Monday, March 30, 2009

Notes from Sunday - 03/29/09

What a weekend!

Saturday morning, at 8 AM, members of the Shiloh Church gathered together to pray together, as we prepared to embark upon our first Make A Difference Day - a one day blitz of practical service throughout our city. After prayer, we scattered throughout Jacksonville to show the love of Christ to others, because God has loved us in Christ.

Some helped a missions agency organize and pack goods to be sent to Jamaica.
Some put in smoke detectors in the homes of the elderly.
Some installed wheel chair ramps for seniors.
Some collected food and took them to local food banks.
Some served at local rescue missions.
Some threw a baby shower for teenage mothers.
Some visited the sick and the shut-in.
Some did house work and yard work for the elderly.
Some gave free health screenings.
Some went out and shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with the lost.

Hundreds of members of SMBC, both young and old, gave themselves to serving others. The Lord blessed us to touch a lot of lives in Jesus' name. And the Lord blessed us as we gave ourselves in service to others.

This was the first time we have done something like this as a church family. And I praise God for the cooperation and participation of the leaders and members of SMBC. To God be the glory!

I was to finish my series on the Parable of the Sower Sunday. But I was on such a high from MADD09 that I knew that I would be preaching something else before I made it home Saturday. Late Saturday night and early Sunday morning, I edited a message from one of the psalms of praise. But by the time it finished printing, I knew that I was not going to preach. I ended up preaching from a passage that I had been meditating on all week, but had no intention of preaching.

I preached a message entitled, "The Kind of Prayer God Answers" - Nehemiah 1:4-11. I believe we find four aspects of the kind of prayer God answers in Nehemiah's example of prayer:

    1. God answers sincere prayer (1:4).

    2. God answers reverent prayer (1:5).

    3. God answers honest prayer (1:6-10).

    4. God answers believing prayer (1:11).

Even though it was not the message that I had planned to preach, I believe it was the message that the Lord wanted me to preach. And it was an important word for our congregation.

A big shout out to Pastor Mike Rodgers for teaching the mass Bible Study Fellowship hour for me.

Our men's chorus led the singing in both of our morning worship services. I was a great joy to have our men leading the congregation in song's of praise. May the Lord bless each brother who served our congregation in this important way.

We had several guests in our 10 AM worship. Arthur Jones performed a saxophone solo. And Dantavies Boatright led a song with the men's chorus. I appreciated them sharing their gifts with us.

Thank God for those who were saved and added to the church in our services.

Hailey did not make it through the 8 AM service. Again.

Friday, March 27, 2009

SMBC Make A Difference Day 2009

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

In the morning, the membership of the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville will engage in a one day missionary blitz that we are calling, "Make A Difference Day." Various member districts, Bible Study Fellowship groups, and ministry teams will participate in practical acts of service to show the love of Christ throughout our city.

From helping to building low income homes, to serving at local rescue missions, to running helpful errands for the elderly, to serving in mission organizations, to serving the needy in the neighborhood around our church campus, the members of SMBC will be striving to bring glory to our Father in heaven by serving others.

Please remember this special outreach in your prayers.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Happy First Birthday!!! Hailey Breanne Charles

A year ago today, Crystal, H.B., Natalie, and I headed to an important family appointment at Cedars Sinai Medical Center.

It was the day after Easter. But that Monday was the day we had been anticipating - our new baby was to be born.

Crystal craved pancakes from The Griddle, Rosco's Chicken and waffles, and KFC hot wings the whole pregnancy. Being the devoted hustband that I am, I joined her. "We" (H.B., in the Greek) are still working off the baby weight.

Unlike our first two children, we did not determine a name until days before she was born. Our niece suggested, "Why don't you just name her H.B."? We laughed. But the more we thought about it, it grew on us. We decided we liked the name, "Hailey." And over the weekend, we finally landed on "Breanne."

For some reason, my niece who helped name Hailey, insists on calling her, "Hamburger."

H.B. and Natalie could not understand why they could not be in the room with us for the surgery.

