Sunday, July 27, 2014

The letter mentioned this morning...

CF family,

The letter I mentioned this morning from March 2011 is below............if you wondered what was behind my comments/concerns and open letter to Bart Millard a few months ago, this will provide some background.  We MUST be concerned about ANY message or ANY practice or ANY ministry philosophy that feeds the tragic lie that faith in Christ can flourish (exist?) apart from Christ's people, the church!  THIS is our context, CF family.....THIS is our people group......people who have been duped into believing you can love Jesus and not love (walk with/know/be known by/be accountable to) His people. 

The contemporary church NEEDS the galvanizing message of Hebrews.  Our context needs it.  Your neighbor needs it.  Your friend and family needs it.  17 in and 24 out?  You bet we need it!!! 

If you would like to talk about this letter or have questions or concerns, PLEASE feel free to ask/express.

Dear Jim and the Pastors of Hunt Baptist Association,

Before I get to the purpose of this letter, let me begin by sharing with you that we, the people of Crosspoint Fellowship, truly want great things for His glory in your churches. So for the past five years we have prayed together for your marriages and your families and your churches and your worship as part of our corporate worship gatherings each week.  You are publicly prayed for by name and by church for His glory. We desperately want many and strong disciples to be made in and through your ministries in Greenville and the surrounding areas.

Now, as to the purpose of this letter, Ken Freeman’s recent visit crystallized for us some concerns we’re burdened to share with the pastors of the association.  I’ll come back to this, but first let me provide a little context.  Almost eight years ago I was called to Greenville to pastor a new church plant. It didn’t take a thorough review of the area to realize Greenville is what many could call supersaturated with churches.  It’s a wonder why anyone in his right mind would try to start a new church here or what might possess him to think it’s even needed here.  My early counts from the Chamber of Commerce website indicated there were at that time 98 Christian churches serving the 25,000 residents of Greenville and about another 75,000 in the surrounding area.  The alarming rough figure was that only 3-5% of folks in Greenville and the surrounding area were REALLY part of a local church. I don’t mean occasional attenders or Easter worshippers……..but folks who were consistently walking with a body of believers.  These stats led me to believe faith was on the decline in the Greenville area and might even be considered post-Christian.  So we decided to move to Greenville and be part of this new work in this uber-church-saturated context trusting that God must have a good reason.  

Starting with only a few families at first, it was important that we connect to those in Greenville who weren’t part of a local church.  So the first few years we were in Greenville we attempted to visit every home south of I-30.  This effort fostered many conversations with folks about their faith.  The startling result of these many visits was that we found most of the people we talked with had experienced some sort of salvation event.  Many could name the date, place and hour they made a decision and could even name the church and the pastor or the revival and the evangelist.  The really alarming detail was that most of these people were not part of a local church…….and they hadn’t been in years!?!?  Yet they had made a decision for Christ at some point in their lives!?!?  They were likely counted and celebrated on someone’s decision tally at some point in the past yet they had no use for God or His people.  They had no use for His word or the journey of faith. For them, the summation of their faith appeared to be an emotional experience they could recount with fondness and at least some spoken affection for Jesus.  This early effort at connecting with our community became a sort of fruit inspection.

In the mean time, we as a church were working our way slowly through the book of John.  God, it seems, orchestrated our fruit examination, when we really began to process what we were hearing from folks, with the exposition of John 8.  Here Jesus preaches on being the Light of the World.  He speaks of judgment and of His imminent cross and of sin and death.  He speaks on the Father’s authority and it seems many believed in Him (v. 30).  So far, it’s a wonderful revival and I’m sure the disciples were thinking to themselves “we’re really part of something great……look at the masses.”   Yet by the end of the chapter those many, the ones who had believed in Him, picked up stones to stone Him (v. 59)?!?!  That surprise ending because He continued preaching after they supposedly “believed.”  He said “if you’re truly my disciples, you will abide in my word and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”  Jesus is saying that true believers go the distance with Jesus and His people.  It seems as wool is to the sheep, abiding is to true belief.  This passage, among others, caused us to take a really hard look at our pursuits as a church.  We could continue to pursue the verse 30 decisions or we could seek to make the verse 31 believers who were true and abiding.  

