Category Archives: Ministry

A Glimpse at the Wrath of God

I wince every time I see images of Hurricane Irma barreling toward the Florida mainland. All of this while the Pacific Northwest fights massive forest fires, Mexico reels from an 8.2 earthquake, and Texas cleans up unprecedented flood damage. As I watch these disasters unfold and pray for my friends who are affected, I cannot help but think of Romans 1:18-19, which our church studied just a couple weeks ago.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.

When I read these verses and preached on this passage back on August 27, I noted how natural disasters are a preview of the wrath of God that should point us to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Here’s a transcript of my words Sunday morning two weeks ago. Little did I know just how dramatic God would put his wrath on display in the days ahead…

“Do you understand that when you see human suffering — when you see viruses, and influenza; when you see bacteria; when you see wars and natural disasters — you are seeing in a sense the wrath of God revealed against ungodliness and unrighteousness?

Those things didn’t exist in the pre-fall era. When God looked at his creation after six days, he said, ‘It is very good’ (Genesis 1:31). There was no suffering. There were not wars, there was no sin, there were no diseases. Everything was perfect. But God gave a curse upon this world, and now we all groan under the weight of God’s punishment against sin.

The worst is yet to come for unbelievers. But all of these forms of suffering, and trials, and disasters, are but a foretaste of a future and eternal suffering that awaits the wicked. Oh yes, God’s wrath is already manifested and revealed from against ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.

But ultimately, the greatest demonstration we have seen thus far of the wrath of God took place at Golgotha 2,000 years ago. When God sent his one and only son into this world, and Jesus hung upon that cross, and the sky went pitch black, and God crushed his son and wounded him so we could be forgiven of our sins. People saw the wrath of God being poured out. Even the Roman centurion – a pagan up to that point – said ‘Truly, this was the Son of God.’ …

The wrath of God has been revealed many times throughout history. Why? Because there’s so much ungodliness and unrighteousness. And perhaps the greatest demonstration of that unrighteousness is the willful and deliberate suppression of the truth.”

Our world is hurting. The suffering is overwhelming. My question is this: What is it going to take for God to get our attention?

Oh that God would use these disasters to shake us out of our spiritual stupor, and bring us to repentance, before an infinitely greater wrath arrives.

Our Ministry Vision … Ten Years Later

In September 2007, I took a few deacons up to the mountains of Idyllwild on a Prayer and Strategic Planning Retreat. We had no elders at the time, so these men were essentially my partners as shepherds and overseers of the local church.

This was a difficult season for our church. Attendance had dwindled down to about 50 people, and we were running a $2,000 monthly deficit. Some were afraid the church would have to close its doors.

During our weekend sitting on those musty couches in the mountain air, we discussed ministry and prayed for the future of our church. We also used the SWOT method to do some strategic planning (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) and laid out a long-term vision for the ministry. It was too early to share some of these ambitious goals with the whole congregation, so early on, they were just desires of our heart, expressed through prayer.

I was going through some old files the other day, and came across the notes from that meeting. Now, exactly ten years later, I’m overwhelmed to see God’s goodness and the fruit of those prayers. With nearly every item on our list, the Lord either met or exceeded our expectations.

Goal: Be using present facility at full potential or already in new building across the street.

Ten Years Later: Our auditorium has reached full capacity, and we are in the process of renovations and expansions.

Goal: Deeper exposition of God’s Word at all levels, in all classes and worship services.

Ten Years Later: God has given our church a hunger for God’s word, and continues to grow me as an expositor. We have studied together the Gospel of John, 1 Corinthians, Titus, Ecclesiastes, 1 John, the Gospel of Mark, and now Romans. In addition to our online podcast, the Lord recently opened a door for us to broadcast our sermons on the local radio station Z107.7 every Sunday morning at 8:30.

Goal: Possible classical school.

Ten Years Later: This is the one item on our list that received very little attention. But we are blessed to see many more families and children attending our services.

Goal: Possible Bible institute of some kind, equipping pastors and lay people.

Ten Years Later: The Lord has given us a strategic partnership with California Baptist University to train up young men going into pastoral ministry. We also have a growing list of members who moved on to pursue seminary and vocational ministry.

Goal: That we would radiate Christ, His Gospel, His love, and His book; that there would be an energy, vitality, joy, and excitement, that would be noticeable to others.

