Sunday, October 25, 2009

Scaring People into Heaven?

This week our church will once again produce the walk-through drama Judgement House. This nine-scene drama involves watching people make choices and the eternal consequences of those choices. Ultimately, there are only two choices: to reject Jesus Christ or to accept Christ. The drama involves following the individuals into Judgement, hell, and heaven.

Is this a good thing? Some say we are trying to scare people into making a decision. The argument is that those who make decisions are doing so on a purely emotional basis. Is it possible they are correct? Yes, but let's diagnose this argument.

First, any decision for Christ will involve emotion because salvation comes in response to the conviction of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 16:8). Conversion is not simply through mental assent, but through a response to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Second, using a drama to depict the reality of life after death is not inconsistent with the teaching methods of Christ. For example, Christ referred to an area known as Ghenna as an illustration of eternal punishment awaiting those who are disobedient (Mark 9:43, Mt. 10:28, et al). Gehenna, or the Valley of Hinnom, was a place outside Jerusalem where garbage was burned. When Christ used this word, which He used 11 times, it immediately resulting in images of the unquenchable fire which burned outside of the city. Since Christ did not shy away from using a graphic image to depict Hell are we wrong in a one-room scene depiction of the torment of hell? I think not. The effectiveness of our Judgment House presentation lies not in a overly-graphic depiction of hell, but rather in depicting the contrasting beauty of heaven. When one compares heaven to hell, one cannot help but desire to be with Christ rather than in pain with Satan for eternity.

Instead of having a "revival" service in which only a few faithful attend, we have found Judgement House to be an effective tool to reach our community. We have baptized several who made a profession of faith at Judgement House. In addition, we hear reports of individuals who have been baptized and joined churches as a result of our presentation. We have also added many new members as a result of this presentation.

In my opinion Judgement House is not about scaring people into heaven, but rather it is presenting people with the reality that choices in this life have consequences for eternity. Therefore, the best choice is to choose Christ.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

My Philosophy of Ministry

I believe that my primary role as a pastor is to “equip the saints for works of service” (Eph. 4:11-16). I seek to accomplish that goal through three main areas: preaching, pastoring and administration.

In my preaching, I strive to preach simple, relative, practical, expository messages that connect and challenge the congregation. I believe in preaching the whole counsel of God; therefore, I often preach through books of the Bible in addition to topical series. However, I do not believe expository preaching has to be dull or boring, but rather it can be the most exciting way to teach God’s Word. Therefore, I seek the Lord’s guidance in determining how to connect with the congregation (e.g., props, stories, drama, video) to convey the truth of God’s Word. Moreover, I believe people should have an opportunity to respond to God’s Word; therefore, I offer opportunities to respond to God’s call at the end of sermons.

In my pastoring, I endeavor to be kind and understanding with all people. In my visits to ailing church members, I often share a comforting passage of Scripture and have prayer. I attempt to meet people where they are in their spiritual journey and encourage them to progress to be more Christ-like.

In my administration, I encourage my staff to minister to the needs of the people, to clearly communicate the Word, and to be stewards of time. I expect staff members to be team players, self-motivated and creative.

I believe that the church must engage the culture while being different than the culture. The culture can be engaged through targeted outreach programs (e.g. recovery ministries, neighborhood small groups, practice preaching, etc.), yet the church must call those who respond to live according to God’s standard. I believe that the church must act and function as an organism not an organization; therefore, it must be flexible in addressing the needs of the community.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Why Am I Blogging?

Why Am I Blogging?

I am not blogging because I have nothing else to do! I not blogging because it is the "hip" thing to do (I am too many years behind the curve). I am not blogging to make money (who in their right mind is going to advertize on my blog?).

I am going to start blogging for several reasons: 1) Blogging makes me think. Writing makes one exact; it makes one sort out the cobwebs, 2) Blogging helps others to know what I am thinking. These blogs will contain a lot of random thoughts. Admittedly, some will not agree with what I write and that is okay. 3) Blogging keeps me in touch with others. I hope that some people will read these blogs and respond.

These are a few reasons for me beginning this new adventure. I plan to blog as much as possible. I hope to make some new friends, keep people informed, to occassionaly write something worthwhile. So here we go.....


A Boy Named Ian-Funeral Message

The following is the manuscript from Ian's funeral.

Funeral Service: Ian Andy Ellis

Key Verse: Psalm 40:1-3: “I waited patiently for the Lord, and He turned to me and heard my cry for help. He brought me up from a desolate pit, out of the muddy clay, and set my feet on a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.”

