Church is a People, Not a Product

School is officially back in session!  Kids have now found their way back to the classrooms, including right here at ABC with our Little Lights Preschool.  New school years always bring new beginnings, and I’m excited to see how God will begin a fresh new work in our ABC kids this year.  I hope you are still wearing your prayer bracelet from last weekend, and I encourage you to take some time to pray for that child by name today.

I firmly believe it is impossible to raise children to know, love, and serve Jesus Christ without belonging to a healthy local church.  Here at ABC, we strive to shine as that “city on a hill” that Jesus describes in Matthew 5:14: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Healthy local churches cannot be hidden because their light always offers hope for the lost and refuge for the saved.  I truly believe the local church is the hope for the world because we have been entrusted with the solution for the world, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

My question for you to consider today is, “have you gone all in at ABC?” Many Christians attend church, but not all truly belong to a church.  They may consume the product of a worship service regularly, but they may also never be fully immersed into a community of faith.  I encourage you to war against that western consumer mindset and remind yourself that church is supposed to be a people, not a product.  Church is not something we “do,” it is who we are.  I would encourage you to go “all in” at ABC by committing to do three things: Grow, Give and Go.

Grow.  We teach the word of God in our worship services, Sunday morning BFG classes, and Midweek discipleship classes.  We do this purposefully because we believe the word of God is inerrant (2 Tim 3:16), it is our authority (Ps 119:105), and it has the power to transform our lives (Heb 4:12, Rom 12:2).  Commit to worship each week, and come expectant to hear from the Lord through His word.  Commit to belong to a BFG class, so you can deepen your understanding of Scripture, ask questions, and begin to build Gospel-centered relationships with peers.

Give.  All things were made by Christ, through Christ, and for Christ (Colossians 1:16).  We are called to live generous lives because He has already been generous with us.  Yes, this does mean worshipping the Lord through our tithes and offerings (Malachi 3:10, Prov 3:9-10). But it also means worshipping Him through our time and talent.  I’m so proud of the hundreds of volunteers who serve our church faithfully each week. I’m proud of the dozens of adults who have been working hard these past few weeks in the Great Hall to bless a family in need with a new home.  I have found that the best way to find friendships and community in a church is by serving together.

Go.  Jesus did not call the church to stay, He called it to “go” (Matthew 28:19).  The church is meant to press on far beyond our physical walls.  This means we must learn to live intentional lives, on mission in our homes, workplaces, and neighborhoods.  Additionally, we must learn to do life with one another Monday through Saturday.  I love hearing how many of our BFG classes go out together, vacation together, and invest in each other’s lives.  I love hearing how our people minister to each other through prayer, checking in, visiting the hospital, or coming alongside one another in time of need. 

My question for you to consider is, “have you experienced church like that?”  If not, what is your next step?  For some, maybe you need to focus on growing by committing to worship and BFG’s each week.  Others may need to focus on giving.  Maybe you need to establish the discipline of tithing, or sign up to serve on one of our wonderful volunteer teams.  Others maybe need to start going.  You can get on mission this week by beginning to invest in the lives of others around you. I don’t what your next step is, but I do know that God will bless your obedience if you take that step of faith.  God wants to use each of our homes to help build His house.  And I’ve found that when you go “all in,” your home will also be blessed in the process.

I look forward to seeing you Sunday as we focus on “God’s Home Design” in Ephesians chapter 5.  We will also be honoring our 1st graders in both services for our annual “First Grade Bible Presentation.”  I hope you plan to join me to celebrate that special milestone moment this weekend.  Invite a friend and I’ll see you at 9am or 11:11am.

Onward and upward,

Jonathan Spencer

Last Sunday’s Sermon: Homebuilders – “Cleaning House” – Ephesians 4:25-32

Pray For Our Schools

It was great to be back with you last Sunday to kick off our Homebuilders series.  I’m looking forward to what God is going to do in the next several weeks as we learn how to Biblically build Christ-centered homes.  Last Sunday, we learned that our homes will only look different when we begin to look different ourselves.  So I encourage you to focus on some home renovations this week.  Spend time with the Lord to take off your old self, renew your mind, and put on your new self (Ephesians 4 22-24).  This will prepare you for this weekend where we will shift our focus to “cleaning house,” by examining Ephesians 4:25-32.  I encourage you to invite another family to join you for this special series as we strive to build together homes that will last.

This Sunday is also themed as “Back to School Sunday.”  Most of our local schools are beginning classes next week for the 2022-2023 school year.  In light of that, we are going to have a special prayer emphasis for all our returning students, educators, and administrators.  We will have some special guests worshipping with us this weekend including Leander ISD Superintendent, Dr. Bruce Gearing and Hyde Park School’s Head of School, Dr. Chris Coy.  I’m looking forward to encouraging and praying for these men and all the servant leaders and students at our local schools.  1 Timothy 2:1 says, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.” The church is called to pray for all people, and I cannot think of a better place to start than praying for our schools in this season.

Our children are constantly attacked by various worldly ideologies, sinful peer pressure, and the constant comparison of self to others.  Teachers and administrators are so often underappreciated, overworked, and underpaid.  I hope that you plan to join me in praying for God’s protection and favor over this coming school year.  You can do that by joining us in worship this weekend, but you can also do that individually next week by picking up a prayer bracelet at church.  Each bracelet will have the first name and grade level listed for a child in our church.  We’re going to encourage adults to pick one up after our worship services and put it on your wrist this week.  This will remind you to pause each day and pray for that child specifically by name. 

