Firing Up the Great Commission Engine Through Prayer

Starting this past Sunday, our deacons are taking turns—two by two—to pray for me and for our church during the preaching time.  They situate themselves in our fellowship hall, directly beneath the pulpit to pray.  Below is a sample prayer guide I give them to help them pray through what I’m preaching.

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Deacon Prayer Guide
Sunday, July 20, 2014

Dear Deacons,

Thank you so much for sacrificing your time to pray for us during the service. Our people need this, you need this, and I definitely know I need this. More and more, I recognize my dependence on Christ in preaching, pastoring, and leading this church to where He called me—and there’s no place on the planet I’d rather be.

This morning, I will preach out of the familiar book of Jonah. Jonah is a complex character—running from God’s call, then recognizing God’s saving power, preaching from mixed motives, then angry that God is a saving God.

The title of the sermon is “A God Who’s Not Confined.” We cannot run away from God’s presence, resist his power, nor rebel against His passion for all people—even the brutal, cruel Ninevites, sworn enemies of Israel.

Below is a prayer guide to go through during the preaching time.

  1. Pray that God would give me clarity of thought and speech for the clear Word to go forth (2 Timothy 3:16-4:5), and that the Spirit would give the church ears to hear (Revelation 2-3).
  2. Read Jonah 1.
    • Pray that when God calls us as individual believers or as a church to do something, we would run toward His will and presence, and not away from it.
    • Pray that God would work in an around us to keep us in His will, even if it’s rough (like the tempest on the sea).
    • Pray that even pagans and those who worship false gods would see the power of God in creation, and seek Him in salvation—like those men on that ship who ultimately confessed worship to the living God (1:16).
  3. Read Jonah 2.
    • Pray all would see God’s working in their lives to bring them to Himself in Christ.
    • Pray all would repent and confess that Christ is king and Lord over all aspects of life (“For you cast me into the deep… all your waves and your billows passed over me.”) 
    • Pray that no matter where people are, they are not too far from God’s saving presence and power (“Yet I shall again look upon your holy temple (v. 4b). . . “My prayer came to you, into your holy temple” (v. 7)).
  4. 4. Read Jonah 3.
    • Pray for those who have resisted God’s call to salvation and to ministry would repent and go as God calls again (3:3).
    • Pray your pastor and all would speak God’s message, no matter how silly or somber the world sees it, and we would be enthralled at the glory and power of the Word of God to change hearts even today.
    • Pray that hearts would be broken, and the hardest hearts would repent from the eternal disaster to come—from the kings and presidents on down.
  5. Read Jonah 4
    • Pray for the hearts of our people who say they are Christians, yet in their heart of hearts want justice accomplished rather than grace extended to enemies.
    • Pray that our people would see the passion that God has for His glory among all peoples.
    • Pray that we would never believe we deserve His grace while others do not (be it the common grace of a plant, or the special grace of salvation). Pray we would all see we are sinners, deserving nothing but the hottest hell, and yet Christ comes to redeem us from what we deserve. Pray we would not care about our own comfort more than the eternal discomfort of the nations—or our neighbors.
  6. Pray that, as ARBC is a missions hub, that all believers would welcome new guests and befriend them; that all would unashamedly brag on Jesus and His church; and that God would provide opportunities to witness for Christ.

This will be a work in progress, but hopefully you will get the idea. I encourage you to listen to the sermon once it’s posted online so you can hear what you missed and hear what you prayed for. May we continue to connect with our Lord Jesus in prayer. He is risen and He hears us, interceding for us even now. Be encouraged! God’s got great things in store.

Blessings,

Pastor Matt

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Knowing these men pray for me during the service gives my heart no end of joy.  So, please pray for our prayer life.  That with the Word is the fuel that fires the Great Commission Engine.

Three Marks of a True Church

I just finished reading Everyone’s a Theologian: An Introduction to Systematic Theology by R. C. Sproul.  Readable, edifying, not watered down—marvelous.  In a chapter dealing with the church, Sproul led us to the three marks of the church that the Reformers staked out that we would all do well to remember.