In the months and years since John 8 and our fruit inspection, we’ve settled into a pursuit of the latter......making disciples.  We’re starting with those among us and trying to raise up fathers (or single mothers) who’ll train their children in the faith as their primary disciplers.  We’re seeing tomorrow’s church in our kids and young people and don’t want what seems so common today, for the youth to leave the church once they leave home.  We’re begging for and discipling toward the great privilege of marrying our children in the church and baptizing their children and their children’s children. At the same time, we are burdened to connect to those who don’t know Christ.  Instead of pressing lost people for a decision, we’re teaching them the law so that they can sit with the tutor that leads them to Christ. We’re teaching for brokenness so that the good news will be really good…..and not just news.  We’re holding forth the holiness and justice and wrath of God in the backdrop of the good news of grace and mercy in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. This takes LOTS of time and for us may take months or years.  But the back door of our church is getting increasingly smaller with fewer and fewer families and individuals slipping back into the world.  He seems to be blessing a slower, more intentional and deliberate pursuit of disciple-making.  For us, it seems to be a slow-bake oven…..not a microwave.    

Now, back to Ken Freeman’s recent visit.  In the few weeks since his time here, we became more and more burdened that our efforts to make disciples didn’t line up with a myopic focus on decisions.  Our concern is that the stats you so zealously enjoy and laud only serve to feed the monster of a community full of people who think they’re square with God yet have no use for His word or His people. We felt it especially repugnant that the perceived yield of Ken’s short visit was compared with the number of baptisms recorded by the churches of HBA.  For the past few years, we’ve just tolerated this sort of head-counting and gun-notching considering it benign, but now we see it clearly as counter to our pursuit of making true disciples in an over-revivaled and hyper-decisioned context.  We find that in practice, those we call to discipleship often respond with a spiritual shoulder shrug saying “why do I need that…..I’m already saved.”   

Please know I’m not afraid of or opposed to stats.  I understand behind every number is a person with a heart and a soul and if He’s numbered the hairs on our heads, numbers dealing with the saints certainly must matter.  But if we are to celebrate figures, we should let the word identify the stats that really matter.  Other than the initial birthday and beginning weeks of the life of the church after Pentecost, there doesn’t appear to be ANY development of head-counting. If anything, the tone of the epistles and pastoral letters and letters to the churches in Revelation suggest a more protracted development of disciple-making with a glaring absence of decision counting.  There’s a stark absence in Paul’s writings to Timothy and Titus of a press for decisions or head counts.  Paul’s encouragement to young Timothy is to put elders in place, good ones that are qualified. And appoint deacons, solid ones that will do their jobs so elders can pray and study and preach.  He seems to be charging Timothy to preach the word and to put the church in order to be the pillar and buttress of the truth. And to Titus there’s no mention of decisions or head counts.  Rather than counting decisions, he is to warn and if necessary remove the divisive person from the church.  Then there are the letters to the churches in Revelation.  None of the seven letters indicate there’s any emphasis on head counts or decisions, but rather their report cards are based on faithfulness and purity of the message and the body. If the stats heralded by the association were to reflect these types of things we could celebrate together how many of the association churches exercised church discipline on "Jezebel" and how can we partner with each other so that "Jezebel" doesn’t dump on our church next. Given Paul’s charge to Timothy, the stats that matter would be regarding the number of quality deacons appointed and how much of deaconing they’re actually doing so pastors can actually prepare life-changing sermons instead of personally caring for every widow and personally tending to every orphan.  Or given Paul’s instruction to Titus, how many divisive people were removed from association churches.  That would make for an interesting statistic.  If the stats of the association are to agree with our bibles, it seems God cares far less about the size of our churches and the number of decisions and more about the fidelity of the message, the order in the church (with elders eldering and deacons deaconing), the equipping for the work of ministry and the faithfulness of the people of God.  If we wanted to REALLY get at something that matters to God, we could also try to quantify how well we’re doing at caring for orphans and widows in their distress.  After all, THAT’S pure and undefiled religion, right?

