A Plea for Loving Unity and Theological Respect Within the SBC

I’m personally and professionally exasperated for being made to feel that I have to look a certain way, dress a certain way, believe certain theological positions, in order to be considered a Southern Baptist. What does that even mean anymore? Case in point, an article was recently written by Bob Allen for BaptistGlobalNews.com, in which he cites a well-known Baptist pastor arguing that Calvinism is a, and I quote, “trojan horse.” It pains me to see such rhetoric used on men and women within the SBC who have no greater joy that to see the Sovereign King glorified in the saving of the lost in the great name of Jesus Christ. In response, therefore, I have 3 thoughts that I’d like those involved to consider.

First, there should be room for theological diversity in our convention. Granted, I’m not here suggesting that liberalism be tolerated or encouraged, but I am saying that conservative Arminians and Calvinists (and all those in between) shouldn’t be made to feel like their status within the convention is questionable or unappreciated because they’re supralapsarian instead of infralapsarian.

Second, if a church, whether bent toward Arminian or Reformed theology, is an SBC church, then they’ve presumably put their tithe money where their theological mouth is. In other words, our support suggests that, although we may differ on “Ordo Salutis,” our goal is common—to reach people for Christ, nationally and internationally, to build and support our seminaries, and to plant more Gospel churches.

Finally, if the chapels in our seminaries are going to tolerate manipulative talk, then I’d like to know what exactly is being facilitated in the classes? We chastise the liberal public universities for teaching a single agenda, which incidentally leads away from traditional conservatism, but do we now have to be concerned with whether or not our seminaries are going to follow suit theologically, in teaching what they presumably prefer (Arminianism) over what is, dare I say, plausible (Calvinism)? Too often, I find the opponents of Calvinism guilty of the very thing they claim to bemoan in its adherents, namely, rudeness, lovelessness, and a calloused handling of the facts.

Obviously there are various nuances to this argument that should be addressed, but the main points are clear and undeniable. This kind of divisive language is wrong. I’m personally and professionally exasperated for being made to feel that I have to look, dress, and think a certain way in order to be accepted in the SBC. Perhaps we need to reconsider who we have speak at our chapels, teach in our seminaries, or lead our conventions. Just as error can spring from either the Arminian or Calvinist camps, so can the Truth spoken in love. We should be aiming at the latter. We may not all look the same or think the same, but one thing is certain—the same One King rules over us all. We should speak accordingly.

Joe Mira
New City Church

Christians for Kingdom and Country

How do we, as Christians, exist in the twofold status that we are afforded as both the adopted children of God through faith in Christ and simultaneously citizens of the United States of America? To put it simply, it’s not always easy. On the one hand, there are times when our faith and earthly citizenship seemingly get along. On the other hand, there are times when our faith and earthly citizenship couldn’t be made to be more aliens to each other. Nevertheless, the Bible has a word for us, and, in view of the recent election(s), it seems high time to address it, specifically from Romans 13 and 1 Timothy 2. They teach us 2 simple principles that we are to abide by as Kingdom citizens.

We Are to Respect Authority
First, according to Romans 13:1-7, we are to respect authority, regardless of whether or not we completely and entirely agree with their policies and positions. Case in point, President Barak Obama. I may or may not be in agreement with him and the direction in which he’s been leading our country, but that isn’t the question that God is asking me in Romans 13. God commands me to respect authority (of course, as long as it isn’t in direct contravention with His Word), and therefore that’s what I’m supposed to do. From time to time, we can find it hard to respect our parents’ authority, our teachers’ authority, our employer’s authority, or even Obama as a president, but we can still respect the positions they hold and respect them as people made in God’s image. In the president’s case, we can respect him as one who holds the highest office in our country. (This would apply to President-elect Trump, too.)

One issue that I have with his point, Respect Authority, is the link that the Apostle Paul associates with those in authority and God Himself; thus, eventually all authority leads us back to God’s authority. With that said, the point is simple: if we can’t respect authority that we do see, how can we claim to respect the authority that we can’t see?

