Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I've Moved. . .

We are hosting my blog through the very sweet new Four Oaks website. Be sure sign up for the feed (on the left sidebar - just click the link) and you'll get each post. We'll be moving all my archived posts over there as well in the future.

No more bright wings for blogger. See you over at!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A More Clear Knowledge of Christ

In the introduction to his commentary on the Gospel of Luke, J.C. Ryle (more from Ryle here) gives us the goal of his exposition:

I have a strong conviction that we want more reverent, deep-searching study of the Scripture in the present day. Most Christians see nothing beyond the surface of the Bible when they read it. We want a more clear knowledge of Christ as a living Person, a living priest, a living physician, a living friend, a living advocate at the right hand of God, and a living Saviour soon about to come again. Most Christians know little about Christianity but its skeleton of doctrines. If I can do anything to make Christ and the Bible more honourable in these latter days, I shall be truly thankful and content.

A better summary of my main aim in preaching through this wonderful book of the New Testament. I encourage you to begin reading and meditating upon Luke as we enter into a new expository season.


The 1000 Year Debate

Well, we didn’t spend much time on Sunday discussing some of the theological distinctions in matters of eschatology. Before I enter into that fray in a later post; a word regarding our statement of faith. The Evangelical Free Church (Four Oaks’ affiliation of churches) statement of faith has two points regarding ‘last things’:

9. We believe in the personal, bodily and premillennial return of our Lord Jesus Christ. The coming of Christ, at a time known only to God, demands constant expectancy and, as our blessed hope, motivates the believer to godly living, sacrificial service and energetic mission.
10. We believe that God commands everyone everywhere to believe the gospel by turning to Him in repentance and receiving the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that God will raise the dead bodily and judge the world, assigning the unbeliever to condemnation and eternal conscious punishment and the believer to eternal blessedness and joy with the Lord in the new heaven and the new earth, to the praise of His glorious grace. Amen.

Let me first say that I think that these two points of the statement are quite wonderfully put and that I do affirm them without reservation. I especially love the reworking of the old statement’s point on ‘imminence’ in number 9. There was a movement in the past two or three years to amend our denominational doctrinal statement- and the statement was indeed amended this year. You can find out plenty about all that over at

In the original design of those seeking to amend, there was hope that the word ‘premillennial’ would be removed from number 9. Premillennialism is the conviction that the Scriptures teach, in various passages, but explicitly and very literally in Rev. 20 that Jesus will return and establish an earthly reign for 1000 years. There are many good reasons to hold to such a conviction in eschatology. I affirm a physical, earthly millennial kingdom (it may or may not be a ‘literal’ thousand years, that number perhaps simply referring to a reign that lasts quite some time) without affirming much of the other distinctions surrounding what has come to be known as ‘dispensational premillennialism’ (certain views re: the nation of Israel, the reality or nature of a ‘rapture’, etc.).

Many in our affiliation of churches think that such a conclusion regarding the millennium is not necessary to an evangelical faith; and believe that unity and health in our local churches is very possible while holding to different convictions on the ‘millennial’ issue. These brothers think this distinction should not be a part of our statement of faith and hope that it will one day be removed. Though I do affirm a premillennial position regarding the last things- I agree that such a distinction in matters of creedal affirmation is not in keeping with the ethos of our doctrinal statement generally. For example, our doctrinal standard does not call for an explicit commitment to believer’s baptism or infant baptism. It seems utterly inconsistent to be broad in the area of sacraments which have very direct implications for unity and harmony in the local church and narrow in your eschatology which have arguably less implications for unity in the local church. Though, alas, that was all part of the debate. Ultimately, the fight to remove the millennial distinction lost.

So, I wish the ‘premillenial’ statement could be removed for the sake of broader fellowship while I wish the statement could be narrowed in certain areas (baptism being one; a more intentionally reformed commitment in soteriology being another). That being said, I submit to the distinction for the sake of unity. And the leadership of our local church allows our membership to enjoy full membership if they might hold a different conviction, or (most likely) are not able to fully make such distinctions as of yet. We ask that our members not teach in opposition to this position, or use any platform to bring division or disunity in the body if indeed, they do not have the same conviction. We believe that there are matters we can disagree upon, yet submit lovingly to one another out of reverence for Christ in them for the sake of unity and common mission.


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Five Ways You Can Be a Part of Fellowship Raleigh

Our partner in church planting, Matt Schoolfield, and his team on the ground in Raleigh are launching their morning worship services this Sunday. Check it out and be in prayer for our extended family as the seek to reach and impact Raleigh, North Carolina for Jesus Christ. Here are five ways you can be involved in the Four Oaks - Fellowship Raleigh partnership.

