We will begin the new year by learning how “Together We Point to Christ” as the people of Seaford Baptist Church.
January 6th, 2013: “We Point to Christ by Being God-Focused” (Psalm 81:1-16)
January 13th, 2013: “We Point to Christ by Being Gospel-Centered” (Romans 1:16-17)
January 20th, 2013: “We Point to Christ by Being Word-Driven” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
I look forward to seeing you as we learn from these texts in January, whether it will be your first few visits with us or you are a member of our community of faith. Happy New Year.
The Senior Pastor Search Committee conducted a survey from November 9 to December 2, 2012 to better understand the membership desires concerning the position of Senior Pastor at Seaford Baptist Church. The results of this survey are posted here for you to review.
Did You Know…
45% of respondents selected No Age Preference as the desired age range of our perspective pastor?
59% of respondents selected Master’s Degree from Seminary as the desired education of our perspective pastor?
40% of respondents selected 6-10 years of prior experience as a pastor as the desired experience of our perspective pastor?
Make sure you review the results!
I am so thankful for the last month and the way God spoke to us from His Word concerning conversion. Before each message, we showed a brief video that had a member of our church sharing their testimony of how God took from “from death to life.” Many of you asked for these videos to be posted on the internet, so here they are in their entirety–including Terry Roberts’ testimony that we were not able to show this past Sunday.
Thank you to Jamie Adams for filming and producing these videos for us.
After church on Sunday, I was talking with one of our church members about feeling like you are stuck in some sort of spiritual detention. For the most part, I think we have all been there. Spiritual detention is that place where you don’t feel worthy to read the Bible, serve in church or pray out loud. You feel like there is some type of penance that you must impose on yourself before you are “worthy” again (as if you ever were apart from Christ).
I was also sharing with her that one of the hardest things for a Christian to overcome is regret. Whether it is sin that was committed prior to being born again or after we have been converted, the enemy has a way of bringing it up to the surface of our minds, over and over again. It is easy to say, “You are forgiven and you need to live in that,” but it is much more difficult to actually dwell in that place.
Later on Sunday, I was at a Christmas concert at the first church I worked at—Old Powhatan Baptist Church. Old Powhatan is a place that I have grown very fond of throughout the years—maybe even more so since I left in 2007. I began working there when I was 20 years old as the Student Pastor and stayed for three years. In that time, I fell in love with the local church for the first time. Since my departure, they have become one of the healthiest churches I have ever seen with my own eyes. I am very proud of them and the Lord’s work there and I pray for them constantly.
With that said, Old Powhatan is also a landmark of foolishness for me in some ways. Remember, I was 20 when I started there and I left when I was 23. I was not exactly a pillar of wisdom at any point. I look back at those years and I see so many fond memories, but I also see so many mistakes. There were countless poor decisions in my life and in my ministry. Now I know that when I am 33, I will look back at where I am now and feel the exact same way, but it doesn’t change the reality that regret can bring.
As we sat at the concert on Sunday, I thought, “Man, if I knew then what I know now, I would have been such a better pastor and mentor to those students.” I actually got pretty down about it because for a good bit of time, I forgot about all the victory we experience in our ministry over that three years and just remembered my own inadequacy. At one point I even thought, “I bet all these people are glad I left. I bet they wish I wasn’t even here tonight.” (It is amazing how the enemy can begin to shoot poisonous thoughts like darts into your heart.)
Right about then, Ross King, the guy we were all there to listen to, had us stand and sing Silent Night together. Can I make a confession? I have never really like the song. When I was a kid I was into it, but that was before I was saved. As a believer I have never really connected with the lyrics. But that definitely changed on Sunday night. When we got to the third verse, God definitely broke through the poison thoughts of regret and spoke the Gospel over me.
“Silent night! Holy night! Son of God love’s pure light, Radiant beams from thy holy face, With the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord at thy birth, Jesus, Lord at thy birth.”
As we sang, it was like God knocked me on the head and said, “Of course your past is filled with mistakes and folly. That’s why my Son came. He brought you redeeming grace and without it—all there would be is regret!” Think about that. That is the message of Christmas isn’t it? He has poured out undeserved love on us through Jesus. The baby of Bethlehem was born to die in Jerusalem for all of my sin. He put my regret to death on the Cross.