Ten Years Later: We continue to be a work in progress, but many people have visited the church and say it is one of the most loving, friendly churches they have ever attended.

Goal: A growing influence on our Inland Empire Association, on other local churches, and on pastors.

Ten Years Later: By God’s grace, I have served on several denominational boards and committees, and was given the opportunity to preside over the Pastor’s Conference several years ago.

Goal: A plurality of elders providing leadership while still retaining some level of congregational involvement; begin to move toward biblical pattern of church polity.

Ten Years Later: In 2015, our church voted unanimously to adopt a biblical polity that involved a plurality of elders. These men are both good friends and wise counselors, and I cannot begin to measure their love for the body of Christ, or the joy of doing ministry together.

What will our ministry look ten years from now? Only the Lord knows! But may we never forget the power of prayer, or the vital role of patience in gospel ministry.

Summer Conferences

I’ve noticed there are several great conferences coming up this summer that may interest you. Here’s a list with links to more information. Although I didn’t include it on this list, you may also want to attend the SBC Pastors Conference and Annual Meeting in Phoenix on June 11-14.

Discovering the God of the Bible
Los Angeles, CA – June 9-10
Featuring John MacArthur, Robert Godfrey, and more. Topics include God’s sovereignty, holiness, love, etc.

Great Homeschool Convention
Ontario, CA – June 15-17
Topics: homeschool 101, classical learning, homeschooling teens, planning for college, etc. plus a huge exhibit hall

Christ-Centered Parenting in a Complex World
Nashville, TN – August 24-26
Topics: raising counter-cultural kids, addressing the problem of porn, championing adoption and foster care, etc.

Biblical Counseling Conference
Laguna Hills, CA – Three weekends available: Aug 25-26, Sep 22-23, Oct 27-28
Topics: how to change, key elements of counseling, issues of the heart, common counseling problems, etc.

Photo credit: Hubspot

Let’s Reach California

We have several critical board openings in our California SBC state convention. These include:

  • Committee on Convention Operations (program committee). This committee wins the prize for coolest nickname — COCO.
  • Committee on Board Nominations (nominates people to serve on the boards of California Baptist University, California Baptist Foundation, and the CSBC Executive Board)
  • Committee on Resolutions, Credentials and Membership (which deals with resolutions and reviews church applications for membership)

While these committees may sound “bureaucratic” in nature, think of it as democracy at work.

Congregationalism (local church autonomy with some level of authority vested in the individual members) is a long-standing distinctive of Baptist life. But the only way congregational churches can partner together on mission is if the churches themselves send delegates to make decisions on behalf of the whole.

Functionally, our convention is divided into nine geographic areas (see map).

All nine of these regions must be represented on every committee. Just like our country’s electoral college, this ensures that both high and low population areas will have representation. But it creates a problem when we can’t find enough qualified individuals to serve, especially from our more rural areas.

The CSBC has immediate vacancies in regions 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, and 9. It won’t be long before the other regions have vacancies too.

If you are a member of a Southern Baptist Church in California, and have a heart to spread the gospel and establish more healthy churches in California, you should consider serving on a board.

Pastors fill many of these positions, but the committees are not made up exclusively of pastors. In fact, at least three members of each committee must be laypersons.

I’d be happy to get some of you started on the nomination process. Just email or Facebook me with the following info:

Your full name
Address
Phone
Email
Occupation
Name of church
Your role/title at church
Why you want to serve
Skills and experience that would qualify you to serve

Please note, not everyone who is nominated will be asked to serve. That’s up to the Committee on Committees. But your nomination form will be held for at least three years for future consideration, and can always be submitted later.

Please let me know if I can be of any help.

