Category: Christian living

Where is the Great Shepherd in the Storm?

Houston flooding

The question  hasn’t been asked of me yet, but I know it’s coming: “If God is so loving, why is He allowing what is happening in Houston to take place?”

Houston is not alone in suffering natural disasters, of course, but it is currently ongoing and it is on a massive scale. It looks like something out of a disaster movie, much like Katrina in 2005 or any of the other large-scale disasters that have stricken the planet since the advent of widespread, instant communication. Thousands upon thousands of people are without power, without food and water, without shelter, and many are, worst of all, without hope.

This past Sunday I preached on Psalm 23 and John 10, about how Jesus is the Shepherd who provides, protects, and promises a future for His flock. But where is the Great Shepherd when disaster strikes?

Let’s reduce the scale a bit. I have a friend, who is a believer, whose daughter will be undergoing brain surgery tomorrow to relieve a problem caused by errant blood vessels in her brain. No parent wants to see their child go through health issues, regardless of that child’s age. If God is loving and merciful, why would a person have to go through something like this?

And in between these two situations separated by scale are millions of other crises that arise on a daily basis. Innocents suffering, good people hurting, disaster on stages great and small.

Where is the Shepherd in the storm?

He is right where He said He would be: with His sheep.

Psalm 23:4 says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” No matter how dark the day may be, no matter how great the shadow is that falls across our lives and threatens to overcome us, the Shepherd is with His sheep. His rod of protection and staff of guidance will do their work, and the knowledge of this provides comfort.

What about those that are not His sheep? What about those who don’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ, and have never placed their faith in Him? Are they the ones who are without hope that I mentioned above?

They don’t have to be. In John 10:16, Jesus said, “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” God’s love is so great that He makes room for those who want to come into His care. Jesus didn’t die on a cross for good people, or religious people–He died for all people, everyone of which is a sinner in need of a Savior.

So where is the Great Shepherd? Why isn’t He doing something? He is–we just aren’t always looking with the right perspective. When we look rightly, what we see is the immovable presence of the Shepherd through every storm, every attack, every problem, no matter what the scale may be. Videos are popping up on social media of convoys of pickups pulling boats on their way to Texas to help rescue people who are trapped by floodwaters. People from all walks of life are sending money, food, water, and other needed items to people they have never met. The Shepherd is at work, providing and protecting, and He is using us to do it. Make no mistake, I believe that God can do whatever supernatural miracle He chooses. I also believe that sometimes we are the rod and staff in the hands of the Shepherd who is always with us, and that God allows such tragedy for us to be used to provide for and protect others, so that they might see there is a future promised for them through our faithfulness.

Be certain of this: no matter the storm, no matter the adversity, the Shepherd is in our midst. He is at work. He will take the terrible and make something beautiful, because that is what Jesus does.

How Far Downrange Are You Willing to Look?

rooftop counter sniper

I just read an article by USA Today writer Matthew Diebel about a Canadian sniper who killed an ISIS militant more than 2 miles away. 2 miles. 3,450 meters. It took 10 seconds from the time the shot was fired until it struck its intended target, an ISIS militant attacking Iraqi security forces (you can read the full article here). 10 seconds. Anyone who has done any shooting knows what an impossible task hitting a target with a rifle at that range would be. And yet, someone did it. The article quotes the source who revealed the shot, saying, “Instead of dropping a bomb that could potentially kill civilians in the area, it is a very precise application of force and because it was so far way, the bad guys didn’t have a clue what was happening.” The shot was confirmed by several sources.

I love firearms and I always have. I’ve been to the range a good bit over the years, but I can tell you this–I am intimidated when I have to shoot a target 100 yards out. 34 times that far is almost unfathomable to me. And yet, this person accomplished it. How?

They were willing to aim farther.

Now, don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not suggesting that the only reason he hit a potentially moving target from a distance of 2 miles was because he was the only person willing to try, and that somehow his own willingness guaranteed success. Far from it. This is clearly a person who had trained for a long time, and prepared for such a moment. While the specific rifle isn’t mentioned, is was likely a Barrett .50 cal. Whatever it was, it had to be something with the ability to reach out and strike a target that far away. He also likely had a spotter, someone who could help by providing wind readings, ambient temperature, humidity, distance measurements–all of which would increasingly affect the bullet as it travelled that distance. A lot went into being able to accomplish that task.