My encouragement is that no matter what you have gone through in the last year, if you are a Christian, you are free to celebrate this Christmas without condemnation because of the Christ born to us in the manger. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14) and it is the dawn of redeeming grace. The enemy will speak to us and tell us we aren’t good enough, and he speaks a half-truth. Yes, we aren’t good enough. But the part he conveniently leaves out is that believers know someone who is good enough—the God-man, Jesus Christ. Merry Christmas.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year–unless you are like me and you feel like you can’t enjoy it until you have bought all of the gifts. If you are struggling for a meaningful gift, here are some great books that you can get on the cheap this Christmas.
The Prodigal God by Tim Keller (Amazon Price: $11.20)
A short book about the Parable of the Prodigal Son that communicates the message of the Gospel to both believers and unbelievers.
The Good Life by Trip Lee (Amazon Price: $5.49)
This is another book of the shorter variety, written by Christian rap artist Trip Lee. Trip’s point is the the “good life is the life that is laid down.” A wonderful gift to an unbelieving or believing teenager/college student.
Crazy Love by Francis Chan (Amazon Price: $10.19)
I first read Chan’s, “Crazy Love,” as a seminary student in 2009. Almost four years later, it remains one of my go-to introductory sources to unbelievers and young believers that come into my office.
The Reason for God by Tim Keller (Amazon Price: $10.88)
The tagline for this book is “Belief in an Age of Skepticism.” That could not be more appropriate. Keller tackles the most difficult questions facing Christian faith in a delicate, yet honest manner. A wonderful book for someone struggling with doubt.
Death By Love by Mark Driscoll (Amazon Price: $11.50)
How does Jesus identify with me in any and every circumstance? How can I identify with him? Driscoll answers those questions by pointing to life,death, and resurrection of Christ. The book reads like a bundle of letters written by a pastor to his church members.
Ten Who Changed the World by Danny Akin (Amazon Price: $11.18)
Do you have that friend or family member that loves biographies? This book is a series of mini-biographies that highlights ten people who God used to change the culture of mission work on earth.
Do Hard Things by Alex Harris (Amazon Price: $11.98)
Remember “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” by Josh Harris? It was all the rage when I was 15. Well, he has a little brother named Alex who wrote a book challenging teenagers to intentionally do difficult things for the kingdom of God now–not later. A great gift for a believing teenager.
Daily Discipleship by Leroy Eims (Amazon Price: $6.00)
As I type this, I can’t believe how cheap this book is being sold for on Amazon. In this devotional, Eims has you read three chapters of the Bible, gives you a couple of hard-hitting thoughts to consider for application, and provides you with an outline of a prayer. A great kick-starter for anyone who struggles to have a daily quiet time.
Personal Prayer: The Timeless Secret of High-Impact Leaders by Dave Earley (Amazon Price: $9.57)
Dave Earley was my church-planting professor in seminary. He spent more time talking about prayer in class than church-planting. This book explains. It is an easy read, but the lessons it contains are extremely valuable.
Praise Habit by David Crowder (Amazon Price: $5.20)
This book is not very long, but it is very funny and it teaches in a sticky manner as you read it. I read this book almost nine years ago, but I specifically remember many things that Crowder talks about when it comes to keeping God’s praise as your daily habit.
Holiness of God by RC Sproul (Amazon Price: $8.24)
I read this book in the summer of 2007 after I had a bit of a personal revival with my student group at a summer camp. It solidified my understanding of God’s character in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and in my life. If I was going to beg you to buy one book on this list for yourself–it might be this one.
Dying to Live by Clayton King (Amazon Price: $11.89)
I became a Christian on July 14th, 1999. Though it was God’s sovereign work, I am thankful for the fact that on that night Clayton King preached the Gospel in such a way that the Spirit finally opened my eyes to understand it. Clayton and I are probably far apart on some theological issues, but I trust him and his ministry and this book is a great guide for killing sin and living for the Lord.
1. Get a Facebook account for yourself.
Maybe you have no desire to keep up with your best friend from 8th grade who now lives in Nevada. I understand that everyone doesn’t have the time to go around liking statuses and posting your own thoughts in short three sentence blurbs for the world to see. But guess what? Your kids are most likely obsessed.
A 2010 study of 600 teenagers found that students between the ages of 13 and 17 spend 2 hours and 20 minutes per day on the internet. The same study found that 80% of that time is spent on social networking sites. That is 1 hour and 50 minutes per day. That is over 40,000 minutes spent on social networking like Twitter and Facebook per year. That means around 7% of a student’s year is spent on these sites.
Do you love your student? Of course you do. If I told you that someone you love as much as you love your child was going to dedicate 7% of their time to anything, wouldn’t you want to explore it thoroughly? I hope so. It is vital that you get Facebook, learn how to use Facebook, and keep up with the things your students are posting and saying on Facebook.