On Oct. 16, 2007 Ian Andy Ellis was born
In her journal Mary tells about the events following the birth and the realization that Ian was going to be special child. At first diagnosis was Tetralogy of Fallot- heart condition that was repairable. Then came the news that Ian suffered from a rare terminal genetic condition known as Rhizomelic Chondrodysplasia Punctata. (RCDP)

The knee-jerk reaction is to ask God “Why?” A month later another baby with RCDP was born at St. Vincent’s hospital; His name was Jackson. Mary and Jackson’s mother, Tracey, became friends and have leaned on each other for support.

Tracy gave Mary a book called: “Holding on to Hope.” According to the book the question is not WHY? but FOR WHAT PURPOSE? We could ask the “Why?” question all day and never know the answer, but we can look at what has happened and I believe we can see the purpose God had in blessing Mary and Wae with their special son.

In just two years, Ian Ellis Impacted the Faith of many people. Psalm 40:1-2: “I waited patiently for the Lord, and He turned to me and heard my cry for help. He brought me up from a desolate pit, out of the muddy clay, and set my feet on a rock, making my steps secure.” Oct. 29, 2007 upon hearing the news Mary wrote; “This is not the answer we prayed for, but it is the answer we got.”

Mary, Wae and the family had two options: 1) to run from God or 2) to run to God. Mary wrote: “We know that God has a bigger plan for us. We just don’t know what it is. We have to let go of our dreams and completely submit to God’s plan.” (Sunday, Dec. 30th)

Ian challenged his parents to grow in their faith-and they did!

  • Nov. 5, 2007 “I don’t know why this is happening and I would love to be mad at God. However, that is not the answer for anything. God has made a way for Wae, Ian and me so far and he will continue to do that. Our faith and our marriage has grown so much through this.”
  • Monday, Nov. 12: “Many of you have said to me “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” I have really been letting that go in one ear and out the other to be honest. As I was talking to someone today, I realized how true that it. [God] knew that Wae and I were stronger people than we ever knew. He knew and knows that we can provide Ian with the most loving home around. I am just so grateful to have him as my son today. I have learned so much from him, and Wae and I are much better people because of knowing God.”

On Sunday, Dec. 9, 2007 Ian was dedicated to the Lord. Mary wrote: “Our little soul is here now to serve a purpose and I believe that he is doing just that” (Dec. 9, 2007)

In the foyer, there were books that are a compilation of emails sent to Mary and Wae about Ian’s impact on their lives. It is clear that Ian has fulfilled his purposes.

One Purpose: To Raise Awareness of RCDP

  • “If it wasn’t for Ian there would be no Rhizokids”
  • Because of Ian, I am heading up the March-of-Dimes march for one wing of the hospital. [I] will work to raise money and gather up a large group of walkers to support the efforts at prevention of birth defects and genetic disorders”
  • Mary and Tracey appeared on local television raising awareness of RCDP
  • Websites have been started
  • Ian’s Extravaganza has raise thousands of dollars
  • Johns Hopkins Hospital has sent doctors to visit, etc.
  • Shirts have been made
  • A Cookbook written

Stickers on cars, etc.

Another Purpose: To Raise Awareness of Ourselves

  • “I have stopped being so ‘self-absorbed’ and I have stopped taking the ‘little things’ in life for granted.”
  • “Ian has made me realize that it is not Ian who has the disabilities and special needs…perhaps it is US who have them.”
  • Ian has made me realize how special all children are”
  • “Ian has taught me how to truly give, how to truly love”
  • “I have been reminded to “live more, love more and laugh in times of hardships.”
  • “Ian is truly an example of someone who will forever leave footprints on your heart.”
  • “Until Ian, I took so much for granted”
  • “Ian has made me a more sensitive person towards others who have a disability of any kind”
  • “Ian has helped us to evaluate what is most important in our lives and that is LOVE. Love for God, our families and our friends.”
  • "I have learned that “children, regardless of their ability, are a blessing. Appreciate each person for who they are—not for what they can do or cannot do for us. Just love and appreciate them.”
  • “I will forever cherish every moment I am able to spend with my babies. I will raise them and train them in the ways of the Lord.”
  • “Ian has changed me and made me want to be the BEST mother I can be.”
  • “Ian has taught me to be thankful….You and Wae have taught me patience. God has taught me to praise Him no matter what the circumstances”
  • “Ian has changed my whole outlook on life”
  • “Because of Ian I enjoy life with my kids more”
  • “We have learned not to stress over small things and to enjoy life’s many blessings”
  • “Ian has made be a better mother to my daughter”