Every one of us is different, created to be unique. We have our own skills, interests, and passions. God designed us that way. He gives us opportunities to learn, to be stretched, to be equipped for the things He has in mind for us to accomplish. While we have to be careful not to let our ambition exceed our capabilities, the fact remains that many times we are afraid to aim that far downrange. We stay within range of what is comfortable, what is certain, what is a “sure thing.” By doing so, we don’t aim for the far reaches that God has prepared us for.

The famous missionary William Carey said, “Attempt Great things for God, expect great things of God.” We have our part to do, certainly, but we must never forget that it is God who has called us, equipped us, and empowered us to do things beyond what we could ever accomplish on our own. And He usually provides people to help us along the way. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to do it on your own. If He hasn’t already, God will bring people into your life to help you if you’ll ask Him.

I don’t know about you, but I want to see God-sized things. I want to see God do things beyond what you and I could ever accomplish on our own. But we’ll never hit that target if we don’t raise our sights and aim for it.



Sometimes, You Just Get Stuck


A couple of weeks ago I kicked off my current sermon series with a simple premise–if you stop in the wrong place, you’ll get stuck…just keep going. Psalm 1 was the text, where we see the progression of the person who winds up in a bad spot: walking in the wrong place, then standing in the wrong place, then sitting in the wrong place. Growing up in Ormond Beach, Florida (and having been back on the beaches here since last June) I have seen plenty of vehicles go across soft sand beyond their vehicle’s ability to traverse it, only to watch them slow down, stop, and then proceed to get themselves seated up to the axles in sand.

What you see pictured above is a Ford Raptor, a pickup designed to be a high-speed off-road-dominating monster. And it is. The Raptor is, by all accounts but those who simply despise Ford, an amazing off-road truck. And yet notice it’s condition in this photo: buried to the bumpers in sand. It’s clearly designed for off-road, and the aftermarket wheels and tires imply that it has been modified to perform even better in adverse conditions. So why is it stuck?

Because sometimes you just get stuck.

It doesn’t matter how prepared you are, how well-equipped you may be, or how much training you have. There are going to be times when you and I are going to find ourselves bumper-deep in something we don’t want to be in, somewhere we don’t want to be. We did all the right things, tried to be careful, and yet we’re still stuck. What did we do wrong?

There are many examples of people in the Bible who were doing the right things (or at least weren’t actively doing anything wrong) who found themselves in catastrophic, bumper-deep sand. In the Old Testament book that bears his name, we see that Job was a godly man who had a great relationship with God and was known for his righteousness, and yet he lost everything he had: his family (other than his wife), his possessions, even his health. He had done nothing wrong, and yet there he was, up to his bumpers in a mess. Others like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who in the first few chapters of the Old Testament book of Daniel are shown as young men faithful to God, refused to bow before a pagan king and his idols, and yet were tossed unceremoniously into a fiery furnace. Why?

Because God uses bad and difficult things as well as good things to bless. In the end, Lot was blessed with more than he had before his losses. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego were delivered from the furnace and made to be high-ranking officials in the very kingdom that had enslaved them.

If you’re going to go off-road, sooner or later, you’re going to get stuck. I don’t know what happened to the Raptor in the above picture, but I’m pretty sure it lived to off-road another day, likely with some help from someone else. The owner learned something, and definitely had a good story to tell. Isn’t that the point of doing adventurous things like off-roading? Likewise, if you and I walk with God, sooner or later, we’re going to get stuck as well. The good news is that Jesus will give us what we need to get free, you and I will learn something from it if we will pay attention, and we’ll probably have a good story to tell. Isn’t that the point?

Post-Father’s Day Follow-Up: Dads, You’re Doing Fine

10 miles to rest areaThis past Sunday I started off the sermon with something I had seen posted on Twitter last week. I didn’t write it down or save it, which is a violation of one of my core tenets to help my insufficient memory. I was thinking it was Ed Stetzer (@edstetzer on Twitter)–pastor, theologian, and church-statistics guru–but I can’t find it, so I will apologize and correct when and if the source is confirmed. The gist of it was how we heap accolades upon moms at church on Mother’s Day but proceed to beat dads to death with how they are the single source of the fall of civilization as we know it when they come to church with their families on Father’s Day, and a caution for pastors not to fall into that trap.

