Monday, November 18, 2019

Lessons & Confessions Regarding Social Media

Lately life has been coming hard at my family.  Our trials have been above average for quite some time, 13 years at least.  Yet I'm not so sure we're all that different than a lot of people.  My former boss and friend used to say, "The minute you complain about not having any shoes you see a guy with no feet."  I've grown to answer people who tell me "my trials are nothing like yours" with "don't minimize them, your trials are your trials."

Wait, what's that got to do with social media?  A lot actually.  What follows is more of my heart (my story) and an attempt show you how I did it wrong and started straightening out than to teach anyone as one having authority.  I'm more like the aging father or old grandfather just trying to say don't learn the hard way, listen to an idiot so you don't become one.

Social media can be huge anchor, cement shoes even.  It's a breeding ground for contention and one-upmanship.  Granted I've made some amazing friendships because of it and due to my local church have met dozens who became friends through social media.  Yet not too many years ago I used social media as a way to get out all the teaching I thought I was supposed to do.  Much of my time, not all but way too imbalanced, was spent engaged in theological debate, or worse, cutting down false teachers and/or brethren.  Now mind you theology is a worthy endeavor.  And exposing false teachers is important.  Yet it's key how it's done.  I'm not talking about tone.  I'm talking about attitude.  

A brother made this powerful comment recently, "It's easy to look down at others when you've placed yourself above them."

I'm convinced I was that man.  It was not intentional. Pride is subtle like that.  It kills but it does so with great sleight of hand.  If we're not mindful of it, or place ourselves under powerfully skilled shepherds, yes, gifted men of God, it will destroy us.

But anyway,

I was dying for dialogue with believers.  Dialog which for the most part was lacking in my local church brethren.  The desire was for sharpening, for reasoning together, but often as I look backwards it was contentious and pugnacious.  I recall a dear friend that I used to work with, a young man who I hired as one of my framers, message me one morning that I was always posting fiery topics and picking people apart.  I distinctly recall asking some friends, is it true?  I reviewed posts and said is it I?  I received affirmation that it wasn't, that I was good.  Looking back I firmly believe my friend was right.  Funny thing is 3-4 years later when I apologized to him he said he was too harsh and I wasn't that bad.  I think we both grew a little in those years in between.  It was also around that time that my pastor used a boneheaded move I made online as a sermon illustration.  I'm certain it was me.  But you know what?  He never got in my face.  He just let the preaching of the word do the work and when I would approach him he'd gently yet firmly counsel me.

Around 2011-2012 I started going down the road of contention. And the longer I stayed on that road, the darker it got, and the potholes and the dips got deeper and rougher. But like a stubborn horse resisting the reigns I kept going at breakneck speed.  I had walked my own way.  Like Uzzah I was trying to do the right thing but the wrong way. I just desired for brethren to believe right but God never commanded me to correct everybody. I'd sat under, for lack of better terms, docile men who had no fight in them for truth.  

So when I arrived at my current church my pastor would fire me up every Sunday and I tried to emulate his calling of correcting errors but it wasn’t my place.  My calling was, and is, to lead my family, to pay close attention to my doctrine, and this is key, and to my manner of life, to live peaceably among others.  I've often been asked if I'm a seminary guy.  My reply is always, "no, I'm just a wannabe."  I'm not called to be a pastor or an elder.  My job has always been to properly lead my own family (that's hard enough for me!) and to keep myself in the word and growing.  I put myself in a position that I was never intended to fill. I’m the pastor of my family not a shepherd of other people's sheep.  

You see, I'm a great sinner.  In need of great grace.  I'm nobody.  God reached down to grab me and He pulled up a lot of muck with my smelly bones and rotting flesh.  As Iain Murray said in 2015, I need to "stay low."  Or as 1 Corinthians says, God saved the weak, the ignoble, the foolish, and the off-scouring of the world.  What do I have that I have not been given?

By all means we should contend earnestly for the faith but contentiousness is not a fruit of the spirit.  It's a work of the flesh.  Such things my pastor has hammered through texts like Galatians 5.  Then my direct pastor and shepherd has mercilessly pounded me for 8 years with the truths of Philippians and 2 Corinthians, and many others.  Yet in it he has also gently and patiently endured my sins.  Me a guy 20 years his senior.  I'm so thankful for him.  Yet those are not the only two guys that have impacted me.  There are countless others.

If my activity on social media is to prove I am right, I’m doing it totally wrong. If when I talk to my brothers at church I’m just trying to straighten them out, I’m totally out of whack.  When the unbeliever reads what I say I want them to say that’s what a real Christian looks like. That’s a guy who doesn’t think too highly of himself. That’s a guy who loves people. I don’t want them looking at me and saying, 'wow if that’s how he treats other Christians I want no part of it!'