Thank you for being a prayerful church, and I do look forward to praying over this coming school year with you.  I’m also proud to say that “Project Homebuild” is officially underway!  If you haven’t heard, we are building a house at ABC!  While we are focusing on spiritually building up our homes in Austin, we will also be physically building up a home in our Great Hall.  This home is being constructed for a family of 12, the Quintana family, who are living in Penitas, Texas.  We are partnering with Buckner Missions to bless them with a much needed home in south Texas.  After we finish our part of the construction here in Austin, we will ship these assembled materials to Penitas and an ABC missions team will help assemble the pieces there on site.  If you would like to volunteer, please go online to austinbaptistchurch.com to be a part of this exciting special effort.

I pray that you will let there be light in your life and in your home this week.  Invite a friend to church this weekend, and I look forward to worshipping with you at 9am or 11:11am.

Onward and upward,

Jonathan Spencer

Last Sunday’s Sermon: Homebuilders – “Home Improvements” – Ephesians 4:17-24

Be A Homebuilder

This Sunday we’re kicking off a new sermon series titled, “Homebuilders.”  I’m excited to walk us through Ephesians chapters 4 to 6, as we seek God’s instruction on how to build homes that will last.  I believe this series will be challenging and practical for every person in every season of life, regardless of what your home life may presently look like.  The truth is we all want to live in healthy homes, and the good news is God wants that same thing for you too.  So as we study these chapters in the coming weeks, I believe God will help us do demo in the areas of our homes that have become spiritually unhealthy.  My prayer is that we will let the Holy Spirit spiritually renovate our homes and bring a renewed sense of peace and joy into our lives.

As we journey through this series together, I’m excited to announce that we will also have a missions component coincide with the sermon series.  While we are spiritually building up our homes here in Austin, Texas, our church will also be physically building up a home for a family in Penitas, Texas.  ABC is partnering with Buckner Missions for “Project Homebuild.”  Over the next several weeks, we will be working on a home for the Quintana family.  This family of 12 is in dire need of a permanent home, and we’re excited to partner with Buckner Missions to bless them with this gift.  The best part of Project Homebuild is we will get to do lots of the construction right here in Austin!  During this series, our team will begin the construction work in our Great Hall.  After the work is complete, these assembled materials will be shipped to south Texas, and we will send an ABC missions team this Fall to help build the home on site.

I believe this project provides a unique opportunity for our church to partner together on mission.  I encourage you to join us in the effort in several ways.  First of all, please pray for the Quintana family.  Pray that God will bless their family with this home and use this gift to shine His light into each of their hearts.  We pray that this physical gift will be received as a gift of God’s perfect grace.  Second, consider helping us build this home.  We will have time slots available, and we need volunteers!  This will be a great opportunity for our church family to serve together as a family on mission.  Training will be provided on site, and the good news is you will be working in the air conditioning! Third, I encourage you to continue to worship through giving.  This project is only possible because of the generosity of our people.  Thank you for your faithfulness in your tithes and offerings because your stewardship blesses many homes, including this specific home for the Quintana family.

I’m looking forward to joining you all this Sunday in worship.  I want to thank Nathan Wood for doing an outstanding job last weekend and helping us wrap up our summer sermon series.  I can’t wait to see you this weekend, and I’m praying that God will build us up, as we strive to build up the kingdom of God together.

Onward and upward,

Jonathan Spencer

Quintana Family

Serve One Another Through Love

VBS has come and gone, but we are still celebrating what God did last week! As you have likely heard, we saw 511 children and volunteers join us for an exciting week of Vacation Bible School. But most importantly, we are celebrating the 85 children who came forward during the invitation, and especially the 62 children who made first time decisions to follow Christ. Thank you for helping make it a powerful week. VBS is only possible because of the shared time, talent, and treasure of God’s people. 150 volunteers sacrificed their time and utilized their talent to impact the next generation. And so many gave their treasure, through their faithful tithes and offerings, to help fund this ministry and make it possible. Thank you for praying, serving, giving, and leading these children to know Jesus Christ. I believe heaven was rejoicing over the work that was done last week and so should we.

As I visited with parents last week at VBS, there were two primary themes that consistently came up in our conversations.  First, many parents could not stop commenting on the quality of our volunteers.  As they walked in, they were immediately blown away by the intentionality that was put into the decorations.  I explained that we had teams of volunteers who worked for many weeks to creatively design and decorate those spaces.  Many were also surprised by the sheer number of volunteers.  They were thrilled to see so many adults from all generations, as well as the large number of youth volunteers.  One mom who does not attend church regularly explained that it blew her mind that people would give up that much time and energy for something like this.

The second thing that came up in our conversations was a theme of community.  Many could sense the family atmosphere in our congregation.  They loved being genuinely greeted as they walked through the doors, and several told me how friendly our church truly was.  One mom commented that she loved to see how quickly the teachers learned her child’s name, as well as her own name.  So many moms, dads, boys, and girls genuinely felt loved and welcomed in our church.  I believe that is because God has blessed our church with a genuine affection for one another.  I explained to many parents that community is a vital part of our Austin Baptist Church’s DNA.

I’m so thankful that these two observations came up consistently in conversation because these two themes come up consistently in scripture.  Paul writes, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).  Christians are called to lives of love and service.  Jesus says love is in fact the best evidence of your discipleship: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).  People should sense a difference in our community when they walk through our church doors because we are united by the same spirit of love (Cf. 2 Timothy 1:7).  But people should also see a difference in us through our service and efforts.  Peter instructs us, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10).  Every born-again believer has been given gifts by God, to use for the glory of God, and for the good of others.

