Thursday, December 28, 2006

Six Critiques of 'Fundamentalism'

Hey everyone. Terribly sorry for taking so long to post. I realized with some dismay that I have forced you to click on that latest stupid blog post for over two weeks now. That is the horrible thing about blogs- what is written in some haste while taking a coffee break from the legitimate work of sermonizing might just sit on the web for two weeks (and, actually, will sit on the web for much longer).

This morning I was listening to one of Pastor John Piper's biographical sermons from the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors on J. Gresham Machen. It is an interesting and insightful discussion of the 'fundamentalism-modernism' struggle in the first decades of the past century. Check it out:

Piper recounts Machen's distaste of the label 'fundamentalist', though he accepted such a classification in the struggle against the foe of modern liberalism. Why the reticence to be identified with this emerging (he he he) evangelical army? Piper lists seven reasons (there is mention of notes in the paper, though I couldn't find the direct source. Most likely this material is from Stonehouse's biography of Machen). Machen was prophetic in his critical assessment of the movement that would forge the contemporary evangelical identity. Here they are:

1) the absence of historical perspective
2) the lack of appreciation of scholarship
3) the substitution of brief, skeletal creeds for the historic confessions
4) the lack of concern with precise formulation of Christian doctrine
5) the pietistic, perfectionist tendencies (i.e., legalism, hang ups with smoking)
6) one-sided other-worldliness (i.e., a lack of effort to transform culture)
7) a penchant for futuristic chiliasm (or: pre-millenialism)

First, let me remind you that the fundamentalism of 1900-1940's (represented in the classic four volume work edited by R.A. Torrey, The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth- was a very important, and crucial movement at a time when the Christian faith was under attack on almost every front. We often dismiss the 'fundamentalist' of this era based upon the silly caricature that such a title calls forth in the postmodern imagination, from our own limited experience. But we can't be so naive as to trust our reductionistic and anachronistic, or narrow and subjective, contemporary assesments of history and her players. For the most part the 'Fundamentalists' were giants of the faith, on whose shoulders we stand, and the 'fundamentals' they fought for were absolutely crucial tenets of an historic and biblical Christianity. This is why Machen stood on their side in the battle for the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. All that being said, Machen truly identified what would become a rather unhealthy 'fundamentalist' ethos that so many have had to reject or rebel against.

Perhaps this is bound to happen in any movement that is primarily borne out of reaction to another movement or some struggle.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

One Punk's Twisted Version of Christian Love

Our beloved webmastergeekdude sent me a link at with the commentary of Jay Bakker (son of the infamous and irrepressible glam evangelists of yore, Jim and Tammy Faye) and some other guy with emo hair. Go read it:

A blessed distraction from my ever pressing spiritual duties and a little exercise in discernment for all of us.

Let's consider a few things:

1. Both these guys look like they haven't been up before noon since high school. I know, I know, God looks on the inside...but still, seriously, are those mugshots?

2. Why do these dudes have a voice on CNN? Because Jay is a cultural novelty. We must remember that Jay is a self established, self proclaimed, accountable to no one sort of pastor who has a national voice as a reality show personality (though, I hear the Sundance channel's show tracking Jay's life "One Punk Under God" is quite engrossing). I dare say we mustn't take these guys' cultural and ecclesiological analysis all that serously.

3. As my webmastergeekdude said, 'I guess yelling about sin is a greater transgession than sin.'

4. Jay and Marc close their rant by quoting Paul in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7, "Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude..." So, is this exhortation from the Word to be applied only to the 'religious right' or is it to be applied to a couple of 'punks' who open their invective with curses as well?

5. Have they read the gospels? Their summary of the life and teachings of Jesus is facile and twisted, to say the least. Their assesment of the interpretation and content of the parables is out of line with Jesus' clear teaching on his use of parables (check it out, Matthew 13:10-17). Also, go buy a copy of John Piper's newest book, What Jesus Demands from the World.

