Tuesday, April 29, 2008

the gospel is not all about you

as any pastor can tell you, the amount of weekly " preacher junk mail" can be staggering. i am convinced that catalogues full of merchandise guaranteed to "grow my church" that come to my church or my home address are the single largest cause of deforestation.

in a sad commentary on how much we are willing to compromise the gospel in order to get people in the pews, i present to you one such product.. meant to be mailed out close to easter to get the unchurched in to church on easter sunday.

even worse, here is the "suggested message" for the reverse side of the card:
discover a love that was all about you
the 'me' generation, myspace, ipods, internet
sites that instantly recognize your login and
preferences-in this day and age the focus
seems to be on self. and, sometimes we
question whether that is a good thing. but, on
easter long ago, even god made it all about you.
jesus came to earth out of a great love-for you.
join us this easter at (your church name)
as we make it all about you-in the very best of ways.

i am not at all opposed to missions and evangelism. how could i be? our lord commands it, and christian love compels it. i am not opposed to unbelievers coming to my church. i have visited many homes and written many letters in hopes that they would.

but i draw the line at compromising the gospel in order to convince someone to come to church. the church does not exist to make much of man, but to make much of the glory of god.

yes, i believe john 3:16, as well as the many, many other verses that speak of god's love for us are 100% true. the lord has a greater love for his children than we could ever imagine. but the cross was not first and foremost about me or you. it was and is about god.

you see, the gospel is not "jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life". the gospel is not "come to jesus and he will take away all of your troubles". you will not find those presentations of the gospel anywhere in scripture. we need to stop getting our theology from cheesey christian music lyrics and bumper stickers and get the gospel from the bible.

every person who has ever been born, has been born a sinner, an enemy of god and an object of god's wrath deserving of hell by virtue of their being a sinner. that is biblical fact. (rom. 3:10-12;6:23; john 3:36; eph. 2:3)

gospel means "good news". the good news is not that we were so lovable that god saved us from bad circumstances. the good news is that "... while we were yet sinners, christ died for us." (rom. 5:8) we deserved the wrath of god, but jesus went to the cross to appease that wrath, to endure the punishment, so that "whosoever would believe in him" would have eternal life. (rom. 3:21-25 ; john 3:16) jesus took on the consequences of sin, and his righteousness is credited to the believer.(1 peter 3:18)

so what happens when we tell the unbeliever that easter and the cross is all about them? they come to our church and find that we sing songs about, pray to, give money to, and (hopefully) preach about christ, *not* them. we have given them false advertisement. we promised to make much of them, then fell through on our end of the deal. then we scratch our heads and wonder why they don't come back.

yes, salvation is a sign of the love god has for us, but the cross is not about *us*. the cross makes much of god's justice and mercy and glory and grace. god gets the glory, and we get the benefit. the cross is about the wonder of an infinitely holy god providing salvation for unworthy sinners who deserve nothing but justice-hell.

so let us be honest about the gospel. by all means, we should evangelize. but the good news is not "its all about you".
the good news is that:

"though we are all sinners who deserve nothing but hell, christ has died so that if anyone will repent of their sins and believe that he is the lord of lords, who lived a perfect life, was crucified, died, and was buried, and on the third day rose again, having satisfied the wrath of god for their sins and having his righteousness applied to them, then they can be saved". (rom. 5:18;10:9)

*that* is the gospel. it needs to be shared indiscrimmantly with everyone. it is a matter of life and death, and we dare not get it wrong.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

why i'm not simply "christian"

in the day of on-line communities and our cultures obsession with self-evaluation and list making, it is curious that one can so easily identify themselves by selecting ready made profile from a list of pre-labeled adjectives.

on facebook, myspace, or a host of other message boards, blogs, and other communities, it is not uncommon to see several people involved who have labeled themselves "christian", but who never seem to agree on anything regarding religious beliefs.

this has come into play in my life as well. when people ask me to come speak or preach, or write something for them, they usually ask for some kind of spiritual biography and statement of what i believe. this includes those within my own "denomination", the southern baptist convention.

unfortunately, those who have labeled themselves christian can disagree over the infallibility and sufficiency of scripture, not to mention varying views of what is and isn't sin.

there are churches who talk about "resurrection" who do not believe christ physically rose from the dead. but if you were to ask "do you believe in christ's resurrection?" "of course i do!" would be the enthusiastic response. this is because when they say christ was resurrected, they mean his spirit and teachings lived on through his disciples.. giving them "life".

of course words to have meaning. there is intended meaning, historical meaning and usage and others ways to know what is meant by words used. if this were not the case, communication through language would effectivley break down.
however, the fact remains that though words do have meaning, misuse and misapplied meanings result in confusion and misunderstanding which in turn demands the need for clarification.

because of this and the different circumstances this places me in, i have prepared a document that i send out when people inquire about my beliefs as a pastor.
(i added emphasis and links to references for purposes of this post...and because the situations in which i send this document are usually formal... the document uses capitalization.. i hope you are not disappointed, however, feel free to leave "sell-out" comments).

my hope is that this will encourage anyone who reads to think carefully about being clear when someone asks us what we believe. we may not always have time to go through an entire historical and theological presentation, but we can be careful to be explicit about our beliefs, and to not assume people understand what we mean if we just say "christian."