As much as I keep warning her about those two "meddlesome kids" in the house, Hailey refuses to listen and insists on loving her big brother and sister. She thinks she is one of them. They love her back.

Her first words were, "Da Da." Don't hate. Unfortunately, everything is now "Ma Ma." She has been brainwashed like the other two.

Crystal had a sleep schedule down before we left Los Angeles. Hailey has not really gotten into a sleep rhythm since we moved to Jacksonville. I have suffered the most.

H.B. broke at least five pair of my glasses as a baby. Natalie took my pens and highlighters and wrote in my books. Hailey, the new generation baby, is determined to get to my MacBook and Blackberry.

Unlike her big sister, who has only befriended our dog Lido over the past year, Hailey has no fear of the "doggy person." Their stare downs are classic. I think Lido is more scared of her than she is of him.

Haily is a little people's person, much like her big sister - so unlike her big brother.

Hailey gets confused in church. When I am preaching, she thinks I am either talking or playing with her. So she tries to talk back.  Hailey TKO'd her mother during the 8 AM service again this past Sunday. I had to work hard to keep my concentration as Crystal angrily marched down the aisle with Hailey in tow.

When I look at Hailey, I see Crystal.

On this, her first birthday, Hailey has four teeth that have emerged. And she almost has this walking thing figured out.

May the Lord grant that Hailey will grow as Jesus grew: "And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man." - Luke 2:52 (ESV)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Speaking @ the Little Rock Simultaneous Revival

I am preparing to leave Little Rock, Arkansas. It was my great privilege to preach the opening message of the Little Rock Simultaneous Revival last night.

This is the third year of this revival. And there are at least twelve actively participating churches this year. Under the direction of Pastor Dwight Townsend and his committee, this revival is growing and is rapidly becoming one of the key events in the Little Rock church community.

Beginning tonight through Friday, each participating church will be in revival at 7 PM. At noon, all the churches will meet together and one of the guests will speak. Derrick Miles (Louisville), Tim Rogers (Blytheville, Ark), and E.F. Ledbetter (Chicago) will bring the noon day messages. And after the evening services, there will be "late night" services, where one of the guests will speak. Bertand Bailey Jr. (Mt. Pleasant, TX), Sedric Veal (Cleveland), and Tellis Chapman (Detroit) will bring the late night messages.

Last night was the kick off service. The service was held at the St. Luke Baptist Church, where Eric Alexander is the pastor. Last October, this congregation entered their new church facilities. It is a beautiful building and a wonderful accomplishment to the glory of God. The church is at the word of... don't miss this... Jacksonville, Arkansas. Way cool.

I was deeply honored to be invited by the men to be the opening speaker. And it was great to preach to people who were so eager to hear the word, even though most of them did not know me from Adam. They were just there to hear the word. That's a good place to start a revival.

My brother, Kevin Willis, who is preaching in this meeting as well, drove in early to hear me last night. It was an added treat to have a little time to fellowship with him, as I met new friends and renewed old fellowships. I was greatly encouraged by those who told me they were following our work in Jacksonville and praying God's blessings for our labors.

The world at its worst needs the church at its best. Please pray for this meeting that God would honor their desire to revival the saints, restore the fellowship, and recover the lost.

God willing, I will continue my series on Psalm 119 tonight at Shiloh: "Embracing the Wonderful Word of God" (Ps. 119:129-136).

Monday, March 16, 2009

Notes from Sunday - 03/15/09

Sunday was a long, good day.

I continued my lesson on personal Bible study tips in my new members class. I went over time in the 8 AM service. And it caused me to have a very limited amount of time in my class session. But as always, I really enjoyed teaching the new members.

Our new young adult ensemble helped lead the singing in the 10 AM service for the first time. They did a great joy. And I am expecting great things from this group.

I continued my series on the parable of the sower - "The Heart's Response to God's Word" (Matt. 13:1-9, 18-23). I preached on "Good Seed on Rocky Ground" (Matt. 13:5-6, 20-21).