What may be better than ANY of these counts or figures or stats is the church just being the church. The people of God being ordered with deacons caring for the body in such an otherworldly way that lost people can’t believe how well “those Christians” are cared for.  With elders/pastors actually studying and praying and reasoning together over bone-penetrating truths so that God’s people groan together at the greatness of this redemption story each week.  So we’re great together at enjoying the gospel and walking in oneness and equipping the saints……this becomes the long arm of evangelism.  The evangelist then, as a gift given to the church along with the pastor, has a living vibrant body to escort new life into as his gifts are exercised as an expression of the local church.  Not as a hired gun we bring in to get some numbers on the board while we hope and pray new life will find shelter and clothing in a local body.  

Men, we don’t for a moment presume to have a handle on how all the churches of the association are doing making disciples.  We hope and trust some are more focused on that than on decisions.  But it seems the mantra of the association at large is to “get ‘em saved” not realizing a press for decisions can and will likely yield many who just don’t want to go to hell. Men, we haven’t had a difficult time finding people who don’t want to go to hell.  However, it has been an arduous work identifying people who are hungry for His word, abiding in it and wanting to walk with the people of God in a meaningful and accountable way.  

We as a church and I as one of our elders have MUCH to learn about Kingdom work and we don’t for a moment think we have it all figured out.  We’re serving Christ in this community with clay feet and feeble hands.  We just want to be salty and bright and aromatic in a context where it seems many have no use for God unless someone is sick or has lost a job or has a marriage on the rocks. We simply want to cast a good and robust seed of a finished work and an especially vacant tomb.  We would love to reason together with you on these matters and would be willing to host or attend a time to talk through some of these concerns.    


Ben McGraw

Scott Sutton

Brad Cardwell  

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

An open letter to Bart Millard from your former Pastor

Dear Bart,

I’m writing to you in regards to your recent Time Magazine article entitled Dear Religion, I Quit You!  from April 17, 2014. I’m deeply troubled by the article and would like to address a few of your points. Let me first say I found it shockingly imbalanced. It seemed quite the caricature of any place where you (and your view on grace) aren’t. Maybe the best way to address my concerns is by addressing yours point by point.

You say
I’ve spent my whole life looking for grace. REAL grace. Not religion, but grace. There’s a difference ya know. I found “religion” at 13. I bought in hook, line and sinker. Grace? I discovered grace about 2 years ago. It has changed me to the core, and I ain’t going back.
My thoughts……
Bart, I don’t know what “religion” you “found” at 13, but I encourage you not to dispense with religion altogether. James 1:27 says Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Not only should you not dispense with religion, you should seek pure and undefiled religion that’s attentive to orphans and widows and that makes efforts to resist worldliness.

You say
Religion says “Give 110%.”
Grace says “Rest in the finished work of the Cross.”
My thoughts…..
Ironically one of the most grace-centric books in our bibles, Romans, also says in Romans 12:1-2 “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”. I’m not sure how “present your bodies as a living sacrifice” would work out percentage-wise, but I think it must be pretty high. In some ways, God says through Paul, “in light of the last 11 chapters of scandalous good news, respond with nothing less than all that you are.” (my paraphrase) So, I’d offer that the most appropriate (and biblical) way to “rest in the finished work of the Cross” is to respond with everything you have and are. In regards to salvation, the work is indeed finished. In regards to a fitting response to His work, only your very life will do.

You say
Religion says “Don’t disappoint God.”
Grace says “God has been pleased with you since the day you called His name!”
My thoughts……
I think you’re on to something here, Bart. Romans 8:8-9 says “those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit.” It looks like from this passage the good pleasure of God rests on those who are “in Christ.” (8:1) While this is absolutely and completely true, it’s doesn’t reveal the truth completely. We can, in fact, live and love in a way that pleases our Heavenly Father. Paul encouraged the Thessalonians with these wordsFinally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.” (1 Thess 4:1) Bart, how we live and “walk” does influence God’s pleasure or displeasure much like we can be pleased or displeased with our children’s actions. Paul is both affirming the Thessalonians here and he’s encouraging them to work even harder at pleasing God as “you do so more and more.