6. Jesus, Paul, John, James, and Peter all clearly stood against immorality and murder- in our day, gay marriage and abortion are two pressing issues of legalized immorality and murder (amongst other things, but certainly the collapse of marriage and the death of 1.3 million innocents on our doorstep is a critical issue that we should, uh, yell about. Wouldn't you yell if a doctor came at your 2 year old with a scalpel and a vacuum? I would. Hell yeah I would). It is, in my estimation, biblical and apostolic to stand against these two things. And it is biblical and apostolic to stand against them with a loud voice. It is also biblical to stand against them with grace and love in our fellowships, which is what I see more than anything in evangelical Christianity. I think these guys' evaluation of the compassion of the evangelical church is unfair and unsubstantiated.

7. It is a statistical reality that for the most part conservatives and Christians give money, help the poor, and love people sacrificially far more than the left and non Christians. So, their point is...?

8. Jay and Marc said they witnessed the 'dark side of religion'. I assume, at least for Jay, this is a reference to the wickedness of his parents and their awful tele-evangelist-empire. What does this have to do with abortion and gay marriage? The dark side of religion they saw was not Christians standing for truth and righteousness, but a couple of freaks bilking old ladies out of their social security checks. Let's get our 'dark sides' straight. The Christian community should have stood firmly against the Bakker's then and held them accountable, and Christians today should stand firmly against this new, revised, and punkified Bakker today and hold him accountable.

9. And what, exactly, is the point of the article? Are Christians really not to speak to moral issues in a free republic? Are pastors not to call their people to be engaged civically? Or, are we for speaking truth and love and grace when it comes to the poor, or the environment, but not when it comes to killing babies? How so? What is the logic there?

Ok, ok. I told you in the beginning not to take these guys seriously, and here I am with 9 points. Alright here's #10 to make it even:

10. I'll directly quote Jay and Marc here, "...look at what Jesus and his followers stood for in his time and what Christianity stands for today. Then come to your own conclusion." Don't take those punk's word for it, or this punk's word for it. Just go to the Word.

Back to Psalm 134 for me.

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A Great Paragraph from ole GKC

A post from over at the blog bayly bros. got me back onto to a little Chesterton reading. Most of his works can be found online here:

If you have not read Chesterton, I commend him to you. He is a delight.
But walk carefully, G.K.C. was indeed a Roman Catholic Christian and rather rabid anti-Calvinist as well. For a great article on Chesterton from a 'reformed' perspective, check this out:

Here is a paragraph, for your edification, from the introduction to his most popular work, Orthodoxy:

I have often had a fancy for writing a romance about an English yachtsman who slightly miscalculated his course and discovered England under the impression that it was a new island in the South Seas. I always find, however, that I am either too busy or too lazy to write this fine work, so I may as well give it away for the purposes of philosophical illustration.There will probably be a general impression that the man who landed (armed to the teeth and talking by signs) toplant the British flag on that barbaric temple which turned out to be the Pavilion at Brighton, felt rather a fool. I am not here concerned to deny that he looked a fool. But if you imagine that he felt a fool, or at any rate that the sense of folly was his sole or his dominant emotion, then you have not studied with sufficient delicacy the rich romantic nature of the hero of this tale. His mistake was really a most enviable mistake; and he knew it, if he was the man I take him for.What could be more delightful than to have in the same few minutes all the fascinating terrors of going abroad combined with all the humane security of coming home again? What could be better than to have all the fun of discovering South Africa without the disgusting necessity of landing there? What could be more glorious than to brace one's self up to discover New South Wales and then realize, with a gush of happy tears,that it was really old South Wales. This at least seems to me the main problem for philosophers, and is in a manner the main problem of this book. How can we contrive to be at once astonished at the world and yet at home in it? How can this queer cosmic town, with its many-legged citizens, with its monstrous and ancient lamps, how can this world give us at once the fascination of a strange town and the comfort and honour of being our own town?


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Another Gospel

I'm sad to say that I actually watched Barbara Wa-Wa's special last night on 'The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2006'. I'll break the suspense, the #1 most fascinating person was Nancy Pelosi. Yeah. And the list just went down from there.