Oh, and I despise Twitter.  My interaction there has been very minimal because it’s like a 13th-century battlefield where the clash of Claymore‘s and the hurling of battle axes is commonplace.  My pastor has likened it to a food fight.  He’s far too kind. It’s more like a bloody battlefield where people mercilessly bludgeon each other.  My arena is Facebook.  It’s not much better.  It has its own version of bludgeoning.

Hopefully that's not too disjointed.  I hated English in high school.  Tried my best to fail it.

So where has this led me?  

I want to love the brethren.  I want to care for their issues.  I want to pray them through their trials.  I want to live a verse I memorized some 29 plus years ago.

With humility of mind regard others as more important than myself, to look out for their interests and not just my own.

I've greatly benefited from the encouragement of others.  I'd rather be engaged in encouraging the brethren to run the race, to fight the good fight, to endure hardship, to fix their eyes on the Author and Finisher of their faith.  Lord knows when I'm hurting it's what I want and need.  

Yet so often what I see is people spending most, if not all, of their time engaged in skirmishes on multiple fronts.  I'm no military mind but that's not a good plan for winning a war.  When I was engaged in that I was just taking shots that were chipping away at me and making a fool of me and my Savior.  Shots that would eventually knock me down and out.

A few years ago I purposed to "stay in my lane" as a brother counseled me 7 or 8 years ago.  My lane is my immediate family, my church family, and my extended church family, not every hot topic and errant teaching.  Note I said "not every."

Will I be silent on issues?  No.  

I will endeavor to address all things with dignity, humility, and compassion.  Because that's what Christians are called to do and be.

Or as I've said previously, Christians ought to look like Christ without thinking they are Him.

~ He must increase.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Abolishing Abortion: Fighting for a Cause?