You say
Religion says “Being good is a start.”
Grace says “Christ on the cross is enough.”
My thoughts…
I think what you’re saying here is that we can’t be good enough and Christ’s work was/is good enough. I agree with you here, Bart. In fact, I herald this each week. On our best day or our worst day, we wear an alien righteousness that comes from faith in The One who was “good enough.” That’s some seriously good medicine. Please though, in light of this rich truth, don’t dispense with being “good.” Jesus said “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 5:16) He also said “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matt 7:19)

You say
Religion says “Get it right!”
Grace says “I’ll be there when you get it wrong!”
My thoughts……
I love that we have a High Priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses without Himself “getting it wrong.” (Heb 4:15) Don’t equate this wonderful truth with the notion that Christ winks at our sin though. The same Christ that is a sympathetic High Priest called seven churches in Revelations to account for how they lived, walked and worshiped. And most of them didn’t fare well. The Ephesians had left their first love. (Rev 2:4) The Pergamites held to the teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans. (Rev 2:14-15) The Thyatirans tolerated Jezebel. (Rev 2:20) The Church in Sardis was sleepy and their works were incomplete (Rev 3:1-2). And the Laodicians had grown lukewarm. (Rev 3:15-16) Bart, our sympathetic High Priest, who is no chump by the way, declares to the Ephesians that He will “remove your lampstand…..unless you repent”. (Rev 2:5) To the Pergamites He says “I will come……and war against” the unrepentant “with the sword of my mouth.” (Rev 2:16) To the Thyatirans He says He’ll throw Jezebel and those who follow her onto a sickbed and He’ll “strike her children dead.” (Rev 2:22-23) Our faithful and sympathetic High Priest declares “And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart and will give to each of you as your works deserve.” To Sleepy Sardis He says “I will come like a thief , and you will know at what hour I come against you.” (Rev 3:3) And to Lukewarm Laodicia He says “because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Rev 3:16)

Bart, how we live and respond to the good news matters in the high court of heaven. We will give an account for how we’ve lived once adopted into this family. It matters and it’s not a heavy yoke of religion to “consider how we can stir one another up to love and good works”. (Heb 10:24)

You say
Religion says “We’re bad people trying to be good…you sin, you’re out”
Grace says “We’re Holy, righteous and redeemed. So when you do sin, it’s ok.”
My thoughts….
Bart, first let me say I don’t personally know of any churches in the Greenville area that are saying what you suggest “religion says” here. I’m sure they’re out there, but none that I’m aware of in our community, to include the church where you grew up.

What you may be thinking about is those who are living in and continuing on in unrepentant defiant sin. While I know of no churches saying “you sin, you’re out”, I hope there are MANY churches calling their people to repentance when continuing in unrepentant sin. What I fear you mean above is “we’re Holy, righteous and redeemed. So when you sin and aren’t repentant, it’s ok.” If you don’t mean it, you certainly imply it. Bart, Hebrews 10:26 says “if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.” The passage goes on to equate continuing unrepentant sin as “trampling underfoot the Son of God” and “profaning the blood of the covenant” and “outraging the Spirit of grace”. I fear your understanding of grace means there’s no accountability for how we live after we trust Christ. Yet all of the epistles are full of exhortations to obey. I wonder what the man sleeping with his mother in law in 1 Corinthians 5 would think of your imbalanced message? He’d love it, I’m sure. Paul on the other hand would hate it and may want to inflict bodily harm on you. (just kidding…..but kinda not)

You say
Religion says “Your heart cannot be trusted.”
Grace says “You have the heart and mind of Christ
My thoughts
Bart, Matthew 15:19 says “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” I believe the blessings of the New Covenant are a new heart capable of obeying in a way that would make Old Covenant saints jealous. (Jer 31, Ezek 36 and Heb 8) And I believe Eph 3:17 that Christ dwells in our hearts through faith. However, I can’t and don’t want to trust my heart to guide me through life……for I can be deceived. I don’t know about your heart, Bart, but I know I can’t always trust mine. What I can trust, though, is God’s word. It’s true through and through. It and it alone reveals the thoughts and intentions of my heart. (Heb 4:12) I’ll have the “mind of Christ” only in so much as I am abiding in His heart-revealing word. (John 8:31-32)

You say
Religion says “Try harder.”
Grace says “Rest.”
My thoughts…..
The good news of the gospel is that we can rest in regards to salvation. When Jesus said “it is finished,” He meant it. The saving work is finished! Over! Done!