In the message, I attempted to show how the picture of good seed on rocky places warns us of the futility of superficial faith:

    1. Rocky ground appears to be fertile.

    2. Rocky ground has no roots.

    3. Rocky ground will face the heat.

    4. Rocky ground cannot sustain life.

Praise God for those who were saved and added to our church family this past Sunday.

I am sensing a growing excitement about our upcoming "Make A Difference Day" on March 28. I pray the Lord will richly bless us and greatly use us as we blitz the city of Jacksonville with practical acts of service to demonstrate the love of Christ.

Sunday afternoon, we worshiped with the St. John Baptist Church of Middleburg.  It was the 128th church anniversary and the 19th pastoral anniversary for Pastor C.E. Preston. I trust our presence and ministry was an encouragement to this pastor and congregation.

I preached from the 1 Chronicles 4:9-10 Sunday afternoon - "The Life God Blesses."

Thank you, Shiloh for your prayers, attendance, and support.

Wednesday's Sermon: "Embracing the Wonderful of God's Word" (Psalm 119:128-138)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Speaking @ the African American Leadership Workshop in Houston

I am in Houston, Texas. I arrived yesterday to speak for the African American Leadership Workshop, sponsored by the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Dr. Charlie Singleton is the coordinator.

There are classes on various aspects of local church ministry, like children and youth ministry, Sunday school, prayer, worship and arts, women's ministry, and technology ministry.

Last night, I attended the workshop for pastors and preachers, led by Dr. Cleophus LaRue. He was excellent. I arrived late. But as soon as I sat down, I was engrossed with the lecture. It took me twenty minutes to identify that their were handouts. I was too busy catching the pearls of wisdom he kept dropping along the way.

Unfortunately, I had to preach after Dr. LaRue's lecture. I felt like I needed to work on my sermon another month, after his challenge to excellence in preaching. But the Lord helped me to preach.

The conference is being held on the campus of Houston Baptist University. It's my first time visiting the campus, even though I have been to Houston quite a few times.

I am scheduled to speak at the closing session, around noon. A couple of hours later, I will be headed back to Jacksonville.

Tomorrow's sermon: "Good Seed on Rocky Ground" (Matt. 12:5-6, 20-21)

Thanks for your prayers.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

On Church Hopping

A certain woman who jumped from church to church decided that she was not at the right place. She informed her pastor, “Well, I believe it’s time for me to move again.” Mustering a rare forthrightness, he replied, “That’s okay. It does not matter that much when you change labels on an empty bottle.”

Of course, there are legitimate times and reasons to move your membership from one church to another. Conscience and conviction may require you to leave a church. In most instances, relocation results in the need to find a new church home. And there is a list of other situations in which it is appropriate and acceptable to transfer your membership. Let’s face it. We live in a mobile society. It is normal for people to change residences, jobs, cities, and churches. It is what it is. But it is wrong and irresponsible to accept this reality without scrutinizing it in light of the Lordship of Jesus Christ over the church.

Our failure to diligently pursue New Testament Christianity in congregational life has resulted in a phenomenon that would have been totally foreign to the early church – church hopping. You know what church hopping is, don’t you? It is when a person habitually jumps from one church to another.

Some do it in search of that elusive perfect church. Some do it to avoid accountability and responsibility. Some do it because they are bandwagon Christians, following whatever is considered new, exciting, or successful. Some do it because they view church to be like a buffet restaurant. In their selfishness, they design their own multi-site membership to satisfy their tastes. “I like the preaching here,” they say. “And I like the music over there. But I think that the other has a better youth program than all of them.” Still others do it because… Well, I think some people do it without really knowing why they do it. It is like a disease. Let’s call it CHS – Church Hopping Syndrome.

For the record, I am not talking about people who attend events or participate in worship services at different churches. I actually think it is beneficial to be exposed to what God is doing in other Christ-exalting, Bible believing churches. As long as it does not interfere with your commitment to your church, there is nothing wrong with visiting other churches. But it is wrong to be a resident visitor at several churches. For that matter, it is wrong to be a member of more than one congregation at a time. That is congregational polygamy. And it is wrong to jump from one church to another, just because you don’t like some things about our present church or you have found some things you like better at another church. This is serial monogamy. And it cheapens the bride of Christ.