Guess who made the list? The pastor of the biggest church in America, Joel Osteen. You can go to and read an abbreviated transcript. I'll pull the most important part out for you:

He is rich, famous, handsome, and adored by millions of fans on television each week, but he's not an actor. He's an evangelical pastor from Houston named Joel Osteen. They call him "the smiling preacher," and Osteen has a lot to smile about. He's the head of the largest church in America, the author of a best-selling book, and the religious leader for a following of faithful, often frenzied fans. He's achieved all that with an approach critics call "Christianity lite" — no sin, no suffering, no sacrifice, replacing fire and brimstone with a motivational message.

Barbara Walters asked Osteen why that message strikes such a chord with people. "My message is that God is a good God," said Osteen. "And if we all … have the right attitude, he'll take us places that we've never dreamed of."

Further down in the interview Osteen said this regarding the 'prosperity gospel' he preaches:

Osteen has been criticized for focusing too much on the almighty dollar. Walters asked him about preaching what is called "the prosperity gospel."
"I think the word rich is all relative," Osteen said. "I think down and deep in our hearts, we believe that God does want us to live the abundant life that we can. To me, prosperity is health, good relationships … and money, of course, is part of it."

There it is. This is the gospel of the postmodern American church. A God who deals justly with sin can't be 'good'. Sin is negative, let's all be 'positive'. God does not deal with us by His grace through the work of his Son on the cross, but by our attitude. If we have the right attitude, we'll good earthly stuff. And wealth is indeed measured in bodily health, good relationships, and, uh, well, yeah, uh, duh-- MONEY!!!

This 'gospel' is so contrary to the gospel of the Bible, I'm not sure where to begin.

Remember, this is a man that stands in front of a church of thousands and thousands week after week. This is a man whose 'gospel' of having the right attitude and focusing on bodily health and monitary wealth is broadcast to SEVEN MILLION weekly. It is just and right and necessary for the body of Christ and her shepherds to examine, confront, and refute such blatant, however saccharine and smiley-faced, false teaching.

It is interesting that Osteen says this, "Deep down in our hearts we believe that God wants us to live the abundant life..."

Yes. But, the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure (Jer. 17:9). The sinful heart measures this 'abundance' in accordance with the affluence and desires of the world and the flesh. The man who is filled with the spirit measures wealth in accordance with the Word of God and an eternal perspective. 'For here we have no enduring city...' Blessed are you who forsake homes, jobs, relationships even, for the sake of the gospel. What of the millions who live in persecution today precisely because of their faith in God? What of those dear ones who will die today in a prison camp in North Korea? Are they forsaken of God? Is their life not abundant? Or is their life abundant because God will multiply his work and his sovereign grace through their suffering?

Barbara asked Osteen why his message 'strikes such a chord with people'. And Osteen's answer says it all.

Because he gives them what they want to hear.

And this admission is in line with the prophecy of Paul, "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear." (2 Timothy 4:3)

Osteen, and many like him are holding forth another gospel. And people are swallowing it hook, line, and sinker.

Remember, on the last day, many will say, "Lord, Lord"...

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Seven Reasons to Refuse a Hollow Ecumenism

In my preparations for last week’s time in Psalm 133, I went to the chapter on ‘The Unity of the Church’ from Robert Culver’s recently published Systematic Theology. Culver synthesized the basic thrust of an article in the Ecumenical Review from way back in 1963. In the article, E.O. Smith (not to be confused with Captain E.O. Jackson, of Epcot fame) sought to isolate some of the main objections of evangelicals to the prevailing ecumenical spirit taking hold in the more liberal, mainline churches. Culver lists the six objections that Smith discovered, while adding a seventh of his own. I am struck by the reality that, though over forty years old, this striving for ‘ecumenism’ still abides in the liberal quarters of the ‘church’ and so do these main objections of us more conservative evangelicals. Perhaps the color of the jerseys have changed, that’s all.