Pro-life, pro-choice, or other? There was a time when I thought the first two were the only major camps. Sure, there were always variations of people within each camp but, by and large, most people fell into one of the two. However, I've recently learned of another camp. This particular camp shares similarities with the religious zealots of biblical times. For those who may be unaware, the zealots were those who were religious fanatics to the point where they would murder the opposing government officials. One could consider them religious assassins. While this third category isn't necessarily out bombing abortion clinics (nor would they advocate such tactics), their extremism is performed in a very different, yet equally as dangerous, manner. So who is this mystery category? It contains those deemed as abolitionists. The most prominent group in this category is known as Abolish Human Abortion (AHA).
AHA members come in a variety of shapes and sizes but they all have one thing in common: abolishing abortion.
On this particular point, I have no disagreement. As Christians, the complete eradication of evil should always be strived for. However, we must also understand we live in a fallen world with unregenerate sinners. Thus, it should also be understood that, this side of heaven, we'll never achieve that end goal. AHA is an interesting group as it neither falls under pro-life nor pro-choice. In fact, they will openly proclaim that both movements entertain evil and are wicked. Not so long ago, I would've been scratching my head asking myself what else is left. Now, it's not quite as confusing. My end conclusion? AHA is both misguided as well as dangerous.
When I first heard of AHA, I decided to follow them on Facebook and even shared some of their posts. Imagine my surprise when I heard they were picketing churches and protesting bills that directly attacked abortion. While it's easy to mischaracterize groups with whom you disagree, I want to ensure I accurately portray their stance in this blog post. Essentially, AHA members are abolitionists. Anything short of the complete eradication of abortion is considered unsatisfactory. To this end, I agree. Where we part ways is in the methods used to achieve such a goal. While the pro-life camp is typically accepting of incremental laws that whittle away at abortion little by little, AHA is diametrically opposed to such bills. The main reason for this is because they feel it's showing partiality toward some babies while showing acceptance and compromise toward others. A perfect example would be the recent "heartbeat bill" that multiple states are currently looking at. The pro-life movement is generally in favor of bills such as these because we're willing to accept baby steps. At no point are they deemed satisfactory but they are accepted as first steps toward a more comprehensive goal. However, as stated, AHA believes them to be wicked bills that dehumanize and promote the murder of babies without detectable heartbeats. While being a noble cause, it's misguided at best and deadly at worst.
Before we go any further, I find it important to remind us all that God is sovereign in all He does. In His infinite wisdom, He has allowed abortion is be legal in our country. Regardless what happens from here, He's over all. That fact doesn't negate our responsibility to care for the little ones and to be a voice for the voiceless (Proverbs 31:8-10). After all, that's the entire position of the pro-life movement. Yet, AHA will openly declare this to be a foolish approach. If one were to say the end goal is to save lives, they'll openly deny such a charge. In fact, they openly criticize pro-lifers as being willing to save lives at all costs. By "all costs," they mean being willing to accept incremental bills. While we declare incremental bills to be more palatable and more likely to be passed (which, in turn, saves some lives in the process), they believe, by promoting these bills, we're accepting evil and promoting the deaths of other babies so long as we save some. With this outlook, it's not hard to see why they believe us to be wrong. It sounds monstrous! Sadly, it's a strawman. Allow me to explain.
Abortion is currently legal in our country. We don't have to pass any laws to legalize the murder of prenatal babies as it already exists. If a law is passed that prohibits the murder of prenatal babies of whom a heartbeat is detected, while allowing the murder of those of whom there is no heartbeat detected, it isn't synonymous with newly creating a law that legalizes their murder. Again, this is because that law is already on the books. It simply means we've now saved countless babies in the first pass and are coming back to save the rest in the next pass (or however many passes it may take to achieve the end goal of abolition). It's whittling away at existing law and removing its power little by little when taking it head on would prove to be too much. A lumberjack doesn't go into the woods and demand an oak tree be felled. No, he swings his axe and, with each connection, removes a part of the tree. He continues to do this until the tree is too weak to stand and, finally, falls under its own weight. Just as an oak is brought down by incremental swings, so the path to abolition will be through incrementally removing the authority of existing abortion laws. By opposing such measures and tactics, while AHA may be able to feel upright, just, self-righteous, and treating everyone equally, all they really accomplish is equally leading all babies to the slaughter. This isn't noble. It's illogical and wicked. It has more to do with the Pharisee in Luke 18:10-11 who, in his self-righteousness, was thankful that he wasn't "unjust" as the tax collector next to him. While maintaining a feeling of righteousness and pure justice, real human lives are being lost because they refuse to allow any law to pass that doesn't include all babies from being rescued in a single pass. Again, in their stubbornness, it only results in no babies being saved while they're afforded the opportunity to snub their nose in the air and mock those who are making every attempt to at least save one. Yes, if only even one is saved, it's all worth it as we continue making progress toward abolition.
Sadly, it appears the abolitionist movement is expanding into other groups and is no longer limited to the likes of AHA. While many of these new groups oppose the fanatical approach and tactics used by AHA, they've begun to adopt the view that incremental bills are wretched. In many of these groups, it's less of a sense of self-righteousness and more of a belief that incremental bills won't work and that we'll lose precious time that could've been spent working on abolition bills. While we disagree on the likelihood of such "totality" bills passing, I can at least appreciate where they're coming from. Unfortunately, it still tends to be illogical and dangerous. For instance, one common objection to the heartbeat bill is that, since it's the abortionist performing the heartbeat ultrasound, he/she will be more likely to either skip the ultrasound altogether or purposely miss the heartbeat by performing the ultrasound in the wrong place. Essentially, the view is that the abortionist can't be trusted. Therefore, the heartbeat bill is pointless and babies with a heartbeat will be aborted anyway. Is there any credibility to this argument? I dare so there's not. Let me explain why.
I can understand the skepticism which would lead one to assume the abortionist will purposely miss the heartbeat or perform the abortion anyway. It's a healthy sort of skepticism. However, it's also pure speculation rooted in presuppositional assumption. Think of it another way. People are always trying to find mechanic shops who are willing to fudge numbers to help a modified car pass a smog test. As much as mechanics are generally automotive enthusiasts and don't particularly like smog laws, finding a shop that will do it is extremely difficult. This is because most mechanics aren't willing to risk losing their livelihood and being unable to put food on their table over a random customer. Another example is gun shows. We've all heard the "gun show loophole" but it's also a myth. I've bought a gun from a gun show and, even as active duty military, I had to provide certain paperwork in order to get one. They were adamant that they couldn't sell me one without the paperwork being provided first to prove my residency in the city. Most licensed gun vendors aren't willing to risk losing their license and affect putting food on their table all for a stranger. Will there be those who will do it anyway? Of course! However, they'll be criminals and, if they get caught (be it by audit or by investigation after probable cause comes to light), they'll face the consequences. I'm very convinced most abortionists will play by the rules out of fear of losing their livelihood should they get caught. To add to this thought, if we're going to enter the realm of speculation, imagine how many pro-life pregnant women will receive a positive heartbeat ultrasound by a credible healthcare provider only to go to a mill and feign wanting an abortion in order to "catch" an abortionist telling her there's no heartbeat. They'd be too easy to catch and prosecute. Again, most aren't willing to lose their careers and negatively impact their family's way of life over a stranger. As it stands, most of the remaining abolitionist objections are rooted in the same flawed sense of logic.
As I draw to a close, I want to reaffirm the fact that total abolition should absolutely be the end goal. If an abolition bill were to go up today, I'd be in full support of it. However, I wouldn't stop there, rest on my laurels, and consider my job complete. What if it fails? What if it fails repeatedly? Do we continue to play the same song on repeat or do we strategize and make a more effective plan? To be honest, I wish the pro-choice camp had the same mentality as AHA and other abolitionists back in 1973. If that were the case, they would've demanded legalizing medical professionals to leave babies to die on a table simply because they're unwanted. Unfortunately, the pro-choice movement was rooted in incrementalism. What began as a divide within the church over feminism then shifted into a right to privacy and doctor/patient confidentiality in cases of abortion. This then paved the way for late term and partial birth abortions. Today, babies are left to die if they survive a botched abortion. Don't be fooled. It was incrementalism that led us to the horrific place we're at today. They knew it would work and they stood united in the cause. I say it's about time we steal their playbook and use incrementalism against them until they no longer have any power to stand. Instead of fighting the pro-life crowd at the expense of human lives, instead, stand united and take down the oak tree known as abortion, one swing at a time!
~Travis W. Rogers

