Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Thankful for Trinity

We have been back from our Lovin’ Louisville Mission Trip for a couple of weeks now but I haven’t had time to mention this trip before now.  I wanted to express what a joy it was to watch our students serve Carlisle Avenue Baptist Church and the area of  downtown Louisville! We are so blessed to be a Church that is growing in our passion for missions and this passion runs from our children to our adults. Our mission trip to England has a waiting list, our group going to Arizona is coming together in a great way, and our outreach right here in DeSoto County is continuing to grow. It is an amazing thing that takes place when the people of God begin to focus on the Word of God and see the fields that are white with harvest! I want to encourage each member of Trinity to make a commitment to get involved in some type of mission trip whether it is local, national or international. We are called to make disciples. This begins right here at Trinity but it should continue as we go throughout the World. When I arrived at Trinity I had a desire to see our hunger for missions grow and, as we reset our missions strategy over 3 years ago, I never dreamed we would be where we are in this Kingdom work. I thank the Lord for Bro. Jeff and the missions team that do such an amazing job keeping a worldwide scope, and their need for the gospel in front of us in so many ways.

Most of the time, I want to use this blog to continue a thought concerning a sermon, or book, or to point you towards good resources or even other blogs. But I just wanted to use this short blog today to say I am so grateful for the work the Lord is doing through our membership at Trinity. We are incredibly blessed to see the vision of our overall church change from “what I want” to what the world needs! The gospel is permeating us in our parenting, in our worship and in our calling!  All for God’s glory. Let’s not grow weary in well doing, for we are in the Kingdom work and in that, let’s never lose focus. It is a great time to be part of the Trinity Family! 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Why Youth Stay in The Church

This is the second blog from Tim Challies regarding children, youth and those 20-something’s out there. I believe for those families in churches like Trinity, this will serve as a great encouragement.

Aug 2, 2011

Why Youth Stay in The Church
“What do we do about our kids?” The group of parents sat together in my office, wiping their eyes. I’m a high school pastor, but for once, they weren’t talking about 16-year-olds drinking and partying. Each had a story to tell about a “good Christian” child, raised in their home and in our church, who had walked away from the faith during the college years. These children had come through our church’s youth program, gone on short-term mission trips, and served in several different ministries during their teenage years. Now they didn’t want anything to do with it anymore. And, somehow, these mothers’ ideas for our church to send college students “care packages” during their freshman year to help them feel connected to the church didn’t strike me as a solution with quite enough depth.