How should we respond to the pervasive and spiritually counterproductive reality of church hopping?

The primacy of the pulpit. The number one reason people give for leaving a church is (insert drum roll): “I am just not being fed.” I could say the same thing about my wife’s cooking. But if I said that to Crystal, she would tell me, “I cooked a healthy meal. If you do not want what I cooked, you are on your own.” This should be how we respond to those who give this spiritual sounding excuse for church hopping. I accept the fact that there will be people who leave my congregation. But with God’s help, I am determined that they will not be able to legitimately say they left because they were not being fed. They will have to come up with some other excuse… uh… I mean reason. A strong pulpit has a way of anchoring a church and holding a congregation together. So by all means, preach!

There is another side of this coin. While biblical preaching will draw and keep people, it also has a way of driving people away. In 2 Timothy 4:3, Paul warns, “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” (ESV). If you are committed to sound doctrine and biblical exposition, be prepared for some people to avoid or leave your church. They will find themselves a place where the preacher is saying what they want to hear, rather than what the word of God teaches. But play the man and stay the course. 2 Timothy 4:5 says, “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” In short, be faithful. And the Lord will reward your faithfulness.

Pastoral ethics. There was a time when it was harder for a person to jump church from church to church, because there was a certain code of conduct among local pastors. If you left my church and went to a church across town, the pastor over there would call to inform me and ask some questions about you. You could not cause trouble in one church and then pop up somewhere else without the pastor asking why you left your previous church. In fact, when I was boy, it was customary to hear pastors say during the invitational period, “You can come as a candidate for baptism, by your Christian experience, or by letter.”

That’s right. If you were joining from another church, many churches would require that you have a letter of recommendation from the church you left. That may sound like some crazy tradition. But it was the practice of the New Testament church. But now pastors are so busy competing with one another that we do not care where people come from or why. We only care about whether people are coming down the aisles and the membership roster is increasing. But if we as pastors would be more intentional about how we receive new members and more careful about how our policies demonstrate respect for other churches, it would disassemble the launching pad for many church hoppers.

Membership matters. We can discourage unnecessary church hopping by striving to make membership more meaning in our local churches. It begins with the new members class. First of all, we should make sure that we have one. Then we should make sure it clearly presents the gospel, affirms a biblical statement of faith, explains the church’s mission, clarifies local church dynamics and distinctives, and clearly states what new members can expect from your church, as well as what your church expects of them.

We also need to make sure that our congregations are governed by a plurality of godly men. Call them what you will – elders, associate pastors, or whatever. But a healthy church needs a team of godly men who are keeping watch over the souls of the membership (Heb. 13:17). This is not the biblical responsibility of deacons. And with all due respect, trustees don’t actually have any biblical responsibilities. Churches have them to render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar. Even when trustees are charged with the administration of church finances and facilities, they should not be considered the board that runs the church. The gospel mission, disciple making work, and spiritual health of the church must be the unmolested priorities – not church business. Without a doubt, people are more prone to stay at a church where there is not political infighting over who is in charge.

Since I am wading into controversial waters, let me dive in and add that meaningful church membership also requires that we practice church discipline (Matt. 18:15-20). I know that our natural inclination is to avoid joining a church that will try to hold us accountable for our actions. But you really shouldn’t be a part of a church that does not love you enough to kick you out if you are unrepentant and stubborn about your sinful lifestyle! This is not religious legalism. It is New Testament fellowship. And church hoppers would have few places to hop to if more churches would strive to nurture biblical community where mutual submission to one another is expected and practiced.

Our churches also need to develop vital ministry programs that draw people closer to Christ and to another. No, I do not think we should facilitate the consumer mindset many people have by treating them as if the church exists for them. But we should be about meeting needs, not just doing church. More specifically, we should help people for Jesus’ sake. This means that the church should not be a charity, social club, political action group. There are plenty of organizations that are not Christ-centered to do these things. Let the church be the church! We should be our exalting Christ, reaching the lost, and nurturing disciples. This is all the more true when it comes to our children, youth, and young adults. We are rapidly losing the next generation. So it is essential that we cultivate ministry in a way that is meaningful to young people and that assists families in bringing up their children in the training and admonition of the Lord.