I realized he was completely right, and that I was indeed  guilty of that in the past. So I shared this with the people in both services and proceeded to tell the dads that they could relax a little. There would be no beatdown this Father’s Day–we get that enough. No, this was an opportunity to tell you how to catch a break, one that would be a real help.

Many in my generation are familiar with the “Vacation” movies featuring Chevy Chase as bumbling but well-meaning husband and father Clark Griswold. Everything Clark touches turns into a mess, mostly because of his own shortcomings, but it isn’t for a lack of trying or good intentions. Most men want to be good husbands, good fathers, good friends, good employees, good citizens, etc. Most men try really hard to fulfill the responsibilities our role as men places on us. And yet we still find ourselves walking away from the wreckage of the “Family Truckster,” and standing next to a burnt-up Christmas tree in the shambles of our home that has been wrecked by the SWAT team. We feel like we aren’t the men we need to be, like we are somehow letting our families down. Then, to top it all off, the very people who should be encouraging us instead join in the chorus of discouragement.

Let me say to you, as I did at Oasis Church this past Sunday: dads, you’re okay. Most of you aren’t beating your families, cheating on your wife, robbing banks, selling drugs, running guns for the Russian Mob, and so on. You’re leading the family on this trip called “life,” and you’re doing the best you can. The trip isn’t perfect, but neither is anyone else’s. There is strength for the journey, I promise you. And that strength is found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. There is also rest for that journey, and it is also found in Christ. All you have to do is ask Him, and He will give you what you need. People frequently equate trusting in God as a crutch, but let me assure you–having needed crutches once myself, I can attest to the fact that there is no shame in using a crutch when you can’t move otherwise.

Guys frequently tell me that they feel guilty that the only time they talk to God or go to church is when things are going badly. Let me ask you this–do you stop at a gas station when the tank is full? Do you stop at a rest area on the interstate when you don’t “need to go?” We stop when we need to stop. GPS estimated arrival times are challenges to be conquered, like the high score on a video game. We tend to drive as far as we can before we stop for any kind of break, and when we finally do pull over it is going to be somewhere that has everything we need in one place. Stop beating yourself up, and start talking to the One who is everything you need for the journey. There’s a place you can stop, catch your breath, refuel, and get back on the road. Jesus is the only rest area that you and I need, because everything we need is in Him.

The Importance of Catching One’s Breath

“So, how’s it going?”

“Covered up, man.”

“I know what you mean.”

Have conversations like this? I do. All the time. In spite of technology’s promise to make life simpler, it seems we’re more “covered up” than ever. Instead of  leaving work or school, it now follows us more easily than ever. There is a lot to be said for being able to work from a mobile platform (as I am doing as I write this), but it also means that work is never more than a click or swipe away.

I am as bad at this as anyone (which I am proving by writing this while on “spring break” with my family). But I also realize just how badly needed it is. It really is nice to have no schedule to follow, but just to be able to spend time with my wife and kiddos.

I can’t tell you how many times I felt guilty taking any vacation days when I was younger. As a pastor, there is always someone who needs you, a problem that needs to be solved, a question that needs answered. Much like any other job. But for someone who feels like they have to help everyone and fix every problem, it can be exhausting. God always empowers us to do what He calls us to, without a doubt. But He also is clear that there is a need for rest. A need for margins.

What happens when there are no margins? There is no room for error. Like flying with the Blue Angels, only never coming in for a landing. Without a break, your skill level eventually becomes irrelevant. Inevitably, you run into something, more often than not damaging someone else in the process

I don’t have the all the answers, but I have one that is especially clear today–give yourself a break. You will gain a lot by giving yourself some short-term margin. It may just help you get a perspective on how to gain some long-term margin as well.


You Can’t Love What You Don’t Know

Thanks to social media, it has been increasingly easy to gain insight into the minds of those who follow Christ. Our reflexes have become increasingly sharp in posting memes that require others to “share and like” if one really loves Jesus. Or, perhaps, we post pictures of church signs that contain some well-intentioned message. Then the truly stalwart Christians post news stories showing the evil of the world and decry the wickedness of humanity.

Take just a moment and look at this from a different perspective. Look at these things as a lost person would.