Another Purpose: To Raise Awareness of God

  • A grade school teacher wrote that one of her students told her that Ian has given his family a reason to pray together.
  • “My faith has been restored”
  • "Through Ian I can see “how God is in control of our lives….not us!
  • “Ian has brought me closer to the Lord….and I really think that is Ian’s purpose for life…to draw people to the Lord.”
  • “Ian has shown me that God has a plan and a purpose in ALL things. He has taught me that the will of God will never take you where the grace of God will not protect you.”
  • "Ian reminds me to pray everyday. Hadn’t been doing that for a long time, but now, every single day I say a prayer—or two, or five—for a sweet little angel who I don’t know. And while I am there I remember to give thanks for other things.”
  • “Ian helps me to remember to never wander too far from God. He reminds me to lean on God during the hard times and praise Him in the good times.”
  • “I am going to make it my mission to gain an even closer walk with our Lord…I want to know Him on an ever personal level.”
  • “Ian is helping me grow in Christ and be more Christ-like”
  • “Ian has been a revival for us”
  • “I am rededicating my life to Jesus Christ” I vow to leave the burdens behind.”
  • “Mary, I have been following Ian’s sotry since he was born. What a beautiful little boy! I want you to know that your strength and love for the Lord has truly changed my life! I know you’ve been told a million times to hang in there, we’re praying for you, be strong and all that….I found myself questioning God for you all the time. The other night I realized I need not question our great creator, he gives us battles to fight and mountains to climb for a reason. My six year old stepson found me crying the other night as I sat and read your journal. I told him about Ian and I told him what a wonderful living breathing testimony to God that you are. He looked at me with teary eyes and said, ”Jesus has big plans for Ian, I just know it.” Later that night I went to tuck him in and say his prayers and he questioned me about God some more and we talked about some things he just learned at Bible School this year. He then told me he wanted to ask Jesus to come into his heart. So you see God does have big plans for Ian.”

As you know, Mary kept a daily journal of Ian’s life at Everyday, people would log on to read the latest news and updates. Mary shared her struggles, frustrations, joys, and she preached a lot too. As I read the journal entries, there were several lessons that surfaced that Ian has taught us.

Lesson 1: Importance of Ministry to Others

  • Donations like: vacations, cloths, and a place to stay while visiting the doctor out-of-town
  • Words of affirmation (e.g. DVD of Mary’s class “We love you Ms. Mary”, Guestbook entries atCaringBridge, and prayers)
  • Helping them on their journey (e.g., Friends helped set up the fund raisers, sold candles, cookbook, sold shirts.)

Lesson 2: You are never alone

  • Others who are on the same path. I read about “Jackson, Ethan, Jake, Jordyn, Seth and Callie” All born with RCDP.
  • Others who will walk with you. Some are seen (e.g., Friends, neighbors, support groups, etc.) and some are unseen (i.e., “At times it seems as if someone has invaded my body and is living my life for me. Once again, I think that it is the angels that surround us daily…..It is amazing what a person can do with God. (Wed. Nov. 28, 2007)

Lesson 3: Cherish time with others

Dec. 25, 2007: “My happy moment today will be enough to last me for a lifetime. The entire day was a happy moment just to have “our baby” with us on Christmas.

  • Spend more time with family; cherish those moments with your children

Lesson 4: Accept God’s Plan
Upon reading a poem posted in a journal, Mary wrote: “Now I see a better picture as to why we might be going through this. Ian is the brave soul that was sent to earth to bring out the love in our county, and in surrounding counties. Ian has brought families closer, friends closer and marriages closer.” (Nov. 29, 2007)

Lesson 5: Be Thankful
Feb. 10, 2008: “Ian has taught me many things in his short life. He has taught me how to be thankful for the small things, not to sweat the small stuff, and how to be happy.”

Lesson 6: Don’t give up hope
These families have not given up hope that cure can be found. March 28, 2008 “I can do it. I may not want to, but I can. I know Wae and I will get through it with God pushing us through. He might be dragging me through, but He’ll get me through. Just remember, it might seem unbearable, impossible, annoying, irritating, bothersome, painful and many more things, but YOU CAN DO IT! “You can always find good amidst the bad” (Sunday, April 27, 2008)

  • Look for the miracles all along the way (i.e., Ian wasn’t supposed to leave the hospital-but God had a plan for him. Ian wasn’t supposed to live past 6 months-but God had more lives for him to impact. Ian wasn’t supposed to live for nearly 2 years-but God had more work for him to do.)