Jesus describes His church as a “city on a hill,” and this city should indeed have a light that stands out to the world that is watching (cf. Matt 5:14-16). I pass on these words to encourage you to keep shining that light. VBS is over, but you still have an opportunity to love one another and build up our community this week. Send a text, make a phone call, or write a note. Encourage those who are around you and spur them on to continue in love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24). You also have a chance to serve someone this week. VBS has concluded, but the work has not. Our church continually needs more volunteers, more sons and daughters of God to rise up and use their gifts for His glory. How are you going to serve the church this week? While events are important, our spiritual gifts are not designed to be limited to annual outreaches. There are still needs today, and God has given you time, talent, and treasure to meet them. So how will you let your light shine this week?

Thank you for your continued love and support.  Have a wonderful week and we look forward to seeing you in worship this weekend.

Onward and upward,

Jonathan Spencer

Last Sunday’s Sermon: “Making Today Count” – Psalm 90

The Best Long-Term Investment

VBS is finally here!  We are having an amazing week at Austin Baptist Church, as we have welcomed nearly 500 children and leaders for our annual Vacation Bible School.  I’m so thankful for our church’s steadfast commitment to VBS, because I believe this week has the power to transform a young child’s life, and the future

I think back to my time in Houston at Second Baptist Church, and I remember my former Pastor, Dr. Ed Young, would often share about his childhood experience at VBS.  He would recall how a friend invited him as a 7-year-old boy to attend a VBS at a small-town church in Mississippi.  Ed agreed to attend due to the advertised crafts and fun, but little did he know that he would end up making the most important decision of his life that week.  He surrendered his life to Jesus Christ and was baptized at that small church, and it is incredible to now consider what God has done through him since that day.  Dr. Young has impacted millions of lives around the globe with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  But we must not forget that those 60+ years of fruitful ministry were only possible because a few nameless leaders at a small-town church chose to invest in his life.

Because of this, I always approach VBS weeks praying for God to raise up a few more Ed Youngs from our midst.  You just never know what could possibly come from a week of ministry like VBS.  The reality is Children’s Ministry is a long-term investment, and we will not see the full return while we are on this earth.  But I do believe investing in a child’s life is the best kingdom investment you can make because God uses our efforts to help impact an entire generation that is yet to come.  So, I don’t just pray for the salvation of the kids who walk through our doors.  I also pray for God to call some of them to be world changers for Him.  I pray that God will capture their hearts, and then use them to capture the hearts of others for Christ in their own generation.  The theme verse this week is Ephesians 2:10: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  God has mapped out good works for each of these young children to walk in, just as He has mapped out good works for me and you to walk in today.

I’m thankful for the good work that our church does week in and week out for the next generation.  The truth is many churches have scaled back their efforts in children’s and youth ministries these days.  Some don’t offer on-campus Bible studies, special events and outreaches, or provide staff who are devoted to children and youth.  But I’m proud that ABC has always looked for ways to improve and expand our impact on the next generation.  It has been a banner summer for our ABC Kids and Student Ministries.  They have offered Pre-Teen Camp, Beach Camp, Creative Arts Camp, Pre-school Camp, and now VBS.  In addition to this, we have continued to invest in kids’ lives through our weekly BFG classes, and we even launched a brand-new Preschool worship service this summer called, “Uplift.”  Here in a few weeks, our kids will be back in school and we’ll start back up our Wednesday night discipleship classes called, “Kids Encounter” and “Axis.”  I hope your children and grandchildren have gotten to experience it all, but if not, I encourage you to get them plugged in this week.  I believe they will discover what I already know to be true: ABC loves kids!

I look forward to reporting more this Sunday as we worship together.  Be praying for our decision service this Thursday, and come prepared to give glory to God for all He has done and all that He will continue to do.

Onward and upward,

Jonathan Spencer

Last Sunday’s Sermon: Psalm 51

Why Children’s Ministry Matters

VBS is finally here at Austin Baptist Church!  We are just days away from the official kick-off, and our ABC Kids team is doing a great job getting things ready for the hundreds of children who will walk through our doors.  Decorations are going up, leaders are being trained, and rooms are getting set for an incredible week of ministry.  Enrollment has already exceeded last year’s numbers, and we’re looking forward to adding even more kids into the mix in these final days before the event.

Why does VBS matter so much to our church family?  This is an appropriate question to ask considering the vast amount of time, money, staff, and volunteers that are committed to this event each year.  VBS is one of those “all hands on deck” events at ABC, so why do we feel it is important to put so much effort into it?  For starters, it is because children are a blessing from the Lord.  Psalm 127:3 tells us, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.”  We believe every life is a precious gift from God, so we rejoice when God brings His children through our church doors.  Children must never be viewed as a burden for a church because they are a gift given to the church for us to steward well.

Secondly, children are a mission fieldPsalm 145:4 says, “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.”  The church should carry a burden to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the next generation.  The Great Commission calls us to go and make disciples of all ages, but research shows us that children and youth should be a central focus of that mission.  NAMB reports that 77% of Christians in America were saved before the age of 18.  Further, nearly 95% of Christians in our country came to know Jesus as Lord by the age of 30.  This means it would be wise and fruitful for any church to place a strong emphasis on reaching children, youth, and young parents.  We are biblically called to pass on the baton of faith to the next generation, and VBS is just one of those great opportunities for us to do so.