Many of the memes posted about Christianity are either based on hoaxes (if I see one more post about Proctor & Gamble and Satanism I will scream), or have enough grammatical errors and misspellings to make an English teacher openly weep. And as for the church signs? The grammar and spelling applies here as well, but perhaps worse is the fact that most have horribly painful puns that no one outside of the church actually thinks are funny.

Many of the things believers do to make their point to the lost world around them is a lot like showing family photos to a stranger. They have no point of reference for what they are seeing because they have no personal investment. They don’t know the people, they don’t know where it took place, and because they have no reason for context they really aren’t all that interested. That’s when the outrage begins on our part. “Why don’t they enjoy looking at these pictures and hearing these stories? What kind of cold-hearted, insensitive people are they?”

The funny thing is that is precisely what the world is asking about Christians.

The world around us doesn’t know us. Sure, they know some things, but they generally aren’t the best representations of us. They know caricatures, extremes on both sides of Christianity, that certainly do not represent the true nature of following Christ. “That’s because they haven’t taken the time to get to know us!” we say indignantly. “They don’t know me as a person, but they’re making assumptions about me!”

You see where this is going, don’t you?

Jesus was rebuked because He spent time with tax collectors, harlots, and anyone else He could find. The religious leaders of the day spat that He was a “friend of sinners” (Matt. 11:19). Jesus spent time with people so that they might come to know Him and therefore have a context for what He had to say. Jesus knew exactly who He was ministering to—He was God in the flesh, after all—but He nonetheless went out of His way to interact at a close, personal level.

In our zeal to push back against an immoral culture, we have pushed away the very people Jesus has called us to reach. We are so shocked and saddened by the lack of a moral compass in people’s lives that we have thrown them to the wilds instead of helping them find their way. We are in the world and not of it, make no mistake, but we are still in it. Jesus said that as we were going about life we were to be making disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19). As we go about the life God gives us, we will meet people who are lost without Christ. We need to stop being so surprised people without a compass get lost and then we mock their lostness. Instead, we need to graciously provide them with the knowledge of how to get on the right path, remembering that people generally accept directions better from someone they believe actually knows the way.

Is Compassion a Victim of Technology?

The Internet is awesome.

I mean, really. Think about what we have available at out fingertips thanks to this network of computer swapping information in ways unfathomable to non-techies like me. We can find out how to replace the power window in a car, even watch a video of someone doing it. We can learn new recipes to combine food that seems awful but turns out amazing. We can download music we had as a kid and thought lost forever due to being out of print. We can get precise driving directions on our phone to a location halfway across the country because we’re to afraid to get on a plane and fly there. All of this is, unquestionably, awesome.

There is, of course, a dark side to the Internet as well. I’m not just talking the seedy underbelly where criminal endeavors spring forth or morality is easily compromised.

I’m talking about the death of common courtesy and compassion.

I was always taught to be nice, even to those who weren’t particularly nice to me. I was taught that if you can’t say something nice, it’s probably best just to say nothing at all. That’s not to say that one should never stand up for one’s beliefs or contest an idea that is contrary to one’s own. Such discourse, when done in a civil fashion, many times opens doors to surprising learning and wonderful friendships. I have many friends with views in opposition to my own. This does not make them an enemy, but a friend who sees things from a different perspective. Might I consider them wrong? Well, yeah. Everyone knows that DC Comics’ books and TV shows are better than Marvel’s (the opposite is true of their movies), that Mopars rule the automotive world, the the mid-90’s were the true golden age of Batman comics, and that the Alabama Crimson Tide is the greatest college football team in the history of everything (please hold the hate mail and nasty comments—you’ll just be proving my point).

So, then, how do we deal with a situation when a friend—particularly a fellow believer in Christ Jesus—publically and arrogantly makes a grievous error? Do we take Facebook and bash them in that cryptic way so many excel at? You know what I mean: “Feeling bad today. You know who you are. Pray for this person.” Does that really accomplish anything?

Jesus actually had pretty clear instructions in this situation:  “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 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” (Matt. 18:15-17).

The Internet and social media have made it awfully easy for us to skip steps one and two and jump right to the public aspect. It is extremely easy to say things from behind the relative safety if not general anonymity that a computer keyboard provides. We are insulated from any real personal interaction when we lob grenades via a keyboard. It certainly seems that we are more likely to say things via the Internet that we would never actually say to someone’s face or in the presence of their family and friends. When we write the things we do, do we ever stop to think how that person’s spouse will feel when they read it? What about their children? “Well, then they shouldn’t do such and such to bring such scorn,” or, “They shouldn’t let their kids read things on the internet,” or, “They need thick skin if they’re going to be this and such,” or whatever our response is to justify our harshness. The fact is that two wrongs don’t make a right. Correction is intended to be redemptive, but many times it’s simply done out of anger.