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Reflections on Shepherd's Conference 2019

O Lord, You are my God; I will exalt You, I will give thanks to Your name; 
For You have worked wonders, Plans formed long ago, with perfect faithfulness. ~ Isaiah 25:1

Well, another conference has come and gone.  Conference week is so full.  So rich.  When I'm in mode it's like riding on a cloud.  It gets busy and hectic at times yet there are those sweet down moments when you can breathe a little and engage with the guys or a brother/sister of Grace Church.  It's one of those spaces of time when you completely forget you're in the middle of a great metropolis of dirt and filth.  We're in "a bubble."  The bubble of Christ's bride actively functioning as one.  Everyone is bending over backwards to help one another, to encourage one another, to build up one another.  It truly is a taste of heaven.  But then on Friday 3:30-4:00 rolls around and you're rapidly downshifting, preparing to stop.  Next thing you know you drive away, tired, dead tired, yet full in ways that are difficult to describe.  This year was no exception.  The routine of life begins again the next day.  If we're alert and awake, the conference buzz doesn't disappear it just shifts into a lower, steady gear.

For me the conference was too short as life challenges limited the time I could be a part of the splendor.  However, the Lord filled my cup yet again.  So for those who care to read this, that's what this is about.  Faithfulness was the theme so let me tell you a bit about faithful men and women in the body of Christ.

First, many of our faithful ladies that lead the food side of things, and food is a huge part of Shep Con, have had eyes on my daughter for years.  Since day one 8 years ago they have been training her up to not only serve well but to be a leader for the next generation of Grace Church. Last year they decided it was time so the ever popular Hot Dog station had a new kid in town.  A bit intimidating becoming a point leader of a team that comprised over a dozen people, including saints that have been serving in this capacity for decades.  They graciously accepted this new kid and did what ought to be done, they took their experience and love for the Lord and poured it into this young girl.  What grace!  This year the kid became a young woman.  Her love for the people she served and the people she served with was noticeably more mature, at least to dad.  She took that ball and ran with it.  But, not without a wealth of coaching and preparation by her mentors, before, during, and after.  These faithful men and women willingly served under the lead of a woman barely out of her teens, and they served joyfully.  Whether they're 90 years old, 80, or in their 60's they know they aren't the future of Christ's church so they poured their hearts into one who is.  These people have faithfully delivered dogs to the men for 20, 30, almost 40 years.  Why?  Simply because they desire to bless the men who handle the word of God and instruct the bride of Christ week in and week out. 

This faithfulness is duplicated all over campus by scores of servants who faithfully love the body of Christ and employ their gifts to it.  Whether it's parking lot control, kitchen, parking lot/table management, linens services, or the drinks supply team, the examples are everywhere and when you're among it you cannot help but be motivated by love to do the same.  Imitate them as they imitate Christ.

For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. ~ John 13:15 

As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. ~ 1 Peter 4:10

But let me tell you once again about the brothers that bless me again and again.  When I hit my area I was greeted with hugs from a few guys I've known over the years.  Pastors of small churches and medium churches.  Brothers who naturally go into pastor mode and check on how I am doing, how my family is.  Brothers who can communicate in 5 seconds that they've been aware of our trials and have been praying.  Encouraging me to fight the fight and not grow weary as we do for them each year they arrive.  Friendships born out of the conference and cultivated throughout the years and years of contact that technology brings.  It goes way beyond a 3-4 day event but extends throughout the year in such a way that the church gets so big and the blessings fall like an avalanche.