Here’s Culver’s ‘big seven’:

1. The ‘ecumenical’ churches have not maintained purity of doctrine and are therefore more to be shunned than joined in any sort of unity.
2. Evangelicals should not join with churches which make no effort to insure genuine conversion among believers.
3. The parochial and sacramentarian orientation of some ‘ecumenical’ churches is inconsistent with biblical norms.
4. The indifference to discipline among ‘main-line’ Protestants and Roman Catholics manifests indifference to doctrine also, hence there is a suspicion of insincerity in the several orthodox-appearing statements issued by World and National Councils (of churches).
5. The emphasis of the ecumenical movement seems almost entirely on organizational unity having no real basis in shared unity in the bonds of the Spirit, of the truth, and of new birth and faith.
6. The inclusivism of the World Council of Churches seems to imply a doctrine of universal salvation, especially since many of the ablest ‘ecumenical’ theologians past and present are Universalists.
7. [Here’s Culver’s added point] Millions of biblically oriented evangelicals (and even some biblically minded Roman Catholics) find an oppressive, false church organized on a world-scale under a final, personal pseudo-Christ predicted in many passages of the Bible. They therefore want no part of what in their opinion might be a large-scale foreshadowing, preparatory for that event.

-Culver, Systematic Theology, p. 887

Sadly, I feel that these points are still valid in my assesment of many broadly ecumenical movements. It is a good what degree and for what end are we to pursue an organizational unity between churches, denominations, and parachurch organizations?

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Great Sermon on...uh...hmmm...I forget

I know its late. I know you're weary...

Indeed, it is late late late. Thursdays are my big sermon push day...I try and plug away at it sun up till the wee hours. I'm done for now. I have looked at Psalm 133 up, down, around, and back again. Must...get...sleep...

But, first a quick post for those of you who like to wake up to Ah! Bright Wings fluttering about your head.

On this issue of preaching and the need for sound exposition in the pulpit...
I have a habit of downloading sermons- all manner of sermons, from all sorts of preachers. Often I'll go to the random church site and see if I can pull some sermons down. I like to see what the other dudes are up to these days.

Now, I don't want to be a mean, crochety old cynic- but, let's get real, there is some terrible preaching out there.

I'll deal with the one I pulled from some megachurch out in Michigan or Wisconsin, or some other horribly cold place. Here's the deal, the preaching was:

1. Funny.
2. Interesting.
3. Engaging.
4. Filled with cool soundbytes and video clips (I guess, I was listening, so I imagine there were movie clips)
5. Fast paced.
6. Easy to follow.
7. Not too long...about 34 1/2 mins.
8. Full of great info on the topic at hand (awesome quotes, lots of stats, etc.)
9. Convicting.
10. Fiery. The dude got pretty fired up at points. I like that. Some don't.
11. Winsome.
12. Great opening, illustrations, segues, and a pretty tear jerking conclusion.

Now, what can be wrong with all that?!!

Oh, yes, you know what's comin'!!

The problem was, you had no idea exactly what biblical text he was working from. There were passing, quick references to this passage or that, this bible story or that. But fundamentally the message was a quasi-biblical one that was topically driven from the pastor's own presuppositions and rhetoric. I couldn't tell you exactly what passage he was working from or under. This is a problem. Our preachers are great (well, some of them, there are a lot that should go back to selling vacuum cleaners)- they just don't know how to preach a passage of Scripture in a faithful way. It's all about being hip, cool, funny, profound, and entertaining.

"But the bible is boring! The bible is hard! The bible is long! The bible is confusing! The bible can sometimes be politically incorrect (or most of the time politically incorrect)!" - you might say. Well, those evaluations are often more about your own worldly agenda or the passionless attempts your preacher has made to sit under and then proclaim God's Word.