However, there’s plenty of fitting and appropriate work to be done in response to His finished work. (Read Eph 2:10 in light of 2:1-9) This is the essence of the entire book of James, that true faith works!! I’ve always enjoyed Hebrews 4:11 where the Hebrews preacher encourages his church to “strive to enter that rest.” The “rest” mentioned here is God’s Sabbath rest, which for us is Christ and His work!! The word “strive” though suggests work and effort are involved in resting in the right thing (Person). Our days are filled with magnetic attractions, activities, and stuff screaming for our attention. It’s work to fend off the world and to rest in Christ.

You say
Religion says “Please God.”
Grace says “Trust God.”
My thoughts
It’s possible to both trust God and want to please Him. These aren’t mutually exclusive. Ideally we are trusting Him while we desire to please Him by living in a manner worthy of the gospel. Philippians 1:27 says Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel

You say
Religion says “Give more.”
Grace says “Give up.”
My thoughts….
Faith says “give all”. Jesus said in Matthew 22:36 says “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

Bart, I really believe and trust you love the Lord. I believe you want to honor God and make much of His Son. Please let me challenge you to examine your message. There’s too much at stake to let it continue out of balance and off kilter. Best case scenario, if your message goes unchecked, someone who comes from a legitimate legalistic background (teaching salvation is by works) would likely find great encouragement in hearing our salvation is by grace through faith and not our own doing. (Eph 2:8-9) This is a REALLY good thing. However, the worst case scenario is terrible!!!! Scores of people listening to you will believe they’re covered in grace when continuing on in lives unaltered by the gospel.
I believe there’s another scenario that may be best. This one involves a singer/songwriter/speaker presenting a balanced message of grace and obedience…..of forgiveness and an offered life…..of rest from saving work and zeal in responding with good works…..of joy and freedom in Christ best enjoyed as an accountable part of a body of believers exercising pure and undefiled religion.

Please ask yourself these questions about your message. Could it comfort the hurting? I think so. Could it assure the lost? I’m afraid so. Does it make people feel better about themselves? I imagine it does. Does it make people feel better about God and what He’s done for us in Christ? This is a tough one. Could you do a better job of sharing a more robust gospel? I trust you can.


Ben McGraw
Teaching Pastor

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Can you hear the bells?

On its hem you shall make pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, around its hem, with bells of gold between them,  34 a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, around the hem of the robe.  35 And it shall be on Aaron when he ministers, and its sound shall be heard when he goes into the Holy Place before the LORD, and when he comes out, so that he does not die.  Exodus 28:33-35

CF family,

I think I'll always treasure this "sound" of the ministering High Priest making atonement for the sins of the people after this week's message.  I can imagine the fugitives in crowds around the silent.....and listening to the ministering Priest behind the veil and the ringing of the bell that told all he still lived.  It makes me hear the bell as Christ preaches on the He walks on the He cleanses the He washes the disciple's feet.....and then as He goes from trial to trial, beaten and mocked.........and then dragging a cross-beam to Golgotha.  I can hear the bell as He heaves on He thirsts.  And then the silence as He breathes His last.  What a pregnant horrible silence that must have been for the disciples, for Mary and Martha, for His family members....for Joseph of Arimathea.

Can you imagine "hearing" this silence while you stood with the fugitives outside the tabernacle on the Day of Atonement?  What would happen to your sin?  Would you be consumed by a Holy God?  Or condemned?  Would your fate be like the fates of Nadab and Abihu?  Can you imagine the looks on people's faces in the crowds if the High Priest's bell stopped ringing!??!

But then......after you've imagined this for a moment....imagine the joy that would come when you hear the bell ring again!!!!  Just when you thought all was lost and you were doomed.......imagine hearing it ring as He burst forth from a borrowed tomb on a dewy Sunday morning!?!?  Then know that since that first Easter morning every note and every plink of every piano key or guitar string or vocal chord or cymbal joins these tiny bells in song as we worship a risen and reigning and ruling King and High Priest!

That's hope fodder right there, people of God.  That'll give you some perspective as you go about this week whatever you face.  I hope and pray you're hearing the bells.

I love y'all and am so blessed to serve you,


The Spring of My Hope

From "The Valley of Vision", a collection of Puritan Prayers:

Glorious Jehovah, my Covenant God,
All Thy promises in Christ Jesus are yea and amen,
and all shall be fulfilled.
Thou hast spoken them, and they shall be done,
commanded, and they shall come to pass.