Third, children are vital members of the church.  As our children and youth come to know Jesus, it’s important for us to remember that they are not the future of the church.  They are the church right NOW.  1 Corinthians 12:14 says, “For the body does not consist of one member but of many.”  If a child or teenager has accepted Christ, that means they are filled with the same Holy Spirit who lives in me and who lives in you.  This means they also have spiritual gifts and callings given by God, and for God (Cf. Ephesians 2:10).  And this also means they are vital parts of our church membership, so we must disciple them and empower them into Christian service.  This is why we do an ABC student weekend, Beach Camp, Bible studies, mission trips, and service projects.  This is why we do events like ABC Serves and White Christmas, where even young children can serve with their parents.  This coming week, teenagers will be serving our kids at VBS, and many of them do that every week at Elevate.  We will continue to seek ways to empower and train the next generation because they are called to help us build up this house (cf. 1 Peter 2:4-5).

Please join me in praying for a great week at VBS.  Pray for our ABC Kids staff and volunteers.  Pray for our teachers as well as those who will be serving in positions behind the scenes.  Most of all, pray for our children.  Pray that many will come to know Jesus Christ as Lord for the first time, and pray that many others will come to better understand Jesus and His love for them.  Pray that parents will come to know Christ and find their place in the church, as a result of their own children doing so first.  Also, take time to consider any neighbors, friends, or colleagues with kids in their homes, and I encourage you to invite them to VBS.  It isn’t too late to sign up, and registration is still open at www.austinbaptistchurch.com.  One simple invitation always has the power to potentially change a life.  Have a great week, and I look forward to worshipping with you this Sunday.

Onward and upward,

Jonathan Spencer

Last Sunday’s Message: Psalm 46

Difference Makers

I hope you enjoyed our special 4th of July weekend at ABC! I’m still thanking God for an amazing weekend of worship as we celebrated our nation’s freedom, and most importantly, our spiritual freedom in Jesus Christ. I’m thankful for Derek Tackett, our facilities team, and all of our volunteers who worked hard to make Freedom over Austin an overwhelming success. And I’m proud of Carlos Jordan for putting in many hours behind the scenes to create the video testimony from Beach Week that we showed in worship. But I’m especially proud of those 5 individuals who chose to stand up and raise their flags for Jesus Christ through believer’s baptism during our services last Sunday. It has been encouraging to see our “Let There Be Light” sign continue to light up, as Christ continues to light up more lives that walk through our church doors.

One gentleman who came forward last Sunday to be baptized was attending for only his second week. He was invited by a friend in our church to worship with him two weeks ago, and God began to speak to his heart through our worship services. When I offered the invitation, he came forward immediately to be baptized. As encouraging as that was, I was even more encouraged by what he shared with me afterwards. He told me that he had already brought swim trunks with him to church that morning because God had put baptism on his heart. So when the invitation to be baptized was offered, it was simple confirmation from the Lord that He was at work and calling him to make this important decision.

Last week I was also honored to sit down with a gentleman and got to pray with him as he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ. He has been attending our church for some time, and after many years of consideration, he chose to invite Jesus Christ into his life. He was led to this moment in part by watching his own daughter make that same decision at our Kids Camp this summer. It’s amazing how God so often speaks into our hearts through the witness of others who are around us. So may I remind you, your personal witness matters every single day. You CAN make a difference in the lives of those around you. Your intentionality to invite others to church matters, and it also can make an eternal difference in someone’s life. God is doing a great work in our church, and each of us have an opportunity to join Him in that effort.

Starting this Sunday, we will begin our final sprint to Vacation Bible School. As we saw last weekend, next generation ministry does matter because “The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations” (Psalm 33:11). God’s Word does stand forever, and He has promised to pass on His plan of salvation to the next generation. Because of that, I’m praying that many children will come to know Jesus as Lord at VBS. Vacation Bible School is such an important event in the life of our church because it reaches so many families in our community who are unchurched. I’m praying that God will draw many young children to Himself, but then He will use their testimonies to draw their parents to Himself too. I’ve found it to be true so often in church that when you reach the kids, you then have a good chance to reach the parents.

I encourage you to help us extend this invitation out to your community this week. As you walk into our church this Sunday, you will see displays in our common areas with new ABC invite cards. Grab a couple cards and put them in your wallet or purse. As God crosses your path with folks in your own sphere of influence, look for opportunities to invite them into the life of our church. For some, perhaps VBS will be the best opportunity to draw them into our church for the first time. But don’t forget that every Sunday serves as a great opportunity to invite someone into our fellowship. So who can you extend the light to this week? As we saw last Sunday, one simple invite truly can change a life.

Have a great week, and I’ll look forward to worshipping with you Sunday.

Onward and upward,

Jonathan Spencer

Celebrate Freedom This Sunday

I hope you’re planning to wear red, white, and blue this Sunday and join us for a special day of worship and fellowship at Austin Baptist Church.  We will be celebrating the great freedom that God has given our nation to worship Him openly and without fear of persecution.  This is a freedom we must never take for granted, as 1 out of 7 Christians around the world do not have that same liberty for themselves (Cf. 2021 World Watch List produced by Open Doors).  We know our freedom is only available because God has used countless men and women in our nation to stand up for that freedom and fight for it at all costs.  Because of that, this weekend we will honor our local heroes who have served our nation through our armed services.  The apostle Paul tells the church to “outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10).  I hope you plan to join me this weekend in expressing your gratitude and showing honor to whom honor is due.