You know what? One of the sermons I preached that had the greatest impact on our fellowship was from way back when I was preaching through Genesis 37-50 on the Life of Joseph. I had to preach a sermon on Genesis 38, where Judah refuses to care for Tamar, his daughter-in-law, so she resorts to dressing as a prostitute in order to bear a son for posterity. Then Judah unwittingly has intercourse with his daughter in law in disguise. Later, upon hearing of her new profession he orders her to be killed. When she reveals that it was he who slept with her and concieved the child in her womb...well, you'll have to listen to the sermon, my friend!

Now this was a long passage. It was a difficult passage. It was a culturally removed passage. It was an uncomfortable passage. I had to study, work, and prepare for that passage like nobody's bidness. And God used it greatly to point to his grace and the wonderful mercy he has shown us in Christ.

I couldn't have downloaded it. I couldn't have skipped it. I couldn't have faked it. We all just had to dive in to God's Word. And there were hearty AMEN!!s all round.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Plagiarism in the Pulpit

Go check out an enlightening and disturbing article on the rash of 'sermon-stealing' that has besieged the pulpit these days:

The article reports that not only are pastors borrowing stories, illustrations, points, power point shows, and whole segments of actual narrative from another sermon source- but there are several websites, run by churches and preaching gurus (like Ed Young, who is kind of creepy, and the illustrious purpose driver himself, Rick Warren) that profit heavily from this sketchiness.

Now, mark that the article was published in none other than the WSJ! What a pathetic state of affairs for the tattered bride of Christ when her ministers defend their woeful inattentiveness to the Word of God, not to mention their blatant defense of deception.

Over at Desiring God you can check out a great article that defines and describes plagiarism. Just go to their resource library and search 'plagiarism' under the 'Questions and Answers' section. Here is how the DG staff defines plagiarism for us:

"The essence of plagiarism is to give the impression that the ideas or words of another person are actually your own. This can be done intentionally (in which case it is outright theft) or unintentionally-but either way it is wrong.

The tenth edition of Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary formally defines the term "plagiarize" from three different angles:
"to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own"
to "use (a created production) without crediting the source"
"to commit literary theft: present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source"

In a nutshell, you have committed plagiarism whenever you use another's ideas or words without crediting or acknowledging the source."

The article begins with one preacher defending his plagiarism and admits that he used 75% of Ed Young's sermon from the (ironic title, wouldn't you agree?) website run by Young and his church. One critic of this sordid state of affairs, Thomas Long (a professor of preaching) hits the nail on the head, "Our churches have turned into theaters and our preachers have turned into witty motivational speakers with high entertainment value".

The real problem is plain. Our pulpits are full of men, and women (sadly), that are simply unequipped and unwilling to obey Paul's exhortation to the young pastor Timothy, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).

There needs to be a revival in these fellowships of 'biblical exposition'. In exposition, your first duty is to present the Word of God to people. You are all under a passage, driven by its meaning, following its logic, and unpacking its truth. As it stands today, most preachers are presenting their own wit and hipness to their flock, the people are under his rhetorical concoction, they are driven primarily by his own agenda, following whatever logic he assumes, and have to unpack the mysteries of his own feeble mind.

Exposition demands exegesis. Exegesis is simply laboring to draw out meaning. It is true that there is nothing new under the sun. That is the beauty of expounding God's Word. You are not giving your people 'new and exciting' sermons- you are presenting to them the ancient, abiding, and thrilling truth of the living God. I want people to find a pattern for exegesis that they might do themselves as they open the word of God on their own.

Let me give you a snapshot of what exegesis to exposition might look like: (I am giving you this not to blow my horn, but to assure you that I am not plagiarizing on Sunday)

First, there is what I call 'raw' study: I spend at least two - three hours in the passage I'm preaching on Sunday with no helps other than original language tools (dictionaries, lexicons, concordances, etc.). I read the passage, often committing it to memory. I read it again and again. I will often translate the passage for myself, if it is a long narrative I'll only translate a few portions of the text. I am thankful for my time spent in the study of original biblical languages in seminary for this part of study and preparation (you don't necessarily have to have the languages to do this- you can skip to individual word studies with the help of Strong's Concordance and Vine's Dictionary, and a solid inter-linear bible at your side). I'll pull out key words and do a 'word study'- finding its lexical reference, its use elsewhere in Scripture, compare the ancient use with its contemporary counterpart, etc. Then I'll make my own outline, read and study the 'context' of that passage: reading the entire chapter, the entire book, and making notes on how that passage fits into this broader context. I'll jot down ideas, pull out principles that catch my eye, pray over the passage asking for help and insights, sketch outlines, brainstorm ideas. I do as much of this as I can before looking at any secondary resources.