Yet I have often doubted Thee,
have lived at times as if there were no God.
Lord, forgive me that death in life,
when I have found something apart from Thee,
when I have been content with ephemeral things.

But through Thy grace I have repented;
Thou hast given me to read my pardon in the wounds of Jesus,
and my soul doth trust in Him, my God incarnate,
the ground of my life,
the spring of my hope.

Teach me to be resigned to Thy will,
to delight in Thy law,
to have no will but Thine,
to believe that everything Thou doest is for my good.

Help me to leave my concerns in Thy hands,
for Thou hast power over evil,
and bringest from it an infinite progression of good,
until Thy purposes are fulfilled.

Bless me with Abraham’s faith
that staggers not at promises through unbelief.
May I not instruct Thee in my troubles,
but glorify Thee in my trials.

Grant me a distinct advance in the divine life;
May I reach a higher platform,
leave the mists of doubt and fear in the valley,
and climb to hill-tops of eternal security in Christ
by simply believing He cannot lie,
or turn from His purpose.

Give me the confidence I ought to have in Him
who is worthy to be praised,
and who is blessed forevermore.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Movies and Music

CF Family,

Tonight we enjoyed our third study on the book of Psalms.....our last one is next week.  I wanted to encourage you with a thought.  Maybe you've notice before how much of a movie has music in the background.  Nearly every conversation, embrace, car chase, whatever has music behind it?!?!  And the funny thing is, if it wasn't there you'd notice it.  For a movie without music will likely be a real drag lacking emotion and drama......two things you're hoping for with the price of admission.  A great example of this is how lame a scary movie becomes when you turn down the sound.  What once left you wondering how you'd sleep that night quickly becomes as unemotional as a documentary.

So what does this have to do with the book of Psalms?  Well, the book of Psalms is like the sound track behind the Story of Israel.  The Psalms capture the emotion and the thoughts and the drama and the aroma and the fear and the joy of the events in the life of Israel (and especially the life of a king).  If you read the Psalms as supplementary to your reading of the rest of the bible, you'll be caught up in the drama of it.  Without it, the rest of the bible may feel slow and even dry.

My encouragement is the Psalms that go along with where you're reading.  Sometimes it's as simple as googling a question like "what Psalm goes along with the Babylonian exile"?  Then as you read Daniel, for example, you can read Psalm 137 and "hear" the music behind the scene in Babylon.

So my encouragement is this.....READ THE PSALMS along with the rest of your bible.  You won't survive on the Psalms alone any more than you would make sense of the movie listening only to the soundtrack.  But if you "turn up the music" as you read the rest of it, you're in for a real treat!


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Two small, one big

CF family,

First, the small thing.  A small encouragement to connect to something really great.  Tonight and next Wednesday will be our last two Wednesday night studies of the year.  We'll be looking at the book of Psalms.  As I'm looking over Scott's notes for tonight I'm burdened to encourage you to make an effort to attend these two studies.  The book of Psalms is an AMAZING book full of emotions and imagery that will not leave you the same if studied.

Second, and this will require some time and attention to important follow up from Sunday's message.  I was hoping to fit these thoughts into the message itself, but thought it better to follow up this way.  You may remember at one point in the message the comments regarding Christ’s cross prayer of Luke 23:34 “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  I didn’t in the message want to encourage you to doubt this passage……maybe what I hoped for and could have communicated better is that we would take care with this passage.  We should, as a practice, use caution in building an entire ethic out of any one passage…..period…….for while one passage is completely true, one passage cannot reveal the truth completely.  Regarding this passage, though, I’m using extra caution (not doubt) since it’s only recounted in one of the four gospels and some ancient, highly regarded manuscripts omit this passage altogether.  Again, I’m not wanting you to doubt your bibles, for we have some VERY robust and hearty translations.  What I do want to encourage is that you don’t build an entire ethic on this one verse.  You must know this passage is not the way God has worked with us in the gospel.  He has not forgiven the ignorant who “know not what we do.”  We are saved by grace through faith in His Son…….WHEN we have consciously confessed our sinful state and repented of our sins.  If ignorance were the express ticket to blanket forgiveness then we’d never send another missionary anywhere in hopes the folks in places without the gospel could stay ignorant and forgiven.  We would not and will not ever look toward the far corners of the earth and say “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  Rather we endeavor to go and say “repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins….” (Acts 2:38)

