are versions that are poorly translated.  This may be so for the following reasons.
  1. The translators did a poor job handling the original languages. AND/OR
  2. The end product is difficult to understand for a contemporary audience.  The point of translating the Bible is so that people can understand it.  When the people fail to understand a translation we have failed to achieve the purpose of translation.
2.      There are versions that are theologically misguided. It is impossible for one to perform the task of translation without bringing to the table his or her own experiences and presuppositions.  This does not mean that every version of the Bible is then necessarily corrupt, but it does mean that if we are to render a faithful translation of the text that it should be done with careful critique and the checks and balances of the church at large.  This being the case we should be careful of:
    1. Versions that are strictly denominational in nature, as it may be a version that simply seeks to affirm a particular set of beliefs or theological leanings.
    2. Versions that seek to attract a particular cultural sub-group such as teenage girls or people who love rap music.  I have seen some examples of this and the end result is nothing but unholy gobbeldygook (itself a word that needs no translation).   
    3. Versions that have a decided theological agenda whether it be to give us an image of “god” more palatable to modern culture, a certain philosophy, psychology, or political agenda  or perhaps a version that seeks to remove negative language references such as sin, wrath, or judgement.  This is nothing short of carving images and the end is pagan idolatry.
With this said what I seek in a Bible translation is one that is readable, understandable, and faithful.  I want to know that a large group of scholars have applied a great deal of work to it with an even greater degree of oversight and accountability.  These are the reasons I am currently using the ESV (English Standard Version).  That is not to say that I believe that the ESV is the “best” in all points, but I do believe it satisfies the criteria as well as the best few and far better than most.  For a good article on the ESV translation follow this link:  http://www.esv.org/esv/translation/about/  
Ridgecrest as a church has not chosen the ESV as the “official” Bible version of the congregation, but it is the version that I have chosen to use week to week in the pulpit.  As a result many of our people have also purchased the ESV and many of our teachers choose to teach from the ESV (which is not required of them).  Personally, this is a choice I made in 2008 after studying the ESV for a year.  Prior to that time, I preached from the New King James Version (NKJV).  
If I could make one ringing endorsement for the ESV it is the ESV Study Bible.  I am not a “study Bible” guy.  I find them cumbersome yet lacking.  The Bible is a big book.  Adding notes to it makes it mammoth.  Thus it is difficult to say a lot with a little (which seems to also be my trouble with this blog).  The end result then, for most study Bibles, is a mammoth Bible with lots of notes that say little to nothing at all.  What I love about the ESV Study Bible is that every note and article seems to be precise and the end result is a set of concise notes along with the text that are capable of helping anyone become a serious Bible student.  
Thanks for your questions.  Keep them coming.  
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Being Organic


Life is agricultural.  No matter how industrialized or technological the world becomes the principle of sowing and reaping is inescapable.  We are organic at the core.  Much of who you are can be attributed to decisions you made many years ago.  Something in the past was planted in your life, your character, your personality, your circumstances - today you eat the fruit.
Being organic has its positives and negatives.  When it comes to the negatives we would rather keep them hidden below the surface.  The problem here is that in an agrarian world, what is buried will soon grow.  Your sins will find you out (Num. 32:23).  The fruits of past sins are bitter herbs indeed.
The positive to being organic is that we can sow things into the soil of our soul that will, given time, become life giving.  Saving $10 per week will give you $1,000 in two years.  It is easy to waste $10 a hundred times.  It is hard not to need $1,000 just once.  In an organic world a little bit (the seed) can go a long way (the fruit).  We reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7)  
What is the little bit (the seed) that you can sow into your marriage/business/finances/family/community today that will make a big difference in a few years (the fruit)?  What bad habit, that has brought you nothing but bitter herbs, can you remove from the soil of your soul?  What can you replant in its place that will become life giving to you in the future (Eph. 4:25-32)?
The good news about being organic is that a field full of weeds can become an orchard full of fruit if it is given work and time.  What you choose to do with the dirt will make all the difference!  

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Random Thoughts on Friday 2/3

Shannon and I celebrated 15 years of marriage this week.  The official wedding anniversary gift almanac says that this is our crystal anniversary.  I did not buy Shannon crystal.  Instead I bought her tickets to Wicked.  This is our wicked anniversary.  Strange to hear a preacher say something like that.


I am continuing to trudge through the massive biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  He was a gifted theologian with an amazing story.  There are plenty of books about his life that will help you get the jest of who he was without reading the most recent 500 + page edition.  I'm not saying the book is bad, it is just really, really, really detailed.  At this point I am too far in to put it down and I have too much pride to quit.  There is just something nerdy cool about saying you read a 500 page biography about a German theologian.  Another thing keeping me in the book is to see how many casual conversations I can drop the name Bonhoeffer into and share an obscure fact about his life.  If you are having a hard time finishing a book, make it a game to keep you in it.


Greg Garrison at the Birmingham News wrote up a nice article this week on the response of area churches in the cleanup effort.  You can read it on al.com here:  http://www.al.com/living/index.ssf/2012/01/birmingham_area_ministries_chu.html
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