If an honest attempt is made to initiate conversation as Jesus taught and the person ignores or refuses such, then there is certainly little alternative. Blatantly obvious sin cannot simply be ignored due to bias or convenience. Realize that Jesus is talking about public sin here; not merely a difference of opinion, but a public spectacle that compromises the Christian testimony of the one doing it. I have some very good Christian friends who would strongly disagree with me on all of the points I listed above, but they likely wouldn’t viciously attack me on the Interwebs over it (again, please don’t prove my point). We need to decide if the stand we are about to take is a hill upon which we are willing to die. Some things are indeed worth it, make no mistake. Some are not. Knowing the difference is what separates history’s successes from its failures.

Proverbs 15:1 says that “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” It would do all of us well to keep that verse a little closer to heart. I’ll do my best to remember that the next time someone tells me that Greg Capullo is a better Batman artist than Graham Nolan or that a Shelby GT500 is better than a Hellcat Challenger. Because that’s just stupid talk 😉  .

First Things First

Hitting the snooze while the “ooga chaka” opening of Blue Swede’s ‘Hooked on a Feeling” shouts at me from my phone. That’s the first thing I do in the morning. I didn’t choose that song as my alarm because it’s a particular favorite (I actually prefer B. J. Thomas’ version), but rather because it has the most grating opening of any song in my phone’s music library. I don’t need something that soothes we to wake me up from the deep slumber that claims me each night. I need something jarring. Something abrasive. Something uncomfortable. Otherwise, I’ll just happily let the music play and continue on with my dreaming.

We all have our “first things” we do each day. They are part of our morning routine that generally includes various manifestations of hygiene care  and caffeine intake. Whatever forms they may take, we cannot get to the rest of our day without them.

I’ve been preaching through a series this month called “First Things”. Each message has dealt with areas within the life of a follower of Christ that must be prioritized in order to effectively and obediently walk in the way He has called us to. Everyone wants to be a mature believer right out of the conversion gate, but the fact of the matter is that there is no shortcut to growth in the life of the  Christ follower. None of us (hopefully) would think of leaving the house without brushing our teeth, fixing our appearance somewhat, and putting on appropriate clothing before going to engage people in meaningful conversation (I’m certain that people who wear pajamas in public have a perfectly valid reason for doing so). Likewise, if we are not properly grounded and prepared in our own walk with Christ, how can we consider ourselves ready to help disciple others?

Is this jarring and uncomfortable? Sometimes more than others, yes. There are times we forget to brush our teeth. (Yes, you’ve done it, too. That’s why you keep chewing gum in your car.) Or forgot to put on anti-perspirant. Or mismatch your shoes because you put them on in the dark. These uncomfortable moments serve as landmarks that help to remind us of what we need to focus on first so that the things that follow go smoothly.

Paul wrote to the younger Timothy that he was to “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB). The idea here is that there is to be earnest, diligent study of the Scriptures to ensure a right walk for both the one studying and the one who is discipled. There are no Cliff’s Notes to Christian maturity (Do they even still make those? I think I just dated myself). No one can do it for us. We must take the time required to know the Truth. Do we mess up? Of course, but these mistakes must serve as reminders of the first things, the priorities that ensure everything that follows is in its proper place.

Who is Christ? What has He instructed me to do? What is the cost of obedience? What am I willing to give up for Him? These are the “First Things” I’m preaching on this month. You can check them out online at If you’re in the area, we’d love for you to come check us out in person.


A Response to the Response(s) to Perry Noble and NewSpring Church

This article is actually a response to a letter written by Dr. Thomas Kelly, president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, that was published last week in The Courier, the state Baptist newspaper. I have sent a copy of it to Dr. Kelly, and spoke with him on the phone. He was extremely warm and gracious in response to my article, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to speak with him directly. I have also sent a copy to the Courier. I was kindly asked to post it in the comments section of the original article. I have also sent a copy to Pastor Noble and his staff. I was on “Christian Worldview Today” with Dr. Tony Beam this morning discussing it, so I thought I’d post my article here, in its entirety, for anyone who is interested.