Second comes what I call expositional research: I'll pull down my top three commentaries. There are 'critical' commentaries that put a great deal of emphasis on the text and the original languages. Without a good grasp of the Greek or Hebrew, these can be difficult. Then there are what I call 'expositional' commentaries- they often go passage by passage, verse by verse commenting on the Word. They will provide historical insights, critical language insights, outlines, word studies, grammar notes, etc. Then I'll pull the more 'devotional' or distinctly 'pastoral' commentaries- these are easier to read, often they read like a sermon, and they are a bit more of a narrative, with illustrations, preaching points, etc. (commentaries by Boice and MacArthur are usually in this category). I'll read or glance over these, making notes, jotting down references, tweaking my outline with this new info, etc.

I'll then look up some key theological themes in my systematic theologies (everyone should own a couple of good systematic theologies: I suggest Grudem, Culver, or Erickson) and read through them. I'll look up info from the web. I'll do as much 'theological research' as I can.

Third comes Expositional Outlining: After all this spade work, I then try and make a good working outline to preach from. I try and organize all the above study into a sort of preachable outline- a skeleton that orders my thought, trying to logically put this together in a way that can be easily followed. It is at this point that I often sit and stare at my notes, at my outline, at the wall. A lot of thinking, mumbling, and pacing happens here. I'll plug in illustrations, quotes, thoughts, etc.

After I've done this, I often try and have the sermon preached to me. I'll go on line and see if I can find a sermon on this very passage that I can read or listen to (my first two go to guys are Ray Stedman- search Stedman discovery papers and you'll get a wealth of some 40 years of biblical exposition neatly categorized, script or audio; and John Piper- all his sermon scripts are on the web with audio as well). I don't do this until much of my work is done- this way I do not 'steal' ideas- though I will often pull a quote, or borrow an illustration (and be sure to give a reference in my sermon!).

The Fourth stage is the Delivery stage: Once I have pretty good outline, I'll try and memorize the basic points, write out portions of what I'll say under this or that point, practice, make a power point slide show, arrange my notes for delivery, etc. Then I'll preach it.

It is important for there to be a fifth stage- the 'assessment' stage. This is where you are able to review your sermon, get leadership input, and outside assesment so that you are accountable and constantly being sharpened in your calling to preach and teach faithfully.

I try my best to go through these steps, or some modified form of them, in order to do the hard work of preaching. I pray that God would revive biblical teaching in our churches. I pray that God will convict these shepherds of this practice of plagiarism that denigrates the pulpit, despises the Word of God, devalues biblical preaching, and slowly destroys the soul of the bride of Christ.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Your Sons and Daughters Shall Prophesy...

Speaking of this past Sunday, I'd like to share with you a vision that struck me as I was walking from the sanctuary to the parking lot.

In my last post I already told you of the blessing of being surrounded by not only the family of God as we lifted our child to him, but also being surrounded by our blood, or biological family scattered from pew to pew. As we stood before the body I was struck with the glorious blessing of having three generations of Braun boys under the same sanctuary roof, all worshipping God together. There in front of me was my father, Mike Braun, who came to Christ 48 years ago in Southern California. He has served Christ as a preacher of the Word for most of those years. Then there's me. God has privileged me with the call to the pulpit and to pastor a wonderful body of believers here at Four Oaks. Standing next to me, with his sister Tess, was my four year old son, Bo (and of course, at Four Oaks there are all three of Mike Braun's sons, with six of their boys in tow). I prayed that God would sustain Bo and grow him up in his most holy faith. Then I thought, what a privilege it would be if he were called to serve the body of Christ as preacher as well?! Now, careful, I'm not into dynasties, and I would be happy if Bo grew up to work as an underwater beekeeper. But, the thought struck me nonetheless.