But this weekend we are also celebrating an even greater freedom that God has given those of us who are in Christ Jesus.  Paul explains, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin” (Romans 6:6-7).  By grace and through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ, the penalty of our sin has been removed.  His death became our own, and we can now live freely as sons and daughters of God.  We no longer must fear the penalty of our sin which is death, but we also do not have to be held captive by the power of our sin.  Jesus Christ forgives us of our old life bound to sin, but He also enables us to live new lives free from its bondage.  His enabling grace can set you free each day from addictions and strongholds, so you can walk in the light just as He is in the light.

In light of this truth, Paul instructs us: “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (Romans 6:12-13).  Paul says our spiritual freedom should lead us action.  Just as our physical freedom leads us to pledge allegiance to our great nation, our spiritual freedom should lead us to pledge an even higher allegiance to Jesus Christ.  His great mercy and grace should lead us to show our honor to God and devote ourselves to His purposes for our lives.  And I hope you understand, you will begin to experience freedom and joy when you begin to present yourself to Him day after day.

This celebration of freedom will carry over to Sunday evening for our second annual “Freedom Over Austin” event.  I hope you plan to come back at 7pm that evening for a dynamic event with something for everyone.  We will have live music, an all-American carnival, food trucks, inflatables, train rides, and of course, an amazing professional fireworks show soon as it gets dark.  Bring a lawn chair with you and find a comfortable spot to watch the show that evening.  I also encourage you to do two things before this Sunday.  First, consider serving with us.  Great events are only possible through great teams of committed volunteers.  We still need more people to join the effort so please consider signing up to help HERE.  Secondly, consider who you can invite to join you.  We do this event for our church family to enjoy the fellowship, but we also do it so we can extend our fellowship out to the entire community.  Prayerfully consider inviting a neighbor, colleague, or friend to come and be your guest that evening.  Sometimes special events like this are the best opportunity to introduce someone new into the life of our church.

Thank you for your continued faithfulness in worshipping through giving.  This event is only possible because of your stewardship and continued partnership in ministry.  I encourage you even in these economically challenging times to continue to offer God the first fruits of what you receive.  I’m certain that God will continue to bless each of us, as we strive to be a blessing to others for His glory (Cf. Malachi 3:10, Proverbs 3:9-10).  Have a great rest of your week, and I look forward to celebrating freedom with you this Sunday at ABC.

Onward and upward,

Jonathan Spencer

Last Sunday’s Message: A Response to Roe v. Wade – “Seeing Things Clearly” – Psalm 19

SBC Annual Meeting Debrief

It was great to be back with you last Sunday after spending a week in southern California.  As you know, I was in Anaheim for the SBC Convention and for a few days of family vacation following our meetings.  Many in our church, and around our entire nation, had their eyes focused on Anaheim last week.   Most of the interest was due to last month’s released report from the SBC’s Sexual Abuse Task Force.  As I’ve already discussed with you, this report was saturated with heartbreaking stories of abuse that transpired in Southern Baptist Churches over the last 20 years.  But it was also filled with shocking stories of leadership who mishandled reports of abuse, and even worse, mistreated victims.  Considering these horrifying details, many in our country have been waiting to see if the SBC would be prompted to action.

I’m proud to say that the messengers at the annual meeting did overwhelmingly approve two recommendations presented by the SBC appointed task force.  These two recommendations will not be the final reforms, but they will serve as a place to start.  The messengers approved the creation of a shared SBC database that will keep track of ministers who have been credibly accused of sexual misconduct.  This database will hopefully help prevent ministers from traveling between churches and then hide behind individual church’s autonomy.  The messengers also commissioned another task force that will study and oversee necessary further reforms this year and report back at the annual meeting in 2023.  I believe these two recommendations were essential first steps for the SBC to repent of sin, seek forgiveness from victims, and prayerfully begin to rebuild credibility in our culture.

While I was pleased that some action was taken on this specific issue, I must admit that the overall feeling of this year’s meeting was rather discouraging.  Across the country, cooperative giving is down, baptisms are down, new members are down, and even the number of messengers this year was down.  Some in the convention are arguing that this is due to a theological “drift” that is happening in the SBC.  While I hear their concerns, I do not agree with their position.  I remember what a real drift looked like in the 1980’s.  At that time churches and seminaries were battling over the inerrancy of Scripture.  Baptist pastors and professors were teaching against the authority and sufficiency of God’s Word, some were advocating a pro-choice position, and some were even sympathizing with the emerging LGBTQ movement.  I would call that a theological drift, but I would not call today’s problems the same thing.  This is because I sense that nearly all the 44,000+ SBC churches still adhere to the same confession of faith in the Baptist Faith and Message.  It seems that today’s problems are not rooted in orthodoxy, but rather orthopraxy.  Our denomination’s primary struggle is not in what we believe, it is in what we do. 

As I sat in one of the Pastor’s Conference sessions, I heard one pastor share a sobering illustration. He said his young adult son has a good friend who is not a believer, so this pastor decided to do a little personal research with his son’s friend before he came to the convention. He asked that unchurched 21-year-old young man what he thought about the SBC. The young man was a little perplexed by the question but then responded, “Aren’t they the churches that are always fighting with each other?” Sadly, I believe that young man’s words were piercingly accurate. Many in the SBC live to argue with each other, and I would contend that the tribalism in our denomination has grown to an alarming level. Some look down upon others for being reformed in their theology, while some who are reformed look down upon others for not belonging to their camp. Some pastors see big churches as impersonal and watered down, while some big churches see small churches as lazy and ineffective. Some in the SBC despise churches for being too political, while others cast stones at churches for not being political enough. Some contend that you are only theologically conservative if you join a new network, while others would argue our entire convention is a network of theologically conservative churches. People in the SBC are constantly drawing lines in our own house, and then casting stones at family members who do not step over to their side. And then we as a convention wonder why less and less outsiders are wanting to walk through our doors?

