Friday, November 30, 2007

I know that Thanksgiving is over. But I have a little time now and I didn't then. So, here are a few things that I'm thankful for.

1. I'm thankful for my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus is my all in all - even when I'm frogetting that He is. The grace and mercy of God in Christ are amazing. Don't believe it? Check out Psalm 103.

2. I'm thankful for my wife. I married way over my head. As one FCA guy said, "I outkicked my coverage." I'm thankful that I have a loyal, supportive best friend in Maryanne. She's the love of my life.

3. I'm thankful for my sons. To have been able to baptize all three of them is truly amazing. And now I have a wonderful, Christ-honoring daughter-in-law in Joanna.

4. I'm thankful for my health. I'm also thankful that my family is healthy. The good health that God has given us is a precious gift that I don't ever want to take for granted.

5. I'm thankful that we live in a free country where we can worship, work, and enjoy so many other privileges. ANd I('m thankful for our soldiers who have fought to secure those freedoms - people like my dad who fought in WWII and my uncle Don who fought in Korea as well as people like the Morganos, Cloonans, and Dietrichs who are sacrificing right now to serve our country.

6. I'm thankful for my friends. I have some wonderful non-CVC friends, I can laugh, vent, and process with my friends.

7. I'm thankful for the CVC elders and staff. I have a wonderful group of people that I get to serve Christ with. They add so much value to my life and to the work pf the Lord through CVC. To the CVC team, thank you for all you do. I appreciate your hard work, loyalty, love for God and love for people.

8. I'm thankful for my church family. Being a pastor has its challenges, but I love being your pastor. I love teaching God's Word to you. I love watching God change your lives. I love being a part of something bigger than myself. Church family, thanks for serving, giving and sacrificing for the cause of Christ.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

On preaching

Today, I was in the basement looking for some Christmas decorations. And my eye happened to land on a book published in 1971, "Billy Graham talks with David Frost." David Frost is a British journalist who gained fame as a pioneer of TV satire and who was also noted for a series of political interviews. I picked up the book and couldn't put it down. It was interesting to read in 2007 Billy Graham's 1971 views on the mid-east, the Nixon whitehouse, and the Vatican.

The book is a transcript of two TV interviews Frost conducted with Graham, one in London and the other in New York. The topics of discussion were wide-ranging. I was particularly interested in what Graham had to say about preaching.

Frost asked Graham if he felt the pressure to never be off form when preaching. He implied that if Graham was off form then "ten people's souls might be lost forever, who if you were on form, might be saved forever. Isn't that a terrifying experience?"

I thought Graham's response was excellent, "No, because I don't think of it in those terms, David. It's the content of the message that counts - not whether I'm good or bad, or whether I'm feeling good or bad. It's not that at all. It's not the same as a show you may put on or someone else may put on. Because I believe that while I'm speaking, another voice is speaking. And I depend totally and completely on that other voice, which I believe to be the Holy Spirit applying my message."

Frost asked, "Then if it doesn't matter whether you're on form or off form, why bother? Go to the other extreme, does it matter whether you speak well or badly?"

Again, Graham's answer, "First of all, I want the content to be accurate. I want it to be biblical. And I want it to be simple. And I study and work to make my talk simple, because it's so easy as one goes along. as one studies and reads more and contacts people, to tend to leave the people behind. I study to be simple."

Frost remarked, "At the same time - it's a controversial thought - obviously some people say you make it too simple."

Graham said, "A student asked [Dr. Karl Barth] the question, 'What is the greatest single thought that ever crossed your mind?' Dr. Barth bowed his head, puffed on his pipe, then slowly lifted his shaggy head. They thought some tremendous statement was coming. They were all on the edge of their seats, when he said, 'Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.' Now that's profound, but it is very simple. I think this was the secret to the teaching of Jesus. He talked to people who were illiterate, but they understood Him. He used little stories - everyday happenings to illustrate great spiritual truths. He made it so simple that the illiterate people could understand Him. I think this is the kind of preaching and teaching that we need today in the field of religion."

Thanks, Billy Graham, for staying true to your calling and being an example to preachers everywhere.

May God give preachers today the gift of the Holy Spirit speaking when we are speaking. And may God give preachers today the gift of being biblical, accurate, profound, and simple.

If you ever pray for me, pray for that!

Monday, November 26, 2007

My uncle Don died

This past Wednesday, Maryanne and I headed to Columbus for a funeral. It was for my uncle Don Davidson. His wife, Barbara, is my dad's sister.