Sheep Stealing. All statistics report that the Christian church is in decline in America. For the first time since the birth and early development of this nation, the trend is that more missionaries are being sent to American than from America. The condition of the contemporary church in the states can be best described as a falling away. But you would not get this indication by watching Christian TV or reading Christian magazines. Just look at all the popular Christian performing artists, large conferences being convened, and so-called megachurches sprouting up all over the place. You would think that a true revival is sweeping across America. But the reality is a lot of churches are growing through transfer growth, rather than conversion growth. Many have abandoned the disciple making process and think they are fulfilling the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) through the circulation of the saints. Sheep stealing has become our church growth strategy.

I sometimes hear pastors say, “If you are not growing where you are going, you should not be going there.” I agree, in principle. But I do not think the question of whether you are growing where you are going should be emphasized in our appeals for membership. It sends the wrong message and assumes that if a person is not growing where they are going, it must be the fault of the pastor or the church. Could it be that you are not growing where you are going because of your own selfish and sinful behavior? 1 Peter 2:1-3 says: “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” Maybe you are not growing where you are going because there are some attitudes and habits you need to put away.

Get over it. People leave churches all the time. Some have legitimate understandable reasons for why the leave. Others leave for silly reasons. But don’t let it stress you out. You are not the only show in town. Praise God for that! We are not in this by ourselves. God has seven thousand knees that have not bowed to Baal and tongues that do not sing his praises. You are not in this thing alone. God raises up all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.

The church I serve is surrounded by many other strong and stable churches in town that do ministry differently than my congregation. That’s a good thing. We have no reason to be jealous of any church. We should be very careful about criticizing other churches that the Lord is using to exalt Christ, teach scripture, and reach people. And we should learn to celebrate what God is doing in other congregations. After all, we are all on the same team. And the Lord Jesus Christ has already won the victory. Let us rejoice together whenever we are claiming territory for the kingdom, even if it is not my brigade that claims the hill.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

25 Random Things About HBC2

There is a note circulating on Facebook, in which friends ask one another to list twenty-five random things about themselves. I have been “tagged” with these notes. And I have enjoyed reading them. But I had no intention of writing a list myself. But without much deliberation, I opened a new Word document and began to type. Soon a list emerged. Here are twenty-five random things about me:

1.    H.B. is not my initials. That’s my name. For real. My name is H.B. Charles Jr. It’s on my birth certificate, driver’s license, and everything else. My father did it to me. And I did it to my son.

2.    I was born about an hour and a half after her my mother’s birthday. Her birthday is February 10. My birthday is February 11.

3.    Virtually every day, I notice something new about my wife or am reminded of something I already knew about her, that causes me to fall in love with Crystal all over again.

4.    I am absolutely nervous every time I stand to teach or preach the Bible. But I usually calm down right after I finish praying over the message before I begin.

5.    I really wish I knew how to play the piano and the organ.

6.    I love music. But I am paranoid about it. My father used to speak of singing preachers as if it was a bad word. He was convinced that preachers would sing to filibuster, because they didn’t have anything to say.

7.    I pretend to be a realist. But I am a closet idealist. In my world, things are black and white – not gray.

8.    I would rather have a few, meaningful relationships than to have large group of acquaintances that I only know on a superficial level.

9.    I believe in spiritual warfare through long naps.

10.    I did not learn to drive or get my driver’s license until I was 19 years old. Mind you, I began my first pastorate when I was 17. And for about two years, I hitched rides with others everywhere I needed to go.

11.    I bought my first car on April 29, 1992 – The day the Rodney King riots began. That afternoon, I went to the church office to prepare for prayer meeting and a later speaking engagement. I saw the news and the uprising on Florence and Normandy. I encourage the members not to come out to the revival I was preaching. When I got on the freeway to go home after preaching, it looked like the whole city was on fire.