We Are to Pray for Authority
The second and perhaps more important point at this time in our country is, We Are to Pray for Authority. It’s clearly taught in 1 Timothy 2:1-4, but it’s easier to talk about than it is to actually do, Why? Well, if you’re anything like me, you err in 1 of 2 ways. You either:

  1. don’t pray for those in authority because you already agree with them (so why pray?); or
  2. don’t pray for those in authority because you don’t agree with them (so why pray?).

But what we learn from 1 Timothy 2:1-4 is something grander than our own personal policy preferences. We learn that God has a desire for “all” to be saved, not just those with whom we may agree. Therefore, we should pray “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” We are Christians before we are anything else, and intercession for others is paramount to our daily practice and faith.

Ultimately, we can’t control what those in authority will or will not do, but what we can control is our own behavior and our representation of our Kingdom citizenship (Philippians 3:20). We’re afforded the right as citizens of the US to speak our minds, but we should do so respectfully and prayerfully. We’re afforded the right as citizens of the US to vote, but we should do so respectfully and prayerfully. We’re afforded the right to congregate, meet, and protest, but we should do so respectfully and prayerfully. After all, we should beware that we do not emphasize our rights as citizens of the US  while neglecting our foremost obligations as citizens of the Kingdom. Christ’s command was clear:

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

Blessings,

Joe

Fighting for Joy in a World of Worry

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As Providence would have it, last Sunday I preached a message titled “Fighting for Joy in a World of Worry,” only to have Sunday afternoon and Monday morning unfold in such a way that I had to put what I preached into practice. I think at one time or another we’ve all been there. So, I wanted to share it. Here are the main points.

Decide for Joy

Each and every day, sometimes even moment by moment, we all have a decision to make: we all have to decide if we will allow worry to affect our joy. This week, my truck broke down while I was taking my daughter to school. But I decided to be joyful about the fact that it didn’t break down while my wife was driving back from Orlando last week or while I was still on the highway with my daughter or in the drop-off point where it would’ve caused a huge roadblock (undoubtedly being a giant embarrassment). In other words, I decided to focus on things that brought me joy rather than the inconvenience that didn’t.

Although deciding for joy may seem like a ridiculously small step, it’s the first and most important step to living a live that is joyful, because, if you don’t decide to live a life of joy, then you most certainly won’t.

Plot for Joy

Joy has never just happened to anyone. If we want to experience joy on a day-to-day basis, then, after we decide for it, we have to plot for it. That means creating boundaries in our calendar that keep the good inside but the bad outside. For my wife and I, as it relates to this particular situation, we have a AAA membership (PS: it’s worth every dollar). That means that even trying events that can steal joy, like my car breaking down on a Monday morning, can be avoided with a little “plotting.”

Here are some basics:

  • keep a healthy prayer life: maintaining a healthy relationship to God is paramount to a life of joy. It helps us remain strong during trails and also gives us perspective, which is the next point.
  • keep a wide perspective: we believe that the world revolves around us, but a little learning, a little broadening of our perspective will quickly remedy that mentality!
  • keep a regimen: a schedule guards your heart and mind from concerns that could invade your calendar and potentially steal your joy. Major on majors. Minor on minors.

Don’t wait for joy to simply happen to you…

Celebrate for Joy

Finally, we have to celebrate for joy. Each and every moment that we’re alive, we should find a simple reason to celebrate, reasons that we often overlook and casually dismiss.

  • celebrate Jesus, who never changes and is faithful (Hebrews 13:8)
  • celebrate our Heavenly Father, who awaits our presence (Philippians 1:21-22)
  • celebrate family and friends, whom God has given us to travel through life with (Matthew 19:23-30)

Don’t wait for joy to simply happen to you before you decide to be joyful. Decide. Plot. Celebrate. Joy is a virtue of people who have decided not to allow the world’s worry to negatively affect them, control them, or dictate to them what kind of person or what kind of life they’re going to lead. How about you? Will you decide for joy?

