My Farewell to FBC Birch Tree

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Six years does not seem like a long time until you begin to think of all the things that can happen in that time.  I’ve spent some time thinking about that and several things come to mind that make it hard to say good-bye.

I think about my first Sunday here.  Wyatt Layman was just 15 years old.  My first Sunday he hit me up to see if I was going to pay him to mow the parsonage.  Now he sits here, a new husband.  He and Audrey have spent some time teaching our young people and I know they are off to a great start.

There have been several weddings in six years.  One that really stands out was Caleb and Lyndsey.  I had just had surgery and had not done anything until it was time for that wedding.  Still on pain killers and straining my voice, I was determined to preach it.  You see, there were 6 other preachers at that wedding and each one made a point to tell me that if I could not do it, they could.  I figured if there are 7 preachers at a wedding and I’m the one that gets to preach, I better do it!  Weddings like that are fun because we see the beginnings of a new family.  Now we see little Luke, and it is a joy because I know he’ll be raised in a Godly home.

We have also experienced some funerals.  There were a lot of them in six years.  They were each a mix of celebration and sadness.  We celebrated a life; often seeing the funeral as a great testimony to a life lived for Christ.  Still, we mourned over a loss and each one I preached, I watched you and your loved ones in your sadness, and my heart broke for you too.  Each one left and impact.

Still, over these six years, the one that will stand out the most is my dad’s.  I remember one night when I got word at midnight that he had been taken to the hospital.  It was a Saturday night and I had to let Tracy know at midnight that I would not be here on Sunday morning.  A few days later, Caleb had to go to the hospital.  I was in Springfield and couldn’t come back to go with Samantha and Caleb to the ER, so I called James at 3am and he went.  I’ll never forget that the deacons at this church are the kind you can call in the middle of the night.

Then at the funeral, I remember 3 pews full of you, all there to support my family and I.  The day before, I had determined to buy a new suit.  I did not own a good black suit and I decided I needed it for my father’s funeral.  Samantha agreed and we decided that we would buy it and figure out how to move things around later.  At the funeral, Van Kitchens, pulled me aside, explained that he knew that times like that bring about unexpected expenses.  He handed me some money, and wouldn’t you know it was the exact amount of the suit?  I will never forget how God uses the generosity of this church.

In these 6 years, there have been some great times too.  I like to think of all the baptisms in 6 years.  The first to stand out in my mind is that in this time I was able to baptize my own son.  His walk with Christ began here at First Baptist Birch Tree.  Recently I was going through some records and realized that one of my first baptisms here was Cody.  Who knew what God had in store there?

Many other baptisms stand out as well.  Particularly 3 men.  Eddie, Ethan, and David.  Each of those men are so much larger than I am that I had to get some help in the baptistry.  Our churches, communities, and our nation are in desperate need for men to stand for Christ.  It is good to know this is a church moving in the right direction.

In all honesty, when I think over the past 6 years I think about my many mistakes.  If I have ever hurt or neglected you, please understand that I am sorry.  I have often lost sleep going over how I would do things differently if I could and wishing I could go back and do some things again.  Yet, in the end, just like we all do, I have to realize that the cross was enough and I rest in that grace. Of course, it was in those times that I was often greatly encouraged.  Without fail, when I began to get discouraged I would get a phone call from Norma, a card from Willie and Jolie, or a dinner invite from Brian and Marta.

Throughout these 6 years there is one thing I hope to get across.  We tend to turn being a Christian into so many things, but it is not about those things.  It is not about being good.  It is not about setting the country right.  It is about one thing:  That Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again to give us life.  That’s it.  We follow Jesus.  No more, no less.  No less because anything less than Jesus would not be enough.  No more, because what more could we want or need?  It is about Jesus.  If you have never given your life to Jesus, I hope you will consider to do so today.

And now our paths must separate.  We will certainly meet again someday, but before I go, I have one more thing to say to you as your pastor.

I want you to consider as a church what really gets you going; what gets your blood moving; what gets you excited about this church.  It isn’t necessarily classes, fellowship lunches, or special music, though those things are all good.  Over these past years, what really got you going was missions.

I remember when I first went to El Salvador.  I told you I was going so that the next time, we could go.  Many told me flat out that this church would not do mission trips.  But you did, and it was a joy to watch you go.  Remember how exciting it was.  That’s what I mean when I say it gets your blood moving.

I remember when Kacey signed up.  We didn’t know about that.  We wondered if she knew what she was getting into.  In fact, I had dramamine in my pocket, just in case we needed to knock her out on the plane.  But I will never forget how she stood up in front of those kids and taught.  The next year, I just put her in charge of the children’s ministry.  We had the chance to go to a school, and when we walked in, the kids were so excited because Kacey was there!  Kacey is going to see some amazing things when she follows God in the mission He sets before her.  And so will the rest of you.

Remember when the Texas group came?  You were pumped and excited and it was amazing to see how God moved.  That was a tough week.  There was a lot of hard work, but nobody cared about that.

The reason missions gets you going is because it is God’s heart.  When you set your mind to get involved in what God is doing, things are different.  Things get exciting then.

Matthew 28:18-20 says:  18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

It says Go.  The apostle Paul compared the Christian walk to running a race.  A race starts with the word “go.”  So, now is the time.  Go.  I’ll see you at the finish line.

 

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Book Review: Mark Dever’s 9 Marks of a Healthy Church

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I have not had many books recommended to me more frequently than Mark Dever’s Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. As I read it, I could easily see that many of my friends and colleagues have read it. They echo it continuously. Apparently, it bests states the driving philosophy of many pastors today.

Anytime I began to read a book which comes even remotely close to instruction on how a church should operate, I have to ask two questions: Is it biblically and doctrinally sound? Will it work in my church? Granted, if the answer to the first is no, then there is no need to ask the second. Most books of this category end up that way. They are written more towards how to grow a fortune 500 company than they are a church. I’m not sure their authors would argue that point. They may argue that it’s the method to examine; a method that can be applied regardless of doctrine. Thankfully, 9 Marks is not that book.

9 Marks is loaded with scripture references that back up every point. Mark Dever displays his amazing ability to draw a solid point from passages throughout the entire Bible. He does not ever simply pull a verse out of thin air, but rather exegetes scripture to his points. The book is well founded in scripture and teaches doctrine as much as anything. Is it sound? Absolutely! Will it work?

Thankfully, this is not a method book. Dever is simply presenting 9 characteristics of a healthy church. They are:

Expository Preaching
Biblical Theology
A Biblical Understanding of the Gospel
A Biblical Understanding of Conversion
A Biblical Understanding of Evangelism
Biblical Church Membership
Biblical Church Discipline
Biblical Discipleship
Biblical Church Leadership

The temptation is to treat this as a method book. As I read, I began making mental notes of things I needed to begin, end, change, etc. in my ministry. Of course, quick and drastic change is rarely lasting and almost always results in more damage than it set out to resolve, so this temptation is to be avoided. Rather than a method to be followed, consider these principles to be a guideline for evaluating a church. The chapter on discipleship excellently discusses this, as does the first appendix.

Once a church leader understands the shortcomings of a church in these nine areas, they work to improve. Each “mark” is based on another, so the pieces will fall into place. This is a great book for better understanding a biblical ecclesiology. I strongly recommend it not only for pastors, but anyone in church leadership.