One great blessing was discussing some heavy church matters with my brother from Iowa.  The wisdom and care was very apparent.  The time spent will certainly strengthen our friendship.  It was another reminder that I need godly men in my life that will build me up and help carry me along in the right direction.  One that is on the watch for error yet so focused on sanctifying grace that he'll be a rudder instead of an anchor.  I'm looking forward to what the future holds with this friendship.  I'm also certain should I ever desire to move to Iowa there is a solid church to be a part of.

Another was meeting a man from Louisiana that I've known through social media.  He always encourages me in the simplest of ways.  It was about 30 or 40 minutes after my Pastor Mike had just rocketed a sermon across campus.  I noticed the buzz as my Twitter feed was going nuts with respected brothers saying things like "theology on fire" and much more.  This man was still visibly moved by the power of the message.  No baby in the faith, saying he had not heard it in such a way before, not that it was new but that is was powerful.   It stirred him.  For me it gives me great pleasure that men are seeing the immense treasure and value in the man I love as my pastor.  My pastor would quickly and consistently defer to God, that he is merely an instrument of His and that God would get all that He is worthy of.  My pastor is another example of faithfulness.  I'm pretty happy to know that as my Louisiana brother cuts the grass he'll have these kind of sermons in his ears.

There are always the quick shots in passing from brothers as they/we scurry about.  It's a joy to say hello to pastors who introduce me to yet another member of their church and give me a brief update on their church.  It helps me throughout the year as I think about them and the Lord lays it on me to pray for them.  Not a 3-4 day event but a way of life throughout the year.  These brothers faithfully proclaim the truth.  They faithfully feed the sheep.  And they faithfully encourage the sheep of Grace Church when they return year after year. 

It's always a joy to see a brother who hasn't been to the conference in 4-5 years.  We reconnect face to face and cement the friendship we maintain through the technology of modern communication.  That may happen in a minute, maybe 5.  It's always too brief,  Yet we know that we have each others back throughout the year.  There are also moments in session when former GCC men, TMS alum, sit down with you for 15 minutes and discuss what's happening in their world and yours, always accompanied with the open invitation to visit and offer that if you ever move from here there's a place for you.

Prayers for one another can be offered no matter where we are.  We can communicate anytime and in many ways.  These are faithful friends, unseen but always present. 

One thing commonly heard is that while the speakers are wonderful and good for the growth of everyone in attendance it's the relationships that make this conference.  Truly the love of Christ is manifest in His bride and it's more glorious than we can imagine.  Because God always works according to His riches instead of out of them.  He lavishes us all with the blessings of fellowship.

One day we'll do this grand thing called fellowship permanently and without sin, without distractions, without the hindrances of location.  The nations will come together for good.  So whether it's a moment on earth with brothers from Croatia, Madagascar, Canada, New York, New England, Washington, Oregon, New Mexico, Texas, Europe or anywhere else, we'll join with one voice and one purpose.  We'll glorify the Lamb together in ways we've anticipated for years.  Our oneness in Christ as He gathers us from every tribe, tongue, and nation will be manifest in heavenly glory.  What a day that shall be!  Until then we run the race of faith, encouraging one another as we see the Day approaching.

He must increase,

Some Thoughts on Shepherd's Conference

Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 

~ 1 Peter 4:9-10

As I woke up the day after Shepherd's Conference 2018 my heart was full.  Trials and the groanings of living in this sin-stained world were still very much a reality but if I focus there I'll lose perspective that God has granted many precious and magnificent promises (2 Pet 1:4) to His children and that not only will we one day live in His presence but we can enjoy life abundantly now (John 10:10).  Circumstances cannot drive our joy like the tide of the ocean.  Our God is steadfast.  He is steady.  He is sure and He is certain.  As a brother shared with me at Shep Con, the sun is always in the sky, it's only our perspective that has changed.  One day we're on the mountaintop, another we're in the valley.  The sun has not moved.  We have.  So yes, upon rising that morning my cup overflowed because the Lord is gracious and full of compassion (Ps 111:4).  His mercies are new every morning.  And when Shep Con comes around the Lord fills my cup, the cup of the members of Grace Community Church, with a firehose.  It's like standing under Niagara Falls, except we never get swept away by its shear power, only awestruck by it's pure glory.

You might be thinking what is this conference?  It is a gathering of around 3,500 thousand men from around the world.  Mostly from North America but a total of 57 countries.  These men are pastors of churches all over the world.  Mixed in with them are lay leaders and men who are being trained and nurtured in leading Christ's church.  