12.    I think I have RLS – Restless Leg Syndrome.

13.    God has blessed me to have a short memory when I have been wronged or hurt. For some reason, forgiveness comes easy for me. I think it is because I know that I need it so from God and others.

14.    I try not to use slang, because most of the slang I am comfortable with is from the 60’s and 70’s. Can you dig it?

15.    I am convinced that “The Nature Boy,” Ric Flair, is one of the all-time great athletes. No, not wrestlers. Athletes. Woooo!!!

16.    I am afraid of heights. Really afraid of heights.

17.    There are very few things in this world that bring me as much pure joy as writing does.

18.    I become emotional whenever I go into a bookstore. This is one of the reasons why, on most occasions, I prefer to go to bookstores alone. I love books! 

19.    I have absolutely no sense of fashion. I would be content if my entire work wardrobe consisted of black suits, white shirts, black ties, black socks, and black shoes.

20.    I have nightmares about Word of Faith preachers kidnapping me and taking me to WoF concentration camps to torture and convert me.

21.    I may seem to be very serious most of the time. But I actually have a great sense of humor. Believe me, I know funny.

22.    I wore a Jheri Curl most of my teenage years, hoping it would keep me from going bald like my father. It did not work.

23.    I remember a large chunk of everything I read. I forget a large chunk of everything people tell me. I need to work at being a better listener.

24.    I am deeply amused whenever I hear anyone pronounce the word “specific” as “Pacific.” I always want to ask, “What does the ocean have to do with this?” I don’t actually do it. But the thought cracks me up on the inside every time.

25.    I love passionately. So I bruise easily. But I heal quickly.

One more for free: I hate lists!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Notes from Sunday - 03/08/09

It was around midnight before I went to bed on Saturday night. I thought I would get about three hours sleep. But thanks to Daylight Savings Time, my plans went awry. Thank God for his strength!

In new members class, I began a lesson on how to study the Bible for yourself. I love teaching on personal Bible study. I think it is vital for the development of every Christian. I didn't even get through the introduction of what I wanted to say. It will take me another two weeks to finish this lesson. I really enjoy teaching the new members class.

Our children's choir sang in our 10 AM service. As always, it was a wonderful blessing to have our children participating in our corporate worship.

I continued my series on the parable of the sower: "The Heart's Response to God's Word" (Matt. 13:1-9, 18-23).

I focused on Matthew 13:4 and 9, preaching a message I labeled, "Good Seed Along The Path." I endeavored to explain three factors that harden the heart against the word of God:

    1. Unrepentant Sin

    2. Worldly Influences

    3. Spiritual Warfare

Until about 3:30 AM Sunday morning, my sermon had four points. I became uncomfortable with my final point some time Saturday. and I wrestled with it all day log. I finally decided to abandon the final point, and incorporate the heart of what I wanted to say into an earlier point. I know this sounds like an explanation on how to make sausage. But it is a regular part of the mystery and mechanics of preaching for most pastors. The joy of this is, as we struggle to be clear and faithful, God has a way of honoring our labor in the study and getting overseeing the entire process for his glory.

For some reason, the chorus, "Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart," has been in my system the past few weeks.

Praise God for those who were saved and added to the church yesterday.

I was this close to calling security to kick Hailey out of church during the the first fifteen minutes of my sermon in the 8 AM service. Thirty minutes in, "Hailey the Hurricane" TKO'd Crystal. Crystal had to finally take her out. Then Hailey slept through my sermon at 10 AM.

After the services, my family and I joined Deacon Henry Williams and District #30 for lunch at a local restaurant. The food was good. The fellowship was even better.

The weather was absolutely beautiful here yesterday. After a brief post-church nap, I took a swim with the kids. The last time we did that was when we were visiting Jacksonville together in July, 2008.