Blessings,

Pastor Joe

Trump vs Clinton: My Thoughts After Monday’s Debate

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While sitting at the dinner table last night with my family, we discussed a number of things, the debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton being among them. Now, I don’t mean to brag (I couldn’t anyway…my kids get their smarts from their mother!), but my kids, at a mere 12 and 10, have a better understanding and perspective on these two politicians than most of the adults I discuss these issues with. And, what’s more, they convey these ideas with less emotional hype than many adults, too.

So, as a pastor, I wanted to give us 4 reminders during this politically-charged season. In essence, here are 4 things that I think we can observe after Monday night’s debate.

  1. The Church isn’t making a great enough impact in our country. As Stephen Mansfield argues in his new book Ask the Question: Why We Must Demand Religious Clarity from Our Presidential Candidates, religious beliefs should be spoken loudly and clearly by candidates. I personally believe that, if we were making the positive influence that we should be, then the question of faith (or it’s lack), and its impact on decision making, would have to be a major topic in any debate. We deserve to know either way.
  2. Politicians will always behave like politicians. I’m always surprised by some fellow Christians who place so much weight and expectation on people whose singular job revolves around popularity. Politicians will always behave like politicians, which means in one moment they may be for you, but, if convenient, they will be against in the next. Remember, regardless of the candidate or party, they are merely politicians. This leads to the next point.
  3. We cannot–and must not–rely upon a manmade government to issue godly policy. As Christians, we can vote our consciences, but that’s not the method of reformation that God provides for us in the New Testament. On the contrary, the New Testament provides a guide for saving souls, not governments. Let’s not forget that. Souls don’t get saved through governments but through the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Repentance. Conversion. Transformation. These are Gospel-centered themes, not policies written and approved by any arm of the government.
  4. Finally, we can affect people more successfully than we can affect policy. Regardless of what your view on government is (large or small; conservative, liberatian, or progressive), one thing is certain: what Christians can do through discipleship has always and will always be a greater means of positively impacting people than any policy every has or ever will. The Church is God’s means to good on earth.

Being involved is our civic duty and responsibility. We need to vote. But let’s not fool ourselves: our citizenship is to a Kingdom that exists not because of the government but in spite of it. “Seek first his kingdom…” (Matthew 6:33).

Blessings,

Joe

For Want of a Witness: The Importance of Missions

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There’s a legend that describes the demise of England’s King Richard III, who lost his life at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Shakespeare’s line, “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” immortalized the event. In essence, it reminds us that smaller duties, left undone, can eventually lead to tragic endings. Here’s the lesson in a traditional poem.

“For Want of a Nail”
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

In like fashion, when we relegate missions to big events and trips to far off places, we neglect the day-to-day missions that we all should be engaging in–to a potentially tragic end. Too often, we think of missions work only in terms of “the end of the earth,” thereby neglecting their our Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. Instead, we should all be working to present God’s Kingdom to our communities, cultures, and cities. Here are 3 ways in which we all should be engaging in missions to accomplish that purpose.

We Can Send
Missions work is incredibly expensive work. Sending would thus include financial gifts, both one-time gifts and regular monthly gifts. It could also include supplies that help meet the needs of a certain mission or even gifts that will assist the missionaries themselves. Giving to your church or to a trusted mission organizations is a simple way to do this.

We Can Support
All missionaries testify to how difficult missions work can sometimes be. (If you’ve ever done mission work yourself, then you know!) Support is incredibly important, because it helps the missionary know that they aren’t alone and that their work is acknowledged. Support can take many forms, like prayer, cards and notes, texts, calls, and emails.

We Can Serve
As Christians, we’re never given the option to obstain from serving. Missions work is not exception. On the contrary, God wants all of His people to be on mission for Him. The only difference between a missionary who is traveling abroad and a Christian who simply lives on mission is the scope of their work–not the work itself. Remember the legend mentioned above, and the importance of small jobs done well, because great success may be the result of your small faithfulness.

When it comes to missions, we can send, support, and/or serve. There are no other options left to us.

Blessings,

Joe

6 Reasons to Trust God

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This weekend at New City Church, we covered the 3rd installment for our It Starts Here series. It went really well, and we’re learning a lot about the Christian faith that we hold so dear. In particular, the 3rd installment covered faith.