This rising conflict in the SBC is troubling to me for three primary reasons. First of all, the church is not supposed to be famous for its conflict; it is supposed to be famous for its love. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Paul explained it further: Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:12-14). Jesus summarized the entire law with two simple commandments: love God and love people (Mark 12:28-30). And the apostle John went on to explain that you cannot separate those two commandments; if you try to love God but hate your brother, the Word of God says you are a liar (Cf. 1 John 4:10). Love is not a recommendation from God, it is a clear mandate for His people. Yes, we are called to guard our doctrine, but we are also called to give each other grace on secondary matters. As Augustine said, “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love.”

Secondly, the state of the SBC is troubling because it makes us look like the world.  Our world is filled with division.  In fact, one could argue that our nation has never been as polarized as it is right now.  We live in a culture that cancels and condemns anyone who does not agree with them.   This problem has only been exacerbated by social media.  The world is prone to be careless with words as we are quick to speak, slow to listen, and quick to get angry.  But the Bible tells the church to “not be conformed to this world” (Cf Romans 12:2).  God’s people are called to stand out and look different because we have a Spirit that unites us through our shared salvation and coming inheritance.  The church’s unity is so important to Jesus that He actually prayed for it before He went to Calvary: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21).  Jesus prayed for a radical unity in His followers that would be so strong that it would actually cause the watching world to believe in Him!  But instead, I sadly believe the world oftentimes does not believe because they see more fighting in our religious houses than their own secular homes.

Thirdly, the state of the SBC is troubling because it could compromise our mission. I personally do believe denominations are still helpful. Every church is individually called by Jesus to fulfill the Great Commission, but the truth is we are stronger when we work together than when we work alone. In the SBC, I’m grateful for our cooperative program’s impact on ministries all across the globe. Since the CP’s inception, the SBC has commissioned over 25,000 missionaries around the world through the International Mission Board. The IMB currently has over 3,000 missionaries deployed, and we commissioned 52 more missionaries at the annual meeting last week. They are the true heroes of the SBC, and their ministry would not be possible without the SBC’s cooperative program. Additionally, our SBC seminaries produce over 70% of our nation’s seminary graduates. That is a staggering number because it tells us the vast majority of our nation’s future ministers are trained by the SBC. Many of these seminary students are only able receive that training because SBC churches consistently give $6-10 million a year to these seminaries to help subsidize tuition and make theological education affordable for our future pastors. The list could go on and on with all the good that the SBC does, and my fear is that it will become harder to continue these vital ministries as more churches grow tired of the SBC’s problems and leave. Make no mistake about it, the SBC must continue to address our convention’s cultural issues, or more churches will continue to opt out and our critical missions will lack their critical support.

So what should we do in light of these things?  I’d encourage you to do just two simple things.  First, continue to pray for the SBC.  Pray for healing in our convention and for the new leaders that are rising up into positions.  Many new people were appointed to committees due to folks resigning or turning down previous offers to positions.  Pray especially for this new leadership and for God to give them new vision.  Pray that unity and love would begin to permeate throughout our convention.  Pray for our new president, Bart Barber, and our new Pastor’s Conference president, Daniel Dickard.  Pray for the missionaries, church planters, ministers, and seminarians that continue to press forward in their callings amidst tumultuous times.  And pray that God would help our convention begin to heal and rebuild its unity this year. 

Secondly, commit to be an agent of change in your own church.  One of the defining marks of a Baptist church is its autonomy.  For those who don’t understand, this means every local Baptist church has the freedom to minister as it so chooses.  The SBC may have some cultural problems, but that does not mean their culture has to become a local church’s culture.  I’m grateful for Austin Baptist Church, as I do believe that love is clear and evident in our church family.  Our people do care for one another, pray for one another, encourage one another, and stand by each other in times of need.  And praise God, we do see new people walk through our doors every weekend, we celebrate that people are joining our church, and we’re encouraged when we see the baptismal waters stirred.  God is at work here, and we must remember to give Him the glory.  But we must also continue to stand on the truth of God’s Word and lift up the name of Jesus Christ, because if we do, I believe God will continue to draw more people to Himself here at ABC.  Commit to do your part to build up this family of faith in love and unity.  Exercise your spiritual gifts and use them for the glory of God and the good of others.  The SBC will only make progress as individual churches make progress in their own ministry contexts.  The SBC is not a top-down organization, it operates bottom-up.  If you want change to be evident at the annual meeting in New Orleans next year, I recommend that you let that change begin in your heart and your church’s heart this year.

Onward and upward,

Jonathan Spencer

The Church and Pride Month

The month of June was recently declared “LGBTQ+ Pride Month” by President Joe Biden.  His official proclamation is a continuation of the precedent established by two of his predecessors, President Clinton and President Obama.  Even if you did not read Joe Biden’s official proclamation, you most likely have seen some of its effects.  Pride flags are raised on many flag poles just below the American flag, department stores are marketing rainbow merchandise in the front of their stores, and most websites and television channels are broadcasting pride promotions to communicate their full support.  Some of this support has even carried over into professional sports. 