1. Go. Consider the call to move up to Raleigh and be a part of the team. Fellowship Raleigh needs godly, committed, and zealous believers to join them in the labor to build the church. We have an embarassment of riches when it comes to people at Four Oaks, and we want to share the wealth. Pray about relocating to Raleigh and use your life for Christ in a radical way. Connect with Pastor Erik through the Four Oaks office or Pastor Matt to begin a process of thinking, praying, and pursuing a move to Raleigh to build the church.

2. Give. Be a part of Matt’s team financially. Make a monthly commitment to the plant, or a one time gift to bless this infant church as it grows. Fellowship Raleigh, and Matt Schoolfield, are under the care of a team of godly leadership through Four Oaks Church in Tallahassee and Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock, Arkansas (myself, Skip Martin, and Doug Smidley are the three Four Oaks men on his team). This team holds Matt and the plant accountable doctrinally, spiritually, and financially.

3. Connect. Help build our network of believers in Raliegh by connecting Matt and the team with friends and family in the Raleigh area. Challenge those believers you know in Raleigh to join the plant. Challenge those you might know in the Raleigh area who do not know Christ to hear the good news through Fellowship Raleigh.

4. Pray. Keep in touch with Fellowship Raleigh and what God is doing through the team. Pray for them regularly, pray for Pastor Matt and his wife Kristen regularly. Add Fellowship Raleigh to the ‘kingdom centered’ prayer life of your Fellowship Group. Remember our partnership with this team in your family’s devotional time. Email Matt and find out how to best intercede for Fellowship Raleigh.

5. Encourage. Planting a church is a difficult task. It can be all consuming for the team, and at times very discouraging. They are small, with limited worldly resources- and so have an uphill battle to build the church in our consumer culture. Think of creative ways to encourage and build the faith of our planter and his team. Send them encouraging emails. Let them know you are praying. Plan a visit the next time you are in the area- make time to come and be a part of the services and encourage the folks with your presence. Pray and ask God for a vision for how you can be an encouraging, strengthening part of our hope for this local church to grow in Raleigh.

But, most urgently, I ask you to pray for the launch of Fellowship Raleigh gatherings this Sunday morning:

Pray for all those working so hard to make it happen and create a welcoming environment for worship and fellowship
Pray for Matt’s preaching that he would faithfully and passionately communicate God’s truth to the people
Pray for their new worship leader as he leads the people to worship in Spirit and in truth
Pray for Michael Graham (church planting intern) as he provides support and serves so faithfully alongside Matt
Pray for visitors to come- both believers (to join the work) and non believers (to join the family)
Pray for the joy and faith of our brothers and sisters as they boldly step forward in reaching Raleigh, North Carolina with the gospel


The New Emergen-ese

The cry is often heard that the world does not understand the body when we speak Christian-ese. We are told to beware alienating the ‘un-churched’ with language that is foreign and confusing to them. The call of Scripture to be in the world but not of the world is the essence of the plea. Don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good. Let your speech be seasoned as with salt. Let the cross be the offense, let the gospel be the stumbling block – don’t trip up the seeker with your strange tongue and weird, antiquated bible-speak. With this cry I am mostly in agreement. The smooth tongued and unctuous preacher who begins each sentence with ‘dearly beloved’ and makes God a three syllable word is as nauseating to me as the next guy. We need to always be defining the terms. No question.

Yet, we need to remember that the regenerate community is a group of ‘strangers and aliens’. We cannot escape the reality that we will behave and speak and believe in a fundamentally different way than the world. There is a fine line between wisdom and propaganda in these matters. It is one thing to be careful to identify the biblical categories and contexts behind language and concepts that are confusing, strange, and rejected by a disbelieving and lost world. This is called good stewardship, intentionality, love, and grace. To abandon biblical concepts and categories – and the words that come with them- because it hurts (or at least fails to tickle ) the sensibilities of the hard heart is manipulation and capitulation. I’ll spare us all the debate over hermeneutical spirals, the possibility of textual meaning, and the other postmodern problems of the day. You get the point.