***this document is not meant to convey that only southern baptists can be christians, only to more accurately and directly represent my views on basic matters of the faith.

As a boy, I became a Christian when I repented of my
sins and placed my faith in Jesus Christ alone as my only
hope of salvation. Were it an ideal world, simply having the
title “Christian” would be sufficient enough to know what I
as a “Christian” believe and what I as a “Christian pastor”

Unfortunately, for thousands of years there have been
disagreements between those calling themselves “Christian”
on what should be even the most basic of Christian beliefs.
Because of this, it has become necessary to make further
distinctions in order to know with more certainty what a specific
“Christian” believes. One of these distinctions is made with the
title of Baptist.

I am a fourth generation Southern Baptist minister. My father
is a Southern Baptist minister, as was his father and my father’s
grandfather. As a Southern Baptist, I hold to and teach in
accordance with historic Southern Baptist beliefs such as
those represented in The Baptist Faith and Message

Due to the length of The Baptist Faith and Message , it's wide
range of topics, and potential confusion over previous revisions,
I have found it helpful to reproduce the enclosed document,
the Abstract of Principles, as an additional yet more concise
historic Southern Baptist confession and representation of my
doctrinal and theological views.

The Abstract of Principles is a document that was prepared by
James Boyce, the first president of the first seminary of the
Southern Baptist Convention - The Southern Baptist Theological
. This document was the first official confession
of faith ever endorsed by Southern Baptists.
Its message
and integrity has remained biblically solid throughout its 150 years.

It is my prayer that this document will assist you in knowing the
most basic of my beliefs and teachings as a Christian, a Southern
Baptist, and a pastor.

To God alone Be the Glory,
Stephen Lee Cavness

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

the results are in...and they sting a little

the anuual church profile of the southern baptist convention has released the findings from the year 2007. view the report here.

among the results:

number of churches: up 1.06% (473 new churches)
worship attendance: up 0.16% (up 10,092 people attending weekly worship services)
church membership: down 0.24% (down by 39,326 members)
number of baptisms: down 5.46% (down by 18,885 baptisms)

dr. roger s. ("sing") oldham, vice president for convention relations for the s.b.c.'s executive committee, offers a balanced look at the results here.

some excerpts:

The statistical profile generated from the Annual Church Profile
reports submitted by cooperating Baptist churches each year is a
numerical snapshot of what is happening at the local church level.
Though these numbers do not tell the whole story of ministry,
they have value for the Southern Baptist Convention in a number
of ways.
  • First, these numbers help us measure our overall
    effectiveness in terms of church planting and evangelism...
  • Second, these numbers help us see the continuing
    faithfulness of our churches in discipleship and nurture...
  • Third, these numbers help us gauge various levels of
    participation in specific ministries of the church...
  • Fourth, these numbers enable us to monitor church
    giving, stewardship and support for our primary
    ministries of missions at home and abroad...
  • Fifth, these numbers help us measure the total number
    of individuals who actively relate to churches as members...

he concludes:
Clearly, some of these numbers are disappointing. They
will provide an additional catalyst for evaluating how we
can better assist churches in fulfilling their ministries on
the local level. Other numbers continue to be encouraging.
At every level of Baptist life -– local church, associational,
state convention, and SBC -– we will be examining what
we can learn from these numbers as we seek to fulfill the
Great Commission of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

ed stetzer, the director of research at lifeway christian resources and missiologist in residence offers his assessment here.
some highlights from his point of view:

Three issues rise to the top.
* First, we have to deal with the continued
loss of SBC leaders...

*second issue is the infighting which defines so
much of the SBC—its meetings, its churches, and its blogs.
It is public knowledge that we do not always settle our
differences amicably....