For years, professional teams have hosted “Pride Nights” at their ballparks or arenas.  On these nights, they encourage the LGBTQ+ community to come to the ballpark for a night of support and celebration, and the teams usually communicate that support through rainbow banners, signage, and various messaging.  However, the Tampa Bay Rays took their effort one step further on Saturday.  Following the example of the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers, they chose to incorporate pride symbols into their official team uniforms.  They added the rainbow colors into the “TB” on their ballcaps and added a colorful sunburst to their jersey sleeves.  But these colorful touches have not been the focus of the headlines this week.  The focus has been on the athletes who refused to wear them.

Pitchers Jason Adam, Jalen Beeks, Brooks Raley, Jeffrey Springs and Ryan Thompson were among those who chose to not wear the rainbow flagged uniforms, instead electing to wear their standard gear.  Of course, the media wanted to know why these athletes would go against the grain and not support the LGBTQ+ community as their ballclub’s management recommended.  Jason Adam was chosen to serve as the spokesperson for the group and he explained:

“A lot of it comes down to faith, to like a faith-based decision. So it’s a hard decision. Because ultimately we all said what we want is them to know that all are welcome and loved here. But when we put it on our bodies, I think a lot of guys decided that it’s just a lifestyle that maybe — not that they look down on anybody or think differently — it’s just that maybe we don’t want to encourage it if we believe in Jesus, who’s encouraged us to live a lifestyle that would abstain from that behavior, just like (Jesus) encourages me as a heterosexual male to abstain from sex outside of the confines of marriage. It’s no different. It’s not judgmental. It’s not looking down. It’s just what we believe the lifestyle he’s encouraged us to live, for our good, not to withhold. But again, we love these men and women, we care about them, and we want them to feel safe and welcome here.”

So to sum it up, these five Christians said they had a deeply rooted spiritual objection to wearing the pride symbol.  They said doing so would communicate them taking pride in something that their faith says is sin.  This position of course infuriated many across our country.  NY Times writer Tyler Kepner wrote a response article titled, “An Attempt at Inclusion Proves There Is More Work To Do.”  In his article, he says “By creating special uniforms for Pride Night, the Rays were expressing their beliefs as an organization. As the primary messengers for the franchise, the players should have been expected to reflect that position.”  In his article he also quotes author Andrew Maraniss who said, “When people use their interpretation of religion to justify discrimination against people for the way they were born, it’s really an indictment of them and their faith.  Acknowledging that people are people and all fans are welcome, that’s not something you should be able to opt out of.”

Maraniss said that those five players failed to acknowledge “that people are people and all fans are welcome.”  I find that accusation puzzling because if you re-read the statement from Jason Adam, he actually said the exact opposite.  He said, “we love these men and women, we care about them, and we want them to feel safe and welcome here.”  So how could this author, and millions of Americans, view these players as discriminatory when they said that they love the LGBTQ+ community and want them there?  I would argue it’s because the LGBTQ+ community is not seeking our acceptance; they demand our affirmation.  They don’t want Christians to just receive them.  They want Christians to give them the one thing that they cannot give: the celebration of their sin. 

This perspective is exactly why this article was titled with the phrase, “there is more work to do.”  What is the work that needs to be done?  It is the removal of the traditional Biblical worldview from our culture.  For many in our country, it does not matter how nice a Christian may be or how welcoming they may present themselves.  They will no longer accept your acceptance.  They want your ringing endorsement instead.  Anything less is viewed as unacceptable, and their mission will proceed until they have fully shifted the moral fabric of our society.

This puts Bible-believing born again Christians in an increasingly difficult position because the Bible is rather clear on the issue.  The Scriptures speak against the sin of homosexuality pretty straight forward in both the Old and New Testaments (Cf. Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:10).  The Bible tells us that God made us male and female (Genesis 1:27, 5:2) and Jesus said marriage was designed for a man and woman to be brought together by God to become one flesh just like our first parents, Adam and Eve (Matthew 19:4-7).  I realize some will read my words and say, “that’s just one interpretation.”  You are correct, it is one interpretation.  But it is the literal interpretation of God’s Word, and it is based on thousands of years of Judeo-Christian heritage and tradition.  Indeed, there are other modern, progressive interpretations that are littered with tainted presuppositions and personal agendas which drive them.  But the church must not be surprised or swayed by those alternative teachings. 

The apostle Paul affirmed the authority of all Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17), and then he charged Timothy to preach that Scripture (2 Timothy 4:2) because others would stop preaching it themselves: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).  Church, those days are already here.  People have accumulated teachers to suit their own passions.  If you have a behavior or vice that you want affirmed, you can certainly find a church somewhere to do exactly that.  Consequently, people have wondered off into myths just as Paul warned.  But that is exactly why we must listen to the same instructions that Paul then gave Timothy: “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).

We have to be “sober-minded” in this season.  We cannot let our discernment be clouded by cultural influences and competing ideologies.  Instead, we must love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.  And we must be prepared to “endure suffering” for doing so.  If you do not fall in line with the cultural pride movement, make no mistake about it, there will be consequences.  This is the general pattern for whenever you stand for God’s Word.  Jesus himself was rejected and cancelled by His own culture, so why should we expect a better treatment?  Do not be surprised for “ The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).  We must endure any form of suffering and continue to “fulfill our ministry.”  We cannot become so fixated on the problems of this world that we fail to move forward with the mission Christ has given us.  Paul is telling Timothy, it isn’t time to cower.  It’s time to get to work.