  1. The church that professes the gospel.  “If a church denies any essential point of the gospel, such as the deity of Christ, the atonement, or justification by faith alone, it is no longer a church.”
  2. The church that observes the ordinances/sacraments.  “The basic celebration of the sacraments on a regular basis is a necessary element of a true church. . . .  The sacraments were designed by Christ for the edification of God’s people, and therefore it is the duty of the church to maintain proper observation of them.”
  3. The church that practices church discipline.  “A church has responsibility for the spiritual nurture of its members, to see that people grow in their faith and become increasingly sanctified.  Therefore, discipline is required to keep the church from becoming infected with impurities and corruption.” 

Some would add more to this, but the Reformers were right—each of these Christ called us to do (Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34; Matthew 18:15-20).  May God continue to help us move along in being what His church desires, not what we desire.

The Movement of Campbellsville University

Why is this Colorado pastor blogging about a university in Kentucky?  Those of you who know me well know that I spent the better part of 15 years in Kentucky, leaving in 2011 to move to Colorado to be the lead pastor at a church.  With Kentucky not too far in the rearview mirror, I still love and pray for all the Baptist institutions in the Bluegrass.

Among those institutions stands Campbellsville University.  Recently, the university changed its relationship with Kentucky Baptists so it can appoint its own trustees (Baptist or otherwise) and “maintain academic freedom”—breaking a covenant established in 1986.   In a letter published to Kentucky Baptists, Campbellsville began by communicating a desire to “protect the mission of the University and to avoid both undue influence and the imposition of theological and doctrinal control.”

The Board of Trustees of Campbellsville University has adopted a revised set of bylaws which gives the Board more flexibility in its relationship with the KBC. Campbellsville University has proposed to the KBC that it enter into a new “partners in ministry” relationship. We have proposed that good-faith discussions be held to forge a relationship that allows CU’s Board of Trustees to select and seat trustees who meet current service requirements set forth by the University, to maintain CU’s academic freedom, and phase out direct Cooperative Program funding from the KBC over a four-year period.

This is a similar path that another former Baptist institution, Georgetown College, cut ties in 2005.  A 2006 New York Times article that covered the split between the KBC and Georgetown College seemed to clarify the issue in the first two paragraphs:

The request seemed simple enough to the Rev. Hershael W. York, then the president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. He asked Georgetown College, a small Baptist liberal arts institution here, to consider hiring for its religion department someone who would teach a literal interpretation of the Bible.

But to William H. Crouch Jr., the president of Georgetown, it was among the last straws in a struggle that had involved issues like who could be on the board of trustees and whether the college encouraged enough freedom of inquiry to qualify for a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

“From my point of view, it was about academic freedom.  I sat for 25 years and watched my denomination become much more narrow and, in terms of education, much more interested in indoctrination,” Crouch continued. 

The Kentucky Baptist Convention (along with the Southern Baptist Convention) hold to a high view of Scripture: its authority, clarity, necessity, and sufficiency.  The phrases “maintain academic freedom” have long been the watchwords of institutions holding to a liberal (literally, a loose) view of Scripture.  The plenary (every) verbal (word) inspiration of Scripture is deemed too “narrow” and thus those who hold to this view do not educate but indoctrinate. 

Yet, Dr. York asked for a theological conservative.  Period.   “You ought to have some professor on your faculty who believes Adam and Eve were the first humans, that they actually existed.”  But fears abounded:  a takeover?  Politicizing from conservatives?  Will more fundraising come in if we’re non-Baptist? 

Having had college students from my former church who attended Georgetown, they would often e-mail me about some of things they learned in their classes.  Their concern over the professor undermining or at least questioning the inspiration of Scripture disturbed them no end. And often I would have to help them sort it all out.  Having been at a seminary that, at one point, did the very same thing in their classes, I remembered the crisis and how I had to fight through it all. 

But many, out of reverence and respect for those ‘learned’ professors, lost their will to fight. 

Campbellsville University stated their desire for the future:

We remain committed to the churches of the KBC. CU remains committed to maintaining a Christ-centered mission of Christian higher education as stated in Vision 2025. CU will maintain a Board of Trustees that is 100% Baptist. We will retain a strong Church Relations Council that provides direct input from pastors and church leaders that is predominately Baptist in affiliation. Our commitment is to provide an environment where the Gospel of Jesus Christ is presented to all students and where the transformation of lives in Christ is celebrated and affirmed! That is our history – that is our commitment – and that is our future!