*The third, and most important, issue is our loss of focus
on the Gospel. I find it difficult to even say such a thing,
but, I believe it to be true.
We must recover a gospel centrality and cooperate in
proclaiming that gospel locally and globally...
The Conservative Resurgence failed to
produce a Great Commission Resurgence. It restored our
denomination’s value of Scripture but application is often
absent, at least in the area of evangelism.

i am sure that there will be much discussion in the coming weeks and month before the sbc annual meeting in indianapolis june 10-11. the reasons for decline in membership and baptisms will be as diverse as the number of people offering them.

as for me, pastor of a small church and seminary student, i have my own ideas and opinions.
one number that looks negative may, at least in part, actually be a positive-the decrease in membership.
i hope and pray that churches are starting to take membership seriously(read:"biblically") and are removing names from their church rolls of people who haven't been seen in years or are unwilling to actively participate as members. in the instances that this is the case, i would say that those instances are a sign of health.

of course even if churches being more honest about their actual membership is the reason for the decline, this decline can only be viewed as a positive if it is temporary. perhaps the lord will grant repentance and restoration to those who were dropped from the rolls and they would return back into fellowship as active and committed church members. additionally the numbers should increase due to those who are converted as a result of the proclamation of the gospel. we should pray to that end.

one thing is for sure, our time of bragging "16 million members strong" should cease, and hopefully be replaced with an urgency to learn, know, and spread the gospel.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

the man of god...

[thank you for all of the prayers for my back. praise the lord he has sustained me and my back.. and the sensations that were making me nervous have subsided.. please continue with me in prayer that my back will be totally healed]

i recently came across this treasure from baptist preacher a.w. pink's (1886-1952) introduction to his book "the sovereignty of god".

i was equal parts rebuked, encouraged and blessed. may it have the same affect on you as well.

"...the man of faith brings in God, looks at everything from His
standpoint, estimates values by spiritual standards, and views
life in the light of eternity. Doing this, he receives whatever comes
as from the hand of God. Doing this, his heart is calm in the midst
of the storm. Doing this, he 'rejoices in hope of the glory of God.'"

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

back (again)

i try not to post too much "personal information" on this blog, but i hope you dont mind this time...

as most of you know, i had a second back surgery in october of last year. (the first was in 1999).
since the surgery, things have gone extremely well. i completed a 6 week physical therapy effort and was released by them and then by my surgeon. (this was by the end of feb./first of march).

again, all has been well up until about a week ago. for the past week i have been feeling pain and discomfort in my lower back and some pain in my right leg. i think this is due to reaching over charlie's crib and picking him up while he was sleeping 6 times in one night (that is an even longer and traumatic story...just know that i had to.. didnt want to).

since then the pain has been growing in intensity and in the area affected.

after the surgery, the neurosurgeon was very confident that he had completey cleaned up the problem area in my lower back. so this leads me to believe that my current pain is due to a combination of things leading to the irritating of the nerve root that had received so much damage prior to surgery. because i have been mostly inactive since last july (when my back first went out) the added weight i have put on is causing too much stress on my lower back and bending over to get charlie so many times in one night caused the muscles to get weak, therefore causing any movements sense to irritate that nerve root. add to this the many, many hours i spend sitting in class, studying, and while at work, there is little "relief" for my lower back.

the chaos it puts me and my family in when my back goes out (missing work, school, preaching and other responsibilities at church [and the resulting loss of income]and my being unable to help with charlie) makes us cringe to even think that this current flare up may be indicative of anything worse to come.

i would like to ask all of you to join with me and christi in focused, concentrated prayer that the lord would heal and completely restore my back. i know that he is able. i also know that the lord uses prayer to accomplish his means.
(james 5:13-16; psalm 40:1; romans 8:26- 28).

i know each of you have a lot going on in your lives, so i do not think lightly of asking you to commit to this. i know that the lord is in control of this situation, and it is my prayer that he will use your prayers to heal my back and to bring glory to himself.

thank you all so much,

Saturday, April 05, 2008

give me christ or else i die...

on the heels of the last couple of posts.. i think this hymn will make a nice book end..

Christ, Or Else I Die
Taken from the Gadsby Hymnal # 737
Words - William Hammond, 1719-1783
Music - Drew Holcomb, 2004

Gracious Lord, incline thy ear;
My requests vouchsafe to hear;
Hear my never-ceasing cry;
Give me Christ, or else I die.

Wealth and honor I disdain,
Earthly comforts, Lord are vain;
These can never satisfy:
Give me Christ, or else I die.

All unholy and unclean,
I am nothing else but sin;
On thy mercy I rely;
Give me Christ, or else I die.

Thou dost freely save the lost;
In thy grace alone I trust.
With my earnest suit comply;
Give me Christ, or else I die.

Thou dost promise to forgive
All who in thy Son believe;
Lord, I know thou canst not lie;
Give me Christ, or else I die.

All unholy and unclean,
I am nothing else but sin;
On thy mercy I rely;
Give me Christ, or else I die.

© 2005 Red Mountain Music

for more amazing hymns set to more modern,[but not "contemporary"] music, check out the good folks at indelible grace and red mountain music.