A Few Praises from the Past Year

Like the leper in Luke 17, it’s appropriate to stop and say thank you whenever Jesus shows us kindness. God has truly been gracious to our church in 2016, and we have much to be thankful for. Here are some highlights I shared at last Sunday’s business meeting:

  • A marriage workshop in January on How to Improve our Communication
  • A Fall Marriage Retreat on Gospel-Centered Marriages in Beaumont led by Milton Vincent
  • Financial Peace University (Dave Ramsay’s material) Wednesday nights in the summer
  • 10 year anniversary for our family
  • Addition of about twenty new members
  • Launch of several home Bible studies in Yucca Valley and Twentynine Palms
  • Started a Youth Bible Study on Sunday Mornings
  • Several professions of faith and baptisms, especially during our Vacation Bible School
  • Ministry opportunities for several young men headed into ministry. Several BAT students and graduates got the chance to preach, as well as recent TMS grad Craig Barnett.
  • A concert by the CBU women’s choir in May
  • A missions team from TMU helped us in October with painting and cleaning projects. You guys were a God-send!
  • Solar panels were installed, as well as new thermostats to reduce electric costs and improve HVAC efficiency
  • We now have a secure stairway for our attic. It may not sound like much, but those of us who had to climb up and down that extension ladder are rejoicing
  • Began preliminary planning for a local church plant
  • Relaunched an all new website as www.fsbcyv.org
  • Some great improvements to our nursery
  • A balanced budget.

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!

Are Blogs Disposable Media?

I first began blogging with Myspace, then migrated to Google Blogger, and eventually here at WordPress. I’ve always enjoyed this medium, and have been blessed by power bloggers such as Tim Challies and Justin Taylor. I’ve also had some great conversations with friends right here on this blog. But I think my greatest roadblock to blogging more frequently is that I’m afraid it might not be polished enough.

I wonder if this fear runs against the very purpose of a blog (web log), which according to Google, is “A regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style.”

My creative side wants to blog more, but my perfectionist side wants to polish a post so much that, frankly, I don’t end up blogging very often. Would I write more if I was less concerned about polish?

Last October, I attended a technology seminar by Carlos Whittaker at the CSBC who described social media phenomena such as Instagram and Snapchat as “disposable media.” They are like styrofoam cups, which were never intended to be kept, but rather were designed to be consumed, then thrown away.

Instagram and Snapchat are certainly different media than a blog, which is a more permanent record stored somewhere out there in the world wide web. Nevertheless, a blog is still meant to be different from a book or periodical. Now, some bloggers are professional writers and their blogs are full blown websites. But for most of us, blogs are meant to be just plain, ordinary journals, with nothing particularly power or profound. If I’m not mistaken, they are supposed to be instant and disposable. Or as Google says in the definition above, “informal or conversational.”

And I think that’s where I’ve gone wrong. I’ve treated a blog too much like a formal publication, rather than disposable media. In today’s post, I limited myself to writing this post in just ten minutes, then going back and editing it for another ten minutes.

I wonder, is it better to write better, content-rich posts less frequently (more like an article)? Or rougher, stream-of-consciousness style posts more frequently (more like a journal)? I suppose it depends on the author and his or her industry or platform. But for most of us, blogging should represent quick thoughts from the heart. I’ll see if I can do a better job in the year ahead.

So now, even though I could no doubt do more editing and refining, I’m going to click “publish” on this post. Let’s take this thing live…

Our First Night of Small Groups

We had a wonderful first home Bible Study last night. Eleven adults participated, plus another ten children. And that was in spite of several Wednesday night ‘regulars’ being out of town.

Perhaps most exciting to me was that several people who came last night had not been attending a small group before. This is exactly who we aim to reach with these home groups. We hope to see a higher percentage of church members and attenders (and even unchurched people) in our small groups than what we’ve been experiencing in our traditional Sunday School or Wednesday night program — or even back in the day when we did a Sunday night service.

In this post, I’d like to just walk you through our first night, so you can get a feel for how the night unfolded, and what you might expect if you are starting your own small group.

BEFORE THE MEETING- My wife and the kids worked hard yesterday afternoon to get our living room ‘guest ready’ and our family room ‘kid ready.’ I personally invited a number of people ahead of time, then texted several families around 4 pm on Wednesday afternoon to remind them of our small group. I think this last step resulted in one or two extra families that otherwise might not have come.

WELCOME – People started arriving about 15 mins early. My wife was just getting home from shuttling the kids around to afternoon sports, so I welcomed people in and offered them something to drink (water, lemonade, coffee). We officially started around 6:45 pm. Everyone shared their name and favorite ice cream. This was a quick and fun ice breaker. Several in the group are newer to the church, and I noticed at least one person was writing down names as we went around the room. I invited everyone to really make themselves at home, move about as needed, told them where the bathroom was, etc. Then I opened in prayer.