Some people believe they come just for the 8 or so speakers that will challenge them and encourage them in the task of shepherding.  After all the charge is to shepherd the flock of God among you...not for sordid gain, but with eagerness...proving to be examples to the flock so that those under their care can imitate (them) as they imitate Christ and be lights in the world (1 Pet 5:2,3; 1 Cor 11:1; Phi 2:16).  Yet the naysayers and disgruntled can always be found accusing these precious brothers of being mere fanboys traveling from conference to conference, receiving their injection of enthusiasm only to return to the dreary every week task of worship at their own local church.  Such accusations may accurately fall upon the few but the reality is that the overwhelming majority are there for far, far more than well known Christian leaders. 

These guys come year after year to renew friendships face to face.  Friendships that often begin here but with the technology of social media, for one, relate to one another throughout the year.  These brothers hit the campus and see beloved co-laborers in the gospel and the hugs abound.  Followed by times of prayer, laughter, sharing the heart wrenching realities of the daily struggles of personal trials and ministry challenges or the joys of ministry in their home church.  And they come for the volunteers of Grace Church.

You see, we don't just do speakers.  We don't just sit in a cold cavernous building and serve them carnival food that breaks their wallet.   And no, I'm not sure what the standard conference venue is like these days but I do recall the days of attending events at convention centers and sports arenas.  But I do know I've heard this from more than one, "you guys are the gold standard", "you make us feel like we're at home", "I tell my church we want to model what they're doing at Grace Church", "there's nothing like Shepherd's Conference and it's because of the volunteers and the camaraderie of the men."   Our leaders recognize the value these beloved pastors and leaders are to the church.  So we dote on them.  We feed them more than they could be fed on a cruise line.  To the point they say, "you're trying to feed us to death" and "this is unbelievable."

No, we're just honoring you as we ought.  Pouring our love out to you who faithfully labor over the flock of God day in and day out.

These guys have an ice cream shop, a shave shop, can get their shoes shined or buy a gift for their wife and children.  They can enjoy the sessions in the worship center or in cabanas set up outside or the open courtyards.  They can grab a Sweet Tea or Cappuccino.  Stroll by the hot dog stand or grab an acai bowl.  And every time they will have a willing and joyful member of Grace Church to hand it to them.  They're in our house.  They are our honored guests.  Sit back, and enjoy being treated like kings because you know what, ministry can get messy.  These dear brothers need encouragement.  They should receive a little blessing from us because often our sinfulness makes their ministry difficult.  

We do not serve to be noticed.  We serve because Christ commanded it.  As Timothy served Paul, for the furtherance of the gospel so the church should and does serve these men for 3 days.  With meekness and humility the volunteers are merely third level under rowers, seeking no accolades, though these dear pastors never cease to give them.  It is Christ.  It is His church, His bride, His doing, His strength, His empowering, and His glory, alone! 

And these guys get books.  Do they get books!  Solid biblical books the size of 4 Lifeway's with the content of Westminster Seminary.  Ok, maybe Master's and Westminster.  Not only do they get a bag of books with their attendance but this year they received the sweetest goatskin bible you'll touch, the Preachers Bible.  Given to them so that they can have a clear easy to read bible to preach from and write their own notes in instead of the distractions or the eye strain other bibles will give them from the pulpit.  And if they want more books, and they do, they get them at screaming low prices because, well, just because.  

So what are these thoughts on Shep Con 2018?  Well that's some of them.  But I'll close with a few others.  I've only enjoyed about 7 of these but in that time I know men who pastor churches in Texas, Virginia, New England, Canada, South Africa, England, Minnesota, Washington, Oregon and the list could go on.  These guys look for volunteers now and you know what, they encourage them and pray for them, as we do them.  They have a flock at home yet they know much about us as we do them, so the one another's of the body of Christ extend beyond the walls of the local church.  

First timers?  Ha, love those guys.  They have no idea.  I met a brother named Luther from Baltimore on day one before registration.  He looked kind of deer in the headlights near the registration line.  Alone.  I approached him and learned he came out of a Pentecostal background some time ago and heard about John MacArthur and the conference so gave it a shot.  I gave him some pointers. Told him to engage the attendees and volunteers and see what this was really about.  After snapping a picture and exchanging phone numbers I went on my way and he on his.  Then on the last day, day three, he spotted me from behind in preparation for sprint mode.  Stopped dead in my tracks I extended my hand and looked him the eye, holding tight, and said, "So?"  He went from a huge smile to dropping his head to his left in disbelief, saying a thousand words in one motion, before saying, "man, it's unbelievable.  I'm so blessed!"  Then he asked me if I knew of a meaty theological book to help him in his growth, he was after all headed for that gigantic book tent.  "I know just the guy you need to see.  Go to the Banner of Truth table and ask for ______.  He'll take care of you."  An hour later I received a text from this dear brother at Banner.  He had a great conversation with Luther and helped him get the right book.   