Uncle Don had gone into the hospital in October for hernia surgery. His immune system was low because of a previous fight with a kind of leukemia. Evidently, the doctors failed to note that his immune systme was low. So, when he had the hernia surgery, Uncle Don received some blood that had not been radiated. He developed Graft-versus-host disease, a disease in which T-cells in the blood basically attack the body. The disease was diagnosed too late and my Uncle Don died. It was totally unexpected.

From a human standpoint, Don is really the initial person who's responsible for encouraging us to come to Ohio for ministry. When we came to North East Ohio to plant CVC, he was the state missions director for the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio. So, from a human perspective, without Don, there would be no CVC.

Six pastors, including me, spoke at his funeral. Here's some of what I said:

* * *

I could use lots of words to describe my Uncle Don. Gentleness. Wisdom. Evangelistic. Persistent. Positive. Persuasive. Missional.

But the word that I think best describes him for me is "encouraging." I'm reminded of Hebrews 10:24-25, "Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another..."

In June 0f 1984, uncle Don encouraged me to visit Ohio between my 1st and 2nd years of seminary in Memphis. I recruited 3 other students and we came north to conduct revival services at a new church plant in Marion, Ohio.

The whole time I was in seminary, uncle Don kept in touch. And he kept encouraging me to come back to Ohio.

He found out that I was interested in church planting so, when I was about to graduate from seminary, he made sure that I knew about all the church planting opportunities in Ohio. Finally, we settled on the opportunity to plant a church in NE Ohio. Something, again, he encouraged.

The church plant was to be a Southern Baptist Church. But we felt led to plant the church in a non-traditional way. Lots of people in our association and in the state office questioned some of our strategies and tactics. We were criticized by some. But not by uncle Don. Uncle Don encouraged us. He even defended us.

Over the years, I'd get phone calls from uncle Don. He'd always ask, "How are the boys? How's Maryanne? How's your mom?" Then he'd usually say something like, "I'm hearing good things about what you're doing." Sometimes, those calls would come at just the right time. The encouragement would keep me going.

The last conversation I had with uncle Don was a week ago Thursday. CVC was hosting the annual meeting of the State Convention of Baptist in Ohio. He and Barbara so much wanted to be with us. He couldn't come because he was heading into the hospital. It meant a lot to uncle Don that CVC, the church he helped to plant and the church he had defended, was now, 20 years later, hosting the State Convention meeting. I think he wanted to "crow" just a little and maybe even to say (very nicely) to some of those original detractors, "See. I told you so." He was proud of us and what God has done through us. Again, that encouraged me.

I'm glad that I took the time to make that call and thank uncle Don that Thursday. Anything good we have accomplished is because of the grace of God and because we have stood on the shoulders of great men of God like uncle Don, the great encourager.

In that phone conversation, I mentioned to uncle Don that the new pastors in our state introduced themselves. One of the new pastors was from the Rising Star Baptist Church in Youngstown, Ohio. That's a very strong church that Don envisioned and helped to plant. Uncle Don was instrumental in calling Gary Frost to be the founding pastor of the new church. When I talked about the impact of that church to uncle Don and reminded him that that church wouldn't be here without him, his voice broke. Why the tears? He was grateful and, in a good way, proud of the churches that he helped to plant that pointed so many people to Jesus.

When he thought about the churches he helped to plant and the pastors he encouraged, uncle Don had that good kind of pride Paul talks about in I Thessalonians 2:19-20, "What gives us hope and joy, and what will be our proud reward and crown as we stand before our Lord Jesus when he returns? It is you! Yes, you are our pride and joy" (NLT).

I believe that if you love Jesus, it shows up. How? In lots of ways. But one main way your love for Jesus shows up is that you want others to love Him, too. Uncle Don encouraged others to love Jesus. And he knew that church planting was a sure fire way of helping more people come to know and love Jesus.

I wonder. How many churches in Ohio are in existence today because uncle Don encouraged church planting? How many of those churches have daughter churches and grand-daughter churches? How many baptisms have taken place because of the ministry and evangelism that has occured through all these church starts that uncle Don was a part of? How many phone calls did uncle Don make to keep church planters and pastors encouraged? The Lord only knows.

My uncle Don has left a legacy. He's left some really big shoes to fill. It's my prayer that God will let me, in some small way, carry on his ministry of encouragement.

Uncle Don's death was a surprise and a disappointment to us. But not to Jesus. Now, uncle Don is the one who's being encouraged. By Jesus. I can hear Him saying, "Well done, Don. You were faithful... to encourage. Enter into the joy of your Master."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

It's fairly predictable. I meet with a group of pastors on a regular basis. And it's very common for church people to offer criticism about pastor's preaching. The common theme? "There's not enough meat."