It amazes me how churches have lurched headlong into this pit of meaninglessness in their striving after relevance. We have replaced christianese with what I call emegernese. People don’t understand, or don’t have categories for, say- membership class? Emerge! Let’s call it something else. Make it cool, hip, and edgy- and just a wee bit inscrutable. How about connection sessions? The guy with the soul patch and square glasses playing capture the flag with your high schooler is no longer the ‘youth pastor’. He is now the lead strategist for student oriented ministry involvement. The Senior Pastor becomes the Catalytic leader via strategic communication. Children’s ministry keeps its name but just puts a ‘z’ in crucial places: Childrenz Ministry. The fellowship hall is now the 2-4-6 room (after Acts 2:46; or because of Ezekiel 24:6 or maybe Deut. 2:4-6; or maybe it is open 24 hours each day except Monday). The sanctuary is now the ‘gathering zone’ and the narthex is still the, uh, narthex. I had a conversation with a younger pastor recently who was decidedly much more rad than I who kept asking me about our ‘church DNA’. I told him that I was not an ecclesiastical biochemist, so I really don’t know.

The problem with this emergent project– this ‘repainting’ of the Christian faith as Rob Bell calls it - is that the timeless truth of the gospel can quickly become the handmaiden of the fickle demands of cultural relevance. The call of the Reformers to be ‘always reforming’ was a call to constant vigilance around the principle of ‘sola scriptura’ – scripture alone. The motto of the pomo reformation is the same, only it is a call to constant vigilance around the principle of ‘sola cultura’ – culture alone. The other day I heard a college student laugh at the song list on a friend’s walkman – sorry – ipod, “those guys (referring to some band) are so five minutes ago!” Cultural relevance is a cruel mistress. If you’ll allow me to keep throwing metaphors at you- reaching for relevance is like catching a tiger by the tail: you got him one minute; you are tiger lunch the next. We are all victims and instigators in this chase, to be sure (we are called ‘Four Oaks Church’ and hardly anyone knows why; we have a 2-6-8 room and only Paul Gilbert knows why). It is not wrong to be creative, it is not wrong to be ‘timely’. But watch out that your timeliness does not take the place of what Os Guinness calls ‘prophetic untimeliness’- our ability to speak into the needs of the world because we have refused to give way to its every demand. We must at some point square off with the root of much of this thirst for timeliness- our idolatry, our pride, and our longing for acceptance from the world- often at the cost of losing the message of reconciliation that we bring to the world.

The truth of the matter is that there are essential truths in the Scriptures that are fundamentally un-cool and unacceptable in all cultures and in every context (we might call it the ‘otherworldliness’ of the Christian faith). The death to self, the reality of innate sin, the need for atonement, the denial of works righteousness, the call to obedience, the core call to surrender and submission- all of these things are not just unknown to the world- but are also, for the most part, rejected and hated. Jesus told us plainly that the bearers of this message would be hated by the world as he was hated. The beautiful thing is- this message saved my life, and will save the lives of all those who have ears to hear.
Do this: speak honestly, transparently, biblically, and sometimes with creative and provocative precision. Let our yes be yes and your no be no. Let the power of the gospel be the power of the gospel and not replace it with our own relatively impotent constructs- however cute or cool we might consider them. Let’s repent often for our lust for acceptance. Let’s never apologize for our willingness to carry our cross daily and lose our lives for the gospel.

I’ll sign off now, I need to get over to Hebdomadal Litany and Intercession, sorry - Wednesday night prayer meeting.

Semper reformanda.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Mother Teresa, we need you now. . .

A few of you have asked my opinion of the recent appearance of our two presidential hopefuls at the land of all things purpose-ful. From what I saw, it appeared that we fundamentally learned nothing new of either candidate. Obama seemed to run right down the left hand of the dial, with McCain down the right.

Obama said some pretty striking things, of which you can imagine my response. First, I don't fundamentally hold to an individual's right to life from conception as a matter of 'faith'. It is a matter of scientific fact and clear medical evidence, to state this pro-life position as a matter of faith (and so somehow not to be an issue of legislative action as other matters of life and death) is obfuscation and manipulation of the highest order.

Obama was asked when, in his view, a baby gets human rights. His response was fascinating:

"Whether you are looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity is, you know, above my pay grade."

Obama is a legislator, civic leader, and running for the highest office in our land and must speak clearly on what is still the most important human rights issue facing our land. This defining moral issue is without a doubt well within the pay grade of our commander in chief. In reality Sen. Obama has made his view clear in every forum thus far. Senator Obama went on to say that he 'believes' in Roe v. Wade, thus making it clear that he denies the human rights of the fetus through to term. He has campaigned unequivocally AGAINST the rights of the unborn and has promised this campaign to continue. How in the world can an American citizen accept such a manipulative and ridiculous answer- regardless of your position on the life of the unborn?