Faith is sometimes complicated thing, but in its simplest definition it means to trust. So, the question is, Do we or don’t we trust God–even with the most difficult circumstances? Well, here are 6 reasons why we should trust God.

  1. We should trust God because He is WISE.
    • Psalm 147:5: “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.”
  2. We should trust God because He is STRONG.
    • Jeremiah 16:19: “O Lord, my strength and my stronghold, my refuge in the day of trouble.”
  3. We should trust God because He is HOLY.
    • Isaiah 6:3: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
  4. We should trust God because He is MERCIFUL and GRACIOUS.
    • Psalm 86:15: “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
  5. We should trust God because He is TRUE.
    • Proverbs 30:5: “Every word of God proves true.”
  6. We should trust God because He LOVES us.
    • John 3:16: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believe in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

The next time someone asks you why you are a believer, or you find yourself lacking faith (see Mark 9:24), remember these 6 simple reasons to trust God.

Blessings,

Pastor Joe

5 Books for Every Christian to Read

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I wasn’t “born” a reader; I became a reader by choice, by work, by determination. Why? Because I wanted to learn. When God called me into the ministry, I felt like a desperately under-qualified student. Ignorance isn’t an attractive quality in the ministry, so I read and studied–often! As the years have passed, I’ve come to love a handful of books more than others, and have found myself repeatedly returning to them (or their authors). Although I could go on and on here, these are 5 books for every Christian leader.

The Bible
What can I say, this presumptive entry must be noted, because you can never have enough of your Bible! I say “your” Bible, because I believe every Christian needs 1 Bible that is theirs: highlighted, marked, having important dates recorded in the blank pages; having a worn cover, browned edges, and has lost its stiffness. Mine is an English Standard Version, Classic Reference Bible, by Crossway. It was a gift in 2002–and I love it.

The Cross of Christ, John R. W. Stott
Stott is someone who should own his own shelf or 2 in your library. Buy the books that he wrote, and buy biographical books about him, because it’s a pleasure to get to know both the writings and the writer. He was a stalwart Christian who constantly and faithfully wrote, preached, traveled as a missionary, and mentored younger pastors. This particular book, The Cross of Christ, covers the meaning, purpose, and result of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. It’s deep, readable theology.

It’s important to build an intellectual base for your goals. Formal education is fine. Self-education is vital. – Paul Harvey

The Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin
Love him or hate him (and I’m in the love camp), Calvin penned one of the most, if not the most, influential systematic theology books ever written. Starting in 1536 and ending in 1559, the Institutes grew and expanded alongside of Calvin and his ministry. One thing can be said of it that I believe makes it unique to Christian theology books: it has a devotional nature. In other words, Calvin wrote with an eye on the Lord at all times, which makes learning from him a heartwarming experience.

Holiness, J. C. Ryle
Undoubtedly one of my favorite pastor/writers, Ryle never actually wrote a book. He wrote such incredibly detailed and organized sermons that they were easily formed into books later. Another interesting tidbit about Ryle is that, although he lived and ministered during the Victorian Era, his writings are incredibly simple. You won’t read a ton of “thees” and “thous,” because his aim was to be understood by all . . . not just by an elite some. His desire was to be understood by the common man, and still, to this day, he is easily understood. This book, Holiness, will challenge your every step to bring your closer to Jesus and to personal purity.

Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis
A simple book that is a compilation of radio talks, Mere Christianity is a book that is apologetic in nature: that is, it argues for the Christian faith. What makes it different is its author. He’s not a pastor or a church leader. Lewis, a late convert to Christianity, was a professor of classical literature, and, as such, he brought an interesting and helpful perspective to the faith, to the Bible, and to how they should relate to the world. It’s full of great lines, like, “Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms” (III.iv).

If I wanted to elongate this post (and that wasn’t easy to resist!), I’d include the likes of Charles Spurgeon, Arthur Pink, and George Eldon Ladd, saints who, by their words, have provided strength and encouragement for the Church universal.

What books would make your top-5 Christian books?