The daunting statistics about chucchgoing youth keep rolling in. Panic ensues. What are we doing wrong in our churches? In our youth ministries?
It’s hard to sort through the various reports and find the real story. And there is no one easy solution for bringing all of those “lost” kids back into the church, other than continuing to pray for them and speaking the gospel into their lives. However, we can all look at the 20-somethings in our churches who are engaged and involved in ministry. What is it that sets apart the kids who stay in the church? Here are just a few observations I have made about such kids, with a few applications for those of us serving in youth ministry.
1. They are converted.
The apostle Paul, interestingly enough, doesn’t use phrases like “nominal Christian” or “pretty good kid.” The Bible doesn’t seem to mess around with platitudes like: “Yeah, it’s a shame he did that, but he’s got a good heart.” When we listen to the witness of Scripture, particularly on the topic of conversion, we find that there is very little wiggle room. Listen to these words: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). We youth pastors need to get back to understanding salvation as what it really is: a miracle that comes from the glorious power of God through the working of the Holy Spirit.
We need to stop talking about “good kids.” We need to stop being pleased with attendance at youth group and fun retreats. We need to start getting on our knees and praying that the Holy Spirit will do miraculous saving work in the hearts of our students as the Word of God speaks to them. In short, we need to get back to a focus on conversion. How many of us are preaching to “unconverted evangelicals”? Youth pastors, we need to preach, teach, and talk—all the while praying fervently for the miraculous work of regeneration to occur in the hearts and souls of our students by the power of the Holy Spirit! When that happens—when the “old goes” and the “new comes”—it will not be iffy. We will not be dealing with a group of “nominal Christians.” We will be ready to teach, disciple, and equip a generation of future church leaders—“new creations”!—who are hungry to know and speak God’s Word. It is converted students who go on to love Jesus and serve the church.
2. They have been equipped, not entertained.
Recently we had “man day” with some of the guys in our youth group. We began with an hour of basketball at the local park, moved to an intense game of 16” (“Chicago Style”) softball, and finished the afternoon by gorging ourselves on meaty pizzas and 2-liters of soda. I am not against fun (or gross, depending on your opinion of the afternoon I just described) things in youth ministry. But youth pastors especially need to keep repeating the words of Ephesians 4:11-12 to themselves: “[Christ] gave . . . the teachers to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Christ gives us—teachers—to the church, not for entertainment, encouragement, examples, or even friendship primarily. He gives us to the church to “equip” the saints to do gospel ministry, in order that the church of Christ may be built up.
If I have not equipped the students in my ministry to share the gospel, disciple a younger believer, and lead a Bible study, then I have not fulfilled my calling to them, no matter how good my sermons have been. We pray for conversion; that is all we can do, for it is entirely a gracious gift of God. But after conversion, it is our Christ-given duty to help fan into flame a faith that serves, leads, teaches, and grows. If our students leave high school without Bible-reading habits, Bible-study skills, and strong examples of discipleship and prayer, we have lost them. We have entertained, not equipped them . . . and it may indeed be time to panic!
Forget your youth programs for a second. Are we sending out from our ministries the kind of students who will show up to college in a different state, join a church, and begin doing the work of gospel ministry there without ever being asked? Are we equipping them to that end, or are we merely giving them a good time while they’re with us? We don’t need youth group junkies; we need to be growing churchmen and churchwomen who are equipped to teach, lead, and serve. Put your youth ministry strategies aside as you look at that 16-year-old young man and ask: “How can I spend four years with this kid, helping him become the best church deacon and sixth-grade Sunday school class teacher he can be, ten years down the road?”
3. Their parents preached the gospel to them.
As a youth pastor, I can’t do all this. All this equipping that I’m talking about is utterly beyond my limited capabilities. It is impossible for me to bring conversion, of course, but it is also impossible for me to have an equipping ministry that sends out vibrant churchmen and churchwomen if my ministry is not being reinforced tenfold in the students’ homes. The common thread that binds together almost every ministry-minded 20-something that I know is abundantly clear: a home where the gospel was not peripheral but absolutely central. The 20-somethings who are serving, leading, and driving the ministries at our church were kids whose parents made them go to church. They are kids whose parents punished them and held them accountable when they were rebellious. They are kids whose parents read the Bible around the dinner table every night. And they are kids whose parents were tough, but who ultimately operated from a framework of grace that held up the cross of Jesus as the basis for peace with God and forgiveness toward one another.
This is not a formula! Kids from wonderful gospel-centered homes leave the church; people from messed-up family backgrounds find eternal life in Jesus and have beautiful marriages and families. But it’s also not a crap-shoot. In general, children who are led in their faith during their growing-up years by parents who love Jesus vibrantly, serve their church actively, and saturate their home with the gospel completely, grow up to love Jesus and the church. The words of Proverbs 22:6 do not constitute a formula that is true 100 percent of the time, but they do provide us with a principle that comes from the gracious plan of God, the God who delights to see his gracious Word passed from generation to generation: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Youth pastors, pray with all your might for true conversion; that is God’s work. Equip the saints for the work of the ministry; that is your work. Parents, preach the gospel and live the gospel for your children; our work depends on you.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I am Unalarmed - Repost

Last year Tim Challies wrote two incredible blogs regarding children that grow up in church.  One is posted below and the other I will post next week.  These are from the Gospel Coalition website regarding why youth stay active in church. Both are incredible and challenging. Please take time to read this.
Jun 28, 2011
I Am Unalarmed- Tim Challies
In September of 2006 George Barna released what must be among his most influential studies. Following interviews with more than 22,000 adults and 2,000 teenagers from across America, he revealed that the majority of twentysomethings who are raised as Christians subsequently abandon the faith. The study found that “most twentysomethings disengage from active participation in the Christian faith during their young adult years—and often beyond that. In total, six out of ten twentysomethings were involved in a church during their teen years, but have failed to translate that into active spirituality during their early adulthood.”