Then there's the multiple guys that stopped me or caught me at a down time and asked me about my family (and I theirs) and then prayed for me.  Oh and the books, yes, the books.  Two guys brought me books, just because they minister.  It's what they do!  And these guys thank us for serving?!  No and no again.  Thank you, because without you there is no us! 

There's Jerry.  Ahh, Jerry.  He has been coming down for 11 years straight.  I met him 7 years ago.  Every year the Lord in His kindness makes our paths cross and we both light up.  Jerry, like the grande finale of a fireworks show.  That guy has more joy than a dog after his parents pick him up from the kennel following a two week vacation.

I could tell countless stories but I'll end with this.  My daughter and I are leaving for the last time.  The final session is starting.  A man I recognize but have not met (Oh I will next year!) stops my daughter and thanks her, says she's a great blessing, that he's been watching how she serves for 7 years.  Talk about melting a dad's heart!

So, Shepherd's Conference.  It is the body of Christ coming together under the unity of the gospel of Jesus Christ to serve one another and be served.  To love each other as Christ loved His disciples.  And when Grace Church does it and these men come and do it, it is nothing short of glory this side of heaven.

He must increase,

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Discerning the Discerners

There are certain things if life most people enjoy. Within the church, those things tend to revolve around gospel preaching, friendly fellowship, and spiritual growth. On the flip side of the coin, there are things most people tend to dislike such as needless contention, unnecessary quarreling, and prideful know-it-all antagonists. On the internet, a person possessing these attributes is commonly referred to as a keyboard warrior and I think it's safe to say most of us wish they'd just sit on their hands instead of typing.

As of recent, I've been paying more and more attention to an online polemical website called Pulpit & Pen. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Truth be told, to a certain degree, this site has been on my radar for years. I used to view it as a valuable resource when it came to researching false teachers. Their no-holds-barred mentality was refreshing to see in the fight against doctrinal error and the stand for truth. After all, when war is constantly being waged on the truth, can we really sit by idly and watch it get pummeled with no recourse or consequence? However, I was also very different at that time. I was in the latter days of my Calvinistic "cage stage" and was beginning to see the ramifications of my over-the-top, no nonsense attitude. I began to see how I had caused many to become irritated with my rants and had begun to see me as divisive, however sincere I was in my efforts to show the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Simply put: a dangerous chapter in my life was coming to a close. No, it wasn't a danger of spreading false teaching. It was a danger of causing harmful division by being so ready to label everybody a false teacher.

Looking back on this time in my life, while being ashamed, I also have a certain sense of appreciation for it. Having experienced such a mentality in my own life has given me a strong desire to stand for truth while also possessing a more mature mindset and method of execution. As I look upon solid teachers such as John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, and James White (to name only but a few), I see what standing for biblical truth should look like. It's not about calling out error at all costs. It's about standing for truth while being gracious to brothers and sisters in the Lord. Sometimes, a harsh rebuke is needed against blatant false teachers or heretics. There’s absolutely no denying that. After all, if one comes preaching another gospel, he is to be accursed (Galatians 1:8). However, there are many times where the situation isn’t quite as dire and gentle correction or even respectful discussion is more fruitful.

Sadly, this is a lesson certain writers of Pulpit & Pen have yet to learn. While still having many important things to say, it's almost as if they're in a perpetual "cage stage". Instead of standing for truth, it appears as if they stand more for polemics and entering combat like a well-trained soldier. Whereas it used to be about
warning others of real wolves in sheep's clothing, it's slowly morphed into an opportunity to find even the slightest bit of error (even if only perceived) and drop a nuke on it no matter the cost to unity in the body (Ephesians 4:2-3). Instead of waiting things out, giving brothers in the faith the benefit of the doubt, and seeing how things play out, we see harsh attacks that even go so far as saying such a brother has forsaken the gospel. In reality, it's not much different than the tactics of mainstream media who are, oftentimes, too quick to release a story without having all (or any) of the facts and, in the end, they produce a retraction and apology for the misreporting. However, in the case of P&P, such retractions and apologies tend to be non-existent because their writers feel they have done no wrong. I recently had a personal interaction with one of the writers and I ended up having to walk away from it because it just wasn't going to produce any fruit. Instead, I felt as if I were being trolled ad antagonized while the other person clearly felt vindicated, justified, and "winning" the war on terror. It's this sense of pride that underscores the writings of P&P. Instead of being gracious truth-seekers, they're instead laced with pride, assaults, accusations, and defamation. Ultimately, it lacks Christ-like love and seeks to destroy anything in its sights. Heaven forbid I end up in their crosshairs for speaking against what feels like God's anointed ambassador of discernment and eradicator of error. I may never see the end of it!