Lesson 7: Live to have no Regrets
Upon receive news that Ian was legally blind, Mary wrote: “As I write with tear filled eyes I am drawn back to look at his smiling face. You know, he might not see me or Wae. He might never know our eyes or our face. But as I look at that picture, I KNOW he is happy. I know Wae and I have done what we were supposed to do as Ian’s parents. We have made his journey on Earth great.” (Mon. Feb. 11, 2008)

Lesson 8: Live by Faith
Sunday, Jan. 13, 2008 “I am so ready to start a research fund for RCDP. I must admit though I am clueless on how to do this. Tuesday, Jan 15, 2008: Name “Rhizo Kids” is born. Later Mary wrote: “I got a letter from a researcher at Johns Hopkins and they are starting to use our money for research with RCDP children.”

Lesson 9: Prayer Matters
“Please continue praying for us because I honesty believe that is what is helping us to survive….(Wed. Nov. 28, 2007) Thursday, Sept. 16, 2008: “You know Ian is surrounded by great prayer warriors and caring family and friends.”

Lesson 10: Live Life with Purpose
Sunday, August 10, 2008: “Before Ian I never thought about my purpose in life. I just lived the fun and easy life with no worries. I now know my purposes in life. My number one purpose is to honor God in everything I do. I want people to look at me and say “Man, there is something about her. She has been given a hard situation, but she isn’t letting it ruin her life. How does she do it?” I do it with God. He is my strength driving me to wake up each and every day and live life to the fullest. My next purpose is to be a great mom to Ian and our future kids, to find a cure for RCDP, and to encourage parents to be truly grateful for their children. If anything comes from Ian’s life the number one thing would be that I hope people are saved because of Ian. Next though I want parents to enjoy their children and be grateful for the every blessing in their life”

Ian was here to change lives. Rededicate your Life. There is no excuse to run from God-whom are you going to run to? No one can provide the strength you need. If you wonder how Wae, Mary and the families have been able to make it through this, it is because they had to walk by faith and “lean not unto their own understanding, but in all their ways they had to acknowledge Christ.” Thursday, July 3, 2008 “I have to ‘Let go and let God.’” I have never understood that expression until now. And boy do I get it now!” “It’s not about me.”

Rededicate your Life. Don’t sit there and have a pity party b/c things are not going the way you planned! Don’t run from God b/c you have had some adversity enter your life! If you ran to Jesus for salvation, don’t run from Him b/c things are difficult! If you have trusted Christ for your salvation, trust him for strength. Empty yourself and fall on the arms of Christ. “Let go and let God”

Receive Christ
If you don’t have hope, if you wish you could have hope, you need to receive Christ. Without Christ life has no ultimate purpose. Without Christ we would not be here today grieving as those who have hope. Without Christ there would be no talk of heaven, eternal life, healing, etc. Without Christ there would be no purpose to Ian’s life. Without Christ there would be no reason to keep journals. Without Christ everything would be meaningless!

Receive Christ. Like that six year old who gave his heart to Jesus, admit your sinfulness, believe and accept Christ’s death on the cross for your sins, confess Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, invite Christ into your heart

Prayer of rededication: Stormie Omartian wrote a prayer that Mary shared in her journal. It is a prayer of rededication: “Lord I lift to you the situations of my life that concern me. I lay my worries before you and ask for your almighty intervention to show me what’s right when can only see what’s wrong. I am determined to see the good, so help me not to be blinded by my own fears, doubts, wants, and preconceived ideas. I ask you to reveal to my Your truth in every situation. Give me your perspective. Bless me with the ability to understand the bigger picture and to distinguish the valuable from the unimportant. When something seems to go wrong, help me not to jump to negative conclusions. Enable me to recognize the answers to my own prayers. I trust you to help me see the light in every situation” (Monday, July 7, 2008)
Prayer of Salvation

Ian Today
Psalm 40:1-3: “I waited patiently for the Lord, and He turned to me and heard my cry for help. He brought me up from a desolate pit, out of the muddy clay, and set my feet on a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.”

Ian has a “New song in his mouth, a hymn of praise to our God." Ian is moving Freely. He is able to swing his arms in complete freedom, able to run, skip, jump on those streets of gold, able to do those things that a little boy wants to do: explore! Ian doesn’t have to be afraid of getting hurt, bit, or pain! Ian is breathing freely, breathing celestial air, seeing clearly, seeing angels-Ian is seeing the face of Christ! He is talking Freely, able to speak, able to say “I love you Mom and Dad for all you have done.”