Back to my vision- this is as charismatic as I get, so hold on- as I was leaving church I saw Josh Hughes, our new worship pastor, and hollered out, "Hey Pastor Josh!" (he's trying to adjust to the new title). It was as he smiled over to me that I was struck with my 'vision'. The vision was of Tori and I, walking from the church sanctuary, though we are much older. Surrounding us were our grown children- all of them worshipping with us, and most of them obviously leaders and grown servants of the church.

I don't really think this was a 'vision'- more of a blessed thought, perhaps. And I don't really hope that I'll live in the same town with my grown children, or even go to church with them. I hope that they love and serve Christ, whereever they go, however far or close it is to us. I think this vision captured my heart becuase I thought about the blessing of having Josh Hughes come on staff with us here. Josh's parents, Kim and David, have been faithful servants of Christ for years at several churches here in Tallahassee. They both humbly serve under their son's leadership on the worship team. David has been a leader and elder in the church for years, and a trusted friend and servant by my side throughout my tenure here. Now, they are privileged to watch their son forsake a comfortable and promising management career for the work of the ministry at Four Oaks.

As well, Josh was talking with Barb Bollman. Barb and her husband Keith were with us at Four Oaks back before they moved to North Carolina, before I came to serve as pastor. Many of you would know Barb through your love for her daughter, Katie, who happens to be married to our Student Ministries Pastor, Ryan Oelschlager. I thought of Matt Schoolfield- Kerry and Ginny's son- who is training as a church planter in Arkansas. He has preached at Four Oaks several times and will hopefully have a long partnership with us in the gospel. I also thought of Alan Ivarson working on the computer back in the booth during worship. How many years has Alan's dad, Verne, served our fellowship in similar ways? And that while Alan's mom, Lori, would serve us in leading with the worship team. At once, face after face of believing sons and daughters flashed before me, all with the privilege of worshipping alongside, serving, and even leading their own parents in the local church.

What a gift to our fellowship. I have thanked God for this blessed thought often this week. May we see more generations to come, till He comes!


Dedication Sunday

This past Sunday was the second of our child dedication Sundays for the fall, and our Emma was dedicated to the Lord by our church family. Our whole family was there- Tessie, Bo, and of course Emma were up with Tori and I for the dedication. Tori's parents, Robert and Jane Wills, who are also members of our fellowship, were a few rows back with Tori's grandmother, Myrt (or Mee-Myrt our kids call her, to distinguish her from Mee-Ma; and not to be confused with Nana; we won't even go into who is Pee-Paw and who is Pa-Paw). On the second row sat my Mom and Dad, Susan (Nana) and Mike (Pee-pa) Braun, who have been living in Tally for close to a year now and also worship at Four Oaks with us. To the left was my older brother Mike, who is a teacher and coach at Lincoln high school, with his wife Karen, who teaches at Community Christian School, and their three boys. A couple of rows back from them sat my younger brother Adam, who moved here recently, with his wife Rachel and their two boys. Next to him sat my younger sister Kristen who is a student here in Tallahassee and is one of the youth leaders at Four Oaks. From my side of the family, the only ones missing were my older sister Robin and her husband Don (who live in Jax with their four kids). Tori's only sister, Monica, lives in Okinawa with her husband Brandon, and they are expecting their first child.

With all these believing and loving Moms and Dads, Grandmas and Grandpas, Aunts, Uncles, and Cousins surrounding us as we lifted our youngest child to the Lord my heart was filled with joy. It is not always easy having so much family around, or being their pastor, but it is always a blessing.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Saying the Hard Things...

After a few difficult 'counseling' sessions in the past couple of weeks as well as having the handle an issue of church discipline, I thought I'd throw out some thoughts for your edification.