This Wednesday's sermon: "Praying Your Way Through Mistreatment" (Psalm 119:121-128)

Thursday, March 05, 2009

On Formal Seminary Training

Over the years, I have been most embarrassed about the fact that I have not completed my formal ministry and theological training. I began my first pastorate during my senior year in high school. By the time I graduated, I was immersed in my pastoral work. It was not until a year or so later that I continued my studies.

I found a new Christian college in Anaheim (CA) that I attended. During my time there, I learned the principles of inductive Bible study and expository preaching. I studied biblical theology, pastoral leadership, and Christian counseling. It really did lay a good foundation for me. And my professors continued to disciple me outside of class for many years.

I had to quit school when my congregation entered a season of conflict. It lasted for more than four years! But although I did not have the opportunity to attend school during this period, I was still studying. I would even go to local seminaries and pick up the textbooks from the various classes and read them. And little did I know that the beat down I was taking in my church was actually my very own, God-designed seminary training! 

When the conflict finally ended, it was my task to lead the congregation through a period of healing and recovery. I married Crystal about the same time. A year later, our son was born. Plus, at this point I had also developed a larger speaking ministry. And my biblical convictions had begun to harden. So I could not attend any school that wavered in its commitment to the Bible.

I later attended The Master’s Seminary in Sun Valley (CA). This was a remarkably enriching time in my life. But I made the big mistake of trying to do a full load of work, along with all of my other responsibilities. At the time, I may have been one of the only men at the school who was trying to study full time and pastor a church full time at the same time. I know others have done it. But it was a struggle for me. Then Crystal became pregnant with our daughter. The work at the church began to pick up. And I fell off the wagon and starting traveling to preach again! I had to push pause on my studies again.

One of my goals for 2008 was to resume my studies. But by midyear, I was engaged in the pastoral vacancy here at Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church. And by the fall, I was moving to Jacksonville. So here I am again. One of my goals for 2009 is to resume my studies. I am enrolling in a school here that I am very excited about. I am also advising the men here at Shiloh, who are considering formal training for ministry. Moreover, it is important to Crystal and I that we both finish school to set an example for our children.

So I have been thinking a lot about seminary training and Christian ministry lately. Here are some of my thoughts about the matter. Of course, this is not expert analysis. Consider the following to be practical advice about formal training to those who in the ministry or considering the ministry. 

If you have the opportunity to go to seminary, by all means, take it. No, this is not a word from on high. And I understand that you must factor in your present family, work, and ministry responsibilities – not to mention the money. But if there seems to be green lights at these intersections, I would encourage you to prayerfully go forward and begin school.

There are some men who are very disciplined Bible students. And they are equipped for ministry through self-education. But most of us need the accountability and experience of actually being in a class, with all that requires. When you go into the pastorate, you become the resident theologian of your local church. You need to be a man of the Book to be a faithful pastor. And you need to learn how to exegete scripture accurately to be a faithful preacher. So by all means, go if you can go. And do it before life, family, and ministry catches up to you.

Remember that seminary does not make pastors and preachers. My father used to say that seminary just shines shoes. Guys who shine shoes do not make shoes. They just shine them. And if you don’t bring a pair of shoes, they don’t have anything to work with. Likewise, seminary does not make preachers. It doesn’t make pastors. School can teach a man the languages, systematic theology, church history, and even principles of Christian ministry. But if the Lord has not call you into his service, these things will not make you a pastor or a preacher.

Make sure you have a clear sense about the call of God on your life first. Get input from your pastor, congregation, family, and godly people you trust. If you not clear about your call, wait. I would not advise you to go to figure out God’s call. You may spend four years and end up even more confused! But if you have clarity about the Lord’s call, go to school and prepare yourself the best you can be for God (2 Timothy 2:15).

Do not go to a school that does not believe and teach the Bible. I know this may be hard for some of you to believe. Unfortunately, it’s true. Some so-called Christian professors and schools do not believe the Bible. They spend more time trying to undermine its authority than teaching its message. So do your homework. And do not waste your time on any school that it not totally committed to the Bible. I don’t care how famous or prestigious that school is. It is better to attend a small school where you will learn the Bible, than to have a degree from some major institution that teaches liberal theology.