All this to say, I highly encourage everyone to go and read their articles. Don’t just take what I’m saying at face value. I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge that they have called out many heretics over the years. This isn’t the problem. The problem resides in where they fail to draw the line between heretics and brothers who may err on a particular topic. Sadly, this has become more and more commonplace. While there are some diamonds in the rough, much of it is just the rough without the diamond. In my recent discussion, I was asked for specific examples of where I felt P&P had erred. To be honest, there's just too much to list. On top of this fact, there are multitudes who have already dedicated too much time in providing requested examples. Hence, this article isn't meant to change the mind of P&P as much as it is meant to encourage you, the reader, to discern the discerners. Everybody needs to be held in check, including those who deem themselves to be at the tip of the spear in calling out error. The spear just isn't always necessary. We don't always need to be waiting in the shadows, ready to strike at the first moment that someone says the wrong thing, uses the wrong verbiage, or takes a contrary position on a secondary issue just so you can know you reported on it before anybody else. This isn't a spirit of discernment. It's a spirit of strife laced with the poison of pride and arrogance. As for the specifics I mentioned earlier, it's like being asked for specific examples of why a landfill stinks. Sometimes, it's just the overall smell of garbage.

~Travis W. Rogers

Saturday, February 23, 2019

A Picture of Faith

As I looked out and saw my dog contentedly sleeping at my feet I thought of how happy he is to be around us and how he depends on us to provide for him.

90 minutes earlier he arose in excitement, gleefully pouncing up and down.  He wanted two things; breakfast and a potty break.  And in that order.  He was insistent. So much so that on this Saturday morning he woke me from a dead sleep.  Deader than normal because the previous night was especially exhausting, emotionally.  But he was persistent. A picture of persistence.  He wasn’t letting up with his request until I met it.  So guess what?  He won out.  I arose and led him to the back door, gleefully hopping all the way.  He did his business then just as eagerly as he went out he came back, “breakfast dad?!” Bouncing.  Wagging.  Happy.  Anticipatory.

So, I fed him.  I gave him fresh water.  I gave him a quick pat and said ‘good boy.’

I like to provide for him.  It’s my job.  It’s my responsibility.  And once I rub the sand out of my eyes it’s also my joy.  But back to him sleeping.

As I write he’s crashed like a little baby.  (Funny because even providence brought about his name, Baby.  I thought it odd at first but it could not be more appropriate).  Between mom and dad where he feels safe.  Feels loved.  And most content.  He likes nothing more than being by our side.  Often he loves to snuggle close enough to just touch us, even lay his head to rest on a leg or a foot.

You’re probably saying, ‘Ok, I get it.  He’s a dog. You sound like you like him.  Get to the point.’  Ok, I will.

I couldn’t help but think about how I’m like him.  Totally and utterly dependent on another.  Most content, most satisfied in the presence of another.

The Lord Jesus Christ.

Like my puppy I’m most at peace when I’m near Christ. What I desire most is to be in His presence.  It’s where I feel safe.  In fact, where I am safe.  Where I’m protected.

Like my pooch I, in a sense, wake Him up (though He never slumbers nor sleeps) and beg Him to meet me, to answer my need. But get this!  He never groggily arises and meanders to the door.  No, no.  He’s like, ‘I’m here! I’ve been waiting for you to ask.  Let’s go!’

He is an ever present help in time of trouble just as much as He answers my needs exceedingly abundantly above all I can ever ask or think.  He gives peace like a river that attends my way.  Stayed upon Him I find perfect peace and rest.

He said come to me and I will give you rest.  He said I will feed you.  I will be your portion.  He said draw near to Me and I will draw near to you.  He said I will never leave you nor forsake you.

And He hasn’t.

So the little lesson the Lord showed me on my Saturday morning was a simple yet profound one.  He used the image of my contented little boy asleep at my feet to remind me of Him.  

That as my canine is completely dependent upon me so I am completely dependent upon Him.  That as my little doggy is happiest and most content when he’s closest to me I am happiest and most content when I am closest to Christ. 

God pointed me to the scriptures that flood my mind and reveal who I am and who He is.  And He said fix your eyes upon Jesus, the Author and Finisher of your faith.

Whodathunk?  You can learn a lot from a dog.

He must increase,