2. Get your student’s log-in information.
Now don’t jump to conclusions here. I am not suggesting that you become a “sneak in the room and read the diary,” sort of parent. Instead, I think it is important that you are not locked out of a very real, virtual world. Let us begin with the ideal.
The ideal thing would be your student not hiding anything from you on social networking sites. However, the reality is that there are ways for them to block you from seeing their activity. My son is one. By the time he is doing social networking, it won’t be Facebook and Twitter—it will be something new and probably more dangerous, and yet more incredible. But if my son was 13 I would say the following things to him:
• You can have a Facebook, but you must not hide posts from me or block me from your activity
• I have your log-in information and I never want to use it and I never will without you knowing
• If it becomes clear that you are hiding your activity in any way, I am going to use your log-in information
This may sound harsh, but the privacy of my child is his privilege—not his right. I have no desire to take my child’s privileges away, but there may come a time when I have to. Of course I don’t look at the privilege of privacy as lightly as I look at the privilege of dessert—but it is a privilege nonetheless. I love my kid and I care about my kid and I am going to communicate that to him by guarding his heart. If he is going to spend 7% of his time doing anything, I would say the safety of his heart is an issue when it comes to that particular activity.
3. Twitter is the dirty little secret of many teenagers.
I have been amazed at how many students “keep it clean” on Facebook, but sound like a combination of Richard Pryor and Eminem on Twitter. Why? Because most parents don’t understand Twitter, the point of its existence, or how to use it.
Twitter is basically a giant conversation. Everyone is talking to one another in 140 characters. It is brief, yet immediate. My personal Twitter “handle” is @michaelhowardjr. If you want to say something to me in the giant conversation, you simply need to say something like, “Hey @michaelhowardjr …” If you wanted to join the conversation about a particular subject, you precede that subject with a hash tag. For example, if I was tweeting about a Redskins game, I might say:
“I can’t believe this terrible team is losing again. #Redskins”
That would group my statements in with everyone else who said something about the #Redskins. If you really liked what I said (because you are a suffering Skins fan or a gloating Cowboys fan), you could “retweet” my tweet to everyone who is following you.
You get the tweets of everyone that you follow like a subscription. Your tweets go to anyone who is following you. I follow many teenagers on Twitter that I currently pastor or have formerly pastored. Some are using Twitter for God’s glory, recognizing that social networking is real and your words matter in those venues. However, many teenagers are reserving their nastiest jokes, most offensive thoughts, and vilest language for a world of Twitter that their parents do not belong to.
4. Realize that it matters.
Does all this stuff really matter? Yes. We live in a culture that is losing touch with the face-to-face conversation that previous generations grew up on. The Breakfast Club has been replaced with the iPhone. The Goonies have been retired in favor of Google chats. Hallmark cards have been substituted with birthday wall posts. And guess what? Whether we like it or not, our children view all of these relationships as absolutely, positively real.
Dating relationships are no longer validated through jewelry and parental permission; it is about a “relationship status change.” The days of making phone calls to establish plans are as ancient as scribbling on cave walls in the Middle East. I can post a status about playing a game of soccer at a certain time and place and have ten of my friends there within an hour. Moreover, if I am going to use my phone to contact those friends, it is probably through text—not a phone call. The voice seems to be a dying component of friendship and relationship.
All of this means that when a student posts a certain status or says a particular statement on their Facebook or Twitter—they mean it. These relationships, these emotions, and these words are all very real and they matter very much. Even if you see it as virtual fun, realize that the 110 minutes per day your student spends on social networking are minutes spent in a real world with real people.
5. Most tools can be wielded for good.
The purpose of this post is not to scare you into deleting your child’s Facebook account or to drive you to spend hours stalking them and their friends on the internet. You don’t want that. They don’t want that. There is no grace or trust in that. Instead, my hope is that part of you training your child in righteousness will be you training them on how to use social networking for the glory of Christ.
Every status doesn’t have to be Scripture, but it should be something that doesn’t profane the name of God. Every word they tweet doesn’t have to be a John Calvin quote, but they should use social networking in such a way that a trust of the Lord is demonstrated. Facebooking and tweeting every twist of emotion in their life does not communicate a trust in God, but a neediness that has not received a Gospel answer (goes for adults too).
Have conversations as a family about how Facebook can be something that is helpful and not harmful. Talk about how to use it for Gospel purposes. Encourage them to invite their friends to church by sharing posts made by your local congregation and her pastors. And make sure that you are modeling such behavior with your own Facebook account.