Mary wrote in her journal: “Ian is in heaven playing with Jesus. He is running, singing, and jumping up and down. His hands are held high and he is praising the Lord. His legs aren’t crossed and he is running. His contagious personality has already won over the angels. I view him in heaven as a wild and crazy two-year-old boy having the time of his life and I praise God this!! You know how a two year old gets so excited and they just dance and stomp their feet in place. Their faces light up and they just smile and giggle? That’s how Wae and I see Ian.”

Ian is home in heaven waiting on us!

KJV Only?

In the video the pastor is leading his church to burn copies of books of Christian authors and various versions of the Bible. Obviously, he believes the KJV is the only version of the Scriptures for English speaking people. After all, it is also called the "Authorized Version"!

I am not against the KJV. I have memorized numerous verses out of the KJV. Without question, the Elizabethian English of the KJV has a beauty unparalleled by modern translations. To this day, I prefer reading Psalm 23 out of the KJV because it is a beautiful rendering of the Hebrew text.

In my area of the country it is not unusual to see "KJV Only" on church signs. While many churches in my denomination do not explicitely say "KJV Only" they use only the KJV. Out of sensitivity for thier positions, I would not use another translation if I were invited to preach in such churches.

However, I believe that my brothers in Christ err when they insist that the KJV is the only version for English-speaking people. Based on the translators writings in the Preface to the 1611 version, want to cite several reasons why I believe the KJV is not the only version for English-speaking people:

1. To argue that the KJV is the only English version is to deny the various English versions which preceeded it (e.g., from William Tyndale to Matthew Parker). Were not people saved under the preaching of these versions? In the Preface to the original 1611 KJV, the translators wrote" "Truly (good Christian Reader) we never thought from the beginning, that we should need to make a new Translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one, ... but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principal good one, not justly to be excepted against."

2. The translators recognized that there were variant readings, thus they included references to such variants in the margin.
"Some peradventure would have no variety of senses to be set in the margin, lest the authority of the Scriptures for deciding controversies by that show of uncertainty, should somewhat be shaken. But we hold their judgment not to be so sound in this point."

3. The translators agree that a variety of translations is beneficial. "Therefore as S[aint] Augustine saith, that variety of Translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the Scriptures: so diversity of signification and sense in the margin, where the text is not so clear, must need do good, yea, is necessary, as we are persuaded."

4. The translators sought not to create a poetic version of Scripture (the KJV is often praise as such), but to create a clear version of the Scriptures: "But we desire that the Scripture may speak like itself, ... that it may be understood even by the very vulgar." Is this not the aim of modern translations? It appears that the translators of the KJV would be in agreement and support of modern translations!

5. The translators did not view thier translation as superior to those preceeding it. In the Preface they wrote: "... we are so far off from condemning any of their labors that travelled before us in this kind, either in this land or beyond sea, ... that we acknowledge them to have been raised up by God, ... and that they deserve to be had of us and of posterity, in everlasting remembrance. "

6. The translators acknowledged that just as their translation had advantages over preceeding translations due to advance in scholarship and availability of manuscripts, so future translations will have such advantage over thier own:
"Yet for all that, as nothing is begun and perfected at the same time, and the later thoughts are thought to be the wiser; so, if we building upon their foundation that went before us, and being helped by their labors, do endeavor to make that better which they left so good; no man, we are sure, hath cause to mislike us; they, we persuade ourselves, if they were alive, would thank us."

7. The translators noted that their new translation would be treated with suspicion (i.e., like tranlsations since the KJV have been treated): "Zeal to promote the common good, whether it be by devising any thing ourselves, or revising that which hath been labored by others, deserves certainly much respect and esteem, but yet finding but cold entertainment in the world. ... For he that meddles with men's Religion in any part, meddles with their customs, nay, with their freehold, and though they find no content in that which they have, yet they cannot abide to hear of altering [it]. ... Many men's mouths have been open a good while (and yet are not stopped) with speeches about the Translation so long in hand, or rather perusals of Translations made before: and ask what may be the reason, what the necessity of the employment: Hath the Church been deceived, say they, all this while? ... Was their Translation good before? Why do they now mend it? Was it not good? Why then was it obtruded to the people? ..." Does this sound familiar? Yes!

There are several other reasons one could give, but by this point (if you have made it this far) you are probably tired of reading! The bottom line is that modern-day preachers have placed the KJV on a level never intended by its original translators. It is too bad that the Preface is seldom printed in KJV's today. Perhaps if it were, more KJV only advocates would reconsider. (Then again, they probably wouldn't.) I like the KJV version, but I prefer to use other versions as well-I think the translators would have too!

Jim Wright, pastor