Another survey, this one commissioned by LifeWay, found that “Seven in 10 Protestants ages 18 to 30 — both evangelical and mainline — who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23.” Still another study from Church Communication Networks said that up to 94 percent of Christian teens leave the church within a few years of leaving high school.
These statistics are alarming, and particularly so to those of us who are raising children and earnestly praying that the Lord would save them. It has often been my prayer that the Lord would save my children while they are young, long before they desire to taste the world’s pleasures as unsaved adults. According to these reports this is unlikely. Statistically speaking, I can have little hope.
Each of these studies appears to show that Christians are doing a very poor job of reaching the children in their midst. Ironically, the statistics are used to support solutions that reach from one end of the spectrum to the other: they vary from more programs for teens to fewer programs to teens to abolishing all programs for all children.
These statistics are widely quoted, widely believed, but I remain unalarmed by them. I remain skeptical about the results. Allow me to explain myself.
Unmasking Hypocrisy
Let me say from the outset that it is tragic when any child abandons the faith; let’s not downplay this. What is equally tragic is that so few of them really had much of a chance to encounter the true gospel—the only gospel that saves. Looking at the evangelical landscape in the United States (where these studies were performed) and in Canada, I see that the majority of children, and probably the vast majority of children, are raised in churches where what they hear is a false gospel or a gospel that has been emptied of all that makes it the power of God for salvation. We should not be at all surprised that children abandon this kind of a counterfeit gospel as soon as they are able to. I would do the same.
Shortly after my son was born a friend gave me this little bit of wisdom: “Kids are amazing bull–- detectors.” A bit crude, but the point was well-taken. Through 11 years and 3 children I’ve seen that this is exactly the case, though I do not express it in quite the same way. Children are amazing at unmasking hypocrisy; they are not easily fooled. You may fool them for a moment, but not for a lifetime. They will believe in Santa and the Tooth Fairy and Jesus when they are young. Sooner or later, though, they need evidence that these characters truly exist.
If 7 in 10 young people leave the church it may well be because 7 in 10 parents are not immersing their children in the gospel from a young age. They are not preaching that gospel to their children and they are not living as if that gospel is true. That may be an overstatement, but I do not want you to miss the point. Many, many children, a disheartening number, are raised to believe they are Christians by parents who just as erroneously also believe that they, the parents, are Christians. Many more are raised by parents who never model the beauty of gospel living. Such children barely stand a chance.
I have been in churches for my whole life, and what I have observed is that the Lord is faithful. The Lord works through the gospel. And where is the gospel? It is in [some] churches. And it is in the families that compose those churches. Where the gospel is absent, we should not be surprised that children abandon the faith en masse.
Of course the Lord is sovereign and the Lord has purposes that are all his own. The best of parents—parents who have lived lives that exemplify gospel living—have seen children fall away. The Lord offers us no absolute guarantee that he will save our children. There is no magic formula we can use. But what is true and easily observable is that the Lord tends to work through families, from one generation to the next, and that where the gospel is present, he tends to save. Why would we ever be surprised to see the Lord working in environments that are drenched with the gospel? And why would we ever be surprised to see the Lord not working in environments where the gospel is absent?
What Is the Solution?
If there is a solution to this problem of children abandoning the church it must be a solution that depends upon the gospel. Programs are not the answer. Family integration is not the answer. The gospel is the answer. Where churches and families, where pastors and parents know the gospel and proclaim the gospel, children will be saved. This is true. It is not universally true; there are some children who grow up with every possible favor the Lord could bestow upon them and who reject it. But by and large where the gospel is preached and spoken and whispered and celebrated, the Lord works.
I wonder how many of those 7 out of 10 kids who abandon the church, how many of the 94 percent, how many of the 6 of 10—however you want to interpret the numbers—I wonder how many of them have ever truly encountered the truegospel. I wonder how many have heard that gospel and then seen it consistently lived out in the lives of parents and friends’ parents and pastors and young people and old people. I have no doubt that 60 or 70 percent of young people do, indeed, abandon church. But I have no doubt that far, far fewer than this abandon the church when they have been raised in homes and churches that treasure and model and celebrate the gospel.
I am convinced that the reason so many young people abandon the church is that they have seen far more hypocrisy than gospel; they have had their emotions stirred but never their souls. This can be true in churches that are full of programs—the kinds of churches where every youth event is big and loud and exciting. This can be true in churches that are quiet and controlled and which exposit the Bible.
The Lord works through the gospel. The Lord has always worked through the gospel. The Lord will continue to work through the gospel. If you want to retain the children, if you want to see children saved, if you want to see them passing the faith from generation to generation, immerse your church, immerse your home, immerse your children in the gospel. Adorn your life with the gospel. And then expect the Lord to work.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Life Changing Hour