Matthew 18:15-17 "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 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.

I've come to see the first stage of 'church discipline' in Matthew 18 as discipleship and community. Much of sanctification happens in this 'discipleship' stage of church discipline. This is the 'formative' side of discipline (while stages two and three, verses 16-17, move into a more 'punitive' side). It's like working out with weights three times a week, defining the muscles, increased reps, varied sets, gradual weight increases. It is being in a relationship where you can call someone brother. Here there is familiarity, there is commonality, there is a 'familial' tie, a love for each other. And this love is rooted in the redeeming work of Christ that has brought both of you from darkness into light, from sin and slavery to righteousness and freedom. It is in the context of these 'discipleship' relationships where each of you challenge one another into deeper righteousness and greater freedom. This is where the tedious, hard, and wonderful work of sanctification should happen. Proverbs 27:6 says, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend".

How many times has someone been referred to me by another believer for a matter of 'counseling', when, fundamentally, that brother in Christ should have provided the 'counsel' of giving biblical encouragement, or biblical admonishment where such is due. One of the main reasons our pastors are mired down in one difficult 'counseling' situation after another, in many situations, is because the folks they are dealing with have not availed themselves of the means for daily growth in grace through believing relationships. Or, those who live with them, know them, and love them, don't love them enough to say the 'hard things'.

Is there someone in your life that is friend enough in Christ to deliver a few much needed faithful wounds? Are you faithful enough to wound your brother or sister, so that they are not left with the faithful wounds of a stranger (like a counselor they just met, or a pastor they hardly know) or the deceitful kisses of the enemy?

Good questions. At Four Oaks we answer this question with our pattern of church life. Worship, learn, and grow on Sunday. Worship, learn, and grow during the week. Worship, learn, and grow where life happens. We call you to meet in each other's homes, care for one another's families, share each other's burdens, and open up your life to your brothers and sisters in Christ so the wonderful work of 'Christ being formed' in us happens (Galatians 4:19).

This is 'hard work'. It means we sometimes have to say the 'hard things'. It means we have to be committed to 'formative' discipline, so that the dreadful work of Matthew 18:16-17 grows more and more uncommon in our family. Not because of our passive negligence, but because of our active obedience.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Family Time

Should be working on the just a quick post. We had a wonderful family meeting the other night over at FOOB (Four Oaks Ox Bottom). I was a bit shocked at the turnout- had to be about 200 or so folks (that is a big jump from the 65 that came last year). See what happens when you offer pie?

I opened our time together by referring us to the history of Israel, making these general comments:

When God's people are wandering, they were often fixed upon God and faithful.

When God's people were fixed (in the land, with homes, farms, cities, a temple, etc.), they were often wandering and faithless.

To keep us faithful, God makes us sojourners, for "here we have no enduring city".

For some reason, God has called us at Four Oaks to be 'wanderers' as a church family now for some sixteen years. Just when we think we are getting settled, we are uprooted, delayed, put off, or whatever. And this is a good thing.

If you want to find vibrant, growing, and thriving churches when you drive into a city, head over to the local public school on Sunday morning. I was listening to a church planter who was quoting a bunch of statistics about the reality that these 'church plants' or as the New Testament called them, 'churches', are often filled with highly involved people (you have to set up chairs if you want to sit in one), very friendly (you have to be, it's all you got goin for you when your meeting place smells like mystery meat), and full of energized and youthful leadership (because the crusty old rich farts are over at First Bumble Baptistic Presleyterian Fellowship of the Suburban Socialite). Now, of course, there are vibrant, thriving churches that have facilities and cool stuff, but they are often saddled with petty divisions, struggles over those facilities, staff weighed down with peripheral concerns, etc. Just comes with the territory.

So, we should count it a privilege to continue wandering for a few more years. Keeps us faithful, by God's grace.

And when we're fixed, whenever that might be, let's pray we don't start wandering into faithlessness. And if we do, let's pray that God would kick us out and make us wander again, as He is prone to do.

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