Here’s where my concern about this passage connects to application.  I have sensed that contemporary Christianity maybe thinks too much of this cross prayer and too little of the MANY vindication Psalms and the NT teachings on resolving conflict.  Like maybe we discount biblical appeals for justice (I’ve NEVER in my 40 years of being a Christian heard a sermon on vindication though our psalmists appeal for it over and over and over).  And maybe we over-count this particular appeal for forgiveness for the ignorant and unrepentant.   If it’s true we’ve given too much space to forgiving the ignorant and unrepentant, then it potentially becomes an expectation that true and good Christians don’t need justice or vindication or frankly even an apology when wronged.  We might look at this one isolated statement and decide that mistakenly.  So if we’re to be like Christ, we think, then we better just overlook everything.  If we’re truly to reflect Him then we’ll consistently “forgive those who know not what they do.”  Let me remind you, Christ didn’t and hasn’t overlooked everything.  He had some very pointed conversations/rebukes of the Pharisees.  He called countless to repentance.  And there’s no real pattern of Him ever forgiving the unrepentant.  He’s also the One who said “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault……if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you…..if he refuses to listen…..tell it to the Church….if he refuses to listen……let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”  (Matt 18:15-17 with omissions)

So, putting things back in their proper space (if indeed they were out of sorts)…..with vindication and appeals for justice not only acceptable but maybe even good……..and with a prayer for forgiveness for unrepentant and ignorant murderers as a pretty unique blip on the radar (that deserves much context and study)…….and with a good healthy view of both grace AND justice at the cross.  Thenmaybe we can bring both justice and grace to bear in a conflict between a husband and wife, between two friends, between siblings or workmates.

Here’s how it might play out……….if you see God as JUST and understand justice yourself, it should lead you, if you’ve hurt or wronged another, to give a wholehearted robust confession to the one you’ve hurt and a thoughtful request for forgiveness NOT EXPECTING anything in return, except maybe consequences.  Hear what I said there…’re NOT EXPECTING anything in return.  You’re not expecting a return-apology as is often the case (“Hey, I’m sorry”……”ok, well I’m sorry too”) and you’re not feeling like you’re owed forgiveness either (“Hey man, you’re supposed to forgive if you’re a Christian”).  If you consider the person you’ve wronged owes you nothing……then honestly you have a better view of justice.

Now……..this is a great place for grace to wash in…….as the wronged person in their time then responds to a request for forgiveness with “I forgive you……I forgive you as I’ve been forgiven.” What takes place here is a BEAUTIFUL picture of the gospel where justice and grace meet. Justice comes in a convicted and repentant wrongdoer and grace embraces the wrongdoer with showers of forgiveness seventy times seven because of Christ’s cross!!  And it’s not somehow subverted or abbreviated by an overinflated view of forgiving the unrepentant and ignorant.   What takes place here is beautiful because the person wronged doesn’t have to feel like they must be the most wicked sinner in the world because they want to be vindicated.

There’s certainly a place for overlooking sin……for all of us.  We could all do well to consider which sins are really not worth mentioning…..and are well worth just forgetting.  But some sin isn’t overlookable and it’s not wrong to want the crooked to be straightened.  This kind of sin is best dealt with where justice and grace meet… a cross-bathed moment where two people put the gospel on display.

This whole thing is as wildly inefficient as shepherding your child’s heart when they’ve wronged you or God.  It’s a lot easier to just avoid someone who’s hurt you.  I’m great at that……the cold shoulder is wonderful payback.  But that doesn’t put the gospel on display and it doesn’t bring the gospel to bear in the daily issues of life.  It takes time and heart and energy to go to someone who’s hurt or wronged you and share with them that hurt in hopes that they will ask for forgiveness and you can be reconciled.  It takes tremendous energy to go to another and confess a wrong against them and to ask for forgiveness.  It takes tremendous energy to work through matters of real forgiveness when you can really separate the wrong done to you as far as the east is from the west.  When this happens though, there’s showers of blessings for all involved.  It won’t always go well.  But it will always be better than the cold shoulder and a broken relationship.

I STRONGLY encourage you to read the book The Peacemaker.  If I could only have three books in my library, it would be the BibleLiving by the Book by Howard Hendricks and The Peacemaker by Ken Sande.   This book has some wonderful insight into when to overlook an offense and when to seek reconciliation.