On Thursday at noon I will have the honor of officiating the funeral of Dody Ashman. Periodically, I take the opportunity to write on this blog and really focus on our Trinity family and this is one of those opportunities. I experienced two “firsts” with Dody: (1) While I have been with people who had just found out they were terminally ill, I had never been in the room when the group of doctors came in and shared that news with the family and patient. (2) While I have watched people in my congregation breathe their last breath here on earth and slip into eternity, I had never been with a member who was completely clear minded and awake just hours before their death and celebrating their homegoing. In each of these situations I watched the reality of God’s sovereignty carry Dody through these moments, and by resting in Christ, God used her to build up the body of Christ. 

On February 27th I sat in the room with Dody, her mind strong but her body overwhelmed by ALS, as the Doctor’s gave her the option of living the rest of her life with a ventilator, or choosing to remove it (which outside a miracle of God would mean certain death). I watched as Dody wrote down these words “God is in control” then asked “what will glorify Him?” The grace of God and the faith the Lord granted her was nothing short of remarkable. Dody asked the question facing death, which each of us should be asking everyday of our lives; and that is, “What will glorify Him?” When I first came to Trinity and mentioned having a book table, Dody was the one who started this ministry.  She had read many of the books that I was recommending for the table and believed they would be valuable for our members.  She was faithful to put great resources in the hands of our members.  She lived out her walk daily, but in that moment of receiving such devastating news, her theology began to spill out. She had accumulated such rich doctrine and it played out not only in her life, but also as she faced death.

Finally on March 4th, before her ventilator was removed, we had close to 40 people in her hospital room and as she watched and even wrote on her white board, we sang wonderful songs and read the Word of God. As I said, I have been near a dear child of God as they breathed their last breath, but I have never been with someone so aware and thinking with such clarity that in a few hours she would be worshipping with a new body in the presence of our Lord. What I noticed was even in this moment Dody was being used of God to build up the body of Christ, and specifically Trinity. I saw not only the love of Trinity, but I saw the depth of truth in their life as even unintentionally, the moment was not about Dody but about Christ! I watched as people from Trinity as young as 15 and as old as 70+ worshipped our Lord and encouraged a precious saint of God as she prepared to meet Jesus. I watched as we sang and read about heaven as Dody shook her head. It was a true “See you later” to a sweet saint of God.  I was told one of the final things she wrote was “Perfect Peace.” Only a child of God can experience that, but even more rich is that I saw our sweet sister live that out before sickness as well as during her illness. I love those moments in my life where I see Scripture in even a more vivid fashion, needless to say on March 4th around 3pm as we were worshipping our Lord with Dody, I saw Psalm 116:15 “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” in one of the most vivid illustrations one could ever see it in. It was an honor to be her Pastor and a greater honor watch her life and death.  Below are Dody’s final written statements on facebook:

Hand written by Dody on 3/2/2012.... In case you have not heard, I wanted to write to you all and tell you that I love you all very much. I have been in a physical struggle since last June 2011. After much time in rehabilitation and testing I have been diagnosed with ALS. It has become apparent that God is preparing my path home to Him.
Be not afraid or discouraged I AM READY!!! My life is in the hands of our Sovereign Loving God who orders my steps. I rejoice in knowing with the blessed assurance that I will be home soon. I encourage you also to put your hope in Him!
My hours are few, soon my faith will be my eyes !!
Chris Tomlin "I Will Rise"

Hand written by Dody on 3/4/2012.. Don't let anyone say I lost my battle with ALS, There is no such thing as losing when your life is in the hand of a Sovereign loving God who knows the number of our days, before we are even born.
So whether its cancer, ALS or a car crash its simply His time for us to go....