On that same note, I would not recommend that a pastor go to school to major in business, economics, computers, or something like that. Of course, this is between you and the Lord. But if the Lord has called you to be a herald of the word, or to shepherd the souls that he has purchased with his own blood, you should use the opportunity you get to study to focus on “the Queen of the sciences” – theology!

Be a student – whether or not you are in school. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, did not have formal training. In fact, he was not even formally ordained. He considered ordination to be empty hands laying hands on empty heads. Yet you would be hard pressed to find anyone who could name a person who could match Spurgeon’s mind for truth, preaching prowess, and pastoral vision.

True leaders are learners. Even if school is not for you now, keep studying. We really have no excuses these days for ignorance. For my father to learn the languages, systematic theology, and the other disciplines, he had to go to school. But we live in a day where there are so many resources available through various means. One of my favorite Bible teachers and authors admits that he is not a scholar in the languages, but he does know how to use the tools. And that would be my advice to you. You master a trade my learning how to use the tools. Remember, there are no better minds, just better libraries. Study hard and take every opportunity you are given to continue learning.

Do not go to school just because you want to pastor. Many churches require at least a Master’s degree in their pastoral search process. And the priority on having a prepared man is important and commendable. But it cal also be misguided. A degree from a school does not tell you if a man has a godly character, a pastor’s heart, or a gifting to preach and teach. I know men who have finished their formal training, but have been unable to find an opportunity for pastoral ministry. And I know men who have not finished their formal training, but have given opportunities to serve in the pastoral role.

I do not have any academic degrees. But the Lord has opened many great doors of opportunity for me to serve him and minister to others. Some people assume that I have finished my studies. And I take that as a compliment. But I have not. I do not say that as something to be proud of. I do not want to be a poster boy for skipping school. However, my story is a testimony to the fact that the Lord is the sovereign “Booking Agent” for pastors and preachers. He opens doors that no one can close and closes doors that no one can open. Trust the Lord to assign you where he wants you to be at the right time (Isaiah 40:28-31).

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Happy Birthday Natalie!!!

Today is my daughter's - Natalie Marie Charles - 7th birthday.

I woke up this morning thinking about the moment Natalie was born. And the first time I got to hold her, seeing for the first time the baby I had been singing to for the past six months. If I only knew what I was starting. Now, she is daddy's living "Juke Box" that makes up a song for everything.

I am grateful for the privilege of watching Natalie growing up. She is very bright, full of personality, very talented, and extremely beautiful. Crystal and I are very proud of her and thankful for the gift she is to us and our family.

May the Lord bless her to grow as Jesus grew: ""And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52, ESV).

Happy birthday, Lee! Daddy loves you.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Notes from Sunday - 3/1/09

Today is both the first day and the first Sunday of March, 2009. Can you believe it? Time really does seem to fly by?

When Trey and I drove in to church this morning, it felt like the weather was going to be nice. By the time the 8 AM service was over, it was raining pretty good. Then when the 10 AM service was over, the rain had stopped. But it was winds were blowing really hard. Don't you just love this Florida weather?

I love teaching the New Members Class.

We were blessed to baptize about ten new believers this morning. Praise the Lord!

Dr. James Abbington of Emory University, was our special guest this morning. His accompaniment on the organ was a great compliment to our music department. The worship music was very uplifting.

I began a new series of sermons from the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:1-9, 18-23). I am calling the series, "The Heart's Response to God's Word."

My opening message in the series was an overview of the parable, which I called, "The Sower, The Seed, and the Soil."

I sought to explain how the kingdom of God grows by explaining how a harvest grows in a field:

    1. The sower does his work.

    2. The seed does its work.

    3. The soil does its work.

The tyranny of the clock...

For some reason, today was one of those days when I wished I was a manuscript preacher.

Thank God for those who were saved and added to our church fellowship today.

As always, the celebration of the Lord's Table was a wonderful reminder of the price the Lord Jesus paid for our salvation and the bond we share together in Christ.

My favorite NBA team won today - whoever is playing the Lakers!!!