It is hard to believe that Thanksgiving is only one week away. It seems like just yesterday, I was throwing flour and oatmeal all over our students during the Week of Awesome messy night in August. Yet here we are—in that season when we are supposed to stop and count our blessings and be thankful. Growing up, my family never did any of the traditional, “go around the table and say what you are thankful for stuff,” so I will compensate by doing a bit of it here.
Of course I am thankful for my family, friends, and health. I am more thankful for these blessings than I could put into the words of a Thursday afternoon blog post. I am also thankful for my church, who teaches me every day the joy of being adopted into the family of Jesus. Again, the words that I am typing cannot adequately express my thanksgiving over such a treasure.
But with all of that said, I want to thank God for something else this week. I want to thank him for a trend in recent church culture—a resurgent focus upon the Gospel. I grew up with no knowledge of the Gospel and didn’t hear anything of it until I was 14 years old. I started going to church to please my dad and to meet women. After attending for about eight months, I became a Christian at a summer camp. It was a standard, raise your hand, walk the aisle, and pray a prayer sort of operation. But I must admit—the few years that followed were not filled with Gospel-centered discipleship.
Instead, they were filled with a white-knuckled, law-keeping lifestyle, in which I felt I had to live a certain way so that God wouldn’t stop loving me. I didn’t really understand the concept of justification (that God saw me as if I had never sinned) or the fact that He already loved me because of who I am in Christ and that He wasn’t going to stop. Grace was not conspicuous in the teaching that I was receiving.
Now I do not really blame the adult leaders in my youth group. They did their best in a church culture that was kissing dating goodbye and experiencing God and living a purpose-driven life, without a whole lot of focus upon the essential doctrines and applications of the Gospel itself. It was just kind of the way it was in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. The problem was that I got to college and in the face of temptation, I found it very difficult to continue gripping the wheel and trying to steer God toward loving me myself. In many ways, I just kind of gave up for a while.
Even after I became a student pastor in 2005, I floundered. I did not know what to teach the students that were sitting in front of me. I knew that I was dissatisfied with what I had learned in high school, but I didn’t know what I was supposed to teach. The result was a lot of topical sermons, crazy games, and silly skits. I can actually remember going home after Wednesday night ministry thinking, “I have no idea how I am going to come up with more things to talk about for next week.”
In 2006, I discovered “Way of the Master Radio,” hosted by Todd Friel. I had never heard anyone talk about the Gospel so much. He just explained the message of the Gospel over and over, five days a week, for two hours each day. And for a good six months, I listened every single day. And to be honest, I had never felt so free. Suddenly, I wasn’t so focused upon “do’s and don’ts,” but instead it was about God’s work for me in Christ on the Cross. It was about a love that I did not deserve. And it was about the glory of God, not my own efforts.
Since then, I have dedicated much time to presenting Gospel-centered teaching to any group I am speaking to—whether it is adults or teenagers. However, for quite some time, it was difficult to locate products that were Gospel-heavy. Too often, teaching materials tried to talk about life application without talking about it through the filter of the Gospel message itself.
And yet a change has come in Southern Baptist church culture. When I go to Lifeway, I see Gospel-centered curriculum, books, and commentaries all around me. These authors and producers are concerned with teaching that is from the inside-out and not the outside-in. They want to put out something that preaches transformation by grace through salvation and the life change that comes from it and they are careful not to get that backwards (change your life and then you get the transformation of salvation). The Gospel is being talked about and protected and in the process, I believe God is being glorified.
I do have a great fear that this is just a trend in the sub-cultural world of Christian retail, but I hope I am wrong. I hope that being Gospel-centered is not a ploy to sell books until a new climate comes along, but instead that is a permanent shift in the way we are thinking as evangelicals in America. I am thankful for those that are laboring for permanence and are zealous for the name of the Lord and His message.
Here are a few “Gospel-centered” books that have been an encouragement to me and are worth your time:
The Explicit Gospel, Matt Chandler
The Hole in Our Gospel, Richard Stearns
Radical, David Platt
Don’t Call It a Comeback, Kevin DeYoung (Editor)
Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Jonathan Dodson
Jesus + Nothing = Everything, Tullian Tchividjian
The Gospel as Center, DA Carson
Gospel Wakefulness, Jared Wilson
Gospel Deeps, Jared Wilson
Creature of the Word, Matt Chandler, Eric Geiger, Josh Patterson
Gospel, JD Greear