Time will tell what the relationship between the KBC and Campbellsville will entail in the future.  Yet, using the phraseology of “imposition of theological and doctrinal control” from Kentucky Baptists sounds eerily similar to Georgetown.   Academic freedom and holding to the inspiration and authority of Scripture need not be mutually exclusive.  Sadly, in these times that’s exactly what happens. 

Pray for the KBC and Campbellsville in the days ahead.  The world is watching. 

The AMEN of Preaching

We have no shortage of preaching formulas on our bookshelves and pervading the blogosphere.  And here I am, adding my own two cents worth to the subject.  It’s the AMEN affect!  These four items should be (must be) in place as you prepare and preach the Word!

Author’s original meaning.  You’ve heard the advice that the first question a Bible study leader asks is not, “What does it mean to you/me?” They ask, “What does it mean?”  Presently, I’m preaching through the Minor Prophets.  This requires significant study as to the background of the book, historical location and significance, and why God chose to speak through that person, to that people, in that time?  While the Bible is for us, it wasn’t written originally to us, but to those in that context.

Main Idea.  What’s the main idea, the one thing that your audience should keep with them as they walk away?  Pastors risk making sermons about multiple things–especially if you usually have 3-4 points. You could have a sermon about 3-4 different topics.   Work to give a main idea that’s meaningful and memorable.

Examining Christ’s presence.  While Christ may not be prominent in each passage, we know that Christ is there in every passage (see Luke 24:25-27).  Spurgeon wrote that as all roads in England lead to London, so do all roads in the Bible lead to Christ. Are you taking those roads (even in the Minor Prophets) to Christ?

Next Steps.  Preaching is for life-change.  How does the preacher apply the authorial intent, the main idea, and Christ’s presence to the 2014 life of where we are?   What next steps are you asking your people from the text to take in their walk and journey with Christ?

I look forward to fleshing this out at some later date.

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Matthew Perry (DMin, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), serves as Lead Pastor of Arapahoe Road Baptist Church in Centennial, CO in the South Denver Metro region.  

The Sanctifying Work of Marriage and Parenting

I was a great husband before I married my wife of now almost 16 years.  I was a great father until I became a 4-time dad.  And so it happened, and God’s marvelous sanctifying work in my heart and mind kicked it up a number of notches. 

At a marriage conference I attended in 2001, Dr. Danny Akin, now president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, noted that getting married is like going to college, and having children is like going to grad school.  I’d add that when you start having teenagers, you’re working on your Parental PhD–with PhD meaning pretty hard days.

Your pastors are strange by the culture’s standards (I heard that Amen from you out there).  Between your pastors, we have 13 children–with #13 coming into the world late August (and frankly, we can’t have enough Morters in the world, can we?).  The culture says, “Marriage shouldn’t be until later–you need to live your life to the full measure before settling down.”  The terms ‘ball-and-chain’ are often used to describe your spouse–not very flattering.  When it comes to children, a Chicago writer named Linda Hirschman felt that college-educated stay-at-home moms were a detriment to society because they were wasting their time staying home and depriving the marketplace of their skill-set. 

Thus, the culture in which we live. And thus, an opportunity to convey something far, far better.

What does the Bible say about marriage and family?

1. God designed it (Genesis 1:26-31; Ephesians 5:22-24).  God designed marriage to be the way that children come into the world, by the love of a husband and wife into a home of commitment, fidelity, and accountability.  Couples are commanded by God to be fruitful and multiply. If in this fallen world that is not possible, God provides opportunities for couples to help others along in bearing fruit for Christ’s kingdom.

2. God defined it (Matthew 19:2-6). God tells us that He created marriage as that of male-and female, exclusively.  One husband, one wife, for life.  Every section of Scripture defines it thus (see especially Matthew 19:2-6).  Anything outside of God’s stated definition of marriage is sin. On this, the church must not budge.

3. God refined it (Ephesians 5:25-33):  Marriage serves as a picture of Christ wedded to the church, where Christ love His wife and gave Himself for her, and the wife submits to the headship of her Husband, Jesus Christ.  This brings a fine point to what God aims for church and for marriage.

4. God consigns it (1 Corinthians 7:2-5; 2 Corinthians 6:14-17).  God entrusted marriage to us, under his mandate that the couple not be “unequally yoked.”  Believers must marry believers–for if you do not have Christ in common, and Christ is not Lord, then the ‘yoke’ that leads you will be a different size and take you on a different row to hoe.