So what should that work look like?  Traditionally, whenever the church sees evil in the culture, it has felt compelled to respond via boycott.  In fact, some are calling right now for boycotts of the various entertainment companies, amusement parks, sports teams, and retailers that are supporting the pride movement.  And if you have taken that position, I’m not here to tell you that you are right or wrong.  But I am going to encourage you to consider Paul’s words: “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful” (1 Corinthians 10:23).  You have the freedom to boycott anything you may choose, but my question is, “is it helpful?”  I’d encourage you to consider three things to process that question:

First of all, what is the purpose of your boycott?  Usually, the purpose is to financially penalize an organization in hopes that the inflicted pain will force their hand to change.  If that is the driving mission, it seems that most Christian boycotts have historically failed.  Even in my young life, I’ve seen more Christian boycotts than I can count (Disney, Target, Starbucks just to rattle off a few), but I cannot recall any of them making a lasting impact on the company’s bottom line.  The targeted organization tends to continue business as usual, and eventually the opposition begins to fade and grow tired.  I believe the lack of effectiveness is in part because Christians are simply outnumbered.  Jesus told us, “For the gate that is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many (Matthew 7:13).  Christians can try to cancel businesses if they’d like, but it seems that the world will offset their inflicted losses.

Secondly, consider how wide is the scope of your boycott?  For instance, some might say every Christian should start boycotting the MLB right now.  Fair enough, but are you prepared to boycott everyone else?  The truth is virtually every large business, bank, retailer, sports league, university, or professional organization has adopted some form of a LGBTQ+ affirming position and policy.  Even in the last week, I’ve personally seen rainbow flags on my emails, commercials, and ads for Facebook, Instagram, Google, Youtube, Amazon, the NBA, NFL, and MLB, Old Navy, Target, The Gap, Kendra Scott, NASCAR, Columbia, Petsmart, Yankee Candle, my banking institution, and the US Army.  That list could go a mile long, but those are literally just the first few I can remember interacting with in the last few days.  So if you’re going to champion boycotting, it’s worth considering, “how far will you champion?”  Where do you draw your own personal line of conviction?  That line might end up going way further than you originally intended.

Thirdly, consider how will your boycott align with your mission?  To me personally, boycotts seem to work antithetically to the Gospel mission.  The Bible doesn’t tell us that sinners are the problem and they must be avoided at all cost.  The Bible says they are the mission and they are in fact to be pursued.  If we go live under rocks and wait until Jesus comes back, we will have neglected the sacred mission that Jesus gave His church to go and shine light into dark places.  Jesus didn’t say “Go and make disciples if they are easy to reach and don’t offend you.”  But He did say that He will build His church and the gates of hell won’t stop Him (Cf. Matthew 16:18).  Isolating ourselves away from the world only prevents us from engaging it, and it robs us from seeing the Gospel advance into places of darkness. This is why Paul told Timothy to instead “do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (Cf. 2 Timothy 4:5). 

Instead of focusing on boycotts, I’d encourage Christians to focus their energy on three things this month.  First, focus on prayer.  Pray for those in our country who have been swept away by the teaching of the Pride movement.  Pray for Jesus to awaken hearts that are currently trapped in sin and spiritually blind to their ways.  Pray for God to soften hearts and bring conviction and clarity to Christians who have been brought into the confusion.  Pray for our children, that they may not fall into the snares of this ideology, but instead they will be rooted and secure in God’s Word.  Pray for salvation to continue to come to the LGBTQ community and for more lives to be radically transformed by the grace of God. 

Secondly, focus on courage.  Hold the line on your convictions this month.  We don’t need Christians apologizing for God’s Word.  God’s Word stands on its own power.  I’m proud of those five Christian baseball players who were willing to count the cost to live out their Biblical convictions.  It’s one thing to go into a business with a pride flag, but it is another thing to be forced to wear the flag in a business.  I’m proud of their decision, but I’m also proud of how they communicated it.  They did not condemn and cast stones at the LGBTQ community.  They simply spoke the truth with a whole lot of grace.  Our culture needs more men and women to rise up and follow their example.

Thirdly and finally, I encourage you to focus on the coming elections.  President Obama was correct, elections do have consequences.  And there are leaders right now in our country that want to push the Equality Act into our society.  The title is deceptive, and it is not about equality.  They want to legislate a new morality and silence the biblical convictions of business leaders.  There are politicians who want to target states and schools that have chosen to protect young women from having to compete against young men in their own sports.  Be educated in the political realm, and vote for politicians that preserve religious liberty, uphold Biblical values, and advocate for policy that reflects truth and common sense. 

I truly do believe many Christians are floundering right now on this topic because they don’t even know what is right.  Many pastors and churches have avoided speaking to these things due to fear and a lack of urgency.  Some pastors have thought they don’t need to address this because they are “preaching to the choir” on Sundays.  Those days are gone.  Choirs and entire churches are divided and filled with as much confusion as the world, and part of this is due to their own pastor’s silence.  A lack of teaching will always create a vacuum (especially in young lives), and people will seek out teachers to fill those voids.  Pastors and Christians, you must speak truth on these things to combat the many voices that people are already listening to.  Church leaders must be less worried that they may become irrelevant if they speak truth, because I assure you they will become irrelevant if they do not. 

Stories like the Tampa Bay baseball game will only continue in the days ahead.  But even as darkness clouds our world, do not forget that the light of Jesus Christ is still with you.  We are not called to take pride in this month’s movement, but we are called to take pride in our Living Savior. “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).  May we all walk on our knees this month and find our power and pride in the cross of our resurrected King.  “For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be the glory forever.  Amen.” (Romans 11:36).