I love y’all and am thankful for our journey together with a Just God. 

Ben McGraw

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Why we don't do altar calls...

CF family,
Sending out an old "ask the elder" post from a few years ago for your contemplation today.  Have a great day!

I realize a relatively young church in this community that says “we’re not doing it” may seem like we’re being rebellious and trendy.  Actually, what few who fight for the practice realize is that it’s not good ole fashioned evangelism but rather new-fangled man-centered gospel-diminishing malarky.  Here are a few thoughts to explain.

  1.  There are NO pictures of altar calls in our bibles....the practice has ZERO scriptural reference. 
  2.  There are NO pictures of altar calls in the Christian faith until the last 170 years.  Charles Finney didn’t start the practice, but he is largely responsible for perfecting it during the 2nd great awakening in the 1800’s.  Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, George Whitfield and Jonathon Edwards would have no idea what you were talking about were you to ask them about altar calls.  Nor would Peter or Paul or any of the other apostles. 
  3.  It has contributed to a new vocabulary of belief and faith that is also “making a decision for Christ” or “asking Jesus into your heart” or “giving your heart to Jesus.” 
  4.  It’s manipulative, especially toward the hurting or the young.  This is why we’re so cautious about camps for children.  We don’t want to send our children or youth to a camp where altar calls are practiced for fear that they may leave thinking they squared-up with God because they walked an aisle when in fact all they may have done is had an emotional experience.  
  5.  It leads to people mistaking a walk down an aisle for “walking in a manner worthily” or “walking in good works prepared in advance” or “abiding in Christ”.
  6.  It’s associated with a VERY high rate of apostasy......for people who simply had an emotional experience will not bear the fruit of one who has over time recognized their wretchedness before a Holy God and repented, placing faith/trust/hope in the finished work of Christ alone.  THIS understanding takes time to develop in the garden of the heart. 
  7.  It’s associated with a numerical emphasis that counts “decisions” in an effort to quantify “soul-winning” results.
  8.  The altar call IS NOT the mark of an evangelistic church as some might suggest.  In addition, the absence of this practice in a church IS NOT the mark of a church that is unburdened for the lost and uncaring about the souls of men.  Burden and engagement are born and lived out in relationships.  The evangelistic church seeks relationships and ultimately disciples....not simply “decisions.” 
  9.  The appeal to “come forward” supersedes or completely replaces an appeal to repent and believe. 
  10.  It redefines the mark of an evangelist as one who can best get ‘em down the aisle rather than one who is gifted by the Holy Spirit to expose the truth of the gospel in a life-altering way. 
  11.  Most of those professing to be Christians in our community, when asked how they know they’re Christians, will point back to a time when they walked an aisle and made a “decision.”  Biblically, assurance does not come from a “decision” or a trip down an aisle.  Looking back to recent sermons, consider John 8:31 where Jesus tells those who have “believed” if they’re true, then they’ll “abide in my word.”  Or even more recent, Romans 8:13 “if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”  These are just a couple of recent samples from the gobs of scripture that point to an engaging dailyness of faith and mortification of sin that are characteristic of true believers......THAT’S where assurance comes from. 
  12.  It confuses people regarding sacred space......the front of a worship center where the altar call leads is no more holy than your living room where you read your bible with your family or your bedroom where you snooze.  Our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit now........not some special area in our church buildings.
  13.  It inappropriately takes the place of baptism as the public profession of faith. BAPTISM is the biblical public expression of our faith and is how we are identified with the people of God.
  14.  It limits evangelistic calls to the 11:50-12:05 holy minutes on Sunday the lips of the beckoning preacher.....with the backdrop of verse after verse of Just as I Am........rather than the beckoning, witnessing work of the people of God EVERY day in EVERY place as a sweet aroma enjoying Christ out loud. 
  15.  It’s filled the membership roles of churches with unregenerate who think they’re reconciled with the Living God because they walked an aisle. 

I must confess, I’m pretty disgusted with the practice.......even as one....maybe especially as one who once called for “decisions” myself.  I repent from that man-centered effort to harvest new believers and I trust that God will be glorified and His sheep will be found in the daily and weekly outloud enjoyment of Christ by the People of God.

Ben McGraw