I have read the recent statement from our current SCBC president, Dr. Thomas Kelly, and I wish to address several statements he made in regards to calling all Southern Baptist pastors in the state to action. As I am one, I feel obligated to reply.

I wish to make very clear that I am not an apologist for Perry Noble and NewSpring Church. I do not necessarily agree with everything that Pastor Noble has said or done in and from the platform. Our church is also approximately 1 mile from a proposed NewSpring site, which has the potential to impact our area—and our church—in a significant way. I do not know him personally, nor have I ever met or spoken with him. I say all of this because my issue in writing this is not what Pastor  Noble has said or done, but how Southern Baptists—particularly Southern Baptist leadership—has responded.

By now everyone with any interest in the matter knows about Pastor Noble’s error in regards to the broad strokes of the misapplication of Hebrew regarding the Ten Commandments in his recent sermon. They should also be aware of the fact that he has since publicly acknowledged said error, as well as for his own frustrated outburst on social media. In this apology, he clearly said that his statement was not correct and that he “should have put way more time into doing research before making that statement.” I am sure that all of us have stepped in the pulpit and preached something that we later realize required more in-depth study to better understand so that we might more accurately teach the people under our care. Pastor Noble has stated very clearly that he holds a very high view of Scripture, but it also seems that from time to time his eagerness to communicate the Good News of what Christ offers to all people—forgiveness through His substitutionary death—overcomes his knowledge. In over twenty years as a senior pastor, I have certainly been guilty of this as well, and I believe most honest pastors would say the same. I am in no way condoning this, but the fact of the matter is that the man has publicly acknowledged his mistake, asked for forgiveness, and committed to working hard to avoid such mistakes in the future.

The question must then be asked: what else would we have him do? Dr. Kelly asked in his column that all Southern Baptists “publicly state and remove ourselves from these positions and problematic statements and call for NewSpring to correct these positions if it chooses to say that it affiliates with South Carolina Baptist churches.” It certainly seems that was covered in Pastor Noble’s public apology. What else must be done?

According to Dr. Kelly, all SCBC pastors should avoid  “coarse, profane language [on the platform] as well as choosing music that is sacred in content.” Anyone could see the clear value and biblical basis for avoiding coarse language during a hermeneutical discourse, but there seems to be something else that is at work as well in the comment regarding music. In other words, only songs that are explicitly directed to or about God should ever be played in church. On the surface, I certainly agree with the intent here. The only songs people should be using for worship should be directed at a Holy God that has provided redemption for those who will receive His Son.

Can music not serve an illustrative purpose as well, however? Virtually all preachers use stories to illustrate a point of teaching; can songs not be used for the same effect? I believe that a song can register more powerfully to illustrate a point than any quaint story or pitiful, stale joke that causes everyone to roll their eyes at and promptly forget.

Dr. Kelly’s statement that “most ministers live an isolated existence regardless of church size or location” and should therefore “find and actively engage in accountability groups to hold them to a higher standard morally, ethically, and biblically” is absolutely correct. It should be noted that in order to have accountability it must be confidently known that those involved have a true love for and commitment to the success of the others involved. In the nearly 12 since years since I returned to the Upstate of South Carolina, I have consistently heard Pastor Noble’s “brothers” in the ministry excoriate him and NewSpring  for one thing after another. Is it truly surprising if Pastor Noble doesn’t have volumes of trust in a group of people that has certainly shown little love, mercy, or kindness towards him? This is not a man who has denied the Trinity, or suggested that the apostle Paul should be rebuked for his stand against sin in his writings. Pastor Noble has certainly raised some eyebrows over the years, but the fact is that he preaches Christ as the Son of God, crucified for the sins of the world, and that all who call upon the Lord will be saved. Hundreds upon hundreds of people have made professions of faith in Christ as a result of his ministry. Some are quick to point out, “Well, I’m certain not all of those people are really saved,” or “How many of those baptisms are repeat baptisms?” The same statements could be levelled against any large church or even Dr. Billy Graham’s many crusades. It is safe to say that not everyone who walks an aisle or is baptized is truly saved, but is that the fault of the preacher or ministry? To suggest otherwise would demand that salvation is supplied by the minister, and that is certainly biblical heresy.