I always ask people to please pray for my preaching and teaching. I'm mature enough to know that not everyone is particularly moved by my approach and by my style. One size doesn't fit all.

I must admit that there are preachers that move me and there are preachers that don't. But I had better be careful about questioning the call of God on the lives of those doctrinally-sound and loving-hearted men that don't move me. God has given them a certain circle of influence and I must celebrate and respect that.

Some weekends, I know that the challenges from God's word through me are better than others. That's for sure. But I hope and pray that my people know that I’m not getting up there trying to waste my time or anyone else’s. And I claim Isaiah 55:10-11 every weekend and especially on those weekends when things seem kind of blah. Every weekend I’m begging God to use me.

Every preacher’s hope is that in eternity we’ll see the fruits of our labors. They aren’t often immediately measurable. And it can get lonely and discouraging at times, especially since we know that our people can turn on the TV or radio or iPod and hear world-class preachers all day long. Somehow, the average preacher just has a hard time feeling like he can measure up.

As pastors, we will be held accountable for preaching the gospel to the entire flock - to the wide-ranging giftings that He has placed in the body. So, some Sundays we're perceived as hitting a homerun to some people if we preach on a passage that inspires those gifted in leadership. Other Sundays, we're perceived as hitting a homerun for some people if we touch on a passage that promotes service to the poor. And on and on it goes. And, in addition, each week we are charged by God to communicate people from ages 5 to 75 - to the seasoned saint, to the growing believer, to the immature, to the backslider, as well as to the unsaved that God may be calling to Himself.

What a sobering task that we dare not take lightly! So, please pray that your preachers will have the right words and emphases each and every week.

Most pastors I know take very seriously the task of getting with God and seeking Him about what to preach. Sometimes, we wonder if people think that we just flippantly decide what needs to be preached about. That's simply not the case.

Personally, I take regular time away from the office to get with God and ask Him what He wants me to say. And I believe that something is there most weeks for CVcers - even the most mature - to apply to our lives. If people come expectantly, then God will point out an area of life that He's not pleased with and will give them something to pray about and incorporate.

I frankly think it's spiritual pride when our people come to a service and conclude, "There's nothing there for me." I recall going to my dad's church in Florida after he retired. I didn't like the teaching of new senior pastor very much. But the Lord really convicted me about my attitude. He said, "Is My word being read and taught?" The answer, of course, was "Yes." So, I made a decision to church hungry to hear from God. And I did hear from God that day. I believe that if people want to hear from the Lord, they can at any Bible-believing, Christ-centered church.

Personally, I make no apologies for trying to make things simple in preaching. In fact, I truly think that's what Jesus did.

One of my seminary professors knew thirty different languages. He taught systematic theology. He was an experienced and seasoned Christian in his 80s. He could have "wowed" his audiences with "meat." Yet, he told us one day that the greatest compliment that he had ever received from anyone about his preaching came from a 6 year old little girl. She said, "I like your preaching." "Why?" he asked. She replied, "Because I can understand what you say."

I love that story and have taken it to heart. Firing out sermons that are over the heads of the uninitiated is not giving the people "meat." Preachers ought to do their study faithfully. But much of what is found during the week ought to be built into the sermon in ways that don’t "show off" the preacher’s expertise. I work hard to "hide" my in depth study so I can "put the cookies on the bottom shelf." "Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies" (I Corinthians 8:1). Just as I feel I've done a disservice to a mature believer if nothing is there for him/her to apply, I feel that I’ve done a disservice to the body when a little child or a new Christian or a non-Christian cannot understand much of what I’m saying.

"Milk vs. meat" in the New Testament is not really about style. It doesn’t refer to simplicity vs. complexity or "in-your-face" vs. "pat-on-the-back" teaching. Milk refers to the basics of the faith. Hebrews 5:12 says, "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food."

Each week, I strive to give our people some things that are beyond the "elementary principles." But I want to do it in a way that is understandable. So, I sometimes get accused of not providing enough meat. Usually, it's from someone who wants me to yell a little more or spit on the front row or add more verses to the mix. Maybe they just don't like my style. I've decided that can live with that. I'm not here to please the Pharisees. In my heart, I wonder if that kind of person would likely have accused Jesus of not being meaty enough.

I think that many of the people who want more "meat" are really looking for a certain style of preaching that displays a knowledge that is not necessarily transformational in nature. Listeners serve themselves and the Lord better if they aren’t as concerned about the quality of the talk as they are about the quality of their walk.