5. God assigns it (Ephesians 6:1-4):  My assignment as a Dad? Train my children in the way of the Lord.  But now I see that the main ‘small group’ that I must disciple is not my congregation, not my Sunday School class, not my pastors or staff–they are a priority, but not the main driving priority.  I must not pass on the responsibility, nor pass it off to my kiddos’ teachers at church.  They help, but it’s my assignment from the Lord.  The main discipling group God has provided me is my family.  I’m the only husband my wife has–I’m the only Dad my kids have.  And this applies to you as well.   

I didn’t marry until I was almost 27. God knew what He was doing when He brought Cindy may way.  And never did I imagine having four children–but God knew what He was doing in giving me the children He did. 

Our hope and joy is in Christ, who not only helps us take the next steps in our family life.  What steps do you need to take?

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Matthew Perry (D.Min, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as Lead Pastor at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church in Centennial, CO. This was originally published in our church newsletter, The Challenger for July 2014.

How Does God Give an Understanding of Scripture?

Sadly, even professing Christian denominations find  themselves either ignoring the clear teaching of Scripture, or interpreting it in such a way that validates the sinful lives and worldviews in an effort to be ‘open and affirming.’  An openness to sin means you have closed your heart to God’s Word.

Many in our churches need a clear understanding of Scripture–so how does this happen?  How do we make sure we haven’t journeyed off the narrow, orthodox path that God lays down.  In his book Beyond the Battle for the Bible (GNP, 1980), J.I. Packer gives us some help:

First, God gives understanding through the Holy Spirit.  “Only through the Spirit’s illumination shall we be able to see how teaching applies to us in our own situation. . . .  That does not cancel the need for study, any more than  it invalidates the rules of interpretation. . . . The Spirit works through our diligence, not our laziness” (30).

Secondly,   God gives understanding through Christian community.  In looking at Colossians 3:16, Packer notes,

“Only as we gratefully share with others what we know and  receive from them what they know will the word of Christ (the Christian message) dwell in us richly (abundantly and enrichingly), in the way that  produces wisdom.  Many of us are at a disadvantage here; we have had it so drummed into us that the only sure way to learn God’s will from the Bible is to go off with  it into a solitary place anddig into it on our own that we cannot easily accept that  the interchanges of church fellowship, both institutional and informal, are the main channels of entry into spiritual understanding” (31).

What are the main means within the Christian community?

Scripture shows that the main  means of learning from God is to hear his message preached and to involve oneself in the give-and-take of Christian fellowship in exploring the contents of Holy Scripture. (32)

So what follows?

  1. “You and I should take most seriously the preaching under which we sit in our churches.”
  2. “We should take most seriously the value of group Bible study as a means to personal understanding, and make a point to involve ourselves in it.”
  3. “We should take most seriously the value of practicing fellowship with Christians outside our own circle by reading their books–including classic books from the Christian past, and  expository books written from standpoints other than our own within the Bible-believing spectrum.  (Thus Calvinists should sometimes read books by charismatics, and charismatifcs should sometimes read books by Calvinists.)  This will help us get some of our blinkers off, and see over the top of some of  the ruts we are in.

An excellent word from Dr. Packer.

God Restoring Human Nature is More Wonderful Than Its Creation

Since it is fitting for that man to be God, and also the restorer of sinners, we doubt not that he is wholly without sin; yet will this avail nothing, unless he be taken without sin and yet of a sinful substance. But if we cannot comprehend in what manner the wisdom of God effects this, we should be surprised, but with reverence should allow of a thing of so great magnitude to remain hidden from us. For the restoring of human nature by God is more wonderful than its creation; for either was equally easy for God; but before man was made he had not sinned so that he ought not to be denied existence. But after man was made he deserved, by his sin, to lose his existence together with its design; though he never has wholly lost this, viz., that he should be one capable of being punished, or of receiving God’s compassion. For neither of these things could take effect if he were annihilated. Therefore God’s restoring man is more wonderful than his creating man, inasmuch as it is done for the sinner contrary to his deserts; while the act of creation was not for the sinner, and was not in opposition to man’s deserts. How great a thing it is, also, for God and man to unite in one person, that, while the perfection of each nature is preserved, the same being may be both God and man! Who, then, will dare to think that the human mind can discover how wisely, how wonderfully, so incomprehensible a work has been accomplished?

–Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), Chapter XVI of Cur Deus Homo?  (Why God Became Man?)