On Dr. Kelly’s third point, that all SCBC pastors renew “themselves to more sound exegetical study and expository preaching and teaching of God’s word,” I could not agree more. The first task of the pastor for his people is to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). In the midst of this great and worthy cause, however, we should not forget Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 18:21-35 that we are to forgive our brothers “seventy times seven” as He clearly states the danger inherent in a lack of forgiveness. Each one of us would like to be forgiven when we fail and then turn from it. What a novel idea if we showed the same kindness to others. Jesus also said that the unconditional love His followers have for one another would demonstrate to the world those that are His (John 13:35). To do otherwise is certainly to fail in the exegesis of Jesus’ own words.

When we are incapable of showing any more love, mercy and forgiveness than this towards our own people—our own pastors—then we should not be surprised that the world finds us increasingly irrelevant. Jesus did not call us to be such, but that as we are going about our everyday lives we should be making disciples (Matt. 28:19). A staggering lack of love, mercy and forgiveness on the part of pastors is blowing up the very bridges into our communities that we should be seeking to build.

As a pastor, I believe it behooves all Christians to show the kind of mercy we believe Christ has shown us. Should we refute false teaching? Absolutely, and when that person apologizes  and promises to change, we accept it. Seventy times seven. To do less is unworthy of our cause and our Christ.

Do Our Efforts Make Us Holy?

Paul frequently describes the Christian life in very physical terms, far beyond merely “walking in the Spirit”. Paul describes the Christian life as running a race in 1 Corinthians 9:24-26, where he also uses the imagery of boxing. The author of Hebrews says “let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1b).   In Ephesians Paul plainly states that there is a struggle that requires us to use strength given by God, that there is genuine warfare against the devil and his demonic forces (Eph. 6:10-13). Time and again the Scriptures paint a picture of effort, not earning. Willem Van Gemeren  writes: “Paul defines true wisdom (or godliness) as the pursuit of the triune God. He speaks of wisdom as a walking with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He calls upon Christians to walk worthy of God (1 Thess. 2:12; 4:1-8), to be filled with the fullness of God (Eph. 3:19), to put on the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 13:11-14), to live in Jesus Christ (Col. 2:6-7), and to walk in the Spirit (Rom. 8:4-11). Paul contrasts the life in the Spirit with the carnality of the world (1 Cor. 3:1-4; 10:1-10; Gal. 5:16-21). The newness of life is theocentric and produces nothing less than a godly way of life, as evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit (Rom. 6:22; Eph. 5:1-2; Gal. 5:22-23; Col. 1:9-10)” The “newness” of life produces evidence that demonstrates the proper functioning of the power dwelling within.

What separates mere effort from the process of sanctification is the power behind it. The Bible states that the best works man can offer are like filthy tatters of cloth before God (Isa. 64:6), so clearly the best efforts of man will not elevate him in the process of Christ-likeness. John M. Frame points out that many secular writers, including the likes of Aristotle, have highlighted the great importance of inner righteousness. While they struggle with the need for such inner character, “they have not succeeded in showing what constitutes virtue or how such virtue may be attained. This insight is based on God’s lordship attribute of presence, ‘for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure’ (Phil. 2:13). Without inward regeneration and sanctification, our best works are hypocritical.”

Frame summarizes the struggle with works and grace in the context of sanctification this way: “In justification, our works play no role. God accepts us as righteous solely on the basis of Christ’s atonement. In sanctification, God’s grace is equally pervasive, but there is a role for our efforts. All our goodness comes from God, but it is still important for us to take up arms against Satan and do what is right…So Protestants have maintained that justification is ‘by faith alone.’ Sanctification is also by faith, but not by faith alone…It is not by faith alone, for human effort is necessary to achieve it. Of course, it is God’s grace that gives us the ability to put in that effort. But human effort is necessary for sanctification in a way that is not necessary for justification. Even though sanctification is not by faith alone, it is certainly by faith. In our quest for holiness, we must above all trust God.”

The Biblical teaching of sanctification indicates a process by which God works through man to provide the power need for man to grow in his walk, his faith, and therefore his relationship with Christ as a disciple. While there are those who question the nature of this process, the life of a Christ-follower is meant to be a life of growth. This process of growth is a lifelong adventure that God uses to build the believer into His image until the day when faith is made sight.