The real issue that I had with the forum, of course, had more to do with the right reverend Rick Warren. Actually, I felt he did a 'good job' as far as all that goes. He moderated well, asked some very helpful questions and was fair and balanced, just like FOX news. The problem with all this is that our pastor-teachers are not called to be debate moderators, or 'forum' providers for political hopefuls. They are to preach the gospel, to oppose sin and injustice, and confront governors and leaders with the truth of God's Word. I am reminded of the famous prayer breakfast when the diminutive and elderly Mother Teresa stood up among a crowd of clergymen and chastised President Bill Clinton for his woeful position on the issue of abortion. She refused the religous stature that the powers and principalities offered and instead chose the cause of the least of these. That Pastor Warren abdicated the prophetic nature of his office at such an opportunity is sad, to say the least. Though it must be argued that such prophetic abdication is the very reason why Saddleback had this opportunity in the first place.

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

You talkin' a me?

A great post over at brokenhallelujahs. If you struggle with 'hearing from God', I strongly encourage you to find help and assurance through Dad's solid primer on listening to God.

Here's an excerpt:

The normative venue for the voice of God is the inspired Word of God. We are to expect God to "speak" to us continually and directly through this means, both collectively and privately. I would not say that God refuses to speak audibly to others in our post-canonical age, but were he to do so, it is a safe bet that it is meant for their "ears" only. It is not to be expected as a normal experience and we will waste precious time waiting for such an event to energize our devotion and service. Everything we share or expect to enjoy in this life is to be monitored and verified by Scripture. The only credentials that verify the truth is the truth itself, the truth of God's Word. We are to train ourselves in this, seeking God's approval in knowing and doing what His word has revealed. Intimacy with him comes from moral obedience, prayer and pure devotion based on his Word. (Eph 4:30; 1 Thes 5:19-22) His demands for us are clear. Our "demands" on him must be Biblical and tempered by an awareness of our mortality and his holiness. In short, don't expect to hear his voice, rather expect to know his will and do it. Any other experiences will be at God's prerogative and not our insistence.


The Reality of True Loss. . .

. . . And a prayer for true life.

I have often said that one of my great anxieties in this life is over the idea of losing one of my children. Stories like the recent news of the death of Steven Curtis Chapman's little girl fill me not only with heartache, but also a sense of dread that such a loss might befall our family.

In my preparation for this Sunday's message on the person and work of the Holy Spirit I came across this sermon by John Piper. In his discussion of the role of the Spirit in the new birth, Piper shared this story:

When I came home from church last Wednesday night Noël told me she had been shaken because Karsten and Benjamin, our two older sons, had almost run out in front of a car on 11th Avenue on the way home. As I lay there in bed trying to go to sleep I shivered at the scene in my mind of my sons being killed by a speeding car. But then my mind shifted to the long view, to eternity, and the last thing I prayed as I went off to sleep was, "O God, I would rather lose all my sons now than that one of them fail to be born again. If, God forbid, it were a choice between life with me now and life with you forever, then take them. But don't let one be lost! Don't let one of them fail to be born again!" There is no more important event in anyone's life than being born again.

I was challenged by this prayer. I can honestly say that my greatest earthly treasure and my greatest human and temporal joy is found in my family. I would gladly be a pauper in a mud hut without a cent to my name as long as I have these five by my side. I would gladly give up my calling as a pastor for their sake. There is no earthly thing I desire above them- their presence, their love, their voices, and their very persons.

Note well that I have said earthly, human, and temporal. The real question is: Do I desire their spiritual and eternal blessedness above the temporal blessing of having them at my side today? Do I desire their spiritual life above their physical life? Could I pray with Pastor Piper, "O God, I would rather lose all my children now than that one of them fail to be born again. If, God forbid, it were a choice between life with me now and life with you forever, then take them."

Join with me in begging God not for the mere safety of our children, or their comfort, or their earthly security (financial or otherwise)- but for their LIFE. That they might have LIFE and have it abundantly. That they might now spiritual life, eternal life, life from the very Spirit of God by the work of Jesus Christ.

Living God and Heavenly Father, I intercede now for Tess, Bo, Emma, and Chloe. I pray that you would grant to them gift of eternal life. I ask that they would know you through your Son, Jesus Christ. I plead with you to rush into their hearts with rebirth, the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I ask for you to give they would taste true life that is beyond this life, infinite joy above and beyond temporal joys, heavenly treasures above and beyond any earthly riches, and that any human breath would be a vapor in light of their eternal life in you. I ask it in the name of Jesus Christ, who redeemed my life from the pit and brought me into your family as a son and heir. Amen.

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