The wise preacher will give enough applications each week to keep even the most mature Christians "on their toes" for the next seven days.

Even the great C. H. Spurgeon was criticized. Spurgeon once wrote: "I remember a young brother, who left the church because he said that I never gave him a bit of bone on which he could try his teeth. Well, now I thought that, if I took out the bone, and gave meat alone, I was doing the best thing possible; but this foolish youth wanted a bit of gristle, not that he could digest it, but he wanted something that he could not digest. I could have given him plenty of that sort of stuff; I had no end of it at home, but I save that for my dogs, and bring the meat for the people I have to feed."

So, please pray for preachers. It's always been high calling and a tough job in any era. But I think it actually may be a little tougher today when the people are expecting a pastor to be Biblical, passionate, insightful, practical, relevant, creative, inspiring, and humorous, while also sounding like Chuck Swindoll, John MacArthur, John Piper, Andy Stanley, Charles Stanley, Rob Bell, Ed Young Sr., Ed Young Jr., Alistair Begg, Ravi Zacharias, etc. all rolled into one.

Whew! I think I'll take next Sunday off. (Just kidding!)

Friday, November 02, 2007

CVC is now 20 years old. We came to NE Ohio 21 years ago with a passion to reach people here and, through CVC, to reach people all around the world for Christ.

But the challenges of leading a ministry can sometimes be distracting from the original call. Passion and vision leak.

If you have ever become complacent in your passion to reach people for Christ, then click on "Send me" below and check the video out.

Send me.

I'm challenged. Are you?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Shepherding souls

Serving a church is always interesting and challenging. We just had a very unusual request.

I received an email from a member of our staff letting me know that a past attender called and asked if we had a record of her being baptized at CVC. When she was told that our records do show that she was baptized here, she said that she wished that we didn’t record it. She wanted her baptism record removed. She was asked why. She said that it’s a long story - that it had to do with the Jehovah Witnesses and she didn’t want to go into it.

Our staff member asked her if she wanted to talk to a pastor, but she said no. She said that she believes in Jesus, but she didn’t want the baptism on her record. When asked if she still attends CVC, she said, “No way.” She kept her answers very brief – basically one word answers - and sat quietly on the other end of the phone.

Encountering Jehovah's Witnesses can be challenging and disconcerting if you're not equipped. Check out this link to help Jehovah's Witnesses find freedom in Jesus.

Our very thoughtful and gracious staff member asked me how she should handle this situation.

Here's my response:

* * *

I’ve never heard of this before. Maybe she has been deceived by the JWs. She’s asked to take her name out of our system. So, let’s honor her request. It matters little whether her name is recorded in our books. I just hope her name’s written in the Lamb’s book of life. Here's what scripture says about that book:

All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine.
Revelation 3:5

All the people who belong to this world worshiped the beast. They are the ones whose names were not written in the Book of Life before the world was made—the Book that belongs to the Lamb who was slaughtered.
Revelation 13:8

I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire.
Revelation 20:12. 15

Nothing evil will be allowed to enter, nor anyone who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty—but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Revelation 21:27

So, as you well know, it’s the Book of Life that we should want her name written in, not our books.

But let’s give her name and address to [a CVC member] who used to be an elder at a JW Kingdom Hall. Let him know my theory – that the JWs have gotten to her – and ask him if he would be willing to visit her. He’s probably aware of JW tactics like this.

I hope she’s not a picture of I John 2:19: “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.”

Let me know if [our former JW member] is willing to do this. If he is, then we can follow his lead in how to follow up best with her.

* * *

I've often shared a quote I learned from my former pastor, Adrian Rogers, "The faith that fizzles before the finish had a flaw from the first." I believe that. I know that Jesus is the Author and the Perfector of the faith. So, we trust Him to separate the sheep and the goats. The sovereignty of God in salvation is a precious doctrine. If this woman has been swayed by the JWs, then it's evidence that perhaps her faith was never true saving faith in the first place.

However, we can't just go on about our business and have a "win-some-lose-some" attitude. Maybe she didn't get connected in a discipling relationship through a community group. We have to do better at helping all newly baptized people get into a group. Maybe she never really learned about the glory and beauty of Jesus as God, the Son. We have to do all we can do to equip our people to defend the faith - to recognize truth and error.

This disturbing story leads me to think that we simply have to do a better job as a church helping our people connect with mature believers and teaching our people sound doctrine.

Perhaps this is evidence that one of our flock has been picked off by the wolves. And it's not OK.

Lord Jesus, help us to shepherd souls better at CVC.

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