BIBLE STUDY – I explained to everyone that we would be studying the Book of Hebrews over the next year. I asked what they knew already about Hebrews. Then I gave a handout (click here to download) and we all went to Hebrews 12:1-2 to see how the Christian life is like a marathon requiring endurance. We discussed the major theme, outline, and some interesting features of the book of Hebrews and looked at a few sample passages to whet their appetites. I also have them a copy of our 2016-2017 teaching calendar so they can read/study the next section in advance if they’d like.

GROUP DYNAMIC – The group was very informal and relaxed. We sat around the coffee table, but a couple others were at the dining room table or in the kitchen. Some folks had to get up to attend to kids, feed a baby, etc. One mom got down on the floor with her child, and kept her Bible on the edge of table. There was a little commotion at times, but I just spoke up louder and kept moving. Some people ate dinner before they came, but one family brought dinner with them and sat at the dining room table with their McDonalds cheeseburgers at the beginning. Everyone remained flexible. It was pretty special to see 80 year olds and 2 year olds present in the same room, with Bibles open and everyone talking about Jesus. I tried to keep everyone involved by asking questions, encouraging dialogue, and inviting others to read the scripture passages, and even to read some of the handout so they could hear other voices besides mine. At the same time, this was not just an open discussion or group share time. I had specific content I had prepared ahead of time, and several people were taking notes.

WRAP UP – We ended at 8 pm and dismissed with prayer. Natalie had baked brownies. Some people had to leave right away, but others lingered for another 30-45 minutes eating snacks and talking while the kids played. I think the last family left a little after 9 pm. Next time, we will take sign ups and ask other families to bring snacks so we don’t have to be responsible both for the food and getting the house ready for company.

Overall, it was a great first night and I pray you have a similar experience. To God be the glory!

Book Review: Living Forward

Living_ForwardAre you satisfied where your life is headed? Do you know you’re giving your very best to God and others? Have you reached a fork in the road, and aren’t sure which way to turn?

Michael Hyatt & Daniel Harkavy’s new book Living Forward can help. It fills a gap in productivity and self-help books. Where most books deal with the nuts and bolts of time management, delegation, increased sales, and organizational tips, Living Forward starts with a more fundamental question – Where’s your life headed?

The day-to-day choices we make start with deeper values. But how often do we pause to take account of what’s important, and to make sure we haven’t drifted off course? Living Forward explains how to chart a course for the future by identifying your values, goals, and dreams, and will make sure your daily routine is in sync with your long-term goals. The book is divided into three sections.

I. Understand Your Need. Part One reveals our natural tendency to drift. We are introduced to the idea of mission and see the benefits of creating our own. If there was one section of the book that seemed to drag a little, it was this first section. I came into the book eager to learn about a life plan, and didn’t need 54 pages to convince me of its importance.

II. Create Your Plan. Part Two is the heart of the book. In these four chapters, we learn how to design a legacy, define priorities, chart a course of action, and set aside one day to turn this from a nice idea into a reality. These chapters alone are more than worth the price of the book.

III. Make It Happen. Part Three shows you how to implement and review your life plan, and how to facilitate one in the lives of others — particularly your business. I could see the benefit of an entire organization doing this as a personal development or team-building activity.

The strength of the book lies in its simplicity and practicality. What other productivity books often assume, or nod in passing, these authors devote an entire book to. It’s the culmination of hundreds of life-coaching seminars and conversations. Steps are clearly laid out, with lots of examples, questions, checklists, and worksheets. I’m already implementing some of the tools into my own life, and sharing them with others.

My main advice for the reader is this: Don’t use it alone. Living Forward will convince you of the benefit of a life plan and help you craft and review your own. But how do you decide on the right goals in the first place? Where do you find the right vision and mission for your life or organization?

I would suggest that visualizing “the life that you want” and writing your own eulogy is not enough. Ultimately, it is faithfulness to God that should be our highest concern. We should all want to hear those words from our heavenly Judge, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Now, I realize this book targets a much wider audience than just Christian readers, and that it’s beyond the scope of the book to go into such detail, but that’s my point exactly. Read it — just don’t read it alone. Use it as a springboard. Use it as a productivity tool. As the dust jacket suggests, Living Forward can even be a compass to point you in the right direction and keep you on track. But a compass only works if it is properly calibrated to true north. And for that, you’ll need a guidebook written by God himself.